If the Yankees have felt a sense of urgency to pursue an additional starting pitcher since Jordan Montgomery underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery last week, perhaps that impulse has intensified over the last 72 hours, due to the recent injuries hampering Masahiro Tanaka.
The 29-year-old right-hander was placed on the 10-day disabled list Saturday with strains to both his hamstrings, and manager Aaron Boone expects Tanaka to be sidelined for a few weeks. At the moment, the Yankees are without their No. 2 or No. 5 Opening Day rotation arms, and although the team’s 42-19 record is the best in baseball, starting pitching has been their biggest deficiency. Sooner or later, it will have to be addressed.
While the Yankees search for external options — such as Rangers’ Cole Hamels and Diamondbacks’ Patrick Corbin, to name a few — they’ll also need to identify Tanaka’s replacement for the time being, and that move will be managed in-house.
But which minor leaguers will be candidates for spot starts, with the first coming on either Friday or Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays in the Bronx? Although the Yankees haven’t made an announcement yet, they have dropped a few hints in the past few days.
The guessing game won’t include Luis Cessa or Justus Sheffield, the Yankees’ No. 1 pitching prospect. According to Yankees’ pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Cessa was ruled out because of a Monday rehab start with High-A Tampa. The 26-year-old has major league experience, but he’s in the midst of returning from an April oblique injury. So, Cessa’s out.
As for Sheffield, he’s pitched quite well this season (2.60 ERA, 66 strikeouts in 55.1 innings), but the 22-year-old has started in only six games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Yankees want to continue grooming Sheffield, so he’s out too.
Hale is another pitcher with big league experience (69 games, 20 total starts). With Triple-A this season, he’s 2-2 with a 4.58 ERA, and in 35.1 innings, he’s allowed 39 hits, 18 runs, and struck out 26. Hale is scheduled to pitch Monday night, but it doesn’t seem like he’s the favorite for this weekend.
According to Kyle Franko of The Trentonian, Loaisiga, the team’s No. 12 prospect, nearly made his major league debut last Monday when the Yankees played a doubleheader against the Tigers in Detroit. But since the Yankees were rained out the day before, Loaisiga wasn’t needed.
The 23-year-old Nicaraguan native could be in a good position this time around, however. Unlike Hale, Loaisiga is on the Yankees’ 40-man roster, so this means the team wouldn’t have to designate any player for assignment to make room for him. In six starts with Double-A Trenton, Loaisiga is 3-1 with a 4.32 ERA, but his numbers with High-A Tampa were far better (3-0, 1.35 ERA in four starts). Overall, Loaisiga has completed 45 innings, and though he’s allowed 47 hits and 15 runs, he’s also struck out 58.
“We know what happened and there is a possibility of things happening whether somebody from Triple-A makes a start or whatever,” Double-A manager Jay Bell told The Trentonian. “We’re always thinking about big league options and making sure they are well taken care of at the big league level. I don’t know what’s going to happen. [The Yankees] have not told me.”
Loaisiga’s most recent start came on Sunday, and it was a clunker. In his last three starts, Loaisiga’s ERA is 6.75, but Rothschild recent told Newsday that the youngster is still on the Yankees’ radar.
“He’s had some good games this year,” Rothschild said of Loaisiga. “He was impressive in spring training. He’s a young guy that hasn’t pitched a whole lot, so we’ll have to see what that decision is when we get to it and who’s doing what in the next few days.”
The Yankees still have some time to make a decision, but all signs point toward either Hale or Loaisiga getting the nod quite soon.
The curious case of Gary Sanchez’s slump
Aaron Boone has insisted that Gary Sanchez’s woes at the plate will soon disappear, but that’s much easier said than done.
The Yankees’ catcher, who some consider to be the team’s best overall hitter, owns a scant .190 batting average this season. On Sunday night against the Mets at Citi Field, Sanchez added an 0-for-4 performance to a 3-for-48 (.063) skid, which includes just one extra-base hit and 17 strikeouts.
Sanchez has been a shell of his former self. Last year, the 23-year-old hit .278 with 33 home runs and 90 RBI in just 122 games. This year, Sanchez has looked lost and over-matched in the box — by far his deepest funk in the majors.
Still, Boone isn’t losing hope in Sanchez, and he’s seemingly not concerned about Sanchez’s adversity. Perhaps it’s not as pressing of an issue since the team has been winning.
“Obviously, you are scuffling a bit and you do square one up and it’s right at it, that’s part of it,” Boone told the New York Post. “That’s going to happen when you are scuffling and when you are going well. You have to be strong mentally and continue to work and push through and know eventually you will work your way out of it. But that can be a little frustrating when you are grinding away and you square one up right at someone…
“I know I have beaten this drum a lot with him but he is such a natural hitter. I think he is one of those stretches that is a little fluky, that every great hitter has [gone through] at some point in the course of their career…
“Watching the last couple of weeks he is probably a little bit anxious and hasn’t necessarily struggled like this as a hitter in his career. Hitting is hard sometimes you want to chase that hit. You want to get that hit so bad and that can work against you. Results will follow good at-bats. It’s only a matter of time. He will settle in and the hits will fall in.’’