The New York Yankees’ Battle for the Fifth Spot

The New York Yankees come into this season with plenty of questions. The most important of which is with their starting rotation. Masahiro Tanaka is pitching this season with a partially torn UCL, but was guided to not have it surgically repaired through Tommy John surgery. CC Sabathia is coming off off-season knee surgery, Michael Pineda has a history of shoulder problems, and Ivan Nova will not return until later in the year after Tommy John surgery.

Newly acquired Nathan Eovaldi seems to be the most reliable starter, but he is coming off a season where he went 6-14 with a 4.37 earned run average. Then comes the question of who is going to fill in for Nova in the back end of the rotation. The Yankees lost Mr. Reliable Hiroki Kuroda to Japan, and solid mid-season acquisition Brandon McCarthy to free agency. So there is a hole at the back end of the Yankees rotation.

Chris Capuano was tabbed starter for the Yankees spring training game against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, but his day was cut short. Just three batters into the game, a ball was hit to Garrett Jones at first and after covering first base, Capuano leg gave out. He left the game and would be determined that he has a grade 2 quad strain.

Capuano seemed to be in the lead for the fifth spot in the rotation after the Yankees decided to bring in back on a one-year deal. Now, the Yankees have a need and plenty of arms to compete for their fifth spot.

The new frontrunner appears to be Adam Warren, who has had a nice spring training thus far. He has given up one run in five innings in two spring starts. Warren has spent most of his major league career as a relief pitcher for the Yankees, and a good one at that. He has a career 3.47 ERA in 104 games. In 2014, he pitched to a 2.97 ERA and had 76 strikeouts in 78.2 innings. Warren will be given every chance to win the job out of camp, and if he keeps up the way he has pitched, he will make the decision for Girardi a simple one, especially considering the bullpen depth the Yankees have. They will be able to afford to have Warren in the starting rotation.

Chase Whitley is another guy competing for the last spot in the rotation. Whitley made spot starts last year and pitched decent for the Yankees. In five innings this spring, he has yet to give up a run. Last season, he was 4-3 with a 5.23 ERA in 12 starts and 24 appearances. Whitley will have a good shot now to secure that fifth spot, but will need to blow Girardi away with his stuff. He is a nice guy to have on your team as a long reliever and spot starter, but he is not ready to be a major league starter.

Then the veterans who the Yankees brought in will also compete for the spot. Kyle Davies and Scott Baker appear to have a long shot to win the job, but they will be given an opportunity. Davies has given up one run in three innings thus far. Baker got roughed up in his one appearance this spring, giving up three runs and six hits in one inning.

Davis last pitched in 2011 with the Kansas City Royals going 1-9 in 13 starts. Davies has battled injuries throughout his career and signed a minor league deal this offseason. Davies has a career 5.59 ERA.

Baker has been better than Davies throughout his career but injuries have also derailed him. He made 25 appearances for the Texas Rangers a year ago going 3-4 with a 5.47 ERA. Baker’s best season was in 2011 with the Minnesota Twins, where he went 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 21 starts. He spent his first seven seasons with the Twins. Baker could be in for a little bounce back season but making this rotation will be tough.

The outside looking in is minor league Bryan Mitchell. In Wednesday’s game, Mitchell got hit hard by the Red Sox, giving up four runs on seven  hits in two innings of work. The outing will hurt Mitchell’s chances of sneaking into that fifth spot. He has a career 4.45 ERA in five seasons in the minors for the Yankees. He pitched three games for the Yankees last season going 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA. Mitchell has a big arm, hitting mid-to-high 90s on the gun regularly. He is a project, and someone the Yankees cannot afford to start right now.

All the questions will continue throughout camp and through the season. The Yankees do not know how Tanaka’s arm will hold up or how CC will fare. But right now, for the Yankees sake, giving the fifth spot to the Warren seems like the most logical and right choice.

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