It was because of a rain-out on April 15 against the Chicago Cubs that the Yankees would need a sixth starter for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays. It was also because of Ivan Nova's disastrous outing a week prior to the rain-out that Vidal Nuno, who relieved Nova in that game, would be stretched out enough to make that aforementioned Sunday start in Tampa. With Nova now likely shelved for the remainder of 2014, it is now Nuno who gets to replace the injured starter as the team's fifth starter, at least for now.
In Nuno's spot start (or audition), the crafty lefty went five shutout innings, allowed three hits, two walks, and struck out six. He had a pitch-limit of ~75 pitches and was still able to complete five scoreless innings with just 69 total pitches. Not bad. He started to fade a bit in the back-end of his start (4-of-10 base runners reached base for Tampa in fourth and fifth), but was otherwise pretty flawless. Can't really ask for more given his pitch-limit and the fact that the Rays were crushing the ball the previous two days.
Joe Girardi didn't say after the game that Nuno would make another start, but the 26-year-old left-hander is "of course" in the mix to replace the injured Nova. Nuno would be set to pitch in Nova's spot on Saturday, and I would have to believe that the former is going to continue to start, even if the team hasn't officially announced it yet (at least they haven't announced it as this post is being written). That next start would come against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at the Stadium.
Other starter candidates that are currently in the majors are David Phelps and Adam Warren. Based on how they've been used, I would have to think that Phelps is ahead of Warren for a spot in the rotation. With Nuno now (potentially) penciled into the rotation, Phelps is most likely the team's long-man and Warren will continue to pitch in higher-pressure spots, this time coming in the seventh inning instead of the eighth now with David Robertson off the Disabled List. If Nuno gets knocked out early in Saturday's start, Phelps would come out the 'pen first, and that way he could get stretched out to make the next start if such event occurs.
Although they don't have many starting pitching prospects that are ready to step in from Triple-A, the Yankees have Shane Greene and Alfredo Aceves waiting in Scranton, who, theoretically, could fill in if needed. Greene has only made two minor-league outings because he spent time down in Extended Spring Training and with the big league team. Though his two outings so far have been relief appearances, he'll apparently get stretched out to start, according to RailRiders' beat writer Donnie Collins. With Greene, his control has greatly improved (1.7 BB/9 in 2013, 5.1 BB/9 in 2012) to the point where he went from just another arm to interesting prospect. Greene also opened some eyes in spring training and it's pretty clear the Yankees like him.
In the middle of camp, the Yankees signed Aceves after he opted out of his deal with the Orioles. He apparently did so because he knew he wasn't going to make the team, yet he joined a team in the Yankees whose rotation and bullpen were pretty much already set after he signed. However, with Nova now on the shelf, the door back to the big leagues for Aceves has cracked open at least just a little bit. He isn't on the 40-man roster as of now, but the Yankees will have an open spot once they place Nova on the 60-day DL.
Unfortunately, Aceves wasn't the pitcher he once was, thus he's hardly that attractive of an option. From 2008-2011, the now-31-year-old pitched to a 2.93 ERA and 4.08 FIP in 240 innings, with the vast majority of those outings coming in relief. The next two years, though, were much worse, as he pitched to a 5.21 ERA and 4.95 FIP in 121 innings and 80 appearances (six starts). Because of his most recent track-record, I would imagine that he is behind the likes of Nuno, Phelps, Warren, and Greene for the team's final spot in the rotation. Not to mention, only 15 of his 194 appearances have come as a starter, so even if he does make it back to the majors it'll most likely come in a long-relief role.
I was able to watch Aceves' start last Friday (5 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 79 pitches) on MiLB.tv, and he looked pretty good. According to the announcer, Aceves was mostly at 93 miles-per-hour on his fastball. He also showed a decent curveball with some downward break and a change-up that had plenty of fade against left-handed batters. That start, however, came against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who are very bad offensively, and they had Reid Brignac fifth in their batting order.
Nuno is not really known as a guy who can miss a whole lot of bats, and I'm not sure if he can survive that way long-term pitching in the AL East. He doesn't throw particularly hard and doesn't have a standout out-pitch. Sure, he can fool some batters by back-dooring a curve or a slider, and he can also freeze batters by painting the corners with a fastball, which we saw on Sunday's start. But, at the same time, he pretty much has to be perfect with his location to get batters out, and we saw in his relief outing against the Orioles what could happen if he isn't on his game. Still, though, Nuno gave Girardi and the Yankees not much of a choice as to who should fill Nova's spot in the rotation, and it's not like there aren't a shortage of alternatives if he falters.