Just as the Yankees are hit by the loss of Masahiro Tanaka for an entire month, the weakened rotation might be close to getting some reinforcements. Both Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova have begun their rehab on their way back to the majors and could be MLB option very soon.
On Saturday, Capuano pitched in a High-A Tampa Yankees game, limited to four innings and 60 pitches in his first start since puling his hamstring in spring training. Nova threw in an extended spring training intrasquad game, limited to one inning and 20 pitches in the early goings of hist return from Tommy John surgery. While Nova isn't expected to be ready to return until somewhere in June, Capuano should be available to the big league team in just a few weeks. That leaves the question of what do they do with him and who does he replace by that point.
Since Esmil Rogers seems to be doing find these days, they don't need another longman in the bullpen, so he'll have to fit into the rotation somehow. Right now Adam Warren and Chase Whitley are filling in the rotation, and while neither are exactly longterm solutions, it's not clear how much of an improvement Capuano can be. Warren has pitched to a 4.35 ERA and 4.43 FIP with a poor k-rate of 5.23 K/9 and a mediocre walk-rate of 3.48 in 20.2 across four starts. Whitley had a good start in place of Tanaka, but once again he was unable to get passed the fifth inning, something that is probably a genuine concern when using him as a starting pitcher. Meanwhile, Capuano pitched to a 4.25 ERA and 3.85 FIP after joining the Yankees in 2014 and is projected to have a 4.22 ERA and 4.39 FIP with a 6.93 K/9 and 2.80 BB/9 for the Yankees this year. Perhaps his numbers might be expected to be slightly better than Warren's and more reliable than Whitley, but he won't exactly be a savior.
Capuano is making $5 million this year, so you know the Yankees will put him back in the rotation once he's ready to return. They will probably send Whitley back down to Triple-A and leave Warren in the rotation until Nova or Tanaka are ready to come back. A starting rotation of Pineda/Eovaldi/Sabathia/Capuano/Warren isn't exactly exciting, but it will hopefully be enough to get the job done until everyone can get healthy. That means that Nathan Eovaldi needs to continue to develop in the right direction and CC Sabathia has to improve drastically from what he has shown so far, otherwise it's going to put too much strain on a phenomenal bullpen to pick up the pieces and we can only hope they can bend farther than we're all comfortable without breaking.
The real issue will come if someone has a setback or Tanaka needs to miss even more time than originally anticipated. By that point, they won't be able to go with Capuano and Warren in the same rotation during the second half of the season. It will be near the trade deadline by then and their only hope will be to trade for a starting pitcher if they want to stay in contention. Hopefully the farm system won't take too big of a hit by that point.