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Yankees spring training: The rotation battle so far

No rotation candidate has stood out thus far, and that’s not the least bit surprising.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Coming in to spring training the Yankees had a handful of “battles” going on at different positions. Aaron Judge needed to lock up the right field job and Greg Bird needed to lock up the first base job. While they still had something to prove, those weren’t really battles since neither really had much competition. The only “true” battle where players are actually competing is in the rotation.

Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and (ugh) Michael Pineda all have rotation spots locked up. But the last two spots were up for grabs. The Yankees could have addressed this in the offseason via trade or free agency but didn’t find anything at a price they liked so they decided their in-house options would suffice.

Sure there were a few darkhorse candidates to make the rotation, but the competition was always between Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, and Adam Warren. A largely underwhelming list of candidates outside of Severino. That’s not to say they’re bad or anything, they just don’t inspire confidence. Even Severino has tempered fans’ expectations after a disappointing follow-up to his rookie campaign.

As Jason Cohen pointed out yesterday, the spring training battle hasn’t been interesting thus far. In the beginning all five candidates put in solid, scoreless performances but since then they’ve all hit a bit of a bump in the road.

"I think all the guys are fairly close, yes," Girardi said. "It seems like this round they've all run into a little trouble, given up some homers and had some problems with their command at times, but that's part of how it goes. It's still early, though, so we still have a long way to go, and you hope someone emerges."

The fact that nobody has really separated themselves from the pack bodes well for Severino and doesn’t for Warren. The Yankees seem determined to give Severino a shot to make it as a starter as he offers the most upside of all the rotation candidates. As long as the competition remains close, he pretty much has a guaranteed rotation spot.

In Warren’s case, his past dominance in the “Adam Warren role” essentially makes him a likely candidate to end up there. While any of them can likely go into the bullpen and pitch well there, only one of them has proven to be so good at that hybrid reliever role that it was named after him. So unless the competition completely drops off or he is simply lights out this spring he’ll likely end up in the bullpen after fighting for a rotation spot once again.

The story for all five candidates through three games (though only two for Green thus far) has been exactly the same. No one has really stood out in terms of performance, but Girardi did make note of Severino after his last game. Though what’s stood out about him has been his fastball command.

Girardi mentioned that Severino’s fastball command has been good in bullpens and side sessions, but he has yet to see “translate” in games. Even Gary Sanchez made note of Severino’s fastball command. Though he did take a second to compliment Severino’s much talked about changeup and that it’s showed life this spring.

Said catcher Gary Sanchez, through his translator: “I thought his changeup was really good today. He battled for a couple innings. Fastball location was a little off, not as good as we want it.

So though Severino may have the lead in the Opening Day rotation, it’s not like he can hold onto that forever. The Yankees will keep giving him a chance to start, but sooner or later that leash will be gone. Severino will need to improve if he wants to keep a job in the rotation and be a part of the team’s future. Otherwise Mitchell, Cessa, Green, and Warren are waiting in the wings. Not to mention the other arms the Yankees have working their way up the system.

For now though, the rotation battle has been underwhelming and predictably uninspiring. The offense has showed potential to be good this spring and the bullpen, anchored by Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, will be good. If the rotation can put things together, this team does have a chance to compete this year. But the results thus far have left a lot to be desired.