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How the Yankees can manage their early-season rotation

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The Yankees’ rotation may be a bit unorthodox for the first month.

Division Series - New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Two Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Yankees are no strangers to innovative pitching strategies. Sometimes, they work (the “opener” in 2019). Other times, they don’t (the Deivi García-J.A. Happ “bait-and-switch” in the 2020 ALDS). No matter how it goes, we can always count on the Yankees to come up with some way to reinvent the pitching wheel.

Take this bit from Aaron Boone’s interview yesterday, in which the manager says so much with just one word:

“Creative” can mean many different things, but it certainly seems like the Yankees will not be limited by a traditional five-man rotation this season, especially in the early going. Given the durability concerns facing several of the team’s arms and the organization’s penchant for terrible injury luck, the “creative” way might be the right way for the Bombers to proceed with their rotation this year. That is, if the depth arms can handle it.

It remains to be seen if the Yankees’ rotation will be better or worse than last year’s, but it is certainly different (and just as risky). Essentially, the club replaced Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ with Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon and a combination of young starters for the fifth spot. Even with Clarke Schmidt’s injury temporarily taking him out of the running, the team has still touted Deivi García, Domingo Germán, Michael King and maybe even Luis Medina as potential starting options.

This all leads to the assumption that the Yankees are going to use a “rotating rotation” in the early going of the season. This could prove effective given that Kluber, Taillon and Germán combined to throw one (1) MLB inning last year and will likely need some time to get back up to game speed. At the very least, they shouldn’t be expected to go out and throw seven innings per start in the first month of the season.

The Yankees’ April schedule has ample days off, meaning the Yankees can give their brittle starters some rest. Assuming Cole goes every fifth day, the other pitchers can all get extra rest with four scheduled days off in the first three weeks and some scheduled spot starts.

Here’s a hypothetical projected rotation calendar, to give you an idea of how things could look:

This schedule emphasizes giving Cole starts on his normal workload, while allotting opportunities to depth arms and allowing others to rest. It would give Cole five starts in the team’s first 18 games, which is a tantalizing luxury the team would regret not exploiting. This plan also allows Kluber, Taillon and Montgomery three starts each, and provides two starts for both García and Germán.

By the time those games against Cleveland come around on the 23rd and 24th, the Yankees can either commit to a traditional five-man rotation by going with Montgomery on his scheduled day, or keep the six-man squad going. Hopefully by that time, the team will have a read on whether García, Germán, or someone else deserves the fifth starter’s spot.

The Yankees could also decide to use an “opener” in some of these starts, giving Michael King, Chad Green, Albert Abreu or Nick Nelson some run for an inning or two on some of these days. If the pitchers are producing, there’s no limit to what the Yankees can do to get a bevy of arms on the mound.

Of course, the best made plans always go astray. Injuries, unexpected performances (both good and bad), and bad weather can throw a calendar like this off-kilter. But, in an ideal world, this might be what Aaron Boone means by getting “creative” with his starters in April. It maximizes Cole, gives García and Germán chances to stake their claim, and helps Taillon and Kluber manage their workloads coming off of injury.

It’s certainly atypical, but a little creativity could go a long way for the Yankees’ rotation in the early going.