In a particularly confounding season, the pitching staff might be the most bizarre part of the season for the Yankees. While it has had its positives — Gerrit Cole looks like a Cy Young frontrunner, Jameson Taillon made some tweaks and became a solid pitcher again, Jordan Montgomery has developed into a formidable third starter, and Nestor Cortes Jr. has won over the entire fanbase — the heartbreaking blown saves in particular have been quite overwhelming.
The run since the All-Star break has been particularly exceptional for the pitching staff, though, as they have turned it up a notch and led the team to multiple wins in very tight games despite a rash of injuries and COVID outbreaks. As they get ready for the homestretch, here are some of the most pressing questions that face the Yankees:
Question #1: What do you do with Luis Gil?
The young flamethrower came up at the beginning of August for a spot start after a COVID outbreak knocked a number of starters out of commission and has looked mighty good. In 15.2 innings pitched across three games, Gil has struck out 18 hitters and has yet to give up a run. While he’s struggled with command at times — he’s walked seven batters in three games — his poise and confidence on the mound has been a very welcome sight.
So, what should the Yankees do with him? While his statistics still represent a small sample size, the Yankees need all the arms they can get. But with multiple pitchers potentially on their way back, including starters Corey Kluber, Domingo Germán, and Luis Severino, is trusting a 23-year-old with 15.2 career innings pitched in the Majors the best route for a stretch run?
Gil has certainly earned the right to have, at the very least, an extended look in the Majors, but will the Yankees elect to continue using him as a spot starter or give him a rotation spot until he proves otherwise? And, perhaps the most pressing question of all for some fans, will Gil even make the postseason roster?
Question #2: What are you going to do with everyone returning from injury?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Yankees have suffered a lot of injuries this year. As it stands at the time of writing this, Zack Britton, Domingo Germán, Corey Kluber, Luis Severino, Michael King, and Darren O’Day are all on the Injured List. While some absences have potentially worked themselves out — Britton hit the 10-day IL with an elbow sprain just as Clay Holmes was activated from the COVID IL — others are of the lengthy or season-ending nature: we haven’t had an update on King in weeks and Darren O’Day’s season is done.
That being said, there are three starters potentially returning to the lineup for the stretch run: Kluber, Germán, and Severino. In what capacity would they return? The top three of Cole, Taillon, and Montgomery seems locked in place. After them, question marks remain in the shape of Andrew Heaney, Nestor Cortes, Luis Gil, and bullpen arms. I imagine Kluber would slot back into the rotation, but, if Germán and Severino are able to return, do you let them air it out in the bullpen or stretch them out? Can Heaney figure it out like he did against Boston? Do the Yankees see Gil as a legitimate piece of their rotation? And does the team value Cortes’ unbelievable season enough to keep him in the rotation?
Speaking of Nestor Cortes, though ...
Question #3: Is this the real Nestor Cortes?
After bouncing around a few teams as a Rule 5 pick, Nestor Cortes has undoubtedly been the best story of the season so far. In his previous three seasons in the Majors, Cortes pitched to an ugly 6.72 ERA and 6.69 FIP. This season, though, has been an entirely different story. He’s currently sitting at a 2.56 ERA and 3.38 FIP, and has been a rock solid addition to the Yankees rotation after making a couple spot starts on bullpen days.
Ridiculous deliveries and one of the best moustaches in the game aside, should the Yankees consider moving him back to the bullpen role he occupied earlier in the season or keep him in the rotation? And, perhaps more importantly, is it worth knocking him out of the rotation in favor of guys returning from lengthy absences? I am inclined to think the Yankees will use him as a piggyback reliever while guys like Kluber and Germán ramp up to game speed again, but I can just as easily see him staying in the rotation.
Question #4: Can Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga handle their workload?
Prior to this season, Jonathan Loaisiga’s highest inning count was 31.2 in 2019 and Chad Green’s was 75.2 in 2018. With 37 games left on the schedule, Loaisiga and Green are currently sitting at 62.2 and 63.1 innings pitched, respectively. And for good reason: they’ve been the Yankees’ two most reliable relievers all season.
While both Loaisiga and Green started their careers as starters, the rash of injuries to both starters and relievers has led Aaron Boone to rely on them perhaps a little more than he would have liked. Given that they are both high velocity arms pitching in high leverage situations, how will they hold up as the season comes to its close? Are they going to continue to be able to pitch at a high level, or will they be gassed by time the postseason gets here?
These are only four of the major questions facing the Yankees pitching staff, and I barely even got to talk about Heaney’s performances, Severino’s potential return, Luetge’s missing curveball, and Chapman returning to dominant form before his elbow injury.
Despite a rocky start to the year, the Yankees somehow find themselves in excellent shape, currently leading the Wild Card standings and within striking distance of the division title, and the Yankees’ pitching staff is the reason for a lot of their success. Still, though, the team has more question marks surrounding it than you’d like to see this time of year.
Same deal as yesterday: let me know what your answers would be to the above questions as the Yankees get ready for one last playoff push.