At the time of writing this article, the Yankees’ starting rotation consisted of Corey Kluber, Jordan Montgomery, Néstor Cortes Jr., and Luis Gil. That’s it. Gerrit Cole is recovering from a left hamstring injury, and while he has not been formally placed on the IL, there is a chance his next start could be pushed back until Tuesday at the earliest. Jameson Taillon has a partially torn tendon in his ankle and currently sits on the 10-day IL.
That’s not exactly a tenable situation for a team that still has designs on making the playoffs. Therefore, it’s no surprise the Yankees have announced that several of their young pitchers could get a look in the rotation in the coming days.
Deivi García was seen in Yankee Stadium on Thursday as part of the taxi squad, but ended up making a start in Triple-A yesterday, meaning he won’t pitch for the Yankees this weekend. Clarke Schmidt has pitched well in the minors since being activated off the 60-day IL, and Aaron Boone mentioned he was on the team’s radar to either start or pitch out of the bullpen. (He was also bumped from his Saturday start in Triple-A, making him all the more likely to start against the Mets on Sunday.) The Yankees reinstated Michael King to the active roster from the 60-day IL yesterday ... and of course, there’s still Luis Gil, who remains on the active roster and will get at least another start in Taillon’s absence.
Certainly not the most inspiring quartet to provide emergency starts for a team in desperate need of wins. All four have struggled with either injury or flawed mechanics throughout the year. In fact, I would contend that only King should be considered as an option for the rotation.
After showing flashes of brilliance in his debut season, García has gone full pumpkin in 2021. He owns a 7.09 ERA and 16.3 percent walk rate in Triple-A, and although last night he just turned in one of the stronger outings of his season, Keith Law’s suggestion that his mechanics are completely shot means I don’t want to see him anywhere near the big league rotation. Schmidt has been injured for most of the season and could use more reps before being thrust into the Yankees starting staff. Gil looked electric at times but ultimately is still a raw product who can’t repeat his delivery and has only one reliable pitch.
That leaves King as the only realistic choice to start games. That’s not to say the 26-year-old righty is some world-beater — he’s had an up-and-down major league career so far. He simply has the highest floor of the four options, bringing a level of certainty to the mound every time he pitches.
For starters, King has the most big league experience of the quartet. He has pitched 77 innings across three seasons, with a 5.03 ERA, 4.42 FIP, and 74 strikeouts. He looked to have unlocked another level of his game this season — with a 3.72 ERA, 4.11 FIP, and 47 strikeouts in 48.1 innings — before landing on the 60-day IL with a finger contusion. That experience can prove invaluable when being forced to navigate a host of different in-game situations.
There’s also a lot to like from a pure stuff standpoint. King has added a few ticks on the fastball and can touch 98 when he needs it. He gets a ridiculous amount of lateral break on his pitches — his curveball has the second-most horizontal movement as a function of velocity in MLB, while his sinker and changeup both sit in the 90th percentile or better. This much movement makes it difficult to square up his pitches, leading to a 47.9 percent groundball rate on the year.
Despite this, Boone envisions using King in either a high-leverage inning or as a long reliever. We saw the latter last night against the Mets, where he breezed through his first two innings of work before hitting a bit of a wall in the seventh. This was to be expected considering he had only pitched 5.2 innings of rehab, and I expect the stamina and command to increase as he pitches more. He went three innings, giving up two runs (one earned), and he was not helped by a Gleyber Torres throwing error that allowed two to score. We’ll see what the next steps are, but it was encouraging to see the stuff play up a bit at the beginning.
If the Yankees are to have any shot at keeping up in the Wild Card race, they will need the next-man-up to step in and cover some starts while the regular rotation members recover from injury. Michael King might not be the flashiest option, but he has shown he can get outs at the major league level. He’s the safest bet to at least keep the Yankees in games that he pitches.