The Yankees are in a bit of a weird place with their starting rotation right now. With Luis Severino on the injured list and Jordan Montgomery traded, the fifth rotation spot seemingly belongs to Domingo Germán. That is not ideal in a lot of ways. He has proven over the course of five seasons that he is a middling at best starter in the major leagues.
In his five seasons, he has averaged a 4.60 ERA over 354.0 innings with 381 strikeouts. In his limited time since returning from the injury, Germán has pitched to a 6.39 ERA over 12.2 innings. He obviously has time to turn things around, but the Yankees can’t be feeling super solid with him in their rotation. The problem, however, is that the Yankees do not have a lot of alternate starting options left on the 40-man roster after the trade deadline.
Luis Gil would have been one option, but he is currently injured. There is also Deivi Garcia, but his numbers have once again been awful in the minor leagues, and he has been injured for a large part of the season. Yoendrys Gómez, an interesting prospect to his credit, has only pitched as high as High-A.
The only real alternative for the Yankees on the 40-man is Clarke Schmidt. He has pitched very well in his limited time in the majors with a 2.40 ERA over 30 innings. Unfortunately, he has not really been stretched out as a starter. The most that he has pitched is 4.2 innings on July 12th in the minors, and he’s most recently been throwing roughly 50 pitches per outing as part of the major league club.
So with Schmidt not stretched out and Germán less than an ideal fifth starter, what can the Yankees do? They might want to take a cue from the rival Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa expanded the use of bullpen games during the regular season, in order to prioritize short outings from a parade of relievers over lackluster backend starters. This strategy is not ideal in a lot of situations, as it can stress a bullpen and put pressure on the weaker relievers on a particular roster, but it can allow a team to mitigate less than ideal starting pitching.
Cancelling out the added stress on the bullpen is the hidden advantage pitchers receive when participating in a bullpen game. As hitters see a pitcher more times in a game, they tend to start hitting better: the much ballyhooed Times Through the Order penalty. The Yankees have a bullpen deep with solid relievers, and could do well to simply let those relievers go a couple innings at a time, rather than asking Germán or anyone else attempt to turn a lineup over three times.
How would a bullpen game work for the current iteration of the Yankees? One logical game plan would feature Schmidt as an opener with Germán as the bulk innings pitcher. If Schmidt could give the Yankees a couple innings (or potentially more if they try to stretch him out) at the start of the game with Germán giving a further three innings, this could go a long way to alleviating some of the concerns with Germán as a starter. In 2021, Germán did not pitch well in the first inning of the game. Over 18 games, his ERA in the first inning was a whopping 7.00. He also struggled after facing a lineup multiple times, as all pitchers do. Having Schmidt start the first few innings of the game could alleviate both issues.
Alternatively, if the Yankees do not want to use Schmidt as an opener, they could use some of their normal relievers to start the game. New additions like Lou Trivino or Scott Effross could start off the game to still relieve some of the issues that Germán has at the beginnings of the game and from facing hitters a third time.
This surely would risk overtaxing the bullpen, but with just a few weeks until rosters expand in September, the Yankees might just be able to pull it off. They’d only have to manage the strategy a handful of times before being able to add another fresh arm to the roster.
Without a doubt, Germán is going to be part of the Yankees’ pitching rotation. There are few real alternatives on the 40-man roster. With that being the case, the best way to mitigate some of his issues could be to employ a bullpen game instead of relying upon him to start and go deep into games. He would would still have to provide some innings, but bullpen games could help relieve some of the stresses involved with going through a batting order more than two times. If that is the case, might as well put him in the best situation to succeed.