New York Yankees 2014 Five Point Preview: David Cone on the rotationEveryone has an adjustment to make, but Cone says that's always part of the game
The New York Yankees' rotation was officially set earlier this week when Joe Girardi announced that Michael Pineda will begin the season as the fifth starter. Pineda beat out David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno for the job, winning a competition in which there are really no losers.
That's true because, as David Cone notes, Pineda "winning" the job doesn't mean it will always be his. The Yankees were somewhat lucky last year, as the five men in the opening day rotation started 143 of 162 possible games; many teams didn't have the luxury, and perhaps the 2014 Yankees will see that as time goes on, the trio of Phelps, Warren, and Nuno -- who combined for 17 of the other 19 starts last year - as well as others in the system will end up being very important.
"Rotation depth is more important than it's ever been. I've said that I thought the game was going more towards a six-man rotation, and it kind of already has," Cone told YESNetwork.com earlier this spring. "The sixth starters throughout the league last year, on the whole, almost got the equivalent of a full year, with a lot of sixth guys making 20 or more starts. It almost really is a six-man thing, and that gets you to the seventh guy in your arsenal as backup…so your swingmen, and your top two or three guys in Triple-A, are very important for the entirety of the season."
Even with the big five all making 20-plus starts last year, the Yankees did use nine different starters, so they did see at least in a limited capacity how important quality depth is. This year, with Pineda likely limited in some form after missing the bulk of the last two years, someone is almost guaranteed to have to make a handful of "spot" starts.
But the Yankees, and especially Pineda, can't think that way, even if fans and team brass alike have to temper expectations for a guy who was an All-Star as a rookie in 2011.
"I wouldn't say it's a make-or-break scenario, but certainly, people are looking for Pineda to step up now that he's finally healthy, and we can see what kind of pitcher we're going to get," Cone said. "He's probably not going to be the guy we saw a couple years ago who threw the ball in the high 90s and blew everybody away, but he still has plenty of fastball and a really good slider to go with it. I'd still be a little careful with him, as I think he still needs to build up strength over the course of the year because it's hard to jump in and pitch 200 innings, but all signs are encouraging so far and he could step up this year."
Ahead of Pineda, three of the four pitchers in the rotation are known quantities, although what comes in that quantity isn't necessarily a given. At the top is CC Sabathia, who is now 33 years old and has 2,775 career innings (not including the postseason) on his left arm; the lefty may not have the velocity he once had, but he has slimmed down considerably - which will hopefully help his stamina - and, after 13 years in the league, knows that his recipe for success includes more changes.
"I wouldn't call him a finesse guy just yet, but I would look for CC to make more adjustments," Cone said. "I did think it was interesting that CC was kind of tinkering with an Andy Pettitte-type cutter, and I think that'd be a good move for him. The league knows him very well by now, and it's not as if he's a completely different pitcher - he just doesn't throw as hard as he used to. It's up to CC to make the adjustments on the hitters now."
For No. 2 starter Hiroki Kuroda, who has been about as consistent as can be over his six years in the majors, the unknown adjustment will be finding a way to stay sharp down the stretch and avoid a repeat of 2013 - as in not going 3-7 with a 4.25 ERA in the second half.
"Kuroda is a professional pitcher; he knows what he's doing, and he was arguably in the running for Cy Young last year up until about mid-August," Cone said, "but he threw a lot of innings because he was so effective. Joe Girardi will need to manage him down the stretch and give him some rest here and there, especially in the second half."
And then, there's Ivan Nova, whose whole career - including his outings this spring - has had a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde look. But, as Cone says, when Nova's good, he's real good, and because he's only 27, you have to let him try to bring that every five days.
"Ivan Nova has such tremendous upside that you need him to be the guy he's capable of being," Cone says. "He has a lot of value to the Yankees right now, and a lot of the other teams ask for him in trades, so that shows you his value. You have to give Nova every opportunity to fulfill his potential at this point. He's still very young, and very talented."
And finally, that brings us to the nominal No. 4 starter, who perhaps has the biggest adjustment of all. That is, of course, Masahiro Tanaka and his transition from Japan to the United States, and Cone says that as good as Tanaka has looked this spring, he may look even better, at least early on this season.
"Generally, switching leagues favors the pitchers because the hitters are on the defensive, and the pitcher knows what he's trying to do," Cone said. "The first time around the league, the pitcher usually gets the advantage, although Tanaka has a different set of variables coming over from Japan."
Those variables include everything from culture shock to the size of the baseball - but the game is the game, Cone says, and Tanaka has at least one ace in the hole when it comes to the former.
"I think Kuroda being here will be extremely helpful for Tanaka, not only culturally, but also in having someone to talk to during the tough times," Cone said. "Tanaka is very respectful of both Kuroda and Ichiro, and I think it's a great support network."
If all the above changes and adjustments come to fruition in a good way, it's very possible the 2014 Yankees rotation could look like the one Cone was a part of in 1998, a group that saw six pitchers make 156 total starts and post an 85-36 record.
If that happens, well, then the only adjustment they may need to make at the end of the year is clearing another space on the mantle for a World Series ring.