Pineda Should Push Pettitte, Not Hughes, from Yankees Rotation

The return of one Yankee legend Thursday could signal the beginning of the end for another.

It could have been 1996, or 1999, or 2009 at the Stadium on Thursday afternoon, as Andy Pettitte took the hill and Derek Jeter slipped on a pair of spikes and pinstripes for the first time in nine months.

It almost seemed like one of the good old days: those sun-soaked ones where the Bombers were preparing to send five or six of their boys to the Midsummer Classic, one of those many seasons when October was the only month that mattered.

Things aren’t so simple anymore in the Bronx. In 2013, the Yankees will likely send just two representatives – Mariano Rivera and Robinson Cano – to next Tuesday’s All-Star game at Citi Field. Rather than expect October glory, these Yankees can only focus on getting healthy and surviving through the summer.

Jeter’s return Thursday should help their cause. Maybe the Yankees captain will not return to his .330, MVP-competing peak. In any event, it is hard to envision the Yankees not receiving a boost from booting Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix to the bench; Jeter’s replacements at shortstop this season have hit just .211 with a .269 OBP. Only the lowly Mariners, currently eleven games under .500, have gotten less pop from the shortstop position.

Still, even if 39-year old Jeter managed to resemble 29-year old Derek – and the odds are certainly against him – it might not be enough for a Yankees team that will need to excel through the season’s latter half in order to play in the postseason. Even when Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson make their way back to the lineup, there is no guarantee the Yankees will be able climb out of the cellar and stake their claim to a playoff berth.

The key to the stretch run might be Michael Pineda, who seems primed to make his first start in pinstripes by the end of the month, and who possesses the potential to give the Yankees, along with C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, a killer 1-2-3 punch at the top of the rotation – one that might, should they manage to make it to yet another postseason, give them a puncher’s chance at their 28th World Championship.

In order to slot Pineda into the starting rotation, however, the Yankees will need to make a difficult decision and tell one of their veterans to take a walk – either to the bullpen, or to another team via trade.

The best solution, as many have pointed out, might be to flip Phil Hughes – who, like Pineda, was once one of the best prospects in all of baseball – for the extra bat this murmurer’s row so desperately needs. Hughes has tossed seven innings and given up less than two runs in three of his last six outings. He still has some value for a team looking for an extra arm down the stretch.

…a team, it so happens, just like the Yankees. If the right offer doesn’t come along, the Yankees might be wise to hold on to the free-agency bound righty. A rotation of Sabathia, Kuroda, Pineda, Hughes and Ivan Nova, the latter of whom has pitched brilliantly when healthy this season, might give the Yankees their best chance to play in October.

Of course, that would make old man Pettitte the odd man out, a move that would be difficult to stomach considering that this season might be his triumphant last.

The fact of the matter, however, is that Pettitte is not the southpaw stopgap he once was. Thursday marked the seventh time in eight starts the 41 year-old has given up at least four runs. Opponents are hitting line drives against him at a 20.9% clip in 2013, according to Fangraphs, his highest mark in pinstripes since 2003.

Pettitte’s recent history also shows that things are more likely to get worse than better. In 2010, at age 38, Pettitte pitched to a 2.88 ERA before going down in July with a strained left groin. When he returned in September, he was hit hard in two of his last three starts.

In 2012, Pettitte broke his ankle in late June and missed most of the rest of the season.

As they race, forever hopeful, toward their 18th postseason appearance in 19 years, the Yankees would do well to remember Pettitte’s cracked ankle, as well as the one their Captain suffered nearly a year ago. Stars, even the most enduring, formidable ones, fade. Bones break. Ability atrophies. Eras end.

This one, however, has not ended yet. Somewhere, another postseason save for the all-time leader awaits. One more big hit — or two – one more magical moment from the captain – it is possible. Another ring for three of the greatest players in franchise history? It’s a long shot, but it can happen.

The only way to properly honor these three is with one last chance to shine under the October spotlight. To get there, one of them might need to take a backseat.

Jesse Golomb is the Editor-in-Chief of TheFanManifesto. 


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