The Yankees were supposed to be working the 2017 season without a strong collection of starting pitching. However, during the Yankees' current eight-game winning streak, the club's starters have silenced the detractors with a 6-0 record, 2.76 ERA and a 9.2 K/9 rate. How long can the run last?
Of the five starters, the pitcher expected to provide sterling efforts, Masahiro Tanaka currently owns the worst ERA. However, in his last start, Tanaka looked more like the pitcher who contended for the Cy Young Award last season. Tanaka had a superb spring training, but struggled in his first two starts (10 ER in 7 2/3 IP).
I don't worry about Tanaka. Once he hits a groove, he can rattle off solid start after solid start. Tanaka is the most complete pitcher of the crew and I have the plenty of faith he can put his rough start behind him.
The questions around CC Sabathia seemed to center on whether or not he could duplicate his rejuvenated performance from 2016. After three seasons which suggested the end of a fine career was near, Sabathia has pitched even better in his three starts in 2017, indicating his transformation is real and the big left-hander might have a longer run in him.
Sabathia leads Yankees starters with a 1.47 ERA across a team-high 18 1/3 innings of work. Sabathia's knee problems seem to be behind him (or at least the brace is doing its job) and he has as much confidence in himself as he did in the seasons in which he was considered among the best starters in the game.
Michael Pineda is in his walk year, so the question was whether he could translate his unquestioned talent into positive results and net a big free agent contract. Pineda's inconsistencies have been well detailed, so when he was awful in his first start (4 ER in 3 2/3 IP), there was little surprise. Pineda flirted with a perfect game in his second start, so the expectation for his third start was he'd slip up. Instead, while Pineda was not as dominant, he was quite good and netted his second win.
Pineda has strung together several good starts in a row in the past, but he followed them up with equally extensive skids. Pineda must stay mentally strong and keep bad outings from cascading into lengthy droughts.
Luis Severino was named the fourth starter as camp broke with the Yankees believing he can regain the form he displayed when he was called up in 2015. The Yankees hope to see Severino dispel the notion that he is a two-pitch hurler destined for the bullpen. Severino is just 23, but worked hard over the winter to resuscitate his changeup, a pitch he failed to utilize well and often enough in 2016 when working as a starter.
Severino's first start began well, but he allowed a three-run home run in the fifth inning which changed the complexion of the outing. However, Severino righted the ship in his second start, striking out 11 batters in seven innings. Severino showed he has control of all three of his pitches and he continues to regain trust in his all-important changeup. In my opinion, Severino maintains the most upside of the five hurlers based on age and talent. It's on Severnino to keep his concentration from start to start and demonstrate he can be a top of the rotation starter.
Jordan Montgomery snuck into the fifth starter competition with just over a couple of weeks left in spring training. Considering Montgomery's fine spring and his exceptional minor league results, the Yankees gave him the role. The 24-year-old rookie left-hander demonstrated in his first two starts that he can generate swing and misses on each of his four pitches.
Montgomery didn't make it out of the fifth inning of his first start (2 ER), but there was plenty to be happy with in the appearance. In his second start Monday night, Montgomery twirled six shutout innings before tiring in the seventh inning in which he was reached for a three-run homer. Montgomery will have to continue mixing up his pitches and generating ground balls in an effort to limit the number of long balls.
The Yankees rotation has certainly opened some eyes during the team's eight-game win streak. The good news is that each of the starters has the potential to contribute a significant number of quality innings this season based on their histories and potential. The starters might have their ups and downs, but if they are able to remain healthy and stay away from extended cold streaks, the Yankees rotation could become a strength to match a potent offense and lockdown bullpen.