Perhaps Hughes The Key To Yankees Minus Rivera

As weeks go you would have to say this week for the New York Yankees was not a good one and that is putting it mildly. It was disastrous.

The loss of the greatest closer to ever walk the planet is a pretty steep price to pay for any team. But it was just the tip of the iceberg.

It all started on April 29 when Nick Swisher left a game against the Tigers in the bottom of the third inning with a strained hamstring. At the time Brett Gardner was on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right elbow he sustained making a diving catch on a ball on April 17.

Swisher has been unable to play since and Gardner, who was expected to return on Thursday, had his return delayed for four days.

That means the Yankees have been playing Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez, Eduardo Nunez and now Jayson Nix in the outfield in place of their two injured starters.

That has led some pretty bad outfield play in the past week, especially by “Eduardo Scissorhands” in left-field against the Orioles.

Though the Yankees may have had some laughs when Nunez slipped and slid his way through his first start in left on Monday, it was no laughing matter the next night when he allowed a fly ball off the bat of Nick Johnson fall and two runs to score.

It was initially scored as a two-base error. But MLB Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre on Friday reversed the call into a double. However, whether it was scored an error or a double, it still cost the Yankees two runs in three-run inning that ended up in a 7-1 defeat. The point is that the ball should have been caught and it wasn’t.

This outfield roulette the Yankees are playing does not even take into account how the offense has been hurt by losing Gardner and Swisher for this long a period of time.

At the time of his injury, Gardner was hitting .321. Swisher was even better. He was hitting .284 with six home runs and he was leading the American League in RBIs with 23. You can’t expect to replace 67 percent of your starting outfield with older veterans and young neophytes and expect the offense and defense to be there. Just ask the Boston Red Sox.

The loss of Gardner has allowed manager Joe Girardi to use his platoon designated hitters, Jones and Ibanez, in the field and give Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez half-days off as the DH. That means Scissorhands plays shortstop and Eric Chavez plays third base.

Nunez promptly goes into a 0-for-19 slide this week and the preciously delicate exoskeleton and inner body linings and muscles of Chavez again reared its ugly head – literally – on Wednesday night.

Chavez dove for a ball off the bat of J.J. Hardy and his head slammed the infield dirt at Yankee Stadium pretty hard. The next thing you know Chavez is on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion. If this anything like the fractured bone in his foot he injured at about the same time last season, we should see Chavez back in a Yankee uniform during the 2016 Yankee Old-Timers’ Day celebration and I hope Eric brings a football helmet and pads to play in the game.

This does not even address the starting pitching problems Girardi is already faced and with which he is still dealing.

While CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda seem to be settling into their roles as the ace and No.2  starter of the staff, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia seem to be playing a contest amongst themselves of who could give up the most hits and runs in the shortest stretch of innings.

Well, Garcia won that contest hands down and he was banished to the bullpen and rookie David Phelps made his first major-league start on Thursday.

This was not the way it was supposed to be with Andy Pettitte on the verge of coming back and when the Yankees were counting on getting Michael Pineda back from his sore right shoulder problems in May. Now Pineda is lost for the season with shoulder surgery and Pettitte can’t get back to the Yankees soon enough to suit Yankee fans.

The loss of Mariano Rivera makes it even harder to decipher.

For now, it looks as if David Robertson and Rafael Soriano will share the closer’s role. But with Joba Chamberlain still recovering from both Tommy John and Chuckie Cheez ankle surgeries the bullpen suddenly looks a whole lot thinner than it did before Mo collapsed in pain on the Kauffman Stadium warning track on Thursday.

Perhaps there could be a silver lining if Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman are open to see their way clear of this mess. Some good could come of it if they play it correctly.

First, they have to allow Phelps to continue to pitch in the rotation and give him a chance to show what he can do. It is only fair they do that to what looks to be a promising 25-year-old right-hander. Nova’s 15-game winning streak is over but he certainly is capable of pitching better than he did this week. So you have to continue to roll with him.

But when Pettitte returns you have to make a move to take one person out of the rotation and there is no better candidate than Hughes.

If you look at the period of time Hughes was most successful it was when he was the setup man for Rivera during the Yankees second-half push to the playoffs and the world championship in 2009. His bullpen numbers were even better than Rivera’s numbers that season.

In 2010, he was needed as a starter and he won 18 games. However, after the second half of 2010 it was obvious he was not the same pitcher he was before the All-Star break that season. His year-long struggles with weakness in his right shoulder in 2011 bore that out.

So far in 2012, Hughes has not struggled with velocity. He is back to throwing an average of 92 mph and getting up to 94 and 95 with ease. But he also has been victimized by the longball and he is carrying a 1-4 record with a 7.48 ERA after five starts.

In the past the presence of Robertson, Soriano and Chamberlain made it impossible for Hughes to shift back to the bullpen. But with Soriano and Robertson sharing the eighth and ninth innings and Chamberlain likely out for the season it would seem to make sense to try Hughes in the seventh inning role that Chamberlain, Robertson and lately Soriano have made so vital.

I do understand that once you shift Hughes to that role there is no shifting him back to a starting role. But if Phelps eventually falters you can always give Garcia another try and there also is a number options that can made through trades and signing of free agents.

I have heard Roy Oswalt’s name and I hope that is all I hear about him because he has a chronic back condition that makes him risky. However, the Yankees have a farm system rich enough to be able to make trades to acquire 2013 free-agents-to-be like Matt Cain of the Giants and Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Cashman has this option in his back pocket through the end of July and he will have plenty of time to evaluate the need for that trade by that time.

The Yankees also are looking at having former Mariners closer David Aardsma to add to the bullpen. He could perhaps also take the seventh inning role if he is healthy. But I think they need to keep Hughes in mind as a potential player in the bullpen because I still believe he can shine there.

For one thing he can shelve his awful secondary pitches like his change-up and concentrate on his fastball, curve and cutter. His velocity should also move up to the 97 mph mark he used to throw and that wll cover for a lot of mistakes in his location he makes as a starter.

We will see how it plays out but the Yankees just need to get Swisher and Gardner back on the field and hopefully Robinson Cano will stop hitting like Luis Sojo in time for the Yankees make a run at the 2012 playoffs.

They may as well try because they are now finding there are much lower expectations on this team now.

 

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