One of the biggest questions entering this season for the Yankees was – Can CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda return to their “ace” form? Well, it appears that may not be completely necessary. Today the Yankees new 1-2 punch, consisting of Mashiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda, led the way throwing a combined 14 shutout innings in a sweep of the Cubs.
When the Yankees signed Tanaka, Brian Cashman tried to downplay expectations, labeling him as a middle of the rotation starter. Yeah, right. We all know the Yankees history of opening up their check book to bring in the game’s top talent, but even the Yankees wouldn’t lay out $155 million to a guy they expect to be at best a #3 starter. As of right now, Tanaka has been as good as advertised, if not better. He has quickly put the league on notice, striking out 28 batters in his first 3 starts. Whether Cashman wants to admit it or not, the Yankees brought him in to be the team’s ace. So far, so good.
Mashiro Tanaka: 2-0 / 2.05 ERA / 28 SO / 0.77 WHIP
Michael Pineda: 2-0 / 1.00 ERA / 15 SO / 0.89 WHIP
CC Sabathia: 1-2 / 6.63 ERA / 21 SO / 1.26 WHIP
Hiroki Kuroda: 2-1 / 3.86 ERA / 14 SO / 1.13 WHIP
Ivan Nova: 2-1 / 5.94 ERA / 8 SO / 1.74 WHIP
Pineda might be one of the biggest pitching surprises in all of baseball to start off the year. After not pitching in the majors for the past two seasons due to injury, questions remained as to what exactly the Yankees would be getting, if anything, out of Pineda. Well so far he has picked up right where he left off in 2011 with the Seattle Mariners, and has even exceeded those results. With each and every start Pineda makes, he impresses me more and more. One of the biggest concerns you have with a pitcher returning from major injuries is their ability to find their velocity. Well, that hasn’t been a problem. He has been able to tune it up in the mid-90’s when he needs to. Batters up and down the lineup continue to look off-balance at the plate, which is a good sign, meaning that he’s using all of his pitches effectively.
The emergence of these two has taken some of the attention off of the rest of the starters. Sabathia, is still trying to figure things out, as he adapts to a new style of pitching. Although I wouldn’t expect him to return to his CY Young form, I do think he will turn things around as the season goes on. Kuroda, should really benefit from this. I never thought of him as your traditional front of the rotation starter, despite what his numbers may have been. I think this situation is ideal for him, as he can slot himself into the middle of the rotation and continue to produce with little pressure on his back. Nova, is never going to be a dominant pitcher. He will always give up runs and his ERA will never be impressive. And that’s okay. As long as he is able to keep the Yankees in ballgames and find ways to win, that’s all they are asking of him.
What the Yankees must be smiling about the most is the youth of their 1-2 punch. Tanaka and Pineda are each only 25-years-old. When was the last time the Yankees had two starters, who looked poised for a bright future, at only 25? For a team whose roster is still incredible old, it’s important to have core players, especially in the rotation, to be building blocks for years to come.
It’s early, okay, it’s REALLY early. But if I’m the Yankees, I’m ecstatic about what I’m seeing from these two. Joe Girardi has a new set of aces on his hands and I believe it’s only a matter of time until the others begin to turn things around. And when they do, the Yankees will have one of the strongest rotations in the AL, leaving them poised for a return to October baseball.