Monday, March 10, 2014

Spring Rotation Order Could Be Coming With A Dose Of Strategy

(Courtesy of the AP)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

After playing to a 3-3 tie in yesterday's game, the Yankees will get their first true off day of the spring today.  No games, no scheduled workouts at the complex, nothing.  Now 3 weeks into Spring Training and with 3 weeks remaining until Opening Day, they've reached the point where the focus starts to change and everything starts to matter a little more.  One thing Joe did over the weekend before today's off day was announce the rotation order for the next week.  If you happened to miss it in the course of your regular weekend activities, it looks like this:

Tuesday- CC Sabathia & Masahiro Tanaka (sim game)
Wednesday- Hiroki Kuroda
Thursday- Michael Pineda & Ivan Nova (split squad)
Friday- David Phelps
Saturday- Vidal Nuno & Adam Warren (split squad)
Sunday- Sabathia & Tanaka (split squad)

This coming weekend's games will be played in Panama, which is why the Yanks will have 2 starters and why they've yet to announce the first round of spring roster cuts.  Nuno and Tanaka will stay behind and make the starts in Tampa while Warren and Sabathia will travel to Panama, but the more important note here is the strategy Joe seems to be using with Sabathia and Tanaka to limit their exposure this spring.

Tanaka's sim game tomorrow comes after he made his first spring start last Thursday.  On that same day, it was Sabathia who threw a sim game in place of a "real" game, a decision that leaves him as the only non-Pineda starter in camp who hasn't made more than 1 appearance in ST games yet.  When Joe went with Sabathia, Kuroda, and Tanaka together on March 1st for their ST debuts, he said that eventually each pitcher would separate out into his own day as extra rest days got worked in and roster cuts were made.  Since that first outing, however, we've seen Sabathia and Tanaka stay joined at the hip as far as scheduled appearance days go, and one starts to wonder if that's more than just a coincidence.

Limiting Tanaka's exposure to the AL East was an idea that came up early in camp, and it was one that Joe quickly dispelled by saying he wouldn't hesitate to pitch Tanaka against an AL East team if that's how the schedule fell.  While he hasn't had the chance to put that statement to the test yet, it's worth noting that both of Tanaka's appearances thus far have been against the same team (the Phillies).  He's not going to pitch in a game again until Sunday, after which there will be only another 2-3 opportunities for opposing teams to get a look at him before the season starts.  AL East teams or not, the plan certainly appears to be one based in keeping Tanaka a secret to the opposition as much as possible.

As for Sabathia, perhaps there's a similar attempt being made to hide his stuff from the rest of the league as he works on adjusting his game to the lighter weight.  That might seem strange given how long he's been around and how familiar every team out there is with him at this point, but it wouldn't surprise me if Joe was trying to give CC more time to work on his new secret weapon.  It was reported last week that CC was working with Andy Pettitte on throwing a cutter when Pettitte visited camp as a guest instructor, and he threw the cutter during his last bullpen session.  Incorporating that cutter into his pitch mix could be a very good way to keep hitters honest against his 4-seamer and maximize the value of his slider/changeup offspeed combo.  If it's not quite ready to be shown in a game situation, or even if it is, Joe could be playing this flip-flop sim game strategy with Sabathia and Tanaka as a way to keep that cutter somewhat under wraps before the regular season, same as he could be doing with Tanaka's splitter.

As long as CC and Tanaka are getting enough work during spring camp to make them feel comfortable and confident in their stuff, I really don't care how and where that work happens.  If it's just a coincidence that they're the ones paired up to throw sim games right now, so be it.  If it is a strategic move on Joe's part, then that's even better.  There's nothing wrong with a little gamesmanship and these 2 pitchers, one who's new to the MLB world and one who's trying to reinvent himself after a disastrous 2013 campaign, are the 2 for whom it makes the most sense to go the strategic route.

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