I was wondering about the Phil Hughes situation. I heard that the Yankees are stretching him out to come back as a starter. I also heard that when he comes back, they might move Colon to the long man spot. I think that instead of moving the starter that has been consistently one of the top two starters on the team, to the long man spot, that maybe the Yankees should look at Nova. I’m not sure if Nova has been getting better or not, but he wasnt real great at getting into the 6th, 7th or 8thinning without problems. But Nova HAS been decent with this first 3-5 innings, which to me would make him ideal as a long man out of the bullpen.
On behalf of the entire TYA staff, I wanted to take a minute to address this concern. To begin, I can confirm that the Yankees are stretching out Phil Hughes to return to a role in the starting rotation. Steve S. and I saw Hughes’ rehab start on Sunday in person, at MCU ballpark on Coney Island. Hughes beat the A-ball hitters like a drum, and was reported at topping out at 95 mph on the radar gun. The Newark Star-Ledger is reporting that Hughes will start Friday in AA, as he continues his march back to the big leagues.
Hughes was always going to come back as a starter. The Yankees have invested too much in developing him to be one and the perception (and I emphasize that it is the perception) is that he is more suited to that role than, say, Joba Chamberlain. This will only become a problem when Bartolo Colon returns to the rotation, and if he returns as strong as he had been.
Before writing this post, I touched base with my TYA colleagues to make sure that I wasn’t missing any information. I can confirm that none of us has heard any rumors about Colon shifting to the bullpen upon his return. That stands to reason, because Colon has earned a spot in the rotation until further notice. Prior to going on the DL Bartolo was leading the Yankee starters in ERA (3.10, 132 ERA+) and WHIP (1.072). It behooves the team to give him as many innings as possible. That will only happen as a starter.
An argument could be made that the Yankees should shift Colon to the pen for a time to try to prevent an injury and then stretch him out in time for the postseason, but this is a straw man. When Colon comes back he’ll be well rested, and his injury wasn’t related to his arm. It was a fluke that occurred in the field. The risk with Colon was always that he could break down at a moment’s notice. Managing that could back fire just as easily as not. Expect Colon to start as well when he comes back from the DL.
The odd man out figures to be Ivan Nova for two reasons. First, you are correct. Nova struggles to go deep into ballgames. So far this season he is averaging only 5.2 innings per start. He is a risk to tax the Yankee bullpen when he pitches.
Second, the Yankees have consistently said that his stuff projects better out of the bullpen. Nova primarily throws a fastball and a curveball. Those two offerings represent 91% of the pitches he throws, with the occasional slider and changeup making up the difference. None of his pitches rates particularly well, but his fastball averages 92.3 mph and has at times been clocked as high as 96 or 97 mph. The argument is that as a long reliever or two inning reliever Nova would be able to air it out more and thrive as a fastball pitcher who mixes in the occasional off speed pitch to keep batters off-balance.
No matter what the Yankees decide, they’ll be in a position of strength if Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon both come back from the DL healthy and effective. That hasn’t happened yet, and the spate of injuries the team has suffered so far this season is a reminder that nothing is assured when it comes to injuries. However, if everything goes according to plan, the smart money would be on Ivan Nova migrating to the bullpen.