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Yankees Depth Means Robertson’s Injury Is Not a Concern

By Joseph Delgrippo ~ March 10th, 2012. Filed under: Digest Contributors, New York Yankees.

After a great start to the 2012 Spring Training season, the Yankees have run into some hard times. Starting pitchers Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes were belted around and, if you believe all the scribes, Michael Pineda “needs to” improve pretty much everything, except his results.

We initially heard David Robertson’s foot injury is worse than initially expected. Apparently, the initial concerns were an overreaction and it’s just a bone bruise. Still, there is a chance Robertson could miss opening day.

Some feared that Robertson has something similar to what Chien-Ming Wang had a few years back, a Lisfranc injury to the middle of his foot. Speculation exists that Wang’s foot injury caused his shoulder injury.

History shows that foot injuries can cause arm injuries. St, Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean had his career cut short due to an arm injury. Dean had one of the greatest fastballs of his time,  comparable to Rube Waddell, Bob Feller and Sandy Koufax. But in the 1937 All-Star Game, Dean suffered a broken big toe when he was hit by a line drive. He came back too soon, compensated for the pain by altering his delivery and hurt his shoulder.

So the Yankees need to make damn sure Robertson’s injury is fully healed before he is allowed to walk, run and throw. Yankees fans must rejoice that the New York Mets are not taking care of him, as Robertson might have had his entire leg amputated!

I can see it now. “What are the Yankees going to do?” Worrying*and panic usually abounds throughout Yankee land.

*I still do not know why sports fans worry about all these things. I love my teams as much as the next guy, but never worry about injuries, depth or what might happen if so and so is not playing. I never really worried or panicked when I played either. What is the point? Panic and worry for fans brings on unneeded stress and panic while playing reduces your quality of play. These are not situations any fan can control, so why worry?

The Yankees should do nothing if something like this turns out to be serious. No trades, no signings. That is why teams have 40-man rosters and non-roster invitees. That is why teams try and develop a deep bullpen and more than five starting pitchers. The Yankees have that deep bullpen, and even if Robertson’s injury kept him out 2-3 months (worst case), the Yankees will be fine with Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera in the last couple innings. But that also means Cory Wade is guaranteed a spot in the pen, and the Yankees will bring another pitcher north who likely would not have made the team.

While he was an important part of the 2011 season, Robertson is still only a one-inning reliever. It is not like Alex Rodriguez is missing time or Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira or Curtis Granderson.

If Robertson is out for a period of time there will be calls (I bet Mike Silva is working on it right now) for Phil Hughes to be immediately sent to the bullpen and Freddy Garcia to be named the fifth starter. Hughes has performed well out of the pen in his major league career, but has mostly struggled as a starting pitcher. This would be a huge mistake…at least for the first half of the 2012 season.

Regardless of injuries, Hughes should remain in the rotation and Garcia should remain as the long man. Since young starting pitchers are the highest valued commodity in the game today, the Yankees need to see how Hughes performs as a starter for the first half to help determine his future role. If Hughes is so-so through 20 starts, AND the Yankees then have a need for bullpen help, the last two months of this season is the time to possibly fill that need with Hughes.

Also remember that Joba Chamberlain should be back by July and former Seattle closer David Aardsma could be back by August.

There also will be calls for Triple-A starting pitchers Dellin Betances (big fastball), David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell or Adam Warren to be considered for the bullpen. For his big fastball, plethora of Yankees starting pitcher prospects and lack of any command, Betances might be best suited for the pen. But that lack of command of either his fastball or his curve ball work against him for a bullpen role, where the key to being a successful reliever is the ability to throw strikes. The same applies to Mitchell, who I have seen pitch about a dozen times. Mitchell walks too many and goes deep in the count too often.

While Phelps looked good again yesterday, and has good control, he would be the first starting pitcher brought up to the majors in case of an injury to a starting pitcher, so he is should not be considered. Of that Empire State quartet, the best bet would be Adam Warren (saw him pitch a half dozen times), as he has good command of three pitches, and his fastball would play up higher in shorter stints.

But I would avoid using a starting pitcher in this one-inning role. And I would avoid all the younger kids in camp now, guys like Chase Whitley, Daniel Burawa and Graham Stoneburner. Adam Miller and Manny Delcarmen have virtually no chance.

That means the spotlight is on George Kontos . Even though he strained his oblique early in camp, Kontos  is the best suited for a one or two inning stint role. Ever since he was drafted in that great 2006 Yankees class,   I have been a fan of Kontos. Until he hurt his elbow in 2009, Kontos likely would have been brought up as a starting pitcher that season. Since his return from Tommy John surgery, he has mostly been a relief pitcher, but did start a few games in Triple-A last season.

His performance in the bullpen has improved since I saw him in the Arizona Fall League in 2010, where he was battered around quite a bit. He is a two-pitch pitcher now, using only his fastball (90-93) and biting slider. Kontos made his major league debut late last year and has performed well enough to be considered by me the top RH reliever in the Yankees system.

Kontos has put his time in and has created success out of the pen. He may make the 12 man staff anyway, but if an injury keeps someone out long term, Kontos should have the inside track.

The reason why teams have all these extra arms in camp and keep younger pitchers on the 40 man roster is for these types of situations. A key guy gets hurt (or maybe a guy is not productive) during spring training and the team doesn’t think this guy or that guy in camp can fill the role with consistent success. That particular team usually panics and not looking for the future, makes a stupid deal to fill a temporary need.

Thank god Mariano Rivera remained a Yankee.

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Joseph Delgrippo is an aspiring sportswriter and TV baseball analyst. He played NCAA baseball, at tiny Marietta (OH) College, participating in the Division 3 World Series. In addition, he's coached baseball at the high school level. His knowledge of this game goes far beyond what is shown on television.

2 Responses to Yankees Depth Means Robertson’s Injury Is Not a Concern

  1. Stu B

    “Thank god Mariano Rivera remained a Yankee.”

    A single thought underpinning the reasoning of this entire piece.

  2. Raul

    If the Yankees’ season really hinged on David Robertson, the team has more problems than anyone thought.

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