On Wednesday, February 13, when the first of pitchers and catchers report to Tampa and spring training commences, a new battle will begin at catcher, however a pitching rotation of familiar faces will return. It's a rotation that at the top, brings back its stalwarts in ace CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Andy Pettitte. While Pettitte and Sabathia had injury riddled 2012 seasons, both come back recouped from their ailments, and in Sabathia's case, enters 2013 in the best shape of his career, according to Drew Silva of NBCSports.com. Furthermore, this was a point punctuated by notable Yankees writer Joel Sherman of The New York Post,
“Observation from Bbwaa dinner: CC Sabathia is way thinner than I ever remember him #Yankees”
Despite two stints on the disabled list in 2012 and offseason elbow surgery, Sabathia still managed a 15-win season. In addition, Kuroda flourished in scenarios where both Sabathia and Pettitte were out simultaneously, leading the pitching staff in most major statistical categories and racking up 16 wins. Together with Pettitte at the three spot and in particular, Pettitte's two strong postseason showings in playoff series' against the Baltimore Orioles and the Detroit Tigers, a strong veteran presence looms at the top.
For the first time in his career, right-hander Phil Hughes embarks on a contract year, with free agency pending this upcoming offseason. Needless to say, 2013 will be a crucial season for Hughes from a personal standpoint. Looking back on 2012, Hughes got off to a rocky start, as April brought him a 1-3 record with a 7.88 earned run average. However, after settling down with a respectable May, he pieced things together throughout the season, especially in June and July when, as previously mentioned, Sabathia and Pettitte both missed time. Maintaining an earned run average of 2.67 and 3.09 in those months, Hughes was also crucial in eating up innings and averaging a little over six strikeouts a game.
Additionally, if his strong performances in the month of September and in the American League Division Series were of any indication, Hughes will be a strong number four in the 2013 rotation.
That leaves the number five spot as the big question mark?
The 2012 season was a "Jekyll and Hyde" of sorts for Ivan Nova. After dazzling as a rookie in 2011, to the point that he was in the running for American League Rookie of the Year, Nova would struggle immensely in 2012, particularly after the All-Star break. Factoring in ineffective starts with a stint on the disabled list, the disappointment culminated with being left off the postseason roster entirely.
While it's expected that Nova will get another opportunity in the rotation in 2013 as the number five, it will be with the notion that right-hander David Phelps could be called upon should similar struggles occur for Nova. While Phelps was solid in spot duty last season, both as a starter and out of the bullpen, it remains to be seen if that similar performance can carry over in a full-time role in the rotation.
Furthermore, what if anything can be expected from last year's "at the time" gem of a trade for young Michael Pineda? If he can ease back in and regain his velocity without issue, could a few strong performances in rehab starts and possibly out of the Yankees bullpen get him back into the fold of the rotation?
Needless to say, this is a formidable rotation with four veteran starters with previous success. The importance of a sound rotation cannot be understated, especially in the American League East with the vastly revamped Toronto Blue Jays, a new-look Boston Red Sox, a revitalized arch-nemesis in the Orioles which took the Yankees to the brink in last year's ALDS, and an always pesky Tampa Bay Rays ball club.
Never the less, watching the performance of Nova or whomever occupies the fifth spot in the rotation this season will be interesting. Can Nova solidify his spot or will the fifth spot simply be a revolving door?
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