TAMPA — The Yankees several times used the word “mild” to describe marquee pitching acquisition Carlos Rodon’s new elbow issue. That may be the case, but I’ll say this: Their overall pitching problem is anything but mild.
In fact, it’s quite concerning.
General manager Brian Cashman read of litany of pitching injuries Thursday morning, and Aaron Boone revealed after the game that center fielder Harrison Bader has a side issue and is going for testing, which seemed like the topper on one unhappy day. It’s to the point where both Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt (or someone below them on the depth chart) will begin the year in the rotation. And that presumes Nestor Cortes, who skipped the WBC due to a hamstring issue and hasn’t pitched yet, is OK.
The news wasn’t much better out of the bullpen, where Lou Trivino was diagnosed with an elbow sprain and is also shut down, joining Tommy Kahnle, who has been sidelined with biceps tendinitis. And they will need their best out of the bullpen with at least two of their top five starters out to start the season.
Assuming one doesn’t count Frankie Montas, who may be out for the year, of course Rodon is the headline and biggest issue of many at the moment simply because of who he is. There are others here whose injuries may not be quite as “mild,” but Rodon — who was described as having a muscle sprain on the outside of the elbow (the UCL is intact, according to an MRI taken) — is an uber-talent upon whom $162 million over six years was bestowed by the Yankees.
The immediate concern isn’t grave, but there is a worrisome history here. He’s a brilliant left-hander who has occasionally proved brittle, to the point the White Sox non-tendered him before the 2021 season. The very next season in San Francisco he fulfilled original projections — he was the No. 3 overall pick out of North Carolina State in the 2014 draft — as one of the best in the game. He pumped out 100 mph fastballs and biting sliders like nothing, leading to the signing with the Yankees.
Rodon joins multiple other staff members on the injured list, and if he’s feeling less than 100 percent physically, he feels even worse about the situation. He apologized to the writers, which jibes with what we’ve heard about him (one White Sox person said he led the league in apologies many years), then expressed his upset as his impromptu press conference ended.
“I wish I didn’t feel like crap,” Rodon said on his way back to the clubhouse.
Rodon may actually be feeling worse emotionally knowing what a big and important piece he is. His own situation truly doesn’t appear to be approaching dire — at least not yet. In fact, Rodon said he tossed a ball Wednesday (though his full bullpen session was canceled) and could push it and pitch if they were in a pennant race. Since this is March, he is being shut down seven to 10 days and hope is retained that he can be activated sometime in April.
Cashman was characteristically calm while speaking to the media. But this was not a happy day in Yankeeland.
“It’s clearly not a good situation when you’re down a starter that you were counting on,” the GM said.
The Yankees are actually in the middle of quite a bad run of recently acquired pitching stars feeling pain. Montas told beat writers only the day before that he “wasn’t 100 percent” when the Yankees acquired him at the trade deadline last summer, something that’s become evident now but wasn’t apparent to the Yankees then. Cashman said they did a “deep dive” into the medicals, and everything checked out, including Montas’ shoulder.
“Everything came out aces,” Cashman recalled.
Well, at this point they are down two potential aces.
The Yankees still look superb at the top of the rotation, with Gerrit Cole appearing almost as sharp this spring as he did last October, followed by the 100 mph-throwing Luis Severino plus Cortes, assuming he’ll get out there soon. But after that, it’s a mess, especially among the recently acquired.
Kahnle, who was signed back this winter, hasn’t been able to pitch and is without a timetable. It’s been quite a run of back luck. But Cashman said he denied feeling “snakebit” by these recent pitching pickups.
“I feel it’s part of doing business when you’re dealing with pitchers,” Cashman said.
The other issue is that much of their pitching depth was sent away in trades for Montas and reliever Scott Effross, who is presumably out for the year with Tommy John surgery. Smallish starter J.P. Sears, sent in the Montas deal, actually put together two starts better than anything Montas produced last year before going out.
And of course, teams aren’t exactly offering to trade pitching. Ex-Met Chris Flexen is a rare pitcher said to be on the trade market, but there are probably 20 teams in need of starters.
“There’s nothing hot and heavy that will solve the problem,” Cashman said.
And of course the way their pitching fortune is going, who’s to say whether they would find the healthy guy out there, anyway.