TAMPA — Domingo German is entering his sixth major league season as a Yankee, went 18-4 in 2019 and was solid last season, when he pitched to a 3.61 ERA.
His competition for the No. 5 starter role, Clarke Schmidt, had appeared in just five career games before last year.
Given the disparity in major league time and résumés, German acknowledged he is the front-runner to take over the rotation spot Frankie Montas lost when he required shoulder surgery.
“When you take into consideration the experience that I’ve gained over the years … I guess you could expect me as the favorite,” German said through interpreter Marlon Abreu after a successful Grapefruit League debut Wednesday. “I feel so good, healthy right now. I feel I’m in a better spot as a pitcher.”
The experience matters, but perhaps not as much as the service time.
German is no longer able to be optioned to the minor leagues, which means he could be claimed by other teams if the Yankees try to send him to the minors.
Schmidt, conversely, could open the season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which might be the largest factor for the Yankees as they settle on a rotation.
Schmidt has begun this spring with more hype, having struck out five of the six Braves he faced and showed off a new cutter in a perfect, two-inning outing Sunday, but German has looked strong, too.
In his initial start of the exhibition season, the 30-year-old struck out three in 2 1/3 innings, in which he hit one batter and gave up one hit — an infield single to Derek Hill, who came around to score after German exited the game.
German, who has strengthened his shoulder after an impingement cost him months of last season, saw a boost in velocity and maxed out at 94.9 mph.
“There was life to his fastball,” manager Aaron Boone said after the 4-2 win over the Nationals at Steinbrenner Field. “The velocity was there, which I was glad to see him come out and really step on it a little bit.”
There are probably scenarios in which both German and Schmidt open the season in the rotation, but it likely would require another injury.
Boone does not sound as if he wants a six-man rotation.
“The problem with a six-man is it takes up a bullpen spot,” Boone said. “I want Gerrit Cole and [Carlos] Rodon and those guys going as much as possible.”
If German claims the No. 5 job, Schmidt — even if he continues with a strong spring — most likely would be sent to the minor leagues to serve as rotation depth.
Boone at least kept the door open for the loser of the competition to slot into the bullpen.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen between now and [the start of the season],” Boone said. “One could end up being in the bullpen as a long man.”