Commentary

Girardi needs to give it a rest

Yankees manager should go with a four-man rotation, pitch Gaudin if needed in Game 6

Originally Published: October 31, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Turns out there are some things George Steinbrenner's money can't buy. I just never thought one of those things would be a fourth starter.

The planet's richest baseball team forgot to purchase a No. 4 starting pitcher. So that means this World Series could depend on an act of calculated desperation -- and three New York Yankees forced to pitch the remainder of the series, however long it lasts, on short rest.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi is giving every indication that he'll push all-in with his three big chips: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. He's doing this because his team has a $208 million payroll, but it doesn't have a fourth starter he trusts. This is like buying a tank but not having the Parts Department attach the gun turret.

If the decision works, Girardi will get a borough named after him. If it doesn't, he'll get ripped. I'll beat the rush and say that if he goes through with it, Girardi will be pushing one managerial button too many.

This is a world-class gamble by a third-year manager who thinks he'll be playing it safe but won't. A three-man rotation of Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte looks good on a lineup card, but what it really does is expose a major flaw of the Yankees.

Girardi hasn't made an official announcement about his plans other than to say Sabathia will start Sunday night's Game 4. But the fact that Girardi is even considering these moves is an admission that he's soft on the Yankees' other two starting candidates: Chad Gaudin and Joba Chamberlain.

Gaudin hasn't started since Sept. 28, Chamberlain since Sept. 30. The truth is Chamberlain was never a serious option in the starting mix.

But Gaudin, who has yet to make an appearance in this World Series, could be available for Game 5 (in place of Burnett) or, if necessary, Game 6 (in place of Pettitte). Forget about a Game 7 -- that's probably reserved for Sabathia.

The 37-year-old Pettitte, who has more postseason wins than anyone in big league history, took the rain-soaked mound for Saturday night's Game 3. He left with his 17th playoff victory and gave the Yankees a 2-1 series lead. Huge.

But Pettitte needed 104 pitches to get through his six mostly sloppy innings. He gave up four earned runs and said afterward, "It was an absolute grind."

If I were Girardi, I'd present Pettitte with the lineup card as a gift, thank him for the go-ahead victory and tell him he's made his last start of this postseason. And maybe that's the way it'll end if the Yankees can somehow win again Sunday and Monday night. But if they don't, Gaudin would be my choice for Game 6, not Pettitte.

Pettitte ground his way to an 8-5 win, but to think he can return on three days' rest for a possible Game 6 is pushing it, especially at his age (he said his legs were totally gassed Saturday night), after this pitch count (his third-highest total of the season) and after this latest so-so performance.

[+] EnlargeJoe Girardi
AP Photo/David J. PhillipJoe Girardi seems to have his mind made up: He's going with three starters in this World Series, a strategy that could come back to haunt him.

"It was tough, I'm not going to lie to you," he said.

It will only get tougher if Girardi needs him Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium. Gaudin is rested, really rested, and put up numbers that matter during the regular season.

"I think he's started seven games for us," Girardi said before Game 3, "and I don't think we've lost. That's one thing that we like about him."

One thing? How about the thing?

Of the three short-rest starters, the choice of Sabathia is the only one Girardi can justify. Sabathia is 4-2 with a 2.11 ERA in six career starts on three days' rest. And it isn't a coincidence that Girardi controlled his innings in the latter part of the regular season.

"I said it all postseason: I've had enough rest the past two months to be able to feel comfortable enough to go out there and pitch on three days' rest," Sabathia said. "I told Joe that at the beginning of the playoffs: 'I'm here and available when you need me.'"

Burnett is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA on short rest. He threw 108 pitches in the Game 2 win in New York and was dominant. But you're still asking him to do something Monday night that he rarely does: start a game with a day's less rest and do it after a long, long season of work. Plus, he'll face the Phillies' best pitcher, Cliff Lee, who will be fully rested after his Game 1 masterpiece.

And if the series works its way back to Pettitte, it could be messy. Pettitte is 5-7 with a 4.18 ERA in 18 career short-rest starts.

But Girardi has essentially made up his mind. He keeps using the word "possibly" to describe the likelihood of bringing Burnett and Pettitte back on a three-day schedule, but it sure looks like a done deal.

"Well, I mean, this is the World Series," Girardi said. "There is no baseball after the World Series for four or five months, so there will be plenty of time to rest."

And if the risky strategy doesn't work, there will be plenty of time to do something else.

Second-guess.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

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