Commentary

Yanks' starters have been awful in ALCS

CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes have delivered back-to-back subpar performances

Originally Published: October 16, 2010
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Unfortunately for New York, the Yankees will not be allowed to sign Cliff Lee as a free agent until after the postseason.

Texas fans may have been crushed by Friday's Game 1 loss in which the Rangers blew a 5-0 lead at home. But less than 24 hours later, their team had whipped the Yankees 7-2 in Game 2 and they could feel confident heading into Game 3 with Lee on the mound. Yankees fans, meanwhile, probably are wondering about their own starting pitching.

[+] EnlargePhil Hughes
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezPhil Hughes allowed seven runs on 10 hits in four-plus innings in the Yankees' 7-2 loss in Game 2.

That pitching was a little more of a concern than usual for the Yankees heading into the postseason, but they at least figured they could count on Cy Young candidate CC Sabathia. Instead, he's allowed nine runs in his two postseason starts while walking seven in 10 innings pitched. Phil Hughes won 18 games, made the American League All-Star team and pitched seven scoreless innings to clinch the Division Series win over the Twins last weekend. But he was awful in Game 2 on Saturday. His pitches were up, he didn't have an effective curveball and he allowed seven runs in four-plus innings to dig the Yankees into a hole not even the Rangers' bullpen could squander.

Were it not for New York's bullpen -- no runs allowed in nine innings -- Rangers souvenir shops would be doubling their orders for a possible World Series run on those claw-and-antler T-shirts. Instead, the Yankees can regain the series lead if Game 3 starter Andy Pettitte pitches as well as he did last week against the Twins and really shows he's back in top form after being on the disabled list from mid-July to mid-September with a strained left groin. It's not an unfamiliar position for Pettitte, who has been on primetime TV so much in October that he should have his own CSI series, "CSI: Yankee Stadium Mound.''

"I hate to say it but it's not that big of an issue anymore,'' Pettitte said of the postseason. "I don't want to sound arrogant, but I've made so many postseason starts and they've all been so big that it's just another game. I just hope that I can go out and get into a good rhythm and get everything working.''

Well, that's the big concern after the first two games of this series. Due to sweeping the Twins in the Division Series, the Yankees' starters are pitching on extended rest. Sabathia pitched on eight days' rest, Hughes pitched on six days' rest and Pettitte will pitch on 10 days' rest. Put it this way: By Sunday evening, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez will have made three starts in the past two weeks while Pettitte has made only one.

Apparently, the Yankees should have toyed with Minnesota a little longer, allowing the Twins one or two victories before sending them through the postseason woodchipper again.

The odd thing is the Yankees have gone through this before without much issue -- Sabathia had eight days' rest before the ALCS last year yet won his two starts while allowing only two runs -- but Pettitte says he's convinced the extra rest has had a negative effect this year.

"There's no doubt about it,'' he said. "That's always a concern. It was a concern of mine going into my Minnesota start and obviously it will be [10] days' rest for me going into Monday, which is an awfully long time. You'd rather pitch on three days' rest than 10 days' rest, I can promise you that. But it is what it is and you hope you can go out there the first couple innings and get into a rhythm and work from that.

"Sometime it's hard to get going. It might be hard for you all to understand that, but it just is after you've had a long layoff.''

Asked what advice he would give Pettitte, Sabathia replied, "Me give him advice? That's hilarious.''

No kidding. Pitching on seven days' rest in Game 1 of the Division Series, Sabathia allowed four runs in six innings, walked three and hit a batter. Pitching on eight days' rest, Sabathia lasted four innings in Game 1 of the ALCS Friday night, allowing five runs and walking four. New York pitching coach Dave Eiland said part of Sabathia's problems might have been feeling too strong due to the extra rest, which causes his backside to collapse from trying to throw too hard.

"My big thing is mechanics and being able to repeat my delivery,'' Sabathia said. "And sometimes when I get a long layoff, it's hard for me to do that.''

Hughes had a much better first inning in Game 2 than Sabathia did in Game 1 -- he struck out three, but allowed a run on an infield single, a walk and a double-steal -- but he was a mess after that. Hughes gave up two runs in the second, two in the third and two in the fifth. "It was a struggle to get the ball on the corners and down,'' Hughes said.

Asked whether the extra rest affected Hughes, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, "I don't necessarily think so, but I can't be 100 percent sure. That's the intrigue of baseball and the way the playoffs are set up.''

The Yankees could go from long rest to short rest by pushing Sabathia up from his scheduled Game 5 start to Game 4 to avoid pitching the struggling A.J. Burnett (who would otherwise be pitching on 16 days' rest). Girardi said he has no plans to change his rotation, though he included the qualifier "right now.'' When reporters persisted with this angle he laughed and said, "Hypotheticals, I love. Let me just get on the airplane first and we'll meet tomorrow.''

Sabathia said as far as he knows he's still starting Game 5, but "whenever they tell me I'm pitching, I'm pitching. It doesn't matter whether I'm throwing a bullpen tomorrow or the day before I pitch. If they want me to take the ball, I have no problem with it and they know that.''

What is certain is that Pettitte will get the ball Monday for Game 3 when he will try to become the first pitcher to win 20 games in the postseason.

"There's been talk about Cliff Lee before we even started this series and people were already talking about Game 3,'' Girardi said. "But let's not forget we have a pretty good guy on the mound, too, who's won a lot of postseason games in his career.''

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com