Time remains for Yankees to patch rotation
Injuries no help, but club has history of correcting deficiencies in-season
NEW YORK -- The highlight of Tuesday night's Subway Series game at Yankee Stadium for somewhat somber Yankees fans came in the bottom of the fifth inning, when the New York Rangers wrapped up their Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With the crosstown-rival Mets leading by six runs, many of the fans began chanting, "Let's Go Rangers," and then ticked down the clock as the final seconds of Game 7 ended in Pittsburgh.
The Yankees then graciously posted the 2-1 final on their video board to perhaps the loudest round of cheers of the night. And why not? The Rangers are like another home team. It was in January that they played a pair of sold-out outdoor hockey games here, defeating the Devils and Islanders on Yankee Stadium ice.
What's up next for the depleted Yankees is anybody's guess. The Subway Series moves to Queens for games on Wednesday and Thursday nights at Citi Field. Including Tuesday night's 12-7 loss, the Yanks have now dropped six in a row to the Mets over the course of two seasons.
It's becoming increasingly obvious that this Yankees season is pretty much replicating 2013, with injuries to key players piling up like debris tossed on very thin ice.
"The injuries are one thing, but it's another to let up  runs at home against the Mets," Kelly Johnson said after the game about a team that came into the series near the bottom of the Major Leagues in almost every significant offensive category.
Masahiro Tanaka, their one reliable and healthy starter, is slated to get the call for the Yankees on Wednesday night. Tanaka is 5-0 this season and hasn't lost a regular-season game on two continents since Aug. 19, 2012. As of late Tuesday night, Yanks manager Joe Girardi indicated that Chase Whitley would be brought up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to start on Thursday. Veteran right-hander Alfredo Aceves pitched himself out of that possible start by allowing six runs on six hits in back-to-back relief appearances on Monday and Tuesday.
Right now, Girardi doesn't have much choice except to utilize the players he has available.
"We have to stay in rotation; these are the people we have," Girardi said, noting that Tuesday night's losing pitcher, Vidal Nuno, would get another crack at it when his turn comes around against the Pirates at home on Sunday. "There's not a surplus of pitching lying around. That's not where we are in today's game."
The season will move on without CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda. Nova is gone until sometime next season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. It may not be wise to count much on Sabathia or Pineda. The latter has had a recurrence of right shoulder problems and hasn't returned since his suspension for spreading pine tar on his neck. Sabathia has fluid in his right knee and hasn't quite rebounded from his left elbow surgery after the 2012 season.
The Yankees played once again on Tuesday night with a 23-man roster. Carlos Beltran (bone spur in his right elbow) and Ichiro Suzuki (sore back) were not available. Shawn Kelley was placed on the disabled list with a back issue of his own, giving Girardi one less reliever.
Girardi is hoping that a cortisone shot will prevent Beltran from needing surgery and Kelley will come along quickly.
"It's very frustrating, especially when you're seeing everybody else go down," Kelley said. "CC just went on the DL in Milwaukee, and Beltran has his elbow flare-up. It's almost like injuries are contagious right now."
For their part, the Mets are not in much better shape. Their pitchers walked 10 Yankees on Tuesday, and they've opted to give rookie Rafael Montero his first big league start against Tanaka on Wednesday night. Like the Yanks, their bullpen is shaky and manager Terry Collins said on Tuesday he's not sure who his closer is from game to game.
Behind Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees' rotation right now is Nuno, Whitley and David Phelps. And as the Yanks are exhausting internal options, one figures that general manager Brian Cashman is combing the Majors for external ones before a very tough American League East race gets away from his club.
"He's always searching to make our team better," Girardi said of Cashman. "That's what we do here. As I said, the state of pitching in the big leagues with all the injuries, I don't think there's a surplus lying around. It's tough.
"[Injuries are] part of the game, and you have to find a way to fight through [them]."
On a more positive note, it's obvious that the long baseball season goes in cycles. At 19-19, the Yankees are nearing the quarter pole, and as Girardi noted, they're not out of it yet. With 124 games left, there's still plenty of time for their own players to rebound or to pick up some healthier ones from elsewhere.
The Rangers were the team facing elimination on Tuesday night. For the Yankees, there's plenty of regulation time to go.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.