In April 2007, the New York Yankees were 9-14 and stumbling. The pitching staff was in trouble and the offense wasn't hitting. Six months later, they were in a familiar position; playing in the American League playoffs against the Cleveland Indians. In April 2008, the Yankees were 14-15 and only two games out of the division league. Nothing to worry about right? They will bounce back when summer comes like they do every year right? Wrong.
The 2007 Yankees struggled early because a veteran team was not producing up to their capabilities. This team would love to have those problems. This team isn't in trouble right now, but they will be soon. Forget about the injuries for a minute, the starting rotation is in shambles and could cause serious damage to the bullpen.
Mike Mussina is 3-3 with a 4.73 ERA. Not good, but not terrible. But what is troubling is he is only averaging 5.1 innings per start. Ian Kennedy is 0-2 with an 8.37 ERA. Bad enough as is, but add an average of 3 and 2/3 innings per start and its even worse. Phil Hughes was the worst of the bunch at 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA and a 3 and 2/3 innings per start average. Even the reliable Andy Pettitte has been less than spectacular. 3-3 with a 3.93 ERA isn't bad. But again, he is only averaging six innings per start. Chien Ming Wang has been having the best start of his life and if it wasn't for him the Yankees would be around 10-20.
What does this all add up to? Four out of every five days, the bullpen is being asked to give 3 or 4 innings. The Yankees bullpen already leads the majors in innings pitched and its only going to get worse with the injury to Hughes.
Many fans have been wishing for Hughes to be taken out the rotation for a few weeks now. Well you got your wish. True Hughes hasn't been great. Actually he's been terrible. But a juiced-up Roger Clemens isn't waiting in the wings to come to the rescue this season. Darrell Rasner will be taking the spot in the rotation until Hughes returns. Darrell Rasner? Is that what you wanted fans who felt Hughes should no longer be in the rotation? Not exactly.
As i mentioned before the Yankees bullpen is already the most used in the majors. Can you really expect Rasner to give you 10-12 quality starts before July? I'm not betting on it. I actually felt the Yankees have a pretty strong bullpen this year. It seems to be very solid for once, but the effects have already been seen. Ross Ohlendorf started the year giving up 4 runs in his first 10 innings. In his last 10, he's given up 8. He has thrown 20 innings already. That's on pace for 120 innings this year. That is unheard of for a reliever and can only mean bad things.
The one guy who appeared to have figured it out early on was Brian Bruney. He had given up 2 runs in 11.1 innings before getting injured. Now he is likely done for the year. Another injury to a team that can't afford them. Jorge Posada is out six weeks. Arod is out for 2. The Yankees struggles will continue while they are out and even when they come back, it doesn't look promising.
Last years' team was just waiting to turn up the heat offensively. The pitching was decent enough once the hitting got going. This year I'm not so sure. Will they hit? Yes. Will the starting pitching stabilize eventually? Most likely. But can the bullpen recover from throwing so many pitches this early? I doubt it.
Even if Hughes, Kennedy, Mussina, and Rasner begin to pitch well, will the bullpen be able to hold those leads if they are overworked? No Yankee team is ever out of it in April, but it's panic time in the Bronx.