For quite some time the Yankees have planned to start Dustin Moseley in tonight’s home finale against Boston, despite the fact that it was Phil Hughes’ turn in the rotation. Change of plans. Per every Yankee reporter out there, Phil Hughes will start tonight against Boston. Despite the fact that he is almost certainly bumping up against the innings limit of 175-180 (currently at 169.1), the team is opting to have him go now. There’s no word as to when he will start again this season, but it seems possible that this is his final start of the regular season. The team has also made a change in the rotation in Toronto. For now, AJ Burnett, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte will start on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. This complicates lining up the postseason rotation significantly.
It seems that Brian Cashman is at least aware of the criticism that he will face for making this move. It’s not exactly inaccurate to call a move like this reactionary, not in the pejorative sense but in the purely descriptive sense. As Joel Sherman reported it, though, Cashman doesn’t seem particularly care:
“I don’t think it’s panic,” GM Brian Cashman said. “It is adjusting to circumstances. We haven’t had starters going deep into games. People can judge this and call it panic. I don’t care. I only care about making the right decision on the information in front of us. And the information is different on Sept. 26 than it was when we decided (to push back Hughes). I only care about being right, and this was right.”
There are really two separate decisions to discuss: the decision to start Hughes and the decision to keep AJ, CC and Andy on schedule for next week. There seems to be little harm in starting Hughes now. Sure, losing tonight despite starting Hughes means that Cashman and company will be killed in the newspapers tomorrow with stories like, say, “BOSTON MASSACRE: Despite Hughes’ emergency start, Yankees’ collapse continues” or “PANIC: It’s 2004 all over again”. But there’s nothing wrong with going for the kill right now, and they presumably aren’t putting Hughes’ health at risk in doing so. One has to think that he has enough innings left in the tank to leave enough room for him to start now and whenever else they need him to over the next week. Given the way the team has played this past week, locking this thing up with a win tonight would be a huge boost for morale. It would reduce the magic number to 1, meaning that the Yankees would have to lose out and the Red Sox would have to win out in order for the Yankees to miss the playoffs. In other words, win tonight and the next week is gravy.
At the same time, the decision to keep AJ, Sabathia and Andy on schedule and start on Monday-Wednesday of the next week is a bit harder to take. The smart money has been on the organization giving Sabathia extra rest over the coming week and then starting him on Friday and the Game 2 starter (whoever that is, presumably Pettitte) on Saturday, so that they would both be on regular rest for the ALDS. If Sabathia starts on Tuesday, he wouldn’t be able to start Game 1 of the ALDS unless he went on short rest on Saturday and then again on short rest on Wednesday. Of course, the club will have likely clinched by next Saturday, so starting Sabathia on Tuesday could mean instead that he get a whole week off between his last regular season start and his playoff start. Neither of these options are ideal. The ideal option is to give Sabathia rest now and then have him start a nice and easy game on Friday, getting him on a regular schedule for the playoffs. The picture is similarly complicated if Pettitte starts on Wednesday. At the same time, if the team loses tonight and then tomorrow, one could certainly understand why they’d want Sabathia to start on Tuesday – the losing streak would be six by then. The big question would be what will happen if they win tonight and lose tomorrow, or lose tonight and win tomorrow. If the magic number is 1 or 2, do they really risk getting Sabathia off-kilter schedule-wise for the playoffs when a playoff berth is so tantalizingly close? I’d hope not.
In short, the move to start Hughes tonight is fine. There is presumably enough flexibility in Hughes’ innings cap to make this possible, and there is nothing wrong with going for the kill tonight. It’s certain that Cashman and Girardi will take some criticism for the move, but the critics are the kind of people that would blame Cashman and Girardi for the weather. They’ll never be happy. At the same time, the move puts some pressure on the team to win tonight. It’s not a do or die game, but moving Hughes up tonight and indicating that CC will start on Tuesday sends the message that it’s time to go ahead and get it done, and not rest on the dwindling lead in the Wild Card. The players can rest when they’ve clinched a spot in the playoffs. Given the way the team has played for the better part the past few weeks, a little pressure isn’t the worst thing in the world.