Michael Pineda's 10-Game Suspension Puts Pressure on Yankees' Pitching Staff

Joe Giglio@@JoeGiglioSportsContributor IApril 24, 2014

Major League Baseball levied a 10-game suspension on New York Yankees starter Michael Pineda for using pine tar while pitching Wednesday, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today, sapping one of baseball's best rotations of a potentially dominant starter.

After his ejection Wednesday evening, Pineda's punishment was inevitable. For the Yankees, the same can be said for the short-term ramifications.

According to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com, Pineda will accept the suspension without a fight. After the blatant and obvious display of cheating caught by cameras around the country, a battle with Major League Baseball would have been futile.

Although New York's beleaguered 25-year-old starter may only miss one start due to off days in the Yankees schedule, he will be missed. Through four starts in 2014—including the ejection-shortened game in Fenway Park—Pineda has tossed 19.2 quality innings for manager Joe Girardi's rotation.

Without a guarantee of innings or solid performance from Pineda's replacement, pressure falls on the three men left standing from New York's Opening Day rotation: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka.

If those three starters—beginning with Sabathia's outing in the finale of a three-game set in Boston on Thursday evening—can't provide innings and effective pitching, the ramifications of Pineda's dalliance with pine tar could be felt for weeks, if not longer.

Over the course of a 162-game schedule, baseball can become a war of attrition. That's especially true of bullpens. Regardless how many impressive, hard-throwing arms are at the disposal of an organization, relievers are inherently flawed. As failed starters, they often lose effectiveness or succumb to injury if used too often over a short period of time.

Now, the Yankees are staring that type of doomsday scenario in the face. Pineda's removal during the second inning Wednesday forced Girardi to use four relievers—David Phelps, Matt Thornton, Preston Claiborne and Adam Warren—to navigate through the final 6.1 innings of a loss. Both Phelps and Claiborne gave two innings, likely taking them out of commission for at least a day or two.

Typically, managers detest using that many relievers—especially high-leverage arms like Phelps and Warren—in losses or games likely to end in a loss. Yet instances like Pineda's ejection change plans without any remedy.

In a vacuum, a really short outing from a starter doesn't have to derail a staff. In this case, Pineda's removal caused a stir, but injury or ineffectiveness can make for long nights for bullpens around baseball.

However, this situation can't be viewed in a vacuum, especially considering the current state of the Yankees rotation. Earlier this week, Ivan Nova—a young building block alongside Pineda—was diagnosed with an elbow tear that likely will lead to Tommy John surgery.

Now, Girardi is down two starters and owns a taxed bullpen. Without any guarantee of decent performance from Nova's replacement—lefty Vidal Nuno—the Yankees could be on the verge of a pitching problem.

That brings us back to Sabathia, Kuroda and Tanaka.

Heading into play on April 24, Yankees relievers have thrown 61 innings, per ESPN.com. That figure ranks just 24th in baseball, showing the quality and depth New York starters have provided thus far. However, less than 10 innings separates the Yankees from the top third of taxed bullpens. One or two more difficult nights could lead to a tired bullpen and long-term issues with key arms.

Although Sabathia, Kuroda and Tanaka have all either proved or are projected to be durable arms, it's difficult to expect or ask for at least eight innings from each of them over their next two starts, respectively. Furthermore, if one or more doesn't have effective stuff in a particular outing, Girardi may have to leave them out there in the spirit of saving the bullpen.

Complicating matters even more is roster construction. As Mark Feinsand of the Daily News tweeted, the Yankees may be forced to play with a 24-man roster during Pineda's suspension. If that's the case, New York's offense and versatility will be weakened if a bench contributor is sacrificed in order to bring up a fresh arm or two from Triple-A.

In the aftermath of the ejection, Pineda was remorseful and sounded like a player who learned from a mistake that could cost his team more than just a game, per Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York.

"I know I make a mistake tonight, and I feel so sad," Pineda said. "I learn from this mistake, and I don't do it again."

Unfortunately for the Yankees, it's a mistake with lasting implications. While it's too early to call this dust-up a season-changing suspension, a difficult 10-game stretch without Pineda and a full roster could cost the Yankees valuable games in the AL East standings.

Over the course of a marathon season, ineffectiveness from taxed relievers, lost games in April and roster issues stemming from this incident could turn out to be the difference between a postseason berth and missing out on October by a game or two.

A seemingly innocuous and head-scratching event could mean much more for the 2014 Yankees. Pineda can apologize, but the damage has already been done.


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Statistics are from Baseball-Reference.com, ESPN and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster breakdowns via MLBDepthCharts.com.


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