It’s official: Gerrit Cole is starting next Thursday’s Opening Day game against the Washington Nationals. It is not under the circumstances any of us want, but a Cole-Max Scherzer Opening Day matchup is A-OK with me. That’s about as marquee as it gets. This news is obviously unsurprising to anyone who thought about this for even half a second. But how does the rest of the Yankee rotation shake up?
Opening Day is only 12 days away, which means we can start projecting the rotation with some confidence now. Here’s how things look as of today, with the caveat that things can change fast.
The Extra Day of Rest & Early Schedule
First things first: we have a good framework to project the rotation. Aaron Boone spoke yesterday about the importance of giving Gerrit Cole an extra day of rest going into the season opener. “We just value that sixth day going into this first start”, he said yesterday. Had they relaxed Cole’s schedule now, Boone added, “then [Cole would] be rolling into his opening day start on the fifth day, coming off a time when maybe we’re trying to push him a little bit.”
Based on that quote, I think this maxim is broadly applicable. It seems like the Yankees are trying to get their starters up to speed as soon as possible before going into the regular season. (It is a little weird that Cole isn’t going to pitch in an exhibition game against non-Yankees, but I trust Cole and the Yankees on this. He’ll be ready.) This all makes sense, and that’s before considering the schedule, which will also come into play here.
The Yankees will play their first game next Thursday, July 23. The season is going to be a real sprint after that, with the Yanks playing 19 games in 21 days. Really, it’s 18 games in 19 days. Here’s how that breaks down:
- Opening Day is on the 23rd, and the Yanks are off the next night (7/24).
- Beginning on 7/25, the Yankees will play 16 consecutive games before their next off-day on August 10.
- They’ll then play two straight against Atlanta before another off-day on August 13.
Remember, that’s essentially the first third of the season. It is also probably the toughest stretch, where they’ll play Washington (3), Philadelphia (4), Boston (3), Baltimore (3), Tampa Bay (4), and Atlanta (2). Of those, only Baltimore is can be considered a soft matchup, and again, it’s a full third of the season. It’s a massively important stretch for the Yankees.
In other words, I think we can basically expect every Yankee starter to get the Cole “extra day of rest” treatment. The Yanks will want their guys fresh and rested headed into the sprint of a season after quickly ramping up the intensity in camp.
How Things Line Up Right Now
The caveat here, of course, is that Masahiro Tanaka is hurt. While we know he’s been doing some throwing and exercise, there is still no timetable for his return. That makes sense. Short season or not, the team has to prioritize Tanaka’s health. It is very obvious he will not be ready for at least the first week of the season. That leaves Gerrit Cole, James Paxton, J.A. Happ, Jordan Montgomery, and an open slot (likely to be filled by Clarke Schmidt or Mike King) for the fifth spot.
Since we now have more clarity about the rotation in the next few days, we can take Boone’s comments about Cole and apply them to the whole rotation. That means the regular 4 days of rest for now, with an extra 5th day for the season. Here’s how that shakes out for the rest of camp and the exhibition games, with my speculation in italics:
- Gerrit Cole: Threw 84 pitches on Sunday, will start intrasquad game on Friday, and pitch Opening Day on 7/23 on his sixth day. (This is confirmed by the Yankees.)
- Jordan Montgomery: Threw 58 pitches last Thursday and is starting tonight’s intrasquad game. (Based on the normal timeline, Montgomery would start the second exhibition game against the Mets on July 19.)
- James Paxton: Threw 66 pitches in an indoor Friday workout and will pitch in tomorrow’s intrasquad game. (Based on Boone’s timeline, Paxton would start in the final exhibition game against Philadelphia on Monday, July 20.)
- J.A. Happ: Threw 3 innings on Saturday and will pitch again on Thursday. (Based on our timeline, Happ will pitch again on Monday, July 21 in an intrasquad game.)
- Clarke Schmidt: Threw 2.2 innings on Saturday and will pitch again on Thursday. (Based on our timeline, Schmidt will either pitch again on Monday, July 21 in an intrasquad game against Happ or on Tuesday, July 22.)
- Mike King: Pitched on Sunday and will pitch again either Friday or Saturday’s exhibition against the Mets. (King’s lineup is unclear based on this schedule, but he’d be on track to pitch on regular rest against the Mets on Saturday.)
Projecting the Rotation Schedule
All of this means we have a pretty good idea for how the rotation would line up for the first third of the season. Obviously, things are never this neat. Tanaka will return at some point (hopefully soon) and the Yanks may use Chad Green as an opener, or even as a 6th “starter.” We have no idea how that will shake out, though, so let’s leave that to the side for now. Let’s also assume Schmidt wins the job.
As of today, the rotation lines up to be Cole, Montgomery, Paxton, Happ, and Schmidt, giving everyone their extra day to start the season. It also works out pretty neatly for that pivotal 19 game stretch I highlighted above. Check out the distribution, with asterisks denoting an extra day of rest:
- Gerrit Cole: 4 starts (July 23*, July 29*, August 3, August 8)
- Jordan Montgomery: 4 starts (July 25*, July 30, August 4, August 9)
- James Paxton: 4 starts (July 26*, July 31, August 5, August 11*)
- J.A. Happ: 4 starts (July 27*, August 1, August 6, August 12*)
- Clarke Schmidt: 3 starts (July 28, August 2, August 7)
That seems about right to me. Utilize the battle-tested guys up front – even if it puts a lot of emphasis on Jordan Montgomery right away – and give Schmidt the fewest starts of the bunch. Perhaps they go to King, but given the way they’ve talked about Schmidt so far, I think it’s his job. Plus, the current pitching schedule lines up really neatly for Schmidt. I don’t think that’s an accident.
The Yanks could insert Tanaka into this rotation at any point to minimize Happ’s innings or remove Schmidt from the rotation. They could also insert him into the rotation to give guys an extra day of rest, too. The point is the Yanks have options here.
A lot can change, but as of right now, I feel pretty confident that this is how the Yankee rotation will shape up. I wish Tanaka was healthy, but I’m pretty confident in this group to start the season. Hopefully, they hit the ground running and show the rest of the league that they’re as good as we all think they are. I think they will.