NEW YORK -- OK, so when does Masahiro Tanaka pitch again?
Not soon enough, the Yankees have been saying for much of the first three months of this season. As recently as three weeks ago, the Yankees were 10-2 with Tanaka starting and 20-27 with anyone else. Three weeks ago, they'd just gone a full trip through the rotation where Tanaka gave them their only win.
But in the three weeks-plus since then, the non-Tanaka part of the Yankee rotation has become significantly less scary. Now, as they head through the final four games of this homestand with four starters not named Tanaka (beginning with Chase Whitley on Sunday night against the Red Sox), the Yankees have less reason to cringe, even though they couldn't turn Tanaka's latest fine performance into a win.
"It's just about riding the momentum," Whitley said Saturday, before Tanaka pitched a complete game but lost 2-1 to the Red Sox. "Next man up. I like that mentality."
Whitley, who follows Tanaka in the Yankee rotation, has followed Tanaka's last three wins with one of his own. And this past week, when Tanaka and Whitley both lost, the Yankees were able to avoid a long losing streak because both Hiroki Kuroda and Vidal Nuno won.
"We've had some guys really fill in," general manager Brian Cashman said. "[David] Phelps has pitched well. Whitley has been a real surprise, and while Nuno has had some rough starts, he pitched well [Friday].
"We've had some guys do things we weren't expecting to ask them to do."
The Yankees lost three-fifths of their opening day rotation to injury, and none of those three pitchers has yet returned. Ivan Nova is out for the season after Tommy John surgery, Michael Pineda is just beginning to play catch as he tries to return from a strained lat muscle, and CC Sabathia just began a rehab assignment with a 2 2/3-inning start for Class A Tampa on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Cashman has been trying to add a pitcher (or pitchers) through the trade market, but with no immediate success.
For the Yankees to be a serious contender, they'll no doubt need help, from a successful return by Sabathia and/or through a trade. But at least for now, the current rotation isn't leaving them buried.
In the little more than three weeks since June 5, the Yankees have been 2-1 (before Saturday) in Tanaka's starts, and 9-7 when the non-Tanakas pitch.
Some of that is due to more timely hitting. The four non-Tanakas actually have a higher combined ERA over the last three weeks (5.18) than the non-Tanakas did before that (4.40).
The high ERA is a reminder, if you needed one, that the rotation the Yankees have now simply isn't good enough. But the fact that the Yankees have found a way to win enough of these non-Tanaka starts has helped keep them in the race long enough to give Cashman a chance to make a deal.
On deck: The Yankees and Red Sox close out their weekend series by playing the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game, and Andrew Marchand, Kieran Darcy and Johnette Howard will have you covered from the Stadium.
In the hole: When the Red Sox leave town, another underperforming American League East team takes their place, with the Tampa Bay Rays arriving for a three-game series that begins Monday night. David Phelps faces Rays right-hander Chris Archer.