Tanaka will start Opening Day and will be followed by Pineda, Sabathia & Eovaldi

Masahiro Tanaka running during spring training last season.

Masahiro Tanaka running during spring training last season.

The Yankees announced the first four pitchers in their rotation on Friday, and Brian Cashman has basically said that Adam Warren will be the No. 5 starter. Masahiro Tanaka will get the Opening Day start and then he will be followed by Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi. It makes sense to have Sabathia as the No. 3 and Eovaldi as the No. 4 because Sabathia is a lefty and Eovaldi is a righty.

Sabathia had previously made the past six Opening Day starts for the Yankees. Sabathia, who had an ERA of 3.38 or below in every season from 2009 to 2012, has gotten worse the past two seasons (ERAs of 4.78 and 5.28) even though that has partly been due to injury. Tanaka deserves to start the first game of the season based on the 2.77 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 141 strikeouts and only 21 walks that he had in 20 starts last season (136.1 innings).

Pineda, who was the second best Yankees starter last season, will look to dominate the opposition just like he did last season. He only made 12 starts last season due to a strain in his teres major muscle, but in those starts he had a 1.89 ERA, 59 strikeouts and only seven walks in 76.1 innings.

In Friday’s 10-0 win that was shortened by rain, Pineda pitched all five innings while allowing five hits, zero walks and five more strikeouts. In spring training, Pineda has continued the excellence that he showed last season as he has made four starts, has a 1.32 ERA, only one walk and has an outstanding 17 strikeouts in 13.2 innings. He is an imposing figure whose four-seam fastball (93mph), slider (85mph) and change (88mph) can be almost un-hittable.

Joe Girardi was impressed with how Pineda pitched against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday. “I thought he looked really good,” Girardi said. “He pitched well last year and has been really good this spring.”

Sabathia will try to bounce back from the 5.28 ERA that he had in eight starts last season. He ended up missing most of the season due to receiving a stem-cell shot in his knee.

His increased velocity this spring (his fastball has reached 94mph) combined with his return to health could lead to a more successful season. The combination of Sabathia’s confidence in interviews this spring and the amount of strikeouts he has been able to record could lead to him being a productive middle of the rotation starter.

On Saturday, Sabathia pitched against minor leaguers instead of in the spring training game against the Orioles because the Yankees will face Baltimore in his second start of the season. Against the minor leaguers, Sabathia allowed a homer to leadoff the game, and a three-run homer in the third inning, but was able to record seven strikeouts against the Pirates.

Sabathia came away pleased with his performance against the Pirates minor leaguers. “My changeup and two-seamer were good,” Sabathia said. “I wanted to get my changeup going. I feel great. My next start will be 90 pitches.”

Eovaldi is a 25-year-old emerging power pitcher who had the fourth fastest average fastball in the National League while pitching for the Miami Marlins last season, However, he allowed the most hits in the National League last season, which means that allowing few hits will be his main concern. He will look to do it by relying more on his splitter, his slider (87mph), his curve (77mph) and his change (88mph) than he did last season and throwing his fastball more up in the zone.

In 2014, Eovaldi had a 4.37 ERA in 33 starts, but in 18 starts the previous season he had a much more respectable 3.39 ERA. Working with Larry Rothschild during spring training has helped Eovaldi as he has a 1.00 ERA in 9.0 innings pitched while recording nine strikeouts and zero walks. Another positive sign about his performance in the exhibition season is that he has allowed seven hits in nine innings, which means his hits/9 innings during spring training (7.0) is much better than it was last season (10.1).

If everyone stays healthy, and if Sabathia and Eovaldi pitch better than they did last season, the rotation has the potential of being much better than it was the last two seasons. The Yankees should also have the best No. 1 and No. 2 starters in the AL East.


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