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Yankees nearing the time for big pitching decisions

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With four additional roster spots for the first two weeks of a mini season that is scheduled to open July 23, the Yankees need to decide how many pitchers they take.

In a normal season, teams depart spring training with 12 or 13 pitchers. Of course, nothing about this season that so far has been lowlighted by the coronavirus shutting the game down in mid-March and a contentious labor situation has been ordinary. Even now with a dozen days until the Yankees face the defending World Series champion Nationals in Washington, there is nobody guaranteeing the season will get off the ground or not halted at some point due to the virus.

Still, for Aaron Boone, pitching coach Matt Blake and the analytical arm of the front office, the time is quickly approaching for a pitching staff to be finalized.

Clouding the final decision will be how Masahiro Tanaka is dealing with a concussion suffered during a simulated game last week when he was struck in the head by a ball off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton that was clocked at 112 mph. So, too, will be the availability of second baseman DJ LeMahieu and pitcher Luis Cessa, who are quarantining at home after testing positive for COVID-19.

“At this point we really haven’t had serious conversations about that. I would say over the next several days those conversations would gradually start to pick up,’’ Boone said Thursday night on a Zoom call ahead of Friday’s rain washing out that days’ workout at Yankee Stadium. “And obviously that final week we will really start honing in on it.’’

Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro TanakaGetty Images

Do the Yankees split the roster 15/15 for the first two weeks of the season? Or, because starters won’t be expected to go more than four or five innings and maybe closer to three to four frames, will Boone and Blake opt for a 16/14 split? Or even 17/13?

While Boone pointed to pitchers getting their first taste of intrasquad games and building pitch counts, he knows the numbers game will be looking for answers soon.

“I would say we are not quite there yet, but then again we are two weeks from playing a game, so in a week those conversations are really going to have to pick up,’’ Boone said.

Considering Saturday will mark a week since Tanaka last pitched and the conservative track MLB takes with concussions, expecting Tanaka to start one of the first four games of the regular season might be a reach.

Do the Yankees plug in another starter such as Jonathan Loaisiga or Mike King? Cessa, if he joins spring training 2.0 shortly? Or use Chad Green as an opener? Piggy-back relievers?

Though it would be a surprise if highly regarded prospects Clarke Schmidt and Deivi Garcia land a big league gig no matter how many pitchers are carried, Ben Heller, Tyler Lyons and David Hale have chances of sticking at least for the first two weeks.

Heller, who was part of the 2016 Andrew Miller trade to the Indians that brought Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield to the Yankees, is the only 40-man roster arm out of that trio. The right-handed Heller, 29 early next month, missed all of 2018 because of Tommy John surgery and was limited to 11 minor league games and six in the big leagues last year. The Yankees thought enough of him to add him to the ALCS roster last year as CC Sabathia’s replacement, but he didn’t appear in any of the six games.

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