Ro­ta­tion turn­around key to stun­ning home­s­tand

New York Post - - SPORTS - Ge­orge.king@ny­

Thurs­day was 4/20, known as “Weed Day’’ among reefer en­thu­si­asts, and if you pre­dicted in late March the Yankees would be 10-5 af­ter begin­ning the sea­son 1-4, those drug testers of­ten spot­ted in big league club­houses would have asked you to pee in a cup.

Fur­ther­more, if you ex­plained the start­ing ro­ta­tion would be the rea­son the Yankees started Thurs­day tied with three other clubs for the most wins in the ma­jors, the ques­tion would have been: pipe, pa­pers or ed­i­bles?

When the Yankees ended spring train­ing, there were big lineup is­sues. Didi Gre­go­rius was start­ing the sea­son on the dis­abled list due to a strained right shoul­der. Gary Sanchez wasn’t go­ing to av­er­age 10 homers a month for a full sea­son. What did miss­ing a full year mean to Greg Bird? Would Ja­coby Ells­bury be bet­ter than he was in the first three sea­sons of a seven-year deal worth $153 mil­lion? Aaron Judge?

All of those ques­tions paled in com­par­i­son to what smoth­ered a ro­ta­tion of Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sa­bathia, Michael Pineda and Luis Sev­erino. Jor­dan Mont­gomery was called up on April 12 to make it a five-some.

When the Yankees started the sea­son 1-4, Sa­bathia was spared the crit- icism be­cause he was the only one of the ini­tial quar­tet to pitch well. In those first five games, Yan­kee starters went 1-2 with an obese 7.59 ERA — and that in­cluded Sa­bathia’s five shutout in­nings against the Rays in the sec­ond game of the sea­son.

Now, as the Yankees pre­pare to open a t hree- game se­ries Fri­day night against the Pirates in Pitts­burgh, which will be fol­lowed by three ver­sus the Red Sox at Fen­way Park, start­ing pitch­ing is the rea­son for the turn­around.

“Af­ter the first week, since the first road trip and the en­tire home­s­tand, the start­ing pitch­ing has been ter­rific,’’ gen­eral man­ager Brian Cash­man said of a group that en­tered Thurs­day’s ac­tion ranked sev­enth among 15 AL teams with a 3.87 ERA and, with an 8-3 record, the most wins in the league. “The start­ing ro­ta­tion is a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of our club.’’

Begin­ning April 9, when Sa­bathia al­lowed two runs in six in­nings of a come-from-be­hind win in Bal­ti­more, Yankees starters went 7-1 with a 2.69 ERA. Over­all, the club went 9-1.

Sa­bathia’s sec­ond straight strong out­ing was im­pres­sive, but what hap­pened next was stun­ning. Pineda, more of­ten teaser than pleaser, car­ried a per­fect game against the Rays in the home opener into the sev­enth in­ning of an 8-1 vic­tory. That was the sec­ond of eight straight Yankees wins.

“We k new they were ca­pa­ble if healthy and if they per­formed,’’ Cash­man said. “We cer­tainly ex­pected that. The past 10 days came to bear that.’’ A 10-5 ledger means there are 147 games re­main­ing be­fore we re­ally know if a sus­pect ro­ta­tion in early April was good enough to hurl the Yankees into the post­sea­son. And start­ing Fri­day night, the com­pe­ti­tion — Pirates, Red Sox and Orioles — is stronger than the Rays, Cardinals and White Sox pro­vided on the nine-game home­s­tand dur­ing which the Yankees went 8-1.

“I can’t say I’m sur­prised be­cause I know what they are ca­pa­ble of,’’ Cash­man said. “I’m cer­tainly pleased, put it that way.’’

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