Tuesday night, the New York Yankees scored a win over the Houston Astros (NYY 4, HOU 0) because their bullpen matched Justin Verlander zero for zero. Starter Jordan Montgomery left the game after one inning with elbow tightness, then five relievers combined to hold the 'Stros scoreless over eight innings.
Montgomery was sent to New York for tests Wednesday, and those tests revealed a flexor strain that will sideline the second year southpaw up to two months.
Boone said flexor strain for Montgomery. Out 6-8 weeks Boone said— Erik Boland (@eboland11) May 2, 2018
All things considered, it could've been worse. It's hard not to think worst-case scenario (Tommy John surgery) whenever you hear "elbow tightness," but Montgomery escaped without ligament damage. He could return before the All-Star break.
Very quietly, the 25-year-old Montgomery made 29 starts and threw 155 1/3 innings with a 3.88 ERA (116 ERA+) last season. He led all rookie pitchers in the FanGraphs version of WAR. Montgomery was off to a strong start this season (3.62 ERA and 123 ERA+) before his elbow starting barking.
Manager Aaron Boone confirmed Wednesday that right-hander Domingo German will step into Montgomery's rotation spot for the time being. German, a starter by trade who had been pitching in long relief, replaced Montgomery in Tuesday's game and threw four scoreless innings against the Astros.
For all the concerns about their pitching, the Yankees will go into Wednesday night's game at Minute Maid Park with a team 3.50 ERA, seventh lowest in baseball. Their pitching ranks:
- ERA: 3.50 (7th)
- Starter's ERA: 3.75 ERA (9th)
- Runs allowed per game: 4.07 (8th)
The Yankees have allowed no more than three runs in 10 of their last 11 games, so after a bumpy start to the season, their pitching staff -- and run prevention overall -- has settled in nicely the last two weeks or so.
That doesn't lessen the blow of losing Montgomery, of course. New York's rotation depth chart is not especially deep, and you can be sure GM Brian Cashman will be scouring the trade market for pitching help in the coming days and weeks. Here is the team's rotation depth chart:
- Luis Severino
- Masahiro Tanaka
- CC Sabathia
- Sonny Gray
- Jordan Montgomery (out 6-8 weeks with a flexor strain)
- Luis Cessa (out indefinitely with an oblique strain)
- Domingo German
- Chance Adams (5.11 ERA in Triple-A)
Not great. Another rotation injury -- Sabathia has a degenerative knee condition and both Tanaka and Gray have been on and off the disabled list in recent years -- would mean big trouble. There is no help available in free agency and the trade market is still a few weeks away from heating up. Maybe the Texas Rangers would part with Bartolo Colon? That's about as good as it's going to get right now.
Furthermore, the Yankees are trying to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold this season, so they can't absorb a big contract to get a starter. Cot's Baseball Contracts has their current luxury tax payroll at $180.5 million, so there is some wiggle room there, but the Yankees also have to be prepared for midseason call-ups and whatnot. Those small moves all add to the payroll.
Over the last two or three years, Cashman and the Yankees have filled most roster holes from within. When they needed a starter in 2015, they called up Severino. When they needed a starter last season, they called up Montgomery. When they needed infield help this year, they called up Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres. New York has a strong farm system and is not afraid to use it when they need help.
Pitching depth is a legitimate concern right now, however, mostly because Montgomery and Cessa are already sidelined. German started the season as the seventh starter. Now he's in the rotation. The depth has been exhausted. Cashman will undoubtedly try to pry rotation help loose and soon. Teams usually aren't eager to trade arms this early in the season though. For now, the Yankees will have to move forward with their internal solutions.