With wave of injuries, six-man rotation pondered


Yu Darvish. (Brandon Wade/AP)

Now this was definitely a deep rotation.

In manager Joe Girardi’s office at spring training, the March calendar was posted on a big whiteboard. Inside each box, he wrote the initials of the starting pitcher that day.

At one point, the succession of New York Yankees arms stretched past a week: Chase Whitley, Chris Capuano, Masahiro Tanaka, Adam Warren, Michael Pineda, Esmil Rogers, Nathan Eovaldi, CC Sabathia.

Eight games, eight different starters.

OK, maybe not so strange in exhibition play. Still, in this era when big league teams are trying to protect their pitchers from tight triceps, twisted shoulders and Tommy John surgery, could it be time to consider a six-man rotation?

"In a perfect world, it’s something that’s a great concept," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

"You hear many times the interest level in having a six-man rotation, and there’s a lot of positives from that," he said. "But it’s hard to pull off."

For more than three decades, a five-man rotation has been the standard in the majors. The Los Angeles Dodgers often are credited with doing it first, in the early 1970s with a staff that, in fact, included Tommy John.

Over the years, there have been exceptions.

Jim Tracy tried a four-man rotation — with a 75-pitch limit — for a while with Colorado in 2012. The Rockies set a franchise record for losses and Tracy lost his job.

In 2011, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen briefly went with a six-man rotation. His team finished with a losing record and he, too, was gone.

Truth is, most teams have trouble finding just a few solid starters. And keeping them healthy, that’s a whole other story.

Yu Darvish and Zack Wheeler already are out for the season, Cliff Lee and Justin Verlander are ailing, Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez are coming back after major surgery. Plenty more on those lists.

Could an extra starter mean extra rest and a diminished workload, and possibly fewer injuries?

"There’s no guarantee that a six-man rotation, for example, which implies fewer innings pitched with more days off, is going to have any impact on certain cases," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said soon after Wheeler’s damaged elbow was diagnosed.

"Six-man rotations, more days off, more spot starts by pitchers in your minor league system, there are lots of ways it can be addressed," he said. "But ultimately some elbows are going to break down and some are not."

To Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, a six-man setup "would certainly cut down wear and tear on pitchers."

"But it’s hard enough to find five starters right now that can do the job. It’s very difficult to start. I think that would mean giving some of your best guys less opportunity to help win games, and I don’t think anybody is going to do that," he said.

Put Baltimore opening day starter Chris Tillman in that camp.

"It’s like the more off days you have, the rustier you get," he said. "We did it a little bit last year. At first it got to me a little bit. I wasn’t a fan, but we pitched well, and we kind of got it going, so you can’t hate it. If it was my preference, I would not have it."

Even so, the idea of six starters is "a very strong trend," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.

"There are a lot of pitchers, ours included, that don’t like the thought of it at all. But this game is constantly evolving," he said.

Change certainly doesn’t come swiftly on the field.

It took more than 100 years before pronounced defensive shifts became commonplace. The concept of one-out relievers or pitchers batting eighth or five-man rotations also took a while.

In 1971, 13 pitchers made at least 38 starts, with Mickey Lolich leading with 45 (and 376 innings).

No one has made as many as 37 starts in the majors since Greg Maddux in 1991. Dickey and Tillman were among 10 pitchers who tied for the major league lead with 34 starts last season.

Tanaka’s first season in the majors was interrupted by a small tear in his right elbow. He started his pro career in Japan, where six-man rotations are the norm.

"If you have six days in between starts, needless to say you get to have more rest time, so that’s always a plus for a pitcher," he said through a translator.

The Yankees have a string of 30 games in 31 days, beginning in mid-April, and are looking at using a sixth starter during that period.

"I think it’s a result of some of the stuff that’s gone on over the last few years, not just here but everywhere," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said.

Washington pitching coach Steve McCatty remembers playing for Oakland under Billy Martin. In 1980, McCatty and four other starters combined for 93 complete games.

The pitching-rich Nationals might have the talent to use six starters, but McCatty isn’t sure it would be worthwhile.

"I know everybody talks about it, but you want to take away, what, four or five starts from your No. 1 and No. 2 guys by having that?" he said.

"Sure, it would make some guys a little fresher at the end, but is that better than being able to use your guys more often?" he said.

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon has never shied away from trying something new. He wouldn’t mind seeing a six-man rotation — on the opposing team, that is.

"The groups that are going for the six-man rotation, that’s great, if you get six guys you dig," he said.

"I mean because I tell you what, from the other dugout, when you’re playing the other team and here comes 5 and 6, and they’re not like 1, 2, 3, 4, I’d like to be the team that’s grabbing those guys all the time."

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