Yankees Manage Workloads of Nestor Cortes and Luis Severino

Yankees Manage Workloads of Nestor Cortes and Luis Severino

- in Baseball

In a season in which nearly everything has gone right for the Yankees, their rotation was leading the American League in E.R.A. and wins above replacement through Tuesday. Keeping it that way, as the season grinds along, will involve careful workload management for two of the team’s brightest stars: Nestor Cortes and Luis Severino.

Cortes, 27, has never reached 100 innings in a major league season (though he surpassed the mark multiple times in lower leagues). A left-hander, he is already at 79 this season, establishing himself as an unlikely ace and All-Star candidate despite a recent skid that has seen his E.R.A. rise to 2.51, a full run higher than it was on June 2.

Severino, meanwhile, is scheduled to start on Thursday when the Yankees make a one-game stop in Houston. He is at 72 innings this season after tossing a total of 29⅔ between the majors and minors over the previous three years, the result of Tommy John surgery and setbacks during rehab. A 28-year-old right-hander, he has pitched as many as 193⅓ innings in a single season, but has not enjoyed a full campaign since 2018.

He has a 3.38 E.R.A. over his first 13 starts this season.

No innings limits or guidelines have been revealed for Cortes or Severino — thus avoiding the public countdown that accompanied Joba Chamberlain and his so-called Joba Rules — but the Yankees are thinking ahead when it comes to how they can keep their starters safe as their workload reaches unfamiliar territory.

“Eye test stuff, listening to them, and then the things you’re able to measure,” Manager Aaron Boone said when asked how he screens for fatigue as his pitchers brace for the long season. Boone added that strength and conditioning are factors, as is feedback from his pitchers. “Kind of a little bit of everything,” he continued. “Being a little proactive, but also very much listening to where they’re at physically by measurables and by listening to them, too.”

Occasionally mixing in a sixth starter is one of the ways to give the other five starters some extra rest. The Yankees did that to great effect on Tuesday when the left-hander J.P. Sears was called up to start against Oakland. He threw five and two-thirds scoreless innings, earning the win as the Yankees beat the Athletics, 2-1.

Sears’s outing gave the Yankees cover amid this stretch of 20 games in 20 days, but Boone also said that using an extra starter corresponded with the club’s “trying to think a little bit big picture.”

That Sears, a 26-year-old rookie, has yet to allow a run in 12⅔ innings has made relying on him easier.

After this 20-day stretch, some days off will allow the Yankees to use their starters on extra rest, which should require less use of Sears, who was optioned back to Class AAA after Tuesday’s game. But Boone noted that Severino has already received as many as eight days between starts.

The Yankees should be able to realign their rotation after next month’s All-Star break, though their second-half schedule begins with a doubleheader in Houston on July 21. There’s also a chance that Cortes will have pitched in the All-Star Game, though such appearances are typically brief.

Yet another way to mitigate workload concerns for Cortes and Severino is to lean on other members of the rotation. Gerrit Cole is the staff’s workhorse — he led the Yankees in innings pitched in 2020 and 2021, and is doing so again this season — and Jordan Montgomery and Jameson Taillon are past major injuries that put the Yankees in a similar situation last year.

Taillon did not pitch in 2020 and tallied only 37⅓ big league innings in 2019 after undergoing his second Tommy John operation. Montgomery totaled 75⅓ big league innings from 2018 to 2020 because of his own Tommy John surgery and the shortened 2020 season. This season, however, both pitchers are more than halfway toward their 2021 innings totals.

“I think I’m far enough removed from T.J. now where there’s really no limit anymore. I threw 160 last year, so I really can handle almost anything,” the left-handed Montgomery said before offering ways he and others can help Cortes and Severino. “They might arrange the rotation to where me, Gerrit and Jameson go on five days more often, and they get an extra day. Or maybe kind of let us go a little longer and kind of use the bullpen more strategically for them.”

Taillon, in particular, provided Boone with a blueprint after he came back in 2021 from missing the entire 2020 season. The right-hander did not want to place a cap on what he could do in his first year back. He missed a few weeks with an ankle tendon injury, but Taillon ultimately threw 144⅓ innings.

Now Boone is comfortable with a similar approach.

“Just be smart about it,” Boone said when told Cortes wanted to exceed 150 innings. “It will kind of declare itself as we move.”

Then, referring to Taillon, he said: “I keep going back to Jamo last year. He was a guy that we were aware of, paying attention to, and he did great and responded and probably went further than we would have expected.

“So I don’t want to put any limitation on that, but also being very aware and watching.”

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