TORONTO — The new Jordan Rules:
Pitch him, if necessary, until he hits his innings limit.
The Yankees received good news on CC Sabathia Wednesday, though it goes down as “good” in the context of “It could have been so much worse.” An MRI exam revealed no further damage to the right knee that has plagued the big lefty for years, and the hope is a shot and anti-inflammatory medication get Sabathia back into pitching shape.
The best news would have occurred if Sabathia hadn’t left his start Tuesday, a 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, with what he described as the worst pain he has felt in that knee since he started using a brace back in September 2015.
He’s a good bet to land on the 10-day disabled list come Friday, with rookie Jordan Montgomery recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre — just days after he went there so the Yankees could control his innings more easily — to take Sabathia’s turn Sunday at home against the Red Sox.
If Sabathia misses just the one start, then Montgomery can return to Scranton (assuming everyone else stays healthy) and stay on course for maxing out at the 180-innings count, as manager Joe Girardi divulged on Tuesday. Nevertheless, if Sabathia’s medicine takes longer or doesn’t work at all, then the Yankees need to find a different course.
And the best course, as the Yankees try to just win a dang postseason game for the first time since 2012, would be to go pedal to the metal with Montgomery until it’s time to put him in the garage.
“[There’s] definitely a possibility for Montgomery to come back,” Girardi said before the Yankees continued their series against the Blue Jays. “He gets more rest. We’ll continue to watch him closely, but that would be definitely one choice.”
When asked whether he’d go with Bryan Mitchell, who threw four innings in relief of Sabathia on Tuesday, Girardi said, “Anything’s an option right now, but let’s just see what happens with CC before we make a decision. But Montgomery would be the leading choice.”
Chance Adams? That would be quite a big-league debut, taking on Chris Sale and the Red Sox, wouldn’t it?
A trade? The Yankees already acquired two guys to bolster their starting rotation. Slim pickings remain, unless they want to acquire Justin Verlander and his contract from the Tigers (indications are strong they don’t).
No, you go to Montgomery, who drew his demotion more because of his development and the Yankees’ aforementioned importing of Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia than because of any shortcoming. In his last start, Saturday against the Indians in Cleveland, he threw five stellar innings, permitting just one run on three hits while walking none and striking out seven. He owns a respectable 4.05 ERA in 115 ²/₃ innings.
With the Yankees playing their 112th game Wednesday night, each starting pitcher should have 10 assignments remaining in the regular season. If Montgomery got 10 more starts, he could average six innings per start and still fall short of his cap — and, if the Yankees qualify for the playoffs, the rookie could either shift to the bullpen or provide one more start.
The Yankees’ postseason rotation optimally would be Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray and Sabathia. If Sabathia can’t make it back, then Jaime Garcia would move up in line.
A plan to not save Montgomery for October would follow the well-known precedent the Nationals established with Stephen Strasburg in 2012. The Nats received a lot of industry heat for shutting down Strasburg that September and proceeding to fall to the Cardinals in the National League Division Series. Nevertheless, Washington did the right thing prioritizing the long-term viability of its player.
The Yankees had the same sentiment in mind when they planned to taper Montgomery in the minors. Now, the Yankees might need Montgomery to help ensure they make the playoffs.
If Sabathia heals quickly, then it’s back to Plan A for Montgomery. It should comfort the Yankees that Plan B for Montgomery makes just as much sense.