Sixth man up? Why the Yankees could go with larger starting rotation as Gerrit Cole return nears

Gerrit Cole Yankees Royals
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

The Yankees‘ rotation has been getting the job done on the mound, but with Gerrit Cole’s return looming, what does the future hold?

Going into Thursday’s matinee game, the Yankees’ starting five average a 2.92 ERA, holding batters to a combined 0.214 batting average in over 280 innings pitched. May has been particularly clean for the Yankees starting rotation, where everyone (except) Carlos Rodon has a sub-2.50 ERA (4.43 in May after letting up seven runs to Baltimore). 

With stats like that, it sounds like there’s no missing pieces — but the Yankees have yet to play their ace in the hole, Cole, who is set to return soon.

Since hearing that Cole has had live at-bats on his return from the IL, fans are salivating at the thought of having the 2023 AL Cy Young back in the rotation. 

And he wants to be back just as badly. He told reporters that he missed being in a full Yankee uniform after his first live bullpen session.

The question beckons: When Cole returns full-time in those iconic pinstripes, what will happen to the rest of the rotation?

Six-man rotation? 

When asked several times, Yankees skipper Aaron Boone vehemently said that he doesn’t have a plan for when Gerrit Cole comes back.

“It’s three, four, five, six weeks away,” Boone said in Thursday’s pre-game press conference. “If at that point we’re in this position, then that’s a good thing and we’ll do what we have to do, [what] we think is best for the team and everyone involved. I think in the baseball calendar, that’s still light years away.”

When asked if he’d consider going to a six-man starting rotation, Boone said, “I wouldn’t say ‘never consider’ but I don’t like at it like that right now.”

“But again, I don’t even look at it because it’s a ways away,” he finished.

Not a lot of ball clubs have a six-man starting rotation. The most recent one to do so was the Seattle Mariners last season, and their reasoning was to bring back back an arm from the IL. Sound familiar?

Having a longer rotation could function as a gentle slope for Gerrit Cole to springboard off of because of the additional day of rest in between starts.

If they stay at five, who’s the odd man out?

Yankees Clarke Schmidt
Clarke SchmidtAP Photo/Terrance Williams

The Yankees have a good problem on their hands: all five of their starters have been reliable, putting in good starts and limiting damage from batters. The proof is in the pudding: the starters combine for the third-lowest in ERA and tied for second lowest BAA at .217 in the league.

However, if there’s anyone who’s the least consistent, it’s probably Clarke Schmidt.

He went from a career-high eight-inning performance last week to suspecting that he was tipping his pitches earlier this week, giving up a massive two-run home run as part of four hits to Seattle.

Schmidt is in the middle of the pack for how long he lasts on the mound, smack in the middle between five and six innings on average. It’s just a matter of consistency and efficiency for Schmidt.