The potential downside of using backup starting pitchers as relievers

After Michael Pineda won the battle for the final rotation spot this spring, the Yankees decided to use the other candidates — David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno, and even Shane Greene — to fill out the big league bullpen. Joe Girardi has already shown a willingness to use Warren and Phelps in key, late-inning situations — a trend that’s likely to continue, especially with David Robertson on the shelf.

Using these erstwhile starters as relievers certainly strengthens the bullpen, but one drawback is that it compromises the team’s rotation depth. If Girardi continues to deploy these guys for one or two innings at a time, they may not be adequately stretched out if and when one of the Yankees’ front five goes down with injury. Phelps is the only starter-turned-reliever who’s been shuffled between the bullpen and rotation in the past, bouncing in and out of the rotation in both 2012 and 2013. He held his own in his 23 spot starts, posting a 4.39 ERA but, didn’t provide a ton of length — he averaged just five and a third innings per start.

Having to stretch these pitchers out again certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world. They all have plenty of experience in starting roles, so it shouldn’t take them too long to get back into the swing of things. Still, a couple of injuries could force the Yankees to dip even further down their starting pitching depth chart and give some meaningful innings to the Nik Turley‘s and Bryan Mitchell‘s of the world, which could get ugly.

Especially now that Robertson out of the mix, the Yankees’ need all of the help they can get out of the bullpen. They’re doing the right thing by leveraging their quality arms in situations where they’ll provide the most value, but it’s not without consequences.┬áSome speculate jerking a pitcher between starting and relief roles can mess with his rhythm. Joba Chamberlain and Daniel Bard come to mind, but are just a couple cherry-picked examples — it’s hard to say if they represent any sort of broader trend. In any event, it’ll be interesting to see how the Yankees’ starters-turned-relievers are able to adapt when they’re asked to provide throw five-plus innings at a time again.

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