Insanity is defined as doing the same thing repeatedly while hoping for different results, right? So are the Yankees insane for continuously starting Sonny Gray every fifth day, hoping he'd turn in a quality start and put to rest the fears surrounding him?
It was another brief, disappointing, and overall embarrassing performance for Gray, who, since his trade from Oakland, has yet to find a solid footing in pinstripes. A four-run first inning, capped by a Rafael Devers grand slam after Gray retired the first two batters on 10 pitches, was too much of a difference for the Yankees to overcome against Chris Sale. From the first inning on, it was a lost cause in the Bronx.
So now the Yankees are stuck at a crossroad. Down one path they continue to put Sonny Gray out on the mound and hope for the best. But how much does that change when it's the American League Division Series and a win is paramount? For someone who's had a respectable career before his tenure in pinstripes, trusting Gray seems like a lot to ask for.
But there is another path. It may not be popular, and it's the road less traveled by, but it's crazy and been proven to work.
A Bullpen Day
Let it be on the record I'm not a fan of what the Tampa Bay Rays have created. A four-man rotation set with a fifth "bull-penning" day can cause several issues between clubs and starting pitchers looking to snag the fifth job. But that's an issue for another day.
The Yankees have some intriguing arms that can give multiple innings out of the bullpen. With Masahiro Tanaka set to come back from the DL shortly, Domingo German will be relegated to the bullpen while Jonathan Loaisiga keeps his hold on the—technically—fifth spot of the rotation. Already, in his brief career, Loaisiga has shown better poise in his short time as a Yankee more than Gray, so it's safe to say Loaisiga has earned his starts for a little while longer.
As much as Domingo German's potential continues to entice and allure, his first-inning struggles are no secret and must be worked out by next year. He's still 25-years-old, the baseline of a player's five-year full-potential window, and he's shown competence, confidence, and comfort out of the bullpen this year.
Whatever is plaguing Sonny Gray this season has to be addressed before the final run through August and September and into the postseason. His stuff and track record are too good for struggles such as his game on Saturday. Do the Yankees have the guts to skip Gray's spot in the rotation to let him clear his head? Do they give Gray a week or two's hiatus to work on the mental aspect of the game while tweaking any mechanical flaws that might cause issues?
If the Yankees go that route, they have capable arms to work out a temporary fifth bullpen day. Adam Warren, who came in relief against Boston and threw 2.2 shutout innings, has starting experience. He can go through a lineup once, maybe twice depending on the situation, before someone like German throws three innings as he bridges the gap to the usual foursome of David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, and Aroldis Chapman at the back end. That's not to mention Jonathan Holder, who last night yielded his first run since April 6th. There's also AJ Cole on the DL, who's had limited innings since coming to the Yankees but has been efficient when he's pitched.
Because as it stands, the Yankees have the best bullpen in all of baseball. If the name of the game is to win—and the value of those wins double with the looming threat of a one-and-done Wild Card game—then Gray has given them the lowest chance to win.
The Yankees sit a game behind the Red Sox for first place in the AL East. They can salvage the series with a win on the back of ace Luis Severino and return to a technical first place based on winning percentage. But they're on the clock now as they number the days until Gray makes his next scheduled start.
In that time, the Yankees will need to figure out how to fix what's suddenly become broken. As the season gets older and older, and the race tightens, solving Gray's problems becomes more paramount.
And the solution may be the unconventional one.