Yankees Starting Rotation: With Phil Hughes, Bartolo Colon Returning, Who Goes To The Bullpen?

Phil Hughes. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

-- See Pinstripe Alley for more discussion and analysis of the Yankees

Bartolo Colon will return from the disabled list and rejoin the New York Yankees' starting rotation Saturday at Citi Field against the New York Mets. Phil Hughes was terrific in a rehab start Wednesday for AA Trenton and would like to make his next start in the big leagues, even though it does not seem that will happen.

Either way, the Yankees starting rotation is about to get reinforcements. When Colon arrives, 32-year-old rookie Brian Gordon will get bumped from the rotation and maybe from the roster altogether. Question is, what happens when the Yankees deem Hughes ready to return?

Assuming everyone stays healthy, the return of the 25-year-old Hughes to New York will give the team six qualified, and quality, starting pitchers. So, what will the Yankees do? Between Hughes, Colon, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia somebody is losing a spot in the rotation.

Which one will it be? Your guess is as good as mine -- none of the four truthfully deserves to be bumped. Let's look at the four possibilities.

Bartolo Colon (5-3, 3.10 ERA)

Might be the most likely to be moved back to the bullpen. That is the role he had when the 2011 season began, only getting his shot in the rotation when Hughes went to the disabled list with shoulder issues following a horrendous start to the season.

The Yankees have seen that Colon's stuff translates to the bullpen, where he had a 3.97 ERA and struck out 13 batters in 11.1 innings before moving to the rotation.

On the flip side, the 38-year-old Colon was 5-2 with a 2.96 ERA as a starter before being hurt, and you can make the case that he had become the team's No. 2 starter. Tough to push your No. 2 starter to the bullpen.

Ivan Nova (7-4, 4.26)

The 24-year-old right-hander has most likely exceeded expectations so far this season. He has pitched into the sixth inning or beyond in seven of his last eight starts and has won four of his last five decisions, including his last three.

The Yankees have tried mightily in recent seasons to successfully develop some of their own starting pitchers, and it seems unlikely that they would bump Nova when he seems to be gaining confidence and improving steadily. He could be the long man, but bumping him out of the rotation seems counter-productive.

Phil Hughes (0-1, 13.94)

Forget the ERA, compiled in three miserable starts before Hughes was placed on the disabled list. Hughes won 18 games a season ago, when he appeared on the verge at times of beginning to justify having been called 'The Phranchise' for much of the time he was coming through the Yankee system.

Yes, we saw Hughes pitch very successfully as a late-inning set-up guy for Mariano Rivera in 2009. That is not going to happen this time, however. If the Yankees were going to put Hughes in a bullpen role he would have been back in the Bronx already, not pitching into the seventh inning in AA to build his stamina.

Freddy Garcia (7-6, 3.28 ERA)

Another guy who has done absolutely nothing to deserve being pushed out of the rotation and into the bullpen. At 34 with a surgically repaired shoulder he is a junkballer who relies on deception and control rather than the dominating stuff he had 10 years ago. Yet, only once in his career (2001, when he was third in the AL Cy Young Award voting) has he pitched to an ERA lower than the one he has now. Garcia has not pitched to an ERA below 4.20 since 2005 (3.87).

How do you bump him from the rotation when he is pitching as well as he has in six or seven years? Complicating the decision when it comes to Garcia is that he does not possess power stuff that would translate to him being of any real value coming out of the bullpen. All he could really do is mop up occasionally or chew up innings.

So, if you want to bump him from the rotation what do you do -- designate him for assignment and trade or release him? He really doesn't deserve that.

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