Domingo German is in a position to really prove his worth to the New York Yankees after Luis Severino’s shoulder injury.
Domingo German’s situation just became interesting.
The 26-year-old righty entered Spring Training with no guaranteed roster spot. The best he could hope for was making the big league club as a long reliever. Maybe he could snag a spot start while CC Sabathia served his five-game suspension. Throw in competition from 24-year-old Jonathan Loaisiga, and German’s uphill battle got steeper.
Well, that all changed this week. Staff ace Luis Severino was diagnosed with right rotator cuff inflammation and won’t pitch for two weeks. Manager Aaron Boone has already said Severino’s status for Opening Day is “unlikely” at this point.
Cue fans panicking, despite Severino himself saying he’s not worried. The New York Yankees spent the offseason improving the pitching staff, and now the rotation’s top arm is on the shelf. The Avengers are assembling, but Thor and Mjolnir are absent. John Legend is walking down the red carpet without Chrissy Teigen.
Meanwhile, Domingo German himself has looked sharp. He looks like a different pitcher than he did in 2018 and prepared to take the next step in his career.
That step could be one forward into a temporary job in the rotation and for German’s sake, it has to be. With all the pitching depth the Yankees have, simply holding serve could mean him getting lost in the shuffle.
An inconsistent 2018
Fans got more than a quick glance at Domingo German in 2018. He had four long relief appearances in April, but it was his performance on May 1 that put the New York fans on notice. The Yankees were playing the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park that evening and starter Jordan Montgomery left after just one inning with elbow soreness.
Enter German, who tossed four scoreless relief innings against the defending World Series champs. New York won the game 4-0 and German assumed Montgomery’s spot in the rotation. He made his first career start versus the Cleveland Indians five days later, tossing six shutout innings and striking out nine in a no-decision.
And though Montgomery eventually needed Tommy John surgery, German’s hold on his rotation spot remained tenuous. Following his start against Cleveland, he was 0-3 with an 8.14 ERA. He didn’t get a win until June 14 against the Tampa Bay Rays and was largely inconsistent. After struggling against the injury-riddled New York Mets on July 20, he was sent to the minors.
Soon after, he was shut down with an injured elbow. German returned to pitch twice in the majors in September, but it was clear. By finishing 2-6 with a 5.57 ERA in 21 games (14 starts), he was still learning how to pitch.
Reborn in spring
The Domingo German that showed up to Spring Training last month looks like a different man. He has only appeared in two games, starting one, but has not allowed a run in 4.2 innings of work. He has seven strikeouts and no walks.
This is half in line with his 2018 season when he posted a K/9 of 10.72. His BB/9, meanwhile, was a subaverage 3.47. For context, Jacob deGrom won the NL Cy Young Award last season and posted a BB/9 of 1.91.
If German mastered his secondary pitches enough to control the strike zone and cut down his walks, he could find himself getting quite the opportunity soon.
The Yankees are in a potentially rough situation with their starting rotation to start 2019. On top of Severino’s bum shoulder, Sabathia is expected to start the season on the injured list recovering from knee and heart surgery. This means, in all likelihood, Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga will begin the season manning the back end of the rotation.
Both men are more than capable of making spot starts, but what happens when Severino and Sabathia return? One of Loaisiga and German will set up shop as the long relief arm out of the bullpen. The other, however, will be probably be sent to minor league limbo.
For Domingo German, the latter is simply not an option.
What's at stake
Look at it this way. One of the best things German did last season was strike hitters out. This can be traced to his O-Swing percentage being at a respectable 35.1 percent. This means of all the pitches German threw out of the strike zone, hitters swung at 35.1 percent of them. That’s over a third and German also generated swinging strikes on 14.9 percent of his pitches, per Fangraphs.
Now consider the moves the Yankees made to bolster the pitching staff. James Paxton was added to the rotation. Paxton generated swinging strikes on 14.3 percent of his pitches with an O-Swing percentage of 36. Similarly, Adam Ottavino and his nasty slider were added to the bullpen. Ottavino only posted 12.1 percent swinging strikes with an O-Swing percentage of 26.1, but the Yankees’ strategy is clear. Arms who can generate swinging strikes are being prioritized and German does just that.
Except, there’s a problem. The Yankees have so much pitching depth, German could easily slip through the cracks and fade into the background. Michael King, though currently injured, rocketed up the minor league ranks in 2018. Trevor Stephan is another prospect with the front office’s attention.
The long and short of it is if German gets sent to the minors, he instantly becomes a trade chip rather than a serious prospect.
The good news for Domingo German is at this point, there is no reason to worry. Two weeks of camp remain and he will get some starts along the way. His spot on the Opening Day roster is all but guaranteed.
What German must do now is make the most of the opportunity. 2019 can be a big year for him, regardless of role. Just how the 1996 Yankees had Ramiro Mendoza as a pitching swingman, German can be the same this year.
All German has to do is take a step forward in 2019, and he could have a bright future in the Bronx. If not, he could be gone.