It has been 633 days since Bartolo Colon last took the mound as a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues. With Phil Hughes suffering from dead arm, Colon will once again toe the rubber as a major league starter. A low-risk, non-roster invitee, who looked like a long-shot to make the roster this spring, Colon was impressive in the month of March and has continued that in three relief appearances with the Yankees.
As Phil Hughes’ shadow over the first few weeks of the season, Colon has tossed 11. 1 innings out of the bullpen. His ERA and defensive independent metrics look good and his peripheral statistics look even better. The right hander has struck out 13 batters while walking just three and allowing one ball to leave the yard. After giving up four runs in his first appearance, he has allowed one earned run over his last two appearances while striking out eight and walking two.
Despite the 90-week break between starts, Colon is roughly the same pitcher he was over the past few seasons, which may not be a complement in terms of results, but at age 37 he can still get the fastball in the low 90s. Even after all the ups and downs, he still complements the heater with a slider and a changeup.
Thus far the favorable results for Colon have come in stints that have not lasted much longer than four innings (4.1 is his season high). As a member of the rotation, the team will ask him to go five or six innings over the first few turns. Looking at pitch count, Colon has topped 60 pitches twice. A reasonable expectation for the first time out should be 85-90 pitches, which should get those five or six innings.
It will be interesting to see how his velocity holds up over the course of longer outings. In his three appearances, he has averaged between 88-92 MPH on the fastball. According to Brooks Baseball, some of the hardest stuff during his last outing came as he crossed the 40-pitch plateau before setting back down around 90 MPH.
In addition to his velocity, Colon will need to vary his approach as he prepares to face a lineup multiple times in a game as opposed to just one. When behind in the count, he has gone almost exclusively to his fastball. Colon has yet to get a whiff on his two-seam fastball according to pitch f/x, but his slider and four-seam fastball have been about average in terms of swings and misses. He’ll avoid Yankee Stadium in his first start, but will pitch in another home run friendly environment in Toronto against the Blue Jays. Against the free-swinging and hard-hitting group, his changeup will at least need to be in the back of the Jays mind as they see him two or three times throughout the evening.
Considering the lack of production from Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, Colon does not have to do much to make what would be considered a successful start for the Yankees. Given his workload so far, he should be good for six innings and around 90 pitches. If he can limit Toronto to three or four runs during that time, I think all parties involved — the team, the fans, and Colon — would be happy with those results.