Back-to-back shutouts against the Mets at Citi Field temporarily alleviated some of the Yankees’ concerns about how its depleted pitching staff would deal with its rash of injuries, and more encouraging news followed.
Michael Pineda was spotted in the Yankees clubhouse this afternoon — in uniform — and played catch in the outfield after doing some running. He’ll throw a 25-pitch pitch bullpen tomorrow, as he seems to be getting closer to a return from a Grade 1 strain of the teres major muscle on his right side.
“That’s really encouraging,” Joe Girardi said. “It’s a good sign that we’ve gotten to this point and he’s ready to throw a bullpen. Obviously, as the intensity picks up a little bit, you pay attention to how he’s doing. But so far, no setbacks and he’s doing well.”
The timetable for CC Sabathia’s return is a bit cloudier.
After seeing Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday regarding his right knee injury, it was determined that he has a cartilage issue, which GM Brian Cashman described as “degenerative changes.”
He was given an injection of cortisone and stem cell with the hope that the condition will improve. The good news is that there is no tear or meniscus damage. The bad news is there’s no telling how long it will take him to recover, and this could be a reoccurring issue.
“I would be kind of shocked,” Girardi said when asked if he thought there was any chance that Sabathia would be able to return once his 15-day DL stint is up. “There’s not a lot of history on this, but because they want the procedure obviously to be as successful as possible, he is on crutches. It’s not because the knee is sore – they just don’t want any weight on it. My guess is we’ll evaluate him Monday or Tuesday and see where he’s at, then we’ll go from there.”
David Phelps will get the start today and Vidal Nuno will start the second game of tomorrow’s doubleheader after each guy began the year in the bullpen. Chase Whitley also earned himself at least one more start with 4 2/3 scoreless innings on Thursday, and at least for the time being, Girardi has accepted those three as 60 percent of his rotation.
“It’s not really difficult for me,” he said. “It’s difficult for everyone else to figure out – the doctors and our training staff. It’s just unknown how long you think (Sabathia)’s going to be out. That’s the thing that none of us really know, and as a manager, you have to worry day-to-day. You can’t think, ‘Well, maybe we’ll get him in two weeks or three weeks.’ It just doesn’t do a lot of good for me to be spending a lot of time thinking about that, so the other guys have to step up in his absence. Hopefully, you get Michael Pineda back fairly soon here and hopefully CC isn’t out for too long, but we don’t know.”
• Phelps will get the ball today, and his results have been mixed since joining the rotation. His first start was good (5.1 IP, 1 R, 3 H, 1 BB, 3 K, 87 pitches vs. the Angels), while his second was meh (5 IP, 4 R, 8 H, 3 BB, 1 K, 70 pitches vs. the Brewers). Even once CC and Pineda return, the Yanks are still going to need a fifth starter, and that will likely be determined by which of the Phelps-Nuno-Whitley trio pitches most effectively in the next few weeks. “I think it’s attacking the zone,” Girardi said of the key for Phelps. “There are days when he just misses, and he has to throw a lot of pitches per inning and it becomes a little bit tougher. He has the repertoire to be successful. He has the pitches to do it, so it’s being ahead in the count, getting some quick outs and not getting into prolonged at-bats. For him, to me, you can tell how his start is going to be, in a sense, with his command – how pinpoint it is – because that’s what he relies on a lot.”
• Girardi said that Hiroki Kuroda will start the first game of tomorrow’s doubleheader with the Pirates and Nuno will start the second. He left it up to Kuroda. “I asked him which one he wanted to go,” he said.
• Girardi also said that Derek Jeter will only play in one of the two games. At this point in his career, I don’t think we’ll see Jeter play two in a one day all season. “I’ll talk to Derek and see, but I can’t tell you which one I’m going to play him in yet,” he said when asked if Jeter would play in Game 1 or 2. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to him. I would think he would only play one game.”
• Ichiro took BP today and should be available to enter today’s game. I’d expect him to start one tomorrow, as well. “Thursday I did not have him as a defender or pinch-runner,” Girardi said. “(The knee) still bothered him to run. Yesterday, he came in and said he felt really good, so I want him to go through today to see where we’re at. If he feels good, I would use him today and play him tomorrow.”
• With Carlos Beltran on the DL and Ichiro unavailable the past few games, Alfonso Soriano has started a few games in a row in right field. How does Girardi assess his defense? (He actually made a few decent plays against the Mets.) “You look at the days over at Citi Field, and I thought he did a good job,” he said. “He made some good plays. I think it probably helps him being out there every day, as opposed to being out there one day and then sitting two days. I think it’s more consistency and he feels more comfortable.”
• The bullpen has been a hot topic in the past few days, mostly because of Dellin Betances’ overwhelming six-strikeout performance against the Mets on Thursday. I wrote a feature story on Betances’ road to success for today’s paper, and Girardi was asked if he feels that he’s decided on specific roles for most of the arms in his bullpen. “I think I’ve done that,” he said. “I think I’ve for the most part used Kelley and Warren and Thornton late, and Betances has kind of been the bridge there. And now that Kelley is out, Betances has moved back and Warren has moved back an inning. I think I’ve pretty much done that the whole year. Betances has emerged as being a very good weapon down there, and we’ll have three guys for two spots, in a sense, once we get Kelley back, which is really beneficial.”
• Just before I hit, “Post,” it was announced that Jacoby Ellsbury has been scratched with flu-like symptoms. Brett Gardner will move to play center and Zoilo Almonte will start in left. Almonte will bat ninth and everyone else moves up a spot.
Associated Press photos