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A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


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Pregame notes: Tanaka tested with cold weather and normal rest04.23.15

Masahiro Tanaka

This afternoon, Masahiro Tanaka will start on normal rest for the first time this season. But in terms of evaluation, that’s not the only factor in play.

“I think you’re going to look at command today,” Joe Girardi said. “I don’t know if you’re going to know if it’s because of the cold or if it’s because it’s on the fifth day. I think that’s going to be hard to predict. We saw command issues yesterday in two guys that really have good command. That’s what I’ll look for.”

Girardi said he’s heard a projected game-time temperature of 43 degrees. I doubt it will be snowing like it was in last night’s first inning, when both David Price and Adam Warren had a hard time. Girardi said there’s no heightened concern about Tanaka’s health in these conditions. The concern is more about simply holding and releasing the baseball.

“I don’t worry so much about his elbow as I worry about his grip on the baseball when it’s this cold,” Girardi said. “I think it can be very slippery on days like today, and I think around game time it’s going to be 43 (degrees), so we’ll just have to see how it goes. … You just try to keep your hands warm and rub up the baseball as much as you can to try to get some heat in the ball. That’s the best idea I have.”

It’s not just the breaking pitches. Girardi said a fastball can also be harder to control in these conditions. It’s just not a great day for baseball, but it’s late April, so there’s a game to be played.

“I have been in games that have been colded out, but it’s been below 30 degrees,” Girardi said. “You’re going to have to go through a few a year. It’s tough conditions, and sometimes you can avoid them some years, and sometimes you can’t. You have to play the games. The only way to avoid it would be not to start the season until May, and we know that’s not going to happen.”

Kyle Davies, Brian McCann• Little bit strange to see a catcher handle a day game after a night game, but Girardi said he planned coming into this series to have Brian McCann behind the plate this afternoon. “He’s playing extremely well,” Girardi said. “We talked about it, how we were going to do this week, and he feels good so I’m going to run him back out there.”

• No injury concerns with Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, just giving them a day off in this long stretch. He wasn’t planning to play either one 13 days in a row. “I just felt this was probably the best day to do it,” Girardi said.

• By sitting Rodriguez today, Girardi said he thinks he can play all six games of the upcoming home stand before getting a rest on the next scheduled off day.

• Bench coach Rob Thomson will coach third base again today. Joe Espada’s wife had a baby girl yesterday, so he’s away from the team.

• Brutal news for a nice guy: Joe Nathan needs Tommy John surgery. “He’s been really good, on really good teams,” Girardi said. “The thing you can say about Joe Nathan is that he was really tested, because he was on a ton of playoff teams and had a ton of success. It’s unfortunate what he’s going through and I don’t think any player really wants to go out that way. I’m not sure what he’ll do, being 40 years old, I’m sure there’s a lot of thought that maybe it’s his last pitch. Maybe he’ll try to come back, and god bless him if he does. But Joe Nathan’s a winner, and he’s used to winning, and it’s got to be extremely frustrating.”

• If the Yankees win today, they’ll wrap up a tremendous week on the road against Tampa Bay and Detroit. If they hadn’t blown a game in Baltimore, it would be an awfully success trip regardless of today’s result. “It would be a tremendous road trip to go 7-3 in these three cities that we went to,” Girardi said. “Good baseball teams, so obviously it would be a tremendous road trip.”

Associated Press photos

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Postgame notes: “We’ve turned it around on this road trip”04.23.15

Chase Headley

David Price actually very good career numbers at Comerica Park, and through most of his career he’s pitched well against the Yankees. The past two times he faced the Yankees in this ballpark, though, his starts have been a mess. Last August, in only his second home start with the Tigers, the Yankees pounced on Price for eight runs and nine straight hits in the third inning. Tonight, it was six runs on five hits, two walks and a hit batter in the first inning, then two more runs in the second inning.

Price’s start got so out of hand that at one point he intentionally walked Gregorio Petit with two outs and a runner at third.

“Being able to do what we did, it gives us a lot of confidence,” Carlos Beltran said. “When the offense is good and everything is working well, we’re capable of doing that.”

Yankees Tigers BaseballAsked why the Yankees have so overwhelmingly handled one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball, Jacoby Ellsbury first said he didn’t want to share the secret. Then he laughed.

“I guess it’s just one of those things,” he said. “For whatever reason we’ve put together good at-bats, strung together consistent at-bats throughout the lineup to get multiple hits. … Each time you’ve got to prepare for him, knowing he watched the game film, knowing he’ll probably attack hitters differently. Then try to put quality at-bats together, grind out at-bats, and do as much as you can to put quality at-bats together. That’s all you can really do against someone like that.”

This was a brutal night, especially in that first inning with the snow falling and hands far colder than anyone would like when they’re throwing a baseball. This wasn’t the best version of Price, but the Yankees took advantage of it. And while Adam Warren got his night turned around, the Yankees kept attacking Price with a two-out rally in the second inning, then a couple of hits in the third.

The Yankees aren’t simply getting better results in the past week, they’re legitimately playing better.

“I said all along, I think this group’s talented,” Girardi said. “Sometimes guys get off to slow starts and you don’t make too much of it. You’ve just got to ride things out. We played really bad the first week at home. Really bad. We’ve turned it around on this road trip and are playing better. Our defense is getting better. Base running’s better. Continuing to swing the bats. It’s a group that really wants to win, and they’ve got a lot of fight in them.”

Tonight that fight was directed at Price, and the Yankees once again knocked him out in the third round.

Adam Warren• Adam Warren said he did enough stretching and throwing during that 31-minute top of the first inning that he felt loose and ready to pitch, but when he got to the mound, he walked four of the first five batters he faced. After that, he was terrific, but that first inning was brutal. “I think you just kind of have to learn how to pitch out there and find a way to get some feeling in your hands and on the ball,” Warren said. “… You want to go out there and just attack hitters, especially in those kind of conditions. So that was tough for me just because I hate walking people in general. It was tough to deal with, but I tried to bounce back and get back to my strengths: pounding the zone.”

• When Larry Rothschild went to the mound, the message was largely about regrouping. Warren said Rothschild reminded him to stay back as long as possible and try to keep the ball down, but he was also telling him to get some more feeling in his fingers. Girardi said going to the mound was as much about giving Warren a break as anything. “Sometimes you just need to step back for a second and regroup,” Girardi said. “I didn’t ask (Rothschild) what he said, but whatever he said worked.”

• After that first inning, Warren and the Yankees relievers — Justin Wilson, David Carpenter, Chasen Shreve — not only kept the Tigers scoreless, but they kept the Tigers from even getting into scoring position. “I’m proud of the way I bounced back and gave the team some depth,” Warren said. “Got into the sixth, so I’m pleased with that.”

• Esmil Rogers started tossing in the bullpen in the first inning, and Girardi said he was about one hitter away from getting him hot and ready to enter the game. Warren getting through that inning and then pitching into the sixth basically saved the bullpen from having to burn out anyone heading into tomorrow’s finale and another seven games in a row without an off day.

Jacoby Ellsbury• Ellsbury on being hit by a pitch to the chest to start the game: “It felt like a frozen snowball or something, going at 93. Hit me right in the heart. It never feels too good in that temperature.”

• Gregorio Petit came into this game with a .261 OPS. Not batting average. Not on-base percentage. On-base-plus-slugging of .261, yet he’s the one who delivered the big blow with a three-run double in the first inning. Then he was intentionally walked in the second. His OPS climbed by nearly .200 points in one night. “I know I can hit,” Petit said. “I trust myself a lot. Things haven’t gone the way I wanted, but that’s baseball. You’re going to have good days and bad days. You have to just keep working. That’s what I’ve been doing and today it came out at the right time.”

• Petit has five major league walks in his career. Tonight’s was certainly the first time he was walked intentionally in the big leagues. “I was smiling in my head, I can’t lie,” he said. “I was kind of surprised, but it’s part of the game.”

• Price walked Petit to face Didi Gregorius, who made an out that at-bat, but later doubled in two runs for his first extra-base hit of the year. Gregorius also had a walk in the game, but he also made another error and made two questionable decisions in the first inning. “I’ve said all along that this is a place where it takes some guys some time to get comfortable here,” Girardi said. “New York’s not the easiest place to come and play and be really good right from the beginning. We’ve seen a lot of really good players take time to adjust, and I think he’s adjusting as it goes on. I do.”

Didi Gregorius• Should Gregorius have thrown to third base instead of second base on that first ground ball in the first inning? “I thought he could have, but his instinct took him to second,” Girardi said.

• Should Gregorius have thrown the ball normally instead of flipping underhand on that potential double play ball in the first? “I don’t think we’re getting it either way,” Girardi said. “I think he was making sure that he got one out.”

• Later in the first inning, Ellsbury actually got his first RBI of the year. Leadoff guy got his first RBI with a first-inning hit that wasn’t a home run. Funny. “I knew it was a matter of time,” Ellsbury said. “I had been putting together quality at-bats with runners in scoring position, and quality at-bats without runners in scoring position. I knew it was a matter of time before it happened.”

• Back-to-back triples by Beltran and Chase Headley. That means four Yankees have tripled in the past week, and those three are Beltran, Headley, Garrett Jones and Brian McCann. None of those four are speed guys by any stretch of the imagination. “I was once,” Beltran said, with a laugh.

• Might not happen often, so let’s give the final word to Petit: “Everybody thought we were going to have a tough game because of the weather. To get that hit against him, we got to him early and took the lead. It was awesome. It was a great feeling for me and for the team. I was super-happy.”

Associated Press photos

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Pregame notes: “It’s hard to keep him out of the lineup”04.22.15

Chris Young, Alex Rodriguez

Hey look, it’s a picture of the Yankees two best hitters!

One was suspended last season. The other was released last season. While there’s been plenty of attention on Alex Rodriguez, Chris Young has quietly led the Yankees in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage while seeming to earn himself more and more playing time.

“If you’re finding a way to help the team, normally you’ll find a way into the lineup,” Young said. “I said that in spring training. Wherever I’m at, if I’m bouncing around the outfield, it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s about trying to be productive and trying to get to the playoffs.”

YoungThe Yankees have seen quite a few lefties this season, which has opened some natural playing time for Young, but because Carlos Beltran was sick for a few days, and because Brett Gardner had that bruised wrist, Young has played a lot for a fourth outfielder. He’s made the most of it by crushing lefties (.500/.625/1.250 vLHP) and hitting for power against righties (.250/.286/.600 vRHP). He played ahead of Beltran against a lefty last night, and tonight he’s in there ahead of Gardner.

“Swinging so well, it’s hard to keep him out of the lineup,” Girardi said. “He’s going to play (against lefties). We need to find ways to get him in the lineup, and that’s what I’ve been doing. … I don’t know how much we’ll (play him against righties), but if a guy needs a day off, I’m not going to hesitate to put him in.”

Young’s primary responsibility is to hit lefties. That’s the job he was hired to do. But he also provides some outfield insurance as a guy who’s been a legitimate everyday guy in the past. At 31 years old, he’s not exactly an old player with no chance of being productive again. So far he’s thrived with inconsistent playing time this season.

“If I’m not playing, (I) make sure I go in the cage and try to keep my eye right, just try to stay ready,” Young said. “Even the games I don’t start, there’s a good chance I’m going to come into that game. That helps, as well. I think you always stay on your toes, never get too relaxed because you know that even if you’re off that day, you still have a good chance of going in.”

Released by the Mets last season, Young had a sudden resurgence with a terrific month of September with the Yankees. He hit .282/.354/.521 that month, and when opportunity for more playing time presented itself, Young took advantage and became a regular down the stretch.

A little more than two weeks into this season, it seems he’s trying to do the same thing all over again. Hard to keep his bat out of the lineup at this point, no matter who’s on the mound.

“It’s important to have positive people around you,” Young said. “For the fan base to take you in and give you a fair shot. They’ve shown me nothing but love. My teammates have shown me nothing but love. When you’re in a positive environment, positive results aren’t automatic, but they’re definitely a lot more reachable, I believe.”

Adam Warren• Temperature is supposed to get into the mid-to-low 30s tonight. It’s legitimately cold here in Detroit, and there have been snow flurries off and on throughout the day, including during Girardi’s pregame media session in the dugout. “I think you worry probably most about the grip on the baseball,” Girardi said. “The ball’s going to be slick tonight just because of the weather. It’s going to be difficult.”

• A slick ball isn’t great news for a starting pitcher like Adam Warren who leans on a four-pitch mix and really counts on his offspeed stuff, but that’s the way it goes. “(Nathan Eovaldi) seemed to find it last night so hopefully Adam can, too,” Girardi said. “You just have to be able to locate tonight. It might take you a few innings to find all your stuff, but keep searching.”

• Still planning to have Masahiro Tanaka pitch tomorrow on normal rest. It will be the first time this season he’s pitched with four days rest. “I thought he put it all together his last outing,” Girardi said. “He had all his pitches, so I feel good when he takes the mound.”

• For the third day in a row, the Yankees have not been able to take batting practice on the field because of the tarp. The Tigers have been in the same boat, but if you’re wondering why lineups have been posted to Twitter a little later than usual, it’s because the clubhouse has opened later without batting practice. The tarp is still on the field as I type this, but the game is expected to start on time.

• There’s a chance Alex Rodriguez will get the day off tomorrow. The Yankees are facing a right-handed starter and it’s a day game after a night game. Girardi said the decision will depend on how Rodriguez is feeling after tonight’s game. It sounded as if Girardi were leaning toward giving Rodriguez a day, but that’s just a hunch. Wouldn’t be especially surprised either way.

• As you’re probably well aware, Rodriguez is two home runs away from tying Willie Mays on the all-time list. Would be interesting to see him get one these next two days and go into the home stand one away. “This is a pretty big ballpark,” Girardi said. “He’s hit some balls pretty good here, but this ballpark plays big, so it’s hard to judge. … You’ve just got to relax and just go and be himself and not worry about it. Hopefully he’ll be able to do that. It’s easy to say it.”

• Girardi on Bernie Williams, who will (finally) officially retire on Friday: “Switch hitter in the middle of your lineup that had power from both sides, played excellent defense, ran the bases. He was a big part of our lineup. It was a time that you could put him in between O’Neill and Martinez and really broke it up. If you wanted to bring in the lefty, there was a good chance you were going to pay if you brought him in to face O’Neill. And Bernie just found ways to get big hits, found ways to get the job done. He was a great teammate. Everyone loved him. He sat in the corner a lot and played his music, and we all enjoyed listening to it. Just a great teammate.”

Associated Press photos

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Postgame notes: “That lets you know what his ceiling is”04.22.15

Nathan Eovaldi

This time the tweak was a small one, just a minor change to keep his hand a little closer to his body as he begins his delivery. That’s what Nathan Eovaldi worked on leading into this start. Nothing overwhelming, just relatively easy fix, he said, to make his mechanics a little easier to repeat.

It wasn’t the kind of thing that single-handedly accounts for one of the best starts of Eovaldi’s career against one of the best lineups in the American League. He’s been building toward this for a while.

“That lets you know what his ceiling is,” Chris Young said. “If you can do that against the Tigers, you can pretty much do it against anybody.”

When the Yankees traded for Eovaldi this offseason, they talked about his potential to get better. He’d been a solid middle-of-the-rotation type in Miami, but his huge fastball while approaching just his 25th birthday suggested Eovaldi could be even better. In spring training he went to work on his offspeed pitches, tried to improve a relatively new splitter and worked on using his fastball up in the zone. He was good in his exhibition starts.

As the season started, Eovaldi’s his first two starts this season were solid. They were perfectly winable. But it wasn’t until tonight that Eovaldi actually got his first Yankees win by striking out four, walking one and allowing just one run while pitching into the eighth inning. On the road. Facing this lineup. Against a team that won 11 of its first 13 games this season.

“I was really pleased,” Eovaldi said. “It’s a great lineup. My slider, I had good depth to it and was able to keep the ball on the ground for the most part, and make pitches when I needed to. … It could be any team, whoever’s hot really, and when you can perform and give your team a good chance to win, that’s big.”

Best start of his career? Eovaldi said he’s had others that were good. Said he pitched well against the Braves last year. He’s pitched through the eighth inning a few times. This might not be the best of the best, but it’s an indication of what the Yankees would like to see. It’s a hint of what Eovaldi’s capable of doing.

“He’s got good stuff, No. 1,” manager Joe Girardi said. “No. 2, he’s young. This is not a guy that’s 29, 30, that’s been pitching a long time in the big leagues. It takes starting pitchers time to develop, and they learn a lot about themselves, and they add pitches. He does a lot of things right. You think about the fielding tonight, a big double play there. He holds runners. And with the quality stuff he has, I think he has a chance to be really successful.”

Chris Young• Chris Young went 3-for-3, walked twice, hit his fourth home run and doubled just for good measure. He leads the Yankees in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. “It’s too early for me to start thinking about the season (as a whole), start thinking about stuff like that,” Young said. “It’s more just about having consistent at-bats, trying to come through when my card is pulled. I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible.”

• With David Price starting tomorrow, Girardi said he will definitely have Young back in the lineup for Game 3 of this series. At this point, it would be hard to bench him even against a right-hander. He’s been outstanding.

• Young is in a four-way tie for the team lead in home runs with Stephen Drew, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Like Young, Drew also hit his fourth homer tonight. Half of Drew’s hits have been homers. He’s hitting just .190, but he has the fourth-most RBI on the team.

• Three double plays last night. Four of them tonight. “The double plays have been really helpful, keeping them from scoring a ton of runs,” Girardi said. “We know how explosive they are. We’ve got some real timely ones.”

• Interesting that Drew was at second for last night’s double plays and at short for tonight’s (he was involved in three of them tonight). “He seems to be doing it pretty well, but it’s got to be a little different bouncing back and forth a little bit,” Girardi said. “But with the injury to Brendan, we’ve been kind of forced to do this.”

• Eovaldi is still throwing his splitter, he just hasn’t used it very much lately. He said he’s been getting too much side-to-side movement on it and not the good, downward break that he wants. Eovaldi threw two splits tonight. He got Miguel Cabrera to fly out with it in the first inning and Victor Martinez fouled one off later in the game.

Andrew Miller• Andrew Miller is five-for-five in save opportunities, but this one got a little dangerous with the bases loaded in the ninth. Miller walked the first two batters he faced, but it actually looked like he struck out each one. “I wasn’t missing by much,” Miller said. “I felt really good believe it not, despite the conditions. That’s probably the best the ball’s come out all year, and I think sometimes you just get a little too amped up. I didn’t feel I was missing my much.”

• First batter Miller faced was Nick Castellanos, and I’m pretty sure everyone in the building except first-base umpire Gerry Davis through Castellanos swung on a 1-2 fastball, but it was ruled a check swing. Next batter was Rajai Davis, and Brian McCann got crossed up on a 3-2 pitch that also looked pretty close to a strike, but it was called a ball to walk in a run. “If I don’t cross him up, I’m pretty sure that pitch that hits McCann in the knee is a strike,” Miller said. “I think everything that went wrong is pretty easily adjusted for the next time.”

• If you couldn’t tell, on that pitch that hit McCann, Miller thought the call was for a fastball, but McCann was expecting a slider. Can’t imagine 95 mph off the knee feels good, but McCann seemed fine postgame.

• Really nice eighth inning for Dellin Betances. MLB.com had his fastball up to 96 mph, which is a lot better than we were seeing in spring training. Girardi said that, after the insurance run in the top of the ninth, he never considered sending Betances out to start the bottom of the ninth.

• Final word to Girardi: “They’re tough. We’ve said it all along, they’ve got a very good lineup. But I thought our pitchers did a really great job tonight. I thought Evo was excellent. Used all his pitches. He has a half-an-hour inning where he sits down, comes out in the bottom of the seventh and I think it’s the hardest pitch he threw all night, to lead off that inning. I give him a lot of credit tonight because he sat a long time.”

Associated Press photos

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Pregame notes: “It was hard to ignore what Alex was doing”04.20.15

Alex Rodriguez

Two days ago, Joe Girardi said that if Carlos Beltran had been healthy enough to play, he would have been hitting third. Today, Beltran is healthy enough to play, and he’s hitting fifth. Alex Rodriguez, for the third game in a row, is the Yankees No. 3 hitter.

“I think it was hard to ignore what Alex was doing,” Girardi said. “… It’s just watching his at-bats, as you continue to watch his at-bats. He’s taking his walks, and he’s being patient. He’s doing just a lot of things right, and that’s why I moved him up.”

Until now, any time Beltran’s been in the lineup, the Yankees have stuck with him as their third hitter. But he’s hit .184/.238/.289 for the third-lowest OPS on the team behind Didi Gregorius and Gregorio Petit. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is hitting .316/.447/.711 and leading the Yankees in nearly every key offensive category.

“If he was 25 it’d be impressive what he’s done,” Girardi said. “When you look at the home runs, the RBI, the average. At any age, that’s impressive. But when you start looking at a guy who’s 39 and a half and had two hips surgeries, and who missed a couple years, basically — it’s not easy.”

Rodriguez has made it look easy. Beltran has not. At 37 years old, coming off an injury, a down season and an offseason surgery, Beltran struggled through spring training and got off to a bad start this season. He had a hit in three straight games — with two of those hits being doubles — but then he got sick in Tampa Bay and sat out the past two games.

“Just (a matter of) getting comfortable at the beginning of a season, I think,” Girardi said. “You see a lot of really good hitters start off slow. You just kind of ride through it. You know eventually it’s going to change and they’re going to get back to where they’re supposed to. It’s unfortunate he got sick. I thought he was swinging the bat better.”

Masahiro Tanaka• The Yankees will stay on rotation this week, meaning Masahiro Tanaka will make his next start in Thursday’s series finale against the Tigers. It will be the first time this year Tanaka’s made a start on four days rest. He got an extra day for each of his past three starts, but he threw just 85 pitches last time out. “He’s going to have to pitch on his normal rest eventually,” Girardi said. “So we just felt that because of the amount of pitches that he threw and how he looked, it’s probably a good thing to do.”

• Tanaka threw so few pitches on Saturday mostly because of a long half inning on the bench, during which he had to throw a little extra just to stay warm. Girardi said he didn’t intentionally pull Tanaka early to set up this next start, it just worked in in such a way that this made sense as a good time to give Tanaka his first every-fifth-day start.

• As you probably expect, Girardi said it’s still possible — and, I’d guess, likely — that the Yankees will use a sixth start the next turn through the rotation so that Tanaka’s fifth start is back on five-days rest.

• The Yankees won’t have to face Shane Greene this week, which is good news for them considering he’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball since the Yankees traded him away this offseason. “I felt like I got dumped,” Greene said. “I looked at myself in the mirror, put a chip on my shoulder and went from there.”

• Greene’s made just three starts, but he’s also 3-0 with a league-high 23 innings pitched and a 0.39 ERA. The Yankees let him go to acquire Didi Gregorius, who’s disappointed so far. “Any time you let a young starting pitcher go, I think it’s difficult,” Girardi said. “But to get an everyday shortstop, those don’t just fall out of trees. To get something, you have to give up something.”

• Despite underwhelming numbers, the Yankees have been happy with the way CC Sabathia has pitched this season. “The amount of ground balls that he’s getting, the amount of strikeouts that he’s getting,” Girardi said. “They have not centered him up a whole lot during the course of his first two starts. I think it’s really important against a lineup like this because they have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark.”

Associated Press photos

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Postgame notes: “He did whatever he wanted tonight with the baseball”04.18.15

Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka’s first big league complete game shutout came on May 14 of last season. It was at Citi Field, and Chris Young was one of Tanaka’s eight strikeouts that day.

“You never know what you’re going to get when you’re at the plate,” Young explained tonight. “There’s really no way to have a legit approach against him. You can get anything in any count, and that makes him really tough.”

Manager Joe Girardi’s most common critique through Tanaka’s first two starts this season was that Tanaka had yet to pitch a game with all of his weapons. Couldn’t locate his fastball quite right. Didn’t quite have his breaking balls working. It’s the total package that makes Tanaka so effective, and he had not shown his full arsenal until tonight.

Masahiro TanakaSeven innings. Two hits. No walks. Eight strikeouts. All on just 85 pitches, a start that surely would have gone longer had the Yankees not spent so much time scoring runs in the seventh that Tanaka had to throw to stay loose on the bench.

“I thought he had all his pitches tonight, which was the big difference,” Girardi said. “He located his fastball. He elevated it as well. He used his curveball, his slider and his split really effectively, and that’s the difference. When you have all your weapons you usually are going to go deeper into the game.”

Tanaka cruised tonight. At one point he struck out seven of 10 batters. He retired 15 in a row. He clearly had enough to go at least eight innings tonight, maybe even the full nine if the Yankees wanted to push his pitch count above 100. His fastball, according to the stadium gun, regularly hit 92 mph and topped out at 94. He got swings and misses with his split, but seemed just as capable of finishing off at-bats with his slider.

“He was better,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “The command of the fastball was better. I thought he had a better downhill plane on it, and threw some fastballs down and away to the spot to right handers very well. That means that he’s getting through pitches pretty well. I think it’s a real good step in the right direction.”

Brian McCann singled out Tanaka’s slider for having better tilt. Tanaka himself said he was most pleased with his fastball, and said the difference came down to better mechanics.

“He did whatever he wanted tonight with the baseball,” McCann said. “He (had) sink and cut. He put his curveball in there for a strike whenever he wanted to. … I feel like this is what he’s been doing since he got over here. I mean, I really do. There’s no questions in here about it. The guys that are in this clubhouse, that watch him prepare on a daily basis, that see him go about his business, (all believe) he’s ready to go.”

That’s what the Yankees have been saying since the end of spring training. But saying it is one thing. Seeing it is another.

Tonight they saw it.

“I think it’s really important for him to see when I have my stuff, I’m going to pitch extremely well,” Girardi said. “And that’s what he did tonight. … In life, you need to have some success or you get frustrated with yourself. I hadn’t noticed any (lack of confidence). His confidence has been fine. He’s been the same person to me, but we all want to have success.”

Chris Young, Joe Girardi• Rothschild said the Yankees still haven’t decided whether Tanaka will take his next turn on five days or six days rest. Girardi said the Yankees definitely plan to have Tanaka pitch on five days rest at some point, they just aren’t sure whether it will happen this turn. “We’ll see how he comes in tomorrow,” Rothschild said. “And then we have to decide to go the fifth day or the sixth day.”

• Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira were each pulled from the game in the late innings, but both were strictly because the game was so lopsided and it was worth getting them off their feet a little earlier. No new injuries, Girardi said.

• Huge game for McCann who became the first Yankees player to have a triple this season. He’s currently the team leader in that category. I know because McCann asked a bunch of writers to look it up and make sure no other Yankee had a triple so far. Kept bragging — as a joke — about his blinding speed. McCann has four triples in his career. “When you’ve got speed, you don’t have stop signs,” he said.

• McCann is now 8-for-13 with two home runs, a double, a triple and six RBI in his career against Rays starter Jake Odorizzi. The rest of the Yankees had two singles against Odorizzi tonight. McCann went 3-for-3 against him. “With some people, the numbers stack up,” McCann said. “Sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight I was able to get some pitches up in the zone and not miss it.”

• As a result of his big night, McCann’s batting average jumped from .179 to .250. “I’ve been feeling good at the plate since Opening Day,” he said. “It’s early in the season. A couple of hits fall here and there and it’s a different story. I’ve been feeling good at the plate.”

• Aside from McCann’s triple, the other big hit of the night was Chris Young’s grand slam off Grant Balfour. A grand slam is great,” Young said. “But it’s not what’s in your mind when you’re at the plate, especially the way my at-bat started tonight. I had a couple of bad swings on sliders in the dirt, so I was just trying to grind, battle, try to work a walk, a base hit. He happened to leave one up on me.”

• Young’s was the Yankees’ second grand slam of the season following Stephen Drew’s, which came earlier in the week in Baltimore. It was Young’s third career grand slam. Young, Drew and Mark Teixeira are now tied for the second-most home runs on the team with three apiece.

• After the game, the Rays designated Balfour for assignment. Rough night.

Yankees Rays Baseball• Brett Gardner made his first start since being hit by a pitch on Monday. He reached base three times and stole a base twice. He has three stolen bases this season, all in the past two days. This was Gardner’s first multi-steal game since May 30 of last year.

• Branden Pinder struck out the first batter he faced in the ninth for his first career strikeout. Pinder said yesterday that he had a lot of family flying to Tampa for this series, so I assume that explains the people going nuts in the stands after that strikeout. It was a rough inning from there — he walked two and had the bases loaded before finally ending it — but Pinder got through it without the Yankees having to bring in Chris Martin, who was getting loose.

• By the way, Pinder was called for a balk in the ninth inning. I didn’t see anything, and Girardi said he had no idea what happened to cause the balk call. “We’re still trying to figure it out,” Girardi said.

• Final word goes to Young: “The biggest thing for all of us today collectively, we were able to make the adjustment off chasing too many pitches and kind of take our walks and put ourselves in a position to have a big inning. I think the biggest thing for us was the walks. Granted, Mac had the big hit, I had a hit as well in a big situation, but the walks kind of put you in that situation. Sooner or later, it’ll catch up to you.”

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Misc, Noteswith Comments Off

Pregame notes: “My inclination is to give him one more day”04.17.15

Brett Gardner

Wearing a new padded wrist guard, Brett Gardner hit inside when he got to Tropicana Field earlier today. That went well enough that he was given permission to take full batting practice with the team during the usual pregame workout.

Doesn’t sound likely that he could hit his way into the lineup, but Gardner said he’s basically ready to play.

“If I don’t get a chance to play today, hopefully tomorrow,” he said. “I hit in the cage and it felt pretty good.”

Even after yesterday’s MRI showed nothing more serious than a bone bruise, the Yankees still decided to give Gardner one more day off. That’s pretty standard around here, where the Yankees seem to favor a cautionary approach to all injuries.

“My inclination is to give him one more day,” Girardi said. “But I want to see BP first. He did take some swings off the tee and said he felt pretty good, but let’s just see what happens after BP.”

The wrist guard Gardner’s wearing is pretty small and it’s designed in a way that doesn’t restrict movement. He said he’ll be wearing it when he finally does get back in the lineup.

Ivan Nova• Ivan Nova threw his second live batting practice of the week this morning at the minor league complex. “I’m getting closer,” Nova told The Associated Press. “Feels awesome.” Girardi said Nova’s schedule calls for him to begin pitching in actual minor league rehab games around May 1. Pretty much the schedule that’s been expected for several months now.

• Chris Capuano’s second live batting practice is scheduled for Sunday. He actually has a locker setup in the clubhouse for this series at Tropicana Field.

• When Capuano threw live batting practice earlier this week, Jose Pirela was one of the hitters he faced. Pirela is basically going through every drill and is scheduled to play an extended spring training game on Monday. He’s been working his way back from a concussion since late spring training. When he’s ready, will he go to Triple-A or join the big league bench? “I don’t know,” Girardi said. “Let’s just get him healthy first. Make sure he’s only seeing one of everything.”

• Girardi said Brendan Ryan “might” come down to Tampa next week to start going through some workouts on his way back from that spring calf injury. When Giradri said “might,” I took it to mean Ryan’s definitely coming down barring any sort of setback.

• Given the way Alex Rodriguez has hit — and given the way guys like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann have hit — why isn’t Alex Rodriguez hitting higher than sixth? “I don’t think you can make too much of nine games,” Girardi said. “If you started moving your hitters according to every nine-game period you play, you’d be doing it all the time. We’re trying to have as much of a set lineup as you can. We don’t have Gardy in there, so I’ve used the same lineup two days in a row. I liked the way the guys swung the bats the other night, so we’ll just keep it the same.”

• The Yankees still don’t have a defined closer, but Girardi’s been using Andrew Miller in those situations, and it certainly sounds like that might be the case again here in Tampa. “We haven’t named it,” Girardi said. “Have I used him as the closer the last couple times? Yeah. We’ll let it play out a little but and see how this works out. Obviously in this situation, you would think about against Tampa — because they have so many right-handed hitters in the lineup — that you’d use Dellin more for four- or five-outs more than you would Miller.”

• Girardi said the Yankees are still actively discussing the idea of a spot starter at some point during this heavy stretch of games without many off days. He specifically mentioned Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell as candidates to come up and start at some point to give everyone an extra day off. He said that if/when they do it could depend on weather. If they get rained out in Detroit next week, then the sixth-starter call-up could be pushed back. “It’s something that’s on the back of our minds,” Girardi said. “And we’ve kind of prepared ourselves for it.”

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith Comments Off

Pregame notes: “How many days in a row can you run him out there?”04.13.15

Alex Rodriguez

One guy has started all seven games for the Yankees this season. Remarkably, that guy is the 39-year-old with two surgically repaired hips and a full year away from the game. Alex Rodriguez has been the designated hitter, he’s been a starting first baseman, and tonight he’s making his first start of the season at third base.

“You just wanted to see (his production) carry over (after) what he did in spring training,” Joe Girardi said. “And he’s done that. I think we answered the questions in spring training, and now I think the only question that we really need to answer on a consistent basis is how many days in a row can you run him out there before you need to give him a day off?”

Girardi said the plan is to give Rodriguez a day off either tomorrow or Wednesday, but for now, because he’s spent so much time at DH, there’s actually sense that Rodriguez might be relatively fresh. He’s playing third so that Chase Headley — in theory a more durable player — can get his first day off.

“Obviously the 19-inning game has taken a toll on a few of our players,” Girardi said. “And we’re just trying to get their legs to bounce back a little bit. I thought I’d give Headley a day off today. He hasn’t had a day, and he could use it. … I know his legs are heavy. He’s played every inning basically that we’ve played, and he came back after that 19-inning affair and played the next day and we played a long game (last) night. You get in these games and you get in these streaks and you don’t want to take your guys out, but you have to understand we have a long road. We don’t want someone on the DL for two or three weeks.”

And so, today we get Rodriguez at third, where even he has acknowledged the range is limited. He pretty much made all of the routine plays in spring training, but he’s not going to move to far in either direction. The Yankees know that. It’s why he’s only going to play third occasionally this season.

Tonight just happens to be one of the nights the Yankees feel they need him there.

“Catch the balls that are hit to you and get the outs for us,” Girardi said. “He’s going to be able to go a little to his left and a little to his right, but he’s got great hands and he knows how to play the position, so use that to your ability.”

Kyle Davies, Brian McCann• Learned something new today: I was told that, barring an injury, teams are not allowed to call up any 40-man player until 10 games into the season. That 10-day rule is fairly well known for a player who’s been optioned to the minor leagues — they have to stay down 10 days before coming back up — but I assumed players who were optioned at least 10 days before the end of spring training would be allowed to come up at any time. Apparently not. Helps explain the non-40-man call-ups we’ve seen so far.

• Speaking of which, today it’s Double-A right-hander Joel De La Cruz who’s on the roster for emergency mop-up duty. The Yankees were basically out of Triple-A starters to bring up. They can’t call-up either Chase Whitley or Bryan Mitchell, already used up Kyle Davies and Matt Tracy, and I’m sure they don’t want to add Jaron Long to the 40-man just for something like this. So for tonight, it’s De La Cruz who’s here just in case the Yankees need a bunch of innings.

• Along those lines, Girardi said he might have Esmil Rogers available tomorrow, but more likely he’d prefer to wait until Wednesday before actually putting Rogers back in a game. Once Rogers is ready, I guess the Yankees could call-up a short reliever — maybe Diego Moreno? — because they’d have Rogers for multiple innings. I still doubt they’d add a guy like Jacob Lindgren or Nick Rumbelow for a short-term thing. At this point might as well just wait until they’re eligible and bring up a 40-man guy like Danny Burawa or Jose Ramirez to supplement the pen.

• One non-40-man pitcher who could be an option is Andrew Bailey, but Bailey still hasn’t pitched back-to-back games. He’s gotten into one game since opening the season with High-A Tampa. He pitched on Friday and allowed two earned runs on two hits and a walk. “I think the important thing that we said was that he is able to go back to back, just continue to build arm strength,” Girardi said. “I think after that you could really consider it.”

• Jose Pirela has been cleared for all baseball activity and should begin extended spring training games next week.

• The Yankees have Chris Young, John Ryan Murphy and Gregorio Petit in the lineup, which must mean there’s a lefty on the mound. Tonight it’s Wei-Yin Chen. “He locates with four pitches,” Girardi said. “He has the ability to get in on right-handers, and he has the ability to elevate the ball. And that’s the one you have to stay off of.”

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith Comments Off

Pregame notes: “You have to regain the trust every day”04.09.15

Alex Rodriguez

With the lineup already posted on the door that leads to the batting cage, Alex Rodriguez came walking through the clubhouse this afternoon and suddenly stopped in his tracks. Someone had just mentioned that he was hitting second. The words initially seemed to pass without Rodriguez hearing them, then he froze and looked back.

“You’re kidding me,” he said.

He walked to the door. Looked at the lineup. Walked away. Came back. Looked again and kind of whispered, “wow” before going to hit in the cage.

Rodriguez“I didn’t tell him,” Joe Girardi said with a little laugh. “But we’re taking Gardy out, and against a left-hander I decided to move (Rodriguez) up. I like the way he’s swinging the bat, so we moved him up today.”

For a guy with Rodriguez’s resume, a turn in the No. 2 hole in early April surely doesn’t rate as any sort of real accomplishment. But for a guy who’s almost 40 and coming off a year-long suspension, hitting second seems pretty telling. Can’t imagine Rodriguez — even with Brett Gardner out of the lineup, even with a lefty on the mound — would be hitting second if he hadn’t shown the Yankees quite a bit in spring training.

Six weeks ago, the Yankees had no idea what to expect from him. Now he’s as dependable as anyone at the top of the order.

“Joe and I have a long history,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been through a lot together, we won a championship together, so I think there’s a lot of trust on both sides. Whether you’re hitting second or seventh, third or fourth, the goal doesn’t change. You have to help the team win.”

Asked if he’s surprised by the way Rodriguez has looked at the plate, Girardi said that after spring training, he’s come to expect it. Rodriguez has shown a good eye since exhibition games started, and he’s done a good job of making contact and occasionally driving mistake pitches.

“Naturally, any time you hit at the top of the order, you should have better pitches to hit because they want to stay out of the meat of the order,” Rodriguez said. “It doesn’t matter where they’re hitting me; I think they’re always going to honor the power at some point.”

So today he’s in the No. 2 spot. Tomorrow, who knows?

“Anything that Skip wants me to do, I’m ready to do,” Rodriguez said. “… It’s all about trust. You have to regain the trust every day. Every day is an opportunity to prove yourself and help the team win.”

John Ryan Murphy• Stephen Drew, Brian McCann and Brett Gardner all have the day off because of the lefty starting for Toronto. No one is hurt. It’s just a chance to give guys a day off, and so three lefties are on the bench. Girardi said he plans to play Drew and sit Didi Gregorius tomorrow. Seems safe to assume McCann will be back in the lineup tomorrow as well, and I would expect the same for Gardner.

• Usually Girardi likes to pair his backup catcher with one particularly pitcher, but he said the decision to starter John Ryan Murphy today had more to do with the opposing starter and less to do with the Yankees starter. Doesn’t sound like Murphy and Sabathia will be paired together regularly, it just worked out that way this time around. “I think I’ll try to rotate it based on when Mac needs a day,” Girardi said.

• Speaking of today’s Yankees starter, it’s CC Sabathia’s return. “It means a lot to him, I know it does,” Girardi said. “But it also means a lot to us. It’s important that we have him in our rotation. I look back on last year, I didn’t realize how few starts he actually made. It’s really great to have him back, and we’ve just got to keep him in the rotation. I think that’s the important thing.”

• First two games of the season, the first pitcher out of the bullpen has been Chris Martin, and Martin’s been impressive. Two innings, no base runners, three strikeouts. “We’ve liked what we’ve seen obviously his last outing,” Girardi said. “But his last few outings of spring training (were also encouraging). His breaking ball has improved, which I think is really going to help him during the course of this season. He had the cutter, but he’s added a little bit bigger breaking ball which gives a different look. So I feel good about our guys in the bullpen, and I brought him in a close game hoping he would keep it there. I think our parts are somewhat interchangeable down there, and you just have to keep the guys fresh.”

• Rodriguez has moved up in the order, but when’s he going to play the field? “I have no idea,” he said. “I already took my ground balls this afternoon. Did the same thing yesterday early. I’m ready when my number is called.”

• Minor league seasons get started tonight. Bryan Mitchell has the start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith Comments Off

Postgame notes: “I have to earn their cheers and earn their respect”04.06.15

Alex Rodriguez

This was a game all about Masahiro Tanaka. Big picture, small picture, however you want to look at it, this was Tanaka’s game. It was his rocky third inning that put the Yankees in an immediate hole, and it was his lackluster outing that made the Yankees seem even less reliable than they were coming out of spring training.

In many ways, Tanaka is a snapshot of the team as a whole — clearly talented, but perhaps too damaged in one way or another — and so it’s impossible to ignore him on a day like today.

But even with Tanaka under that sort of microscope, no one drew a bigger Yankee Stadium reaction than Alex Rodriguez. His ovation during pregame introductions was certainly the biggest, and it came with more cheers than boos. In the batters box, he had a hit and a walk as the only Yankees player to reach base more than once.

“I have to admit, it definitely felt good, that’s for sure,” Rodriguez said. “I have a lot of love for the city of New York, especially our fans. But let’s make it clear, the fans don’t owe me anything. (One thing) I’ve said all along in spring training is that part of feeling like a rookie is that I have to earn their cheers and earn their respect.”

He actually earned them today. On a day the Yankees had just three hits, Rodriguez was perhaps their best offensive weapon outside of Brett Gardner, whose home run accounted for the only Yankees run.

“I thought he performed well, and I thought he was received well,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I thought our fans were behind him and want to see him, in a sense, make a comeback.”

The fact Opening Day centered on a pitcher with a slightly torn elbow ligament and a hitter who hasn’t played in more than a year probably says a lot about the state of the Yankees. They’re a team loaded with uncertainty, and that uncertainty of course came front and center today. They walk a fine line. Today they didn’t hit very much, and for one inning, their No. 1 starter pitched poorly. That was enough for a lopsided loss.

“Unfortunately we couldn’t get a win,” Rodriguez said. “But I like this team a lot. This team showed a lot in spring training, I think it has a lot of potential.”

Is Rodriguez a part of that potential? Can he be an impact player for an offense that could use a real boost?

“I think overall my expectations are different now,” Rodriguez said. “I just want to contribute and help the team win. … It means the world to me (to be back). I don’t think I ever took it for granted, but I can guarantee you that I won’t take this year for granted.”

Paul Sanchez, Didi Gregorius• The offensive low point was surely in the eighth inning when the Yankees were down by five and had two runners on for cleanup hitter Mark Teixeira. That’s when — of all times — Didi Gregorius tried to steal third, getting thrown out easily to end the inning and destroy any chance for a rally. “I’m just going to chalk it up as someone trying to do too much,” Girardi said. “And in a game like this, you’re looking for a three-run homer there. (Gregorius’s) run doesn’t mean a whole lot. The guy behind you has to get a hit, in a sense. It’s probably a real good learning experience that it happened in game one here and hopefully it never happens again.”

• Gregorius explaining his decision to run: “They were shifting a little bit so I decided to try and take third but it was a bad mistake. … It was a bad mistake by me, I’ll admit it. I’ll admit that it was my mistake and it won’t happen again.”

• Also on Gregorius: He was on base because he’d been hit by a pitch in the elbow. The early indications are that he’ll be fine. “Hopefully he’s OK and hopefully the day off helps,” Girardi said. “He said he was OK. I think you have to wait to see how he feels on Wednesday, because sometimes there can be swelling after the game and you have to deal with it. He did not say that we needed to take him out, which was a good sign, but you never know in those situations.”

• From a low point to a high point: The Yankees’ bullpen pitched five innings with just one run. No one was better than Chris Martin, who struck out — in order — Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson in the fifth inning. That was quite the Yankees debut. “Some new guys who haven’t pitched in Yankee Stadium, I thought they fared pretty well,” Girardi said.

• The Yankees actually had Esmil Rogers getting loose as early as the third inning, but when Girardi went to the bullpen, he elected to use a bunch of relievers rather than lean on his only true long man. He wound up getting four first-time Yankee pitchers in the game. “I could have went to Esmil earlier,” Girardi said. “But I just thought I’d kind of spread it out to the bullpen. (Rogers) ended up getting in anyway. He’s our true long guy in a sense, but I thought to get all those guys in there.”

Chassn Shreve• Brett Gardner’s home run was the 100th Opening Day home run in franchise history. The last Yankee to homer on Opening Day was Raul Ibanez in 2012 at Tampa Bay. Today was Gardner’s first Opening Day home run.

• Players making their Yankees debut today: Gregorius, Martin, Chasen Shreve, Justin Wilson, David Carpenter. Chase Headley and Stephen Drew were with the team on Opening Day for the first time. Martin, Shreve and Carptenter combined to retire 12 of 13 batters from the fifth through eighth innings.

• Martin is the second Yankees pitcher since 1914 to strike out every batter faced in his team debut. The first to do so was Edwar Ramirez — with that ridiculous changeup — back in 2007.

• Good news: The Yankees’ pitchers tied a franchise Opening Day record with 12 strikeouts. Tanaka had half of them.

• Bad news: The Yankees hitters had just three hits, their fewest on Opening Day since also having just three in 1984.

• This was the Yankees’ fourth consecutive Opening Day loss, their longest losing streak since also losing four in a row from 1982 to 1985.

• Final word goes to Girardi on Tanaka’s arm strength: “I think all of our guys still need to (build arm strength). We saw 93, 94 in (Tanaka’s) first game in spring training. I think it’s something that all of our guys still build upon. It’s just getting into a long season. It’s a long season for these guys, and we want them for the long term. We felt this spot is the best spot for him considering the extra days and all of that. He pitched really well for us and we thought he would handle today well. It just didn’t work out.”

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith Comments Off

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