Archive for the ‘Notes’
On the 40-man: Nick Rumbelow • 02.13.16
Continuing to look through every player on the 40-man roster, up next is one of the many upper-level relievers in the Yankees’ system. Nick Rumbelow gets about as much prospect buzz as any of the right-handed relievers competing for big league opportunities, and his name has been mentioned a few times this season as a reliever who’s caught the eye of the coaching staff.
Age on Opening Day: 24
Acquired: Seventh round draft pick in 2013
Added to the 40-man: For his first big league call up on June 22
In the past: Selected out of LSU, Rumbelow was part of a recent wave of college relief pitchers the Yankees have drafted, signed and moved quickly through the minor league system. Rumbelow got to Triple-A in his first full season of pro ball, when he climbed for levels in a single season. He got to the big leagues basically two years after he was drafted. Although he’s not particularly big, Rumbelow has been one of the more highly touted relief prospects in the system, and at times he seemed to be winning Joe Girardi’s trust last season.
Role in 2016: With a couple of bullpen spots up for grabs, Rumbelow’s name has been mentioned a few times as a standout candidate. Girardi has at least once gone out of his way to bring up Rumbelow as a guy who could help out this season. It seems he will have a real chance to make the team out of spring training. At the very least he’s in a strong position to once again shuttle back and forth from Triple-A.
Best-case scenario: With good reason, all of the Yankees bullpen attention has been focused on the big guys handling the late innings. That’s an obvious strength, but Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller can’t do all the heavy lifting. Another reliable arm or two could make a big difference, and the best-case scenario for Rumbelow is that he emerges as that kind of go-to arm. He could help put out some middle-inning fires while also stepping into a late-game situation when one of the big three is unavailable. He’s shown an ability to get strikeouts without too many walks in the minors, and the best-case scenario is that he can carry that success to the big leagues.
Worst-case scenario: The Yankees have too many alternatives to think of Rumbelow’s worst-case scenario as a crippling blow to the system. If he falls flat when given a long look, the Yankees will simply move on to someone else. That’s more of a problem for Rumbelow than for the Yankees. His nightmare scenario is that he blows a couple of games, loses Girardi’s faith and falls to the bottom of the pecking order for call-ups and innings. Not that long ago, it seemed Jose Ramirez might be on the verge of big league staying power, and the Yankees basically just dumped him when he didn’t do much.
What the future holds: That’s up to Rumbelow, really. The Yankees are not going to keep paying big money for Miller-type relievers or giving up prospect packages for one year of guys like Chapman. They have a clear preference for developing a few relievers of their own — Betances and Dave Robertson are among the recent success stories — and surely Rumbelow will have an opportunity to make an impression and stick around for several years. He just has to perform well enough to earn that trust. If he doesn’t, there are plenty of alternatives waiting for similar opportunities.
Associated Press photo
One good game can’t change two weeks of disappointment, but if the Yankees are going to end this recent spiral and get their season back on track, this was certainly a giant step in the right direction.
The Yankees actually looked like a good team, again. So good that Nathan Eovaldi shut down one of the highest-scoring lineups in baseball, and it was a secondary storyline at best.
Chase Headley made a nice leaping catch on a line drive, Brian McCann threw out a speedy base runner and Jacob Lindgren delivered a dominant debut. But five home runs — four of them before the team had made its fourth out — thoroughly stole the show. After two weeks of stumbling in every aspect of the game, the Yankees looked like they could hit, pitch and field.
“There was some urgency and a little irritability about how we were playing,” Headley said. “But there was no panic. Guys were (saying), ‘We’re going to come out of this and we’re going to be better for it. We’re going to come together over this.’ Hopefully this was a first step to that.”
Make no mistake, there was no one in the Yankees’ clubhouse claiming one win changes everything, but there was certainly a sense that the Yankees had finally played like they had during that hot streak that lasted from the middle of April through the early part of May.
And it all started with that eight-run first inning, their highest-scoring inning at home since 2013.
“We’ve been on the other side of that for the last week or so it seems like,” Brett Gardner said. “… We haven’t been swinging the bats particularly well the last couple of weeks. When we have given up big innings and gotten in a hole, it’s been tough for us to battle back. Today we were able to jump out in front and Nathan was pretty dominant from the get go.”
Eovaldi didn’t need much help today. The only Royals run came on a little bloop single in the fifth inning. Otherwise, he was thoroughly in control, and the Yankees tacked on after that first-inning outburst. It was their largest margin of victory in more than two years, and it came just when it seemed the team couldn’t get any worse.
“It was nice because we’ve been through some tough losses, we’ve been through some ugly losses,” manager Joe Girardi said. “To be able to get that type of lead was very nice. … Our game is probably as unpredictable as any game in professional sports, just because it really depends on one guy, in a sense: your starting pitcher that day. And you can have you ace going, and he may not have his stuff that day and he might get hammered and give up a lot of runs, so it’s really unpredictable. We’ve been on both sides. And we’ve played really well, and we’ve struggled. Probably like most of the teams in major league baseball right now. We’re over .500 again, we just beat a really good team, and you try to carry that over and carry a good streak again.”
• With first-inning home runs from Headley, Gardner and Brian McCann, the Yankees had their most home runs in an inning since hitting four in the second innings of an October 1, 2012 game against the Red Sox (Cano, Teixeira, Granderson and Martin went deep that time).
• Last time the Yankees scored at least 11 runs off a single pitcher — like they did against Jeremy Guthrie today — it was against Rick Reed on April 21, 2003. Reed also allowed exactly 11 runs (10 earned), but he did it in 4.1 innings. Guthrie’s runs came in an inning plus, jumping his early nearly two runs in the process.
• Gardner, Headley and Alex Rodriguez each reached base twice in the first inning. Gardner, Headley, Rodriguez, Garrett Jones and Slade Heathcott each had multi-hit games. Every home run came with at least one runner on base.
• Pretty aggressive approach by a lot of Yankees hitters today: “When we’re swinging the bats well, that’s what we do as a team,” Headley said. “We can’t go out and work counts. We’re going to be aggressive and hit the pitches we’re supposed to hit. When they make mistakes, you do your damage. When they make their pitches it’s a take. We got back to what we do well and obviously it was a relief for a lot of guys.”
• Slade Heathcott’s thought when he hit his first major league home run? “Is hit real?” he said. “… (Been dreaming about this) ever since I was about 6. It’s just surreal. It’s an awesome opportunity, and I’m just thankful for God, the Yankees, and everyone in my life that’s helped me to get to where I am, had patience to deal with me in the past, and watched me mature and be here now. It’s just been awesome.”
• Heathcott traded some signed baseballs and t-shirts to get the home run ball. “I’ll frame it and put it up in my son’s room, probably,” Heathcott said.
• It’s hard to focus on it after a game like this, but Eovaldi had perhaps his best start of the year against a really dangerous Royals lineup. He allowed one run through seven innings, and although he didn’t strikeout man guys — only four Ks — he did pitch deep into the game without getting his pitch count much above 100. “(Early run support) allows you to attack hitters a lot more,” he said. “You don’t have to be as perfect. Guys were swinging the bat well, playing good defense. It was a good win for us, get us back on track.”
• Eovaldi singled out his slider as the key pitch this afternoon, but Girardi thought it was more about his offspeed pitches in general. “I thought he used his curveball effectively, I thought he got some strikeouts with his split, I just thought he mixed his pitches really well today,” Girardi said. “You know, we’ve talked about Evo a lot, in a sense, when he has his offspeed, he can throw it for strikes, he’s really effective.”
• Terrific big league debut for Jacob Lindgren, who struck out two and got a double play while pitching two scoreless innings. He can miss bats, and he can get ground balls, each of which he did today. “I’d say after the double play ball, was able to lock it in there,” he said.
• This time last year, Lindgren was still pitching in college. He’s the first Yankees prospect since Deion Sanders in 1989 to make his big league debut less than a year after being drafted. “Maybe I should try and play football,” Lindgren said. He later said he’d been a smaller, faster cornerback when he was in high school. Probably picked the right sport.
• Headley has hit .561 with five home runs in seven career games on Memorial Day. He’s had at least one hit in each of those games. That’s according to Elias. Also from Elias: Gardner has a hit in each of his six Memorial Day games hitting .438 in those contests. The Yankees are now 32-11 in games when Gardner hits a home run.
• Interesting to think back to the first inning, which Gardner started with a double. Before the Headley home run that started the scoring, Gardner was very nearly picked off at second. “If I’m two or three tenths of a second slower getting back to the bag, I’m out,” Gardner said. “Maybe he takes the next pitch and before you know it, we’re out of the inning and it’s 0-0. You never know. I always hate to look back and say ‘what if’ because baseball is one of those games where, if something was a little bit different, maybe the same pitch wouldn’t have been made. You never know how it would have turned out, but yeah, it was a close play. I don’t want to say I was ready for it, but thank goodness he didn’t catch me off guard too much.”
• Final word goes to Headley: “We were due. Obviously it’s been a tough couple weeks for us, but you’re going to go through that during the course of a season. Considering how bad it’s gone recently, to be where we are? We’re pretty fortunate. We’re going to take the positive side of that and do what we can to keep playing hard.”
Associated Press photos
The Yankees’ ace takes his turn this afternoon, and everyone knows it except — perhaps — the man himself.
With Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list and CC Sabathia still looking for his first win, the Yankees No. 1 starter is clearly Michael Pineda. Joe Girardi talks ofter about a team’s ace being whoever is starting on any given day, and that’s a nice idea, but there’s something to be said for a true powerhouse at the top of the rotation.
And after years of waiting for him to get healthy, the Yankees seem to have that in Pineda.
“I think when you look at your starters, you think about how it relates to the bullpen in a sense and how deep they’re going to go into games,” Girardi said. “And he’s one of those guys, who, because he throws so many strikes, and gets ahead in the count, he can go deep into games and you don’t use your bullpen as much. I think people always put those things together as, that’s an ace of the staff, too. Do I think different (on days Pineda pitches)? Yeah, I think sometimes you’re going to get a little more length, but you’re still going to need your bullpen.”
Sabathia has always talked about his responsibility as a veteran rotation leader, and surely Tanaka can’t help but notice the attention and expectation that he carries each time he’s on the mound, but Pineda takes a different attitude. He comes across as a carefree guy, basically the same attitude this year that he had last season when he opened as the No. 5.
“My guess is he doesn’t really think much about it,” Girardi said. “My guess is he just goes out there every fifth day, does his job, loves to compete, has fun, entertains us with some of the things he does out there. My guess, and I have not heard him talk about it – but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t – is that he doesn’t think about it.”
• Alex Rodriguez is back in the lineup after sitting out yesterday with some leg tightness. Would Girardi prefer his 39-year-old just stop at second next time he has a chance to stretch for a triple? “If you can get there, you want a guy to get there, since there are so many other ways to score from third base,” Girardi said. “But I would tell him just to hit the ball over the fence.”
• Tanaka played long toss again today. Seemed to have no issues.
• One day after both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were unavailable because of workload, the Yankees would like another game when they don’t need to use their bullpen too much. Only Chasen Shreve and David Carpenter had to pitch out of the pen yesterday. “We were able to get some of the guys a day off yesterday,” Girardi said. “But it’d be nice to get them another day off today.”
• There have been some positive signs with Pineda’s velocity lately. He’s been average up around 93 mph the past two times out — close to 94 mph last time — after sitting closer to 90-91 his first few starts. “I think some of that has to do with weather,” Girardi said. “Some of the days he’s pitched, have not been ideal conditions, and I think as you see the weather warm up — he pitched in a dome the last time – you’ll see the velocity come with it.”
• I was off the first two home Sundays this season. I’d kind of forgotten how quiet these days are pregame. Very few players in the clubhouse before batting practice. Nothing unusual going on during BP. Today there are a lot of pink shirts being worn, but otherwise, it’s just another slow Sunday morning at the stadium.
Associated Press photos
On the day Masahiro Tanaka went on the disabled list, Joe Girardi said he didn’t want any of his starting pitchers to try to fill those shoes. Girardi simply wanted his pitchers to be the best versions of themselves.
Fact is, on any given night, the best version of Pineda just might be the best Yankees starting pitcher even when Tanaka’s healthy. If the title of ace is up for grabs, Pineda made a strong case with tonight’s performance.
“He’s doing the job, and that’s the bottom line,” Girardi said. “It’s what we saw last year from him. He’s been as good as anyone we’ve got.”
Honestly, Pineda could have been better. Not because he didn’t pitch a complete game, but because he didn’t have his complete arsenal in the early innings. It took Pineda a while to find his slider, which accounts for some of those early base runners and hard-hit balls out of the gate. It was only after he found the slider and finished off his three-pitch mix that Pineda was truly dominant in the later innings.
“He’s a big-time pitcher,” Jacoby Ellsbury said. “If you don’t have one of your pitches, it’s a game of adjustments, not only from the offense’s side, but from a pitcher’s side. If you can go in there knowing one pitch isn’t working for you and find a way to get outs, that’s very impressive.”
With the slider, Pineda breezed through his final 10 batters. He didn’t seem to be slowing down. Instead, he seemed to be finding his stride. Girardi said he didn’t want to push Pineda past 101 pitches — he still remembers those shoulder problems of the past three seasons — but Girardi recalled the old saying that hitters have to get to a starting pitcher early or they won’t get to him at all. Once Pineda had his slider working, the Blue Jays had no chance.
“He pounds the zone with three pitches, and he knows exactly where they’re going,” Brian McCann said. “So you can throw the 3-1 slider. You can do a lot more to pound the zone. It’s impressive to have the command he has, with the stuff he has. … You can go wherever you want. You can attack hitters’ weaknesses. It’s not, because he can’t find the zone you have to call a fastball. You don’t have to. You see how the game goes, but it’s a lot easier to call a game when a guy knows where it’s going.”
Pineda said he’s not worried about the label of staff ace, but his ERA is down to 2.97 and he’s been the winning pitcher in four of his six starts. He’s pitched into the eighth inning twice and through the eighth inning once. Tonight he shutdown the highest-scoring offense in baseball.
“He’s a top of the rotation starter,” McCann said. “We’re not big on saying this guy’s an ace, that guy’s an ace. We’ve got five guys who compete every single night, and we’re glad he’s at the top of our rotation.”
• Chase Headley didn’t come in for ninth-inning defense because his back was bothering him after last night’s diving play at third base. Headley said it’s no big deal and isn’t the same as the back issue that lingered with him in San Diego. Girardi said he expects Headley to play tomorrow. “Just sore,” Headley said.
• Gregorio Petit had a fluoroscope done on his hand after tonight’s game. That early test came back negative — it’s sort of like an X-ray — and Girardi said the team might do more tests tomorrow. Petit was hit by a pitch in the ninth inning and had to leave the game. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Girardi said. “If we have to X-ray it, we’ll X-ray it.”
• Worth noting that Petit’s injury could make the move simple for activating Jose Pirela tomorrow. “We’ll wait and see what we’ve got tomorrow (before announcing a move),” Girardi said.
• Jacoby Ellsbury had three hits tonight and now has 18 hits in his past 35 at-bats. “It’s hard to imagine you could be hotter than he is,” Girardi said. “He’s been unbelievable at the top of the order.”
• Ellsbury on his absurd hot streak: “You just go out there each and every day, try to put quality at-bats together and get on base for guys to drive me in. It obviously gives you a lot of confidence going each at-bat, each game. Just trying to keep it going as long as possible.”
• After missing yesterday with a sore lat, Mark Teixeira returned tonight to make some nice plays in the field and hit his team-leading 10th home run of the season. “You deal with bumps and bruises all year,” Teixeira said. “Yesterday, Joe thought it was a good day for me to take off and let it rest. It feels a little better today.”
• Tonight’s home run moved Teixeira into a tie with Carlos Beltran for the fourth-most home runs by a switch hitter. Both have 373. “It’s great to be able to play with a guy like Carlos,” Teixeira said. “I’ve played with Carlos, Chipper Jones and Lance Berkman, three of the best switch-hitters of our generation. It’s been a lot of fun playing with those guys. Hopefully we’ll be battling on that list for the next couple years.”
• This game seemed well in hand with a 6-0 lead in the ninth, but David Carpenter’s brutal night forced the Yankees to bring Andrew Miller in for a one-out save. Miller needed just nine pitches for his 11th save of the season. “It’s not what you want to do, but we had to,” Girardi said. “And we won the game, and that’s the most important thing.”
• Carpenter hasn’t been used very much this season, and he certainly hasn’t been used in many high-leverage situations. Tonight he was hit hard and hit often allowing three runs while getting just two outs. He gave up one home run and just missed two others. “Just missed location,” Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line. He’s a guy that relies on location even though he throws hard. You still have to locate, and he missed location.”
• Girardi had the bullpen up at the end of the seventh, but he said that was precautionary. “Just in case (Pineda) got into a long inning and some long at-bats,” Girardi said. “You don’t want to put him out there too long. We’ve talked about Michael, you know. Michael came off a serious shoulder injury and has not thrown 200 innings, so we’re going to watch him a little bit.”
• We’ll give the final word to McCann about Pineda: “I felt like he was tough from the first pitch. He creates such tough angles for hitters, that it’s hard to square him up. And it’s hard to do it consecutive at-bats. That’s why he doesn’t give up big innings. That’s why he pitches deep into ballgames. He’s just got really good stuff and knows what he’s doing.”
Associated Press photos
Every year, as the Yankees finalize their roster at the end of spring training, Joe Girardi talks about needing more than 25 guys. Specifically, he stresses the need for more than five starting pitchers. Only five will make the team on Opening Day, but it will take more than that to get through a season.
It was with that in mind that the Yankees sent Chase Whitley to Triple-A to start the season. They knew they’d need him eventually, and it turns out, they need him now.
“I’m just thankful for this opportunity,” Whitley said last night, after making the finest start of his career.
Truth is, Whitley probably earned some sort of opportunity out of spring training. Of all the Yankees who threw at least eight innings this spring, Whitley had the lowest ERA and the fifth-lowest WHIP. He didn’t walk many guys, handled multiple roles, and almost certainly had a long relief job sewn up if the Yankees wanted to use him that way. Instead, he went to Triple-A to stay stretched out so that he could be available for a start like he delivered last night.
“I think he’s matured, and I think his stuff has gotten better,” Girardi said. “His location has continued to improve as a starter.”
A year and a half ago, Whitley passed through the Rule 5 draft unselected. He had yet to really prove he could be a starting pitcher, and his fastball didn’t have the velocity teams tend to covet in right-handed relievers. But Whitley had always pitched well in the minor leagues. He was converted full-time to the rotation last season, wound up getting his first big league opportunities, and this year he was the first player inserted into the rotation when the Yankees needed a sixth starter. He stuck around because Masahiro Tanaka got hurt.
Last night, though, he proved worthy of the opportunity.
Whitley’s finest moment came in the sixth inning when he put runners at second and third with no outs. He had to face the heart of the Toronto lineup, starting with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Bautista grounded harmlessly to third. Encarnacion went down swinging at a slider.
It was a big league moment for a guy who said he believed, even as he was sent down, that he could pitch in those situations.
“I just tried to not let the moment get too big,” Whitley said. “Once we got the first out, and then once we had an opportunity to strike the guy out, that was kind of when I got going. Before, I might have tried to do too much early. … I think that’s where you have to take a step back, breathe and juts go for it.”
Looking ahead, the Yankees’ rotation is heading for some uncertainty; the kind of uncertainty that could make Whitley the odd man out again. Chris Capuano is about to make his second rehab start, Ivan Nova is pitching in intrasquad and simulated games, and Tanaka is looming as an obvious big league starter as soon as he’s cleared to pitch.
For now, though, the Yankees need Whitley — just as they always knew they would — and he’s done the job through his first two starts of the season.
Associated Press photo
Mid-summer 1994, Alex Rodriguez was right here at Fenway Park for his Major League debut. He was an 18-year-old kid, barely a year removed from being the top overall draft pick out of high school. He’d played a half season of minor league ball. He remembers his mother, brother and sister being in the crowd. He also remembers this:
“How nervous I was,” he said. “I was a month (removed) from my high school prom.”
Now Rodriguez is back. It would be absurd to try to capture in a few sentences all that’s happened between then and now, but Rodriguez’s go-to quote about his early season at-bats seems appropriate: “Some good. Some bad.”
Unlike 21 years ago, Rodriguez isn’t in the lineup tonight. Joe Girardi has loaded the Yankees lineup with left-handed hitters to take advantage of Red Sox starter Justin Masterson’s weakness against lefties, and so it seems Rodriguez’s hunt for milestone home run No. 660 will have to wait for either another day or a late-inning pinch hit opportunity.
“I wanted to do it Wednesday at home,” Rodriguez said. “It would have been nice to do it at home in front of our home fans. But now I’m on the road and the goal doesn’t change. It’s still to win games and to win series.”
Out of spring training, Rodriguez homered four times in his first 31 at-bats. That outburst put him two away from tying Willie Mays for fourth on baseball’s all-time list. Since he got that close, he’s hit one homer in his past 37 at-bats. Since he pulled within one of the milestone on Sunday, he’s gone 1-for-12, including that brutal four-strikeout game on Wednesday.
Rodriguez didn’t specifically say he was pressing on Wednesday, but he acknowledges a past difficulty with approaching milestones. It took him 28 at-bats to finally hit home run No. 500, and 46 at-bats to finally reach 600.
“Some of the pitches that he’s swung at and the ones that he’s missed a little bit, maybe (he’s been) trying to get it out of the way,” Girardi said. “As much as I want to tell him to relax, it’s something he’s going to have to do to get it out of the way. … I think it’s probably part of most players when they get to the level of accomplishments these guys have reached. We saw it weigh really hard on Derek (Jeter trying to reach 3,000 hits). That was one that I didn’t think that would be. I just think it’s difficult.”
Seems safe to assume Rodriguez will be back in the lineup tomorrow afternoon for his next shot at tying Mays, who Rodriguez has called a hero; his father’s favorite player. Does it bother him that many will see his 660th home run as something far less impressive than Mays’ 660th?
“The only thing I can control is what I do from here on out and how I conduct myself both on and off the field,” he said. “I can’t really decide for other people what to think. … You know I have regrets, and I’m trying to do the best to finish my career on a high note.”
• Chris Capuano will start a rehab assignment with High-A Tampa tomorrow. He’s scheduled for four innings or 60 pitches. Sounds like he could need as little as three minor league starts before becoming a big league option. “Everything that he’s doing is going in the right direction,” Girardi said. “You think about 60, 75, 90 and then you go from there.”
• Ivan Nova will pitch one inning in an intrasquad game tomorrow. Jared Burton will pitch in the same game.
• Now that Jose Pirela’s rehab has been moved up to Triple-A, he’s clearly getting much closer to being a big league option — and the Yankees were ready to call him up on Wednesday before Tanaka got hurt — but Girardi said, at this point, the team still hasn’t decided whether Pirela will come to the big leagues or stay in Triple-A after his rehab is finished. “It’s something that we have discussed about what we might possibly do with him or not do with him,” Girardi said. “But obviously I think at-bats are important. He was out a month, maybe? Almost a month? You’ve got to get him some at-bats and some real game situations playing different positions.”
• Brendan Ryan got some DH at-bats today in extended spring training. He’s obviously inching closer to a rehab assignment of his own.
• Stacking the lineup with lefties means a rare start for Garrett Jones, who’s played in fewer games than Gregorio Petit at this point. “When we envisioned him, we envisioned him DHing some and maybe playing a little first and a little outfield,” Girardi said. “With Alex swinging the bat so well in April, Chris Young swinging the bat so well in April, it’s just been tough for Garrett.”
• Speaking of that lineup of all left-handed hitters (counting the switch hitters), Girardi said that was a decision 100-percent connected to Red Sox starter Justin Masterson. In his career, Masterson has held right-handed hitters to a .220 average and .606 OPS. Lefties have hit .287 with a .794 OPS.
• CC Sabathia is going for his first win of the year. He’s taken the loss in all four of his starts. “I think there’s frustration there because I think he’s pitched well enough three of the four games to win,” Girardi said. “He loses an extremely tough on in Detroit. We haven’t scored a lot of runs in his games. Hopefully we can do that tonight and give him some run support and get him a win.”
• By the way, the Yankees mustache thing is still going strong. John Ryan Murphy and Gregorio Petit are among the more impressive stache-growers of the bunch. Poor Dellin Betances and Adam Warren, not so much.
Associated Press photos
At this time yesterday, Masahiro Tanaka has still not told the Yankees about his sore wrist. He hadn’t gone for the MRI that revealed a strained forearm, and he hadn’t received the diagnosis that spark renewed questions about his elbow and ability to avoid Tommy John surgery.
“When he came up and said his wrist hurt, I was like, wow,” Joe Girardi said. “Cause the starts were good, the bullpen session was good, and I wasn’t prepared for that. So that’s why I used the word a little shocked when I heard because everything had went great.”
Michael Pineda was actually supposed to throw a bullpen yesterday and Girardi stopped him in the early afternoon, explaining he might have to pitch today instead. And, of course, that’s exactly what happened.
After those first four starts this season, things were actually encouraging with Tanaka. He’d pitched especially well in the past two starts, and he’d complained of no soreness in his elbow or anywhere else. Now that we know the newest injuries, though, it’s hard to think of Tanaka in any other context. Sure, he was pitching well, but the Yankees have known for a long time that Tanaka’s capable of pitching well. But that’s only when he’s healthy enough to actually be on the mound.
“Is there concern? Of course there is,” Girardi said. “Anytime you have to shut a pitcher down, there’s concern. With what happened last year, I can’t tell you if they’re related or not, but you’re going to think about it. You’re going to think about a lot of different scenarios. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed and hope it’s not much, but we’ll deal with it either way.”
Initially, when Tanaka was only complaining about a little wrist soreness, Girardi was thinking it might be a two-week issue.
“My recommendation was kind of a DL there and he would come back as soon as those 15 days were up because you could back-date it,” Girardi said. “And we were already 5 or 6 days. So with the little bit of a strain (as well), it’s definitely DL.”
That’s the only thing that’s certain for now. Tanaka is definitely on the disabled list. How long he’ll stay there and how soon he’ll be back on it remains anyone’s guess.
• Would Girardi like to see Alex Rodriguez get No. 660 out of the way before this weekend’s series at Fenway? “It just might crowd our clubhouse a little bit more if he doesn’t,” Girardi said. “But it doesn’t matter either way. I’d prefer that he does it with two or three guys on today and gets it over with.”
• Even with another starter added to the disabled list, Girardi said he’d still consider using a spot starter during this next long stretch of games. Wonder if Bryan Mitchell might come up for a start in the next week or so.
• The Yankees have gotten eight scoreless innings out of their bullpen the past two days, but Girardi said the pen is still rested enough to handle today’s game. They’d like to get distance out of Michael Pineda, but it’s not a dire situation. “I think that’s important,” Girardi said. “But our bullpen’s OK. It helps that we have a day off tomorrow, I think that’s important. The only guy that I’d probably stay away from is Esmil.”
• Will the late change of plans impact Pineda today? “It shouldn’t be a factor,” Girardi said. “It probably won’t hurt him at all.”
• Around 10:30 this morning, Gregorio Petit walked into the Yankees’ clubhouse carrying the same bag he took out of the clubhouse yesterday. Teammates were laughing and offering hugs. A bizarre welcome back moment for a guy who barely left.
• Just a day off for Brett Gardner and Brian McCann against a left-handed starter.
• Because these seem a little more relevant now, here’s a quick update on Ivan Nova and Chris Capuano: Each one last pitched on Monday. Nova threw a simulated game, and Capuano pitched in extended spring training. Neither is ready to come off the disabled list just yet, obviously. “They did well,” Girardi said. “I’m not sure if the next step, because it was a shorter outing, if it’s Friday or Saturday.”
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Before batting practice this afternoon, Didi Gregorius was on the field going through some drills at shortstop. His instructor: Alex Rodriguez.
“It’s just a veteran player looking to lend a helping hand in situations,” Girardi said. “Didi is still a young player. We know that there are going to be some things that he goes through that sometimes might be the first or second time. He’s not a seasoned veteran out there. Alex’s experience playing short and his experience playing here in New York can help Didi.”
We hear often that Rodriguez is a great teacher of the game. Players speak highly of the way Rodriguez talks hitting around the cage, and clubhouse interviews that get in-depth about the game can be legitimately insightful rather than cliche.
“He’s making a lot of transitions,” Rodriguez said. “New York is one. The Yankees, things are different here for sure. The one thing about playing shortstop that I tried to convey to him was positioning, cadence and also that internal clock that a shortstop needs. You only get that with preparation and experience.”
Rodriguez said the Yankees’ coaching staff asked him to spend some pregame time with Gregorius on the field, and so today’s session was set up a few days ago.
“It was just more game situation (drills),” infield coach Joe Espada said. “I think kind of working on his game clock, knowing runners, outs, when to charge a ball and when to stay back on a ball. The situations that we have been working on throughout Spring Training and throughout the season. I wanted Alex to be out here to kind of give him some of that insight that, as a coach, I probably can’t give that view.”
Said Rodriguez: “The abilities are off the charts. I said that in spring training. We saw that in Spring Training. He’s got the things you can’t teach; incredible range, great arm strength. People forget, he’s only been playing shortstop for eight years. The more he comes out, the more he gets experience, the better he’s going to be.”
Obviously Gregorius and Rodriguez are off to basically opposite starts. Rodriguez has been a surprise in the best ways; Gregorius has been a disappointment in almost every facet. But Rodriguez was quick to remind everyone that it’s been only three weeks.
“It’s a process,” Rodriguez said. “Didi is going to be a fine shortstop here for a long time. I told him, sometime around June 15 or June 1st, he’s going to look at all of us and say, ‘I feel much more comfortable.’ It just takes a little bit.”
• Originally, Girardi said he expected to play Rodriguez all six games this home stand. Girardi said that plan changed last night when he decided to have Rodriguez play third base to give Chase Headley a day off. After a day in the field — and with a night game tomorrow — Girardi decided to give Rodriguez tonight off. No injury. He’s available if the Yankees need him.
• Does the decision to option Gregorio Petit indicate Jose Pirela is close to being ready to join the big league team? “It could,” Girardi said. That’s about as close to confirmation as we’re going to get. Seems pretty clear the Yankees are planning to activate Pirela to take Chase Whitley’s roster spot and replace Petit tomorrow.
• For the time being, the Yankees are taking a calculated risk by playing a game without a backup middle infielder. “I feel like I can put (Headley) at second base if I needed to,” Girardi said. “Realistically, I could put Al there, I’m sure. I think he would say, ‘Yeah, I’ll go out there and try it.’ We’ve been there before the last couple years, so there’s not a situation that I’m too worried about. If it happens, we’ll handle it.”
• Whitley pitched very well this spring and seemed to have a bullpen job locked up, but the Yankees preferred to have him stretched out for a spot start just like this one. “I’m sure he’s very excited,” Girardi said. “It was difficult to send him down because he meant a lot to us last year and pitched well in spring training. He understood why we did what we did. That doesn’t necessarily mean that as a player you want it to happen or you like it, but he went down there with the right attitude.”
• Worth noting that the Yankees preferred to have Whitley make a spot start today rather than last week against Detroit. Not sure this was a factor in the decision, but Whitley gets a much easier lineup this way. “He’s faced a number of teams in the big leagues now and understands how he got those hitters out,” Girardi said.
• The current situation in Baltimore hits home for Mark Teixeira who’s from roughly 30 minutes outside of downtown. His uncle is a priest at a downtown church that’s being protected by the National Guard. “People start attacking churches, it’s a good thing the National Guard’s there, because that’s the bottom of the bottom,” Teixeira said. “… Any time there’s a crisis, people step up. Good people always trump bad.”
• Because of the unrest in Baltimore, tomorrow’s game between the Orioles and White Sox has been moved up to 2:05 p.m. and will be played without fans allowed in the stadium. This weekend’s Orioles series against the Rays has been moved to Tampa Bay. Asked what it would be like to play a baseball game in a totally empty stadium, Teixeira deadpanned: “Did you ever go to a Rangers-Rays game between 2003 and 2005?”
• A quick bit of minor league news: Infield prospect Angel Aguilar has been added to the Charleston roster. I believe he opened the season in extended spring. Not a massive prospect, but good enough that it’s significant to get him into real games at the full-season level.
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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.”
• 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.”
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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.”
“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 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.
• 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.”
• 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.”
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