Archive for the ‘Notes’
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.”
The 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.”
• 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
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 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 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
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.”
• 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
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.
Seven 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.”
• 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.
• 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
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 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
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.”
• 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
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.
“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.”
• 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
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.”
• 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.”
• 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
For years, Joe Girardi has talked about the value of defined roles in the bullpen. Even this spring he’s talked about it. Relievers like to know when they’re getting in a game, and so it helps to have a true closer, setup man, long reliever, lefty specialist, etc.
But on this final day of camp, it seems the Yankees might be prepared to go into the season with more flexibility than definition in their pen. Girardi strongly indicated that he has no plan of naming a closer and will instead mix-and-match the final two innings, using Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances interchangeably depending on matchups.
“I really think that if you do it that way, and as long as you’re prepared, it has a chance to be advantageous to you,” Girardi said.
Girardi said the Yankees have not prioritized a closer decision, and now it seems they won’t make a decision at all. Instead, Girardi said he’s looking at Miller and Betances as his eighth- and ninth-inning relievers, but he’s open to using either one in either role. If there are lefties coming up in the eighth, then Miller will be the setup man and Betances the closer. If there are more lefties due up in the ninth, the roles will reverse.
“My thought has been more like with a power lefty who strikes out a lot of guys and a power righty, the lineups just might match up where one day he’s the eighth inning guy and then one day he’s the ninth inning guy a little bit better,” Giradri said. “… I think you start managing who you’re going to use (in the ninth) in about the sixth inning, because you try to prepare them.”
The flexibility goes beyond the ninth. The Yankees are currently planning to carry three lefties, but Girardi has said none is necessarily a true left-on-left specialist. They’ll all be used to get right-handers out as well. And while Esmil Rogers is the only real long man in the pen, today Girardi named him along with David Carpenter and Justin Wilson as options to will basically the seventh-inning role that Adam Warren had last season. Chasen Shreve was a starter through much of his minor league career, and Chris Martin has pitching multiple innings this spring, so one of those two might be available for long relief if necessary.
The Yankees see their bullpen as a strength, but they also see it as a evolving piece of the roster, which could change from day to day and game to game.
“I’ve talked to both (Miller and Betances)” Girardi said. “They’re concerned about winning more than (roles), in the sense of I’m this guy, I’m this guy. That’s the sense I’ve got from them. Now, could it iron itself out and you start to do it one way? Yes. But we talked a little bit about it yesterday. I’ll continue to talk about it with my coaches and Larry and his feelings about it as they get a feel, and Gary Tuck who’s in the bullpen, what do you think the importance of it is that we actually set a role? But as of right now, we haven’t felt that we have to.”
• CC Sabathia is cleared for 80-85 pitches today. This will be his final start before pitching the third game of the season. Sabathia has so far thrown only 4.2 innings this spring and will surely break camp with less than 10 innings of actually game experience, but Girardi said he’s satisfied that Sabathia’s gotten all the work he needs. After one regular season start, he’ll basically be as stretched out as any other starter, and the Yankees prioritized taking it slow ahead of giving him a ton of spring training work.
• Normal day off for Alex Rodriguez today. Carlos Beltran is also sitting out a second straight day because of flu-like symptoms. Girardi said he expects both to play tomorrow’s final exhibition game in Washington D.C.
• Still no catcher decision. Girardi said both John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine will make tomorrow’s trip to D.C. He expects to make a final decision after tomorrow’s game.
• Although they’re playing in a National League park, the Yankees will use a designated hitter tomorrow. Girardi said he expects to give all of his regulars a few at-bats. Sounds like the Opening Day lineup might be in there tomorrow.
• Talked to Slade Heathcott a little bit this morning. I didn’t realize this, but Heathcott said this should be the first year he’s ever broken camp with a team. Amazing how much injuries have slowed him down, but a source said yesterday that the team is planning to open Heathcott in Triple-A strictly because he’s played so well this spring. He finally feels fully healthy. “DL and injury are not in my vocab anymore,” Heathcott said.
• Just based on a few conversations these past few days, it seems a bunch of the upper-level minor league relievers are getting anxious to find out about Opening Day assignments. They all seem to recognize that there are way too many guys for the Triple-A bullpen, so some are going to naturally be forced back to Double-A. These guys have to get an apartment somewhere in the next few days, and right now it seems none of them has a clue where he’s going.
• The two Tommy John rehab guys, Ivan Nova and Vicente Campos, are each throwing bullpens today. Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled for long toss and some flat ground work.
• Today’s second string: C Austin Romine, 1B Jonathan Galvez, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Eric Jagielo, LF Ben Gamel, CF Slade Heathcott, RF Ramon Flores, DH Stephen Drew
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Chasen Shreve, Andrew Bailey, Branden Pinder, Cesar Vargas, Nick Goody
Associated Press photos
No one in the Yankees clubhouse — not the manager, not the catcher, not the pitcher himself — had particularly good things to say about Masahiro Tanaka’s final spring training start on Tuesday, yet everyone involved seemed to think it an overwhelming success.
Never mind the seven hits, the three runs or the consistent hard contract. On the final day of March, Tanaka threw 76 pitches and finished his spring on track to start Opening Day.
“He got through all the hurdles,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I didn’t really ever feel we needed to give him an extra day or be cautious. He never reported any trouble with his arm or feeling stiff after a start more than normal. So I felt that was all good stuff.”
Even after today’s rough start, Tanaka finished his spring with a 3.07 ERA. He walked one batter in 14.2 innings. Today he yet again focused on two-seamers, threw only a few four-seam fastballs — “Enough to know there were four-seams involved,” Austin Romine said — and got some good results with his slider, which helped make up for an inconsistent splitter. It wasn’t a good way to end the spring, but there was no indication that Tanaka was hurt or worried.
“I feel good that I was able to come through camp healthy right now,” he said. “I think I’m a bit relieved. … As far as going into the season, I’m pretty confident of where I am, how strong I am. Yeah, I feel good going into the season.”
From electing not to undergo Tommy John surgery last season to progressing slowly this spring, Tanaka has taken a conservative approach to managing his elbow. He threw fewer innings than he did last spring, and he’ll be limited to roughly 90 pitches on Opening Day, but he’s made every start, completed every bullpen, and complained of no pain or discomfort.
Under the circumstances, Tanaka’s spring has gone about as well as the Yankees could have hoped.
“I felt pretty decent about him going into the offseason,” Girardi said. “But I think you feel a little bit better now just watching him go through his starts and getting built up. But you never know about pitchers today. … There’s a lot of guys that have slight (tears) and they pitch for a while. For whatever reason, some guys go right away and some guys pitch.”
The Yankees are banking on Tanaka being one of the guys who pitch.
• Jacoby Ellsbury told reporters in Tampa that the came through today’s minor league game just fine. He had two hits, also apparently made a decent play in left center. “It’s not a controlled environment,” Ellsbury said. “It’s not like you’re hitting off a tee. You’re seeing different things, swings and misses, check swings, stuff like that. This is the best test for it, game action. Until you get out there and actually do some explosive stuff, you really don’t know, but it was great.”
• Not such a strong day for Adam Warren. I don’t have his pitching line, but he acknowledged that the results weren’t great in his minor league outing. “The results weren’t the best,” he said. “Just trying to get ready for the season. It’s tough out here to get the adrenaline going, so you try to lock it in, work on some things. That’s really what I try to focus on, getting ready for the season. … Throwing changeups for strikes is one thing I was working on. The more I kept throwing it, the better it got, so I felt like I improved there.”
• Warren said he still hasn’t been told whether he’s the fifth starter, but today he was stretched out to more than 80 pitches. He’s also on scheduled to start the fifth game of the season on an extra day of rest. That rotation spot seems like a done deal.
• Girardi indicated that he’s still confident Didi Gregorius will be ready for Opening Day, but when he said “obviously we’d like him to play before we leave,” Girardi seemed to be acknowledging that Gregorius might not play in another game before breaking camp. If that’s the case, have to wonder if the Yankees might retroactive a DL stint and consider carrying either Nick Noonan or Rob Refsnyder to start the season.
• Austin Romine went 0-for-3 and cut his batting average down to .143. He’s still in the mix for the backup catcher job, but at this point, John Ryan Murphy is hitting 73 points higher. “I’m just playing,” Romine said. “I’m playing to make this team. I’m also playing for other teams out there. I would like nothing more than to make it on this team, that’s my goal. It’s out of my hands. I just play. I try not to worry about that stuff. It’s hard sometimes, but I try not to worry about it.”
• It’s worth noting that the Yankees constantly stress to young players that they should remember other teams are watching, so Romine bringing up “playing for other teams out there” is not unusual, and not even against what the Yankees preach to their young guys. It’s just the reality of the situation. Romine knows he’s out of options and knows his best opportunity might come elsewhere. “I’m kind of eager to see what happens,” he said. “… I haven’t packed at all. I’ve cleaned some stuff. I knew the situation this year, so I came a little light, but I’m ready to go wherever.”
• Still in the mix for a spot in the bullpen, big right-hander Chris Martin was terrific this afternoon. He retired all six batters he faced, striking out three of them. “Threw good today,” Girardi said. “Really good. Good downhill angle, good breaking ball. Really good.”
• Sent to minor league camp on Sunday, Ramon Flores forgot his jersey for this trip and had to wear someone else’s. No matter, he made a nice catch in right field and went 2-for-4 with the Yankees’ only RBI in a 3-1 loss. … Brett Gardner was also on base twice with a single and a walk (he was also picked off at first). … Danny Burawa pitched a scoreless inning immediately after Branden Pinder retired the only two batters he faced.
• Pretty typical spring training day for Rob Refsnyder. He singled, walked and committed a throwing error. It was his sixth error of the spring, and it came after he made a nice diving play. He made the stop, then botched the throw. The guy has definitely hit though. He has a .342 average this spring.
• Final word goes to Girardi, one more time talking about Tanaka: “I think he’s ready to go. The fact of him being the first starter gives him more days (off), six days, than any of the other starters. We wanted to make sure that he was ready, and the fact that he can only go 90 instead of 100 is not a big deal.”
Associated Press photos