Just a few thoughts three weeks into the season:
• You know, the Mets might actually be a pretty good team. Maybe not a great team, but they can pitch, their lineup isn’t bad, and they certainly came into this series playing well. In the past week and a half, the Yankees have swept three games on the road against a bad Rays team, then they took three of four against a good team in Detroit, then they won two of three against the red-hot Mets. For the Yankees, this season could come down to durability over the long term, but in the short term, they’ve been good. The challenge is to maintain this level of health and production.
• One home run away from 660 for Alex Rodriguez. If it happens in the next three days, it’s going to be fascinating to see what the Yankees do (or don’t do) to announce the milestone. It’s a curious fight over that marketing agreement, and I don’t know enough about contract language to have an opinion about which side is right, but I’ll give the Yankees’ front office credit for this much: they’ve let Joe Girardi and the rest of the team stay out of it. Even if the scoreboard makes no mention of Willie Mays, I would still fully expect the team to come out of the dugout to celebrate at home plate. They know what’s going on, and they’ve embraced A-Rod as a teammate. Just last week I had a Yankees player who’s not particularly close with Rodriguez tell me he’s been great in the clubhouse ever since he returned from suspension.
• One other random thought about 660: what if it doesn’t happen this week at Yankee Stadium but instead comes over the weekend at Fenway? Would the Red Sox make a big show of it just to make the situation a little more awkward for the Yankees? If the Red Sox put an announcement on the video board announcing No. 660 specifically as a “marketable milestone,” I’d laugh, but then again, it’s not my $6 million.
• Carlos Beltran looks bad, and the question seems to be how long the Yankees give him regular playing time in hopes he snaps out of it. With another year left on his contract, a release isn’t as easy as it was with Alfonso Soriano last season. At this point, I think the Yankees have a better chance of Beltran turning it around than actually getting something useful for him on the trade market. That said, if and when the Yankees are willing to make a change, both Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores are in Triple-A playing like viable alternatives.
• Speaking of alternatives, Jose Pirela has started a rehab assignment. Gregorio Petit has played better lately, but I still wonder if Pirela might come straight to New York once he’s ready to play regularly. Petit’s only playing second base anyway, so the fact Pirela can’t play shortstop is a non-issue, and he certainly seems to be an offensive upgrade.
• The Yankees have been picking their battles with John Ryan Murphy — most of his at-bats have come against lefties, and he hasn’t hit much in his few at-bats against righties — but he’s really thrived so far. He’s been productive at the plate, and he’s really thrived behind the plate as well. Francisco Cervelli has been pretty decent in Pittsburgh, but I can’t imagine the Yankees regret that trade. Justin Wilson’s been good (except that one brutal outing), Murphy is clearly ready for a big league job, and Austin Romine cleared waivers to keep the catching depth intact.
• This bullpen is good. Andrew Miller obviously looks great, Dellin Betances seems to be thoroughly back on track, and the pen has legitimate depth now that Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin seem to have established themselves as legitimate big league options. It’s a good bullpen, which makes it interesting to think about what might happen when Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova are ready to go (but, as always, these things seem to take care of themselves).
• And speaking of the bullpen, would it make sense on Tuesday to bring up Chase Whitley in place of Petit, then replace Whitley with Pirela on Wednesday? If not, the Yankees would have to send down either Shreve or Martin to make room for their spot starter. That might be a way to make the move without making a change in the bullpen. That said, there are plenty of Triple-A relievers who are pitching well and could come up to fill a hole. Going without Petit for a day would leave the Yankees without a backup middle infielder.
• As for the decision to use Whitley as a spot starter, the Yankees clearly had this in mind when they sent Whitley to Triple-A to start the season. He pitched well enough in spring training to win a spot in the big league bullpen, but it seems safe to assume the Yankees wanted him stretched out for exactly this kind of spot-start opportunity. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have kept him on schedule to so perfectly pitch in Masahiro Tanaka’s place. Bryan Mitchell’s past two starts have been terrific for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but he’s not lined up the way Whitley is (and Whitley’s been plenty good himself).
Associated Press photos