The Yankees are prepared to carry a six-man rotation for at least a few days.
Ivan Nova will be activated from the disabled list to start on Wednesday. Adam Warren will take his turn on Thursday, followed by the rest of the usual starters. Joe Girardi said, for now, the team prefers to carry the extra starter to give everyone an extra day of rest, but at some point — some point soon — they will cut back to a typical five-man rotation.
“The one thing that we have after this long streak is we have some off days (in early July),” Girardi said. “I wouldn’t anticipate us doing it after we get home from Anaheim.”
A six-man rotation will carry the Yankees through the end of June. On July 1, they’ll basically have to decide whether to have Warren start on an extra day or rest or to pitch Nathan Eovaldi on four days of rest. Scheduled off days mean the Yankees wouldn’t have to pitch anyone else on four days rest until the day before the All-Star break.
How the rotation adjusts in the next week or so is an issue for another day. For now, the Yankees have decided Nova is ready, so they’re taking him off the disabled list a little more than 13 month after Tommy John surgery. His last Triple-A rehab start wasn’t particularly overwhelming — 5 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 4 K — but the Yankees believe that if Nova is healthy and pitching well, he can help them.
“To be honest, I wasn’t trying to show myself anything,” Nova said. “I was just getting ready. Trying to get my arm healthy and in good shape. I know exactly what I have to do when I go to the mound. Even knowing that you don’t get the results that you want, that stuff happens in the game. I was working hard, getting my arm back and in good shape.”
The Yankees have significant workload concerns throughout their rotation — Warren has basically matched his workload for the past two seasons — so adding Nova could be a boost, but there’s always a wild card element for a pitcher coming back from Tommy John. They’re physically able to pitch a year after surgery, but many say they don’t really feel 100 percent until two years after. Nova was prone to ups and downs even before the surgery, but the Yankees see him as a boost for their often worn-thin pitching staff.
“I don’t think you can ever make too much of what a Major League hitter or pitcher is doing in a minor league situation because it’s just different,” Girardi said. “We just feel that he’s ready to go. No matter how he does Wednesday, I don’t think you could say he wasn’t ready or he was ready. It’s just kind of a feel that we’re using, and we feel that it’s probably important that we inject this sixth starter in right now, in a sense, and that’s why we’re going to do it. … We know what he’s capable of doing, and he’s fairly rested in a sense, so it could mean a lot to our rotation.”
• Mark Teixeira had an MRI on his sore neck, but results weren’t available pregame. The Yankees are hoping this is only a short-term issue that will be reasonably corrected by another day off (he had one last week because of the same issue). “I don’t know if it’s ever really went away completely,” Girardi said. “It’s been going on for about 10 days now. We’ll continue to evaluate, I’m just going to give him a day today.”
• Against a right-handed pitcher, the Yankees have lefty Garrett Jones to easily step into first base. But they face a lefty — Cole Hamels — on Wednesday. “My thought is that Tex will be in there Wednesday,” Girardi said.
• Not that these things are related, but the Yankees minor league affiliates have officially announced that Aaron Judge has been promoted to Triple-A.
• Closer Andrew Miller expects to play catch on Wednesday. That’s just the start of a long-toss program, so he would still be several days away from throwing a bullpen, which would leave him even more days away from coming off the disabled list. As a reliever, though, his arm-strength-building process should be much quicker than it was with Masahiro Tanaka.
• Not much of an update on Jacoby Ellsbury: “He’s going to run the bases again, he’s going to take normal BP with us and go through normal BP,” Girardi said. No word on when he’ll take his next step.
• The Yankees have their go-to guys for the late innings — Dellin Betances, Justin Wilson, Chasen Shreve — and they have Chris Capuano as their long man, then they have three relatively unproven right-handers in Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow and Diego Moreno. Rumbelow and Moreno were just called up today. “Pinder’s the most experienced of my (new) right-handers,” Girardi said. “And it’s just trying to get a feel for the other two as quick as I can. You’d like to put them in a situation where it’s not necessarily high-leverage right away, but sometimes you’re not afforded that.”
• With Danny Burawa and Jose De Paula each making their Major League debuts on Sunday, the Yankees have now used 20 pitchers in June, their most pitchers ever in a calendar month (excluding September). Could climb past that very soon with Rumbelow and Moreno. “Because of some of our concerns about the length that we get, we kind of rotate people in and out here a lot,” Girardi said. “And it doesn’t mean we don’t believe in them; we’re doing it to protect the arms of everyone.”
Associated Press photos
On the day he was drafted, Yankees reliever Jacob Lindgren was home in Mississippi. His girlfriend got into town that morning, and so he showed her around. A family friend invited some people over, and so there was barbecuing and swimming.
“It was nice and hot out,” Lindgren said.
It was June 5 of last year, and Lindgren knew he might be a high-round pick. When his name was called, he was the top selection of a Yankees team that hadn’t had much success with top picks. He was a college reliever built to move quickly, joining an organization notorious for advancing even its top prospects slowly.
Less than a year later, Lindgren was in the big leagues, tangible evidence that this might be a new era for the Yankees on draft day.
“A lot of guys that got drafted behind you, they’re like, oh, why did this guy get drafted ahead of me? Stuff like that,” Lindgren said. “There’s always that. Obviously you’ve just got to play good and show them why they drafted you high.”
The Yankees, too, have something to prove.
After two decades of far more failure than success, the Yankees enter tonight’s first round of the draft with the 16th overall selection, their highest pick since 1993. They have three of the top 57 selections, and they have something of a hot streak going. Focused heavily on college players like Lindgren, Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo, the Yankees early picks the past two years have advanced quickly and shown significant promise.
Lindgren is already in the major league bullpen, Judge is considered the top hitting prospect in the system, and Jagielo has nine home runs in Double-A. Both Judge and Jagielo could be in Triple-A by the end of the summer, just two years after being drafted.
“I always heard (the Yankees) were slow moving their guys,” Lindgren said. “But I was going to do everything in my ability to make things happen.”
Lindgren pitched at four levels with 17.5 strikeouts per nine innings the year he was drafted. He pitched well in big league camp this spring, opened the season in Triple-A, and was called up on May 24, the first Yankees prospect since Deion Sanders in 1989 to reach the majors less than a year after being drafted.
It was a significant step for the Yankees, not only because they were willing to make the move, but because they had a top pick playing well enough to deserve the promotion.
With a few exceptions — Phil Hughes in 2004, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain in 2006 — the Yankees’ top picks have mostly fallen flat since the overwhelming success of Derek Jeter taken sixth overall in 1992.
The Yankees took a high schooler named C.J. Henry during the otherwise talent-rich first round of 2005. They took a shot on injured basketball player Andrew Brackman with their top pick of 2007. They took a signability risk with Gerrit Cole in 2008. They gambled on high school shortstop Cito Culver in 2010 and have watched him hit well below .200 this season. In the decade before that, they picked forgotten names like Shea Morenz, David Walling and David Parrish.
What draft success the Yankees have had in recent years has been largely confined to the middle rounds: Brett Gardner in the third round of 2005; Adam Warren in the fourth round of 2009; Dellin Betances in the eighth round of 2006, the same year they got former closer David Robertson as a 17th-round steal.
Draft classes, though, tend to be defined by their top picks, and so Lindgren stands out as a success story, both for the player and the organization.
He had been a 12th-round pick of the Cubs out of high school, but Lindgren said Chicago didn’t offer him the signing bonus he wanted until the day before classes started at Mississippi State. Lindgren was already moved in, living on campus and ready to start college. He decided to stay and take his chances that pro ball would be waiting for him.
“Early on, especially when you’re not getting the playing time you wanted, you’re like, man, what am I doing here?” Lindgren said. “But it worked out. It kind of taught me how you have to compete for any job you want. … There was a lot of hype and stuff (as a first-round pick), but I knew I had to come in and prove myself. I always tried to prove that I didn’t belong at each level and just tried to move up as fast as possible.”
It’s hard to move much faster than Lindgren has. He made his big league debut in the same year as the Yankees 2009 first-round pick, Slade Heathcott, whose development had been slowed by a series of injuries (he’s back on the disabled list now). The Yankees, though, seem to believe the arrival of Lindgren and Heathcott – plus the development of Judge, Jagielo, and former fifth rounders Rob Refsnyder and Greg Bird – are a sign that the team’s draft futility is turning around. They’ve especially struggled to find impact hitters, and suddenly the upper levels are crawling with both high-probability and high-ceiling bats.
“We do have an evolving system with some high-end position players,” general manager Brian Cashman said.
Tonight, the Yankees look to add to that stable of talent, trying to build off the recent success of their past two drafts, and trying to find someone capable of following Lindgren’s path to the big leagues.
“They probably just draft whoever’s the best available,” Lindgren said. “They’re just trying to bring good talent into the organization.”
Associated Press photos
Late this morning, about two hours before today’s Grapefruit League finale, Joe Girardi was asked what’s surprised him most this spring. Girardi paused for several seconds, then gave three answers:
1. “Really pleased with what Alex did.”
That was Girardi’s first response, a one-sentence answer that basically speaks for itself. Alex Rodriguez was perhaps the least predictable piece of the roster coming into camp, but he’s thrived in all aspects. He’s played a passable version of first base and third base, he’s hit .286/.400/.524, and he’s handled inevitable off-the-field questions without digging himself into a new hole.
“I’ve said all along, I thought Alex was going to help us,” Girardi said. “But until you get into (you don’t know). I mean, it’s two years, really, since he played. I wasn’t 100-percent sure. If I was a betting man, I would have bet on him playing well, but there’s still that, you’ve got to see it after two years of not playing and being 39 and a half.”
2. “Pleased with our infield and them working together.”
This was the second sentence of Girardi’s answer, a fairly broad response that involves four players. Third baseman Chase Headley has been arguably the best everyday position player in camp, second baseman Stephen Drew has begun to hit in the last two weeks or so, first baseman Mark Teixeira has looked healthy and stronger than he did late last season, and shortstop Didi Gregorius has been perhaps the team’s most encouraging new addition.
“The way he moves (has been impressive),” Girardi said. “Arm strength. You can watch it go across the diamond, but you don’t realize it’s just that little flick and it’s gone. Relay throws. He’s the whole package. When you watch him play defense, he’s the whole package. And I’m excited to watch him play all year.”
3. “And I was really impressed with our kids.”
The Yankees’ farm system — particularly it’s lack of upper-level success stories — has been a problem in recent years, but the organization seems to be getting stronger. Not only with the addition of young talent, but also with the development of on-the-verge prospects. Greg Bird, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino impressed early in camp, while Jacob Lindgren, Rob Refsnyder and Slade Heathcott stuck around long enough to stay on the radar until the very end. That’s to say nothing of Mason Williams’ improvement, Cito Culver’s defense and Nick Rumbelow’s emergence.
“The kids played a lot in spring training,” Girardi said. “Their talent level. The way they hold each other accountable. The way they push each other. It’s really neat to see.”
Associated Press photo
Any other year, Michael Pineda’s six strikeouts today would have been perhaps the biggest non-A-Rod story of spring training. He was hit hard early, adjust quickly and looked sharp the rest of the way. He got swings and misses with his changeup, threw strikes with his fastball and delivered yet another terrific start.
Any other year, it would have been a huge deal.
This spring, thought, the image of a smiling, dominant, healthy Pineda is beginning to feel commonplace.
“I’m happy because today is good outing,” Pineda said. “I’m feeling good. This is very important for me. I’m feeling great. And I stay in the game. … I feel very strong today. I’m happy with that because we won.”
After three years of struggling, rehabbing and working his way back, it seems Pineda has finally arrived, perhaps even better than the Yankees expected back in 2012. His changeup has become a legitimate weapon, and he still pounds the strike zone. It’s hard not to wonder what might have been had he been this way since that first spring when he first injured his shoulder.
“I’m more concerned about this year, what it could mean for us this year,” Joe Girardi said. “There’s not much we can do about the past. But I really believe if he stays healthy and gives us 30 (to) 32 starts, he could have a pretty good year.”
Given Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow, CC Sabathia’s knee and Nathan Eovaldi’s transition, I think you could make the case that Pineda is the most reliable weapon in the Yankees rotation, and right now he’s pitching like a guy who’s capable of bringing both reliability and dominance. What we saw today was nothing new, and that’s the good thing.
“I’m very, very happy in the spring, especially today,” Pineda said. “You know, I throw two innings, three innings and I feel very strong. I like it.”
• The Yankees might be lining up Masahiro Tanaka to start Opening Day. He’ll make his next start on Wednesday, getting a full week between starts. If he then pitches every six days, he would be perfectly lined up for the Opener on April 6. “I’m just going to leave it at that for now,” Girardi said.
• Asked why Tanaka is getting an extra day of rest leading into this upcoming start, Girardi said it was all about lining up the rotation, but he wouldn’t give specifics. “We’re trying to line people up, but I can’t give you an Opening Day starter because it kind of depends on where we feel they’re at,” Girardi said.
• Along those lines, Nathan Eovaldi is going to start a minor league game on Tuesday, the same day Esmil Rogers is starting a major league game. Again, Girardi said that’s all about getting guys lined up.
• Good second outing for Andrew Bailey who struck out two and hit a batter in his one inning. He said he recovered nicely after his previous outing and felt fully ready for this one. “That was the first time I’d pitched in a game in quite some time,” he said. “So I was eager to see how the next game was. It was fine, and the same thing the next day, and out there again today. I’m looking forward to more of the same.”
• Girardi said he’s still not sure when Bailey will try to go back-to-back.
• Last time out, Bailey was disappointed by his cutter. “I just stayed through it a little bit better (this time),” he said. “I worked on that on flat ground with Larry (Rothschild) and some of the other coaches. It’s me just driving the baseball to the plate instead of pulling off of it. It’s a little mechanical thing.”
• Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson also had two strikeouts in their outings today. Add a scoreless inning apiece for Nick Rumbelow and Jacob Lindgren, and it was a good day for the bullpen.
• Pineda seemed especially happy with his changeup today, and Girardi seemed to echo the same. Asked for a general analysis of today’s starting, Girardi started by saying Pineda was a little bit up in the zone early, then offered this: “Thought he threw some really good changeups today. Really, really good.”
• Two days in a row now Didi Gregorius has gotten a hit against a lefty. Today’s was a sharp single right down the first-base line. “He’s worked really hard with (hitting coach Jeff Pentland) about making some minor adjustments,” Girardi said. “I can’t tell you what exactly they are, but all these guys have worked really hard with Pent now, and with Alan (Cockrell), just little things. Things that they see. Didi’s really swung the bat (when) you look at the last week. Sometimes when you make adjustments, it might take you a little bit of time to get going because everything’s a little bit different, but it looks like it’s paying dividends.”
• After not scoring in the first eight innings, the Yankees rallied with three runs in the ninth to win 3-2. The winning run came on a sacrifice fly by Jake Cave. The big hit was a two-run double by Eddy Rodriguez.
• Aaron Judge had a hit in that game-winning ninth, but he most impressed with a running catch to end the seventh. “I was impressed with the jump he got on the ball,” Girardi said. “He made that catch easily. He made it look easy.”
• Mark Teixeira had two hits including a double. … Gregorius, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann also had hits and Brett Gardner drew a walk as some of the big league guys continue to look better at the plate. … That ninth-inning rally started with a Nick Noonan single.
• Final word goes to Gardner about his decision to climb the wall to retrieve Chris Young’s glove: “Is the fence eight feet? It feels taller than eight feet. I’m really short. We’d be in the eighth inning still if I didn’t get the glove. I wanted to throw the ball back in all the way to second base, but I didn’t have room between the batter’s eye hanging down and the fence, so I just tossed it back over. I actually didn’t even think about the ball, I was going to get the glove and the ball was laying right next to the glove. So then I wanted to throw the ball back to second base but I didn’t really have room to throw it between where the batter’s eye came down.”
Associated Press photos
I spent the past few days back home in New York, and now I’m returning to a slightly more spacious Yankees clubhouse. On Sunday, the Yankees made their first 10 cuts. None were particularly surprising — all were expected to landed in the minor leagues as some point — but some were significant if only because they’d generated quite a bit of early attention.
RHP Luis Severino
Most notable name of the bunch for two reasons: He’s one of the system’s top prospects (I’d argue he’s No. 1, some might argue No. 2), and there was actually some support within the fan base for giving him a rotation spot after Chris Capuano went down with an injury. Severino breaking camp with the Yankees never seemed particularly likely, and the Yankees took the possibility off the table with an early assignment across the street. Looked good when he did get into games, though. Can’t rule him out for a late-season call-up.
OF Aaron Judge
No prospect in camp earned as much early attention as Judge, who put on several batting practice shows — more hard line drives than towering home runs — before putting up good numbers in limited Grapefruit League at-bats. Judge earned raves for the way he handled himself in camp, but he was always going to end up playing right field in Trenton on Opening Day. Could move quickly, but too early to think he was going to break camp in the big leagues. Strong first impression, no doubt.
LHP Tyler Webb
Got to Triple-A last season and seemed to have a slim but still realistic chance of making the roster if the cards fell just right. Instead, the Yankees quickly sent Webb back to the minor leagues. The wealth of lefties in camp — including young guys Chasen Shreve and Jacob Lindgren — probably made Webb a little more expendable, so he’ll get his innings across the street while other relievers get priority opportunities in big league camp.
OF Jake Cave
Another guy who came into camp destined for the Double-A outfield, but before was dismissed, Cave hit .417/.417/.750 in 12 at-bats. That’s a pretty strong first impression for a guy capable of playing all three outfield positions. Cave has emerged as one of the top outfield prospects in the system, no longer overshadowed by fellow left-handed hitters Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores (though those three will get to stick around big league camp a little longer).
LHP James Pazos
In a big group of bullpen lefties brought to camp, Pazos was probably at the bottom of the pecking order. The Yankees like him and believe he could have a future in the big leagues, but he’s never pitched above Double-A and seemed to fall somewhere behind Shreve, Lindgren and Webb in terms of having an immediate opportunity. Little surprise, then, that he was one of the first sent down. His next challenge is standing out from the crowd.
SS Cito Culver
Former top draft pick showed off his greatest asset early in camp when he made a good play and then a terrific throw on a ball in the hole. With one hit in 13 at-bats, Culver also showed the limited bat that creates real questions about whether he’ll ever actually crack the big leagues. Culver’s never played above High-A, but the Yankees say they haven’t given up on him. Needs a good year in Double-A to stay on the radar. Right now he looks like a lesser version of Brendan Ryan, but his glove could open doors under the right circumstances.
RHP Nick Goody
Had an ankle injury the first time he was invited to big league camp, then he needed Tommy John surgery, but now Goody is back and healthy and on the radar as one of the organization’s legitimate relief prospects. Missed time has slowed his development, but this year’s invitation to camp was a pretty good indication that the Yankees have neither forgotten about him nor given up on him. Might not be knocking on the door, but bullpen guys can move quickly if they get on a roll.
RHP Diego Moreno
For me, this was perhaps the biggest surprise among all the non-roster invitations. Despite pitching in Triple-A last season, Moreno seemed pretty easily overshadowed by other relievers in the system (including at least one who wasn’t invited to camp). Moreno actually pitched a lot — only three guys had more innings before Sunday’s cuts — but one particularly bad outing pushed his ERA to 5.68. Worth wondering what the Yankees will do with him this year given all the bullpen depth.
C Trent Garrison
Young guy brought to camp strictly to give the team an extra catcher to handle all the bullpens and live batting practice sessions. This was more about getting experience than getting a chance. He got into three games and will now likely head to either Tampa or Trenton to open the season. Each spring seems to have at least one young catcher like this. This year, it was Garrison.
C Juan Graterol
Signed as a minor league free agent, Graterol was rehabbing all through his stint in big league camp. He caught bullpens and did other baseball drills, but he’s coming back from an arm injury and so never got into an actual game. He’s basically upper-level catching depth and could plug holes in Double-A or Triple-A depending on where he’s needed. My guess is he falls somewhere behind Francisco Arcia and Eddy Rodriguez in the pecking order.
Associated Press photos
Yesterday, Reggie Jackson compared Aaron Judge’s raw power to that of Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey. The day before, Alex Rodriguez called Judge and Greg Bird two of the best young hitters he’d seen in years. All spring, guys like Luis Severino, Jacob Lindgren and Rob Refsnyder have generated significant attention despite having a half-season of Triple-A experience among them.
“That’s what you do in the game, for better or for worse,” Brian Cashman said. “People go to the dream aspect.”
While the big league Yankees seem to have captured anything but the imagination this spring — far more doomsday scenarios than best-case scenarios floating out there — the young Yankees have stolen the show early this spring. At least, in theory they have. Counting my days with the minor league system, I’ve covered nine spring training, and it’s hard to remember a Yankees’ spring with this much prospect hype. Maybe the year of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, but this spring is different because many of the players in question are not even on the 40-man roster, much less on the verge of making the Opening Day roster.
Judge probably gets the most attention, and he has just one year of professional experience.
“I don’t think it’s hurtful,” Cashman said. “Listen, we all project what someone could be on a maximum case. Whether people want to throw out Giancarlo Stanton or Dave Winfield or McCovey, it doesn’t matter at all. You’re dreaming on the player’s abilities. Some players, you can dream bigger on than others. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big on a guy, especially a guy like that, that’s that big. It’s not hurtful.”
Seems to help that the Yankees like the mental makeup of their young players. Judge and Refsnyder have lockers right next to one another, and both have been soft spoken all spring. Girardi has raved about Severino’s early spring composure. Bird tends to sit quietly at his corner locker, doing as much observing as talking.
“I’ve discovered that there’s nothing I can do to prevent (growing expectations), regardless,” Cashman said. “I’ve gotten trained over time that whatever will be, will be. … Our young guys — the B-Bombers, I’ll call them — have been great. They’re in tremendous shape, they’re hungry, you can see they play with passion. The performance has been high-end this spring as well. Those are the stories you really want. You want your young guys to step up. It shows your fan base that, hey, there’s some good things on the come.”
Associated Press photo
Stephen Drew made all the plays he was supposed to make today, but he also went 0-for-3 at the plate. It was kind of a take-the-good-with-the-bad kind of day for a guy who’s suddenly having to prove himself on both offense and defense.
“These guys brought me over here to fill that role (at second base),” Drew said. “And playing in the league for as long as I have and understanding the game, it’s definitely big. And it’s still early. With these at-bats, it’s huge for me, whereas last year I was going into a season where guys were four months (ahead). It’s not an easy task. It’s not an excuse, but at the same time, it’s something that really I don’t think anybody has done quite like that. Knowing that, and knowing that feeling, it’s definitely a big key to be here in spring (training) right now.”
Yes, Drew knows there’s a big league job waiting for him. But it would be hard for anyone to not notice the way Jose Pirela is hitting so far this spring, and Rob Refsnyder gets more attention in the clubhouse than some of the veterans. Drew is coming off the worst offensive season of his career, and now he’s trying to learn a new position. Will he really break camp as the Opening Day second baseman? Probably. The Yankees have basically committed to that much, the question is whether he can play well enough to keep the job going forward.
“I mean, if (anyone) was to struggle, we’d probably make a change,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s the nature of our game, but we didn’t sign him to struggle. We signed him to play at a very high level, and we expect that he will.”
How does Drew go about learning second base and getting his numbers back on track with the rest of his career? Well, it starts right here, with games like today. If he stays healthy, this will be Drew’s first full spring training since 2011. He played no spring training games in 2012 because of a broken ankle, he missed most of the 2013 spring with a concussion, and he didn’t sign last year until May. He was in the big leagues roughly two weeks later.
“I was in good shape (last spring),” Drew said. “And like I keep telling you guys, the biggest thing is you haven’t seen live pitching, Major League pitching, along with that (time off). Last year was definitely a challenge. Really, you’ve got to slow the game down. I was rushing the game, trying to speed it up, trying to play catch up. To be here now is definitely a big moment for me.”
Drew has just 11 at-bats this spring, but he also has just one hit. He made an error on his first opportunity of the exhibition schedule. Anyone who follows this game knows not to make much of early spring training results, but it’s hard not to analyze everything Drew’s doing given his situation. For those who hated the signing in the first place, every 0-for-3 and every defensive mistake seems like proof that Drew’s contract was a mistake.
The Yankees, though, see a good defensive player, who’s athletic and experienced enough to learn a new position, and who’s 2013 — when he had a .777 OPS — is far more indicative of the kind of hitter he’s been through most of his career. They see a potential bargain where others see a sure bust.
“We expect him to be a productive hitter, to get back to the form that he was at before last year,” Girardi said. “I think he got behind, and I think it was difficult for him to catch up when you miss spring training. When you slowly progress into playing and then you have a rushed spring training in a sense. He wasn’t there very long. Maybe he had 15, 16 at-bats or whatever he had. It’s just hard to catch up. I think you get behind, and then you start off slow and you try to make things up. It just makes things worse a lot of time. We feel that he’ll get back to the form that he was at.”
• Despite going three scoreless innings, Chase Whitley wasn’t all happy with his start today. He walked three guys, got into jams in the first and second innings, and threw only 24 of 46 pitches for strikes. Good work to get out of trouble with a lot of ground balls, but Whitley said he’s clearly still in early spring mode. “Overall pleased with the result,” he said. “But the process has to get a little bit better.”
• Girardi seemed to like the fact Whitley had to handle some adversity and make big pitches. “He got some big ground balls when he needed them,” Girardi said. “He got in some long counts and got some baserunners, but he did a good job with runners in scoring position. You want to see that.”
• The Yankees lost 3-1 with all of the Orioles runs coming against Branden Pinder and Chasen Shreve, two 40-man guys who seem to be fighting for that open spot in the bullpen. Pinder was knocked around early in the fifth inning — four straight hits, two runs — but also got some big outs to limit the damage. Shreve gave up a solo home run to a switch hitter.
• Both Jacob Lindgren and Esmil Rogers pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts.
• A sure sign that it’s absurdly early: Chase Headley came into this game hitting .100 for the spring. He went 3-for-3 and in one day raised his average to .308. He had hits from each side of the plate. “It’s tough to figure out what you’re trying to do early,” Headley said. “You really want to see pitches, track the ball good out of the pitchers’ hands. I didn’t feel very good doing that, wasn’t seeing them like I wanted to, so I figured today I’d be a little bit more aggressive, try to take it a little more like regular-season at-bats. I think that put my rhythm and timing in better spots. It was good. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but you want to get hits.”
• Yet another start for Didi Gregorius against a left-handed starting pitcher. Girardi seems happy about that, but he said it’s strictly coincidence. The lineups are generally set before the Yankees know who they’re facing in spring training. “I want to see him (against lefties),” Girardi said. “Obviously a lot of times you can get pegged early on in your career; I’ve seen it happen to a lot of players. We have a lot of confidence in Didi and we want him to get at-bats.”
• Aaron Judge made a nice diving catch in right field today. Headley almost made a terrific diving stop on a Machado double. He dived toward the foul line, but the ball hit off the tip of his glove. “I was mad at myself that I didn’t catch it,” Headley said. Would have been a sick catch.
• Big-time injury in the American League East as Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman is likely to miss all year with a torn ACL. “I feel like it’s becoming the NFL; there’s one big injury every day,” Girardi said. “It’s frustrating when you lose your players, guys that you count on. No one is going to feel sorry for you and you have to just move on, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”
• Speaking of AL East injuries, the Yankees saw Manny Machado back in the Orioles lineup today. He went 3-for-3, and Girardi said the situation reminded him of a Yankees prospect. “Two knee surgeries, and having to fight back; it’s frustrating as a player,” Girardi said. “For him, he’s really young, but you know your time is limited. And that’s the last place you want to spend it is rehabbing on the DL. I look at a young kid that we have. He’s not as accomplished as Manny, but what Slade (Heathcott) has gone through, the knee surgeries. It’s frustrating. It delays your progress as a player.”
• Gary Sanchez hit a pretty long home run for the Yankees only run of the day. … Pirela went 1-for-2 with a walk and a stolen base. He’s hitting .462 (Refsnyder went hitless but is hitting .455). … Aside from Pirela, Sanchez and Headley, the only Yankees hit belonged to Mark Teixeira.
• For today’s final word, here’s Girardi’s response to a joking question about whether he’s ready for the big game against Boston tomorrow. “Huh? Oh yeah. I was thinking, big Boston game, what’s he talking about? Do you guys (in the media) have a game or something?” Rivalry games just don’t carry the same weight down here in spring training.
Associated Press photos
Alex Rodriguez already has four hits this spring. He went 2-for-3 today, drove in a run, and raised his spring batting average to .444. He doesn’t have an extra-base hit, but for a guy who’s talked a lot about finding his timing, he’s making pretty decent contact and showing a good eye at the plate. He’s been good, which might impress some people, but it doesn’t impress Rodriguez himself.
“Nothing. Zero,” he said. “(Whether the numbers are) 0-for-9, 4-for-9. … It doesn’t really mean anything. I’ve played for a long time. It’s better than 0-for-9, I guess.”
But that’s not to say Rodriguez hasn’t been impressed this spring. Quite the opposite, actually. Asked a pretty broad question about Opening Day, Rodriguez used the opportunity to heap praise on some of the young guys in Yankees camp.
“I actually like our team,” he said. “One of the nice things about being here in spring this year is seeing the collection of nice young power arms. That’s been a really pleasant surprise. The other thing I’ve seen is two of the finest young hitters I’ve seen in a long time. One is righty and one is lefty. I think they’re both under the age of 24. That’s really encouraging. And I also saw that our lineup has the potential to be pretty deep and that’s something that I think can help us.”
Who exactly are those young hitters?
“Greg Bird and Aaron Judge,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t see those type of young hitters come around very often. We’re lucky to have two of them. I’m very impressed.”
And Rodriguez wasn’t finished there. He also had plenty of kind words for Michael Pineda.
“When you have stuff like that, it makes you be a little bit more relaxed,” he said of Pineda’s recent demeanor. “I think the thing about Pineda that I learned in my rehab with him when we were down here in Tampa together is how athletic he is. He’s one of the fastest guys on the team. It doesn’t make sense that a guy that big can move that fast. He’s extremely athletic and fast. Then in the weight room, he can just lift the whole weight room. Those combinations, when you know that and you see how that transfers to his power stuff, it makes a lot of sense.”
How fast are we talking? Faster than Brett Gardner?
“No,” Rodriguez said. “But he’s faster than me and a lot of other guys.”
• Hard to ignore Pineda in his debut — and it’s impossible to ignore A-Rod saying the Yankees have two of the best young hitters he’s seen in a long time — but it’s worth leaving some of today’s spotlight for Nathan Eovaldi. In his second spring outing, Eovaldi racked up five strikeouts in three innings. “Just working ahead in the counts, I think, for the most part was the big key today,” he said.
• Eovaldi has said all spring that he wanted to work on his offspeed pitches. Today he got two strikeouts on fastballs, two on sliders and one on a split. “With every year you’re going to get more comfort with yourself and what you can and can’t do,” Brian McCann said. “With that stuff, it’s just going to be a matter of putting it all together and elevating when he needs to elevate and put it in the dirt when he needs to put it in the dirt, because he’s an uncomfortable at-bat for anybody.”
• One complaint from Eovaldi, he said he felt like he was rushing some of his offspeed pitches, but the results were still positive. “Besides rushing, I felt good,” he said. “I was able to throw the majority of them for strikes. I threw some splits. I felt like they were quality pitches, I just didn’t get offers on them.”
• Minor league reliever Diego Moreno — who could, honestly, be crowded out of even the Triple-A bullpen — gave up all three Rays runs in today’s 4-3 Yankees win. Moreno struggled, but the rest of the Yankees pitchers really thrived today. David Carpenter (pictured on the right), Justin Wilson and Chris Martin each pitched a scoreless inning today. All three allowed one runner.
• Last time out, Martin seemed to really catch Girardi’s attention. I have to imagine today’s outing did nothing to dull that strong first impression. Martin allowed a double, but he struck out the last two batters of the game. The first was on a 95-mph fastball, the second was on a big breaking ball.
• Pineda and Esmil Rogers will start the upcoming split-squad doubleheader on Saturday. Pineda will pitch at home, Rogers on the road. That leaves an upcoming rotation of — Tuesday: Chase Whitley, Wednesday: Chris Capuano, Thursday: Masahiro Tanaka, Friday: Adam Warren, Saturday: Rogers and Pineda.
• Prospect Luis Severino showed up sick this morning and was diagnosed with strep throat. He’s been told to stay home tomorrow and he’ll be back Wednesday. Severino was scheduled for early work tomorrow — I assume it was going to be a bullpen — so it sounds like the illness might only push him back a day or two.
• Shortstop Nick Noonan has a stiff neck and has been scratched from tomorrow’s road trip (Girardi said he might make the trip, but his name was literally scratched off the list). Girardi indicated it’s a minor injury at this point. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” he said.
• Nothing new on Brendan Ryan. He’s still on track to begin light baseball activities on Wednesday.
• Predictably, Girardi wouldn’t say whether he’s planning to use today’s lineup as his Opening Day lineup. That seems like a safe bet, but Girardi would only say, “it’s possible.”
• Rob Refsnyder made his second spring error. He also had another hit and is batting .500 this spring. … Bird and Brian McCann had the Yankees only extra-base hits today. Each doubled. … Slade Heathcott stayed hot with another hit. He’s batting .800. Small sample sizes are fun! … Austin Romine got his first hit. John Ryan Murphy also has just one hit this spring.
• Final word goes to Girardi about feeling at least a little encouraged by A-Rod’s early success: “I think it’s impossible not to. If you’re struggling in the beginning, like a lot of our hitters are, you say it’s timing. That was my concern for Alex, really, coming into camp. How long would it take for him to get his timing? I think he’s done a pretty good job adjusting, and I want to continue to see it.”
Associated Press photos
Only two big league regulars were in the Yankees lineup today, and those two went 0-for-6. Only one projected big league pitcher got on the mound, and he pitched two relatively quiet innings. This was the start of the big league spring training schedule, but if you’re looking for highlights, it was the minor leaguers who stole the show. From Luis Severino’s dominant debut inning, to Aaron Judge’s game-tying home run in the ninth, the Yankees might have glimpsed their future as they tried to get ready for the present.
“I saw a lot of good things overall today from a lot of our guys,” Joe Girardi said. “You look at what Severino does. He came in and threw strikes and did a really nice job. Pinder comes in and does a really nice job for us. Shreve right there (in the ninth) does a nice job for us. You look at the at-bats a lot of our young kids had late in the game – really, really good. Encouraging to see.”
Branden Pinder faced four batters and retired them all. Chasen Shreve faced five batters and struck out two of them. Nick Goody pitched a scoreless inning. Slade Heathcott went 2-for-2 with a double. Greg Bird went 2-for-3, also with a double. Mason Williams doubled to start that game-tying, four-run ninth inning.
The Yankees got bad news on catcher Luis Torrens today, but there were plenty of positives in Clearwater. The biggest names in this minor league system are Severino and Judge, and they were impossible to ignore this afternoon.
First batter Severino ever faced in a big league spring training game, he fired fastballs at 94 and 95 mph, then he finished off the at-bat with a strikeout looking at an 86 mph slider. The pitch actually confused me when I saw it because there wasn’t a ton of movement (I actually thought it might have been a changeup), but Severino explained afterward that he likes to manipulate his slider. Sometimes he throws a big, sweeping one, and sometimes he tries to keep it tighter and smaller. This was a tight, small one, and a left-handed hitter froze against it.
Next batter, a strikeout swinging through 94 mph. The next, a broken-bat ground ball to third base.
Severino’s second inning wasn’t as smooth. He gave up four singles — all to left-handed hitters — and was pulled after an RBI bloop to left field. None of the hits were hard (could of ground balls up the middle, couple of flares just over the infield), and Severino said that when Girardi came to get him in the middle of the inning, the message was simple. Girardi just told him, good job.
“There’s no fear there,” Girardi said. “The young man has a lot of belief in what he’s doing, and he has command, and he went right at guys today. I wasn’t sure how he’d react being the first time, and you worry about guys trying to do too much, but he seemed calm and threw the ball pretty well.”
Severino said the at-bat that stood out to him was against Ryan Howard, who had a long at-bat and ultimately shot a weak single into right field. Severino clearly considered it a test to face such an accomplished hitter.
“It’s a good challenge,” he said. “I tried to strike him out or get him out, but I don’t get it. … I can get a lot of experience that way.”
First thing anyone seems to notice about Judge is just how big he is, but last season he showed he’s more than simply a raw slugger. Judge has an advanced approach at the plate. He takes pitches, works the count and stays patient. After a ground out in his first at-bat, Judge worked a walk in his second trip to the plate.
His third plate appearance came in the ninth when he again took pitches until he found one he liked. His game-tying, three-run homer barely made it over the wall, but it was also sky high.
“He’s just big,” Girardi said. “He’s just big and strong. You’re not going to see too many people that big in the game. It’s just not tall, there’s a lot of strength there as well. He’s a really good athlete, and sometimes when you see a guy like that, you’re not sure how good of an athlete you have, but you have a really good athlete too. … He had two really, really good at-bats today. He was patient. He waited for his pitch. He didn’t over swing.”
Judge was quick to credit Williams, Heathcott and Jake Cave for having good at-bats ahead of him to set the stage for that three-run shot. He said that his first thought after seeing the ball go over the fence was to think the outfielder had caught it. He said he was more nervous on deck than he ever was in the box. He honestly sounded like a guy who’d been in that situation — surrounded by media after an eye-opening home run — dozens of times in his career. He sounded like a pro, and he looked like one too.
“I’m trying to make it as hard as I can for them to send me back across the street for the minor leagues,” he said. “Just doing whatever I can to help us win.”
Associated Press photos
Alex Rodriguez was no where to be found, but even so, it was hard to ignore what was happening on the back field here at the Yankees spring training complex this morning.
Top pitching prospect Luis Severino vs. top hitting prospect Aaron Judge
It was live batting practice, and it’s so early in camp that pitchers are well ahead of the hitters (some guys don’t even like to swing this early, they just track pitches when the step in for live BP). But there’s a lot of fascination about these two key pieces of the Yankees’ plan to get younger through player development.
Severino was part of a pretty impressive group of pitchers facing hitters on the back field. He alternated “innings” with Nathan Eovaldi, then Jacob Lindgren and Branden Pinder came out for an inning apiece. Those are four hard-throwers against a group of four hitters — Judge, Kyle Roller, Jake Cave and Tyler Austin — who just had their first official workout yesterday.
“Not the guys you want to face,” Roller said. “That was rough. Glad we got that out of the way. Everything should look slower now.”
Cave said Severino threw him everything, and while he missed some spots with the offspeed pitches, even those pitches looked sharp. Cave sounded impressed by Severino, but then again, he said Severino always looks impressive.
I think I saw only two Judge vs. Severino at-bats. The first was just as I got onto the back field, and Judge rolled over a ground ball to the shortstop (would have been in the hole, not an easy out but not the kind of thing Judge was trying to do). The second at-bat is the one filmed above. It was a six-pitch at-bat with Judge swinging once and ultimately striking out on a 3-2 pitch.
• The Yankees have some meetings this morning, so today’s workout won’t start until a little later than usual. Batting practice isn’t until around 12:30. All of the pitching stuff was handled earlier this morning.
• Last thing I saw as the Yankees clubhouse closed to media was Mariano Rivera sitting near his old locker, talking to new reliever David Carpenter and Justin Wilson. Carpenter said earlier in the morning that he has so much respect for Rivera, he feels like he should get dressed up just to have a conversation with him.
• Talked to Mason Williams for a little while this morning. I’m sure I’ll write more about it at some point, but Williams said he honestly thinks last season — when he hit just .223/.290/.304 in Double-A — might have been the most important year of his career. He feels like he learned a lot about what he’s been doing wrong and about the way upper-level pitchers are going to attack him. He got a trainer at home in Orlando this offseason and reported to camp in better shape than I’ve ever seen him. This is going to be a big year for him. He has a lot to prove. He also has a spot on the 40-man and said his eyes are set on helping the big league team before the end of the season. Good speed and defense, just needs to show he can hit again.
• Today was photo day in Yankees camp. Lots of photography stations setup all around Steinbrenner Field, and the players had to go to each one, one at a time, to get a series of pictures and videos done. Players … don’t love it.
CC Sabathia (to Brian McCann)
Andrew Bailey (to Juan Graterol)
Esmil Rogers (to Austin Romine)
Ivan Nova (to Roman Rodriguez)
Jose Campos (to Roman Rodriguez)
• Live batting practice:
Facing Jake Cave, Kyle Roller, Tyler Austin, Aaron Judge
Nathan Eovaldi (to John Ryan Murphy)
Luis Severino (to Gary Sanchez)
Jacob Lindgren (to Austin Romine)
Branden Pinder (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Facing Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder
Chris Capuano (to Francisco Arcia)
Scott Baker (to Kyle Higashioka)
David Carpenter (to Trent Garrison)
Dellin Betances (also to Trenton Garrison)
• Infield drills:
Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Alex Rodriguez, Kyle Roller, Mark Teixeira
Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones, Jose Pirela
Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Brian McCann, Eddy Rodriguez
Cito Culver, Jose Pirela, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira
Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones
Greg Bird, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Kyle Roller
Tyler Austin, Carlos Beltran, Jake Cave, Chris Young
Ramon Flores, Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Jacoby Ellsbury
Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine
Francisco Arcia, Trent Garrison, Kyle Higashioka, Gary Sanchez
Associated Press photo