A few quick notes from today’s postgame clubhouse.
• Brendan Ryan’s initial diagnosis is a strained right calf. He went for an MRI, but Joe Girardi has already said he’d be surprised if Ryan’s able to open the season. That’s an inevitable DL stint which opens the door for some other infielder to make the team.
• Sounds like Stephen Drew has been scratched from tomorrow’s road trip and will play shortstop during tomorrow’s home game. Rob Refsnyder is also play in the home game and will presumably play second base alongside him. Girardi said he’s willing to carry a second baseman as Ryan’s replacement because he knows Drew can play short. Refsnyder and Nick Noonan — who would give the Yankees three left-hitting middle infielders — are the only healthy extra middle infielders still in big league camp.
• Jose Pirela might swing a bat tomorrow, but he’s still pretty far behind and Girardi called him a “long shot” to be ready to play on Opening Day.
• Didi Gregorius is healthy again and said he could have played today but the Yankees wanted him to go through drills rather than play in a game. He’s scheduled to make tomorrow’s road trip to presumably play shortstop in Lakeland. Gregorius took batting practice and went through fielding drills today. He and Drew each seem healthy, so this opening is for a backup/platoon player.
• Adam Warren was officially named the fifth starter. He’ll pitch the fifth game of the season, and Girardi said he doesn’t plan to skip Warren at any point. Even with off days, the Yankees are going to stay on turn to give everyone extra rest.
Associated Press photo
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
Got to Fort Myers just in time to talk to Joe Girardi and get some quick pregame notes posted. No huge news coming out of batting practice today but there was a slight change of plans.
John Ryan Murphy was supposed to make this trip, but he’s staying behind at the minor league complex to catch Adam Warren, who’s starting a minor league game.
Speaking of which, Girardi said he’s still not ready to name a fifth starter. He said there’s one guy he still needs to talk to before making anything public.
That said, I imagine you should feel free to read into the fact Warren’s getting a start today. That puts him on schedule — in theory — to make another start on Sunday on four-days rest and then pitch the fifth game of the regular season on five-days rest.
• Carlos Beltran is also playing at the minor league complex today. Girardi wasn’t sure if he was DHing or playing right field. Said they wanted Beltran to get at-bats without having to make the long road trip.
• Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled for 75 pitches.
• Girardi seemed to downplay the possibility of Andrew Bailey making the team out of spring training. He said there’s no way the Yankees could carry him if he hasn’t pitch back-to-back days, and the team is not going to rush him to make that happen. Of the four guys vying for the final two bullpen spots, Bailey seems like the long shot. Chase Whitley, Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve are also in the mix, and each is on the 40-man.
• Speaking of which, Whitley is starting tomorrow’s game against the Rays. Clearly keeping him stretched out in case they decide to carry him as a second long man.
• Brendan Ryan is getting a turn at third base today. Girardi said he just wants to see it and give Ryan a chance to play the position down here. Girardi said that, for now, he’s leaning toward playing Alex Rodriguez — not Ryan — at third base on days Chase Headley needs a break. Obviously Ryan could be a defensive replacement at the position, though.
• Mark Teixeira remains on track to play tomorrow. He was hit by a pitch in the knee on Sunday. Seems fine.
• Didi Gregorius had some swelling in his sprained wrist on Monday. He still might play tomorrow, but Girardi said they want to make sure the swelling is gone before they get him back in a game. Still seems to be a very low level of concern.
• Today’s second string: C Eddy Rodriguez, 1B Greg Bird, 2B none, SS none, 3B Eric Jagielo, LF Taylor Dugas, CF Mason Williams, RF none
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Chris Martin, Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder, Cesar Vargas, Nick Goody
• Today’s starting lineup:
Brett Gardner LF
Brendan Ryan 3B
Chris Young CF
Garrett Jones 1B
Austin Romine C
Rob Refsnyder 2B
Ramon Flores RF
Nick Noonan SS
Eric Jagielo DH
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
First, a reminder that we’re doing a chat today at noon. This is an off day in Yankees camp. For me, that means a day to sit in a hotel room and write a whole lot of season preview stuff for the newspaper. For the Yankees, it means a day to catch their breath before one last burst of exhibition games and decision making. Heading into this final week, here are a few thoughts and impressions from Tampa:
• I actually think CC Sabathia looks pretty good. His numbers are awful, but I’m buying it when he says he’s encouraged. He’s clearly stronger than he was last year, and I think it’s good that he’s talking about his changeup a lot. He’s going to have to pitch smart and keep hitters off balance, and I think he’s able to do that. Scouts keep telling me what a “pitcher” he is; that Sabathia knows what he’s doing out there even with diminished stuff. The numbers are awful, but this is one of those situations in which I’m not sure spring training numbers mean much. He’s going to give up some home runs now — that’s just the way it goes — but I think he’ll be better than he was the past two seasons. Not a Cy Young candidate, but I think he’ll be a good No. 3 starter as long as he stays healthy.
• The middle of the order does not look very good. At this point, I think that’s a bigger problem than the rotation. Even if the lineup stays healthy, I’m still not sure what the heart of the order can provide. Carlos Beltran hasn’t looked great, Brian McCann has been so-so, and Mark Teixeira hasn’t hit for much power (though I do think Teixeira seems to be in much better shape than last spring, so maybe he can stay on the field and avoid a second-half decline). I just haven’t seen a lot that suggests the lineup is much better than it was last season. Veteran guys like that might be able to turn it on once they’re in real games, I just don’t think they’ve shown it down here.
• Whether Alex Rodriguez has a successful season might depend on your definition of success. If he carries his spring training slash line through the season he’ll be an MVP candidate, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. More likely, I think he’ll get on base at a decent clip, pounce on some bad pitches to hit home runs now and then, and generally provide what you’d expect from a No. 6-7 hitter. That’s honestly better than I was expecting. He’s not running well, but I think he’s running well enough. He’s not a good defender, but he’ll field balls that are hit right to him. He’s better than I thought he would be.
• As a side note to the Rodriguez situation: He’s also handled all of the off-the-field stuff pretty well. Believe it or not, he actually makes some small talk and jokes with reporters in the clubhouse. Teammates seem to like him. Opposing players don’t seem to completely hate him. He’s heard his share of boos, but he’s heard plenty of cheers as well. I’m telling you, from every angle, this situation has been much better and easier than I expected. The Yankees seem to feel the same way. Both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi said yesterday that they’re happy with the way Rodriguez has settled back into the clubhouse.
• I have no idea what the Yankees are going to do about those final two spots in the bullpen. I think Chase Whitley is a favorite for one of those spots, if only because I think they’ll want another long man other than Esmil Rogers (and all the other long relief candidates have been sent away). What I can’t figure out is who the favorites might be for that last spot in the pen. I do think it’s worth noting that Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve are on the 40-man and have options, and I think that final bullpen spot might be very flexible early in the season. For that reason — because the 12th reliever might have to go up and down to Triple-A a few times — I’m not surprised the Yankees steered away from Jacob Lindgren. He’s looked great, but I imagine that once he’s on the big league roster, the Yankees want him to stay there. Why not carry Martin or Shreve out of camp, send him down for a sixth starter in late April, and then think about adding either Lindgren or Andrew Bailey?
• Backup catcher might be more wide-open than I expected when camp opened. Last season showed the Yankees clearly prefer John Ryan Murphy, but don’t think they’ve completely given up on Austin Romine. Ideally, I think — and this is just a gut feeling — the Yankees would prefer to trade Romine before the season starts, but I think they’d like to get real value for him. If they can’t, maybe he gets one month to prove himself one way or the other in the big leagues. If he can’t do it, Murphy comes up to take his place. That said, if the Yankees choose to DFA Romine in favor of Murphy, that wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. I really think it could go either way. If I had to guess right now, I think I’d still pick Murphy.
• Slade Heathcott has looked so good this spring, I wonder if the Yankees might get aggressive and send him straight to Triple-A to play center field every day. That would free Jake Cave, Mason Williams and Aaron Judge to play the outfield every day in Trenton (and Williams had a good enough spring that I think he’s worth everyday at-bats as well). Put Heathcott in the Triple-A outfield with Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin and see what happens. This isn’t a typical development year for Heathcott. The Yankees really need to find out by the end of the season whether he’s a high-end asset again.
• At this point, I’m assuming Jose Pirela will end up in Triple-A, but where does he play regularly? Obviously he’ll have to bounce around a little bit — some time in the outfield corners, some time at second base — but it might make sense to see what he can do as a regular third baseman. If Chase Headley gets hurt, Rodriguez isn’t good enough in the field to play third every day, so the Yankees might want to get Pirela prepared just in case he has to play that role at some point. But he really can’t play any one spot every single day. He’s going to have to maintain some flexibility because the Yankees might want his bat at some point even without an injury at third.
• Sure, Sabathia says his knee feels fine and Masahiro Tanaka is pitching like his elbow is healthy, but the biggest reason to be optimistic about the Yankees’ rotation might be Michael Pineda. That guy looks fantastic. He’s still throwing hard, still throwing a ton of strikes, and his offspeed stuff is more effective than when the Yankees first acquired him. It’s amazing that, after missing much of three years with shoulder problems, Pineda just might be the most reliable piece of the Yankees rotation. I think Nathan Eovaldi could be pretty good, but Pineda could be great.
• Speaking of the rotation, what happens if everyone stays healthy and Adam Warren has a 3.00 ERA at the end of May. Would he move right back into the bullpen to make room for Chris Capuano? What about Ivan Nova? Granted, this is a pretty extreme hypothetical — it involves Warren having an all-star caliber first two months, and involves a rotation full of injury concerns staying healthy — but I really think Warren’s a nice pitcher who could thrive. Maybe not to the tune of 3.00, but what about a 3.20 or a even a 3.50? Would you take that out of the rotation in favor of a guy one year removed from Tommy John?
• Relief pitchers are notoriously inconsistent from year to year. Only a very few are able to truly get the job done season after season. For that reason, I think the Dellin Betances struggles should raise some red flags. Not white flags of surrender, but red flags of concern. He just hasn’t looked great, and it’s not just the fact he’s not throwing 98 mph. Some of that added velocity could very easily come with regular-season adrenalin. Right now, he’s also missing spots and looking fairly hitable. I think that should be a bit of a concern. The Yankees have banked on the idea of having a standout bullpen. What if they don’t?
Associated Press photos
Yesterday, Brian Cashman declared Adam Warren the “Secretariat” of the fifth-starter competition. Today, Warren struck out five and allowed one run in 3.1 innings. Are the Yankees really going to bump him back into the bullpen tomorrow? While Joe Girardi said the team still wants to have some discussions, it seems clear Warren has realistically locked up the open rotation job.
“He threw well again,” Girardi said. “Not easy conditions to pitch in today either, so I thought he threw the ball, mixed everything in again, and that’s what he’s done all spring.”
At this point, the bigger question seems to be whether Warren can carry his bullpen success into the rotation. Specifically, just how good can he be as a regular starter? Over on FanGraphs, there’s a post called: Who Might Adam Warren Be? It’s an analysis of his raw stuff — a 94-mph fastball that generates weak popups, an effective changeup that he throws for strikes, a groundball inducing curveball — leading to a series of comparisons in search of just how good Warren might be if given a long look in the rotation.
The name that pops up most often is overwhelmingly optimistic: Dodgers No. 2 starter Zack Greinke.
They’ve both got straight, rising fastballs complemented by good sinkers. Greinke’s slider is better than his change, and Warren’s change is better than his slider, but the ratio between the two pitches is similar. Neither curve is great, but Warren’s gets so many ground balls that it might shorten the distance between their respective abilities to command their arsenals.
That’s a pretty giant comparison to throw out there. Warren pitched well out of the bullpen last season, and he was a pretty highly regarded prospect in the minors. Could he pitch well enough in the first month or so to keep a rotation job even after Chris Capuano is healthy? What about when Ivan Nova is healthy? If the Greinke comparison seems a bit too much, some of the other names mentioned in the FanGraphs piece range from the uninspiring (Erasmo Ramirez, Kevin Correia) to the impressive (Matt Cain, Homer Bailey).
“I feel like pitching is pitching,” Warren said. “I’ve proved I can pitch at this level. I just got to go out there and learn from some of the guys who have started and learned the mindset of being aggressive, attacking always, getting early outs. But I feel like I’ve got the stuff. It’s just going out there and executing pitches.”
John Ryan Murphy said he really doesn’t call a game much differently if Warren’s pitching as a starter vs. as a reliever. In either role Warren’s used all four of his pitches, and Murphy said all four are quality pitches that can be thrown for strikes and used to get outs.
“I think you just try to keep the foot on the pedal as long as possible,” Warren said. “The biggest thing for me — and I didn’t do a very good job today — that I want to focus on is getting outs early in the count, just be efficient with my pitches. My pitch count got a little high today and I didn’t have my best stuff, but being able to attack the zone is the biggest thing. Just try to go out with my best stuff from pitch one and see how far I can go with it.”
For now, it seems that approach has carried him into the starting rotation.
• There was a giant birthday cake in the Yankees clubhouse today (it was actually a bunch of cupcakes arranged to look like one big cake). Ramon Flores, Rob Refsnyder and Brendan Ryan all celebrated their birthdays today.
• Girardi said Jacoby Ellsbury came through today’s light baseball activity with no problem. Assuming he shows up feeling good tomorrow he’ll do more tee and toss and increase to taking a few rounds of batting practice inside. Girardi said he’s expecting Ellsbury to play a minor league game on Tuesday. Whether he gets in another Grapefruit League game will basically depend on how he’s feeling (when he was hurt late last spring, the Yankees kept Ellsbury in minor league games at the end of camp so that they could back-date any possibly DL stint; they seem less concerned this time around).
• Jose Pirela continues to have some concussion symptoms, so he won’t be playing any time soon. “Yesterday he rode the bike and was fine,” Girardi said. “Today he rode the bike and got dizzy. He’ll see a neurologist again. That’s the hardest thing to predict with a concussion; even though he looked great, he got dizzy today. We’ll back off a little bit, talk to the neurologist and try it again fairly soon.”
• The Yankees unconditionally released RHP Jared Burton from his minor league contract. Burton is a big league veteran and he was pitching well before he got hurt. If he wasn’t going to break camp with the big league team, though, the Yankees overwhelming bullpen depth probably didn’t leave much room for him.
• Austin Romine was supposed to catch this game, but he got some sort of stomach bug and had to be scratched. His competition for the backup catcher job, Murphy, played instead and went 1-for-2, raising his spring batting average to .219. “I think it’s going to come down to the last couple days,” Girardi said of the decision between Romine and Murphy.
• Girardi still expects to get Alex Rodriguez in a game at first base. “It’s coming up,” he said. “I didn’t have a chance to talk to him, but I have it on the board.”
• The plan is for Masahiro Tanaka to make Tuesday’s road trip to Fort Myers to pitch against the Twins. That keeps him lined up for Opening Day.
• As for today’s game, after Warren left the game, the Yankees relievers had a tough time. Jose Ramirez gave up two runs, so did Chris Martin, and Danny Burawa allowed one run. Tyler Webb finished the day with a scoreless eighth, but it still wasn’t a great day for the pen. Worth noting, of course, that of those relievers, Martin’s the only one actually still in big league camp. He struck out three but also allowed a home run to Desmond Jennings.
• Here’s Girardi on choosing his final relievers: “I think you’re going to look at the last 10 days. They’ve all had their ups and downs. That’s the interesting part of it. We’re going to make a decision over the next 10 days and it’s probably going to be the guys that we feel are going to give us the best chance to help us, but maybe have pitched the best the last 10 days.”
• While Girardi said he thinks Andrew Bailey has pitched well this spring, he’s still not sure whether Bailey will have a real chance to break camp with the team. “The fact that he hasn’t went back-to-back — and I don’t know if he’ll go back-to-back in spring training — might make it difficult,” Girardi said. “It’s something that we have to talk about next week, where we feel he’s at and how ready he is. But he’s throwing the ball pretty good.”
• Another nice game for Slade Heathcott, who had a double, a walk and pushed his spring batting average to .320. “He’s played great,” Girardi said. “The biggest thing we’ve said about this kid is we’ve got to keep him healthy. There are a lot of tools there offensively, defensively, running the bases. It’s just, he hasn’t had a lot of at-bats, but there’s a lot of talent.”
• Two-hit day for Didi Gregorius. He had a double and pushed his spring batting average up to .308. He’s definitely been a standout this spring. … After his walkoff homer a couple of nights ago, Flores had a two-hit day. He and Refsnyder each doubled on their birthday. Ryan went 0-for-3 with a walk. … One reason Refsnyder seems not ready for the big leagues: he made his fifth error today. … Jake Cave had an RBI single but was also caught stealing in the ninth.
• Girardi said “it’s possible” he’ll be ready to name a fifth starter tomorrow. We basically know who it’s going to be, but it would be nice to have the Yankees waste no time making it official.
• Let’s give the final word to Warren: “I came into the spring and wanted to pitch well. Wherever I ended up, I wanted it to be because I pitched well and not because I didn’t pitch well. I feel like I’ve gone out there and proven myself. It all comes back to, I just want to get ready for the season. I was a little more comfortable this year just being around the guys, early on working on some things and then ramping it up these last two outings and really go out there and compete. It’s been a fun spring for me. ”
Associated Press photos
Spring Game 25: Yankees at Rays • 03.26.15
Didi Gregorius SS
Brendan Ryan 2B
Garrett Jones 1B
Chris Young CF
John Ryan Murphy C
Rob Refsnyder DH
Slade Heathcott LF
Ramon Flores RF
Cole Figueroa 3B
RHP Adam Warren (3-6, 2.97 in 2014)
David DeJesus DH
Brandon Guyer RF
Asdrubal Cabrera SS
Evan Longoria 3B
James Loney 1B
Desmond Jennings LF
Kevin Kiermaier CF
Logan Forsythe 2B
Curt Casali C
RHP Kevin Jepsen (0-2, 2.63 in 2014)
TIME/TV: 1:05 p.m., not on TV or radio
WEATHER: Bright and sunny day here in Port Charlotte. Par for the course.
UMPIRES: HP Doug Vines, 1B Bill Welke, 2B Sam Holbrook, 3B David Rackley
TODAY’S SECOND STRING: C Eddy Rodriguez, 1B Jonathan Galvez, 2B none, SS Nick Noonan, 3B none, LF Ben Gamel, CF Jake Cave, RF none
TODAY’S SCHEDULED RELIEVERS: Chris Martin, Danny Burawa, Jose Ramirez
SEAL THE DEAL: Adam Warren could lock up the fifth starter job this afternoon. The Yankees are expected to make their decision by the end of the week, and Brian Cashman has said Warren’s an overwhelming favorite.
FIRST TIME TOGETHER: Brendan Ryan is getting his first second base start of the spring, and he’ll also play alongside Didi Gregorius for the first time. Ryan will likely get some platoon playing time at second this season, so giving him some experience alongside Gregorius is at least a low-level priority.
UPDATE, 1:16 p.m.: After a scoreless top of the first, Warren is heading to the mound to start his day. He was supposed to be throwing to Austin Romine, but Girardi explained today that Romine is out sick. Murphy gets the call instead.
UPDATE, 1:24 p.m.: There’s a 1-2-3 first inning for Warren, which might seal the fifth starter competition completely.
UPDATE, 1:36 p.m.: Double by Slade Heathcott goes stranded — he drove in a run with the hit — but it continues the strong spring for Slade. He’s an interesting case this season. Looks healthy right now, and doesn’t seem to be favoring the knee. Has to reestablish himself, but wouldn’t be stunning to see him jump ahead of Ramon Flores, Mason Williams and Jake Cave with a big season.
UPDATE, 1:37 p.m.: Warren allows a solo home run to Longoria. It’s 1-1 in the bottom of the second.
UPDATE, 2:37 p.m.: Not Warren’s best outing — would certainly like to get more than 3.2 innings on 74 pitches — but not a bad start either. He allowed one run on four hits. He walked one and struck out five. He has a 2.70 ERA, and if he was in the lead for the fifth starter spot coming into this game, he surely did nothing today to lose that spot at the top of the pecking order.
Right before today’s game, general manager Brian Cashman discussed some of the decisions the Yankees have to make in the next week and a half:
Choosing a fifth starter
The Yankees came into camp with Chris Capuano as a rotation favorite, but his injury has opened the door to a true competition. While Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell and Scott Baker are a part of that conversation, the decision really seems to have come down to Esmil Rogers and Adam Warren. And right now, Warren is the front runner.
“I think there’s a predictable favorite,” Cashman said. “I guess that’s as far as I can go on that one. Right now, if we had to make a decision today, I think we all know what that decision would be. There’s a Secretariat right now in this race for me that’s got a number of lengths ahead of the field.”
Although he initially seemed hesitant to name a name, Cashman later acknowledged “it would obviously have to be Warren” who’s leading the race. That can change quickly, Cashman said, but it certainly seems that a solid start tomorrow would lock Warren into a rotation job.
Picking a backup catcher
John Ryan Murphy was behind the plate today. Austin Romine will be behind the plate tomorrow. Neither is having a particularly good spring, and the Yankees seem to be giving each one an equal opportunity.
“Don’t have a read yet,” Cashman said. “It’ll take more time.”
For now, the Yankees have sent Gary Sanchez to Double-A. If it stays that way, the Yankees will have a Triple-A spot open just in case. Murphy still has an option remaining. Romine does not.
“It’ll factor in,” Cashman said.
Rounding out the bullpen
The Yankees seem to have 10 pitchers set. They know their top four starters, they know four relievers, and they have two guys — Warren and Rogers — who will almost certainly have jobs in one role or another. That leaves two openings in the bullpen, and there are still plenty of options in camp: there are still 23 pitchers on the spring training roster.
Cashman made clear that this isn’t necessary a permanent decision. The Yankees are quite deep with hard-throwing right-handers, multiple lefties, and a handful of long-relief options.
“The clock is ticking,” Cashman said. “I don’t think it’s a lot of work, (but) I think we have to pick people, and whoever we pick at the end of this, it doesn’t mean that they’ll be guys throughout the process. We’ve had a number of guys that I think are quality and I think are Major League caliber, some of which have gone down with injuries. We’ll obviously finalize it here at some point, but that doesn’t mean we’re married to anybody as we move it through April, May and June.”
Naming a closer
With both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller appearing to be obvious candidates for the job, Joe Girardi has said he might not name a full-time closer this spring. The managers seems to believe he has more than one guy who can handle the ninth inning, and he’s willing to use them as the situation dictates.
Cashman seems fine with that approach. Basically, it doesn’t seem to be a problem, so there doesn’t seem to be a rush to solve it.
“I haven’t focused on it,” Cashman said. “I just want as many quality arms and choices for our manager as we can possibly have, and go from there. Again, we don’t have to name anything right now, or today, so I’ve got other issues I’m thinking about. It’s not one I’m thinking about right now or my manager’s thinking about right now. Backup catcher and the remaining spots in the pen.”
How to use Alex Rodriguez
Cashman said time and time again — from the early offseason to the start of spring training — that he had no idea what to expect from a 39-year-old coming back from a year-long suspension. Cashman expected A-Rod to be on the team, just didn’t know what exactly he’d be able to do.
Now the Yankees have actually seen Rodriguez perform, and while the results might not have been overwhelming, they’ve been encouraging. They’ve been enough for the Yankees to imagine having Rodriguez in their everyday lineup.
“I think he’s certainly taken a run at the full-time DH situation, for me,” Cashman said. “We’ll talk about all these things, but the way he’s looked so far down here, I would say he’s definitely pushing himself in the mix for full-time DH consideration. … I’m not looking at performance and statistics as much as just how he’s been swinging the bat. He’s got a lot of life in his body. If he continues to show athleticism, that means he’s going to impact the baseball. That will be good for us.”
Associated Press photo
Today it was a breaking ball hung up the zone, where Juan Lagares crushed it for a two-run home run. Last night it was a leadoff walk and a costly line-drive single. Throughout this spring, it’s constantly been on thing or another — four straight outings with at least one earned run — leading Dellin Betances to a 6.75 ERA with a 1.69 WHIP. Opponents are hitting .318 against him, and he has just four strikeouts in 5.1 innings.
Granted, it’s a tiny sample size, but Betances just hasn’t looked as sharp as he did last season.
“I’m obviously frustrated,” Betances said. “I mean, it’s been four outings where every time out, I’ve given up a run. Today I felt better, but you got to make a better pitch than that to Lagares. It’s frustrating, but I’m sure I got four more outings left and I’ll do whatever I can to be better for the season.”
A scout in attendance said he had Betances at 92-93 mph, and while he said he expected Betances to be “much higher,” he also had little problem imagining Betances getting back to the velocity we’re used to seeing. Joe Girardi insisted Betances is actually throwing at least as hard as he was at this time last spring (I can’t find any reports of exactly how hard Betances was throwing in the next-to-last week of camp a year ago).
“He’s actually throwing harder than he did (at this time) last year,” Girardi said. “It was the last week that it kind of jumped up. … It’s all part of the build-up process. Like I said, if it’s the last week, the last day, you might have a little bit more concern.”
Today’s outing was really all about one bad pitch, the one Lagares hit over the wall in left, but even Betances acknowledges he hasn’t been especially good this spring. Relievers are notoriously inconsistent from year to year, so a guy with a short track record like Betances is perhaps susceptible to extra scrutiny coming off one good year.
“I think he set a pretty high standard last year that’s not always so easy to live up to,” Girardi said. “My only concern is that he’s right at the end of spring training. That’s my concern.”
Last spring, Betances came into camp with very little expectation. This year, he’s basically expected to be an elite reliever and possibly a closer. His production will not be a bonus this season. The Yankees are banking on it.
“A lot of these guys know who I am now,” he said. “Last year, there was a lot of unknown, but right now I need to get those few more velos (added velocity) and maybe attack the zone better. But today, I thought it was good, I just made a mistake to Lagares.”
Said Girardi: “He’s a power pitcher, and we expect there’s going to be more. You’re going to see more at the end of spring training.”
• Before today’s game, Brian Cashman said he’d seen enough production out of Alex Rodriguez to think Rodriguez could be the team’s everyday designated hitter this season. Coming into camp there seemed to be a chance the Yankees might try to platoon him if he wasn’t capable of hitting, but Rodriguez went 1-for-3 to raise his average to .290. He’s been good. Not necessarily great, but he’s been good. “I think I’m getting better,” Rodriguez said. “I’m happy with my strike zone discipline, and for me the goal never changes. Just get a good pitch and put my A-swing. I thought I took some good swings today, fouled them off. But anytime I give myself a chance to do some damage and swing at strikes, that’s a good thing.”
• Cashman also said before today’s game that Adam Warren is the clear favorite for the fifth starter job. Girardi, though, wouldn’t make such a commitment. “I told you, when I make a decision, I talk to the players first,” Girardi said. “That’s how I do it. Before I say anything, I think it’s only fair to do it that way.” Warren is starting tomorrow.
• Jacoby Ellsbury is scheduled for tee and toss tomorrow. That’s usually the last step before getting into some light batting practice. The Yankees remain convinced Ellsbury will get back into the lineup before breaking camp. He’s been out more than a week with a strained oblique.
• Jose Pirela’s neck is still sore, and that’s his biggest problem at the mometn. “Until we get that soreness out, Stevie (Donohue) doesn’t really want to elevate his heart rate a lot to see if the (concussion) symptoms come back,” Girardi said. The Yankees are still optimistic that Pirela will get back in a game this spring.
• Weird to see Chase Whitley used for just an inning today. He was originally supposed to pitch in a minor league game, but the Yankees instead kept him here and gave him one inning. He allowed his first run of the season, but said he felt good on the mound, just made a mistake with a fastball. “We’ll get him stretched out again,” Girardi said. “Tanaka with his 60 pitches went pretty far. We thought he might get more innings, it just didn’t work out.”
• Whitley allowed a run. Betances was charged with a run in one-third of an inning. Andrew Miller gave up one run on two hits in a third of an inning. David Carpenter allowed a run in the ninth. “It wasn’t a very good day for our bullpen today overall,” Girardi said. “You have those days. If it was the last day of spring training, you might worry a little bit more about it, but you’re going to have those days. Obviously we know we have to get these guys right, and they’re very important to us.”
• The two exceptions: Justin Wilson got a double play against his only hitter, and Andrew Bailey pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts.
• Seven hits in the past six games for Didi Gregorius. He had a double today. … Chase Headley remains red hot with a two-hit day including a double. … Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Nick Noonan had the other Yankees hits. … The Mets won, 7-2.
Associated Press photos
Postgame notes: “Not great” • 03.24.15
Asked what he thought of tonight’s outing, Esmil Rogers gave a brief but accurate assessment.
“Not great,” he said.
Just hours after manager Joe Girardi acknowledged that this was a “pretty big start” for the fifth-starter candidate, Rogers had his worst outing of the spring. His first inning was sloppy with three hits, but Rogers limited the damage to one run. His second inning was the real mess with a couple of walks, one hard-hit double, four runs and an error on Rogers himself. His third inning was clean, but at that point, the damage was done: Three innings, five hits, five runs, one earned (unearned runs were because of his own mistake), two walks and two strikeouts.
If the Yankees really are going to address their rotation first and then see how the remaining pieces fall into the bullpen, then it’s hard to see Rogers as a rotation front runner right now. He was having a strong spring before his past two starts, but those past two starts have been pretty bad, and they happened to be the starts when Girardi said results would really matter.
“The stuff is better than the way he’s pitched these last two outings,” Girardi said.
Later, Girardi added this: “You have to look at how the guys are doing. You’re there to compete, they understand that, and you’ve got to be able to make pitches.”
Earlier this spring, Rogers talked about the advice he got from Mariano Rivera about attacking hitters and staying aggressive. Today, he said his problem was that he couldn’t do that. He couldn’t attack because he couldn’t locate.
“I missed the glove today,” he said. “My ball was running a little bit from the lefties, and that’s why I tried to throw fastballs away, the ball cut into the middle. … All I can do is go work. Tomorrow, come in with my head up and keep working. That decision, they’re going to make it. I don’t have to.”
Adam Warren’s next start is Thursday. We could have a fifth-start declared by Friday.
“It’s something that we have to talk about, and I’m sure over the next week or so we’ll talk a lot about what we’re going to do here,” Girardi said. “I think you have to make a decision by the end of the week so the guy that’s not a starter can get to the pen and get some reps.”
• The Yankees won this game 9-8 on a three-run, walk-off homer by Ramon Flores. “He’s a guy that’s definitely on our radar,” Girardi said. “If something was to happen to one of our outfielders, I think he’d be a pretty strong candidate.”
• The YES radar gun had Dellin Betances at 93-94 mph tonight. His spring numbers aren’t great, and right now his velocity is a little down from last season. “I’ve got to just trust whatever I have right now,” Betances said. “I know that the velocity will come. Same thing last year in spring training; last year I just trusted it and this year I’m trying to do a little extra with whatever I have instead of just trusting it.”
• Girardi said a lot of the same stuff about Betances, mostly that Betances wasn’t reaching the upper 90s last spring either. “There’s not concern for me now,” Girardi said. “If it was to go on for a long time, we would be concerned. He wasn’t throwing 97, 98 in spring training last year at this time. He wasn’t. And power pitchers usually take a little bit longer to get going.”
• It’s worth noting that relievers are held back a little bit early in spring training, and Betances has always said — ever since he successfully transitioned out of the rotation — that it’s the constant work out of the bullpen that’s helped him thrive in that role. Because of that, he’s excited to get back out there tomorrow for his first back-to-back appearance. “I’ve just got to pitch more,” he said. “The more I pitch, the better I’ll feel. That’s always been my thing. Ever since I moved to the bullpen, the more I get to pitch, the better I feel with all my pitches.”
• Other Yankees relievers looked much better. Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson pitched a scoreless inning apiece, each with a strikeout. Nick Rumbelow — who’s put up impressive numbers this spring — also looked sharp before a bad play on what should have been the final out of his inning (ruled a hit, but it was a pretty routine grounder to third). That opened the door and Rumbelow wound up allowing two runs, one earned. Back up from minor league camp, James Pazos had three strikeouts in an inning.
• After his two-homer game yesterday, Chris Young delivered the leadoff double that kick-started a three-run Yankees seventh tonight. The double came off a lefty, which is exactly the kind of thing the Yankees are hoping to get from Young this season.
• Later in the inning, Didi Gregorius doubled off the same lefty. Gregorius has actually been getting quite a few hits off lefties lately. The Yankees would like him to be more than a platoon shortstop. Ideally, he’ll prove capable of playing every day.
• Brett Gardner had no steals this spring. Tonight he had two. He leads the Yankees in both strikeouts and walks.
• Kyle Higashioka just missed a grand slam in the seventh inning. He hit it plenty far enough, just hooked it four. Would have been his first hit of the spring. Instead he walked in a run.
• Nathan Eovaldi on today’s minor league game: “A lot of the time I speed up even more (in a tough spot), as opposed to taking a step off the mound and then regrouping. The first inning, it took me about 10, 11 pitches to finally step back and walk it back in. In the third inning, I got into some more trouble and was able to stand back and regroup right away, and get out of it. That’s a good thing.”
• While Girardi said he wouldn’t comment on the Opening Day starter, he did acknowledge that there’s really no chance CC Sabathia would pitch on short rest for either his last spring start or his first regular-season start. “I wouldn’t think I would do that, no,” Girardi said. That effectively means Sabathia is officially of the running for the opener. Also, Giradri said Sabathia’s start on Saturday might be in a minor league game instead of in that day’s big league game against the Orioles.
• No final word today, instead I’ll just direct you to the Yankees OnDemand remake of an iconic Sandlot scene using various Yankees players. It’s pretty incredible. Betances cracks me up, and Brian McCann plays the role perfectly. One of the highlights of spring, for sure.
Associated Press photos
If these past two days were the first round of the fifth-starter competition, then it’s Adam Warren with an early lead.
Warren allowed one run through five strong innings today. He struck out three, induced two double plays, and allowed his only damage on a solo home run by Yoenis Cespedes. Joe Girardi has said results matter now, and last night Esmil Rogers — who seems to be Warren’s primary rotation competition — scuffled through three runs in 3.1 innings.
“(Warren) had everything today,” Girardi said. “He was effective with all his pitches. He was ahead in the count. He was really good. … You’re going to talk about (who’s ahead in the competition), but let’s let them have the whole body of work because things can change quickly in a week or 10 days. Adam threw the ball exceptionally well today, and that’s what competition does. You’re going to have a lot of discussion about it, but you wait until the end.”
Rogers hadn’t allowed a run all spring until last night’s game. His overall numbers are still plenty impressive with a 2.89 ERA and nine strikeouts with one walk through 9.1 innings. Warren has a 2.77 ERA, six strikeouts and no walks through 13 innings. The overall numbers are pretty even, but Girardi has said it’s the most recent results that carry the most weight. That’s why Warren seems to have the lead, but there’s still plenty of time between now and Opening Day.
“I feel like that was the best I’ve felt this spring,” Warren said. “I feel like I’m getting close. Just spotting the fastball, getting ahead in the count for the most part with all my pitches. I feel like I’m getting there and a lot more consistent with everything in my delivery. I was pleased. I just want to take the next step next outing and keep building on that.”
Warren’s strikeouts came on a high fastball and a pair of sliders. He said he felt a little more consistent with his brekaing balls, which Rogers said was his biggest problem last night.
There’s time for two, maybe three more starts apiece before Opening Day. No decision will come based on this first round of true competition, but based on this window, it’s Warren who’s looked the best. Could be completely different five days from now.
“We’ll meet (as a coaching staff) a couple of times a week probably and just talk about different things,” Girardi said. “But that’s one thing that always comes up.”
• In case you missed it, the Yankees optioned OF Tyler Austin, RHP Danny Burawa and LHP Jose De Paula to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They optioned OF Mason Williams to Double-A Trenton and reassigned RHP Wilking Rodriguez to minor league camp. Reliever Nick Rumbelow’s locker seemed cleared out this morning, but apparently he’s still officially in camp.
• Brendan Ryan played shortstop and went 1-for-3 today in his first game of the spring. “Great, awesome,” he said when asked if he felt alright afterward. Ryan doubled in his first at-bat.
• Turns out, Ryan’s biggest problem came during batting practice. Girardi said a pair of line drives nearly drilled Ryan while he was playing catch. Something similar happened to Ryan last year, except I believe he was actually hit. That’s the kind of thing that seems to always find Ryan, who has a quirky personality and just seems like the guy who would get smoked by a batting practice line drive. “That’s Brendan,” Girardi said. “Just leave it at that.”
• The Yankees had 11 hits today, all from different players. Alex Rodriguez and Rob Refsnyder homered, Brett Gardner, Jonathan Galvez and Slade Heathcott each tripled, and both Ryan and Jose Pirela doubled. Francisco Arcia, Garrett Jones, Austin Romine and Brian McCann each singled.
• By the way, Rodriguez said he’s still open to playing some first base this spring. “Whatever Joe needs,” he said. “I’ll play the outfield if he wants me to play the outfield. Whatever Joe wants.”
• Former Yankees reliever (and sometimes starter) Joba Chamberlain pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts today. He struck out Chris Young and Refsnyder, got Pirela to ground out.
• Hard to consider him anything more than a long shot for the open rotation spot, but Chase Whitley continues to get results in spring training, which could certainly open the door for a long-relief role out of camp. Today Whitley pitched three scoreless innings with no walks, no strikeouts and three singles. “I didn’t think he had good command of his changeup,” Girardi said. “But he managed to get through it, which is important because sometimes you’ve got to find it. Sometimes it takes a little while to find it, but I thought he did a good job with it.”
• By the way, Whitley’s pitching line for the spring: 10 innings, 7 hits, 0 runs, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts.
• Chris Martin was the only other Yankees pitcher to get into today’s game. He allowed a run on two singles in the sixth inning.
• Final word goes to Warren, on what it’s like to be in a competition with a teammate: “I try not to (focus on what Rogers is doing). It’s kind of human nature to do that a little bit, but for me I’ve always focused on what I can control. He’s going to be my teammate. It’s not like I’m going to root against anybody. I’m just really focused on what I can do and how I can get better. Ultimately, I’m still trying to get ready for the season. That’s my ultimate goal.”
Associated Press photos