Adam Warren: The Yankees’ new Ramiro Mendoza • 09.15.15
Young baseball players often talk about opportunities as if they’re comets streaking across the night sky. Miss one, and you might never see another. Take advantage of one, though, and a rookie mopup man could become a trusted setup reliever who becomes a go-to starting pitcher down the stretch.
That’s the path of Adam Warren, a perhaps underappreciated yet indispensable piece of the Yankees’ puzzle, who’s about to take on bigger role these final three weeks.
“I think every staff needs a guy like that,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I think Adam’s had a tremendous year, and he gives us so much value, and we’re going to need it moving forward.”
Tonight, the Yankees will move Warren back into the rotation. He was thriving in that role earlier this season – 3.19 ERA in 11 starts from April 27 to June 25 – but the Yankees were worried about his workload and moved him back to the bullpen in late June. He’s already thrown 36.1 innings more than in either of the past two seasons.
Warren, though, has been a master shape-shifter. His big league debut was a forgettable spot start in 2012, but his first real opportunity came when he made the Opening Day roster as a long reliever and mopup man in 2013. He was essentially the last man in the bullpen, but he thrived and hasn’t pitched in the minors since.
The Yankees bumped him up to late-inning reliever in 2014, and they moved him into the rotation this year because of injuries.
“I feel like once you show you can pitch at this level, you start getting more responsibility,” Warren said. “I just tried to stay confident through it all.”
Unlike many converted starters, Warren kept using all four of his pitches even while working out of the bullpen. That meant his style never changed as he shuttled between roles. His lack of a standout pitch – no 100-mph fastball or true wipeout slider – might have kept Warren from becoming a household name as a prospect, but it’s also what’s kept him thriving in the big leagues. He’s never leaned on one weapon; never been trapped by one role.
“I think I’ve been more of a pitch-ability guy; a guy who knows how to pitch,” Warren said. “It doesn’t pop out at you, I guess. … I’m not trying to downplay my stuff by any means, but I just feel like my arsenal as a whole is what makes me a good pitcher instead of one pitch. I think part of it is realizing that and not trying to make yourself someone that you’re not.”
In the past five years, the Yankees have cycled through plenty of other pitching prospects who got their start more or less the same way Warren did: as back-end long relievers and occasional spot starters with no real guarantee of sticking around. Hector Noesi, Lance Pendleton, David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell, Vidal Nuno, Brett Marshall and Shane Greene are no longer in the organization. Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell are still around but their staying power is undetermined.
Warren has pitched his way firmly into Girardi’s circle of trust, and to come up with a pitcher comparable, Girardi thought all the way back to the Yankees’ dynasty teams of the late 90s.
“I think those guys are invaluable to a staff,” Girardi said. “They can start. They can be a bridge to your seventh, eighth, ninth (inning) guys. They can be a seventh-inning guy, an eighth-inning guy, a ninth. Those guys are invaluable. The guy that comes to mind, for me, is Ramiro Mendoza. He was able to do that.”
It’s a big comparison because Mendoza is often cited as a key piece of multiple championship teams, but Warren’s ERA, WHIP and strikeout rate are all better than Mendoza’s were during his time in pinstripes.
Now that the Yankees are chasing their first playoff appearance in three years, they’re turning to Warren to be a key piece of the stretch run. He’s handled every other role.
“I feel like I’ve gotten some opportunities the past couple of years,” Warren said. “And I’ve kind of run with it. I think that’s kind of just because I’ve tried to simply things and just focus on pitching instead of putting pressure on myself. … I have the confidence that I know I can help this team.”
Associated Press photos
This was my plan: Write a blog post about the fact that questions loom over basically every piece of the Yankees’ pitching staff.
After including five pitchers in my previous MVP post, there was really no sense in writing a first-half Cy Young post, so I thought looking at the looming uncertainty would be a good way to address the pitching staff. I came up with four categories and then found a way for most of the key pitchers to fit in one group or another.
But Michael Pineda, who I just picked as the most valuable pitcher on the staff, seemed to fit in every category.
• Health concerns? Obviously. He looks good and strong this season, but anyone who’s gone through three seasons of shoulder issues is going to carry some lingering health questions for a while. Those don’t go away with a healthy half season.
• The potential to be even better? Absolutely. Pineda’s been very good this season, but his 3.64 ERA is basically a full run higher than his 2.63 FIP. If he can string together his occasionally elite starts, he could be a real difference maker in the second half.
• Durability and sustainability concerns? Yep. Pineda could get better in the second half, or you could wither under the weight of his largest single-season workload. Pineda’s on pace to throw more innings than he’s ever thrown in a year, and he’s already thrown more innings than in any of his past three seasons.
• The potential to take on a larger role? Sure. Right now, it’s hard to say who truly leads this rotation. Is Pineda the ace or is Masahiro Tanaka the ace? Which one should get the ball in Game 1 of a playoff series? Pineda has a chance in the second half to take hold of that title and make himself the unquestioned No. 1 starter.
As for the rest of the staff, I’ll put the other key guys into these categories:
Obviously health is a concern for any pitcher, but that concern is especially magnified with Tanaka. We already know his elbow ligament was damaged last season, and he’s already missed a month this year because of a forearm strain and some soreness in his wrist. He’s pitched well, but his health is going to be a concern for a while. I’ll also put Miller in this category only because he’s already had one arm issue this season, and I think there’s always some concern that one arm issue could be a part of something more significant. There’s no real evidence that’s the case with Miller, I just think health is always a concern with someone who’s already coming back from an injury.
Two-fifths of the rotation fall into this category of needing to improve in the second half. Sabathia is the poster child for this issue. He’s been excellent against lefties, and has done a better job providing innings than most of his teammates, but Sabathia’s been awful against right-handed hitters — shockingly bad, actually — and his tendency to let outings get away has been well documented. As for Eovaldi, he gives up a ton of hits, but a lot of that has been relatively soft contact — opponents actually have a higher slugging percentage against Pineda — and he’s done a decent job of limiting damage. Needs to pitch deeper into games, though, and if he could put away a few more batters, that’d be nice, too.
Hard to have many complaints about what these four have done this season. Now the trick is to keep it going through the second half of the season. At this point, Betances is building a track record of this kind of success, but he’s still set the bar awfully high. Nova’s been good since returning from Tommy John, but coming back from surgery could leave him prone to inconsistency (and he was pretty inconsistent even before the injury). Warren has already pitched more innings than in either of the past two seasons, and Wilson’s trying to avoid a regression back to last year’s numbers. There’s little saying these guys can’t keep this pace, but the Yankees need them to actually do it.
Shreve might have already answered this question by stepping into the seventh inning role while Miller was hurt. He broke camp as basically the last guy in the bullpen, but now he’s pitched so well that the Yankees are clearly going to trust him with big outs from time to time. Mitchell really hasn’t had much opportunity to prove himself one way or another, but his arm is good enough to be curious about what he might do. For Capuano, the question is whether he can prove he’s good enough to keep around while Mitchell, Shreve and Warren are capable of multiple innings. I’ve also included two prospects who haven’t been called up yet, because their potential emergence — Severino especially — could make a difference down the stretch. To some extent, you could put guys like Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder and (if he gets healthy again) Jacob Lindgren into this group as well.
Associated Press photo
Carlos Beltran felt some tightness in his ribcage last night. He played through it then, and played through it again tonight until feeling “a little pinch” when he fouled off a pitch in the fifth inning. Now Beltran’s status is up in the air.
“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and we’ll make a decision on what we’re going to do,” Joe Girardi said. “He says it probably wouldn’t bother him swinging left-handed; we’ll just have to see how he feels tomorrow.”
The Yankees do face a right-handed pitcher tomorrow, so that might help Beltran stay in the lineup. Girardi said it’s doubtful the Yankees could get a replacement here before the game anyway, so either Beltran can play or the Yankees will play with a two-man bench. Beltran said he’s hopeful it’s not a disabled list situation.
“I hope not, no,” he said. “The way I feel right now, I don’t think so. But tomorrow will be the day where, once I go to the cage, once I test it out, then I will know where I am.”
Beltran said he first felt some tightness yesterday. Nothing particularly unusual, he said, so he played through it. He woke up feeling alright the morning, but the tightness returned when he started hitting the cage. Again, nothing he hadn’t played through before, so he stayed in the lineup. He was still playable until that foul ball. Even then, he stayed in to finish the at-bat before Girardi pulled him.
“If I worry about how tight I feel, then you don’t play,” Beltran said. “As a ballplayer, every day you feel something. I decided to play through it, and I was fine.”
Beltran said he was examined by the Angels’ doctor, who only said that it’s a ribcage/oblique issue. Beltran’s not expecting any tests.
“Any time a player leaves a game, you’re concerned,” Girardi said. “We’ll just have to see how he feels tomorrow.”
• Wouldn’t know it these past three games, but the Yankees actually have a pretty productive lineup. They’ve scored the second-most runs in the Majors, and they have the game’s highest team OPS for the month of June. They’ve actually hit pretty well, but they’ve now gone three straight games with only one run. “We just didn’t do much offensively tonight,” Girardi said. “It’s hard to figure out.”
• Last night the Yankees really did seem to hit into some bad luck — hit a lot of balls hard with nothing to show for it — and there might have been some of that tonight, but even Girardi wasn’t ready to completely use that as an excuse. “We’ve had some unlucky things happen to us here,” Girardi said. “The balls Chris (Young) hit yesterday, they’ve made some good plays. We need to score some runs, that’s the bottom line. Whether tough things happen to you or not, you need to score runs to win.”
• Only two hits for the Yankees. The solo homer by Mark Teixeira and yet another hit for Brett Gardner, who has a .486 batting average during an eight-game hitting streak. “Basically the only guy getting on base is just Gardner,” Beltran said. “And we haven’t been able to rally off of him. It’s tough, but at the end of the day, we have to continue to fight.”
• Teixeira is tied for third in the American League with 19 home runs. This was his first homer in 42 at-bats, snapping his longest homerless streak of the season. He entered the game averaging one home run every 13.7 at-bats. He leads the American League with 54 RBI.
• One run through seven innings for rookie Angels starter Andrew Heaney (Yankees kind of oddly had a bunch of lefties in the lineup against him). “He threw a good ballgame against Houston and he threw a good game against us,” Girardi said. “He’s got some angle to him where it looks like he’s going to be able to get in on right-handers and be somewhat difficult on left-handers with the sweeping breaking ball. Only time will tell as you go around the league a couple times and people see, but the young man has a good arm and is off to a good start.”
• Another strong start by Ivan Nova who pitched into the sixth inning and allowed his only runs on back-to-back homers by Albert Pujols and Erick Aybar. “Physically, I feel good,” Nova said. “Even that I gave up two runs, for me it doesn’t feel like a good outing because I want to win the game for the team. Like I said, it’s good that I’m feeling good.”
• Nova questioned his decision to challenge Pujols. “I think first pitch fastball right in the middle to Pujols was a little bit up,” Nova said. “I shouldn’t throw that pitch.”
• Adam Warren came out of the bullpen for the first time this season and pitched 2.2 scoreless innings to give the Yankees a chance. “Once I kind of got settled in, I just felt like last year, back where I was last year,” he said. “I felt like I got more comfortable as I went.”
• Getting loose quickly was something Warren hadn’t done in a while. He said he focuses on getting his fastball locked in, and once he has that, he feels good to go. Took him a few pitches to do that in the bullpen, but he was loose and ready by the time he was called into the game. “The first couple of throws down in the bullpen, trying to get hot quick was a little tough,” he said. “But once that adrenaline kicked in it was easy.”
• Let’s give the final word to Alex Rodriguez. “I think (the key) is just maintain our aggressiveness,” he said. “For the most part, over the last two weeks, we’ve swung the bats well, and I’m confident we can continue to do that. What I’m most encouraged about is tonight we saw a preview of what that bullpen is going to be like for us the rest of the year with Nova (in the rotation) and Warren (in the pen), and those guys on the backside — I’m really optimistic about the rest of the year.”
Associated Press photos
Four months ago, even Adam Warren didn’t know what to do with Adam Warren.
“I wasn’t really sure what my identity was,” he said. “Am I a starter? Am I a bullpen guy? I struggled with that a little bit in spring training, and once I figured out my routine as a starter, (after) my first couple starts of the season, I started getting back into the rhythm. I really started to figure out, ‘Yeah, I want to be a starter. I want to do this, get that confidence and kind of roll with it.’”
He was on a roll, alright. Nine straight starts with no more than three earned runs. Lowest ERA on the team. He’d become perhaps the most dependable starter in the Yankees rotation, yet last night he found himself sitting the bullpen trying to visualize the old routine. He went down there after Joe Girardi told him the news. Warren sat in the pen and tried to remember when he should start getting ready and how he could lock into a game when he’s not pitching? He tried to figure out what it takes to thrive as a relief pitcher, when he’d finally proven himself as a big league starter.
“I was a little frustrated at first,” he said. “Because I want to be a starter. But I understood. They sat down and talked to me about it, explained it. I understood where they were coming from. I told them I’m not going to be unhappy in the bullpen; I enjoyed being out of the bullpen the last couple years. I’m not upset by any means at that. For me at this point, it’s just getting back into the routine in the bullpen and we’ll go from there.”
There were no surprises in Joe Girardi’s explanation. We’ve all seen this move coming for weeks — even Warren said he knew it was inevitable — so there was nothing Girardi could say in explaining it that would come as a shock.
The Yankees are worried about Warren’s innings. They believe he can be the right-handed reliever they’ve lacked since Opening Day. They know Warren can slide back into the rotation should someone get hurt. They need CC Sabathia to find consistency, and they’ve seen enough positive signs to keep him in the rotation.
“I know everyone a lot of times only wants to think about today and tomorrow and next week and two weeks and a month (from now),” Girardi said. “But we want Adam for a long time, and (his workload) is a concern. … He’s done a great job in the rotation, right? I’ve said that. But I’ve also said he could help us maybe four times a week, and then maybe you strengthen your bullpen.”
Warren’s past bullpen success was an obvious factor in this decision — and there was clearly some process of elimination involved — but Girardi said Warren’s workload was the biggest issue involved. At 82.2 innings, Warren’s already pitched more this season than in either of the past two seasons. Girardi thinks that, if Warren spends the rest of the year in the bullpen, he could get close to 130 innings, which would be about 20 away from Warren’s career-high in the minors.
Clearly Warren wants to stay in the rotation, but he said he the numbers make sense.
“Definitely having a good reason helps,” he said. “It’s still a little frustrating; I feel like I’ve gotten into a little bit of a groove. I understand where they’re coming from and that they mean well by it. … My arm has felt great, but it’s only half the season. I was talking to somebody about this last night; the inning issue is tough, because you usually don’t know how much is too much until it’s too late and you get hurt. I am glad that they’re looking after my health and trying to take care of me. That means a lot to me. But how do know how many innings you can throw? It’s hard to say.”
• Here’s how Girardi explained the Jacoby Ellsbury issue: “He’s got just some general fatigue. I guess the running we’ve done the last couple of days has kind of worn him out, and it’s not only in the one leg, it’s in both legs. So, we’ll give him a day off today, and hopefully he’s back in there tomorrow. … We’ve worked him pretty hard because he had to pass a number of tests to get through to where we felt that he was ready to play, so I guess it kind of caught up to him.”
• With Ellsbury unable to play tonight, could he still be back on Friday? “That’s my hope,” Girardi said. “I’ve said all along though, we have to wait and see how he feels. What I hope for and sometimes what really happens are two different things. You’ve got to see how he’s playing and how he’s moving and how his body is responding.”
• Andrew Miller played catch with Larry Rothschild this afternoon. He’s scheduled to pitch off a mound tomorrow. It will be his first time off a mound since the forearm injury, but Girardi said he’s not sure what Miller might do next if tomorrow goes well. “I think you have to see how he feels after he throws tomorrow,” Girardi said.
• This will be Ivan Nova’s second start back from Tommy John surgery. What stood out last time? “Probably his command of all his pitches,” Girardi said. “The quick innings that he had. The groundballs that he got. His curveball, the first one he threw, he overthrew it, and then he kind of found it right away. That’s what really stuck out to me.”
• Warren said he will be available tonight.
• What’s Warren’s role? “I think he can pitch anywhere I ask him to,” Girardi said. “Sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth if I needed him to pitch in the ninth. I wouldn’t hesitate to put him anywhere.”
• Here’s Warren on where he sees himself fitting in the bullpen mix: “Hopefully maybe take some of the workload off those guys. Those guys have worked pretty hard here lately and they a ton of games already, and it’s only halfway. If I can take some of the workload off of them, that’s kind of the goal. Give them another right hander to help out.”
Associated Press photos
It was well past midnight on the east coast when the inevitable news began to break.
First a tweet from Mark Feinsand, who’d gotten the word first-hand from Adam Warren. Then an email from the Yankees officially announcing that Nathan Eovaldi will start Wednesday’s series finale in Los Angeles.
With that, Warren was moving into the bullpen, literally minutes after CC Sabathia further established himself as the least reliable starter in the Yankees’ rotation.
“It’s tough,” Sabathia said, once again let down by his own performance. “But it’s part of being an athlete: figuring things out, going out there and battling, and trying to do better.”
Before last night’s game, Joe Girardi said the Yankees were planning to stay on rotation with Warren starting Wednesday’s game, but that never really made much sense. There are two off days coming up, which means extra rest even without the sixth starter, and there’s little reason to remain short-handed in either the bullpen or the bench for another turn through the rotation. Plus, Eovaldi is the one guy who pitched nearly 200 innings last season, so if anyone is going to pitch on regular rest right now, he’s probably the best candidate.
Warren’s been terrific lately. He currently has a 3.59 ERA, which is the lowest of any Yankees’ starter. Sabathia’s consistently delivered starts like last night’s. He currently has a 5.59 ERA — exactly two runs worse than Warren — which is the fifth-worst among qualified pitchers in baseball.
If it’s so absurd on the surface, why did everyone paying attention see this coming for several weeks? Five reasons:
1. Warren’s already thrown more innings than in either of his past two seasons. The Yankees put a lot of emphasis on workload concerns, and Warren’s workload has become an issue. Remember, he was supposed to be a fill-in starter out of spring training. There was a time this year when it seemed he wouldn’t last even this long.
2. The Yankees have been looking for right-handed bullpen help for about two months now, and Warren was very good in exactly that role last season. He’s as reliable as any option to fill that hole, and he should be able to help in that capacity. Is that more valuable than having him as a starter? Maybe not.
3. Sabathia is Sabathia. Can’t ignore that fact. Whether that’s a good reason is certainly a worthwhile debate, but it factors into the general belief that Sabathia was going nowhere. This guy was the team’s ace for five years, and he’s signed through next season with a vesting option for 2017. The Yankees are, of course, going to try to get him straightened out.
4. Fifteen years in the big leagues, and Sabathia’s never made an appearance out of the bullpen. Not one. His splits this season suggest he might be a useful lefty specialist, but who knows how he’d handle such an unfamiliar role? Is that reason not to try it? Again, that’s up for debate. But if the team’s looking for a reliever, Sabathia’s not necessarily a dependable option.
5. Girardi’s always had a tendency to stick with his veterans. So far, it’s worked with Carlos Beltran this season. It didn’t work with Brian Roberts last year. I suppose it’s worth noting that this isn’t a Girardi-only approach. The San Francisco Giants kept using Barry Zito as a starter even when his career was running off the rails. In seven regular seasons with the Giants, Zito made 197 starts. He pitched out of the bullpen just 11 times.
So, yes, we knew this day was coming, but that doesn’t make the reality any less jarring. There were reasons to do it, but at the end of the day, the Yankees just took arguably their best starter out of the rotation, and stuck with the guy who keeps walking a fine line between barely getting by and consistently falling apart.
Associated Press photos
This was all pretty predictable. Another start when CC Sabathia wasn’t particularly good. Another postgame clubhouse when both Sabathia and Joe Girardi talked about seeing some positives in the outing. And finally the inevitable news that Adam Warren — and not Sabathia — will move into the Yankees’ bullpen.
“I thought (Sabathia) threw the ball pretty well tonight,” Girardi said. “I know it comes up as four runs in 7.1 innings, but I thought he threw the ball better tonight than he has recently.”
Although Girardi said pregame that the Yankees would stay on rotation, leaving Warren in line to start Wednesday’s series finale, Warren told The Daily News that he’s being moved into the bullpen. The move gives the Yankees what should be the right-handed reliever they’ve been looking for. It also takes care of some workload concerns for Warren, who’s already thrown more innings than in either of the past two seasons.
“Of course (the numbers are frustrating),” Sabathia said. “Not the ERA, but the fact that we’re not winning the games that I start. I just want to keep us in the game and try to get us some wins.”
We’ve certainly seen worse outings than this from Yankees’ pitchers this season, but with Sabathia, this four-run start continued a trend of games in which he’s been prone to costly mistakes at bad moments. Often it’s one big inning getting away from him. Tonight it was a few crucial pitches on a pair of home runs and on three two-out RBIs.
“I made some good pitches; I made some bad pitches,” Sabathia said. “It’s just part of it. But I’m battling and I feel like I’m getting better. … Just mixing fastballs in, two-seamer was pretty good tonight. Just got caught there with a couple cutters, and gave up two homers.”
Those were home runs No. 18 and 19 against Sabathia this season. He’s on pace to blow past his career-high for home runs allowed in a season.
“When he makes a mistake, they’re squaring it up,” Girardi said. “We’ve talked about how his command is really important for him. When he makes a mistake — it looked like he missed on the second home run, he was trying to go in and it was up and away — when you miss, you’re going to get hit.”
Sabathia’s been hit plenty this season, but he’ll start again when his turn comes around next week. Warren will be available in relief.
• Watching this game with no connection to either team, I assume Mike Trout would have been the star of the show. Solo home run plus three running catches to take away extra-base hits. He twice robbed Chris Young, who smoked the ball twice and still came away with an 0-for-4. “You execute, do what you’re trying to do at the plate, but it’s a crazy game we play,” Young said. “Things like that happen. … Both of them (looked like hits), then you remember Trout is out there. He’s been known to make quite a few WebGems, and he made some good plays tonight. So you tip your cap to him.”
• Instead of literally tipping his cap, Young kind of waved his hand in a mock dismissive manner after the second Trout catch. “Just having a little fun,” Young said. “From a fellow outfielder, you can understand that’s what he’s supposed to do out there. He’s a great player, so just having a little fun.”
• The home run was Trout’s 20th of the season. He is now one of six American League players to ever have four 20-plus homer seasons before their age-24 season. The others: Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Tony Conigliaro, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. “He was really the difference in the game,” Girardi said. “You can talk about, he’s responsible for about four or five runs in this game, taking three away from us, maybe four, and providing one himself. He was the real difference in the game.”
• This is also Trout’s second season with at least 20 homers before the All-Star break. The only other players to pull that off are Albert Pujols, Jose Canseco and Eddie Matthews.
• The last Trout catch robbed Chase Headley of possible extra bases. Headley seems to be hitting into a lot of that stuff lately. “Chase Headley I think has it worse than anybody this month,” Young said. “He’s been swinging the bat probably better than I’ve ever seen him swing the bat, and the numbers don’t always line up with what we consider success at the plate. It’s just a crazy game.”
• The Yankees got their one run on an Alex Rodriguez RBI single, but they ultimately went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Trout caused a lot of that, but still, one hit with 10 RISP opportunities is a problem. “(Trout)’s a difference maker out there it seems like every night,” Brett Gardner said. “He made some great plays out there obviously, swings the bat really well, but at the end of the day we just didn’t get enough runs.”
• Gardner actually went 3-for-5 with two doubles to continue his incredible hot streak — he’s hitting .511 in his past 10 games — but he was also a part of the RISP failure, flying to left in a key at-bat in the seventh. “He’s played extremely well,” Girardi said. “That’s why we locked him up, because we knew he was a really good player. He’s living up to everything.”
• Could be that Gardner’s make a case for the All-Star Game. He’s now tied with Yoenis Cespedes for first among A.L. outfielders with 25 multi-hit games.
• Sabathia only walked one guy and struck out five. Of his 95 pitches, 61 went for strikes, and he’s tied for third in the Majors with five road starts of at least seven innings pitched. He got deep into this game, but he left the Yankees in a hole.
• Angels starter C.J. Wilson cut his ERA to 3.78. “I think the defense behind him was outstanding,” Girardi said. “Maybe in our ballpark some of those balls are home runs. Headley might have two, Chris Young might have two. That’s probably the difference.”
• Final word goes to Young: “(Wilson) pitched well. He pitched well and the Angels played amazing defense. I think when you mix those things together, it makes for a good game. That’s not to say we didn’t swing the bats well. It think we swung the bats well, executed what we were trying to do, but pitching and defense wins games, and their defense did a great job tonight.”
Associated Press photos
As the Yankees head on the road to finish off this stretch of 20 games in a row — there are still seven games left, four in Houston and three in Los Angeles — their roster is in state of constant upheaval. Trying to make up for injuries, disappointing performances and one newborn baby, the team has cycled through a series of relief pitchers and a handful of bench players. The roster has seemed to change daily, and there’s most certainly going to be another change at some point today.
After yesterday’s game, the Yankees sent relievers Branden Pinder and Diego Moreno back to Triple-A. We already know one of those open roster spots will go to Stephen Drew, who’s coming back from the paternity list, but the other could be used for either a pitcher or a position player.
Here’s. look at some of the roster issues heading into this surprisingly important series against the much-better-than-expected Astros:
For the time being, the Yankees have just three bench players
Because of the unexpected Brendan Ryan injury, coupled with the Drew paternity leave, the Yankees actually played yesterday’s game with only two bench players. Safe to assume that will be remedied to some extent with Drew’s return this afternoon. Drew could have stayed on the paternity list until Friday, but he was back in the clubhouse yesterday and is expected to be in Houston tonight. With Drew, the Yankees will basically have a bench of Jose Pirela (the backup infielder), John Ryan Murphy (the backup catcher), and Garrett Jones (the backup outfielder/first baseman and possible left-field platoon with Chris Young). But there’s still an open roster spot, and it’s unclear whether the Yankees prefer to fill it with a position player or a pitcher. Normally, it would be a position player without a doubt, but the Yankees are in a bit of an unusual position following the return of Ivan Nova.
The Yankees are currently carrying six starters
Because they want to give all of their starters an extra day off, the Yankees are technically carrying a six-man rotation. Nova came off the disabled list yesterday, and the other five starters will pitch on five days of rest their next turn through the rotation. Extra rest makes obvious sense for a group of starters loaded with health and workload concerns, but it requires a sacrifice somewhere. To make a six-man rotation work, the Yankees will have to carry either a short bench or a short bullpen. Given the way they’ve handled the bullpen up to this point, it’s hard to imagine they’ll go with just six relievers. Then again, Girardi earlier in the week shot down the idea that he was definitely planning to carry a short bench, so maybe they feel covered in the bullpen with Chris Capuano and Bryan Mitchell able to go long. Whichever way they go — short bullpen or short bench — it should last only a few days until they’re ready to move someone — probably Adam Warren — out of the rotation and into the bullpen.
Even if they wanted a full bench, who would they call up?
Because the Yankees didn’t take advantage of the Ryan injury to let them immediately recall Ramon Flores, there’s really not an obvious option to fill a fourth bench spot right now. Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams are still hurt, and there’s really little point in carrying both Gregorio Petit and Pirela. The only other available position players currently on the full 40-man roster are Gary Sanchez (a Double-A catcher) and Tyler Austin (a right-handed outfielder who wouldn’t really have much of a role). Since it seems unlikely the Yankees are ready to give Rob Refsnyder the everyday job at second, it could be that they’ll simply wait for Jacoby Ellsbury to come off the disabled list before carrying the usual number of position players. That said, there’s not exactly an obvious pitching call-up on the horizon either.
Distance and durability concerns continue to impact bullpen decisions
Because the Yankees have not gotten consistent distance from their starting pitchers, there’s been a trickle-down effect on the bullpen, which has basically caused all of the up-and-down player movement we’ve seen lately. In the past 12 days, the Yankees have called up and/or activated nine different pitchers (Sergio Santos, Jose Ramirez, Jose De Paula, Mitchell, Pinder, Danny Burawa, Moreno, Nick Rumbelow and Nova). Mitchell was actually called up, optioned and called up again in that span. The long list of moves, though, hasn’t solved the key issues of getting more distance out of the starters and finding bullpen stability for the middle innings. Maybe Nova in the rotation, Warren (or someone else) in the bullpen and Andrew Miller (eventually) off the disabled list will finally fix those problems. For now, they linger, and they’re shaping an ever-changing roster.
It’s hard to tell who’s “next” on the list of impact call-ups
Because Refsnyder hasn’t hit enough to force the Yankees’ hand, and because Drew keeps hitting for good power in those rare moments when he gets a hit at all, it doesn’t seem that the Yankees are considering a change at second base. Their next impact additions to the outfield (Ellsbury) and bullpen (Miller) are more likely to come from the disabled list than the minor league system. So who will be the next young player to make his big league debut? The Yankees have had 10 players debut this season — most in the majors — but No. 11 might have to wait a while unless the Yankees have a trick up their sleeves today. Top prospects Luis Severino and Aaron Judge have each moved up to Triple-A and could be on the radar at some point, but an immediate call-up seems unlikely. Who else could be on the radar? Ben Gamel? Tyler Webb? Jaron Long? There’s not a no-doubt, next-in-line choice.
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This three-game series in Baltimore exposed plenty of still unanswered questions about the Yankees’ bullpen, but Joe Girardi has insisted he still has at least three relievers he can count on to hold a late lead. Finally given a late lead this afternoon, Girardi went to the best available, and they delivered.
Four outs from Chasen Shreve (in essentially his debut as the go-to middle innings reliever). Six outs from Justin Wilson (in his setup debut, and also his finest outing of the season). Then three outs from Dellin Betances (in his first save since Andrew Miller went on the disabled list).
Still to be determined whether the Yankees have any other relievers worth Girardi’s confidence, but those three delivered 4.1 hitless innings that let the Yankees avoid a series sweep.
“I’ve said all along, these guys get righties and lefties out,” Girardi said. “I don’t worry that I’m bringing in two left handers to face right handers. I don’t worry about that with these two guys. It was just nice to have them rested. We had to ask them for a few more outs than you want to on a daily basis, but it worked.”
Friday night saw Jacob Lindgren and Esmil Rogers struggle so badly that they weren’t on the roster the next day. Saturday night, it was second-chance relievers Chris Martin and Sergio Santos who fell flat, turning a tied game into a lopsided loss. Whether anyone can emerge from the group of Martin, Santos, Jose Ramirez and Chris Capuano is anyone’s guess, but the Yankees do like what they’ve seen out of Shreve, Wilson and Betances.
“I just want to try to go out every time and throw strikes and hit my spots,” Shreve said. “Try to ignore the situation, kind of. The more pressure you put on yourself, the worse you’re going to pitch. I try to just focus on the glove and hit my spots.”
Betances feels like a relatively safe bet as the replacement closer, and Wilson’s had some previous experience and success with the Pirates — “Today was one of those days where it didn’t matter who was hitting (against Wilson),” John Ryan Murphy said. “You weren’t going to hit him today.” — so the biggest surprise is Shreve, who felt like a secondary piece of the David Carpenter trade and might now fill the role Carpenter couldn’t handle the first two months of the season.
“His fastball’s not going to overpower you,” Murphy said. “But mixing that with the slider and then the splitter, it plays up a bit and gets in on guys. That splitter’s got a lot of depth, and hitters have a pretty tough time picking it up if they haven’t seen it.”
Because the Yankees finally got the big bases-loaded hit they didn’t have in the first two games, this was their most winable game of the series, and the bullpen locked it down. This team is going to miss Andrew Miller, but for at least one day, the other guys had it under control.
“The only difference is that I’m shaking hands at the last out,” Betances said. “But I’m trying to stay the same. The job that Shreve and Wilson did is motivation to go out there and get it done.”
• When he came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth inning, Murphy had a total of three RBI this season. He nearly doubled that number with his sharp two-run double past defensive wizard Manny Machado. “I guess anytime you hit the ball that way you expect it to be caught,” Murphy said. “It was a tough play for him diving down the line. I hit it hard.”
• Murphy had a three-hit game, the second of his career. Girardi also praised the work he did behind the plate. Just a really nice game from the young backup catcher. “No question every time I play I want to win,” Murphy said. “Whether I go 0-for-4 or 4-for-4. But obviously getting some hits, the way I’ve been swinging it, was great. I just want to help the team win, and it was a great team win today.”
• Shreve has not allowed a run in his past eight appearances. He got his second win of the season today, and he’s held opponents to a .097 batting average during this eight-game scoreless stretch. “I thought maybe my arm was, not hanging, but a little worn down from that 19-inning game,” Shreve said. “And it’s finally coming back. My velo’s been down from last year, so it’s finally getting back up, and I think that’s helped.”
• Why leave Shreve in to face one batter in the seventh? “I was going to ask him to give me one more hitter,” Girardi said. “I was hoping he would get one more out and I would only have to ask four from Willy, but it didn’t quite work out that way.”
• And why pull Warren after a strikeout in the fifth when he was one out away from getting through five and being the pitcher of record? “It was a hot day,” Girardi said. “He threw 93 pitches in less than five innings. If he had breezed through a bunch of innings and maybe was in the sixth or seventh inning, it’s a different story. I was just looking at his slider and some of his pitches, he had gotten behind in some counts and I just thought it was time. You want to leave him in, but…”
• Here’s Warren on his start: “The competitor in you wants to finish that and get deeper in the game. It worked out for us. I want to win ballgames. I’m not concerned with having wins under my name or whatnot, as long as we win as a team. It worked out, so no problem with it at all.”
• Pivotal play for Warren came in the first inning when he got a sure double play ball, but because it was a hit-and-run, Stephen Drew was going to cover second and the ball got through for a single. If the Yankees turn two there, Warren’s out of the first inning without two runs scoring and having thrown almost half of the 29 pitches he needed that inning. “I fell into a little bad luck with the hit and run,” Warren said. “I feel like that would’ve been a ground ball to second. Just trying to make pitches, trying to get into a rhythm. I didn’t make good enough pitches in the first. I’m just trying to get back to making quality pitches and getting into that kind of rhythm.”
• Is Warren going to the bullpen when Ivan Nova gets back? “That decision won’t be made for a while,” Girardi said.
• Girardi’s comment certainly suggests Nova won’t be coming back this week, but Girardi said he still has to talk to Brian Cashman before settling on a decision about Nova’s next outing. “To be honest, I really haven’t thought about it,” Warren said. “It’s just one of those things that I can’t control. I just want to go out there and pitch, wherever it may be. I just don’t want to think about stuff I can’t control.”
• Big at-bat in the game was Wilson getting pinch hitter Delmon Young in the seventh. It was the first batter Wilson faced, and Young was at the plate as a home run threat that would have been the tying run. “I wanted to go right after him,” Wilson said. “Felt like from watching the game from the bullpen, the strike zone today was a little tight at times. For me, strikes is a key, so I wanted to go right after him. Luckily he swung through it.”
• Alex Rodriguez took an 0-for-4 today and said he’s fine with knowing he won’t be in the lineup the next two days in Miami. “Just like Washington, like I’ve said all along, whatever Joe wants,” Rodriguez said. “Whether we’re going to Marlins Stadium, Yankee Stadium or any place on the road, that’s cool.” Rodriguez also wouldn’t comment on a potential grievance about that $6-million home run milestone payment.
• Final word goes to Girardi: “You don’t want to get swept; it’s a division opponent. We did not play well the first two days, but we played much better today. We didn’t give them extra outs and we won the game.”
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Almost exactly five years after he was drafted, three years after he emerged as arguably the best prospect in the entire farm system, and one year after he fell flat in Double-A, Mason Williams found out he was being called to the big leagues and had one overwhelming reaction.
“I started sweating a lot,” he said.
After a miserable .593 OPS in Trenton last season, the Yankees maintained enough faith and hope to put Williams on the 40-man roster this offseason. After he hit .317/.407/.375 in a 35-game return to Double-A early this season, the Yankees pushed Williams to Triple-A. And after he hit .321/.382/.432 in a 20-game Triple-A debut, the Yankees brought their speedy young center fielder to the big leagues.
“Thinking about moving forward, 20 days in a row, with Mason being a pure center feielder, a true center fielder, at some point going to have to give Gardy a day or two off,” Joe Girardi said. “We could have put Chris (Young) out there as well, but we just liked the way Mason was playing.”
As an added bonus, this means the Yankees will have used the Jacoby Ellsbury injury as a window to get a first-hand look at Williams, Flores and Slade Heathcott — three of several left-handed, speed-first, on-the-verge outfielders in the system.
“Mason has really pushed himself into the mix,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “As Heathcott did before him, and Flo did. So we certainly encourage our guys down there, when we have to make a phone call and have a need, you want the manager to be able to say, this is the guy you want. And a lot of the guys have come up and helped us. And hopefully, Mason will do the same.”
Just six months ago, Williams wound have seemed a long shot to be a part of that mix. Even when the Yankees put Williams on the 40-man, it was with an acknowledgment that he hadn’t hit well enough to be on the big league radar (there was mostly a fear that his defense, speed and left-handed bat could stick as a fifth outfielder; too great a possibility to risk losing out on his upside if/when things came together). So what exactly clicked for a player who’s always shown talent, and showed results earlier in his career?
“Last year, failing the whole year, I would say (was a learning experience),” Williams said. “Last year for me, that’s what clicked. I learned a lot. Just understood how to not put myself back in the same situation. It really helped me.”
• Jacoby Ellsbury ran on the field at roughly 60-percent effort this afternoon. Just the next step in his steady progress from the sprained knee that’s had him on the disabled list since May 20. “The good thing is he felt good again today,” Girardi said. “Our plan is to leave him in Florida after we go to Miami. He’ll go to Tampa and hopefully shortly after being in Tampa and working out some days, he’ll be back in some rehab games.”
• Cashman wouldn’t give a definite timetable on it, but he said he expects Ellsbury back before the All-Star break.
• Dellin Betances is the Yankees’ new closer, and Justin Wilson will be the primary setup man. Sounds like newly recalled Chris Martin could fit into the seventh-inning mix with Chasen Shreve. “He will help us probably in the later innings,” Girardi said. “If we feel it’s a matchup for a right-hander. As we’ve said all along, our lefties get lefties and righties out, and we’ll use that, but at some point he’ll be in the back end like he was before.”
• Sounds like Brett Gardner will go back to being the everyday left fielder, letting Williams and Young platoon in center kind of like when Heathcott was up here. “I think it’s probably most important that (Williams is) as comfortable as we can make him as a young player,” Girardi said. “… And it might tax Gardy a little less moving back to left than being in center.”
• The Yankees will have CC Sabathia start tomorrow and Adam Warren start on Sunday. If the rotation were to stay on turn, it would Warren on Saturday, but Girardi said the Yankees liked the idea of giving him an extra day of rest. “We’re getting in an area where Warren hasn’t been at this level either, the amount of innings he’s getting to,” Girardi said. “I thought if we could give him the extra rest, it would be good.”
• It’s a few days away, but Girardi said he doesn’t expect Alex Rodriguez to play the field in Miami. He might in a late-inning, double-switch situation, but there are no plans to have Rodriguez start either of those two games.
• Few minor league moves: As expected, new second baseman Tony Renda is currently listed on the online Trenton roster (after being acquired in yesterday’s David Carpenter trade). In Triple-A, Jonathan Galvez has been released and utility man Ali Castillo — who had a great winter and was off to a strong start in Double-A — has been promoted from Double-A to Triple-A.
Associated Press photos
Obviously the draft is tonight’s main event for the Yankees, but before they make their first pick, Ivan Nova will make his first rehab start. Nova and Gregorio Petit are each supposed to play for High-A Tampa tonight, which means the Yankees are getting a little closer to having another starting pitcher in the mix.
“If (tonight) goes fine he’ll go to Scranton, weather permitting, and at that point we’ll evaluate,” Brian Cashman said last week. “We did build him up to 75 pitches in extended spring so we can keep him on the clock if we feel it’s necessary, or we can pull him if we need him.”
Do the Yankees need him?
CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi have been the weak links in the rotation, but even those two have pitched alright lately. And frankly, there seems to be little chance either one would be pulled from the rotation to make room for Nova. Clearly Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka — health permitting — aren’t going anywhere.
That leaves Adam Warren, who’s been outstanding. Warren could be the right-handed reliever the Yankees are looking for, but so far he’s been too good as a starter to switch back into the pen. Will Nova’s return change that? If Warren pitches well in his next start to two, would the Yankees consider putting Nova in the bullpen instead?
“I feel good about where I’m at right now,” Warren said. “And I hate to look too far in the future or what may happen, but for me, I completely consider myself a starter.”
Maybe a six-man rotation?
Not likely. While the Yankees could use Nova as a sixth starter for one turn to give everyone an extra day of rest, Joe Girardi’s made it clear he has no plans of carrying six starters full time. If Nova’s coming back to pitch in the rotation, it will mean someone else being pushed out of the mix.
“There’s two ways that I think a six-man rotation could work,” Girardi said. “You go to a 13-man pitching staff, so now you’re at 12 position players, which makes it physically a real grind on your position players, and if you’re a National League team, it makes it really difficult. Or all your guys in the bullpen are two and three-inning guys, and when you make a change, you have to live with it. It just becomes difficult if your bullpen is only six guys, and let’s say you have a seventh and eighth-inning and ninth-inning guy, well, if you’re not tied or ahead, you’ve only got three guys that you can use. I think that’s where the difficulty is. Now, if they add a person to the roster, I think it’s more than feasible. But I think you have to do that.”
Since it’s a bit doubtful Major League Baseball will give the Yankees an extra player, a six-man rotation seems out of the question, which adds some intrigue to Nova’s road to the majors.
By the way, if you’re following tonight’s Tampa Yankees game: Eight of their players were named Florida State League all-stars today: RHP Andury Acevedo, RHP Jonathan Holder, RHP Angel Rincon, C Kyle Higashioka, 3B Miguel Andujar, 1B Mike Ford, SS Tyler Wade and OF Danny Oh.
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