We’ll get to the game in just a bit. First, here’s what’s going on with Slade Heathcott:
The quad tightness that knocked him out of tonight’s lineup was not new or unfamiliar. Heathcott said he’d been dealing with it off and on since the offseason. It’s never been a serious issue, and he doesn’t think it’s a serious issue now, but he might miss a few days because of it.
“It’s been very easily manageable,” Heathcott said. “Came in today just a little more tender, and we just decided that giving it a day or two here would be better than four weeks.”
Heathcott said the quad was mostly an offseason issue that hadn’t really popped up since the beginning of spring training, but Joe Girardi said it had been at least a mild issue during spring training, during the Triple-A season and for a few days since Heathcott got to the big leagues. Girardi even speculated that Heathcott’s first double in his first big league start might have sparked the latest flare up.
“He’s been battling this for five or six days, I think it is,” Girardi said. “I don’t know if he did it on his first double. It’s possible he did it then. I think he’s battled it in Triple-A a little bit, and battled it in spring training a little bit. Part of it could have to do with the surgeries he’s had on his knee. All the different things that you go through. We’ll see how he is tomorrow.”
The Yankees face nothing but right-handed starters the next three days, but Heathcott might have to miss a few of those games.
“It’s not where I want to be, but I can’t start doubting the plan now,” he said. “I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason, this has got to be the way it is, and just go from here. … Maybe just one of those things where I realize what I need to do, maintain it a little better.”
• Might have been a much different game had the Yankees been playing with a full bullpen, but Girardi said he did not have Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances or Justin Wilson available. If those guys were in the pen, it’s not a sure thing CC Sabathia would have gone out for the seventh inning, and it’s doubtful David Carpenter would have been called in with two on and none out. “It’s hard to say,” Girardi said. “(Sabathia) pitched pretty well up to that point. It could have been different.”
• Speaking of Sabathia, he was pitching a good game until that two-out, two-run homer in the sixth. Even in that inning he’d done a nice job to get two quick outs after a leadoff double. He had a chance to get out of the inning but threw a bad changeup that Brett Lawrie hit for a game-tying home run. “Just up and down the middle,” Sabathia said. “He put a good swing on it. I’d thrown him a couple of them. He saw them pretty good and put a good swing.”
• Girardi on Sabathia: “He had a changeup that cut. He gives up the leadoff double. Does a tremendous job of getting to where he wants to get with two outs and the guy still on third base. And the changeup cut. That’s the ball Lawrie hit out. Next guy gets a hit in the hole the following inning, then he walks the next guy, and I had to make a change. But he was, he was pitching really well, and it just kind of got away from him.”
• Before that sixth inning, Sabathia seemed to be heading toward his third strong start in his past four outings. “I felt like we did a good job of moving the ball in and out,” he said. “… Threw the ball well, like I said, now just got to tighten up on a couple of pitches and get the ball to the back of our bullpen which is the strength of our team.”
• Carpenter’s having a bad year, and he certainly knows it. “At this point right now, I know it’s not mechanical,” he said. “It’s (possibly) pitch selection. Could be that. Just hard to tell. I try to go in there and be aggressive with what I’ve got that day and try to get people out. It’s not so much whether it’s this pitch, that pitch, whatever. … I’m frustrated. I’m not happy about how I’m performing right now. I don’t like letting guys down. That’s the thing that upsets me the most, not so much about numbers or anything like that, just letting guys down. They went out there and busted their butt.”
• Nifty play by Alex Rodriguez to score a run in the fourth inning. His diving, tumbling move to avoid a tag at the plate resulted in a run that might have been key had the Yankees not let the game fall apart. “That was not pretty,” Rodriguez said. “That looked like Shaquille O’Neal coming out of a pick. … I was confident (I had touched the plate). When Joe asked me, I said, ‘I think so, but I’m not 100 percent.’ I thought I felt it with my fingers.”
• Brian McCann called Rodriguez “nimble” and Girardi said he was only hoping Rodriguez would “be safe and get back up.”
• Another milestone for Rodiguez as he tied Barry Bonds for second place on baseball’s all-time RBI list (of course, that list doesn’t count a whole bunch of Babe Ruth’s RBIs). “You say the same thing about Gehrig and Ruth, and Barry’s the same thing; he’s one of the greats,” Rodriguez said. “This is kind of special because he’s also a friend and I know him very well.”
• Big game for McCann who had three hits including his first road home run of the season. He’s reached base three times in three straight games, and he has three home runs and 10 RBI in his past six games. “Balls have been falling,” McCann said. “I feel like I’ve been swinging the bat well all year. Numbers – especially numbers today, I don’t think you can really judge a player off his average anymore, especially if you’re left-handed and don’t run well.”
• Carlos Beltran’s 15-game hitting streak ended.
• Final word goes to Rodriguez: “On any given day, you have to come ready to play every day because any team can beat anybody. We proved that last week; we beat one of the best teams in baseball in Kansas City and lost nine out of 10. It’s just important to come out every day mentally tough and play to win.”
Associated Press photos
Masahiro Tanaka will make a rehab start with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday. He will be scheduled for just 45 pitches, meaning this will be the first of multiple outings before Tanaka’s activated from the disabled list.
“It’s a decision that we’ll make after each start when we feel that he’s ready to go,” Joe Girardi said. “I’m not going to put a number on it. Let’s just see how he does with 45 and decide what’s next after that.”
The Yankees won’t say how many starts they expect Tanaka to make in the minor leagues, but pitchers in this situation typically build up 15 pitches at a time. That suggests one start at 45 pitches, one at 60 and one at 75 before the Yankees would seem likely to even consider activating Tanaka. It’s pretty common for them to prefer going one more step and getting a pitcher to 90 pitches before taking him off the disabled list.
Would they really move at a faster pace with a guy like Tanaka?
“Let’s just go a start at a time,” Girardi said. “We know that we have to build him back up some. He has not been out that long, so he’ll go three and 45 and then we’ll decide what’s next.”
Tanaka said he feels encouraged. Ever since the forearm and wrist injuries that put him on the disabled list late last month, the Yankees’ ace has progress as planned. He threw another bullpen on Monday and came through it with no problems.
“Good progress,” Tanaka said. “Should be OK (on Thursday). … Can’t really tell (how many starts will be necessary). It’s something I’ll discuss with the pitching coach and the manager.”
Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have moved cautiously with Tanaka since spring training. There’s little reason to think they’ll sudden accelerate things at this point. If they’re starting at 45 pitches, then it seems they’re banking on at least three rehab starts, maybe four.
• Mark Teixeira’s toe feels fine, so he’s back in the lineup at first base, basically wiping out any chance of Alex Rodriguez starting tonight. “You can think about (playing him),” Girardi said. “But he hasn’t play a whole lot of field. (Chase Headley) just hit a three-run homer off a left-hander. I went with the guys that we’ve been running out there every day.”
• Of course, Rodriguez will be a go-to pinch hitter off the bench. “I’ll try to get him at-bats,” Girardi said. “I think that’s important to keep him going.”
• Also no Carlos Beltran in today’s lineup. That means the two guys who have spent the most time in the No. 3 spot in the batting order this season are on the bench tonight. “(Beltran)’s been playing well and he’s been swinging well,” Girardi said. “You get in a situation where you’re coming off an off day, your two guys at the top have done a great job against left-handers, Chris Young has done a great job against left-handers. But Carlos has been playing extremely well. In this long run, these two days might not hurt him, but it was hard to take him out today.”
• Chase Whitley had Tommy John surgery earlier today. Girardi said it went well, and there was basically no choice but to have the surgery. “The way I understood it, there were only a few fibers left,” Girardi said. “So maybe he had a couple pitches left and it would have been completely gone. It was the right choice on his part.”
• Brendan Ryan is supposed to resume playing games in Tampa tomorrow.
• When Chasen Shreve was in high school, he played on a travel team with Bryce Harper. The two remain pretty good friends and go golfing regularly in the offseason. “I thought he was more of a football player than a baseball player,” Shreve said. “When he played, he was just unreal. He played hard; he’s always played hard.”
• Shreve said he’s faced Harper only once. It was a minor league game a few years ago and Harper popped to shortstop. If Shreve faces him these next two days? “I don’t know how I’m going to react,” Shreve said. “I think we’re both going to smile.”
• One thing that struck me about Shreve talking about Harper: Shreve clearly likes him. In no way did this feel like a guy who felt he had to say nice things about a guy he knew growing up. It’s obvious Shreve really likes him and is happy for him.
Associated Press photos
Chase Whitley kept clenching his fist. He wasn’t finishing off his pitches. He’d focus on Brian McCann’s glove set on the inner half of the plate, then fire a fastball outside for a ball.
“I had no idea where it was going,” Whitley admitted.
It was finally McCann who motioned to the dugout and called for the trainer. He knows what Whitley’s supposed to look like on the mound, and this wasn’t it. Manager Joe Girardi got to the rubber, and for the first time, Whitley admitted that his elbow was bothering him. That’s when Girardi patted Whitley on the chest. When Whitley slammed the ball into McCann’s glove, it wasn’t because he wanted to stay in the game, it was because he knew he couldn’t.
“I knew something was up,” McCann said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s not going to say anything, so he wanted to keep pitching. It was one of those things where you could see it. … He wanted to fight through it.”
The Yankees haven’t said Whitley needs Tommy John surgery, but that’s clearly the concern. Girardi said only that the pain is “in that area you don’t want to talk about,” and Whitley seemed to have accepted whatever tomorrow’s MRI is going to show. The team has already announced that Chris Capuano will take Whitley’s spot in the rotation.
“It’s extremely disappointing because this kid’s done everything that we’ve asked,” Girardi said. “He’s been trying to deal with it. It’s a kid that’s never been hurt and he just felt like, he said, ‘You know, once I got going, I was always fine.’ … I feel for him, because like I said, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. A reliever turned starter that gave us big innings last year. He’s done a good job for us this year. Pitched extremely well in spring training. We asked him to go down and be a starter for us in case something happens, and now he’s got to deal with this.”
In his previous starts, Whitley said, adrenaline seemed to take over. Whatever pain he’d felt in bullpens more or less disappeared in his games. He had a terrific spring, pitched well in Scranton, gave the Yankees two strong starts after his call-up, then struggled the past two times out. This time, the pain was there from the beginning. McCann said Whitley was spiking his changeup (usually his best pitch) and fastball command was erratic (that’s usually a strength).
“Tonight it just carried over to the game,” Whitley said. “I’ve been able to get through it in the game, and tonight obviously you could pretty much tell.”
Tomorrow’s MRI should give the Yankees their final diagnosis, but optimism seemed low in the clubhouse.
“The first thought is Tommy John because it’s so prevalent,” Adam Warren said. “Just makes it more real when it’s somebody real close to you. It’s just one of those injuries, it’s hard to prevent. It’s a unnatural arm motion for your arm. I hate to assume the worst right away, but that’s the first thing you think about. That’s my concern, and I’m sure he’s worried about it too.”
• While Girardi committed to Chris Capuano joining the rotation, he wasn’t sure when it would happen. Wouldn’t be surprising to see a reliever come up for at least the start of the Royals series. Earliest Capuano could pitch would be Sunday, anyway.
• When Whitley left the game, Esmil Rogers’ first pitch was a pretty decent slider that No. 9 hitter Rene Rivera hit for a three-run homer. “It was a good pitch, good location,” McCann said. “All you can do is tip your hat on that one.”
• Although Rogers had to be rushed into duty, he had plenty of time to get ready. He said he felt fully loose and didn’t think the circumstances coming into the game contributed to the home run. “It was a good pitch,” Rogers said. “I think maybe they were looking for that. The location was down and away, and he got it.”
• Whitley actually threw more balls than strikes tonight. He’s the first Yankees starter to do that since A.J. Burnett on June 26, 2010 against the Dodgers.
• Reliever Branden Pinder, who could easily have been the guy sent down for Capuano, seems like to stick around now. Tonight he pitched another scoreless inning. He’s only pitched four innings so far this season, but he’s allowed just two hits. Three of his four appearances have come at Tropicana Field. He’s pitched here three times and still hasn’t pitched at Yankee Stadium.
• Alex Rodriguez’s ninth-inning home run let the Yankees avoid their first shutout loss since September 15, 2014 (a game that also happened at Tropicana Field). They have played 49 games since their last shutout. They are one of three teams that have not been shutout this season (Detroit and Toronto are the others).
• Rodriguez’s home run also let the Yankees avoid going without an extra-base hit for the third-straight game. Would have been the first time that had happened to the Yankees since 2000. Before the home run, the Yankees went 98 at-bats without an extra-base hit between Mark Teixeira’s ninth-inning home run on Monday and Rodriguez’s ninth-inning home run tonight.
• The Yankees have scored in three of their past 27 innings.
• Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Rodriguez — the one, two, three hitters — combined to go 5-for-11 tonight. The rest of the lineup went 0-for-19.
• Rodriguez’s home run was his 1,000th RBI as a Yankee. He’s two career RBI away from Babe Ruth’s total of 1,992 (fourth all-time since RBI became an official stat in 1920). Of Rodriguez’s nine home runs this season, four have come against the Rays, and three of those have come against rookies.
• Girardi and several Yankees players said they felt the team hit the ball harder than the numbers suggest tonight. That really did seem to the case, at least for this game. Maybe not the past two games, but tonight there were some hard-hit balls. “I’d say we hit six or seven balls really hard that they caught tonight,” Girardi said. “You put that with the four or five hits, if they fall, I mean the one inning we had three guys line out. You could add a couple of runs in possibly, with a runner on second and nobody out. But it didn’t happen. They played good defense and we just didn’t get the hits.”
• Final word goes to Gardner: “I think if we went out there and struck out 15 or 20 times and things were real ugly, I think it would be a little different, but some guys swung the bats well. Chase Headley swung the bat really, really well tonight and nothing to show for it. We’ve got to keep our heads up and realize we’re still in first place. The last couple of days have been tough, but we’ll be fine.”
Associated Press photos
Jorge Posada doesn’t think Alex Rodriguez belongs in the Hall of Fame, and he seems unhappy that A-Rod beat him for the MVP award a dozen years ago.
“You know, the only thing that I can think is 2003,” Posada said during a interview with CBS This Morning. “You know, I was close to the MVP. Didn’t happen. Alex won the MVP and, you know, I think second was either Carlos Delgado or David Ortiz, I don’t remember. But, I was almost there. You know what could’ve happened if, you know, it’s tough. It’s really tough.”
All of this, of course, is because of Rodriguez’s use of performance enhancing drugs. Posada made his comments while promoting his new book.
“I think the guys that need to be in the Hall of Fame need to be a player that played with no controversy,” Posada said.
During the interview, Posada acknowledged he had never discussed any of this with Rodriguez, and in the Yankees’ clubhouse this afternoon, Rodriguez took the high road in responding to Posada’s criticism.
“I consider Jorgie a friend,” Rodriguez said. “… I have nothing bad to say about Jorgie. I have nothing but good things to say about Jorgie. He was a great player and a good teammate and we won a championship in ’09 together.”
For the most part, Rodriguez seems to have been embraced by many players throughout the league, and his current teammates seem to have accepted him with no problems.
“I’ve been so humbled by the response I’ve gotten, not only from my current teammates but from former teammates,” Rodriguez said. “The support that I’ve had is overwhelming and I just feel extremely grateful.”
Posada will be at Yankee Stadium later this season to have his number retired. Rodriguez said he will not find that inevitable encounter to be awkward.
“No, not at all,” he said. “Jorge is a friend. We’ll keep it simple. Keep it light.”
The video above is from this morning’s interview.
• Stephen Drew said that, in his entire life, he has never played third base in a game. He took some ground balls at the position yesterday, and now he’s starting there in a big league game. “I kind of know my role,” Drew said. “Yeah, it’s something new, but at the same time just trust my hands and my feet and go from there. That’s all you can really do. I’m not going to go over there and start stressing that I haven’t played. It’s just more reaction and hopefully I can do my job there.”
• Joe Girardi said he no longer considers Rodriguez to be a true backup at either third base or first base. He might play the field occasionally, but the Yankees want him to be a full-time designated hitter. “I’m thinking we’ll play him a lot more if we can DH him,” Girardi said.
• Rodriguez said he’s on board with being a full-time DH going forward. “I’m totally on board with whatever Joe wants,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve said that from Day 1. Whatever Joe wants. I played third base in the ninth inning the other day and was pretty nervous about that. That was pretty alarming. Whatever Joe wants, I can do.”
• Jose Pirela actually has some third base experience, but the Yankees clearly don’t like him at the position. Asked why he’s using Drew at third ahead of Pirela, Girardi said only: “We just felt that Stephen will make the adjustment easier than Jose.”
• Rodriguez said his sore left hamstring feels better today. Obviously he’s been able to play through the issue. Doesn’t seem to be a huge issue, but Girardi said he was especially hesitant to use Rodriguez at third while the hamstring is even a mild issue.
• Chase Headley doesn’t have a specific injury, Girardi said, but he’s taken a beating lately with diving plays and such. “He’s just beat up,” Girardi said. “All the diving that he does. He just kind of physically could use a day, so we decided to do it today.”
• Masahiro Tanaka will throw another bullpen on Friday.
• The Yankees are still deciding whether to have Chris Capuano make another rehab start or activate him in a few days to rejoin the rotation. Two off days next week really takes some of the urgency away. The rotation is about to get extra rest regardless. “We just kind of touched on (discussing Capuano’s play) today,” Girardi said. “I talked to Cash. I talked to Larry some. Obviously we want to see how he feels physically and have a chance to talk to him. We’ve got to make a decision. It’s not urgent that we make it today or tomorrow, but we’ll probably have him throw a side tomorrow and have him be on line depending on what we do.”
Associated Press photo
Only two active pitchers have more career wins than CC Sabathia. He’s won playoff games and season openers. He’s won shutouts and blowouts. He’s won near no-hitters, and he’s won sloppy starts when the offense bailed him out. Sabathia’s won more than 200 times, and until this season, he never had to wait long for his next one.
“He’s one of the best pitchers of our era,” Brian McCann said. “I don’t know if he even thinks about it. He goes out there and competes hard. I’m glad to get him a win tonight, for sure.”
Career win No. 209 doesn’t change Sabathia’s resume very much. It does move him from 101st into a tie for 97th all-time — into the top 100 is pretty good — but this win isn’t a nice round number to be celebrated. It was a long time coming, though, and Sabathia might have gotten there weeks ago had the Yankees scored more than four runs in any of his previous starts. The lineup scored 11 runs tonight, after scoring 13 runs combined in the previous six games Sabathia pitched.
“Our boys did what they needed to do with CC,” manager Joe Girardi said. “They got him a lead, and allowed him just to go to work.”
Yes, he allowed those two home runs in the seventh inning. And, yes, the first inning got off to a brutal start with the back-to-back walks and the hard-hit double. But from the end of the first inning through the start of the seventh, Sabathia was as good as he’s been all season. After those first two batters, he didn’t walk anyone else. He struck out nine, and said the key was locating his fastball, especially inside to righties. The Rays were laying off his changeup, so he had to find other ways to get outs, and he did that.
“The walks were just me being erratic early,” Sabathia said. “I came out with my fastball. I felt pretty good, my body felt good, so I had to ease into the game and tell myself to let the ball go.”
“It was bothering me more that we hadn’t won games I’d started, or tried to keep us in games, or keep us close to win games,” Sabathia said. “That’s my biggest concern is always just trying to help the team. I think wins will come, and it was good to get this one.”
When it was all over, Sabathia’s line wasn’t overwhelming — three earned runs, an ERA still above 5.00, even Sabathia said he came out of the game kicking himself for those late runs more than celebrating the first win — but the end result was positive, and there was a long stretch in there when Sabathia looked awfully sharp and tough to hit.
The lineup did the heavy lifting, but Sabathia did his part to earn the win and end the drought.
“It was bothering me more that we hadn’t won games I’d started, or tried to keep us in games, or keep us close to win games,” he said. “That’s my biggest concern is always just trying to help the team. I think wins will come, and it was good to get this one.”
• Might have noticed Alex Rodriguez favoring his left leg a little bit after stealing second base in the ninth inning. He said his left hamstring was a little tight, but both Rodriguez and Girardi said they expect him to be back in the lineup tomorrow. It’s basically the same tightness he was dealing with a few days ago. “Just a little sore on that last run,” Rodriguez said.
• By the way, I called that a steal, but the official scorer actually changed it to defensive indifference.
• Five home runs was the most for the Yankees in a single game since May 17, 2014. It also matches the most homers hit by any team in a single game this season. This was the third time the Yankees scored at least 11 runs this season, and the fifth time they had at least 14 hits.
• Carlos Beltran has homered in back-to-back games — his first two home runs of the season — making this the eighth time this season a Yankees player has gone deep in consecutive games. No other team has done that more than seven time this season.
• With Beltran hitting second, the Yankees top four hitters each had a home run today and combined to go 9-for-19 with seven RBI. “I just think our guys were looking for a ball in their zone,” Girardi said. “They got it, and they hit it.”
• Specifically, Girardi seemed really impressed by Mark Teixeira’s ninth-inning home run. It kept the Yankees from getting Andrew Miller warmed up, and it went to the opposite field, which Giradri took as a good sign. “That’s big,” Girardi said. “That just tells me he’s really healthy when he’s able to do that, and he’s hit a couple of home runs like that this year. Those are important runs. You don’t have to get Miller up again tonight, and that’s nice.”
• Another moment Girardi pointed out — and one that clearly stood out as an early turning point — was Didi Gregorius making the strong relay throw in the first inning to get Steven Souza out at the plate. Without that relay throw (and without Gardner doing a good job getting to the ball quickly to start the play) the Rays would have already scored two runs, had just one out and had solid hitters coming to the plate with a runner in scoring position. Gregorius said he thought all along he had a shot at getting the out. “I saw that he went all the way back to second because he thought Gardy caught it,” Gregorius said. “So, yeah. I was peeking.”
• Weirder play by Gregorius to end the game after a hard-hit fly ball hit one of the catwalks and fell into play. It was a live ball that it seemed Gardner was going to catch in the corner. Instead, Gregorius caught it in shallow left field. “I was running to the left field corner to catch it and the ball disappeared,” Gardner said. “Before it hit (the catwalk), I thought there was a good chance that it was going to hit it. I was going to catch it, it was just a matter of if it hit the catwalk or not. I completely lost it for two or three seconds, and then I saw it falling down. I don’t know why, but Didi was standing right there underneath it, looking for it, like he knew it was going to happen. Great heads up play on his part.”
• McCann on Sabathia: “His two-seamer and four-seamer were really working tonight. He had the hitters off-balance and he mixed in some great changeups and threw some great back-door sliders. Once he settled down after the first, he had some really good movement in the zone.”
• Sabathia tied Vida Blue for the 25th-most wins all-time by a left-handed pitcher. This was his 92nd win as a Yankee, moving him into a tie with Tommy John for 20th on the franchise’s all-time list.
• Headley had four RBI for the first time since September 9, 2012. He hit his 10th Yankees home run, but only his second Yankees home run on the road. … This was Gardner’s second home run with at least two runners on base this season. He had just one of those last year, which was a grand slam. … Teixeira tied his career-high with four hits, something he hadn’t done since 2012.
• After the game, Rodriguez was outside the Yankees clubhouse meeting and signing items for the couple who caught his home run ball tonight. “They wanted to give me the ball back,” he said. “They wanted a little trade and they wanted to meet me, so it was my pleasure to meet them.”
• Final word goes to Headley: “It was great. (Sabathia)’s pitched a lot better than his record shows, and anytime you have some run support it makes a pitcher’s job a lot easier, so we were happy to finally put some runs on the board for him. Now hopefully we got that first win out of the way, he can get rolling. … He’s awesome. He’s as big a leader as we have on this team. He loves to have a good time. He’s a competitor. We love him in here, so it was great to finally see him get that first win.”
Associated Press photos
The Yankees’ ace takes his turn this afternoon, and everyone knows it except — perhaps — the man himself.
With Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list and CC Sabathia still looking for his first win, the Yankees No. 1 starter is clearly Michael Pineda. Joe Girardi talks ofter about a team’s ace being whoever is starting on any given day, and that’s a nice idea, but there’s something to be said for a true powerhouse at the top of the rotation.
And after years of waiting for him to get healthy, the Yankees seem to have that in Pineda.
“I think when you look at your starters, you think about how it relates to the bullpen in a sense and how deep they’re going to go into games,” Girardi said. “And he’s one of those guys, who, because he throws so many strikes, and gets ahead in the count, he can go deep into games and you don’t use your bullpen as much. I think people always put those things together as, that’s an ace of the staff, too. Do I think different (on days Pineda pitches)? Yeah, I think sometimes you’re going to get a little more length, but you’re still going to need your bullpen.”
Sabathia has always talked about his responsibility as a veteran rotation leader, and surely Tanaka can’t help but notice the attention and expectation that he carries each time he’s on the mound, but Pineda takes a different attitude. He comes across as a carefree guy, basically the same attitude this year that he had last season when he opened as the No. 5.
“My guess is he doesn’t really think much about it,” Girardi said. “My guess is he just goes out there every fifth day, does his job, loves to compete, has fun, entertains us with some of the things he does out there. My guess, and I have not heard him talk about it – but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t – is that he doesn’t think about it.”
• Alex Rodriguez is back in the lineup after sitting out yesterday with some leg tightness. Would Girardi prefer his 39-year-old just stop at second next time he has a chance to stretch for a triple? “If you can get there, you want a guy to get there, since there are so many other ways to score from third base,” Girardi said. “But I would tell him just to hit the ball over the fence.”
• Tanaka played long toss again today. Seemed to have no issues.
• One day after both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were unavailable because of workload, the Yankees would like another game when they don’t need to use their bullpen too much. Only Chasen Shreve and David Carpenter had to pitch out of the pen yesterday. “We were able to get some of the guys a day off yesterday,” Girardi said. “But it’d be nice to get them another day off today.”
• There have been some positive signs with Pineda’s velocity lately. He’s been average up around 93 mph the past two times out — close to 94 mph last time — after sitting closer to 90-91 his first few starts. “I think some of that has to do with weather,” Girardi said. “Some of the days he’s pitched, have not been ideal conditions, and I think as you see the weather warm up — he pitched in a dome the last time – you’ll see the velocity come with it.”
• I was off the first two home Sundays this season. I’d kind of forgotten how quiet these days are pregame. Very few players in the clubhouse before batting practice. Nothing unusual going on during BP. Today there are a lot of pink shirts being worn, but otherwise, it’s just another slow Sunday morning at the stadium.
Associated Press photos
Another day of throwing a baseball with no incident for Masahiro Tanaka doesn’t seem particularly newsworthy, expect when you consider that this is Tanaka that we’re talking about.
After throwing 50 pitches from 60 feet on Thursday, Tanaka threw 25 from 60 feet and another 25 from 90 on Friday. He spoke to the media after and said he’s “definitely going in the right direction,” and he seemed fairly unconcerned about any long-term effects from this forearm strain. He also reiterated that he doesn’t think that this relatively minor injury has anything to do with the elbow that caused problems for him last season.
“Everybody has their own opinion, but personally, I don’t think it had anything to do with it,” he said through his interpreter. “I don’t think it has anything to do with my elbow.”
Of course, there has been rampant speculation about Tanaka eventually — some might say inevitably — needing Tommy John surgery, but he isn’t buying it. He’s repeatedly said that there is no discomfort in the elbow. He said he’s “gradually” increased the intensity in these throwing sessions the last two days and feels nothing in the forearm, either.
He also denied that the injury was caused by the way that he’s throwing the splitter, or because of pitching on four days’ rest instead of the five that he was accustomed to in Japan.
The only thing that he agreed with is that the process has been somewhat frustrating.
“Just to be honest with you, I did get injured from time-to-time in Japan,” Tanaka said. “But my absolute goal is to try to not get injured throughout the season and be apart of that rotation. With that said, I’m a little disappointed.”
• While the rotation has held up well in the absence of Tanaka, the bullpen continues to be the strength of the team. Andrew Miller, who may not have the official closer title but is pitching as well as any reliever in baseball, is looking like a very smart investment. He’s up to 12 saves. “I think he’s approached it just like any other inning that he’s pitched,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s done an unbelievable job for us. He’s really kind of kept his pitch count down in most instances when we use him multiple days in a row. He’s a strikeout guy who can hold runners on when they do get on. He’s really done a great job. Every time that we saw him, we saw him good, so I’m not surprised that we’re seeing what we’re seeing.”
• Girardi has been criticized for over-managing and not trusting his gut often enough, but he’s generally praised for the way that he handles his bullpen. It has to be nice having the type of weapons that he has down there this season, and that surely makes his job easier. But he does deserve some credit for putting guys in spots where they can be successful and rarely overusing them. “I kind of have in my mind some rules that I follow, depending on how much they’ve worked – multiple innings, days in a row, three out of four, how many pitches, quick turnaround – and I’ve been consistent with those ever since I’ve been here,” he said. “I usually let them know when they’re down so that they’re not over-preparing and maybe playing more catch than they should be, that sort of thing. The goal is, for me, it’s more than a one year term. It’s a long-term thing. We want these guys to be effective for a long time, and I’ve kind of stayed true to that.”
• Many of you are probably happy to see Jose Pirela in there at second base today. He’s become popular among the fan base, in large part due to the struggles of Stephen Drew. But Girardi said this is just a day off for Drew. He’ll be back in there tomorrow. “I think his last day off was Saturday in Fenway, so it’s a day off of him,” Girardi said. “Then (Gregorio Petit) will probably play second tomorrow against the lefty and maybe we’ll give Didi(Gregorius) a day off.”
• We discussed plenty about A-Rod last night, so it wasn’t a huge focus during Girardi’s presser today. But he was asked about if he thinks the next milestone in his path — he’s 38 away from 3,000 hits — will be more acceptable in the baseball world because it’s not a power statistic. I guess the idea is that steroids are more beneficial when it comes to home runs and that sort of thing, but I can’t imagine anyone suddenly overlooking his past PED issues for his hit total and not his home run total. “Obviously, it’s a ton of hits,” Girardi said. “You have to have a lot of longevity to come up with 3,000 hits. You know, this is going to be debated for years to come, I’m sure. But my job as the manager is to get the most of the players. My job is not to decide if something is a milestone or an accomplishment – that’s for baseball people to do and historians. My hope is that he gets it fairly quickly and the hits keep coming, and the home runs keep coming.”
• Girardi followed that question up by asking how far away Rodriguez is from 3,000. When he was told 38, he said, “You can see how closely I’m following.” Yankees director of media relations Jason Zillo suggested that A-Rod get to 3,000 tonight. That would probably take about 100 innings, so for my sake, I hope not.
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When Alex Rodriguez hit No. 660 on Friday, he stomped on home plate, high-fived his manager, and found himself engulfed by teammates looking to warp him in a hug or slap him on the back. After the game ended, Rodriguez was in front of his locker when those same teammates showered him with beer, treating the home run — as the player — as worthy of a true celebration.
“My teammates have been incredible,” Rodriguez said. “That’s part, also, of why I got so emotional. I didn’t expect them to be so great and gracious.”
I’m not sure anyone knew to expect that. Truth is, there aren’t a lot of guys in the Yankees clubhouse who had played with Rodriguez before this season, so it was anyone’s guess how he might be received. But the guys who had played with Rodriguez in the past, welcomed him back quickly, and ones who were meeting him for the first time, seemed to embrace him in spring training.
“I’ve played with him as much if not more than anybody in this room,” Brett Gardner said. “So I know what he’s all about. I’ve had a chance over the years — over the last eight or nine years — to really see behind the scenes and what goes into his preparation for the game, and the way that he works in the offseason. He doesn’t need to go out of his way to try to win me over.
“Obviously a lot of guys in the room, a lot of new guys in the room, probably coming into spring training weren’t exactly sure what to expect, but I think for the most part, I’ve had a lot of guys come up to me and say that he’s way different than they expected him to be. That’s all a positive. Just a testament to him and how he’s handled the whole situation, and how the team’s handled it.”
I’m not sure anyone would immediately connect Gardner and Rodriguez — one is among the elite players of his generation, the other was a walk-on at the College of Charleston — but they’ve known one another a long time. Gardner was drafted in Rodriguez’s second year with the Yankees, and this is already Gardner’s eighth year in the big leagues.
Gardner’s played with Rodriguez longer than Mark Teixiera, longer than CC Sabathia, longer than anyone else in the Yankees clubhouse.
“I’ve never shied away from saying how I feel about Alex and the way that he works and the way that he plays the game,” Gardner said. “Obviously a lot’s gone on the past couple of years, but his work ethic is still there. And he loves playing the game, and he loves winning, and that seems to be all he really cares about.”
From the outside looking in, Rodriguez seems different. He seems more open, more honest and more candid. Gardner, though, said he hasn’t seen much of a difference in the way Rodriguez handles himself in the clubhouse and on the field.
“He’s been all business since he’s been back,” Gardner said. “Last year, obviously, was very, very tough for him, and tough for a lot of people, but I think ever since he’s come back he’s been all about working hard and trying to help the team win. The way that he is able to help everybody around him and kind of rally everybody together, I think it’s pretty special. It’s a lot of fun watching him work, and a lot of fun playing alongside of him. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”
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Less than 24 hours after last night’s pinch-hit, game-winning, milestone home run, Alex Rodriguez is back in his usual spot in the Yankees’ lineup, batting third as the starting designated hitter. Now the race to No. 661 begins.
“I don’t know if it’ll mean more (than 660),” Rodriguez said. “This whole thing has been kind of like a dream. … I’m just here to play baseball. Anytime you’re sandwiched between Willie Mays and Babe Ruth it’s special. But I’m really just enjoying playing baseball, as much as I have in a long time.”
Rodriguez said yesterday afternoon that he’d been hoping to tie Mays at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, but honestly, if he’d done it at home, the whole thing would have been wrapped up in whatever the Yankees did or did not do to acknowledge the milestone. On the road, at Fenway, off the bench, to break a tie and win a game — No. 660 was all about an in-the-moment situation when Rodriguez got aggressive and delivered a win.
“My guess is, (the pressure) is off, in a sense,” Joe Girardi said. “And he won’t be answering questions, ‘When is he going to hit it?’ which is nice. The next (milestone) is pretty far away, so he should be able to get down to normal business now.”
The next A-Rod milestone isn’t necessarily a home run. He’s 44 hits away from 3,000.
“That’s probably another one we’ll have to worry about a little bit,” Girardi said. “But we still have a little time before we get there. At least we can not worry about that quite yet.”
• That’s the same wrist that required surgery back in 2013 and that seemed to occasionally bother Teixeira last season, but Girardi said he wasn’t worried about any sort of connection causing extra problems. “I think the weakness is gone,” Girardi said. “If it would have happened last year, I think I would have been more concerned than this year.”
• On that same pitch, the ball hit off Teixeira and wound up breaking a knuckle in catcher Ryan Hanigan’s hand. He was put on the disabled list today. Brutal. “That’s pretty strange,” Girardi said. “I’ve seen balls ricochet and hit catchers, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen somebody break his hand like that. It seems that Hanigan is going to have to have surgery, and that’s pretty serious stuff and extremely unfortunate. That’s a strange play. You see ricochets a lot, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one that bad.”
• With Hanigan out, the Red Sox have called up highly touted catching prospect Blake Swihart, a switch-hitter who’s in the lineup this afternoon. The kid’s being thrown right into the fire.
• Esmil Rogers has been terrific in a long relief role this season, and last night, Girardi decided to use him in short relief in the seventh inning. It was a bit of a risk, but it paid off when Rogers delivered a scoreless seventh and actually picked up his first win. “I think he gives us the ability to use him that way just because of the stuff that he has,” Girardi said. “I felt that, when I brought him in yesterday, depending on how the inning was going to go, that I would use him for up to five hitters probably and then go to Wilson after that. But sometimes you have to be careful in close games in those situations, because he was my long guy yesterday. I rolled the dice a little bit, and it worked.”
• Nathan Eovaldi is making his fifth start of the year. He’s been pretty solid, but he’s also pitched more than 5.1 innings only once. “We saw him do it in Detroit,” Girardi said. “Some of it depends on how good his breaking ball is on those certain days. He’s a work in progress. I’ve said it a number of times. He’s 25 years old. He’s still a young starting pitcher that has good stuff and is still developing his skill as a starting pitcher. We’re pretty encouraged by what we’ve seen so far from him, so I think he’ll get better as the year goes on.”
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Mid-summer 1994, Alex Rodriguez was right here at Fenway Park for his Major League debut. He was an 18-year-old kid, barely a year removed from being the top overall draft pick out of high school. He’d played a half season of minor league ball. He remembers his mother, brother and sister being in the crowd. He also remembers this:
“How nervous I was,” he said. “I was a month (removed) from my high school prom.”
Now Rodriguez is back. It would be absurd to try to capture in a few sentences all that’s happened between then and now, but Rodriguez’s go-to quote about his early season at-bats seems appropriate: “Some good. Some bad.”
Unlike 21 years ago, Rodriguez isn’t in the lineup tonight. Joe Girardi has loaded the Yankees lineup with left-handed hitters to take advantage of Red Sox starter Justin Masterson’s weakness against lefties, and so it seems Rodriguez’s hunt for milestone home run No. 660 will have to wait for either another day or a late-inning pinch hit opportunity.
“I wanted to do it Wednesday at home,” Rodriguez said. “It would have been nice to do it at home in front of our home fans. But now I’m on the road and the goal doesn’t change. It’s still to win games and to win series.”
Out of spring training, Rodriguez homered four times in his first 31 at-bats. That outburst put him two away from tying Willie Mays for fourth on baseball’s all-time list. Since he got that close, he’s hit one homer in his past 37 at-bats. Since he pulled within one of the milestone on Sunday, he’s gone 1-for-12, including that brutal four-strikeout game on Wednesday.
Rodriguez didn’t specifically say he was pressing on Wednesday, but he acknowledges a past difficulty with approaching milestones. It took him 28 at-bats to finally hit home run No. 500, and 46 at-bats to finally reach 600.
“Some of the pitches that he’s swung at and the ones that he’s missed a little bit, maybe (he’s been) trying to get it out of the way,” Girardi said. “As much as I want to tell him to relax, it’s something he’s going to have to do to get it out of the way. … I think it’s probably part of most players when they get to the level of accomplishments these guys have reached. We saw it weigh really hard on Derek (Jeter trying to reach 3,000 hits). That was one that I didn’t think that would be. I just think it’s difficult.”
Seems safe to assume Rodriguez will be back in the lineup tomorrow afternoon for his next shot at tying Mays, who Rodriguez has called a hero; his father’s favorite player. Does it bother him that many will see his 660th home run as something far less impressive than Mays’ 660th?
“The only thing I can control is what I do from here on out and how I conduct myself both on and off the field,” he said. “I can’t really decide for other people what to think. … You know I have regrets, and I’m trying to do the best to finish my career on a high note.”
• Chris Capuano will start a rehab assignment with High-A Tampa tomorrow. He’s scheduled for four innings or 60 pitches. Sounds like he could need as little as three minor league starts before becoming a big league option. “Everything that he’s doing is going in the right direction,” Girardi said. “You think about 60, 75, 90 and then you go from there.”
• Ivan Nova will pitch one inning in an intrasquad game tomorrow. Jared Burton will pitch in the same game.
• Now that Jose Pirela’s rehab has been moved up to Triple-A, he’s clearly getting much closer to being a big league option — and the Yankees were ready to call him up on Wednesday before Tanaka got hurt — but Girardi said, at this point, the team still hasn’t decided whether Pirela will come to the big leagues or stay in Triple-A after his rehab is finished. “It’s something that we have discussed about what we might possibly do with him or not do with him,” Girardi said. “But obviously I think at-bats are important. He was out a month, maybe? Almost a month? You’ve got to get him some at-bats and some real game situations playing different positions.”
• Brendan Ryan got some DH at-bats today in extended spring training. He’s obviously inching closer to a rehab assignment of his own.
• Stacking the lineup with lefties means a rare start for Garrett Jones, who’s played in fewer games than Gregorio Petit at this point. “When we envisioned him, we envisioned him DHing some and maybe playing a little first and a little outfield,” Girardi said. “With Alex swinging the bat so well in April, Chris Young swinging the bat so well in April, it’s just been tough for Garrett.”
• Speaking of that lineup of all left-handed hitters (counting the switch hitters), Girardi said that was a decision 100-percent connected to Red Sox starter Justin Masterson. In his career, Masterson has held right-handed hitters to a .220 average and .606 OPS. Lefties have hit .287 with a .794 OPS.
• CC Sabathia is going for his first win of the year. He’s taken the loss in all four of his starts. “I think there’s frustration there because I think he’s pitched well enough three of the four games to win,” Girardi said. “He loses an extremely tough on in Detroit. We haven’t scored a lot of runs in his games. Hopefully we can do that tonight and give him some run support and get him a win.”
• By the way, the Yankees mustache thing is still going strong. John Ryan Murphy and Gregorio Petit are among the more impressive stache-growers of the bunch. Poor Dellin Betances and Adam Warren, not so much.
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