The Yankees have announced their rotation through Monday’s off day, and it seems to provide some clarity about the their plans for Opening Day.
Wednesday: Masahiro Tanaka
Thursday: Adam Warren
Friday: Michael Pineda
Saturday: CC Sabathia
Sunday: Nathan Eovaldi
By giving Sabathia an extra day of rest this week, the Yankees have effectively eliminated him from the conversation for Opening Day. To pitch the opener, Sabathia would have to make either his last spring start or his first regular-season start on short rest. Hard to imagine that happening. Instead, Sabathia’s now lined up to pitch Game 2 after one more turn on extra rest.
Meanwhile, Tanaka is lineup perfectly to stay on an every-six-days schedule and pitch Opening Day. Because of scheduled off days, Tanaka could make each of his first three starts on five days of rest even without the Yankees plugging in a sixth starter during that time.
“It is flexible because of these days off,” Girardi said. “It’s flexible what we can do. We’ve done that kind of on purpose. The big thing is that Eovaldi, his pitch counts are good, Pineda’s have been good. We still need to build Tanaka and CC up a little more. As long as we can get through their starts and have no issues, we should be able to iron it out the way we anticipate them.”
With Esmil Rogers starting tonight and Warren scheduled for Thursday, Girardi said he could have a fifth starter decided by the end of the week.
“I think it’s a pretty big start for (Rogers),” Girardi said. “… I would think we’ll probably even meet in the next couple days to try to make some decisions here.”
• During fielding drills today, Alex Rodriguez spent a lot of time at first base working on cut offs and relays. Girardi said he still expects Rodriguez to get at least one turn at first base this spring. “You’re probably going to see him going through some drills at first,” Girardi said. “And my guess is you’re going to see him (at first base) in a spring training game before we leave.”
• Girardi said he’d basically just like to have Rodriguez capable of playing first base just in case someone gets hurt. Garrett Jones is the backup first baseman, but if either Jones or Teixeira were to get hurt, Girardi said he’d rather be able to play Rodriguez at first base instead of either Chase Headley or Brian McCann.
• The more important thing with Rodriguez has been his at-bats, and the Yankees seem happy with those. “I just think his at-bats are more consistent (than at the start of camp),” Girardi said. “His timing is more consistent.”
• Jose Pirela is back with the team, but he’s still going through concussions tests. Girardi said the medical staff plans to let Pirela start working out — very lightly — just to see how he reacts to that. Pirela had a concussion two years ago, but he said the symptoms are not as bad this time.
• Jacoby Ellsbury did some light swings with a broomstick yesterday and will gradually increase baseball activities. Girardi remains unconcerned. Said he expects Ellsbury to start playing again before the end of spring training and be ready for the Opener.
• Nathan Eovaldi went 4.2 innings at the minor league complex. Said he was wild with his offspeed pitch early in the game — he started with a walk to former Yankees prospect Melky Mesa, who’s a notorious free swinger — but Eovaldi was ultimately happy with the outing. “I was just rushing (early in the game),” Eovaldi said. “Slider behind, same with the curveball. Fastball was a little all over the place. Once I stayed back over the mound, it was there.”
• With Tanaka starting tomorrow, Chase Whitley is going to the minor league complex to stay stretched out. He’ll pitch four or five innings across the street.
• Today’s bullpen sessions: Adam Warren, CC Sabathia, Vicente Campos, Ivan Nova, Scott Baker, Chris Martin, Danny Burawa
• Today’s second string: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Francisco Arcia, 2B Ali Castillo, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Ramon Flores, CF Slade Heathcott, RF Aaron Judge, DH Kyle Higashioka
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Nick Rumbelow
Associated Press photos
Today’s exhibition game is on the other side of the state, and most of the Yankees who are playing in it actually spent last night on the road. It’ll be a game light on big league regulars — Brett Gardner and Brian McCann are the most notable Yankees involved — and so the bigger story of the day seemed likely to happen here in Tampa.
But then it rained.
Instead of playing in another minor league game, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran will simply take some indoor batting practice and call it a day. I assume this makes it more likely that they’ll play tomorrow, but I really don’t know. The plan was to give them a handful of at-bats, but the weather hasn’t cooperated. There was some thought of playing an intrasquad game, but that idea has fizzled.
Basically, it’s just a quiet, rainy day in Tampa. This was going to be the place to be today, now it’s just a place that’s a little too wet for anything to happen.
• The Yankees announced that all tests on Jose Pirela came back clean. Neck and spine MRI findings were normal and he was discharged from the hospital last night. He’s obviously not scheduled to play today.
• By the way, MLB Network announced that it will be live broadcasting today’s game between the Yankees and Nationals, and it will be available in the New York market, so check that out if you have a random Monday off.
• Jacoby Ellsbury said he’s scheduled for more treatment today, but he still hasn’t hit or played catch since the oblique injury. He’s still confident he’ll be ready for Opening Day.
• Nathan Eovaldi sounds encouraged by his spring. Said he’s successfully improved his split and his slider, and he’s done a better job of working up in the zone with his big fastball. He’ll start in a minor league game tomorrow. That’s an effort to get him stretched out while Esmil Rogers auditions by pitching in the big league game at night.
• Today’s second string: C Austin Romine, 1B Francisco Arcia, 2B Dan Fiorito, SS Cole Figueroa, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Tyler Austin, CF Ramon Flores, RF Slade Heathcott, DH Eddy Rodriguez
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Kyle Davies, Jose Ramirez, Jacob Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow, Chasen Shreve
Associated Press photos
It’s worth remembering that last spring, CC Sabathia’s numbers were excellent. His fastball velocity was down, but so was his ERA. He made five official starts with a 1.29 ERA with a 0.76 WHIP. His 16 strikeouts were tied for the third-most in camp.
Then he opened the season, got knocked around for a month and a half, and wound up having knee surgery.
“I felt a lot better (today) than I did last spring when I didn’t give up many runs,” Sabathia said after today’s three-homer letdown. “So I’d rather get my (butt) kicked and feel like I did today than give up no runs and feel like I did last year.”
The Yankees keep saying the results don’t matter with Sabathia. At least not the results that end up in the box score. He faced 13 batters today, struck out four of them and gave up hits to five of them. Three of those hits were home runs. One was inside-the-park — and my guess is Jacoby Ellsbury might have caught it — but even that ball was hit awfully hard.
“Just fastballs that were up and they put good swings on them,” Sabathia said. “For me it’s just frustrating because I was throwing the ball so well leading up to this in bullpens and stuff, and to come out here and not have my delivery together is a little frustrating, but it is spring training. It’s March 22 and I’ll take this, file it, and just get ready for the next start.”
The gun here in Port St. Lucie had Sabathia’s fastball at 93-94 mph, and I’m told that, if anything, that gun tends to be slow. That’s encouraging for a guy who needs his strength. For Sabathia’s it’s not all about velocity, but throwing harder is a good sign that his strength is returning. He said that’s a product of a healthy knee, which lets him me more aggressive and direct to the plate.
“I think sometimes we forget that CC didn’t pitch much last year,” Joe Girardi said. “For him it’s just getting back to the consistency and getting him some work. CC’s always thrived on that. It seems the more you work him, the better he gets. He feels great. There’s a lot of life to his arm. I’m still encouraged. I don’t worry about the numbers. I told you I’m not going to because I think he needs to pitch.”
Today’s problem, Sabathia said, was mechanical. Bad mechanics led to pitches up in the zone, and pitches up in the zone were hit hard. When his mechanics were right, Sabathia was plenty effective. Both Sabathia and Girardi said it’s a matter of consistency. There were good pitches today, but also enough bad ones to cause a problem. Opening Day is two weeks away, and Sabathia said that’s enough time — whether he’s pitching Game 1 or not — to get ready for the regular season.
“I’ve still got hopefully two more starts down here, a couple more bullpens,” Sabathia said. “I’m kind of a slow starter anyway. The way I feel right now, I’m encouraged that I could kind of turn this thing around. … Definitely a lot more life than (the fastball had) the past couple of years. It’s just an extra pitch for me that I can use. I feel a lot better. It’s more about getting my command down and hitting my spots and just going from there.”
• Over in Tampa, Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-5 with two singles, two ground outs and a strikeout while playing five innings at third base for the Double-A team. Carlos Beltran started at DH for the Triple-A group and went 2-for-4 with a double, a walk and a strikeout. “Today was just a good day of work,” Rodriguez told reporters in Tampa. “Anytime you can see however many pitches I saw, probably 20, that’s a good day, a productive day.”
• Plan is for Rodriguez to DH and Beltran to play right field at the complex tomorrow. If it rains and the fields are wet, though, Beltran will probably DH as well, Girardi said.
• Speaking of guys getting at-bats, Brendan Ryan started at DH this afternoon. He’ll play again tomorrow, getting his second turn at shortstop.
• Don’t count Scott Baker out of the pitching staff competition just yet. Still vaguely in the mix to be the fifth starter or a long man, Baker delivered 4.1 scoreless innings this afternoon. He allowed just one hit, walked none and struck out two. “He threw really well,” Girardi said. “Down in the zone. Really, really good.”
• Baker’s now appeared in three games. He got clobbered the first time, but he’s been already since then. Still hasn’t walked anyone and said he said today’s results were mostly a matter of throwing better first pitches. There’s also the matter of healthy. Baker said he feels healthier than he has in years. “I feel really good,” he said. “I feel healthy.”
• When the Mets didn’t hold him on at first, Mark Teixeira actually stole a base today. “If you don’t pay attention, he’s a smart player,” Girardi said. “He’s done it before.”
• The Yankees had just three hits today, all singles: Teixeira, Nick Noonan (who’s quietly hitting .300) and John Ryan Murphy had the hits. … The Yankees lost 6-0. … Chasen Shreve allowed the final two Mets runs. He gave up three hits including a homer in the eighth inning.
• Before the game, Girardi talked about Sabathia’s willingness to make his season debut at any time. He said Sabathia’s been fine with the idea that he might not start Opening Day. We’ll make this our final word: “I think CC understands the big picture,” Girardi said. “The big picture is that he’s ready to go and he’s healthy. The last thing we want to do is rush anyone and put them in jeopardy for the season. He’s been really understanding, and he knows we’re just trying to do what’s in the best interest of him and the team.”
Associated Press photos
Here’s the latest on Alex Rodriguez’s off-the-field drama. Sounds like he won’t have to testify against his cousin in open court, which is surely good news for him. “Guys, we have so many good things to talk about, but that’s not one of them,” Rodriguez said this afternoon. “We’ll keep it baseball. Have a good weekend.” Here’s the AP with the latest on Cousin Yuri:
MIAMI (AP) — A cousin of New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez is scheduled to plead guilty to drug charges, the last defendant whose case is pending in the federal government’s Biogenesis of America investigation.
New court documents show that Yuri Sucart will change his plea at a hearing next Friday before U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga. Sucart is charged in a seven-count indictment with testosterone distribution and conspiracy to distribute the performance-enhancing substance.
Sucart was among those charged in connection with the now-closed Biogenesis clinic in Coral Gables operated by Anthony Bosch, who posed as a doctor. Baseball’s investigation esulted in the suspensions of 14 players, including Rodriguez for all of last season.
Bosch and the others have pleaded guilty. Bosch received the longest sentence at four years in prison.
If Sucart pleads guilty, Rodriguez would not have to testify in open court.
Associated Press photo
If self-indulgence and self-destruction got Alex Rodriguez into trouble, it seems he’ll try to make amends with self-deprecation.
After going opposite field on a mid-90s fastball for his second spring home run this afternoon, Rodriguez fell into what’s become a familiar tactic.
“I laugh when people say, ‘You can’t hit a ball in the mid-90s,’” Rodriguez said. “I couldn’t hit it in my prime when I was 28, certainly not consistently. When a guy’s throwing 95, 96, and he’s spotting, maybe Mike Trout or some of those great young superstars can hit it, but not me.”
Of course, when Rodriguez was 28, he won his first MVP award and finished with 47 home runs and a .600 slugging percentage, numbers Trout has never reached. But modesty – perhaps false, certainly over-the-top – has been a go-to form of communication in this first spring training back from a year-long suspension.
When he hit his first spring home run on March 11, Rodriguez said that it had been so long since he’d gone deep that he’d forgotten what a home run felt like or looked like off the bat. This time, it seemed Rodriguez had forgotten what a home run looked like even after it left the yard. The ball hit something on the other side of the fence and ricocheted back into play, momentarily sending Rodriguez scurrying back to first base before finishing his home run trot.
“No idea (what happened),” he said. “It’s been awhile since I hit a ball that way. I was actually hoping it came back into play so I wouldn’t have to run the bases.”
With that, he was once again laughing at his own expense.
Truth is, Rodriguez has looked alright this spring. He’s not moving very well, but that’s to be expected for a 39-year-old who hasn’t played in a year and had hip surgery fairly recently. Today he played a day game after a night game, which several veteran players aren’t asked to do even in the regular season.
“Actually, my body’s reacted better than I’d have thought,” Rodriguez said. “This morning, I was very curious to see how my body was going to bounce back and react, and I was pleasantly surprised, I feel pretty good. … I just feel like my body’s getting in better shape, and feel like I’m running a little bit better. Every day you just want to get a little bit better.”
Today, Rodriguez said he was swinging early in his first two at-bats, causing a pair of weak ground balls — “two of the weakest ground balls I think I’ve ever seen hit,” he said — before an adjustment helped him handle that last fastball, which he hit over the fence. The home run snapped a 1-for-14 slump, but Rodriguez is still hitting.269, higher than all but two Yankees regulars this spring.
So what’s been most surprising to Rodriguez himself in this spring of redemption?
“That I hit that ball today, that way, and that it went over,” Rodriguez said, with a smile. “I thought it was going to be a long single. No, the most surprising part to me has been all the incredible support I’ve gotten from our community, our fraternity, especially other players – talking to Jim Leyland, (Miguel) Cabrera, Victor Martinez today – everybody’s been incredibly supportive, and that’s been most humbling.”
Associated Press photo
It’s always easy to dismiss the first spring training start of a 34-year-old big league veteran. For a guy like this, early to mid March is all about getting ready. The results don’t matter. It’s all part of a familiar process. Why, then, was CC Sabathia so nervous tonight?
“I didn’t (expect it),” Sabathia said. “But I was, I mean, really nervous. More so than normal. That was kind of weird, but I think it’s just be being back out here and wanting to be with my teammates and just being my first game.”
Sabathia said it had nothing to with worrying about his health. It was all about pitching under the lights for the first time since May. There was a solid crowd at Steinbrenner Field, the Blue Jays brought a legitimate lineup, and Sabathia delivered an encouraging but predictably uneven two innings. He struck out two with a fastball that sat 90-92 and touched 93 mph (on a scout’s gun). At times he looked sharp. He also gave up two runs on four hits and was sometimes hit hard.
“Solid, and definitely way ahead of what I was expecting,” a scout in attendance said. “The guy can still pitch.”
To Sabathia’s credit, he thoroughly dismissed his velocity, which was much better than we’ve seen early in previous spring trainings. Sabathia’s spent the past few years saying diminished velocity doesn’t matter, and he wasn’t about to say that increased velocity tonight was going to be a difference maker.
“I think it’s a good sign for you guys so you can stop asking me,” Sabathia said. “I don’t really care.”
What he does care about is throwing strikes, and Sabathia said he was happy with his location. He threw 31 pitches, 22 of them for strikes. He’s also focused on making his changeup a weapon again. In recent years, his slider/cutter has become his top secondary pitch. He’d like to use the changeup that way this season.
“Changeup has got to be up there for me, just because it’s a big pitch for me,” he said. “I want to be able to throw it in any count, at any time. When I got here, that’s how it was, and I want to get back to that.”
Sabathia said he wants to focus on his changeup in the bullpen before his next start. Tonight he got one strikeout on a cutter, and he got the other on a two-seam fastball.
“That’s the Andy pitch,” Sabathia said. “I think if you look at the way I pitch right now, past five years, a lot reflects what me and Andy (Pettitte) have talked about: moving the ball in and out, throwing my two-seamer in to righties. He’s had a huge influence on me.”
• Gary Sanchez was optioned to Double-A Trenton before today’s game. After the game, Domingo German was optioned to High-A Tampa and RHP Branden Pinder to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. First basemen Greg Bird and Kyle Roller were also reassigned to minor league camp (because Bird and Roller aren’t on the 40-man, they don’t have to be assigned to a specific minor league roster; assignments right now don’t necessarily mean specific players will open the season at those specific levels).
• In the Yankees clubhouse postgame, there was a lot of positive reaction to seeing Sabathia on the mound again and the way he looked after so much time off. “I think (the fact he’s healthy) is the biggest thing,” Joe Girardi said. “And that’s what we need to continue to see because we said all along that we thought he was throwing the ball better this spring than he has the last couple of years, and I think a lot of it’s because he’s healthier. He has some issues taken care of, and now we’ve just got to keep him that way.”
• Alex Rodriguez on Sabathia: “I haven’t been around much the last two years, so it’s hard to think about how these guys feel and what they’re doing. But I know CC’s always a big part of what we do, and he’s part of our DNA. And I thought the ball exploded out of his hand today just from third base.”
• Girardi said he wasn’t sure whether Sabathia was getting an extra day of rest, but he was pretty sure Sabathia would be starting one of those long road trip games coming up, either Sunday against the Mets or Monday against the Nationals.
• Girardi wasn’t positive, but said he was pretty sure Esmil Rogers would start on Thursday. So it’s Masahiro Tanaka tomorrow, then Rogers the next day, but the rotation is unannounced beyond that.
• Sabathia said he’s not worried about whether he gets the ball on Opening Day. He’s done it 11 times in his career and said he’s more focused on making sure he’s available in September (and for Game 1 of a playoff series). Said it won’t bother him if the Yankees go with Tanaka (or anyone else) on Opening Day this season.
• As for the knee, Sabathia said he wasn’t worried about it at all tonight, and he’s not worried about how well it will hold up as he builds innings. “We’ve got a pretty good routine,” he said. “After I come off the mound, stuff we do. In the training room the days in between. I’m pretty confident in our routine and what I’ve been doing to keep my knee healthy.”
• Rodriguez made one solid play at third base, but he also had a ball shoot past him to start the second inning. From up here, it looked playable. Not easy, but playable. Rodriguez seemed not to make much of it. “I saw it perfectly,” he said. “Just a rocket by me. Not even close to me.”
• Another positive outing for Chris Martin. The tall right hander who seems to have a shot at a spot in the big league bullpen went two innings with one hit and three strikeouts. He walked none.
• Dellin Betances actually got hit pretty hard on a third-inning triple. He allowed one run on two hits and a walk. It was Sabathia, though, who took the loss in a 4-2 game. Only saw a little bit of Domingo German’s spring debut. Saw a hard hit. Saw a good curveball for a strike.
• What do you know, another hit for Jose Pirela, this one his second triple of the spring. … Chris Young went 2-for-3 to raise his spring average to .263. … Carlos Beltran and Tyler Austin each doubled. … Mark Teixeira had his first home run of the spring. … Stephen Drew had his third hit of the spring.
• Final word goes to Rodriguez: “It’s so great to have (Sabathia) out there. I thought he looked really well, really good. Threw the ball really well. He’s going to be such a big key to what we do this year, and Tex as well. So great to see Tex and CC both contribute and look so good.”
Associated Press photos
The Yankees have a night game — their first of the spring — so we have a few hours to kill today. Let’s start with a few random observations and thoughts as we enter the middle of March:
• So who’s the fifth starter now, what does that mean for the rest of the pitching staff, and what does that mean for the Yankees idea of using six starters a few times in April and May? It really seems those questions could be answered any number of ways by the time Opening Day roles around. My feeling is that Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers are the heavy favorites for the rotation opening, which further opens the possibility of either Chase Whitley or Bryan Mitchell taking a long-relief role. I also wonder if the Yankees might carry a guy like Scott Baker as their long man, sending Whitley and Mitchell to Triple-A to stay stretched out for a call-up to make a spot start here and there. If I have to guess right now, I’ll say it’s Warren in the rotation, Rogers in the bullpen, with Whitley and Jose Ramirez breaking camp as the 11th and 12th pitchers on the staff. But that’s a true shot in the dark.
• Honestly, Alex Rodriguez looks better than I expected. I don’t think he looks great, but he seems to still have a solid eye at the plate, and I think he can at least make the routine plays at third base. The Yankees might be able to get away with starting him there every 10 games or so, knowing they’ll have to bring Chase Headley or Brendan Ryan (or Jose Pirela) in to play some late-inning defense. Saying that Rodriguez looks better than I thought isn’t to say I think he’s going to be a middle-of-the-order slugger, only that I think there’s at least some reason to hope he can be a useful hitter near the bottom of the order (maybe a little higher against lefties). Most surprising thing about A-Rod this spring: fans seem to be mostly on his side. Certainly not completely on his side, but definitely more cheers than boos.
• Weird thing about covering Masahiro Tanaka’s spring is that each good day seems like a tease. The best the Yankees can say is, well, his elbow hasn’t blown out yet. That’s it. Maybe optimism grows each time he goes out there, but a successful bullpen, batting practice or exhibition game doesn’t eliminate the possibility of his elbow blowing out the very next time he pitches. I think the Yankees should feel encouraged at this point, but I’m not sure they’ll ever feel secure. I do think they made the right call in trying to rehab — I honestly think we rarely hear about the success stories when pitchers approach it that way — but even if Tanaka makes 30 starts this year, those are going to be 30 uneasy outings.
• Tanaka is the best pitcher on this team, but it’s hard to be in the Yankees clubhouse and not see CC Sabathia as the clear ace. Pitchers still look to him for advice. They look to him for leadership. And the big man provides. I have no clue whether he can be a great big league pitcher again. I don’t even know if he can be a solid No. 3. But I don’t think his role in the clubhouse has changed from what it was three years ago. Even veteran guys will gather around near his locker to talk to him about anything and everything.
• When camp opened, I thought Rob Refsnyder would get some chance to compete for a roster spot. I didn’t think he’d win one, but I thought he’d get some significant attention beyond that of his other inevitable Triple-A teammates. Instead, Refsnyder doesn’t seem to be getting any more of a look than Jonathan Galvez or Nick Noonan. Refsnyder might jump into the picture if Stephen Drew gets hurt, but it really seems — they haven’t said this, just seems obvious — that the Yankees have no intention of sending Refsnyder anywhere but the minor leagues, probably to work on his defense.
• Three ways I see for Jose Pirela to make the roster. 1. Brendan Ryan’s back doesn’t get better and the Yankees choose Pirela as a right-handed platoon infielder, sliding Drew to shortstop on days Didi Gregorius needs a break. 2. Chris Young gets hurt, and Pirela is the right-handed fourth outfielder. 3. Alex Rodriguez absolutely can’t play third base, leaving Ryan as the only backup at second, short and third. If that’s the case, the Yankees could decide they need a bigger bat and settle on Pirela instead (again, using Drew at shortstop on days Gregorius sits). Even in that third situation, though — with A-Rod relegated to DH only — I still tend to think Ryan would actually keep the bench job ahead of Pirela, at least coming out of camp. The Yankees seem to want to make sure they have enough shortstop depth to open the season, and losing Ryan really makes that position thin.
• I think Nathan Eovaldi is going to be good, but I also think the closest thing to a sure thing in the Yankees rotation is Michael Pineda, and that’s just crazy after what that guy’s been through these past three years.
• Slade Heathcott looks good so far. Incredibly small sample size, but he’s hit pretty well and has played a pretty good center field when he’s been out there. Heathcott is always in insane shape, and he’s clearly convinced the knee problems are behind him. He lost considerable prospect status and a spot on the 40-man roster for good reason — he simply has to stay healthy — but there’s still a lot of talent there.
• Backup catcher? I still think it’ll be John Ryan Murphy, even though he’s not doing much at the plate. If that’s the case and the Yankees have to put Austin Romine on waivers, I honestly hope he’s claimed so that he can get another shot somewhere else. Romine seems to do things the right way, and he’s just been buried in this organization.
• One thing making me think the Yankees are preparing themselves for the possibility of losing Romine is that Eddy Rodriguez seems to be catching quite a few bullpens with big league pitchers. He caught Masahiro Tanaka’s sim game the other day. He’s caught CC Sabathia. I wonder if the Yankees are trying to get Rodriguez a little familiarity with the big league staff just in case they lose Romine and need another catcher during the year. There’s no guarantee Gary Sanchez will deserve a call-up — and the Yankees might not want Sanchez to be a backup at this stage of his development — so Rodriguez could be that just-in-case veteran waiting in Triple-A. If so, it would make some sense to let him get a little familiar with the guys on the big league staff.
• Carlos Beltran looks healthy, but he’s done nothing at the plate so far. Everyone should know not to make anything of these early at-bats for a veteran guy like Beltran, but it’s hard to apply that logic when he’s coming off such a bad year and the Yankees are counting on him so heavily. I make nothing of Jacoby Ellsbury’s slow start, nothing of Didi Gregeoius’s slow start, and I guess I make nothing of Beltran’s slow start, but I can’t help noticing it.
• Four players who I absolutely do not expect to make the big league roster under any circumstances: Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Luis Severino and Heathcott. Yes, they’re high-end talents, but I just don’t think the Yankees are seriously considering them as big leaguers out of camp. In the second half? Maybe. Especially for Severino. But out of spring training is way too ambitious. I think Refsnyder and Jacob Lindgren could make it under some circumstances — probably Lindgren easier than Refsnyder — but I just don’t see any of the most hyped prospects actually being on the big league radar for April. They’re getting attention because they’re talented, not because they’re about to make the team.
Associated Press photos
Eight Yankees have hit a home run this spring. Only one of them is expected to actually break camp with the big league team.
“Some of the guys were saying that it looked like I didn’t even swing,” Alex Rodriguez said. “That’s always a good sign for me. It looked like a little pepper swing and the ball jumped pretty good, so that’s a good sign.”
Who had A-Rod in the first big league Yankee to homer pool? If you did, congrats, because today he got an 88-mph, 3-1 pitch from right-handed Red Sox pitcher Brandon Workman and sent it over the wall in left-center field. It was Rodriguez’s first home run since September 20, 2013. He said he had no idea when he hit it whether it would carry over the wall.
“I haven’t hit a ball like that in a long time,” Rodriguez said. “So I don’t know what’s a home run and what’s not. … It feels good. Look, I’m happy that I can contribute. It’s early March. Let’s see what happens. You have to do that in New York where it counts. It’s certainly a good start.”
Both Rodriguez and Joe Girardi seemed most impressed by the fact Rodriguez was in a 3-1 count. He’s shown a pretty good eye this spring, and good counts usually lead to easier pitches.
“He’s getting in good counts to hit,” Girardi said. “He drove a breaking ball the other day pretty well to right center that was down in the zone, which is not necessarily easy to do. I don’t see him chasing pitches, which I think is key for him.”
Said Rodriguez: “Laying off the 1-1 slider, the 2-1 fastball, gets you to a 3-1 count. I think that’s going to be the key for our offense this year, to really stay disciplined.”
Did Rodriguez ever doubt he’d hit another home run at some point?
“You always have doubt,” he said. “Look, I haven’t played in a long time. You guys have been writing it. It’s a tough game. What I’m trying to do, not a lot of people have been able to have this comeback. I’m working hard every day trying to make the team and contribute.”
• The Yankees announced that Chris Capuano’s right quad strain in a Grade 2. That’s definitely going to keep him off the Opening Day roster. “I think it happened right before he got (to first base),” Girardi said. “I thought it was a calf the way he pulled up, but obviously it’s an upper quad.”
• This was Rodriguez’s second game at third base. He had to make another play and another long throw, but he still hasn’t really tested his range. It’s pretty clear he’s not expecting to cover a ton of ground. “I forgot how far that throw is,” Rodriguez said, laughing. “The game is really hard, but I’m having a lot of fun playing it and I’m working hard at it. I want to be able to play a respectable enough third base where Joe feels comfortable enough where I can give him an option here and there to give those guys a blow.”
• The plan is for Rodriguez to DH tomorrow.
• Speaking of tomorrow, Girardi said Tanaka is scheduled for two innings in his spring debut. “We’re pretty happy with where he’s at,” Girardi said. “But we need to build him up now. It was good that he started two games last year because I think there would have been even bigger of a deal tomorrow. The first game he started, I sat on the edge of my seat a little bit. I feel pretty good about where he’s at.”
• Before Tanaka’s debut, CC Sabathia is scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. simulated game. “We’ve been really pleased with where he’s at,” Girardi said. “He’s throwing the ball well. We get through the simulated game and then we’ll probably get him in a game.”
• Andrew Miller allowed a solo homer to lead off the second inning today. It was hit by young first baseman Travis Shaw. “Don’t want to face young kids early on in spring,” Girardi said. “They let it fly.”
• That sentence might be reassuring for Miller, but it goes both ways. Right now the Yankees have some hitting putting up huge numbers, but they’re also young kids. Girardi said he keeps that in mind when evaluating what the prospects are doing so far. “They joke about when Major League pitchers go down to throw minor league games in spring training, they try to set these kids up,” Girardi said. “No chance. They’re hacking. That’s what happens.”
• Speaking of young guys who are putting up big numbers, Slade Heathcott hit a ninth-inning home run today and is batting .625 so far this spring. … Also read hot is Jose Pirela, who went 2-for-2 and raised his early spring average to .533. … Bryan Mitchell was knocked around for four runs on seven hits in two innings today. Tyler Webb allowed two runs on three hits in one inning, and Chris Martin allowed three runs — one earned — also on three hits in one inning.
• Rob Refsnyder made his third error of the spring. That’s not at all helped his case for a spot on the Yankees roster (not that it seemed he was getting a real look anyway). … Brendan Ryan did a pretty light workout. He’s scheduled to take dry swings tomorrow. … After missing two days with a stiff neck, Nick Noonan is expected back tomorrow.
• Luis Severino played light catch today. “We’ll slow him down a just little because he’s been sick,” Girardi said.
• Low-level minor league pitcher Brayan Alcantara has received a 72-game suspension after testing positive for metabolites of Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance in violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
• Final word goes to Rodriguez about (sort of) getting to be a part of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry again. “It’s like nothing in sports, Red Sox-Yankees. I have so much respect for that organization over there. It’s just great. Even saying hello to the umpires, saying hello to double-five over there, (Brian) Butterfield, he’s a good friend. Just being back in the game and the great reception I’ve been getting from the fans, it’s been a pleasant surprise.”
Associated Press photos
A-Rod back at third vs. Boston • 03.11.15
LHP Chris Capuano
Alex Rodriguez already has four hits this spring. He went 2-for-3 today, drove in a run, and raised his spring batting average to .444. He doesn’t have an extra-base hit, but for a guy who’s talked a lot about finding his timing, he’s making pretty decent contact and showing a good eye at the plate. He’s been good, which might impress some people, but it doesn’t impress Rodriguez himself.
“Nothing. Zero,” he said. “(Whether the numbers are) 0-for-9, 4-for-9. … It doesn’t really mean anything. I’ve played for a long time. It’s better than 0-for-9, I guess.”
But that’s not to say Rodriguez hasn’t been impressed this spring. Quite the opposite, actually. Asked a pretty broad question about Opening Day, Rodriguez used the opportunity to heap praise on some of the young guys in Yankees camp.
“I actually like our team,” he said. “One of the nice things about being here in spring this year is seeing the collection of nice young power arms. That’s been a really pleasant surprise. The other thing I’ve seen is two of the finest young hitters I’ve seen in a long time. One is righty and one is lefty. I think they’re both under the age of 24. That’s really encouraging. And I also saw that our lineup has the potential to be pretty deep and that’s something that I think can help us.”
Who exactly are those young hitters?
“Greg Bird and Aaron Judge,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t see those type of young hitters come around very often. We’re lucky to have two of them. I’m very impressed.”
And Rodriguez wasn’t finished there. He also had plenty of kind words for Michael Pineda.
“When you have stuff like that, it makes you be a little bit more relaxed,” he said of Pineda’s recent demeanor. “I think the thing about Pineda that I learned in my rehab with him when we were down here in Tampa together is how athletic he is. He’s one of the fastest guys on the team. It doesn’t make sense that a guy that big can move that fast. He’s extremely athletic and fast. Then in the weight room, he can just lift the whole weight room. Those combinations, when you know that and you see how that transfers to his power stuff, it makes a lot of sense.”
How fast are we talking? Faster than Brett Gardner?
“No,” Rodriguez said. “But he’s faster than me and a lot of other guys.”
• Hard to ignore Pineda in his debut — and it’s impossible to ignore A-Rod saying the Yankees have two of the best young hitters he’s seen in a long time — but it’s worth leaving some of today’s spotlight for Nathan Eovaldi. In his second spring outing, Eovaldi racked up five strikeouts in three innings. “Just working ahead in the counts, I think, for the most part was the big key today,” he said.
• Eovaldi has said all spring that he wanted to work on his offspeed pitches. Today he got two strikeouts on fastballs, two on sliders and one on a split. “With every year you’re going to get more comfort with yourself and what you can and can’t do,” Brian McCann said. “With that stuff, it’s just going to be a matter of putting it all together and elevating when he needs to elevate and put it in the dirt when he needs to put it in the dirt, because he’s an uncomfortable at-bat for anybody.”
• One complaint from Eovaldi, he said he felt like he was rushing some of his offspeed pitches, but the results were still positive. “Besides rushing, I felt good,” he said. “I was able to throw the majority of them for strikes. I threw some splits. I felt like they were quality pitches, I just didn’t get offers on them.”
• Minor league reliever Diego Moreno — who could, honestly, be crowded out of even the Triple-A bullpen — gave up all three Rays runs in today’s 4-3 Yankees win. Moreno struggled, but the rest of the Yankees pitchers really thrived today. David Carpenter (pictured on the right), Justin Wilson and Chris Martin each pitched a scoreless inning today. All three allowed one runner.
• Last time out, Martin seemed to really catch Girardi’s attention. I have to imagine today’s outing did nothing to dull that strong first impression. Martin allowed a double, but he struck out the last two batters of the game. The first was on a 95-mph fastball, the second was on a big breaking ball.
• Pineda and Esmil Rogers will start the upcoming split-squad doubleheader on Saturday. Pineda will pitch at home, Rogers on the road. That leaves an upcoming rotation of — Tuesday: Chase Whitley, Wednesday: Chris Capuano, Thursday: Masahiro Tanaka, Friday: Adam Warren, Saturday: Rogers and Pineda.
• Prospect Luis Severino showed up sick this morning and was diagnosed with strep throat. He’s been told to stay home tomorrow and he’ll be back Wednesday. Severino was scheduled for early work tomorrow — I assume it was going to be a bullpen — so it sounds like the illness might only push him back a day or two.
• Shortstop Nick Noonan has a stiff neck and has been scratched from tomorrow’s road trip (Girardi said he might make the trip, but his name was literally scratched off the list). Girardi indicated it’s a minor injury at this point. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” he said.
• Nothing new on Brendan Ryan. He’s still on track to begin light baseball activities on Wednesday.
• Predictably, Girardi wouldn’t say whether he’s planning to use today’s lineup as his Opening Day lineup. That seems like a safe bet, but Girardi would only say, “it’s possible.”
• Rob Refsnyder made his second spring error. He also had another hit and is batting .500 this spring. … Bird and Brian McCann had the Yankees only extra-base hits today. Each doubled. … Slade Heathcott stayed hot with another hit. He’s batting .800. Small sample sizes are fun! … Austin Romine got his first hit. John Ryan Murphy also has just one hit this spring.
• Final word goes to Girardi about feeling at least a little encouraged by A-Rod’s early success: “I think it’s impossible not to. If you’re struggling in the beginning, like a lot of our hitters are, you say it’s timing. That was my concern for Alex, really, coming into camp. How long would it take for him to get his timing? I think he’s done a pretty good job adjusting, and I want to continue to see it.”
Associated Press photos