Twenty three strikeouts. One walk. Michael Pineda knew he’d been pretty good this spring, but he didn’t know those numbers until a reporter mentioned them in the clubhouse after today’s start at Steinbrenner Field.
“It’s good,” Pineda said, laughing. “I’m very happy for that. I’m not really paying attention, but thank you for telling me about it. I’m very happy because I’m feeling, in spring training today, it’s a really good number. I’m very happy. It’s what I try to do: throw a strike when I get on the mound and get an out.”
Pineda struck out six this afternoon. He walked none, allowed one run and finished spring training with a 1.42 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP. There’s been no indication that there’s any lingering problem in his shoulder. Instead, Pineda has looked fully healthy, and fully dominant.
“I think he really just picked up where he left off last year,” Joe Girardi said. “I really didn’t expect a whole lot different because of what we saw last year from him and how well he pitched, but it’s really nice to see it carry over. … I feel really good when he takes the mound. I do. You know he’s going to pound the zone and he’s going to give you every opportunity to win.”
Pineda’s not the only Yankees starter who pounded the zone. Nathan Eovaldi has 14 strikeouts and no walks this spring. Masahiro Tanaka has 13 strikeouts and one walk. Adam Warren: 11 strikeouts and one walk. CC Sabathia: six strikeouts and no walks.
That’s 67 strikeouts and three walks for the rotation.
“It’s good because if you don’t walk too much hitters, you don’t get in trouble,” Pineda said. “When you walk a lot of hitters, you get in trouble. So, it’s good. Throw strikes.”
Easier said than done, but the Yankees have thrived in that regard this spring. And Pineda seems to be leading that charge. If the shoulder issues really are behind him, Pineda just might be the Yankees’ most reliable starter. This spring he’s been their most dominant, looking like an even better version of the guy the Yankees first acquired more than three years ago.
“Every year I’m growing and growing, (becoming) a better person,” Pineda said. “So now I’m a better person and a better pitcher. I feel happy with that.”
• Another rocky outing for Dellin Betances who walked two batters but got through his inning without a run. “I’m getting my work in,” Betances said with a laugh. “I’m throwing a lot of pitches, but health-wise I feel fine. I felt a little stronger today. I’ve just got to be able to get that first guy out right away. I can’t be walking the leadoff guy. I got myself into a little jam again but I was able to come out with no damage, I guess. That’s a positive note.”
• Betances said he’s convinced his command issues have been caused by a minor mechanical issue that he’s close to fixing. He said he’s drifting too much, and that’s hurt him. It’s led to walks and pitches up in the zone. He’s expecting to pitch again on Saturday, which should be his final tune-up before Opening Day.
• Still no word on who will be the closer. “That’s one discussion we have not talked a lot about,” Girardi said. “It’s probably something we’ll talk a lot about tomorrow.”
• Speaking of the bullpen, it now looks like the Yankees will carry three left-handed relievers. Obviously Andrew Miller will be used as something more than a lefty specialist, and Girardi said the same is true for both Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve. “Shreve was a starter for most of his career,” Girardi said. “And I trust Justin against both, too.”
• Carlos Beltran did not play today because he had flu-like symptoms. He probably won’t play tomorrow either. “You worry about the dehydration factor,” Girardi said. “My guess is, right now I do not have him penciled in (tomorrow). Everyone who’s had this, we’ve given them two days.”
• Girardi on the decision between Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy: “I think defense has to come first in that situation. Pitchers being comfortable, you want them to be able to work. So we have a tough decision.” The Yankees aren’t expecting to make that decision until Saturday night.
• Pretty good day for Alex Rodriguez at first base. He had to make a couple of scoops and nearly started a double play on a sharp ground ball. “I didn’t realize how involved and alert you have to be on every play (at first base),” Rodriguez said. “Even on that base hit up the middle, I had to sprint to the mound for a cutoff man. Those are things that I’ve never really had to do. A couple times, you find yourself just kind of standing around not knowing what to do and then you kind of go. It’s not really natural.”
• Girardi was clearly happy with the way Rodriguez looked in the field today and said he would not hesitate to use him at first base during the season. Garrett Jones is still the go-to backup, but Girardi said he could also imagine putting Jones in right field and playing Rodriguez at first on days he wants to DH Carlos Beltran and rest Mark Teixeira.
• The first real challenge for Rodriguez came on first-inning a throw in the dirt from Stephen Drew, who was playing shortstop for the first time this spring. “It’s natural,” Drew said, joking that he was trying to make sure Rodriguez got his work in. “It’s just more or less getting throws over there, which I haven’t taken all spring because of Didi. He’s done a good job, and knock on wood, everybody’s healthy and we’re ready to go.”
• The Yankees got their first look at Gregorius Petit this afternoon. He played shortstop and got a couple of at-bats in the second half of today’s home game. “He’s a player that can play anywhere; second, short and third,” Girardi said. “He’s going to give you good at-bats, going to play hard. He can run a little bit. I’ve heard nothing but good things about him. He got caught in a position where there were a few guys over there that could do the same role that he could, so he became available. We’re happy to have him.”
• As planned, Didi Gregorius played shortstop in today’s road game. He seems past the wrist issue and should be ready for Opening Day. So when Gregorius takes a day off, will Drew or Petit play shortstop? “It’s probably something I need to talk about our scouts with, what’s the best scenario there,” Girardi said.
• Girardi stressed that the Yankees are sending Rob Refsnyder to Triple-A because they expect him to be an everyday guy when he finally gets to the big leagues. “He’s pretty close,” Girardi said. “I think for him, it’s a guy that’s made a position change, really. There was talk about him yesterday, could he possibly be that guy? I think we felt it was more beneficial for him to play every day, finish his development, and when he comes he’s here for good and that he’s an everyday player. Because I think that’s how we envision him.”
• Speaking of guys sent down, a source told me today that the Yankees will have center fielder Slade Heathcott open the season in Triple-A. That wasn’t the plan coming into spring training, but Heathcott has played so well that the Yankees think Heathcott is ready to make the jump. For whatever it’s worth, I also heard that Gary Sanchez has looked very impressive in minor league camp. Apparently the feeling is that he’s taken a giant leap forward.
• Final word goes to Girardi on a day the Yankees very nearly finalized their roster: “There’s a lot of guys in this camp I’ve had to send down that you can’t really tell them they’ve done a lot wrong. And (that includes) even some of the younger kids we played. These guys did a lot of things right, and it is difficult. I still say, it’s the worst part of my job. It’s very difficult for me and I feel for them, because it’s a dream of theirs. Obviously we believe that a guy like Chase Whitley is going to help us at some point this year. We believe that. And you just have to remind him of that. And you just try to talk about where you were last year at this time, and how far you’ve come, and be prepared, because there’s a good chance we’re going to need you at some point.”
Associated Press photos
Think back to the beginning of March.
Despite a lot of offseason talk about Rob Refsnyder getting a real opportunity this spring, he was getting no significant time with the big league regulars, and it seemed clear the Yankees weren’t considering him an go-to option for the major-league roster. As recently as today’s fifth inning, Refsnyder still seemed to have no realistic chance of opening in the big leagues.
By the end of the sixth inning, he was perhaps a favorite break camp with the team.
Utility infielder Brendan Ryan strained his right calf muscle during an awkward play in the sixth inning, leaving the Yankees searching for a last-minute replacement only five days before Opening Day. One week removed from his 24th birthday, Refsnyder has been one of the Yankees’ best hitters this spring, and just enough dominoes might have fallen to land him a spot in New York.
“The young man, I think, has continually improved,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s a name that I’m sure is going to fly around a lot today.”
It was less than two weeks ago that Ryan returned from a back injury, and the Yankees made it clear they fully expected him to be on their roster despite the shortened spring training. The Yankees liked his defense, liked the fact he hits right-handed, and liked the fact he could play both shortstop and second base. He was going to make the team.
If not Ryan, the best alternative would have been Jose Pirela, another right-handed utility man who had the highest batting average in camp before suffering a concussion last Sunday. Now Pirela’s gone more than a week without baseball activities and Girardi called him a “long shot” to be ready for Opening Day.
That means the only Refsnyder alternative in big league camp is Nick Noonan, who has some big league time but also hits left-handed, making him a less-than-ideal backup to lefties Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew. Even if the Yankees were to bring someone up from minor league camp, Cole Figueroa — the other Triple-A middle infielder — also hits lefty.
“Things can happen quick,” Girardi said. “I think a lot of clubs hold their breath this time of year that you leave camp the way you are. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you’ve got to deal with it. … Didi and Drew are healthy, so we’re going to have to look at probably more of a second baseman in a sense. You could look at a second baseman more than a shortstop because you have two shortstops.”
Assuming Drew can slide back to shortstop without any problem — he has yet to take a single ground ball there this spring — the Yankees don’t need someone who has Ryan’s versatility. Instead, hitting from Ryan’s side of the plate might be more important. Refsnyder has impressed with a .333/.447/.538 slash line and the most doubles in camp, but he’s also shown room to grow with his team-high six errors. That’s twice as many as anyone else in camp.
“I think that my game reps haven’t reflected how well I’ve fielded in practice,” Refsnyder said. “Some of the errors I’ve made have been tempo plays, getting into the rhythm of the game again. … I wish I could have played better on all sides of the ball. But I’m happy with where my work is right now. Hopefully it translates in the game a little bit more, in the season, to be honest.”
It’s a curious situation. Refsnyder fits the profile of what the Yankees want and need, but they clearly want him to improve defensively, and it’s worth wondering whether they would be OK with one of their top prospects getting sporadic playing time off the big league bench. Carrying Refsnyder is certainly not what the Yankees had in mind, but it might be what they decide to do.
“Shoot, coming into camp, I was 23,” Refsnyder said. “I’m 24 now, and I’m playing with some of the best players in the entire world. Some of the best guys. It’s definitely not discouraging. Every day you can learn and get better from all these guys. They’ve been awesome to younger guys like myself who started this camp. I’ve learned a lot. Some things I can really continue on for the rest of my career hopefully. This has been a great opportunity for me.”
• Really strong outing by Chase Whitley today. He allowed a run on three hits in the second innings, but that was the extent of the damage. He finished with four innings, one run, no walks and six strikeouts. That might have locked up a spot in the Yankees bullpen. “I wanted to have a good spring and I was able to accomplish that,” Whitley said. “The results matched up today with how I felt, so that was pretty good.”
• If the Yankees carry Whitley, it would be as a second long man. Girardi said today that he considers Esmil Rogers locked into a roster spot. Rogers pitched 1.1 innings with an unearned run today. He struck out three and walked one.
• Another bullpen candidate, Chasen Shreve, allowed one hit and one unearned run in two-thirds of an inning. He struck out one. Most damaging to his case might be the fact he allowed a hard double to left-handed hitter James Loney. Presumably, Shreve would have to handle lefties to play much of a role in New York.
• Andrew Bailey delivered another scoreless inning with one hit and one walk. He has yet to allow an earned run this spring, but he’s also thrown just five innings.
• Why Adam Warren as fifth starter? “Consistency,” Girardi said. “Four-pitch mix. He throws strikes. His ability to get lefthanders and righthanders out, holds runners, does the little things, fields his position. He just does a lot of things right.”
• Gregorius is definitely playing tomorrow. “Unless something happens overnight,” Girardi said. “He felt good in BP. He’s scheduled and circled in on the trip. He’s going.” Gregorius said he’s perfectly unconcerned about the wrist after taking BP and going through fielding drills today. He’s fine.
• Alex Rodriguez is playing first base again tomorrow. He’ll play in the home game.
• Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira came through today’s game with no problems.
• Here’s Girardi on Refsnyder’s defense: “It’s a guy that was a right fielder. I think it’s improved over the spring. I’ve seen him on the back field every day and it’s improved. I think he’ll continue to get better. There’s no shortage of work ethic in this young man. He’s young. That’s the bottom line, he’s young. But depending on what we do, do I think we have a number of candidates that can handle it? Yes, I do. It’s just picking which one we think is the right one.”
• Would Pirela have been the favorite had he stayed healthy? “Yeah, I think he would’ve had a good shot at it,” Girardi said. Amazing how that weird decision to play Pirela in center field in Port St. Lucie — under what circumstances would Pirela play center this season? — might have impacted things.
• No surprise, but Girardi said he plans to stay on rotation at least through the early part of the season. Even after off days, the Yankees won’t skip Warren or any other starter. They’ll use off days for extra rest and occasionally insert sixth starters for even more rest when necessary.
• Chris Capuano is playing catch — not in a chair, standing up — but there’s still no time table for his return. “That’s hard to say,” Girardi said. “Obviously he’s playing catch, but it’s not the freedom you would have if you didn’t have a leg injury.”
• Final word goes to Girardi: “Those guys (Gregorius, Ellsbury, Teixeira), in my mind, I was pretty convinced we’d have them back. Now, it’s different now with Brendan. I think it’s a long shot. What happens, your depth is tested. We’ve got to talk about it. You understand going in that these things can happen and you’ve got to deal with it. I think that’s why they try to go out and acquire as many good players as they can.”
Associated Press photos
This morning I wrote about some of my thoughts and impressions heading into this final week of Yankees camp, but my opinions carry no weight around here. Brian Cashman’s opinions do, though. Here are some of the general manager’s thoughts with Opening Day coming up quickly.
On Dellin Betances having a rough spring
By letting Dave Robertson go to Chicago, the Yankees sent a clear message that they believe Betances can repeat last year’s success. Maybe not to that level — he could have a fine career and still have last season standout as his high point — but certainly the Yankees are banking on Betances being able to play a key role and get big outs. Problem is, he’s really struggled this spring with bad results and an underwhelming fastball.
“The Betances ‘Where has his velocity gone?’ story is not accurate,” Cashman said. “He’s actually averaging a mile (per hour) higher at this time this spring than last spring. If it’s apples to apples, then he’s right where he was last year. Obviously his performance in the spring is different than the arm strength, but the arm strength is not the issue. Just want to make sure everybody knows that.”
So what does the performance mean? Maybe nothing. Certainly it doesn’t mean enough that the Yankees are going to take Betances out of the mix in the late innings.
“You just want to make sure it doesn’t affect the confidence,” Cashman said. “I’ve been able to at least confirm for myself that he’s very confident, which is good. Spring Training is Spring Training and sample sizes are small. I thought he was much better (in a minor league game on Saturday).”
On whether Didi Gregorius needs a platoon partner
When the Yankees went shopping for a new shortstop, they found a marketplace that offered no perfect solutions. There were flawed free agents and expensive trade targets, and the most viable in-house option was all-glove, no-bat Brendan Ryan. Eventually, the Yankees settled on Gregorius, another glove-first shortstop, but one with both youth and offensive upside.
With Ryan still in the picture as a right-handed alternative, Gregorius has thrived this spring. He’s been outstanding in the field, and he’s been plenty productive at the plate. He’s even hit lefties in the past couple of weeks, adding some confidence that the Yankees might not have to use Ryan as a platoon partner.
“It’ll be more of a Joe decision right now,” Cashman said. “I’d just (say), it’s something we could consider, but Ryan’s also here for a reason. We have two left-handers in the middle infield in Drew and Didi, and we have Ryan as an alternative, so I trust that Joe — like he does all the time — he’ll dissect the matchups and try to put the best team on the field to win. If that means Ryan’s in there ahead of Didi on any given day, so be it. (Gregorius) has shown me a lot this spring, which I’m happy with. He’s an exciting personality, and really, clearly, we hope that it plays well for us.”
On the bounce-back potential of Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Stephen Drew
I suppose you could lump Brian McCann into this group, but at least McCann hit for decent power and had an impact behind the plate last season. The Yankees seem to have more offensive uncertainty from this trio of Teixeira, Beltran and Drew, all of whom dangerously underperformed last season. Teixeira fell apart in the second half, Beltran wasn’t the same after an elbow injury, and Drew had an unthinkably bad year at the plate.
Even so, the Yankees are clearly planning to use each one of them as a lineup regular this season.
“There’s no reason to believe, for instance, Carlos Beltran’s not going to hit all of a sudden,” Cashman said. “And I have seen a lot of Stephen Drew in the last week to 10 days, and it’s encouraging. And then Tex, I haven’t had any worries about Tex coming back, or even Beltran. It’s more like, just stay healthy and we’ll be fine. Drew’s really, out of those three, the only question mark, what is he going to be? Those questions are fair to ask, and it doesn’t matter what gets said, only he‘ll answer them over time. But he’s looked really good at the plate.”
On Alex Rodriguez’s return to the team
A wild card in every way, Rodriguez has returned from a year-long suspension and actually done a good job of settling into the clubhouse while also performing well on the field.
“He’s handled himself both on the field and in the clubhouse and in his interviews with you guys, extremely well,” Cashman said. “It’s been about baseball, and he’s done really well on that level too.”
Rodriguez has been one of the Yankees very best hitters this spring. Not sure anyone would have predicted that a month ago.
“I think I consistently told you guys, I don’t know what to expect,” Cashman said. “so in fairness, I can’t even say it surprises me because I didn’t know what to expect. It was like, let’s just let whatever’s going to be, be. Then we can talk about what’s happening rather than waste your time wrapping your mind around what it is or what it’s going to be or how it’s going to look when you have no idea, it’s just a guessing game. Camp’s gone really well for him.”
On choosing a backup catcher and final bullpen jobs
Assuming minor injuries to Gregorius, Teixeira and Jacoby Ellsbury don’t cause problems on Opening Day, the Yankees seem to have very few roster decisions to make between now and the end of camp. The most wide-open spots seem to be at backup catcher and for the final two spots in the bullpen.
“Well, we’re a week away from making (those decisions),” Cashman said. “So, if you define close as, a week, then I would say yeah, I think we’re close (to making a decision).”
It’s worth noting that yesterday the Yankees made one of their most significant cuts in sending Jacob Lindgren to minor league camp. As recently as Sunday morning Cashman talked about Lindgren as if he had a real shot of breaking camp on the roster. Now he’s clearly being looked at as a mid-season call-up at best.
“We’ve kept him this long for a reason because he’s continued to open people’s eyes,” Cashman said. “I’m not going to tell you what’s going to happen yet, but there’s a reason he was pitching in a game (Saturday) this late and hadn’t been assigned out yet. Some other guys I can’t say that about, but in his case, I can.”
Associated Press photos
First, a reminder that we’re doing a chat today at noon. This is an off day in Yankees camp. For me, that means a day to sit in a hotel room and write a whole lot of season preview stuff for the newspaper. For the Yankees, it means a day to catch their breath before one last burst of exhibition games and decision making. Heading into this final week, here are a few thoughts and impressions from Tampa:
• I actually think CC Sabathia looks pretty good. His numbers are awful, but I’m buying it when he says he’s encouraged. He’s clearly stronger than he was last year, and I think it’s good that he’s talking about his changeup a lot. He’s going to have to pitch smart and keep hitters off balance, and I think he’s able to do that. Scouts keep telling me what a “pitcher” he is; that Sabathia knows what he’s doing out there even with diminished stuff. The numbers are awful, but this is one of those situations in which I’m not sure spring training numbers mean much. He’s going to give up some home runs now — that’s just the way it goes — but I think he’ll be better than he was the past two seasons. Not a Cy Young candidate, but I think he’ll be a good No. 3 starter as long as he stays healthy.
• The middle of the order does not look very good. At this point, I think that’s a bigger problem than the rotation. Even if the lineup stays healthy, I’m still not sure what the heart of the order can provide. Carlos Beltran hasn’t looked great, Brian McCann has been so-so, and Mark Teixeira hasn’t hit for much power (though I do think Teixeira seems to be in much better shape than last spring, so maybe he can stay on the field and avoid a second-half decline). I just haven’t seen a lot that suggests the lineup is much better than it was last season. Veteran guys like that might be able to turn it on once they’re in real games, I just don’t think they’ve shown it down here.
• Whether Alex Rodriguez has a successful season might depend on your definition of success. If he carries his spring training slash line through the season he’ll be an MVP candidate, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. More likely, I think he’ll get on base at a decent clip, pounce on some bad pitches to hit home runs now and then, and generally provide what you’d expect from a No. 6-7 hitter. That’s honestly better than I was expecting. He’s not running well, but I think he’s running well enough. He’s not a good defender, but he’ll field balls that are hit right to him. He’s better than I thought he would be.
• As a side note to the Rodriguez situation: He’s also handled all of the off-the-field stuff pretty well. Believe it or not, he actually makes some small talk and jokes with reporters in the clubhouse. Teammates seem to like him. Opposing players don’t seem to completely hate him. He’s heard his share of boos, but he’s heard plenty of cheers as well. I’m telling you, from every angle, this situation has been much better and easier than I expected. The Yankees seem to feel the same way. Both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi said yesterday that they’re happy with the way Rodriguez has settled back into the clubhouse.
• I have no idea what the Yankees are going to do about those final two spots in the bullpen. I think Chase Whitley is a favorite for one of those spots, if only because I think they’ll want another long man other than Esmil Rogers (and all the other long relief candidates have been sent away). What I can’t figure out is who the favorites might be for that last spot in the pen. I do think it’s worth noting that Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve are on the 40-man and have options, and I think that final bullpen spot might be very flexible early in the season. For that reason — because the 12th reliever might have to go up and down to Triple-A a few times — I’m not surprised the Yankees steered away from Jacob Lindgren. He’s looked great, but I imagine that once he’s on the big league roster, the Yankees want him to stay there. Why not carry Martin or Shreve out of camp, send him down for a sixth starter in late April, and then think about adding either Lindgren or Andrew Bailey?
• Backup catcher might be more wide-open than I expected when camp opened. Last season showed the Yankees clearly prefer John Ryan Murphy, but don’t think they’ve completely given up on Austin Romine. Ideally, I think — and this is just a gut feeling — the Yankees would prefer to trade Romine before the season starts, but I think they’d like to get real value for him. If they can’t, maybe he gets one month to prove himself one way or the other in the big leagues. If he can’t do it, Murphy comes up to take his place. That said, if the Yankees choose to DFA Romine in favor of Murphy, that wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. I really think it could go either way. If I had to guess right now, I think I’d still pick Murphy.
• Slade Heathcott has looked so good this spring, I wonder if the Yankees might get aggressive and send him straight to Triple-A to play center field every day. That would free Jake Cave, Mason Williams and Aaron Judge to play the outfield every day in Trenton (and Williams had a good enough spring that I think he’s worth everyday at-bats as well). Put Heathcott in the Triple-A outfield with Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin and see what happens. This isn’t a typical development year for Heathcott. The Yankees really need to find out by the end of the season whether he’s a high-end asset again.
• At this point, I’m assuming Jose Pirela will end up in Triple-A, but where does he play regularly? Obviously he’ll have to bounce around a little bit — some time in the outfield corners, some time at second base — but it might make sense to see what he can do as a regular third baseman. If Chase Headley gets hurt, Rodriguez isn’t good enough in the field to play third every day, so the Yankees might want to get Pirela prepared just in case he has to play that role at some point. But he really can’t play any one spot every single day. He’s going to have to maintain some flexibility because the Yankees might want his bat at some point even without an injury at third.
• Sure, Sabathia says his knee feels fine and Masahiro Tanaka is pitching like his elbow is healthy, but the biggest reason to be optimistic about the Yankees’ rotation might be Michael Pineda. That guy looks fantastic. He’s still throwing hard, still throwing a ton of strikes, and his offspeed stuff is more effective than when the Yankees first acquired him. It’s amazing that, after missing much of three years with shoulder problems, Pineda just might be the most reliable piece of the Yankees rotation. I think Nathan Eovaldi could be pretty good, but Pineda could be great.
• Speaking of the rotation, what happens if everyone stays healthy and Adam Warren has a 3.00 ERA at the end of May. Would he move right back into the bullpen to make room for Chris Capuano? What about Ivan Nova? Granted, this is a pretty extreme hypothetical — it involves Warren having an all-star caliber first two months, and involves a rotation full of injury concerns staying healthy — but I really think Warren’s a nice pitcher who could thrive. Maybe not to the tune of 3.00, but what about a 3.20 or a even a 3.50? Would you take that out of the rotation in favor of a guy one year removed from Tommy John?
• Relief pitchers are notoriously inconsistent from year to year. Only a very few are able to truly get the job done season after season. For that reason, I think the Dellin Betances struggles should raise some red flags. Not white flags of surrender, but red flags of concern. He just hasn’t looked great, and it’s not just the fact he’s not throwing 98 mph. Some of that added velocity could very easily come with regular-season adrenalin. Right now, he’s also missing spots and looking fairly hitable. I think that should be a bit of a concern. The Yankees have banked on the idea of having a standout bullpen. What if they don’t?
Associated Press photos
A-Rod making first start at first base • 03.29.15
RHP Nathan Eovaldi
Given the option of facing a divisional opponent or pitching in a minor league game, CC Sabathia chose the minor leagues. Then he went to the complex, gave up a long home run on his first pitch, and allowed a three-run home run two innings later.
While Sabathia insists he feels better than he’s felt in years, he’s already allowed five home runs in three spring outings and his official 11.57 ERA — which doesn’t count today’s four runs in five innings — is the highest on the team.
“I don’t give a (darn) what stock they put in it,” Sabathia said, using a word far more racy than darn. “It is what it is. I’ve had spring trainings where I’ve given up a lot of runs and went out and had a good season. I’ve had spring trainings like last year where I didn’t give up no runs, and I gave up five in the first game. Y’all can put stock in whatever you want. I’m not really worried about it.”
Sabathia is defiant that this spring has left him feeling confident. He’s said his surgically repaired right knee feels strong, and his velocity has been legitimately higher than in recent springs. He’s consistently reaching 92-93 mph with his fastball, and his offspeed pitches have been good if not consistent.
“You look at his stuff,” Joe Girardi said. “You try to evaluate his stuff and how you feel about that. What we’ve seen this year is much more positive than what we’ve seen the last (few years), you know, in velocity, the discrepancy between that and the change up and slider, so now to me it’s just ironing out and being more consistent.”
It’s not particularly unusual for a pitcher to not want to face a division team in spring training, but by passing on a start against the Orioles, Sabathia was left open to obvious questions about a five-inning, four-run start against minor leaguers. He walked two and struck out seven.
“Today was a day when we were trying to work on the changeup,” Sabathia said. “I get runners on first and second or whatever it was (and threw) a couple of changeups. Me and (catcher Brian McCann) wanted to work on it so I threw it again. The guy hits a homer. I probably won’t throw it like that in a game.”
McCann noted that he’s seen Sabathia get stronger from start to start. He said he really sees that added strength late in games. McCann said Sabathia’s stuff was basically the same in today’s fifth inning as it was in the first inning.
“The ball was coming out great,” McCann said. “I thought he threw the ball great. Two-seamer was running really good. Ambushed a couple of hits, but all in all, I thought the ball was coming out fantastic. … When you go over there, you’re not pitching to scouting reports. You get guys set up, and then you think you can get something in there, and they hit it. But all in all, I thought changeup was really good, fastball to both sides of the plate, and the slider was great today.”
Sabathia has one more spring start before he pitches the third game of the regular season.
“I was able to go out there five times and pitch five innings and feel great,” he said. “Like I said, I haven’t had any problems. I’m just looking forward to getting into the season and trying to help this team.”
• Alex Rodriguez raised his slash line to .306/.405/.583 and hit his team-leading third home run in a 10-2 loss to Baltimore. “Numbers mean nothing,” Rodriguez said. “But you definitely want to pass the eye test. That means moving around better, putting balls in play, and hitting balls in the mid-90s. Those are things I haven’t done in over a year and a half, so everything for me this year – this spring, at least – is a test.”
• While the numbers might not mean much in the grand scheme of things, they do seem to provide some hope that Rodriguez might have something left. It was one thing when he was drawing walks and getting into good counts early in spring training, but now he seems to be putting together good and productive at-bats even in the final week of exhibition games. “Overall, it’s just repetition,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve said it all along. Any time you can keep adding up at-bats, it’s a good thing.”
• While his first two spring home runs left plenty of doubt off the bat, today’s was clearly gone from the moment Rodriguez made contact. “That one felt good,” he said. “I was excited about that one.”
• Plan is still to have Rodriguez start at first base tomorrow.
• More good news on Jacoby Ellsbury, who came through today’s batting practice with no problems. He’s scheduled for more BP tomorrow and remains on track to play a minor league game on Tuesday.
• No real update on Jose Pirela. “I don’t know what he did today,” Giradi said. “He said he felt better. I didn’t ask him what he did today.”
• Sabathia is certainly not the only Yankees pitcher putting up numbers that aren’t exactly encouraging. Dellin Betances has now allowed a run in five straight outings. He had one walk, one strikeout and allowed a single today. “I’ve been leaving the ball up,” Betances said. “When I get ahead, I leave the ball up. Today, the contact wasn’t as hard. Obviously the first guy I fell behind 3-1 and he had a good swing, but after that, I felt like I threw some good pitches. I’ll be ready.”
• Betances said he’s been working on his leg kick with Larry Rothschild. Concerning that, after being so good last year, he’s having some mechanical issues this spring? “It’s not like I’m missing as bad as I once was (in the minor leagues),” He said. “I’m around the zone. I felt way better even before I came in. I felt like my direction was better, something I’ll try to work on more. As that gets better, I think I’ll be able to throw more strikes and put guys away.”
• Giradri said he was encouraged because Betances had a better breaking ball today. “It’s not what you want,” Girardi said. “But one thing you always talk about a lot is don’t judge people on spring training, right? Sometimes a different beast comes out Opening Day. If this was happening the first month, you’d say, OK, what’s going on? But, I thought he was better today, and I think when the season starts, he’ll be right.”
• Speaking of bullpen guys, Andrew Bailey had another scoreless inning today. Chasen Shreve also pitched a scoreless inning. Those were the pitching bright spots for sure. Otherwise, it was kind of a mess today. Jacob Lindgren allowed his first earned run of the spring. Chris Martin struck out two but let two inherited runners score on a double. Justin Wilson got three strikeouts, but those were hit runners that scored on Martin’s watch.
• Worst pitching line of the day belonged to Scott Baker, who seemed to pitch himself into the roster conversation with a strong outing against the Mets last weekend. This time he had a clean first inning before allowing five runs on five hits including a homer in the second inning. “Physically, I felt great,” Baker said. “First inning, I made some good pitches. Then in the second inning, they found a couple holes and then they got the big hit. Maybe out of the stretch a little bit I was kind of feeling for it, but overall, I felt good. The results don’t necessarily show how I felt.”
• Over at the miner league complex, Bryan Mitchell was hit by a Gary Sanchez throw to second base. He finished the outing and is apparently fine.
• Despite the fact Esmil Rogers is making tomorrow’s road trip to pitch out of the bullpen, Girardi still wouldn’t name a fifth starter today. “Actually we’re going to sit down and talk today about what we’re going to do,” Girardi said.
• Here’s Sabathia talking about Masahiro Tanaka being chosen for Opening Day: “I’m excited for him. I think it’ll be a good deal. I know he’s excited to get a chance to do that. I’m excited to get a chance to be able to enjoy Opening Day. It should be fun.”
• Final word goes to McCann, who’s predictably staying optimistic about underperforming pitchers: “Spring training is not (the regular season),” McCann said. “Adrenaline plays a huge factor in results. You run out of the bullpen with 50,000 people in the stands, if you’re throwing 94 (in spring training), you’re going to throw 97, 98. Adrenaline plays a huge factor in both sides, hitting and pitching. When the lights turn on, it’s a whole other ball game.”
Associated Press photos
Alex Rodriguez is going to play first base on Sunday, and that’s attention-grabbing for obvious reasons. For one thing, it’s Rodriguez, and anything he does seems to generate attention. For another thing, it’s a veteran player learning a new position, and would spark at least some curiosity for even a role player. It’s also noteworthy because the Yankees have been talking about the possibility for months now.
But if you want to really know what this means for the Yankees, consider the fact we’re entering the final week of spring training, and Rodriguez is just now getting a few innings at the position. When camp opened, it seemed to be a bit of a priority that he get some time at first. Now it’s clearly a secondary concern at best.
“You feel pretty good that you got two healthy first basemen,” Girardi said. “So Alex would be kind of the third guy.”
Mark Teixeira is the starter, and Garrett Jones is the go-to backup. Rodriguez is learning first base strictly to fill the void should one of those two get hurt. Essentially, the Yankees would rather play him at first than either Chase Headley or Brian McCann, each of whom had to play the position a few times last season.”
“I’m thinking of first base to give Joe as many options as he could possibly have,” Rodriguez said. “I know he likes to give guys rest. I know he likes matchups. I just want to be an asset to Joe all year. And (Brian Cashman).”
Rodriguez said one of the clubhouse guys has been using his new first baseman’s mitt to play catch, helping get it worn in. Rodriguez has been using his regular infield glove for all of his first base drills, but he said he’ll use the real first base glove when he’s playing the position.
“He’s done some extra work (at first),” Girardi said. “He’ll do some tomorrow, again. We did cut off some relays with the shift the other day, and we had him at first doing it. We’ll go over the bunt defenses again before we leave. Those are the things that are going to be a little tricky. That’s the bottom line if he goes over there. Obviously, I’d probably put Garrett Jones there first, but if something were to happen to one of them, just trying to prepare ourselves.”
It comes down to this: The Yankees had no backup first baseman last season. They’re trying to vaguely have two of them this year. But if either Jones or Rodriguez is seeing a ton of time at first base this season, it won’t be a good thing. Success or failure at first base still largely hinges on Teixeira, who’s so far looked fairly strong and healthy throughout spring training. He had a hit and an RBI today, bringing his spring slash line to .279/.326/.419.
“Discipline, good at bats, letting it go when he swings,” Girardi said. “Everything that we kind of expect from Tex. It’s like we have Tex back, which is great. I feel that we’re going to get a real productive guy.”
Associated Press photo
This is what Joe Girardi said this morning about the way Alex Rodriguez has been running and moving in spring training:
“I think he’s run harder (lately). I think we’ve all seen that, and that that’s definitely improved. I still want to see him go from second to home and from first to third, we have not seen that, but that’s not his fault, that’s just what’s happened behind him.”
Fast forward a few hours, and we’ve now seen Rodriguez do each of those things.
After a first-inning single, Rodriguez went first to third on a Stephen Drew double. He wasn’t exactly flying around the bases, but I did turn to George Kind sitting next to me and say something about Rodriguez running better than I expected. He’s definitely not fast, but it didn’t look like a challenge for him.
After a fifth-inning walk, Rodriguez took second on a single and then scored on a Chris Young double. Again, nothing flashy or fast about it, but he was capable of scoring on a ball he’s supposed to score on. If Rodriguez can be a capable runner at this stage, I think that’s all the Yankees can ask.
“If I can just keep making small strides every day, I’ll take that,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez revealed that earlier this spring, Girardi specifically told him he needed to be running better. Rodriguez said he’d been working on it, and he does seem smoother and less lumbering. Again, he’s not fast, but at least he’s not a total wreck. Today he also had to slam on the breaks after a late stop sign at third base, and Rodriguez said that too was no problem.
“Probably more (running) than he wanted to see,” Girardi said. “But I thought he was moving pretty good. I really did.”
• Five scoreless innings from Michael Pineda today, and it’s not remotely a point of focus. That’s a sign of just how good he’s been this spring. Pineda allowed five hits, walked none and struck out five. He pitched every inning before the game was called because of rain. “I don’t want nothing to change because everything is working good,” Pineda said. “… I have everything I want, so just compete on the mound.”
• Girardi said Pineda didn’t have time to get quite as stretched out as the Yankees would have liked, but they think he got stretched out enough. He has one more start before the regular season. “We were trying to get him to 75 (pitches), but we just felt with the long delay, 68 was pretty good,” Girardi said. “I thought he looked really good.”
• No problems for Jacoby Ellsbury in today’s light hitting drills. Girardi said he expects Ellsbury to take full batting practice tomorrow. He remains on track to play in a minor league game on Tuesday.
• Big day for Stephen Drew. The Yankees second baseman went 3-for-3 and raised his spring batting average from .167 to .231. “He’s swung the bat better the last two weeks,” Girardi said. “And the one thing you want is you want a lineup that there’s pressure on the pitcher of the opposing team the entire time, and I feel that we have that type of lineup that we can do that where so much pressure doesn’t fall on a couple of guys. It’s nice to see everyone swinging.”
• It’s worth noting that Didi Gregorius has also hit pretty well lately, including some hits against lefties. Girardi wouldn’t give his exact lineup plan, but he said it’s entirely possible he’ll go with four straight lefties (Drew and Gregorius stacked at the bottom of the order; Ellsbury and Brett Gardner at the top). “It’s not out of the question because I don’t worry about our top two guys against lefties,” Girardi said. “Didi and Drew, Drew hit a tough lefty today, a guy throwing 96. And Didi’s been swinging the bat good. We’ll talk about it, but it very possibly could be that.”
• After going first to third in the first inning, Rodriguez tried to score on a fly ball to right field and was thrown out easily. He banged into the catcher but clearly didn’t try to knock the ball loose. He also didn’t try to slide. Jeff Francoeur made a really nice throw on the play. “I would have had the short end of that stick (if there had been a real collision),” Rodriguez said. Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp is listed at 6-2, 260 lbs.
• Girardi said he was glad Rodriguez didn’t try to slide on the play at the plate. He also liked the aggressive send by new third-base coach Joe Espada. “It was a pretty good throw,” Girardi said. “You’re going to take that chance with that being the second out. Maybe if it’s the first out, you don’t take it. But you’re going to take that chance, and Franceour’s always been a good thrower.”
• The Yankees saw Phillies prospect Aaron Nola this afternoon. He was the seventh overall pick in last year’s draft and struck out four through three scoreless innings. His changeup was absolutely filthy. “The one I almost choked on?” Rodriguez said. “Yeah. That was a pretty good changeup.”
• Getting his first start alongside Drew, Brendan Ryan was part of two double plays — one he took himself, one he took a feed from Drew — and also went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles.
• The Yankees didn’t score in their first four innings, then they scored seven times in the fifth and three times in the sixth. They finished with 15 hits, including one apiece for Gardner, Rodriguez, Chase Headley, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Chris Young. Every big leaguer in the starting lineup had at least one hit (Drew and Ryan combined for five). The other three hits came from Eddy Rodriguez, Kyle Higashioka and Tyler Austin. Austin doubled and had three RBI.
• We’ll give the final word to Girardi, talking about his plans for the lineup: “We know that we’re going to have a lot of lefthanders in our lineup. You try to break some of it up with the DH, or the switch-hitters. If I had to make out a lineup today, without talking to all my coaches and everyone, I have an idea what it would be, but that’s something we’ll try to iron out the last week. The one thing is, I feel pretty good about where most of our hitters are at right now, the thing is you want to keep that, keep that feeling of having good at bats.”
Associated Press photos
Joe Girardi said that, if CC Sabathia hadn’t been hurt last season, the decision of who to start on Opening Day this year might have been a slam dunk. But that’s not what happened last season, and now for the first time in seven years, someone other that Sabathia will start the Yankees’ opener.
“If CC wouldn’t have had the problem and pitched all 30 starts, it probably would have been a non-issue who was going to go No. 1,” Girardi said. “But it didn’t happen that way, and we had to make sure people were ready. I know it’s a big deal, and it might be somewhat of a deal to them, but when CC looks back, he’s going to worry about Octobers.”
Instead, it’s Masahiro Tanaka getting the Opening Day nod. He’ll be followed by Michael Pineda, Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi. All four will get six days of rest leading into their first start of the season. Because of scheduled off days in April, Tanaka starting Opening Day means he will make each of his first three starts with five days of rest even without the Yankees inserting a sixth starter along the way.
That ability to rest Tanaka’s elbow, Girardi said, was the driving factor in giving Tanaka the Opening Day start. This is more about practicality than rewarding Tanaka for a standout rookie season.
“He did have a great year,” Girardi said. “But I worry more about the physical part than anything because that’s what’s going to carry us through the season. Rewards come at the end of October.”
Girardi gave the starters their assignments earlier this morning.
“I’m honored, obviously,” Tanaka said. “Now that I know when I’m pitching for the season, my job is to get ready for that day.”
Still no fifth starter announcement. Girardi said he wants to discuss it with his coaches and inform the pitchers involved before making a final decision. Just a few days ago, Brian Cashman called Adam Warren the “Secretariat” of the fifth-starter competition. Girardi’s not willing to say the same.
“I’m not comparing horses,” he said.
• Tanaka will be on a slightly limited pitch count in his first start, but Girardi said that shouldn’t be an issue for the second and third starts. With an off day immediately after Opening Day, Girardi will have a full bullpen at his disposal for Tanaka’s start without worrying about burning anyone out for Game 2.
• Plan is for Alex Rodriguez to play first base on Sunday. Girardi’s made it clear that Garrett Jones will be the backup first baseman this season, but the Yankees would like Rodriguez to be kind of a third-string option. If either Jones or Mark Teixeira is hurt, Rodriguez could see actual playing time at the position. For now, he’s more of a designated hitter who might occasionally play third base and would play first only in a near emergency situation.
• Jacoby Ellsbury is scheduled for more tee and toss plus a few rounds of indoor batting practice.
• Didi Gregorius, Garrett Jones, Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott, Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy are skipping the trip and are scheduled for batting practice in Tampa.
• Today’s second string: C Eddy Rodriguez, 1B Jonathan Galvez, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Tyler Austin, CF Jake Cave, RF Aaron Judge
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Scott Baker, Jacob Lindgren, Chasen Shreve, Chris Martin, Nick Rumbelow (with Danny Burawa, Kyle Davies, Diego Moreno)
Associated Press photos
Bitter rivals throughout baseball’s Biogenesis investigation, it now seems Rob Manfred and Alex Rodriguez have reached some level of peace and cooperation.
Commissioner Manfred was on hand to watch the Yankees play the Rays today, and he said he’s satisfied with the way Rodriguez has settled back into the game. Manfred even offered some words of congratulations on A-Rod’s strong spring training.
“I think I’ve been pretty public about this,” Manfred said. “Alex served a very long suspension. Once he served that time, baseball ought to welcome him back, and I think we’ve done a good job. The institution as a whole; teams, central baseball, everybody. He’s played well. Good for him.”
In his first spring training back from a year-long suspension, Rodriguez is hitting .290 with two home runs. His .516 slugging percentage is the second-highest among Yankees big leaguers. Although Rodriguez wasn’t in the lineup today, general manager Brian Cashman said yesterday that Rodriguez has played well enough to be the Yankees everyday designated hitter when the season starts.
“I’ve said all along that he’s swung the bat really well in spring training,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Would it be helpful if we could put him in the field every once in a while? Absolutely, to give the guys a day off. But he’s swung the bat well.”
Rodriguez has apologized for the “mistakes” that led to his suspension, and he’s specifically thanked the commissioner’s office for giving him the opportunity to play again. Manfred said Rodriguez will now be treated just like anyone else.
“He’ll be tested exactly like every other player who has violated the program,” Manfred said. “The program requires more frequent testing for players who are coming back after a suspension.”
Associated Press photo