Alex Rodriguez hit the first home run so far, and he hit the second one so hard, that this was already his best night of the year even before the at-bat that actually won the game. To cap the night, Rodriguez put together a seven-pitch at-bat against Kevin Jepsen, a pitcher against whom he was 0-for-8 in his career. He gave Brett Gardner time to steal, fouled off a 3-2 pitch, then lifted a low curveball into center field.
His teammates were 2-for-26. Rodriguez was 3-for-4 with four RBI.
“Without Alex, we’re going to lose that ballgame,” Joe Girardi said.
Maybe that much went without saying, but it was worth saying anyway because 10 games into the season, the Yankees are being kept afloat by a guy who came into spring training with absolutely no one certain he could still play this game at a respectable level. Even Rodriguez is surprised it’s gone this well.
When Rodriguez homered in Baltimore earlier this week, he said it was the best he’d hit a ball in well over a year. Imagine, then, how good it felt to hit a ball 471 feet in the second inning (or 477 feet if you’re going by ESPN’s estimates). Whatever the number, the ball was crushed. And he followed that home run with a game-tying two-run shot that left the yard in in a hurry in the sixth. Another hard-hit ball, this one a line drive to left.
“It’s pretty impressive, you know, to take all the time off that he’s taken off,” Brett Gardner said. “He’s no spring chicken anymore, either. But the bat speed, his bat’s really, really quick through the zone. He’s taking good swings. It’s a lot of fun to see. … He’s not somebody I’d ever count out. I see how hard he works and how much he loves playing the game, and how good of a job he’s always done in preparing himself for the game. Being able to focus on hitting and not playing defense that often, he can go out there and use all the energy he’s got for those four or five at-bats. So far, he’s looked great and hopefully he can keep it up.”
I guess the takeaway from tonight’s game is … well, it’s everything about Rodriguez at the plate. The raw power. The ability to work an at-bat. The eye for balls and strikes. The steady production.
Tonight, the bullpen was really good, and Stephen Drew hit a home run, and Carlos Beltran got a much-needed hit, and Gardner stole his way into scoring position. But without Rodriguez, the Yankees would have lost this game, and there’s absolutely no doubt about that.
“More than anything, I’m just feeling very grateful to be back playing baseball,” Rodriguez said. “I’m very grateful to Hank and Hal for giving me the opportunity to put the uniform on again. It’s something I don’t take for granted, and it’s much appreciated. It just feels good to be playing baseball. I’m having fun out there.”
• Another save opportunity, and another great outing by Andrew Miller. The Yankees have done four games, and Miller’s saved three of them. He got the final out of the eighth inning, then allowed a soft hit to open the ninth before striking out the final three batters of the game. “Andrew’s done the job, that’s for sure,” Girardi said.
• Miller on his obvious but still undefined role: “This is what I signed up for. That’s what I told them all along. They asked me if I needed to be told I had a certain role or anything like that, and I told them no, and that was the truth. I’ve been telling you guys that all along and that’s really what it is. I think for me, I’m fortunate. I’ve got a nice contract that’s going to take care of me for a while. However they see fit to use me, they can go for it. I’ll do whatever they ask and give them everything I’ve got.”
• In a setup role, Dellin Betances also looked pretty good tonight. Certainly better than he’s looked most nights. he allowed one hit but also got a strikeout and walked no one. “I think he’s making progress each time he goes out,” Girardi said.
• Not such a good night for Adam Warren, who was actually doing pretty well before a crushing sequence of three hitters. After an infield single, Warren allowed a walk, a three-run homer and a solo homer. “I think the Jennings walk was big there,” Warren said. “Because you fall behind 2-0 to the next guy, feel like you have to throw a strike, (he) puts it over the wall, and things just kind of got away from me there. As a starter, you want to limit the big inning. I threw a lot of pitches, and that kind of hurt us. We had to go to the bullpen early, which you don’t want to do.”
• The biggest mistakes were with fastballs. Girardi said he thought Warren pitched alright without his good curveball or slider earlier in the game, but things unraveled quickly. The Yankees wound up using Esmil Rogers for 2.1 innings of hitless long relief. Rogers has been good in that role. “The bullpen was outstanding,” Girardi said. “After having a tough night the other night, they come back and give us five scoreless innings and do a really good job. As I said, they’re not going to be perfect, but they’re pretty good.”
• Third home run in less than a week for Stephen Drew. That’s the same number of home runs he hit in two months with the Yankees last season. Tonight’s homer was No. 100 in his career. “He’s swung the bat I think a little bit better than his numbers indicate,” Girardi said. “We saw it come around the last couple of weeks of spring training, and we need that to continue because he’s a guy that can hit the ball out of the ballpark and hit some doubles and drive in some runs, and it was good to see.”
• Although Girardi wouldn’t commit to putting him in the lineup tomorrow, Girardi did say Gardner probably would have stayed in the game to hit had the game gone into extra innings. He came through three rounds of batting practice alright before today’s game. “I was prepared if my spot came up in the ninth to get a normal at-bat and get up there and swing the bat,” Gardner said.
• No surprise, but Girardi said he went Gardner in to pinch run with hopes of getting a stolen base in that spot. It finally happened on the 12th pitch after Gardner entered the game. “I wish I could have got there a little earlier, but Alex did his job,” Gardner said.
• One underrated play: Jacoby Ellsbury’s catch to end the eighth inning. “At first, my instinct was that that ball is in the gap and I’m going to have to pitch with a runner on base,” Miller said. “I got really excited. It didn’t look like he had too good of a jump on it, but Ells is a great defender. It’s no surprise. You welcome a guy like that behind me.”
• Girardi said he plans to have Rodriguez back at DH tomorrow. He would prefer not to play him in the field when the Yankees are on turf.
• Final word goes to Miller: “Everyone is going to remember those (Rodriguez) homers, and they were both incredibly well-struck, but that at-bat to give us the go-ahead run was incredible. He fought pitches off and stayed on a breaking ball. We shouldn’t be surprised that Alex knows how to hit. He’s a professional hitter, and he’s really good at that. We’re just glad he’s healthy and he’s on our side because right now he’s been a big part of our offense.”
Associated Press photos
Wearing a new padded wrist guard, Brett Gardner hit inside when he got to Tropicana Field earlier today. That went well enough that he was given permission to take full batting practice with the team during the usual pregame workout.
Doesn’t sound likely that he could hit his way into the lineup, but Gardner said he’s basically ready to play.
“If I don’t get a chance to play today, hopefully tomorrow,” he said. “I hit in the cage and it felt pretty good.”
Even after yesterday’s MRI showed nothing more serious than a bone bruise, the Yankees still decided to give Gardner one more day off. That’s pretty standard around here, where the Yankees seem to favor a cautionary approach to all injuries.
“My inclination is to give him one more day,” Girardi said. “But I want to see BP first. He did take some swings off the tee and said he felt pretty good, but let’s just see what happens after BP.”
The wrist guard Gardner’s wearing is pretty small and it’s designed in a way that doesn’t restrict movement. He said he’ll be wearing it when he finally does get back in the lineup.
• Ivan Nova threw his second live batting practice of the week this morning at the minor league complex. “I’m getting closer,” Nova told The Associated Press. “Feels awesome.” Girardi said Nova’s schedule calls for him to begin pitching in actual minor league rehab games around May 1. Pretty much the schedule that’s been expected for several months now.
• Chris Capuano’s second live batting practice is scheduled for Sunday. He actually has a locker setup in the clubhouse for this series at Tropicana Field.
• When Capuano threw live batting practice earlier this week, Jose Pirela was one of the hitters he faced. Pirela is basically going through every drill and is scheduled to play an extended spring training game on Monday. He’s been working his way back from a concussion since late spring training. When he’s ready, will he go to Triple-A or join the big league bench? “I don’t know,” Girardi said. “Let’s just get him healthy first. Make sure he’s only seeing one of everything.”
• Girardi said Brendan Ryan “might” come down to Tampa next week to start going through some workouts on his way back from that spring calf injury. When Giradri said “might,” I took it to mean Ryan’s definitely coming down barring any sort of setback.
• Given the way Alex Rodriguez has hit — and given the way guys like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann have hit — why isn’t Alex Rodriguez hitting higher than sixth? “I don’t think you can make too much of nine games,” Girardi said. “If you started moving your hitters according to every nine-game period you play, you’d be doing it all the time. We’re trying to have as much of a set lineup as you can. We don’t have Gardy in there, so I’ve used the same lineup two days in a row. I liked the way the guys swung the bats the other night, so we’ll just keep it the same.”
• The Yankees still don’t have a defined closer, but Girardi’s been using Andrew Miller in those situations, and it certainly sounds like that might be the case again here in Tampa. “We haven’t named it,” Girardi said. “Have I used him as the closer the last couple times? Yeah. We’ll let it play out a little but and see how this works out. Obviously in this situation, you would think about against Tampa — because they have so many right-handed hitters in the lineup — that you’d use Dellin more for four- or five-outs more than you would Miller.”
• Girardi said the Yankees are still actively discussing the idea of a spot starter at some point during this heavy stretch of games without many off days. He specifically mentioned Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell as candidates to come up and start at some point to give everyone an extra day off. He said that if/when they do it could depend on weather. If they get rained out in Detroit next week, then the sixth-starter call-up could be pushed back. “It’s something that’s on the back of our minds,” Girardi said. “And we’ve kind of prepared ourselves for it.”
Associated Press photos
Even the best bullpens have games like this one. One inning spirals out of control, and a night is ruined a group of guys whose only job is to keep a narrow lead intact.
Tonight, the problems started with David Carpenter, who went with a first-pitch fastball down and away for strike one, but when he tried to follow it with a slider in roughly the same spot, Jonathan Schoop hit a game-tying home run.
“Hindsight’s always 20-20,” Carpenter said. “Maybe I should have busted him in.”
It got worse with Justin Wilson, who let the go-ahead run score on a single by lefty-killer Delmon Young before allowing the big blow on a two-run double by left-handed hitter Chris Davis. It was a two-strike cutter that Davis jumped on.
“Not the tightest breaking cutter I’ve ever thrown,” Wilson said. “Tad bit up, and that guy’s a good hitter. You’re going to get beat sometimes. Get back to 2-2 and hope to put the guy away right there, but just didn’t make the exact pitch I wanted. Made a decent pitch, and he did a good job of hitting.”
It happens. We all know that. Problem is, for the Yankees, a blown lead by their supposed-to-be-a-strength bullpen meant another series lost to a division rival. And perhaps the bigger issue was going to the bullpen in the sixth inning to begin with. Nathan Eovaldi had pitched well, racked up plenty of strikeouts, and gotten out of trouble in both the fourth and fifth innings.
But he was at 101 innings after five, so the Yankees needed to bring in some fresh arms.
Given the abundance of health issues looming over their top three starters, the Yankees would like to think of Eovaldi as a guy who can give them some distance, but so far he’s gone five innings and 5.1 innings in his two starts.
“In the first inning and the fourth inning I threw a lot of pitches,” Eovaldi said. “I have to do a better job of getting deep into games. It’s early in the season, but still. When I get the quick outs, I need to bounce back from that and keep attacking the zone. I know a lot of times when I did get quick outs, I fell behind 2-0, then it’s 2-1 and they’re battling back and fouling off more pitches.”
Nine strikeouts was encouraging for Eovaldi — he had that many only once in 33 starts for the Marlins last season — but strikeouts sometimes cost pitches, and Eovaldi simply wasn’t able to work deep tonight. The Yankees needed four good innings from their bullpen. Instead, one bad inning made all the difference.
“We just couldn’t seem to get through that sixth inning, and it’s unfortunate,” Joe Girardi said. “I thought Nate battled pretty much all night. Threw a lot of pitches in the five innings. That’s why I took him out. But we struggled in the sixth.”
• Alex Rodriguez’s second home run of the season was a monster blast to left field. Easily the hardest ball he’s hit since 2013. “That one felt amazing off the bat,” Rodriguez said. He now leads the team in RBI and he’s third behind Chris Young and Mark Teixeira in slugging percentage.
• Beyond Rodriguez, it really wasn’t an awful day for the Yankees offense. They had five runs on eight hits including four doubles and the Rodriguez homer. Of course, they also went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position and struck out 12 times with home plate umpire Sean Barber’s generous strike zone.
• Carlos Beltran drove in two runs with his go-ahead double in the third inning. Of his six hits this season, four have gone for two bases. He and Stephen Drew are each hitting below .200 but are still tied for second on the team in RBI. “He just missed a three-run homer too,” Girardi said. “I thought Carlos swung the bat better tonight has well. I thought he centered a lot of balls.”
• Beltran on whether he thought he had a home run on that second-inning double: “I hit it good,” he said. “It was a pitch middle away. I hit it OK. I didn’t hit it on the sweet spot. I hit it a little bit off the end. I thought it had a chance but it just hit the top of the wall. Double. I’ll take a double.” That double was Beltran’s 999th American League hit.
• With his home run, Rodriguez scored his 1,923rd career run, tying Derek Jeter for ninth place on baseball’s all-time runs scored list. Stan Musial is eighth on the list with 1,949.
• Eovaldi’s career-high in strikeouts is 10 set May 5, 2014 against the Mets. He came one shy of that tonight. That 10-strikeout game was the only time he struck out more than eight in a game last season. “I think just the slider, it had a lot more depth to it as opposed to my last outing,” Eovaldi said. “I was getting behind it. It was more of a cutter. Then I worked my fastball up in the zone a lot better today, too. I didn’t get the swing and misses I wanted, but it was a lot more effective.”
• Big outs for Eovaldi to strand the bases loaded in the fourth inning and to leave two on with a strikeout in the fifth. But in each of those innings, he had earlier opportunities to end the inning and couldn’t do it. “It was a lot better outing than my last (start),” he said. “But there’s still things I’ve got to do. I’ve got to relax a little more with two outs. I tend to try to do too much and get us back to the dugout quick, and I end up staying out there longer.”
• Encouraging appearance by Betances who allowed one hit but also got two strikeouts in the eighth. He said he was happy with his ability to throw his breaking ball for strikes because “that helps everything.” Girardi said he thought Betances looked sharper. “I thought he had better break on his curveball,” Girardi said. “I thought it had a better shape tonight than it’s had, so that was encouraging too.”
• Weird big league debut for Branden Pinder. He threw a total of four pitches in a scoreless seventh. He allowed a triple, but got out of the inning with a popped up bunt, which Pinder caught and tossed to third for a double play. He literally flipped the ball to Chase Headley as he walked off the field. Headley handed the ball back, and Pinder kept it.
• Jacoby Ellsbury’s hitting streak extended to seven games. He’s hitting .323 during the streak, and tonight’s double was his first extra-base hit of the year. Mark Teixeira also extended his hitting streak to seven games. He’s hitting .269 with a .731 slugging percentage during the streak.
• Girardi said he was well aware the Orioles would go to Delmon Young if he brought Wilson into the game in the sixth inning, but he chose to intentionally walk Adam Jones anyway. “Jones is swinging as well as anyone in the game is the bottom line,” Girardi said. “I felt good about bringing Willy in. He’s thrown the ball good for us, but tonight it didn’t work.”
• Final word goes to Beltran: “We need to get going. There’s no doubt about that. We’ve been close to winning some games and unfortunately the other team has been able to play better than us. It’s been only nine games so we just need to find a way to turn the page and concentrate in Tampa.”
Associated Press photos
Four runs on seven hits, but after tonight’s disappointment, CC Sabathia kept coming back to one particular pitch. It was the four-seam fastball he threw to Caleb Joseph in the seventh inning. It was a 3-1 game at the time, and Sabathia wanted the ball down and away. The pitch was middle, and it was hit to center for a triple.
Never mind that Jacoby Ellsbury very nearly caught it, Sabathia knew he made a mistake with that pitch and it was hit hard. He might have run into some rough luck in other moments, but in that situation, the blame fell on his shoulders. That triple led to a late insurance run, and that run made all the difference.
The other Baltimore runs came on a home run (first extra-base hit Sabathia allowed this season), after a leadoff walk (Sabathia’s only walk of the season), and after an infield single (one of many soft hits Sabathia has allowed). Aside from the home run and the triple, this was another case of relatively soft contact leading to a bunch of runs. They didn’t all come in one inning like last time out, but Sabathia still wound up with a lot of runs on his pitching line.
“I think his luck’s going to change,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I’m going to take my chances if he’s throwing the ball the way he’s throwing that the results are going to be better.”
Of course Girardi has a reputation of backing his players no matter what, but it’s also pretty easy to see what the Yankees and Sabathia are talking about. He really is throwing a lot of strikes and getting quite a few swings and misses. He’s walked one guy, pitched more innings than either Michael Pineda or Masahiro Tanaka, and allowed one home run.
Through two starts in 2013, Sabathia had already walked seven guys. Through two starts last year, he’d already allowed three homers and three doubles.
“I’m just seeing better movement on his fastball,” Girardi said. “I’m seeing consistency in his changeup; it’s not cutting. His slider is better. I just think he’s locating a lot better. I think it’s because he’s healthy. It’s hard when you’re dealing with nagging injuries to go out there and perform at a high level.”
• Didn’t help the Yankees that tonight they went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, continuing that early trend of not taking advantage of opportunities on offense. Some of that was clearly because Miguel Gonzalez was awfully sharp, but still, it’s hard to place all the blame on Sabathia when the offense didn’t do much of anything until the eighth inning. “(Gonzalez) deserves a lot of credit,” Mark Teixeira said. “He pitched really well. When he needed to make big pitches, he did. It’s not like he needed to get out of too many jams, but he did when he needed to.”
• This was the first time in his career that Gonzalez struck out 10 batters in a game. He retired 10 in a row from the second inning through the fifth.
• Sabathia not covering first base on a potential double play and failing to get an out on a slow roller up the first-base side didn’t ultimately cost him any runs, but his ability to move around defensively is clearly an issue. It’s just an issue the Yankees are willing to accept. Sabathia said the knee feels fine, but… “It’s the product of a big man, too,” Girardi said. “It’s not Gonzalez trying to get over there. He’s falling the opposite way. He’s falling toward third base. It’s just, it’s a big man.”
• Sabathia on trying to make a play on the slow roller, when he was ultimately charged with an error for flipping the ball into the runner: “It’s wet out there. I made the best play I could. I didn’t want to go down and slide, and I just threw it into the runner. … I mean, it’s just being 34 years old. Four years ago, I probably could have made that play.”
• Sabathia completely dismissed questions about whether his knee is bothering him either pitching or fielding. “I’m fine,” he said.
• Adam Jones is 11-for-17 with four home runs and nine RBI in his past five games. He homered in his first at-bat tonight, then had a sacrifice fly. “He’s one of the best hitters in the game,” Sabathia said. “He got a two-seamer and put a good swing on it (in the first inning). I felt like we pitched him a little better after that. But he’s hot, and there’s nothing you can really do.”
• Plan was for Brett Gardner to pinch run for Alex Rodriguez if Rodriguez got on base in the ninth inning. Gardner would have stayed in to play defense, but it’s still doubtful he’ll start tomorrow. Said he did only ice treatment today. “Maybe a little bit (better),” he said. “Pretty similar. Just pretty sore. Inflammation is limited. I haven’t tried to swing a bat. All I did today was ice. I didn’t try and heat it up or anything. Maybe I’ll be able to do that tomorrow.”
• Girardi chose to pinch hit Gregorio Petit to lead off the ninth because he wanted to save Rodriguez for the at-bat when Stephen Drew’s turn came up (there was a lefty on the mound). If Garrett Jones’ turn in the lineup had come up with runners on base in the eighth, Rodriguez would have pinch hit then. Basically, Girardi was trying to maximize the impact of the Rodriguez at-bat whenever it came. If there had been two on with no outs for the Drew at-bat, Drew might have stayed in to bunt them over, letting Rodriguez come up with the tying run at third and the go-ahead run at second with one out. “If the first two guys get on, or the first guy gets on, I want a guy with power behind him,” Girardi said. “The first two guys get on, you can think about doing something else.”
• Ellsbury on running after the triple in the seventh inning, when he made a diving attempt but couldn’t make the catch: “I knew it would be close,” Ellsbury said. “You always hope to catch the ball. It couldn’t have been much. I haven’t seen the replay, but within inches, I would imagine.”
• Another good outing by Chris Martin who struck out two — including Jones — during a 1-2-3 eighth.
• Final word goes to Girardi on Sabathia: “I thought he was good again. It’s unfortunate. He gave up a few hard-hit balls and you look at some of the hits he gave up, you know, I know that’s part of it but I like the way he’s throwing. … I thought he pitched well. It’s unfortunate that he gave up four runs. I thought he pitched better than that.”
Associated Press photos
When Brett Gardner arrived in the clubhouse this afternoon, his right wrist was wrapped, and Gardner said it had been that way all day and all last night. He’s out of the lineup today, and Joe Girardi said the hope is to have him back on Friday.
“He’s just sore,” Girardi said. “I gotta see what availability he is for me tonight whether it’s pinch running and playing defense. I don’t think he’ll be able to hit, but we’ll see.”
Even after being hit last night, Gardner was able to stay in until late in the game, so Girardi said he wouldn’t be surprised to have him available for speed on the bases or late-inning defense.
Actually, the more jarring name out of the lineup is Alex Rodriguez, who’s been one of the team’s best hitters and had previously started every game. He’s the oldest Yankees’ regular, and the last to get a day off.
“He’s played every game, started every game, and he played defense last night,” Girardi said. “So I thought it would be best to give him today. … I think you can’t forget about, it’s a long season. When he’s going good, you’re going to want to keep him in there every day. That’s how your guys get fatigued and that’s how they end up injuring something in their leg. I have to guard against that. That’s why I thought today was a great day to give him off.”
• Before he struggled through two hits and two walks while getting three outs, the plan was to use Dellin Betances for more than an inning last night and basically save Andrew Miller for the ninth. Instead, Miller got five outs, which might keep him out of tonight’s game. Girardi indicated that, despite the fact Betances has struggling this year, he could still get the nod in a save situation tonight.
• Betances said last night that he feels close to getting his mechanics sorted out, but so far he’s had a hard time controlling the strike zone. “I know it’s frustrating for him,” Girardi said. “The big thing is that he understands it’s just a little mechanical thin that he has to fix and he has to get back on track. He’s been able, for the most part, to get through without giving up a lot of damage which is a good thing. We’ve got to get him back on track and we’ll get him there.”
• Here’s Girardi on the current closer situation: “We haven’t really made a decision one way or another. I said I’d wait to see how it plays out here a little bit. We’ll re-evaluate, but it’s just kind of been where we’ve been in the lineup that I’ve made that decision. … I’m not sure that’s what we’re going to do all year. We’ll continue to re-evaluate, but at the beginning of the year we thought that was the best way to handle it.”
• Joel De La Cruz is still on the roster as the emergency long man. He almost certainly would have been sent down if he’d gotten into last night’s game. Instead, he’s still here for an emergency. The Yankees should have Esmil Rogers available tomorrow, so this might be De La Cruz’s last opportunity to get in a game before the Yankees go to someone else.
• Despite a slow start this year and a rough finish last year, the Yankees have stuck with Carlos Beltran in the No. 3 spot. “Just like we say every season, there’s a couple hitters you need to get going,” Girardi said. “And he’s one we need to get going.”
• After last night, the Yankees are now tied with the Orioles for the most home runs in the majors. “We missed it a lot (last year),” Girardi said. “We’ve had a lot of people in and out of the lineup. The big thing is keeping them in.”
• Second start of the year for CC Sabathia. He allowed a bunch of runs on a bunch of singles last time out, but he also got a ton of strikeouts, walked no one, and consistently kept the ball on the ground. “The ground balls and the strikeouts (stand out),” Girardi said. “It seemed like he stayed off the barrel of the bat; that’s really important against another good-hitting club that can hit the ball out of the ballpark.”
• According to The Associated Press in Tampa, Ivan Nova threw live batting practice today. He threw 20 pitches at the minor league complex, his first time facing hitters since Tommy John surgery.
Associated Press photos
Joe Girardi wrote Alex Rodriguez’s into the lineup again on Monday, because that was his job. As manager of the Yankees, Girardi’s role in the ongoing Rodriguez saga is to keep him healthy, keep him productive, and use him in a way that helps the Yankees win baseball games.
One week into the season, Rodriguez has been the Yankees best hitter, and so he was back in the lineup for their series opener against the Orioles. Even at 39 years old, even with two surgically repaired hips, and even after missing all of last season with a drug suspension, Rodriguez became the only Yankees player to start each of the first seven games this season.
What that means for baseball historians, what it means for baseball purists, and what it means for Rodriguez’s contract is someone else’s problem.
“As you know, my job is to get the most out of Alex,” Girardi said. “That’s my job, and that’s what I will continue to do. So far he has played extremely well, and we need that to continue.”
The freshest bit of controversy surrounding the sport’s most controversial star came from Monday’s USA Today, where notorious slugger Barry Bonds was quoted saying he hopes Rodriguez is celebrated when he hits career home run No. 660 to tie Bonds’ godfather, Willie Mays, for fourth on baseball’s all-time list. Rodriguez is five away from the mark, and his contract calls for a $6-million bonus for reaching the milestone. The Yankees, as you’re probably well aware, are expected to decline payment by saying it’s no longer a milestone because it’s tainted by his steroid use, making it impossible to market.
“My godfather means the world to me. I love him to a T,” Bonds told USA Today, “but when Alex hits No. 660, I’ll be happy for him. Willie will be happy for him. Everybody should be happy for him.
“Any time anybody in the game does something that’s a great accomplishment, the game of baseball should celebrate that. No matter what. Baseball is benefiting from that person’s hard work, so baseball should at least celebrate.”
Girardi said he’ll be celebrating in his own way. He’ll be celebrating at least one more run for the 2015 Yankees.
What’s Girardi’s opinion about the controversy surrounding such a home run?
“I’m not going to share my opinion,” Girardi said.
This has been one of Girardi’s great strengths as the Yankees’ manager these past three or four years. He’s handled the Rodriguez drama incredibly well. There is never any doubt that he’s against the decisions Rodriguez has made — Girardi is still a letter-of-the-law kind of guy; still a teacher and a father wanting to set a good example — but he’s managed to support Rodriguez as a player without condoning his actions. The Yankees, to their credit, have clearly given Girardi permission to do so.
There’s no evidence that Girardi’s felt pressure to speak out against Rodriguez or do anything that would damage his relationship with a key piece of the clubhouse.
“Anyone that supports me at this point, it’s well appreciated,” Rodriguez said of the Bonds comments. “It’s not taken for granted, that’s for sure. But my focus continues to stay between the lines.”
It’s interesting that the Yankees’ media notes — which include a lengthy list of milestones players are close to reaching — makes no mention of Rodriguez approaching the Mays home run total. It does, however, mention that he’s one stolen base away from tying Bert Daniels for 16th all-time. The Yankees are doing all they can to minimize the significance of No. 660.
Girardi, on the other hand, is treating it as nothing more or less than what it will be in the moment: another home run for his team.
“There’s going to be a lot of discussion (when he reaches 660),” Girardi said. “Some people are going to want to celebrate it. Some are not. I think it’s a personal preference. … I don’t know what the right thing to do is. Just let people do what they want to do.”
Associated Press photos
One guy has started all seven games for the Yankees this season. Remarkably, that guy is the 39-year-old with two surgically repaired hips and a full year away from the game. Alex Rodriguez has been the designated hitter, he’s been a starting first baseman, and tonight he’s making his first start of the season at third base.
“You just wanted to see (his production) carry over (after) what he did in spring training,” Joe Girardi said. “And he’s done that. I think we answered the questions in spring training, and now I think the only question that we really need to answer on a consistent basis is how many days in a row can you run him out there before you need to give him a day off?”
Girardi said the plan is to give Rodriguez a day off either tomorrow or Wednesday, but for now, because he’s spent so much time at DH, there’s actually sense that Rodriguez might be relatively fresh. He’s playing third so that Chase Headley — in theory a more durable player — can get his first day off.
“Obviously the 19-inning game has taken a toll on a few of our players,” Girardi said. “And we’re just trying to get their legs to bounce back a little bit. I thought I’d give Headley a day off today. He hasn’t had a day, and he could use it. … I know his legs are heavy. He’s played every inning basically that we’ve played, and he came back after that 19-inning affair and played the next day and we played a long game (last) night. You get in these games and you get in these streaks and you don’t want to take your guys out, but you have to understand we have a long road. We don’t want someone on the DL for two or three weeks.”
And so, today we get Rodriguez at third, where even he has acknowledged the range is limited. He pretty much made all of the routine plays in spring training, but he’s not going to move to far in either direction. The Yankees know that. It’s why he’s only going to play third occasionally this season.
Tonight just happens to be one of the nights the Yankees feel they need him there.
“Catch the balls that are hit to you and get the outs for us,” Girardi said. “He’s going to be able to go a little to his left and a little to his right, but he’s got great hands and he knows how to play the position, so use that to your ability.”
• Learned something new today: I was told that, barring an injury, teams are not allowed to call up any 40-man player until 10 games into the season. That 10-day rule is fairly well known for a player who’s been optioned to the minor leagues — they have to stay down 10 days before coming back up — but I assumed players who were optioned at least 10 days before the end of spring training would be allowed to come up at any time. Apparently not. Helps explain the non-40-man call-ups we’ve seen so far.
• Speaking of which, today it’s Double-A right-hander Joel De La Cruz who’s on the roster for emergency mop-up duty. The Yankees were basically out of Triple-A starters to bring up. They can’t call-up either Chase Whitley or Bryan Mitchell, already used up Kyle Davies and Matt Tracy, and I’m sure they don’t want to add Jaron Long to the 40-man just for something like this. So for tonight, it’s De La Cruz who’s here just in case the Yankees need a bunch of innings.
• Along those lines, Girardi said he might have Esmil Rogers available tomorrow, but more likely he’d prefer to wait until Wednesday before actually putting Rogers back in a game. Once Rogers is ready, I guess the Yankees could call-up a short reliever — maybe Diego Moreno? — because they’d have Rogers for multiple innings. I still doubt they’d add a guy like Jacob Lindgren or Nick Rumbelow for a short-term thing. At this point might as well just wait until they’re eligible and bring up a 40-man guy like Danny Burawa or Jose Ramirez to supplement the pen.
• One non-40-man pitcher who could be an option is Andrew Bailey, but Bailey still hasn’t pitched back-to-back games. He’s gotten into one game since opening the season with High-A Tampa. He pitched on Friday and allowed two earned runs on two hits and a walk. “I think the important thing that we said was that he is able to go back to back, just continue to build arm strength,” Girardi said. “I think after that you could really consider it.”
• Jose Pirela has been cleared for all baseball activity and should begin extended spring training games next week.
• The Yankees have Chris Young, John Ryan Murphy and Gregorio Petit in the lineup, which must mean there’s a lefty on the mound. Tonight it’s Wei-Yin Chen. “He locates with four pitches,” Girardi said. “He has the ability to get in on right-handers, and he has the ability to elevate the ball. And that’s the one you have to stay off of.”
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Postgame notes: “It’s something to build on” • 04.09.15
All through spring training, CC Sabathia insisted he felt great despite the fact he was pitching his way to an 8.10 ERA and a loss in each of his three starts.
Tonight’s regular-season debut felt similar.
There were plenty of obvious good things — eight strikeouts, no walks, no extra-base hits — but Sabathia still allowed five runs, four earned, through 5.2 innings. For now, that’s enough for a 6.35 ERA and an 0-1 record. Sabathia is usually hard on himself after a loss, but he seemed mostly encouraged after this one, despite the ugly result.
The real problem was the second inning when Sabathia allowed four runs on five singles and a couple of run-scoring ground outs. A comebacker off Sabathia’s own glove might have been a double play had he not touched it, but Sabathia’s deflection loaded the bases with no outs, and the Blue Jays chipped away from there.
“If he’s going to be hit that hard every time he starts, I’ll take it because he’s not going to give up that many runs in most games,” Joe Girardi said. “But it was just one of those nights. … We’ll take our chances when you’re getting ground balls because you’re going to get some double plays there. It looked like we may have had the one if he doesn’t touch it, and that could have changed the whole complexion of that inning. I thought he threw the ball pretty good.”
Sabathia said he got away from pitching inside in that second inning, and that was his biggest problem. He need to keep pounding fastballs inside to get hitters off his offspeed pitches. He didn’t do that in the second inning, and the Blue Jays pounced; not with home runs and doubles, but with a lot of contact and a lot of effective base hits.
Aside from the second inning, and before he allowed a pair of two-out hits in the sixth, Sabathia actually faced the minimum. The only other hit he allowed was quickly wiped out by a double play. There were some positives, and on some nights he might have finished with better results, but one big inning is nothing new for Sabathia. It’s also nothing new for the Yankees, who were undone by a similar inning by Masahiro Tanaka on Monday.
“He kept the ball in the ballpark,” Girardi said. “He kept the ball on the ground. He did what he was supposed to do, in a sense.”
In a sense, that’s true. In another sense, a loss is a loss, and four earned runs are four earned runs.
“A bad inning got away from us,” Sabathia said. “I wish I could have stopped the bleeding right there.”
• Alex Rodriguez hit his first home run since September 20, 2013. “I felt like I needed Google Maps or something to round the bases,” he said. “It’s been a long, long time. It certainly felt good to get some cheers in front of the home fans and get us going a little bit.”
• Moved into the second spot in the order, Rodriguez also drew a walk. He struck out in his other two at-bats. “We talked about it in spring training, anything that I do this year is going to be kind of a surprise to everyone – sometimes even myself,” Rodriguez said. “That one felt good to get us on the board and start a little momentum.”
• The home run, by the way, was No. 655 in Rodriguez’s career. His last homer came off former Yankees prospect George Kontos.
• Continuing a familiar issue, the Yankees went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. They had similar problems last night. Their only RISP hit tonight was an RBI single by Didi Gregorius, who was promptly thrown out rounding too far around first base. “To win games, you have to hit with runners on,” Girardi said.
• Speaking of Gregorius, that’s his second base-running blunder in three games. “I slipped a little bit trying to go back to first and I got stuck there,” he said. “That’s what happened. … For me, I just want to be aggressive on the bases. I slipped on that one, and I can’t take it back. It happened and just go forward from there.”
• Girardi on the Gregorius mistake: “He takes too wide of a turn, he slips and then he’s out. You’ve got to read the throw, and if the throw is low enough, you can’t take that wide of a turn.”
• Two fielding mistakes by Sabathia tonight. The first was the comebacker that he couldn’t snag in the second inning. If he’d let it go through, it probably would have been a double play. “I asked Didi, he was standing right behind me,” Sabathia said. “So I just gotta trust that he’s going to be there and he would’ve made the play.”
• The second fielding mistake came when Sabathia didn’t back up at third base in the sixth inning. When a throw from right field hit the runner, the ball got away and let a run score. “He went toward first (on contact), and it’s hard for him to get over there (to third),” Girardi said. “With his knee issues, we might have to live with that from time to time. I’m not so sure he’s even going to make it over there.”
• For whatever it’s worth, Sabathia said he felt great despite the cold weather.
• This was the 21st time in Sabathia’s career that he struck out at least eight without allowing a single walk. Last time he did it was May 31, 2013. … Sabathia has now lost each of his past four starts at Yankee Stadium, his longest home losing streak since joining the Yankees in 2009.
• Mark Teixeira homered to score the 1,000th run of his career. It was also his 500th RBI with the Yankees.
• Two doubles for John Ryan Murphy, who was making his first start of the season. Murphy got off to a slow start in spring training, but he started to hit a little toward the end. The Yankees chose to keep him over Austin Romine as the backup catcher.
• Jacoby Ellsbury was caught trying to steal in the third inning snapping a streak of 16 consecutive stolen bases without being caught. That streak dated back to July 18 of last season.
• We’ll give the final word to Rodriguez: “It’s three games. Today, I was more encouraged. We hit some of the hardest balls; some were outs. Tex hit a rocket that easily could have been a couple ribbies. Ellsbury had some great at-bats, Didi hit the ball well. Sometimes a run with this type of weather can count for two or three.”
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With the lineup already posted on the door that leads to the batting cage, Alex Rodriguez came walking through the clubhouse this afternoon and suddenly stopped in his tracks. Someone had just mentioned that he was hitting second. The words initially seemed to pass without Rodriguez hearing them, then he froze and looked back.
“You’re kidding me,” he said.
He walked to the door. Looked at the lineup. Walked away. Came back. Looked again and kind of whispered, “wow” before going to hit in the cage.
“I didn’t tell him,” Joe Girardi said with a little laugh. “But we’re taking Gardy out, and against a left-hander I decided to move (Rodriguez) up. I like the way he’s swinging the bat, so we moved him up today.”
For a guy with Rodriguez’s resume, a turn in the No. 2 hole in early April surely doesn’t rate as any sort of real accomplishment. But for a guy who’s almost 40 and coming off a year-long suspension, hitting second seems pretty telling. Can’t imagine Rodriguez — even with Brett Gardner out of the lineup, even with a lefty on the mound — would be hitting second if he hadn’t shown the Yankees quite a bit in spring training.
Six weeks ago, the Yankees had no idea what to expect from him. Now he’s as dependable as anyone at the top of the order.
“Joe and I have a long history,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been through a lot together, we won a championship together, so I think there’s a lot of trust on both sides. Whether you’re hitting second or seventh, third or fourth, the goal doesn’t change. You have to help the team win.”
Asked if he’s surprised by the way Rodriguez has looked at the plate, Girardi said that after spring training, he’s come to expect it. Rodriguez has shown a good eye since exhibition games started, and he’s done a good job of making contact and occasionally driving mistake pitches.
“Naturally, any time you hit at the top of the order, you should have better pitches to hit because they want to stay out of the meat of the order,” Rodriguez said. “It doesn’t matter where they’re hitting me; I think they’re always going to honor the power at some point.”
So today he’s in the No. 2 spot. Tomorrow, who knows?
“Anything that Skip wants me to do, I’m ready to do,” Rodriguez said. “… It’s all about trust. You have to regain the trust every day. Every day is an opportunity to prove yourself and help the team win.”
• Stephen Drew, Brian McCann and Brett Gardner all have the day off because of the lefty starting for Toronto. No one is hurt. It’s just a chance to give guys a day off, and so three lefties are on the bench. Girardi said he plans to play Drew and sit Didi Gregorius tomorrow. Seems safe to assume McCann will be back in the lineup tomorrow as well, and I would expect the same for Gardner.
• Usually Girardi likes to pair his backup catcher with one particularly pitcher, but he said the decision to starter John Ryan Murphy today had more to do with the opposing starter and less to do with the Yankees starter. Doesn’t sound like Murphy and Sabathia will be paired together regularly, it just worked out that way this time around. “I think I’ll try to rotate it based on when Mac needs a day,” Girardi said.
• Speaking of today’s Yankees starter, it’s CC Sabathia’s return. “It means a lot to him, I know it does,” Girardi said. “But it also means a lot to us. It’s important that we have him in our rotation. I look back on last year, I didn’t realize how few starts he actually made. It’s really great to have him back, and we’ve just got to keep him in the rotation. I think that’s the important thing.”
• First two games of the season, the first pitcher out of the bullpen has been Chris Martin, and Martin’s been impressive. Two innings, no base runners, three strikeouts. “We’ve liked what we’ve seen obviously his last outing,” Girardi said. “But his last few outings of spring training (were also encouraging). His breaking ball has improved, which I think is really going to help him during the course of this season. He had the cutter, but he’s added a little bit bigger breaking ball which gives a different look. So I feel good about our guys in the bullpen, and I brought him in a close game hoping he would keep it there. I think our parts are somewhat interchangeable down there, and you just have to keep the guys fresh.”
• Rodriguez has moved up in the order, but when’s he going to play the field? “I have no idea,” he said. “I already took my ground balls this afternoon. Did the same thing yesterday early. I’m ready when my number is called.”
• Minor league seasons get started tonight. Bryan Mitchell has the start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
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Thought we were finished talking about Masahiro Tanaka’s velocity, health and performance two days after his disappointing Opening Day start? You must be new.
In today’s Daily News, John Harper wrote that the Yankees believe something has been lost in translation in Tanaka’s public comments about his velocity and approach. The widespread perception has been that Tanaka is backing away from velocity because of concerns about his elbow, but the Yankees say that’s not the case, at least not based on their internal discussions with their young ace. Harper wrote that the team planned a meeting with Tanaka to make sure there’s a mutual understanding.
So the decision to throw more sinkers and fewer four-seamers is not because of the elbow?
“From my conversations with him, it’s a strategic thing,” Girardi said. “He knows that his four-seamer got hit some last year, and that really comes down to location. I think the important thing for him is that, whichever one he’s locating better, it’s the one he uses that day for the most part. He is a guy that gets 90 percent of his outs on sliders and splits. The fastball is to kind of setup the slider and the split. He needs to locate. I mean, he got in bad counts the other day. He didn’t really pitch Toronto much different than he did the last time he beat them in June, but he made mistakes and that was the difference.”
The numbers support the idea that Tanaka’s four-seamer was perhaps his worst pitch last season, so there is a non-health motivation in throwing fewer four-seamers. But, of course, given the situation — a slightly torn elbow ligament for such a high-end young pitcher — everything is going to be examined over and over again. Any change is hard to dismiss under the circumstances. From Harper’s story:
Yankee people also say the panic over Tanaka’s velocity is overblown, that his fastball against the Blue Jays, both two-seam and four-seam, were within one mile per hour of the way he pitched last year.
Likewise they say the percentage of fastballs he threw — 26 of 82 pitches, if you count the two-seam sinkers and the four-seamers — wasn’t dramatically different from 2014 either.
“I see the way he’s throwing his split,” Girardi said this afternoon. “I see him playing long toss. I just don’t think, if he was hurt, he could do the things that he’s doing. But I think that’s always going to be in the back of everyone’s mind just because that’s the way it is.”
• Alex Rodriguez has good career numbers against Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey, but Girardi said he didn’t want to start moving players up and down the lineup after one game. “I’m not going to start changing the lineup already,” he said. “We’re only one day in. A lot of it, I think sometimes, is something that you look over. Sometimes you make some changes, sometimes you don’t, based upon the personnel that’s in there at the time. I thought we could go with the same lineup two days in a row, it’s something a little bit different than what we’ve done the past two years.”
• The lineup will change tomorrow, though. The Yankees face left-handed starters on Thursday and Friday, and Girardi said he plans to use both Chris Young and Gregorio Petit as everyday guys against lefties. They won’t necessary replace the same player each time, but they’ll play against lefties, giving the regulars a chance to sit. It’s a way to add some right-handed balance to this left-leaning lineup. “I would say I will probably do that, try to give guys a day off,” Girardi said. “Maybe one of the outfielders a day off against a lefty, and one of the infielders a day off against a lefty, yes.”
• Didi Gregorius is back in the lineup after being hit by pitch to the elbow late on Monday. “He said he’s fine,” Girardi said. “I’ll watch him take BP and let him go through BP, but he said he felt good so my expectation is that it won’t be an issue.”
• In his fourth season with the Yankees, but only his second year breaking camp with the team, Michael Pineda seems to be an even better pitcher than the Yankees expected when they got him. His health might be worse than expected, but his stuff is better. “He’s much different (than in 2012),” Girardi said. “The first Spring Training didn’t go so well. He ended up getting hurt, and he wasn’t where he needed to be physically. Now you look at him and the ball is coming out well. He’s a much different guy. … He had a pretty serious injury and he has bounced back. I think he grew up a lot through that. I think during that time too his mechanics improved dramatically. It really helped him.”
• Last time Pineda pitched on a cold night in April, he wound up ejected and suspended because of a massive glob of pine tar on his neck. Girardi actually laughed when asked about it today. “I’m sure we’ll have a lot of eyes on him tonight,” Girardi said. “I think he understands, yes. I hope.”
• As expected, there’s no set closer for tonight. “It’s the matchups (that will decide who pitches the ninth,” Girardi said. “It’s the order.”
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