The Yankees’ ace takes his turn this afternoon, and everyone knows it except — perhaps — the man himself.
With Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list and CC Sabathia still looking for his first win, the Yankees No. 1 starter is clearly Michael Pineda. Joe Girardi talks ofter about a team’s ace being whoever is starting on any given day, and that’s a nice idea, but there’s something to be said for a true powerhouse at the top of the rotation.
And after years of waiting for him to get healthy, the Yankees seem to have that in Pineda.
“I think when you look at your starters, you think about how it relates to the bullpen in a sense and how deep they’re going to go into games,” Girardi said. “And he’s one of those guys, who, because he throws so many strikes, and gets ahead in the count, he can go deep into games and you don’t use your bullpen as much. I think people always put those things together as, that’s an ace of the staff, too. Do I think different (on days Pineda pitches)? Yeah, I think sometimes you’re going to get a little more length, but you’re still going to need your bullpen.”
Sabathia has always talked about his responsibility as a veteran rotation leader, and surely Tanaka can’t help but notice the attention and expectation that he carries each time he’s on the mound, but Pineda takes a different attitude. He comes across as a carefree guy, basically the same attitude this year that he had last season when he opened as the No. 5.
“My guess is he doesn’t really think much about it,” Girardi said. “My guess is he just goes out there every fifth day, does his job, loves to compete, has fun, entertains us with some of the things he does out there. My guess, and I have not heard him talk about it – but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t – is that he doesn’t think about it.”
• Alex Rodriguez is back in the lineup after sitting out yesterday with some leg tightness. Would Girardi prefer his 39-year-old just stop at second next time he has a chance to stretch for a triple? “If you can get there, you want a guy to get there, since there are so many other ways to score from third base,” Girardi said. “But I would tell him just to hit the ball over the fence.”
• Tanaka played long toss again today. Seemed to have no issues.
• One day after both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were unavailable because of workload, the Yankees would like another game when they don’t need to use their bullpen too much. Only Chasen Shreve and David Carpenter had to pitch out of the pen yesterday. “We were able to get some of the guys a day off yesterday,” Girardi said. “But it’d be nice to get them another day off today.”
• There have been some positive signs with Pineda’s velocity lately. He’s been average up around 93 mph the past two times out — close to 94 mph last time — after sitting closer to 90-91 his first few starts. “I think some of that has to do with weather,” Girardi said. “Some of the days he’s pitched, have not been ideal conditions, and I think as you see the weather warm up — he pitched in a dome the last time – you’ll see the velocity come with it.”
• I was off the first two home Sundays this season. I’d kind of forgotten how quiet these days are pregame. Very few players in the clubhouse before batting practice. Nothing unusual going on during BP. Today there are a lot of pink shirts being worn, but otherwise, it’s just another slow Sunday morning at the stadium.
Associated Press photos
Another day of throwing a baseball with no incident for Masahiro Tanaka doesn’t seem particularly newsworthy, expect when you consider that this is Tanaka that we’re talking about.
After throwing 50 pitches from 60 feet on Thursday, Tanaka threw 25 from 60 feet and another 25 from 90 on Friday. He spoke to the media after and said he’s “definitely going in the right direction,” and he seemed fairly unconcerned about any long-term effects from this forearm strain. He also reiterated that he doesn’t think that this relatively minor injury has anything to do with the elbow that caused problems for him last season.
“Everybody has their own opinion, but personally, I don’t think it had anything to do with it,” he said through his interpreter. “I don’t think it has anything to do with my elbow.”
Of course, there has been rampant speculation about Tanaka eventually — some might say inevitably — needing Tommy John surgery, but he isn’t buying it. He’s repeatedly said that there is no discomfort in the elbow. He said he’s “gradually” increased the intensity in these throwing sessions the last two days and feels nothing in the forearm, either.
He also denied that the injury was caused by the way that he’s throwing the splitter, or because of pitching on four days’ rest instead of the five that he was accustomed to in Japan.
The only thing that he agreed with is that the process has been somewhat frustrating.
“Just to be honest with you, I did get injured from time-to-time in Japan,” Tanaka said. “But my absolute goal is to try to not get injured throughout the season and be apart of that rotation. With that said, I’m a little disappointed.”
• While the rotation has held up well in the absence of Tanaka, the bullpen continues to be the strength of the team. Andrew Miller, who may not have the official closer title but is pitching as well as any reliever in baseball, is looking like a very smart investment. He’s up to 12 saves. “I think he’s approached it just like any other inning that he’s pitched,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s done an unbelievable job for us. He’s really kind of kept his pitch count down in most instances when we use him multiple days in a row. He’s a strikeout guy who can hold runners on when they do get on. He’s really done a great job. Every time that we saw him, we saw him good, so I’m not surprised that we’re seeing what we’re seeing.”
• Girardi has been criticized for over-managing and not trusting his gut often enough, but he’s generally praised for the way that he handles his bullpen. It has to be nice having the type of weapons that he has down there this season, and that surely makes his job easier. But he does deserve some credit for putting guys in spots where they can be successful and rarely overusing them. “I kind of have in my mind some rules that I follow, depending on how much they’ve worked – multiple innings, days in a row, three out of four, how many pitches, quick turnaround – and I’ve been consistent with those ever since I’ve been here,” he said. “I usually let them know when they’re down so that they’re not over-preparing and maybe playing more catch than they should be, that sort of thing. The goal is, for me, it’s more than a one year term. It’s a long-term thing. We want these guys to be effective for a long time, and I’ve kind of stayed true to that.”
• Many of you are probably happy to see Jose Pirela in there at second base today. He’s become popular among the fan base, in large part due to the struggles of Stephen Drew. But Girardi said this is just a day off for Drew. He’ll be back in there tomorrow. “I think his last day off was Saturday in Fenway, so it’s a day off of him,” Girardi said. “Then (Gregorio Petit) will probably play second tomorrow against the lefty and maybe we’ll give Didi(Gregorius) a day off.”
• We discussed plenty about A-Rod last night, so it wasn’t a huge focus during Girardi’s presser today. But he was asked about if he thinks the next milestone in his path — he’s 38 away from 3,000 hits — will be more acceptable in the baseball world because it’s not a power statistic. I guess the idea is that steroids are more beneficial when it comes to home runs and that sort of thing, but I can’t imagine anyone suddenly overlooking his past PED issues for his hit total and not his home run total. “Obviously, it’s a ton of hits,” Girardi said. “You have to have a lot of longevity to come up with 3,000 hits. You know, this is going to be debated for years to come, I’m sure. But my job as the manager is to get the most of the players. My job is not to decide if something is a milestone or an accomplishment – that’s for baseball people to do and historians. My hope is that he gets it fairly quickly and the hits keep coming, and the home runs keep coming.”
• Girardi followed that question up by asking how far away Rodriguez is from 3,000. When he was told 38, he said, “You can see how closely I’m following.” Yankees director of media relations Jason Zillo suggested that A-Rod get to 3,000 tonight. That would probably take about 100 innings, so for my sake, I hope not.
Associated Press photos
When Alex Rodriguez hit No. 660 on Friday, he stomped on home plate, high-fived his manager, and found himself engulfed by teammates looking to warp him in a hug or slap him on the back. After the game ended, Rodriguez was in front of his locker when those same teammates showered him with beer, treating the home run — as the player — as worthy of a true celebration.
“My teammates have been incredible,” Rodriguez said. “That’s part, also, of why I got so emotional. I didn’t expect them to be so great and gracious.”
I’m not sure anyone knew to expect that. Truth is, there aren’t a lot of guys in the Yankees clubhouse who had played with Rodriguez before this season, so it was anyone’s guess how he might be received. But the guys who had played with Rodriguez in the past, welcomed him back quickly, and ones who were meeting him for the first time, seemed to embrace him in spring training.
“I’ve played with him as much if not more than anybody in this room,” Brett Gardner said. “So I know what he’s all about. I’ve had a chance over the years — over the last eight or nine years — to really see behind the scenes and what goes into his preparation for the game, and the way that he works in the offseason. He doesn’t need to go out of his way to try to win me over.
“Obviously a lot of guys in the room, a lot of new guys in the room, probably coming into spring training weren’t exactly sure what to expect, but I think for the most part, I’ve had a lot of guys come up to me and say that he’s way different than they expected him to be. That’s all a positive. Just a testament to him and how he’s handled the whole situation, and how the team’s handled it.”
I’m not sure anyone would immediately connect Gardner and Rodriguez — one is among the elite players of his generation, the other was a walk-on at the College of Charleston — but they’ve known one another a long time. Gardner was drafted in Rodriguez’s second year with the Yankees, and this is already Gardner’s eighth year in the big leagues.
Gardner’s played with Rodriguez longer than Mark Teixiera, longer than CC Sabathia, longer than anyone else in the Yankees clubhouse.
“I’ve never shied away from saying how I feel about Alex and the way that he works and the way that he plays the game,” Gardner said. “Obviously a lot’s gone on the past couple of years, but his work ethic is still there. And he loves playing the game, and he loves winning, and that seems to be all he really cares about.”
From the outside looking in, Rodriguez seems different. He seems more open, more honest and more candid. Gardner, though, said he hasn’t seen much of a difference in the way Rodriguez handles himself in the clubhouse and on the field.
“He’s been all business since he’s been back,” Gardner said. “Last year, obviously, was very, very tough for him, and tough for a lot of people, but I think ever since he’s come back he’s been all about working hard and trying to help the team win. The way that he is able to help everybody around him and kind of rally everybody together, I think it’s pretty special. It’s a lot of fun watching him work, and a lot of fun playing alongside of him. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Associated Press photos
Less than 24 hours after last night’s pinch-hit, game-winning, milestone home run, Alex Rodriguez is back in his usual spot in the Yankees’ lineup, batting third as the starting designated hitter. Now the race to No. 661 begins.
“I don’t know if it’ll mean more (than 660),” Rodriguez said. “This whole thing has been kind of like a dream. … I’m just here to play baseball. Anytime you’re sandwiched between Willie Mays and Babe Ruth it’s special. But I’m really just enjoying playing baseball, as much as I have in a long time.”
Rodriguez said yesterday afternoon that he’d been hoping to tie Mays at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, but honestly, if he’d done it at home, the whole thing would have been wrapped up in whatever the Yankees did or did not do to acknowledge the milestone. On the road, at Fenway, off the bench, to break a tie and win a game — No. 660 was all about an in-the-moment situation when Rodriguez got aggressive and delivered a win.
“My guess is, (the pressure) is off, in a sense,” Joe Girardi said. “And he won’t be answering questions, ‘When is he going to hit it?’ which is nice. The next (milestone) is pretty far away, so he should be able to get down to normal business now.”
The next A-Rod milestone isn’t necessarily a home run. He’s 44 hits away from 3,000.
“That’s probably another one we’ll have to worry about a little bit,” Girardi said. “But we still have a little time before we get there. At least we can not worry about that quite yet.”
• That’s the same wrist that required surgery back in 2013 and that seemed to occasionally bother Teixeira last season, but Girardi said he wasn’t worried about any sort of connection causing extra problems. “I think the weakness is gone,” Girardi said. “If it would have happened last year, I think I would have been more concerned than this year.”
• On that same pitch, the ball hit off Teixeira and wound up breaking a knuckle in catcher Ryan Hanigan’s hand. He was put on the disabled list today. Brutal. “That’s pretty strange,” Girardi said. “I’ve seen balls ricochet and hit catchers, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen somebody break his hand like that. It seems that Hanigan is going to have to have surgery, and that’s pretty serious stuff and extremely unfortunate. That’s a strange play. You see ricochets a lot, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one that bad.”
• With Hanigan out, the Red Sox have called up highly touted catching prospect Blake Swihart, a switch-hitter who’s in the lineup this afternoon. The kid’s being thrown right into the fire.
• Esmil Rogers has been terrific in a long relief role this season, and last night, Girardi decided to use him in short relief in the seventh inning. It was a bit of a risk, but it paid off when Rogers delivered a scoreless seventh and actually picked up his first win. “I think he gives us the ability to use him that way just because of the stuff that he has,” Girardi said. “I felt that, when I brought him in yesterday, depending on how the inning was going to go, that I would use him for up to five hitters probably and then go to Wilson after that. But sometimes you have to be careful in close games in those situations, because he was my long guy yesterday. I rolled the dice a little bit, and it worked.”
• Nathan Eovaldi is making his fifth start of the year. He’s been pretty solid, but he’s also pitched more than 5.1 innings only once. “We saw him do it in Detroit,” Girardi said. “Some of it depends on how good his breaking ball is on those certain days. He’s a work in progress. I’ve said it a number of times. He’s 25 years old. He’s still a young starting pitcher that has good stuff and is still developing his skill as a starting pitcher. We’re pretty encouraged by what we’ve seen so far from him, so I think he’ll get better as the year goes on.”
Associated Press photos
Mid-summer 1994, Alex Rodriguez was right here at Fenway Park for his Major League debut. He was an 18-year-old kid, barely a year removed from being the top overall draft pick out of high school. He’d played a half season of minor league ball. He remembers his mother, brother and sister being in the crowd. He also remembers this:
“How nervous I was,” he said. “I was a month (removed) from my high school prom.”
Now Rodriguez is back. It would be absurd to try to capture in a few sentences all that’s happened between then and now, but Rodriguez’s go-to quote about his early season at-bats seems appropriate: “Some good. Some bad.”
Unlike 21 years ago, Rodriguez isn’t in the lineup tonight. Joe Girardi has loaded the Yankees lineup with left-handed hitters to take advantage of Red Sox starter Justin Masterson’s weakness against lefties, and so it seems Rodriguez’s hunt for milestone home run No. 660 will have to wait for either another day or a late-inning pinch hit opportunity.
“I wanted to do it Wednesday at home,” Rodriguez said. “It would have been nice to do it at home in front of our home fans. But now I’m on the road and the goal doesn’t change. It’s still to win games and to win series.”
Out of spring training, Rodriguez homered four times in his first 31 at-bats. That outburst put him two away from tying Willie Mays for fourth on baseball’s all-time list. Since he got that close, he’s hit one homer in his past 37 at-bats. Since he pulled within one of the milestone on Sunday, he’s gone 1-for-12, including that brutal four-strikeout game on Wednesday.
Rodriguez didn’t specifically say he was pressing on Wednesday, but he acknowledges a past difficulty with approaching milestones. It took him 28 at-bats to finally hit home run No. 500, and 46 at-bats to finally reach 600.
“Some of the pitches that he’s swung at and the ones that he’s missed a little bit, maybe (he’s been) trying to get it out of the way,” Girardi said. “As much as I want to tell him to relax, it’s something he’s going to have to do to get it out of the way. … I think it’s probably part of most players when they get to the level of accomplishments these guys have reached. We saw it weigh really hard on Derek (Jeter trying to reach 3,000 hits). That was one that I didn’t think that would be. I just think it’s difficult.”
Seems safe to assume Rodriguez will be back in the lineup tomorrow afternoon for his next shot at tying Mays, who Rodriguez has called a hero; his father’s favorite player. Does it bother him that many will see his 660th home run as something far less impressive than Mays’ 660th?
“The only thing I can control is what I do from here on out and how I conduct myself both on and off the field,” he said. “I can’t really decide for other people what to think. … You know I have regrets, and I’m trying to do the best to finish my career on a high note.”
• Chris Capuano will start a rehab assignment with High-A Tampa tomorrow. He’s scheduled for four innings or 60 pitches. Sounds like he could need as little as three minor league starts before becoming a big league option. “Everything that he’s doing is going in the right direction,” Girardi said. “You think about 60, 75, 90 and then you go from there.”
• Ivan Nova will pitch one inning in an intrasquad game tomorrow. Jared Burton will pitch in the same game.
• Now that Jose Pirela’s rehab has been moved up to Triple-A, he’s clearly getting much closer to being a big league option — and the Yankees were ready to call him up on Wednesday before Tanaka got hurt — but Girardi said, at this point, the team still hasn’t decided whether Pirela will come to the big leagues or stay in Triple-A after his rehab is finished. “It’s something that we have discussed about what we might possibly do with him or not do with him,” Girardi said. “But obviously I think at-bats are important. He was out a month, maybe? Almost a month? You’ve got to get him some at-bats and some real game situations playing different positions.”
• Brendan Ryan got some DH at-bats today in extended spring training. He’s obviously inching closer to a rehab assignment of his own.
• Stacking the lineup with lefties means a rare start for Garrett Jones, who’s played in fewer games than Gregorio Petit at this point. “When we envisioned him, we envisioned him DHing some and maybe playing a little first and a little outfield,” Girardi said. “With Alex swinging the bat so well in April, Chris Young swinging the bat so well in April, it’s just been tough for Garrett.”
• Speaking of that lineup of all left-handed hitters (counting the switch hitters), Girardi said that was a decision 100-percent connected to Red Sox starter Justin Masterson. In his career, Masterson has held right-handed hitters to a .220 average and .606 OPS. Lefties have hit .287 with a .794 OPS.
• CC Sabathia is going for his first win of the year. He’s taken the loss in all four of his starts. “I think there’s frustration there because I think he’s pitched well enough three of the four games to win,” Girardi said. “He loses an extremely tough on in Detroit. We haven’t scored a lot of runs in his games. Hopefully we can do that tonight and give him some run support and get him a win.”
• By the way, the Yankees mustache thing is still going strong. John Ryan Murphy and Gregorio Petit are among the more impressive stache-growers of the bunch. Poor Dellin Betances and Adam Warren, not so much.
Associated Press photos
This might not have been the worst game of Alex Rodriguez’s career, but it had to be close. He came to the plate in the 13th inning with a chance to change that completely and instead hit into a game-ending double play, meaning he accounted for seven outs in six at-bats today.
“You just have to press delete,” Rodriguez said. “Today was definitely a tough day for our offense and specifically for me, but just (have a) short memory. Another game on Friday.”
It was the fifth four-strikeout game of Rodriguez’s 21-year career, and according to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the first time he’d ever had six at-bats without a hit. After a blistering start to the season — hitting .344 with four home runs in his first 10 games — Rodriguez has hit .135 with one home run in his past 10 games.
“If I had to answer every time a guy had a bad day at the plate, we’d be here a long time,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We’d be talking about every hitter that we had. A lot of times it’s just pitch selection.”
Pitch selection had been a strength for Rodriguez throughout spring training and through those productive early games this season, but he acknowledged chasing some pitches lately. He’s still drawn plenty of walks — 10 in the past 10 games — but he hasn’t made the same contact lately. He admitted that he didn’t pick up the ball out of Rays’ starter Drew Smyly’s hand very well today.
“I definitely chased today,” Rodriguez said. “And I will often talk about, going back to spring training, one of the keys for our offense — and me specifically — is swing at strikes and take your A swing. And today I didn’t do that.”
Of course, Rodriguez wasn’t alone. Hard to pin an entire loss on him, especially when the Yankees had just seven hits in 13 innings, three of them from Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees botched walk-off opportunities in each of the game’s extra innings, and not all of those wasted opportunities hinged on Rodriguez ground balls.
That last at-bat, though, wasn’t a one-of-a-kind moment. Rodriguez just hasn’t been as good lately. His batting average is down to .232, and while his on-base percentage and slugging percentage are still good, any extended slump for a player like this leads to natural questions about whether the first 10 games or the last 10 games is a more accurate picture of who he’ll be going forward.
“It’s just kind of what you go through as a hitter,” Girardi said. “There’s going to be times where you’re extremely hot, and there’s going to be times where you’re not swinging it as well, and you hope when you’re not swinging it as well the other guys can pick you up.”
The other guys couldn’t pick him up this afternoon, and Rodriguez couldn’t turn his afternoon around in that final at-bat.
• Sure, Chasen Shreve lost it in the 13th inning, but this was another really, really good game for the Yankees’ bullpen. Until that two-out, go-ahead single, the bullpen had delivered seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts. Since April 22, the bullpen has a 0.88 ERA. “The amount of innings they’ve had to pitch is incredible,” Girardi said. “You give up the one run today and it beats you. It’s unfortunate. We got a lot of innings out of them today, and they did a great job.”
• The Yankees bullpen retired the first 14 batters it faced with five different relievers contributing to that stretch.
• According to Elias, that run Shreve allowed in the 13th was the first earned run allowed by a Yankees reliever in 17.2 innings in Michael Pineda’s starts this season.
• Of course, it might not have come to that if the Yankees hadn’t blown scoring opportunities in every extra inning today. They had runners on base in the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th and had nothing to show for it. “As an offense, you want to be able to come through in those situations and show the bullpen some love,” Chris Young said.
• Dellin Betances has struck out at least two batters without allowing a hit in each of his past six appearances. It’s the longest such streak by any Yankees reliever since at least 1914. That’s according to Elias.
• Andrew Miller pitched two perfect innings with three strikeouts. He has multiple strikeouts in six of his 10 outings and has 20 strikeouts in 11.1 innings today. He’s allowed just three hits.
• Pretty good start for Michael Pineda. The Rays worked some long at-bats against him, and Kevin Kiermaier got the big two-run triple, but otherwise Pineda was pretty good through 5.2 innings. He said he was dropping his hand a little bit in his delivery which led to his occasional struggles. He still didn’t walk anyone.
• Pineda was just about to throw a bullpen yesterday when he found out he was making today’s start. Did that affect him at all? “No. Today is my first day (fully rested) for pitching, you know?,” Pineda said. “Joe tell me that, and I say okay, because today is my first day for pitching.”
• Girardi said he felt OK about going into his bullpen in the sixth inning because he knew there was an off day tomorrow. He felt he had enough innings available to get through the game.
• That game-winning single was actually stopped by Stephen Drew in shallow right field. He made a sliding stop but decided he had no chance to get an out at first base (Mark Teixeira had to rush over to cover the bag, but Drew said there wouldn’t have been time anyway). “I didn’t think I really had a shot, to be honest, to even get to the ball,” Drew said. “When I got up to go throw, there was no shot to get him, and really no momentum, especially when you’re going to your left there.”
• The Yankees struck out 16 times today. That’s their highest total since they also struck out 16 times in a 14-inning game on September 29, 2013.
• Chase Headley hit his first home run since April 12, and the Yankees have now homered in 17 of 22 games this season. Headley has hit nine home runs since coming to the Yankees, and eight of them have come at Yankee Stadium.
• Jacoby Ellsbury had three singles — the rest of the Yankees had just four hits — and he now has nine multi-hit games this season. He’s hitting .444 with five stolen bases in his past seven games.
• Final word goes to Rodriguez: “Our goal is to win games. We won another series here against Tampa. The team is playing very well. It would have been nice to get today, for sure, for the sweep. But our goal continues to be the same: Go to Boston; win a series.”
Associated Press photos
At this time yesterday, Masahiro Tanaka has still not told the Yankees about his sore wrist. He hadn’t gone for the MRI that revealed a strained forearm, and he hadn’t received the diagnosis that spark renewed questions about his elbow and ability to avoid Tommy John surgery.
“When he came up and said his wrist hurt, I was like, wow,” Joe Girardi said. “Cause the starts were good, the bullpen session was good, and I wasn’t prepared for that. So that’s why I used the word a little shocked when I heard because everything had went great.”
Michael Pineda was actually supposed to throw a bullpen yesterday and Girardi stopped him in the early afternoon, explaining he might have to pitch today instead. And, of course, that’s exactly what happened.
After those first four starts this season, things were actually encouraging with Tanaka. He’d pitched especially well in the past two starts, and he’d complained of no soreness in his elbow or anywhere else. Now that we know the newest injuries, though, it’s hard to think of Tanaka in any other context. Sure, he was pitching well, but the Yankees have known for a long time that Tanaka’s capable of pitching well. But that’s only when he’s healthy enough to actually be on the mound.
“Is there concern? Of course there is,” Girardi said. “Anytime you have to shut a pitcher down, there’s concern. With what happened last year, I can’t tell you if they’re related or not, but you’re going to think about it. You’re going to think about a lot of different scenarios. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed and hope it’s not much, but we’ll deal with it either way.”
Initially, when Tanaka was only complaining about a little wrist soreness, Girardi was thinking it might be a two-week issue.
“My recommendation was kind of a DL there and he would come back as soon as those 15 days were up because you could back-date it,” Girardi said. “And we were already 5 or 6 days. So with the little bit of a strain (as well), it’s definitely DL.”
That’s the only thing that’s certain for now. Tanaka is definitely on the disabled list. How long he’ll stay there and how soon he’ll be back on it remains anyone’s guess.
• Would Girardi like to see Alex Rodriguez get No. 660 out of the way before this weekend’s series at Fenway? “It just might crowd our clubhouse a little bit more if he doesn’t,” Girardi said. “But it doesn’t matter either way. I’d prefer that he does it with two or three guys on today and gets it over with.”
• Even with another starter added to the disabled list, Girardi said he’d still consider using a spot starter during this next long stretch of games. Wonder if Bryan Mitchell might come up for a start in the next week or so.
• The Yankees have gotten eight scoreless innings out of their bullpen the past two days, but Girardi said the pen is still rested enough to handle today’s game. They’d like to get distance out of Michael Pineda, but it’s not a dire situation. “I think that’s important,” Girardi said. “But our bullpen’s OK. It helps that we have a day off tomorrow, I think that’s important. The only guy that I’d probably stay away from is Esmil.”
• Will the late change of plans impact Pineda today? “It shouldn’t be a factor,” Girardi said. “It probably won’t hurt him at all.”
• Around 10:30 this morning, Gregorio Petit walked into the Yankees’ clubhouse carrying the same bag he took out of the clubhouse yesterday. Teammates were laughing and offering hugs. A bizarre welcome back moment for a guy who barely left.
• Just a day off for Brett Gardner and Brian McCann against a left-handed starter.
• Because these seem a little more relevant now, here’s a quick update on Ivan Nova and Chris Capuano: Each one last pitched on Monday. Nova threw a simulated game, and Capuano pitched in extended spring training. Neither is ready to come off the disabled list just yet, obviously. “They did well,” Girardi said. “I’m not sure if the next step, because it was a shorter outing, if it’s Friday or Saturday.”
Associated Press photos
Before batting practice this afternoon, Didi Gregorius was on the field going through some drills at shortstop. His instructor: Alex Rodriguez.
“It’s just a veteran player looking to lend a helping hand in situations,” Girardi said. “Didi is still a young player. We know that there are going to be some things that he goes through that sometimes might be the first or second time. He’s not a seasoned veteran out there. Alex’s experience playing short and his experience playing here in New York can help Didi.”
We hear often that Rodriguez is a great teacher of the game. Players speak highly of the way Rodriguez talks hitting around the cage, and clubhouse interviews that get in-depth about the game can be legitimately insightful rather than cliche.
“He’s making a lot of transitions,” Rodriguez said. “New York is one. The Yankees, things are different here for sure. The one thing about playing shortstop that I tried to convey to him was positioning, cadence and also that internal clock that a shortstop needs. You only get that with preparation and experience.”
Rodriguez said the Yankees’ coaching staff asked him to spend some pregame time with Gregorius on the field, and so today’s session was set up a few days ago.
“It was just more game situation (drills),” infield coach Joe Espada said. “I think kind of working on his game clock, knowing runners, outs, when to charge a ball and when to stay back on a ball. The situations that we have been working on throughout Spring Training and throughout the season. I wanted Alex to be out here to kind of give him some of that insight that, as a coach, I probably can’t give that view.”
Said Rodriguez: “The abilities are off the charts. I said that in spring training. We saw that in Spring Training. He’s got the things you can’t teach; incredible range, great arm strength. People forget, he’s only been playing shortstop for eight years. The more he comes out, the more he gets experience, the better he’s going to be.”
Obviously Gregorius and Rodriguez are off to basically opposite starts. Rodriguez has been a surprise in the best ways; Gregorius has been a disappointment in almost every facet. But Rodriguez was quick to remind everyone that it’s been only three weeks.
“It’s a process,” Rodriguez said. “Didi is going to be a fine shortstop here for a long time. I told him, sometime around June 15 or June 1st, he’s going to look at all of us and say, ‘I feel much more comfortable.’ It just takes a little bit.”
• Originally, Girardi said he expected to play Rodriguez all six games this home stand. Girardi said that plan changed last night when he decided to have Rodriguez play third base to give Chase Headley a day off. After a day in the field — and with a night game tomorrow — Girardi decided to give Rodriguez tonight off. No injury. He’s available if the Yankees need him.
• Does the decision to option Gregorio Petit indicate Jose Pirela is close to being ready to join the big league team? “It could,” Girardi said. That’s about as close to confirmation as we’re going to get. Seems pretty clear the Yankees are planning to activate Pirela to take Chase Whitley’s roster spot and replace Petit tomorrow.
• For the time being, the Yankees are taking a calculated risk by playing a game without a backup middle infielder. “I feel like I can put (Headley) at second base if I needed to,” Girardi said. “Realistically, I could put Al there, I’m sure. I think he would say, ‘Yeah, I’ll go out there and try it.’ We’ve been there before the last couple years, so there’s not a situation that I’m too worried about. If it happens, we’ll handle it.”
• Whitley pitched very well this spring and seemed to have a bullpen job locked up, but the Yankees preferred to have him stretched out for a spot start just like this one. “I’m sure he’s very excited,” Girardi said. “It was difficult to send him down because he meant a lot to us last year and pitched well in spring training. He understood why we did what we did. That doesn’t necessarily mean that as a player you want it to happen or you like it, but he went down there with the right attitude.”
• Worth noting that the Yankees preferred to have Whitley make a spot start today rather than last week against Detroit. Not sure this was a factor in the decision, but Whitley gets a much easier lineup this way. “He’s faced a number of teams in the big leagues now and understands how he got those hitters out,” Girardi said.
• The current situation in Baltimore hits home for Mark Teixeira who’s from roughly 30 minutes outside of downtown. His uncle is a priest at a downtown church that’s being protected by the National Guard. “People start attacking churches, it’s a good thing the National Guard’s there, because that’s the bottom of the bottom,” Teixeira said. “… Any time there’s a crisis, people step up. Good people always trump bad.”
• Because of the unrest in Baltimore, tomorrow’s game between the Orioles and White Sox has been moved up to 2:05 p.m. and will be played without fans allowed in the stadium. This weekend’s Orioles series against the Rays has been moved to Tampa Bay. Asked what it would be like to play a baseball game in a totally empty stadium, Teixeira deadpanned: “Did you ever go to a Rangers-Rays game between 2003 and 2005?”
• A quick bit of minor league news: Infield prospect Angel Aguilar has been added to the Charleston roster. I believe he opened the season in extended spring. Not a massive prospect, but good enough that it’s significant to get him into real games at the full-season level.
Associated Press photos
One by one, we’ve counted the Alex Rodriguez home runs. His first homer back from suspension. The one he hit in Baltimore. Two in one game against the Rays. And last night, the one that put him one away from Willie Mays. Every A-Rod home run is big news, and that certainly the next time he goes deep.
All of which has let Mark Teixeira hit his home runs in relative silence, quietly leading the Yankees, one away from the Major League lead.
“There’s been some games that he’s single-handley won for us,” Joe Girardi said. “His average is starting to climb now as it’s started to get a little bit warmer. His run production is so important to us, and I’ve been able to pencil him in there basically every day in the same spot and not move him around.”
Even with the .242 batting average — which was below .200 just a few days ago — Teixeira still ranks fifth in the American League with a 1.044 OPS. He’s drawn enough walks to keep his on-base percentage high (more walks than strikeouts), and he’s hit with such power that his doubles and home runs have made it easy to overlook the fact he has just three singles (and two of those singles came in one game).
While Rodriguez was the Yankees’ obvious wild card coming into spring training, Teixeira was also a bit of an unknown. His numbers have declined ever since that standout Yankees debut back in 2009. His 2013 season was lost to wrist surgery, and last year started fairly strong before falling apart through a series of nagging injuries and what Teixeira has described as a lack of strength and endurance. Having rehabbed the winter before, Teixeira simply wasn’t powerful enough to be an offensive force all last season.
“A winter is somewhat of a rehab of your whole body,” Girardi said. “When you spend it on one area, sometimes you can’t do as much in another area that you want to, and that sometimes hurts players.”
Teixeira is a notoriously slow starter, but he’s been a driving force this April, and he was just named the American League Player of the Week after hitting five home runs in his past seven games. He has eight total, and while they haven’t gotten nearly the attention of the guy hitting ahead of him, it seems little coincidence Teixeira’s power surge has come during a good week for the Yankees as a whole.
“What I’ve noticed is he’s healthy,” Girardi said. “That’s been the biggest change for me, not having to come in to see where he’s at physically every day. I haven’t had to do that, and it’s showed up on the field, the way he’s responded. He’s been the Mark we’ve been used to seeing before he started having nagging injuries and obviously the serious one a couple of years ago.”
• Just a day off for Chase Headley, who Girardi felt could use a day. That leaves third base for Rodriguez. “The last time he played third, he played well,” Girardi said. “In spring training, he played third well. He’s going to catch it and he’s going to throw it. He’s going to make the right decision with the baseball. I know his range is not what it was at 25, but no one’s range is what it was 15 years ago, so that’s the reality of it.”
• Obviously still a lot of talk about Rodriguez and the upcoming 660th home run. While the Yankees front office might not want to declare it a marketable milestone, there’s little arguing it’s a milestone. And Rodriguez’s teammates seem genuinely happy about that. “I think our players are happy for him,” Girardi said. “They’re having fun. Those guys are having fun in there. And Alex is a big part of that.”
• Speaking of those guys, Carlos Beltran is back in the lineup, but he’s hitting sixth and getting a turn at designated hitter. Chris Young has been taking some of his at-bats recently, but Girardi remains committed to giving Beltran time to get going offensively. Right now, he has the lowest OPS on the team at .494. “I think you don’t lose perspective that so many players — personaly, I went through it and I was never close to the hitter Carlos was — there are months that are tough,” Girardi said. “The important thing is that you continue to send him out there and understand that he’s going to turn it around and be a big part of our offense.”
• What does Girardi see from an older player that makes him think he won’t turn it around? “I think you don’t see them hit balls hard,” Girardi said. “We’ve seen Carlos hit some balls hard, so obviously you know it’s still in there.”
• At this point, even Girardi laughs at the fact he hasn’t named a closer. It’s clearly Andrew Miller, but Girardi said he feels no need to make that official. Any real reason to not assign the title? “No, not really,” Girardi said. “Just gives me more flexibility.”
• Speaking of the bullpen, Girardi said he feels the pen is still in pretty good shape even after pitching a lot of inning yesterday.
• Girardi said he’s “95 percent sure” Chase Whitley will start tomorrow. The Yankees deliberately kept Whitley and Bryan Mitchell separated in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation so that one of them would be available basically any time the team needed a spot starter. “We wanted to set it up that way,” Girardi said. “And we made him aware of that (out of spring training).”
Associated Press photos
This afternoon, Masahiro Tanaka will start on normal rest for the first time this season. But in terms of evaluation, that’s not the only factor in play.
“I think you’re going to look at command today,” Joe Girardi said. “I don’t know if you’re going to know if it’s because of the cold or if it’s because it’s on the fifth day. I think that’s going to be hard to predict. We saw command issues yesterday in two guys that really have good command. That’s what I’ll look for.”
Girardi said he’s heard a projected game-time temperature of 43 degrees. I doubt it will be snowing like it was in last night’s first inning, when both David Price and Adam Warren had a hard time. Girardi said there’s no heightened concern about Tanaka’s health in these conditions. The concern is more about simply holding and releasing the baseball.
“I don’t worry so much about his elbow as I worry about his grip on the baseball when it’s this cold,” Girardi said. “I think it can be very slippery on days like today, and I think around game time it’s going to be 43 (degrees), so we’ll just have to see how it goes. … You just try to keep your hands warm and rub up the baseball as much as you can to try to get some heat in the ball. That’s the best idea I have.”
It’s not just the breaking pitches. Girardi said a fastball can also be harder to control in these conditions. It’s just not a great day for baseball, but it’s late April, so there’s a game to be played.
“I have been in games that have been colded out, but it’s been below 30 degrees,” Girardi said. “You’re going to have to go through a few a year. It’s tough conditions, and sometimes you can avoid them some years, and sometimes you can’t. You have to play the games. The only way to avoid it would be not to start the season until May, and we know that’s not going to happen.”
• Little bit strange to see a catcher handle a day game after a night game, but Girardi said he planned coming into this series to have Brian McCann behind the plate this afternoon. “He’s playing extremely well,” Girardi said. “We talked about it, how we were going to do this week, and he feels good so I’m going to run him back out there.”
• No injury concerns with Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, just giving them a day off in this long stretch. He wasn’t planning to play either one 13 days in a row. “I just felt this was probably the best day to do it,” Girardi said.
• By sitting Rodriguez today, Girardi said he thinks he can play all six games of the upcoming home stand before getting a rest on the next scheduled off day.
• Bench coach Rob Thomson will coach third base again today. Joe Espada’s wife had a baby girl yesterday, so he’s away from the team.
• Brutal news for a nice guy: Joe Nathan needs Tommy John surgery. “He’s been really good, on really good teams,” Girardi said. “The thing you can say about Joe Nathan is that he was really tested, because he was on a ton of playoff teams and had a ton of success. It’s unfortunate what he’s going through and I don’t think any player really wants to go out that way. I’m not sure what he’ll do, being 40 years old, I’m sure there’s a lot of thought that maybe it’s his last pitch. Maybe he’ll try to come back, and god bless him if he does. But Joe Nathan’s a winner, and he’s used to winning, and it’s got to be extremely frustrating.”
• If the Yankees win today, they’ll wrap up a tremendous week on the road against Tampa Bay and Detroit. If they hadn’t blown a game in Baltimore, it would be an awfully success trip regardless of today’s result. “It would be a tremendous road trip to go 7-3 in these three cities that we went to,” Girardi said. “Good baseball teams, so obviously it would be a tremendous road trip.”
Associated Press photos