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
Just a few days ago, Joe Girardi was talking about not making too much of a few at-bats. He was determined to give his veteran hitters time to right the ship. There would be no significant changes based on strong starts or slow starts.
In the past two days, though, we’ve seen some lineup tweaks involving Carlos Beltran. Last night, Beltran returned from illness to find himself dropped to fifth in the order so that Alex Rodriguez could remain in the No. 3 spot. Today, Beltran is on the bench so that red-hot Chris Young can get another start against a lefty (and so that two left-handed hitting outfielders can stay in the lineup).
Girardi made it clear that Beltran will play again tomorrow, but today he basically had a choice of playing Young ahead of Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner, and he chose to sit the switch-hitter Beltran.
“Just the way Chris has been playing and Gardy and Ells, too,” Girardi said. “Carlos will be back in there tomorrow. Just the way I went with it today.”
Two things at play here: Rodriguez and Young have basically been must-play guys, especially against left-handed pitchers, and Beltran has struggled to a .171/.222/.268 start to the season. Girardi has expressed confidence that Beltran will turn it around — and sitting him today is certainly not an indication that Beltran’s going to be a regular bench player going forward — but at this point, Ellsbury, Gardner and Young have been the Yankees three best outfielders.
Young, in particular, has been a potent source of power, kind of building on his strong September of a year ago.
“It’s been great,” Young said. “I love it here. This team received me well. The clubhouse is amazing. The coaching staff is amazing. I’ve gotten an opportunity here, so I’m really grateful for that.”
Girardi made a point of saying this isn’t a right-field platoon in which Beltran will always sit against lefties, but at this point, Young’s made it awfully hard to keep him out of the lineup.
“I think that’s what he’s done,” Girardi said. “He’s pushed himself into that position, and that’s why I chose to go the way I did today.”
A few quick updates from extended spring training:
• Jose Pirela went 1-for-3 while playing third base in an extended spring game yesterday. He was hit by a pitch in his first at-bat but stayed in the game. He will play seven innings at second base tomorrow.
• Ivan Nova threw two innings, 35 pitches, of live batting practice.
• Chris Capuano will throw two innings in an extended spring game tomorrow.
• Brendan Ryan took ground balls and went through batting practice.
• The Yankees defense was awful when the season started, but lately it’s been a definite strength. “I just think they were too good not to turn around,” Girardi said. “I just think what we saw is not something we ever expected and just kind of got off to a slow start defensively. It was hard to put your finger on it.”
• Meanwhile, the Yankees offense has been extremely home run heavy. They’ve hit a lot of homers, but they don’t have a single player batting .300 and only three everyday guys have an on-base percentage higher than .317. “It is kind of strange,” Girardi said. “We’ve produced a lot of our runs by the home run, and we knew we had power in our lineup. I don’t think it will always be like that. We scored five in Tampa the other day without hitting a home run. I’m not so sure we’ve done that too often this year. That’s the kind of club we are. We have some speed at the top obviously, but you look at 3 through 7, 3 through 8, they have the ability to hit a lot of home runs.”
• The Yankees face another lefty tomorrow (not just any lefty, David Price). Girardi said he expects Didi Gregorius to play that game (presumably with Stephen Drew on the bench), and he expects Beltran back in the lineup with either Gardner or Ellsbury on the bench.
• Chasen Shreve is back, but he’s back against a lineup that has a bunch of right-handed hitters. Essentially, it sounds like he’ll be the long man these next three days, leaving Esmil Rogers available for shorter outings in right-on-right situations. “The one thing about Chasen is he gives you multiple innings more than a Branden (Pinder) does,” Girardi said. “Against a lineup that has a lot of right-handers, it allows you to use Esmil a little bit differently.”
• Talked to Shreve for a little bit this afternoon. He said that the morning after the 19-inning game — when Shreve pitched 3.1 scoreless innings — Andrew Miller actually said something to him about the Yankees definitely needing to call up a fresh reliever for the next game. Shreve said he completely agreed, but it never once occurred to him that he’d be the one sent down. After he was told, Shreve said, he instantly realized that he was the most logical option. Funny, it takes most players a little bit of time before they’re able to put those sort of pieces together. Shreve was smiling about it today. Totally gets why it happened, but he’s obviously happy to be back.
• Girardi on last night’s anti-media rant by Reds manager Bryan Price: “We live in a day that strategy is very important to us, and people (in the media) are so good at what they do now that it’s hard to keep something like (not having a player) under wraps. For me, I try to understand that. And I understand that the media business is very competitive, but we don’t like to give out our strategy. That’s part of it. I’m sure if he had a chance to do it over again, he might have did it a little different. Sometimes we get upset and we say things that we wish we had said a little bit differently.”
Associated Press photos
Two days ago, Joe Girardi said that if Carlos Beltran had been healthy enough to play, he would have been hitting third. Today, Beltran is healthy enough to play, and he’s hitting fifth. Alex Rodriguez, for the third game in a row, is the Yankees No. 3 hitter.
“I think it was hard to ignore what Alex was doing,” Girardi said. “… It’s just watching his at-bats, as you continue to watch his at-bats. He’s taking his walks, and he’s being patient. He’s doing just a lot of things right, and that’s why I moved him up.”
Until now, any time Beltran’s been in the lineup, the Yankees have stuck with him as their third hitter. But he’s hit .184/.238/.289 for the third-lowest OPS on the team behind Didi Gregorius and Gregorio Petit. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is hitting .316/.447/.711 and leading the Yankees in nearly every key offensive category.
“If he was 25 it’d be impressive what he’s done,” Girardi said. “When you look at the home runs, the RBI, the average. At any age, that’s impressive. But when you start looking at a guy who’s 39 and a half and had two hips surgeries, and who missed a couple years, basically — it’s not easy.”
Rodriguez has made it look easy. Beltran has not. At 37 years old, coming off an injury, a down season and an offseason surgery, Beltran struggled through spring training and got off to a bad start this season. He had a hit in three straight games — with two of those hits being doubles — but then he got sick in Tampa Bay and sat out the past two games.
“Just (a matter of) getting comfortable at the beginning of a season, I think,” Girardi said. “You see a lot of really good hitters start off slow. You just kind of ride through it. You know eventually it’s going to change and they’re going to get back to where they’re supposed to. It’s unfortunate he got sick. I thought he was swinging the bat better.”
• The Yankees will stay on rotation this week, meaning Masahiro Tanaka will make his next start in Thursday’s series finale against the Tigers. It will be the first time this year Tanaka’s made a start on four days rest. He got an extra day for each of his past three starts, but he threw just 85 pitches last time out. “He’s going to have to pitch on his normal rest eventually,” Girardi said. “So we just felt that because of the amount of pitches that he threw and how he looked, it’s probably a good thing to do.”
• Tanaka threw so few pitches on Saturday mostly because of a long half inning on the bench, during which he had to throw a little extra just to stay warm. Girardi said he didn’t intentionally pull Tanaka early to set up this next start, it just worked in in such a way that this made sense as a good time to give Tanaka his first every-fifth-day start.
• As you probably expect, Girardi said it’s still possible — and, I’d guess, likely — that the Yankees will use a sixth start the next turn through the rotation so that Tanaka’s fifth start is back on five-days rest.
• The Yankees won’t have to face Shane Greene this week, which is good news for them considering he’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball since the Yankees traded him away this offseason. “I felt like I got dumped,” Greene said. “I looked at myself in the mirror, put a chip on my shoulder and went from there.”
• Greene’s made just three starts, but he’s also 3-0 with a league-high 23 innings pitched and a 0.39 ERA. The Yankees let him go to acquire Didi Gregorius, who’s disappointed so far. “Any time you let a young starting pitcher go, I think it’s difficult,” Girardi said. “But to get an everyday shortstop, those don’t just fall out of trees. To get something, you have to give up something.”
• Despite underwhelming numbers, the Yankees have been happy with the way CC Sabathia has pitched this season. “The amount of ground balls that he’s getting, the amount of strikeouts that he’s getting,” Girardi said. “They have not centered him up a whole lot during the course of his first two starts. I think it’s really important against a lineup like this because they have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark.”
Associated Press photos
First Sunday day game of the year, and I’d kind of forgotten what the clubhouse is like on days like this. Quiet. Not many guys hanging around. Lineup posted late. Not a whole lot to talk about. It was only a few hours ago that we were last year, so not much has changed since last night.
The important thing is whether the Yankees situation will change by the time they board tonight’s flight to Detroit.
After Friday’s comeback and Saturday’s blowout, the Yankees have a chance to sweep this series. They already have their first series win of the season, and with a win today they would improve to .500 for the first time since the third game of the season.
“Within our division, I think it’s really important, and to try to get on a roll here,” Joe Girardi said. “We have a lot of games in the next 30 days. That’s important as well. To get back to .500 would be good.”
The Yankees have Michael Pineda and his surprisingly high 5.11 ERA heading to the mound. If he could follow Masahiro Tanaka’s lead and finally deliver his first gem of the season, that would be helpful. It would also be helpful if the Yankees offense could continue some of the promising signs it’s shown these past few days.
“It’s been really good,” Girardi said. “Even the last week, I think we’ve swung the bats better. We put a tough inning on Odorizzi in the sixth inning and finally broke through there and exploded in the seventh (last night). It was nice to see.”
• The Yankees still have not decided when Masahiro Tanaka will make his next start. There’s a chance he’ll pitch Thursday on four days rest, and there’s a chance the Yankees will insert a sixth starter sometime next week to keep Tanaka — and everyone else — on an every-six-days schedule. The Yankees don’t want to make a decision right away because there’s a solid chance they’ll be rained out tomorrow.
• Carlos Beltran is still sick. “He feels weak,” Girardi said. “I’m really hoping I get him back tomorrow.”
• Girardi said that, if Beltran were playing, he could have considered leaving Alex Rodriguez on the bench for a day game after a night game, but as it is, the Yankees feel good about putting A-Rod back in the No. 3 hole. “His at-bats are good,” Girardi said. “So there’s nothing that tells me he’s physically tired. If I see something, I’ll make an adjustment.”
• There’s a chance Rodriguez will play the field one of these upcoming four games in Detroit, but Girardi said he doesn’t have a game picked out or anything. It might happen. Might not.
• This is Pineda’s third start of the season. He’s trying to get back to the form he showed in spring training when he was the Yankees’ best pitcher. “We all feel good when Michael is on the mound,” Girardi said. “He works quickly, he gets quick outs, he has pitched extremely well. He’s got outstanding stuff and hopefully he gets deep into the game today.”
• Anything else, Joe? “I have no earth-shattering news,” he said
Associated Press photos
Joe Girardi made this much clear: If Carlos Beltran were in the lineup today, he would be hitting third, not Alex Rodriguez. It’s really not much different from the fourth game of the season when Beltran got his first day off and, after just three games, Rodriguez was the choice for the No. 3 spot.
“I’m not afraid to move Alex up,” Girardi said.
Of course, at this point such a move seems to carry more weight because Rodriguez has been by far the Yankees best and most productive hitter. He hit seventh on Opening Day, but he’s been that low in the order only once since then. He’s hit 2 through 5 as many times as he’s hit sixth or seventh.
More important than where he hits seems to be how often he’s played. Rodriguez has only been out of the lineup once this season, and even then he was used as a pinch hitter. He’s one of four Yankees who have played every game.
“I think I’ve been good at times, and sometimes I’ve been poor at recognizing pitches,” Rodriguez said. “Once I get past the 100 at-bat mark, I’m going to have a much better feel. But I’m just trying to grind and get better every day. … Let’s see if you can do this for six months. Anyone can do it for 10 games.”
Girardi said he never tries to ride a hot hand when setting his lineup. He looks for something more substantial than a hot streak. But with Rodriguez, there is something more substantial. Now that he’s been hitting like this for a 10 games, it’s easy to remember that he used to be one of the great hitters in baseball history.
“There’s a sense that he’s going to be productive all year, absolutely,” Girardi said.
How long it takes for that to lock him into a spot in the heart of the order remains anyone’s guess, but moving up to this spot in the lineup is nothing new. Girardi literally did it in the fourth game of the season. Now it’s a matter of finding out when he might stick in one of those spots.
“That’s always something that’s good to have is Joe’s trust,” Rodriguez said. “That’s something that I’m always working for. We have a lot of history here. Wherever he puts me, I’m ready to go.”
• Beltran is sick. He has a cold/congestion thing that’s been going around the Yankees clubhouse. Apparently it wasn’t great yesterday, and it’s even worse today. “I don’t know (if he’ll play tomorrow),” Girardi said. “I don’t know how he’ll respond. This cold these guys have had, I think Tony Pena has probably had it the worst. It’s lasted a few days, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”
• Rays starter Jake Odorizzi is a right-handed pitcher, but he has reverse splits so the Yankees tried to load up on right-handed hitters. That’s why Chris Young and Gregorio Petit are in the lineup.
• Still a good chance the Yankees will use a spot starter either this turn through the rotation or next turn through the rotation. Chase Whitley started in Triple-A yesterday, which would seem to leave him pretty well lined up for a spot start in Detroit that would keep all of the big league starter on an every-sixth-day routine. That said, it’s also supposed to rain in Detroit. Girardi said he’ll wait to see whether games are rained out before deciding for sure about when and where to use a spot starter.
• Chris Capuano is scheduled for a 45-pitch live batting practice session tomorrow. Girardi said the plan is to have Capuano stretched out as a starter during his rehab from that spring training quad injury.
• Stephen Drew said he had no idea he and his brother J.D. had become just the eighth set of siblings to each have 100 home runs in the big leagues. “That’s pretty neat,” Drew said. “I haven’t really looked into the stats much, like all the history stats unless it comes up like the big ones. Other than that, just it’s pretty special just to get that and have that is pretty unique. Playing this game, you never know if you’ll get even 50, so getting 100 is an accomplishment in itself.”
• Yankees announced today that LHP Matt Tracy was claimed off waivers by the Marlins. Also, RHP Joel De La Cruz was outrighted off the Major League roster and onto the roster of Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
• Rodriguez found it hilarious today that people on Twitter have been asking about the white stuff on his batting helmet. He through the writers were kidding him when it was brought up, then he couldn’t stop laughing at the idea that anyone would notice (it’s hard to miss, actually) or care about the state of his helmet. “It’s just rosin,” Rodriguez said, laughing. “Good stuff. The rosin bag. You actually get that on Twitter? I thought you were kidding. I can’t imagine.”
Associated Press photos
Maybe the situation will be different in a week, but right now, Alex Rodriguez is the Yankees best player.
It’s not even close, really. Andrew Miller and Chris Young have been excellent in their roles, Jacoby Ellsbury has done a nice job getting on base, and Mark Teixeira’s hit for some power. But 10 games into the season, this is A-Rod’s team.
“Obviously you don’t want to rely on one guy,” Joe Girardi said. “You want to rely on 13 guys and everyone to help out. Sometimes it takes guys a while to get going, but he’s been really, really good.”
He’s been so good that, despite yesterday’s pregame insistence that Girardi won’t make too much of these small-sample-size results, and that he likes having Rodriguez lengthen the lineup by hitting in the bottom half of the order, it’s hard not to wonder if we might see Rodriguez moved into regular appearances in the middle of the lineup.
It’s nice to have a right-handed bat to break up some lefties, but it’s also nice to have the team’s leading hitter getting more at-bats and more RBI opportunities.
“I don’t hesitate to believe that he’s going to continue to do it,” Girardi said pregame. “But you try to strategically do it where you can separate left-handers and that sort of thing as much as you can. I’ve hit him second, I’ve hit him third; I just stuck with the lineup the way it was (Wednesday) and we’ll go from there.”
Actually, Rodriguez has hit in every spot except first, eighth and ninth. He’s been kept out of the starting lineup only once, and even then he got a pinch hit at-bat.
Ten games into the season, the difficult thing isn’t keeping Rodriguez in the lineup. It’s picking the right times to keep him out of it.
“I’ll try to pick my spots for him,” Girardi said. “I know I have to. He’s pretty good about communicating with me too, about when his legs are heavy, and he needs to continue to do that. … I didn’t know what exactly we were going to get or how much we could play him when we got him back. As I’ve said all along about Alex, one thing he does is he works and he’s very mechanically sound, and it’s paying off.”
Associated Press photo
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