The Yankees just swept a three-game set against the Orioles. Their roster looks healthy, they’ve played well since the All-Star break, and they’ve pushed their division lead to 5.5 games. They’re in the driver’s seat in the American League East.
With the trade deadline one week away — and the trade market starting to move after yesterday’s Scott Kazmir deal — the Yankees are clearly buyers and not sellers, though Brian Cashman has warned not to expect a massive acquisition. It seems the Yankees would rather hold onto the key prospects that just might make a big impact in the very near future. And for the time being, their roster actually looks pretty good. Not perfect, certainly, but pretty good.
Since we already know the big league club is in a good spot, and since the Yankees are always tough to predict at the trade deadline, let’s start this Friday with a quick look into the minor league system. Just a few quick updates before the Yankees start this weekend series in Minnesota.
• Top position prospect Aaron Judge has now missed the past six games for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. General manager Brian Cashman said earlier in the week that there was no serious issue with Judge, and he said the same in an email last night. “Just day to day stuff,” he said, without elaborating further. I know the immediate thought is that the Yankees could be holding him out to prepare for a trade, but I honestly can’t remember a player ever sitting out a week because two teams are discussing a possible deal. It seems unlikely Cashman is going to deal Judge anyway, and the Yankees haven’t put Judge on the disabled list, so for now it seems to really be just a day-to-day issue that’s taken a bunch of days.
• Two more hits including a game-winner for Gary Sanchez last night. In six games since getting to Triple-A, the 22-year-old Sanchez has hit .316/.391/.526. Assistant general manager Billy Eppler said the decision to promote Sanchez was not strictly a response to Austin Romine going on the disabled list. Sanchez was on his way up regardless. “It’s very, very positive in all direction and all sides of the ball,” Eppler said. “He’s checked all his boxes at Double-A. That (decision) was all Gary.”
• Given an overabundance of solid bullpen prospects in Double-A and Triple-A, the Yankees have begun using Diego Moreno and Danny Burawa as starting pitchers. It’s not necessarily a permanent conversion, but it’s the kind of thing the Yankees have the luxury of trying because of their bullpen depth. The Yankees tried something similar with Chase Whitley a couple of years ago, and it was the rotation adjustment that ultimately got Whitley to the big leagues. “I think that could become an ancillary benefit of that,” Eppler said. “Maybe something does occur where one of them does present himself as a capable starter. But also when you allow a guy to throw more pitches and take regular turns in a rotation or a game or what have you, you get more consistent work away from that game, and you get more of an opportunity to test certain pitches or to test certain situations.”
• Speaking of upper-level relievers, Nick Goody has 11 strikeouts and no walks in 6.2 innings since coming up to Triple-A. Right behind him in Double-A, Andrew Bailey pitched two scoreless innings last night. Double-A hitters are batting .122 with 16 strikeouts in 12.1 innings against Bailey this season. Cashman said earlier in the week that Bailey is “absolutely” worth paying attention to (though he said there are a lot of upper-level relievers putting themselves in consideration for big league opportunities).
• Considering they were trading a reliever who’d been designated for assignment, the Yankees actually seemed to get an interesting young player in the David Carpenter deal in early June. Second baseman Tony Renda was assigned to Trenton and got off to a slow start, but he’s begun to pick up steam lately, bringing his Trenton slash line to .287/.371/.352. “A guy that has a very professional approach at the plate,” Eppler said. “Knows the strike zone. Can grind an at-bat out in a number of ways. High contact ability. We see a pretty polished approach, and a guy that has historically, in his career, been one of those guys that gets discounted early and then you look up and go, this guy’s a really good player. That’s kind of how his story has gone.” Despite some early struggles in the field — he made 12 errors in his first 30 games with the Yankees — Eppler said the Yankees feel confident that Renda can handle second base. “He’s got the speed,” Eppler said. “He’s got glove ability.” Renda hurt his thumb last night and is reportedly considered day-to-day (where have I heard that before?).
• In Triple-A, right fielder Tyler Austin has deservedly moved to the bottom third of the order lately. He had a resurgent second half last season, and he’s trying to find the something similar this season. He’s had a couple of DL stints this season, which surely hasn’t helped him find a stride that seemed to come and go throughout his career. So far he’s hitting just .226/.292/.306 in Triple-A, and given the outfield depth in this system, numbers like that could leave Austin thoroughly overshadowed pretty quickly. “Still confident in the bat,” Eppler said. “As with a lot of guys, it’s just kind of a consistency thing. I wish I could tell you there’s some ingredient to remedy that, but it’s physically just playing.”
• Trying to regain some prospect traction, reliever Mark Montgomery has mostly impressive numbers with a 1.07 WHIP and .188 opponents’ batting average in Double-A, and Eppler said the Yankees are seeing positive signs beyond the numbers. “Little bit more arm strength,” he said. “And consistency with the action on the breaking ball.” That said, it seems telling that Montgomery has been kept in Double-A — except for four games — while quite a few other relievers have been bumped up from Double-A to Triple-A for lasting stretches (Johnny Barbato, Nick Goody, James Pazos, Caleb Cotham).
• Back in 2010, the Yankees used their second round pick on a high school athlete who was committed to playing quarterback at Texas Christian University. The Yankees lured him into baseball with a $1-million bonus. Since then, Austin Aune has struck out. A lot. Despite still averaging well over a strikeout per game, Aune’s OPS has significantly improved as he’s move up each level. He has significant power when he makes contact, and he’s Low-A Charleston’s RBI leader this year (just yesterday he struck out three times, but did have an RBI. “It’s a loud sound off his bat,” Eppler said. “He’s strong. He’s got physical tools. He’s got makeup. He’s got just strength, and he can do some damage. Swing and miss is a part of it, but it’s a part of it for a lot of guys who have found their way to the big leagues and been successful in the big leagues. With that kind of impact ability, there’s no reason to hit the panic button.”
• The Yankees have had a lot of sometimes-overlooking pitching prospects put up nice numbers this season. Guys like Brady Lail, Jordan Montgomery and Rookie Davis have pitched well. “They’re all prospects,” Eppler said. “To varying degrees obviously, but they’re all guys (worth watching).” Add to that list Jonathan Holder, last year’s sixth rounder who got off to a strong start and is now returning from the disabled list. “Advanced,” Eppler said. “He can read swings. He can read what hitters are trying to do. He can kind of play the chess match with them and stay a pitch or two ahead.”
Associated Press photo
Luis Severino was supposed to make his 10th Triple-A start tonight, but someone finally found a way to slow his rise through the Yankees’ minor league system.
Severino’s away from the team for the birth of his child.
“Ecstatic about who he is and what he is and the level he’s at at the age he’s at,” Brian Cashman said. “It’s ridiculous.”
At 21 years old, Severino is roughly six years younger than the average Triple-A player. He’s a kid, and he has a 1.79 ERA and 0.95 WHIP since joining Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. His strikeouts are down and his walks are slightly up compared to his Double-A performance, but the Yankees are clearly happy with Severino’s progress to the highest level of the minor leagues. At 88.1 innings, he’s only 25 innings away from last year’s total, but Cashman said there’s no concern about Severino’s workload at this point.
“We’ve got a strong comfort level on how he’s been managed,” Cashman said. “I have no worries about his innings.”
While Cashman didn’t rule out the idea of using Severino in the big leagues this season, it seems he doesn’t feel the need to make that move at the moment.
“Even if I did,” Cashman said. “I’ve got (Adam) Warren who’s done great for us in that rotation, and I’ve got (Bryan) Mitchell who’s got more experience.”
“Same thing I’ve been doing,” he said. “My throwing problem, arm exercises, just trying to strengthen the arm and shoulder.”
Williams hurt himself while sliding back into first base during a big league game in mid-June. He’d previously survived a serious collision with the outfield wall in Baltimore, but got hurt making a fairly routine play on a pickoff. This is not the same shoulder that required surgery back in 2012. It was the left shoulder last time; it’s the right shoulder this time.
Recovery has already taken longer than expected, but Williams spent the All-Star break getting treatment at Yankee Stadium, and he said he’s felt a little more encouraged lately.
“I’d like to be playing, that’s basically it,” he said. “But I feel like I’m getting better.”
• Williams isn’t the only young center fielder on the disabled list. Slade Heathcott has been out since late May with a Grade 2 quadriceps strain. Heathcott is currently rehabbing in Tampa, and although the Yankees say he’s close to playing in games again, Cashman said he didn’t have an exact date for Heathcott’s return to a minor league lineup. “I know he’s doing well,” Cashman said. “But I don’t have a date I could tell you.” I assume Heathcott will ultimately be optioned back to Triple-A once he’s healthy. There’s not a lot of big league playing time currently available.
• Left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren is also in Tampa rehabbing his way back from surgery to clear up an elbow bone spur. Cashman said he expects Lindgren to pitch again this season, but Lindgren hasn’t even started a throwing program just yet. “It’s going really well,” Cashman said. “I think the throwing program is probably going to come soon.”
• After playing in the Futures Game last weekend, Aaron Judge returned to Triple-A to hit a home run on Thursday and go 2-for-4 on Friday. Since then, though, he’s missed two straight games. “Just dealing with some minor stuff,” Cashman said. “So it’s a day to day thing.”
• Top draft pick James Kaprielian has reported to the team complex in Tampa, but Cashman said his opening assignment is entirely up to new farm director Gary Denbo. “I haven’t asked Gary if he’s going to knock some rust out at the Gulf Coast League,” Cashman said. ‘
• With Severino unable to make tonight’s start, Double-A standout Eric Ruth has been promoted to start tonight’s game for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Cashman said he’s legitimately impressed and intrigued by Ruth’s breakout season — 1.89 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in Trenton — but this call up is more about “shuffling the deck” to fill Severino’s spot. Probably only a spot start before Ruth returns to Double-A.
• Still pitching out of the Double-A bullpen, veteran Andrew Bailey continues to put up good numbers while trying to work his way back from 2013 shoulder surgery. He’s allowed just two hits and four walks through 8.1 Double-A innings. He’s struck out eight and held opponents to a .074 average. He went 1.1 hitless innings last time out. Could he pitch his way into the big league mix? “Absolutely,” Cashman said. “We’ve got a lot of (bullpen) guys now.”
• Speaking of that upper-level bullpen depth, the Yankees have already seen a bunch of guys shuttled up and down to the big leagues, and Nick Goody was recently promoted from Double-A to Triple-A. Cashman, though, specifically mentioned two other relievers who should be on the radar. Wilking Rodriguez, Cashman said, belongs in that mix with some of the familiar names for a potential call-up. The 25-year-old was suspended to start the season, but he’s pitched well in four appearances since being activated. Cashman also mentioned Johnny Barbato, the Double-A reliever acquired for Shawn Kelley this offseason. He’s been excellent his past five outings.
Associated Press photos
A few rehab and injury updates from Brian Cashman:
After finally pitching in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, Bailey was taken off the High-A Tampa roster and reassigned to extended spring training. The move was made because of a shoulder issue, and an MRI revealed a strain. Bailey has been shut down for now, and Cashman said he didn’t have a clear timetable for when Bailey will be back on the mound. Bailey has an opt-out in his contract, but obviously that won’t be an issue if he’s hurt. I suppose the good news is that bullpen help is the least of the Yankees’ worries right now.
After one game with High-A Tampa and three games with Double-A Trenton, Pirela’s rehab assignment will move to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre today. Pirela played both second and third with Trenton, and I can’t help thinking he might focus on third base with Scranton since Rob Refsnyder is at second and the Yankees don’t have a clear go-to option at third should Chase Headley get hurt. Cashman said it has yet to be determined what the Yankees will do with Pirela when his rehab ends, whether he goes to New York or gets optioned to Triple-A. So far he’s 1-for-14 in these early minor league games.
The Yankees have a rehab schedule set for Capuano, though Cashman wouldn’t give details of when it starts or when it’s expected to finish (wants to avoid questions if the schedule has to be slightly tweaked along the way). For now, the bigger point is that Capuano is very close to pitching in rehab games. He last pitched in an extended spring training game on Monday. He’s getting closer to becoming a big league option following that spring training quadriceps injury. I suppose Capuano could be an alternative should Chase Whitley struggle in his return to the rotation. No rehab assignment plan in place for Ivan Nova, Cashman said.
I’m guessing this could be a factor in the Pirela decision: Ryan has been playing in extended spring training games, so he also seems close to a rehab assignment, which could put him in line to replace Gregorio Petit as the right-handed middle infielder fairly soon.
Remember him? The veteran reliever who spent the past few years with the Twins got hurt in spring training, wound up released and then re-signed a minor league deal. He’s been pitching in extended spring training, and Cashman said Burton could be assigned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pretty soon. The Yankees liked the way Burton pitched early in spring training, but he wound up going down with a lat injury. He’s further depth for a bullpen that already looks awfully deep.
One guy has started all seven games for the Yankees this season. Remarkably, that guy is the 39-year-old with two surgically repaired hips and a full year away from the game. Alex Rodriguez has been the designated hitter, he’s been a starting first baseman, and tonight he’s making his first start of the season at third base.
“You just wanted to see (his production) carry over (after) what he did in spring training,” Joe Girardi said. “And he’s done that. I think we answered the questions in spring training, and now I think the only question that we really need to answer on a consistent basis is how many days in a row can you run him out there before you need to give him a day off?”
Girardi said the plan is to give Rodriguez a day off either tomorrow or Wednesday, but for now, because he’s spent so much time at DH, there’s actually sense that Rodriguez might be relatively fresh. He’s playing third so that Chase Headley — in theory a more durable player — can get his first day off.
“Obviously the 19-inning game has taken a toll on a few of our players,” Girardi said. “And we’re just trying to get their legs to bounce back a little bit. I thought I’d give Headley a day off today. He hasn’t had a day, and he could use it. … I know his legs are heavy. He’s played every inning basically that we’ve played, and he came back after that 19-inning affair and played the next day and we played a long game (last) night. You get in these games and you get in these streaks and you don’t want to take your guys out, but you have to understand we have a long road. We don’t want someone on the DL for two or three weeks.”
And so, today we get Rodriguez at third, where even he has acknowledged the range is limited. He pretty much made all of the routine plays in spring training, but he’s not going to move to far in either direction. The Yankees know that. It’s why he’s only going to play third occasionally this season.
Tonight just happens to be one of the nights the Yankees feel they need him there.
“Catch the balls that are hit to you and get the outs for us,” Girardi said. “He’s going to be able to go a little to his left and a little to his right, but he’s got great hands and he knows how to play the position, so use that to your ability.”
• Learned something new today: I was told that, barring an injury, teams are not allowed to call up any 40-man player until 10 games into the season. That 10-day rule is fairly well known for a player who’s been optioned to the minor leagues — they have to stay down 10 days before coming back up — but I assumed players who were optioned at least 10 days before the end of spring training would be allowed to come up at any time. Apparently not. Helps explain the non-40-man call-ups we’ve seen so far.
• Speaking of which, today it’s Double-A right-hander Joel De La Cruz who’s on the roster for emergency mop-up duty. The Yankees were basically out of Triple-A starters to bring up. They can’t call-up either Chase Whitley or Bryan Mitchell, already used up Kyle Davies and Matt Tracy, and I’m sure they don’t want to add Jaron Long to the 40-man just for something like this. So for tonight, it’s De La Cruz who’s here just in case the Yankees need a bunch of innings.
• Along those lines, Girardi said he might have Esmil Rogers available tomorrow, but more likely he’d prefer to wait until Wednesday before actually putting Rogers back in a game. Once Rogers is ready, I guess the Yankees could call-up a short reliever — maybe Diego Moreno? — because they’d have Rogers for multiple innings. I still doubt they’d add a guy like Jacob Lindgren or Nick Rumbelow for a short-term thing. At this point might as well just wait until they’re eligible and bring up a 40-man guy like Danny Burawa or Jose Ramirez to supplement the pen.
• One non-40-man pitcher who could be an option is Andrew Bailey, but Bailey still hasn’t pitched back-to-back games. He’s gotten into one game since opening the season with High-A Tampa. He pitched on Friday and allowed two earned runs on two hits and a walk. “I think the important thing that we said was that he is able to go back to back, just continue to build arm strength,” Girardi said. “I think after that you could really consider it.”
• Jose Pirela has been cleared for all baseball activity and should begin extended spring training games next week.
• The Yankees have Chris Young, John Ryan Murphy and Gregorio Petit in the lineup, which must mean there’s a lefty on the mound. Tonight it’s Wei-Yin Chen. “He locates with four pitches,” Girardi said. “He has the ability to get in on right-handers, and he has the ability to elevate the ball. And that’s the one you have to stay off of.”
Associated Press photo
Three hits, three runs and two walks in the first inning. Two hits, one walk and no runs through the next 4.1 innings. That was CC Sabathia’s final start of the spring. The YES Network gun showed his velocity basically the same as we’ve seen it all spring — low 90s with his fastball — and Sabathia was stretched out to 83 pitches in his final tune-up before the regular season.
For Sabathia, that was a successful finish to an encouraging spring.
“I am (ready), I am,” he said. “I think just being able to go out there and throw 85 pitches or whatever pain free is very encouraging so I’m ready for the next one. … I feel great. I feel like I’m just a couple of ticks away from where I want to be.”
Those last few ticks, Sabathia said, are mostly about command. It’s in finishing off a few hitters and getting ahead of others. It’s a pretty sparse crowd here today, so it was pretty easy to hear Sabathia yelling at himself occasionally on the mound (something he does often). Today’s biggest blow up might have been after Danny Espinosa lined out to center to finish off a 1-2-3 fourth inning.
Sabathia had the result that he wanted, but he wasn’t happy with himself for letting the No. 8 hitter make such solid contact in that situation.
“I got the pitcher on deck, there’s two outs, I gotta make a better pitch,” he said. “I can’t give them a chance to extend the inning. I want to start the next inning with the pitcher leading off. Hopefully that’s an easy out. Just frustrated in that way. Like I said, I just need to narrow my focus and be able to make pitches to get us off the field.”
That’s Sabathia in spring training, a pretty clear indication that his expectations remain pretty high. There was no exhale of relief about a hard out, just a shout of frustration knowing he could have made a better pitch.
“I’m happy with the stuff, and I think the consistency will come,” Girardi said. “I do. I think you’ll see a different guy. He hasn’t pitched a lot (in recent years). He’s had to deal with a lot of injuries. The arm strength is much better than it’s been. His knee has been good. So, I’m encouraged.”
• Andrew Miller on the strong possibility that the Yankees will not have a defined closer this season: “There’s no established closer in here,” Miller said. “There’s nobody where they can expect to be in that role, you’re not ruffling any feathers, really. So I think they’ll treat us three outs at a time, one hitter at a time, whatever cliché you want to use, and we should be okay. … It’s a good problem to have when you can’t determine who to give the ball in the ninth inning. We’re all flexible. There’s nobody in here who can say they have a routine that will help them pitch better if they pitch in the ninth inning.”
• Girardi said the decision to go without a defined closer would have nothing to do with Betances having a shaky spring. Girardi said he would have made the same decision even if Betances had pitched as well as he did last spring. “I think so, I do,” Girardi said. “I just think because of the two arms we have there, you can do it. It’s an interesting thought. If you name one, you do it that way. But if you don’t name one, maybe some of the things you can do with it (will be more effective) if you don’t name one.”
• It really seems that both Miller and Betances were prepared for spring to end with this sort of late-inning situation. Each one has stressed that he doesn’t care about a specific role, and neither has indicated that being name closer would be particularly meaningful. “I think neither of us has been in a situation where we’ve been an anointed closer before,” Miller said a few days ago. “So it’s not like we can say that’s a comfort zone for us. When the phone rings, we’ll pitch, and until otherwise I have no problem with it. And I can’t imagine anyone else does. I think it might be a little unique, but I think we’ve come to establish that closing… doesn’t have to be that specific as it has been historically the last couple of decades or whatever.”
• Of the seven expected relievers, Betances is the only holdover from last year’s Opening Day bullpen. There’s a lot of unfamiliarity in the pen, but Girardi said that’s not the reason he’s hesitant to define roles. “It’s not that I’m not sure how the pieces fit together,” Girardi said. “It’s just that I think you can move the pieces around and put the puzzle together every night, as opposed to being so cut-and-dried, this is the way it is. I know what we have, and I know how I want to use them, but a lot of it is going to depend on the lineups those days.”
• No roster developments during or immediately after today’s game. The Yankees ended the game planning to bring both Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy to Washington D.C. for tomorrow’s exhibition finale. Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin are also traveling with the team as the final two pieces of the bullpen, and Gregorio Petit is set as the utility infielder. That could change this weekend, but that’s how the Yankees broke camp.
• Plan is still for Carlos Beltran to play tomorrow. He sat out the past two days because of flu-like symptoms.
• Not Yankees news, but pretty significant baseball news: MLB announced that Twins starter Ervin Santana has tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. He’ll get an 80-game suspension. The league also announced that neither Josh Hamilton (recreational drugs) nor Jarred Cosart (gambling) will be suspended by the league. It was ruled that Cosart didn’t bet on baseball, while an arbitrator ruled that Hamilton didn’t violate his treatment program.
• Josh Norris tweeted some of the preliminary minor league assignments for the Yankees. They include Danny Burawa, Jacob Lindgren and Nick Rumbelow each getting spots in the crowded Triple-A bullpen. Norris noted that these assignments could change, but they seem to be indications of where the Yankees are leaning. A lot of tough decisions coming, especially in that Triple-A pen.
• Biggest adjustment Sabathia made this afternoon was not so much mechanical: “It was just hard for me to get a grip (in the first inning),” he said. “I kept going to the dirt. I was trying to dry my hand off. I came back in the dugout and was able to get it dry and felt pretty good after that. It was hot outside.”
• Andrew Bailey was charged with three runs on a hit and two walks in his final appearance of the spring. Didn’t help him that Nick Goody allowed a three-run home run that brought in two of Bailey’s runners. Still, an encouraging spring for Bailey, who will stay behind to get more work done here in Tampa.
• The Yankees lost their spring finale, 8-2, against the Nationals. … Branden Pinder came up from minor league camp to strand a runner and finish off the sixth inning. … Chase Headley stayed hot with his fifth double of the spring, and Rob Refsnyder hit his team-leading sixth double. Refsnyder will finish spring training with a .372 batting average. The kid can hit. Headley’s two-hit day leaves him with a .321 average. … Mark Teixiera also doubled. The other Yankees hits belonged to Brian McCann, Chris Young, Ramon Flores and Ben Gamel.
• Final word goes to Girardi: “I thought camp went good. I mean, I’m pleased with the way it went. We had a couple of injuries that we have to deal with. We’ll try to get through these next two days without anything happening, but (it was) pretty good.”
Associated Press photos
In the very back of the Yankees’ clubhouse, along the wall that separates the showers from the batting cage door, John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine have sat side-by-side all spring knowing eventually there will be room for only one of them. And now that the Yankees are about to break camp, that time is fast approaching.
With a minor trade and wave of roster cuts, the Yankees have settled just about every aspect of their roster except the backup catcher. Barring a trade or a late waiver claim, the team is set except for that inevitable choice between Romine and Murphy, two guys in their 20s, developed by the organization, and finally given a real chance to make the team out of camp.
“We kind of talk about it,” Murphy said. “It’s no secret. We know what’s going on, and we’re both trying to play our best, and we’re both trying to make the team. Inevitably, one of us is going to and one of us isn’t.”
With Opening Day a little more than 72 hours away, the Yankees have made every other in-camp decision. They’ve set their rotation, picked their relievers, and found a new utility infielder. They could still make a trade or put in a late waiver claim — and this time of year usually sparks a flurry of minor activity — but barring an addition, all that’s left is that inevitable decision between Murphy and Romine.
Joe Girardi said the Yankees might not make that decision until Saturday night, and he’s dreading it. Girardi likes working with catchers, and he’s known these particular catchers for a long time. He doesn’t want to tell either one he hasn’t made the team.
“There’s a mutual respect there,” Romine said. “I like looking across the pitch and seeing a guy who’s busting his butt as hard as I am. I don’t want to say it’s a good thing – he is competition – but at the same time, it’s nice to know someone else is busting their butt; the guy you’re going up against. … However it turns out, I wish him nothing but the best, I’m sure he feels the same upon me. We’re just here trying to play.”
General manager Brian Cashman today wouldn’t comment on any trade talk regarding Romine, who’s out of options and has not hit as well as Murphy this spring. In the past, Cashman has said that the fact Romine’s out of options could factor into the final decision, suggesting the Yankees could elect to carry Romine strictly because they have the option of sending Murphy to Triple-A, but that remains to be seen.
Here’s Cashman explaining some of the other decisions made in the past 24 hours or so:
Gregorio Petit set as utility infielder
This seemed obvious from the moment the Yankees traded for Petit last night. He’s a right-handed hitter, he has big league experience, he hit pretty well this spring — and last season — and he can play all over the infield. Petit was acquired to replace Brendan Ryan on the roster.
“We brought him in here with that in mind,” Cashman said. “He’s right-handed versus, for instance, (Nick) Noonan. We didn’t want (Rob) Refsnyder to sit the bench.”
Ultimately, the in-house candidate who best fit as a Ryan replacement is Jose Pirela, but at this point there’s a solid chance he’ll open the season on the disabled list because of that concussion suffered almost two weeks ago. Without Pirela, it was Refsnyder who seemed to have the best shot, but the Yankees didn’t like the idea of him playing a part-time, platoon role at this stage of his career. They’d rather send Refsnyder to Triple-A to get the defensive reps he needs. Refsnyder’s hit a ton this spring, but he’s also made a team-high six errors.
“I think he had a tremendous camp,” Cashman said. “But at the same time — we were talking to him earlier today — (he has) maybe 240 games at second so far. He just needs to finish off some more defense. If we needed to use him, we’d be comfortable enough, but at the same time, you guys saw in camp he’s got some work to do on the defensive side. We want him to be finished off and ready to go whenever we need him. But at some point, if injuries hit and we have to have him in that role or situation, I’m not saying you won’t see that down the line. But we’d prefer not to do that right now.”
Esmil Rogers set as only long reliever
Yesterday, Joe Girardi really seemed to hint that the Yankees were going to carry a second long reliever. He acknowledged that the team has some workload concerns in the rotation, and said that rainy weather in early April could make it important to carry another multi-inning pitcher in the bullpen. This morning, though, the Yankees made the opposite decision in optioning Chase Whitley to Triple-A.
“We’re going with one long man and that’s Rogers,” Cashman said. “So that was really, basically, it came down to that. (Whitley) will get stretched out and start in Scranton for us and be one of the names vying for an opportunity when and if something presents itself.”
Whitley pitched extremely well this spring, but the Yankees seem to be prioritizing rotation depth ahead of bullpen innings. A bunch of off days early in the season seem to make that a little easier. The idea of using a sixth starter at some point also suggests Whitley could have another opportunity before the end of April.
“It just makes the most sense to get him down there and continue to get stretched out and be ready when and if we need him at some point,” Cashman said. “Obviously he has to pitch well to put himself in that position still, so the competition continues. We have a lot of flexibility with the bullpen, a lot of these guys have options, so it’s going to be something that we can recycle during the season which gives us a lot more flexibility. Chase did everything he needed to. Those are not easy conversations. He’s a Major League pitcher right now on his way to Scranton.”
Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin set in the pen (for now)
The Yankees have decided to keep Andrew Bailey in Tampa, assigned to the Class-A roster, out of spring training. Bailey will stay down here where it’s warm to go through those final steps back from shoulder surgery. He’s pitched well this spring, but he hasn’t pitched much, and he hasn’t gone back to back. He’ll change that in Tampa, which could make him a big league option fairly soon. Bailey said he’s totally on board with the plan.
“Man, he looks good,” Cashman said. “He really does. I love the fact that he also knows his body too, and he agrees that the prudent thing is to finish it off properly to make sure that he responds well, that he’s recovering great from everything and improving on that and feeling better and better. So he’s all in, and he agrees that staying here (is best). We’ll have (Greg) Pavlick watching him every game and working through the back to back situation. If he stays like this and he gets through all that, he can help us.”
With Whitley and Bailey gone, the Yankees have essentially chosen Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin to fill the final two spots in the bullpen. With Martin, in particular, Cashman said the Yankees couldn’t ignore the fact he has 16 strikeouts and only one walk. They also like that he gets ground balls. Shreve has 12 strikeouts with three walks and also gets more ground ball outs than fly outs.
“We always have flexibility if we so choose,” Cashman said. “But obviously these (moves) were all designed where Shreve and Martin would be in the bullpen for the start of the season. But it’s only Thursday, and the season doesn’t start until Monday, and I’m open-minded about things that might present themselves over time. And we can adjust. As of right now, we know those guys are in good position.”
Associated Press photos
Think back to the beginning of March.
Despite a lot of offseason talk about Rob Refsnyder getting a real opportunity this spring, he was getting no significant time with the big league regulars, and it seemed clear the Yankees weren’t considering him an go-to option for the major-league roster. As recently as today’s fifth inning, Refsnyder still seemed to have no realistic chance of opening in the big leagues.
By the end of the sixth inning, he was perhaps a favorite break camp with the team.
Utility infielder Brendan Ryan strained his right calf muscle during an awkward play in the sixth inning, leaving the Yankees searching for a last-minute replacement only five days before Opening Day. One week removed from his 24th birthday, Refsnyder has been one of the Yankees’ best hitters this spring, and just enough dominoes might have fallen to land him a spot in New York.
“The young man, I think, has continually improved,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s a name that I’m sure is going to fly around a lot today.”
It was less than two weeks ago that Ryan returned from a back injury, and the Yankees made it clear they fully expected him to be on their roster despite the shortened spring training. The Yankees liked his defense, liked the fact he hits right-handed, and liked the fact he could play both shortstop and second base. He was going to make the team.
If not Ryan, the best alternative would have been Jose Pirela, another right-handed utility man who had the highest batting average in camp before suffering a concussion last Sunday. Now Pirela’s gone more than a week without baseball activities and Girardi called him a “long shot” to be ready for Opening Day.
That means the only Refsnyder alternative in big league camp is Nick Noonan, who has some big league time but also hits left-handed, making him a less-than-ideal backup to lefties Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew. Even if the Yankees were to bring someone up from minor league camp, Cole Figueroa — the other Triple-A middle infielder — also hits lefty.
“Things can happen quick,” Girardi said. “I think a lot of clubs hold their breath this time of year that you leave camp the way you are. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you’ve got to deal with it. … Didi and Drew are healthy, so we’re going to have to look at probably more of a second baseman in a sense. You could look at a second baseman more than a shortstop because you have two shortstops.”
Assuming Drew can slide back to shortstop without any problem — he has yet to take a single ground ball there this spring — the Yankees don’t need someone who has Ryan’s versatility. Instead, hitting from Ryan’s side of the plate might be more important. Refsnyder has impressed with a .333/.447/.538 slash line and the most doubles in camp, but he’s also shown room to grow with his team-high six errors. That’s twice as many as anyone else in camp.
“I think that my game reps haven’t reflected how well I’ve fielded in practice,” Refsnyder said. “Some of the errors I’ve made have been tempo plays, getting into the rhythm of the game again. … I wish I could have played better on all sides of the ball. But I’m happy with where my work is right now. Hopefully it translates in the game a little bit more, in the season, to be honest.”
It’s a curious situation. Refsnyder fits the profile of what the Yankees want and need, but they clearly want him to improve defensively, and it’s worth wondering whether they would be OK with one of their top prospects getting sporadic playing time off the big league bench. Carrying Refsnyder is certainly not what the Yankees had in mind, but it might be what they decide to do.
“Shoot, coming into camp, I was 23,” Refsnyder said. “I’m 24 now, and I’m playing with some of the best players in the entire world. Some of the best guys. It’s definitely not discouraging. Every day you can learn and get better from all these guys. They’ve been awesome to younger guys like myself who started this camp. I’ve learned a lot. Some things I can really continue on for the rest of my career hopefully. This has been a great opportunity for me.”
• Really strong outing by Chase Whitley today. He allowed a run on three hits in the second innings, but that was the extent of the damage. He finished with four innings, one run, no walks and six strikeouts. That might have locked up a spot in the Yankees bullpen. “I wanted to have a good spring and I was able to accomplish that,” Whitley said. “The results matched up today with how I felt, so that was pretty good.”
• If the Yankees carry Whitley, it would be as a second long man. Girardi said today that he considers Esmil Rogers locked into a roster spot. Rogers pitched 1.1 innings with an unearned run today. He struck out three and walked one.
• Another bullpen candidate, Chasen Shreve, allowed one hit and one unearned run in two-thirds of an inning. He struck out one. Most damaging to his case might be the fact he allowed a hard double to left-handed hitter James Loney. Presumably, Shreve would have to handle lefties to play much of a role in New York.
• Andrew Bailey delivered another scoreless inning with one hit and one walk. He has yet to allow an earned run this spring, but he’s also thrown just five innings.
• Why Adam Warren as fifth starter? “Consistency,” Girardi said. “Four-pitch mix. He throws strikes. His ability to get lefthanders and righthanders out, holds runners, does the little things, fields his position. He just does a lot of things right.”
• Gregorius is definitely playing tomorrow. “Unless something happens overnight,” Girardi said. “He felt good in BP. He’s scheduled and circled in on the trip. He’s going.” Gregorius said he’s perfectly unconcerned about the wrist after taking BP and going through fielding drills today. He’s fine.
• Alex Rodriguez is playing first base again tomorrow. He’ll play in the home game.
• Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira came through today’s game with no problems.
• Here’s Girardi on Refsnyder’s defense: “It’s a guy that was a right fielder. I think it’s improved over the spring. I’ve seen him on the back field every day and it’s improved. I think he’ll continue to get better. There’s no shortage of work ethic in this young man. He’s young. That’s the bottom line, he’s young. But depending on what we do, do I think we have a number of candidates that can handle it? Yes, I do. It’s just picking which one we think is the right one.”
• Would Pirela have been the favorite had he stayed healthy? “Yeah, I think he would’ve had a good shot at it,” Girardi said. Amazing how that weird decision to play Pirela in center field in Port St. Lucie — under what circumstances would Pirela play center this season? — might have impacted things.
• No surprise, but Girardi said he plans to stay on rotation at least through the early part of the season. Even after off days, the Yankees won’t skip Warren or any other starter. They’ll use off days for extra rest and occasionally insert sixth starters for even more rest when necessary.
• Chris Capuano is playing catch — not in a chair, standing up — but there’s still no time table for his return. “That’s hard to say,” Girardi said. “Obviously he’s playing catch, but it’s not the freedom you would have if you didn’t have a leg injury.”
• Final word goes to Girardi: “Those guys (Gregorius, Ellsbury, Teixeira), in my mind, I was pretty convinced we’d have them back. Now, it’s different now with Brendan. I think it’s a long shot. What happens, your depth is tested. We’ve got to talk about it. You understand going in that these things can happen and you’ve got to deal with it. I think that’s why they try to go out and acquire as many good players as they can.”
Associated Press photos
Of the four pitchers still in the running for an open spot in the Yankees’ bullpen, Andrew Bailey has the lowest WHIP and the lowest opponents’ batting average this spring. He also has the most big league experience and perhaps the greatest upside as a former All-Star closer.
Problem is, Bailey’s pitched only four innings, he missed all of last season, and there’s a solid chance he simply won’t be ready to open the season.
With only four games left on the schedule, Joe Girardi said today that the Yankees won’t consider Bailey for the Opening Day roster if he doesn’t pitch in back-to-back games at least once this spring.
“I don’t see how you could do that,” Girardi said. “And the one thing is, we’re not going to rush him.”
So far, Bailey hasn’t pitched with any less than two days of rest. He would have to move quickly to get in back-to-back outings before the Yankees break camp on Friday, and at this point, it seems — just based on the way the Yankees have talked about him and treated him — that Bailey is more likely to open the year in the minor leagues to take those final steps back from 2013 shoulder surgery.
A team source confirmed today that Bailey’s contract allows the Yankees to send him to the minor leagues out of spring training without the risk of losing him. Bailey does not have an immediate opt-out clause.
Assuming Bailey is eventually sent down, the Yankees basically have three pitchers for two spots: They have a long man in Chase Whitley (who’s starting tomorrow), a hard-throwing right-hander in Chris Martin (who pitched 1.2 scoreless this afternoon) and a potential third lefty in Chasen Shreve (who’s had scoreless outings his past two appearances).
“I think it comes down to who we think is going to help us the most is the bottom line,” Girardi said. “I don’t think you necessarily in your mind say (for example) I have to have a third lefty. Is it a luxury, sure it is, but I think it’s who we think is going to help us the most.”
Bailey might be able to help, but perhaps not on Opening Day.
Associated Press photo
Got to Fort Myers just in time to talk to Joe Girardi and get some quick pregame notes posted. No huge news coming out of batting practice today but there was a slight change of plans.
John Ryan Murphy was supposed to make this trip, but he’s staying behind at the minor league complex to catch Adam Warren, who’s starting a minor league game.
Speaking of which, Girardi said he’s still not ready to name a fifth starter. He said there’s one guy he still needs to talk to before making anything public.
That said, I imagine you should feel free to read into the fact Warren’s getting a start today. That puts him on schedule — in theory — to make another start on Sunday on four-days rest and then pitch the fifth game of the regular season on five-days rest.
• Carlos Beltran is also playing at the minor league complex today. Girardi wasn’t sure if he was DHing or playing right field. Said they wanted Beltran to get at-bats without having to make the long road trip.
• Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled for 75 pitches.
• Girardi seemed to downplay the possibility of Andrew Bailey making the team out of spring training. He said there’s no way the Yankees could carry him if he hasn’t pitch back-to-back days, and the team is not going to rush him to make that happen. Of the four guys vying for the final two bullpen spots, Bailey seems like the long shot. Chase Whitley, Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve are also in the mix, and each is on the 40-man.
• Speaking of which, Whitley is starting tomorrow’s game against the Rays. Clearly keeping him stretched out in case they decide to carry him as a second long man.
• Brendan Ryan is getting a turn at third base today. Girardi said he just wants to see it and give Ryan a chance to play the position down here. Girardi said that, for now, he’s leaning toward playing Alex Rodriguez — not Ryan — at third base on days Chase Headley needs a break. Obviously Ryan could be a defensive replacement at the position, though.
• Mark Teixeira remains on track to play tomorrow. He was hit by a pitch in the knee on Sunday. Seems fine.
• Didi Gregorius had some swelling in his sprained wrist on Monday. He still might play tomorrow, but Girardi said they want to make sure the swelling is gone before they get him back in a game. Still seems to be a very low level of concern.
• Today’s second string: C Eddy Rodriguez, 1B Greg Bird, 2B none, SS none, 3B Eric Jagielo, LF Taylor Dugas, CF Mason Williams, RF none
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Chris Martin, Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder, Cesar Vargas, Nick Goody
• Today’s starting lineup:
Brett Gardner LF
Brendan Ryan 3B
Chris Young CF
Garrett Jones 1B
Austin Romine C
Rob Refsnyder 2B
Ramon Flores RF
Nick Noonan SS
Eric Jagielo DH
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
The Yankees technically have 17 pitchers still in big league camp, but that includes three guys who are hurt and will inevitably open the season on the disabled list. In reality, they have 10 guys who seem locked into big league roles and four others to compete for two open spots.
Major league rotation: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Adam Warren
Major league bullpen: Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, Justin Wilson, Esmil Rogers
Bullpen candidates: Chase Whitley, Chris Martin, Andrew Bailey, Chasen Shreve
Injured/rehab: Chris Capuano, Ivan Nova, Vicente Campos
A few issues to consider as the Yankees prepare to fill these last two spots on the pitching staff:
1. Is the 40-man roster an issue?
Whitley, Martin and Shreve are on the 40-man. Bailey is not. But that shouldn’t be an issue. With Nova surely heading for the 60-day disabled list, the Yankees can easily open at least one spot if they want to carry Bailey. If there’s some other injury and they need to open a second spot, they could do so by designating Austin Romine for assignment or perhaps by putting Capuano on the 60-day. The 40-man doesn’t seem to be a significant roadblock.
2. How many long relievers do the Yankees want?
This seems to be a worthwhile question. It seems relatively safe to assume Rogers will be one long man — I suppose he’s the least “locked in” of the projected big leaguers, but he still seems relatively safe — so the Yankees have to decide whether they want a second multi-inning guy. If they do, Whitley clearly has the advantage. He’s pitched well in camp and could be a long man or spot starter. If they don’t want a second long man, Whitley could go to Triple-A to be stretched out.
3. Does Bailey have time to go back to back?
Joe Girardi has made it clear that any middle reliever who wants to make the team has to prove he can pitch in back-to-back games. Bailey hasn’t done that yet, and there’s a chance he won’t be up for it — or allowed to do it — before the Yankees break camp. If Bailey can’t go back to back in spring training, the Yankees might have to send him to the minor leagues for at least a short stint so that he can cross that final item off the list.
4. Should the sixth starter factor into this decision?
We know the Yankees want to use a sixth starter sometime around the fourth turn through the rotation. For that to happen, the Yankees might want a little flexibility. For example: Perhaps they carry Martin out of spring training, option him down in favor of Bryan Mitchell when they need a spot starter, then bring up Shreve after Mitchell’s made his spot start. Would carrying Whitley in the big league bullpen rule him out for a spot start a few weeks into the season? If so, is that enough reason to send him to Triple-A?
5. Is there a benefit to carrying a third lefty?
In recent years, the Yankees have rarely carried a second lefty, but now it seems they might carry a third. With Miller and Wilson guaranteed big league jobs, the Yankees still have to seriously consider Shreve, who made his big league debut last season with Atlanta. He’s actually been better against righties than against lefties this spring, but the Yankees could try Shreve as more of a situational lefty by Wilson and Miller play more universal late-inning roles.
6. Will the field change in the next week?
Let’s not forget, every team is on the lookout for marginal upgrades this time of year. An out-of-options reliever somewhere else might be a perfect fit for the Yankees. With a 40-man spot pretty easy to open, the Yankees could certainly put in a claim or make a small trade to fill one of their bullpen openings. They’re down to four options in camp, but there are plenty of other options outside of camp.
Associated Press photos