Yesterday, Brian Cashman declared Adam Warren the “Secretariat” of the fifth-starter competition. Today, Warren struck out five and allowed one run in 3.1 innings. Are the Yankees really going to bump him back into the bullpen tomorrow? While Joe Girardi said the team still wants to have some discussions, it seems clear Warren has realistically locked up the open rotation job.
“He threw well again,” Girardi said. “Not easy conditions to pitch in today either, so I thought he threw the ball, mixed everything in again, and that’s what he’s done all spring.”
At this point, the bigger question seems to be whether Warren can carry his bullpen success into the rotation. Specifically, just how good can he be as a regular starter? Over on FanGraphs, there’s a post called: Who Might Adam Warren Be? It’s an analysis of his raw stuff — a 94-mph fastball that generates weak popups, an effective changeup that he throws for strikes, a groundball inducing curveball — leading to a series of comparisons in search of just how good Warren might be if given a long look in the rotation.
The name that pops up most often is overwhelmingly optimistic: Dodgers No. 2 starter Zack Greinke.
They’ve both got straight, rising fastballs complemented by good sinkers. Greinke’s slider is better than his change, and Warren’s change is better than his slider, but the ratio between the two pitches is similar. Neither curve is great, but Warren’s gets so many ground balls that it might shorten the distance between their respective abilities to command their arsenals.
That’s a pretty giant comparison to throw out there. Warren pitched well out of the bullpen last season, and he was a pretty highly regarded prospect in the minors. Could he pitch well enough in the first month or so to keep a rotation job even after Chris Capuano is healthy? What about when Ivan Nova is healthy? If the Greinke comparison seems a bit too much, some of the other names mentioned in the FanGraphs piece range from the uninspiring (Erasmo Ramirez, Kevin Correia) to the impressive (Matt Cain, Homer Bailey).
“I feel like pitching is pitching,” Warren said. “I’ve proved I can pitch at this level. I just got to go out there and learn from some of the guys who have started and learned the mindset of being aggressive, attacking always, getting early outs. But I feel like I’ve got the stuff. It’s just going out there and executing pitches.”
John Ryan Murphy said he really doesn’t call a game much differently if Warren’s pitching as a starter vs. as a reliever. In either role Warren’s used all four of his pitches, and Murphy said all four are quality pitches that can be thrown for strikes and used to get outs.
“I think you just try to keep the foot on the pedal as long as possible,” Warren said. “The biggest thing for me — and I didn’t do a very good job today — that I want to focus on is getting outs early in the count, just be efficient with my pitches. My pitch count got a little high today and I didn’t have my best stuff, but being able to attack the zone is the biggest thing. Just try to go out with my best stuff from pitch one and see how far I can go with it.”
For now, it seems that approach has carried him into the starting rotation.
• There was a giant birthday cake in the Yankees clubhouse today (it was actually a bunch of cupcakes arranged to look like one big cake). Ramon Flores, Rob Refsnyder and Brendan Ryan all celebrated their birthdays today.
• Girardi said Jacoby Ellsbury came through today’s light baseball activity with no problem. Assuming he shows up feeling good tomorrow he’ll do more tee and toss and increase to taking a few rounds of batting practice inside. Girardi said he’s expecting Ellsbury to play a minor league game on Tuesday. Whether he gets in another Grapefruit League game will basically depend on how he’s feeling (when he was hurt late last spring, the Yankees kept Ellsbury in minor league games at the end of camp so that they could back-date any possibly DL stint; they seem less concerned this time around).
• Jose Pirela continues to have some concussion symptoms, so he won’t be playing any time soon. “Yesterday he rode the bike and was fine,” Girardi said. “Today he rode the bike and got dizzy. He’ll see a neurologist again. That’s the hardest thing to predict with a concussion; even though he looked great, he got dizzy today. We’ll back off a little bit, talk to the neurologist and try it again fairly soon.”
• The Yankees unconditionally released RHP Jared Burton from his minor league contract. Burton is a big league veteran and he was pitching well before he got hurt. If he wasn’t going to break camp with the big league team, though, the Yankees overwhelming bullpen depth probably didn’t leave much room for him.
• Austin Romine was supposed to catch this game, but he got some sort of stomach bug and had to be scratched. His competition for the backup catcher job, Murphy, played instead and went 1-for-2, raising his spring batting average to .219. “I think it’s going to come down to the last couple days,” Girardi said of the decision between Romine and Murphy.
• Girardi still expects to get Alex Rodriguez in a game at first base. “It’s coming up,” he said. “I didn’t have a chance to talk to him, but I have it on the board.”
• The plan is for Masahiro Tanaka to make Tuesday’s road trip to Fort Myers to pitch against the Twins. That keeps him lined up for Opening Day.
• As for today’s game, after Warren left the game, the Yankees relievers had a tough time. Jose Ramirez gave up two runs, so did Chris Martin, and Danny Burawa allowed one run. Tyler Webb finished the day with a scoreless eighth, but it still wasn’t a great day for the pen. Worth noting, of course, that of those relievers, Martin’s the only one actually still in big league camp. He struck out three but also allowed a home run to Desmond Jennings.
• Here’s Girardi on choosing his final relievers: “I think you’re going to look at the last 10 days. They’ve all had their ups and downs. That’s the interesting part of it. We’re going to make a decision over the next 10 days and it’s probably going to be the guys that we feel are going to give us the best chance to help us, but maybe have pitched the best the last 10 days.”
• While Girardi said he thinks Andrew Bailey has pitched well this spring, he’s still not sure whether Bailey will have a real chance to break camp with the team. “The fact that he hasn’t went back-to-back — and I don’t know if he’ll go back-to-back in spring training — might make it difficult,” Girardi said. “It’s something that we have to talk about next week, where we feel he’s at and how ready he is. But he’s throwing the ball pretty good.”
• Another nice game for Slade Heathcott, who had a double, a walk and pushed his spring batting average to .320. “He’s played great,” Girardi said. “The biggest thing we’ve said about this kid is we’ve got to keep him healthy. There are a lot of tools there offensively, defensively, running the bases. It’s just, he hasn’t had a lot of at-bats, but there’s a lot of talent.”
• Two-hit day for Didi Gregorius. He had a double and pushed his spring batting average up to .308. He’s definitely been a standout this spring. … After his walkoff homer a couple of nights ago, Flores had a two-hit day. He and Refsnyder each doubled on their birthday. Ryan went 0-for-3 with a walk. … One reason Refsnyder seems not ready for the big leagues: he made his fifth error today. … Jake Cave had an RBI single but was also caught stealing in the ninth.
• Girardi said “it’s possible” he’ll be ready to name a fifth starter tomorrow. We basically know who it’s going to be, but it would be nice to have the Yankees waste no time making it official.
• Let’s give the final word to Warren: “I came into the spring and wanted to pitch well. Wherever I ended up, I wanted it to be because I pitched well and not because I didn’t pitch well. I feel like I’ve gone out there and proven myself. It all comes back to, I just want to get ready for the season. I was a little more comfortable this year just being around the guys, early on working on some things and then ramping it up these last two outings and really go out there and compete. It’s been a fun spring for me. ”
Associated Press photos
Any other year, Michael Pineda’s six strikeouts today would have been perhaps the biggest non-A-Rod story of spring training. He was hit hard early, adjust quickly and looked sharp the rest of the way. He got swings and misses with his changeup, threw strikes with his fastball and delivered yet another terrific start.
Any other year, it would have been a huge deal.
This spring, thought, the image of a smiling, dominant, healthy Pineda is beginning to feel commonplace.
“I’m happy because today is good outing,” Pineda said. “I’m feeling good. This is very important for me. I’m feeling great. And I stay in the game. … I feel very strong today. I’m happy with that because we won.”
After three years of struggling, rehabbing and working his way back, it seems Pineda has finally arrived, perhaps even better than the Yankees expected back in 2012. His changeup has become a legitimate weapon, and he still pounds the strike zone. It’s hard not to wonder what might have been had he been this way since that first spring when he first injured his shoulder.
“I’m more concerned about this year, what it could mean for us this year,” Joe Girardi said. “There’s not much we can do about the past. But I really believe if he stays healthy and gives us 30 (to) 32 starts, he could have a pretty good year.”
Given Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow, CC Sabathia’s knee and Nathan Eovaldi’s transition, I think you could make the case that Pineda is the most reliable weapon in the Yankees rotation, and right now he’s pitching like a guy who’s capable of bringing both reliability and dominance. What we saw today was nothing new, and that’s the good thing.
“I’m very, very happy in the spring, especially today,” Pineda said. “You know, I throw two innings, three innings and I feel very strong. I like it.”
• The Yankees might be lining up Masahiro Tanaka to start Opening Day. He’ll make his next start on Wednesday, getting a full week between starts. If he then pitches every six days, he would be perfectly lined up for the Opener on April 6. “I’m just going to leave it at that for now,” Girardi said.
• Asked why Tanaka is getting an extra day of rest leading into this upcoming start, Girardi said it was all about lining up the rotation, but he wouldn’t give specifics. “We’re trying to line people up, but I can’t give you an Opening Day starter because it kind of depends on where we feel they’re at,” Girardi said.
• Along those lines, Nathan Eovaldi is going to start a minor league game on Tuesday, the same day Esmil Rogers is starting a major league game. Again, Girardi said that’s all about getting guys lined up.
• Good second outing for Andrew Bailey who struck out two and hit a batter in his one inning. He said he recovered nicely after his previous outing and felt fully ready for this one. “That was the first time I’d pitched in a game in quite some time,” he said. “So I was eager to see how the next game was. It was fine, and the same thing the next day, and out there again today. I’m looking forward to more of the same.”
• Girardi said he’s still not sure when Bailey will try to go back-to-back.
• Last time out, Bailey was disappointed by his cutter. “I just stayed through it a little bit better (this time),” he said. “I worked on that on flat ground with Larry (Rothschild) and some of the other coaches. It’s me just driving the baseball to the plate instead of pulling off of it. It’s a little mechanical thing.”
• Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson also had two strikeouts in their outings today. Add a scoreless inning apiece for Nick Rumbelow and Jacob Lindgren, and it was a good day for the bullpen.
• Pineda seemed especially happy with his changeup today, and Girardi seemed to echo the same. Asked for a general analysis of today’s starting, Girardi started by saying Pineda was a little bit up in the zone early, then offered this: “Thought he threw some really good changeups today. Really, really good.”
• Two days in a row now Didi Gregorius has gotten a hit against a lefty. Today’s was a sharp single right down the first-base line. “He’s worked really hard with (hitting coach Jeff Pentland) about making some minor adjustments,” Girardi said. “I can’t tell you what exactly they are, but all these guys have worked really hard with Pent now, and with Alan (Cockrell), just little things. Things that they see. Didi’s really swung the bat (when) you look at the last week. Sometimes when you make adjustments, it might take you a little bit of time to get going because everything’s a little bit different, but it looks like it’s paying dividends.”
• After not scoring in the first eight innings, the Yankees rallied with three runs in the ninth to win 3-2. The winning run came on a sacrifice fly by Jake Cave. The big hit was a two-run double by Eddy Rodriguez.
• Aaron Judge had a hit in that game-winning ninth, but he most impressed with a running catch to end the seventh. “I was impressed with the jump he got on the ball,” Girardi said. “He made that catch easily. He made it look easy.”
• Mark Teixeira had two hits including a double. … Gregorius, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann also had hits and Brett Gardner drew a walk as some of the big league guys continue to look better at the plate. … That ninth-inning rally started with a Nick Noonan single.
• Final word goes to Gardner about his decision to climb the wall to retrieve Chris Young’s glove: “Is the fence eight feet? It feels taller than eight feet. I’m really short. We’d be in the eighth inning still if I didn’t get the glove. I wanted to throw the ball back in all the way to second base, but I didn’t have room between the batter’s eye hanging down and the fence, so I just tossed it back over. I actually didn’t even think about the ball, I was going to get the glove and the ball was laying right next to the glove. So then I wanted to throw the ball back to second base but I didn’t really have room to throw it between where the batter’s eye came down.”
Associated Press photos
In the past four days, the Yankees have sent seven pitchers to minor league camp. As of yesterday, they’ve now gotten every non-rehab pitcher into a spring training game. They have Esmil Rogers starting tonight, Adam Warren starting tomorrow, and Bryan Mitchell scheduled for at least one more start this spring.
“The competition’s on now, in a sense,” Joe Girardi said. “These guys are competing for jobs. Even if they felt it before, this is when we’re really going to start playing attention.”
Now’s the time to start ironing out the pitching staff. Assuming health — a big assumption, but best we can do so far — the Yankees seem to have 10 pitchers locked into one role or another.
That leaves the Yankees with two spots to fill. Could be a starter and a reliever. Could be a pair of relievers. Could prioritize the need for a long man. Could lean toward adding another lefty.
“I think a lot of these guys have thrown pretty well,” Girardi said. “You look at the amount of runs we’ve given up in spring training, we haven’t given up too many. Is it a clear-cut? No, but we still have two and a half weeks to go, and I think that’s the important thing.”
Here are the options still in big league camp (I’m not counting either Ivan Nova or Vicente Campos, each of whom is in camp but working back from Tommy John surgery):
All five of these could be long relievers in the bullpen, could be fifth starters in the rotation, or could be spot starters when the Yankees want to give everyone else an extra day of rest. The one who might not be totally flexible is Mitchell, not because he can’t pitch out of the pen, but because he’s young enough with a high-enough ceiling that the Yankees might prefer to keep him working as a starter no matter what. He’s the only one of this group who seems in line to get another start this spring, but the smart money seems to be on either Warren or Rogers getting that open rotation spot. Could certainly be room for another long man in the pen, though, and one of these could take that job.
Right-handed relievers (7)
Jose Ramirez, Chris Martin, Jared Burton, Danny Burawa, Andrew Bailey, Nick Rumbelow, Wilking Rodriguez
The Yankees have loaded up on hard-throwing right handers, including one (Branden Pinder) who’s already been sent down to minor league camp. Burton and Bailey are the veterans of this group, though it’s hard to know whether Bailey has time to prove he’s ready for Opening Day. Rumbelow and Rodriguez are non-40-man players, though Rodriguez did pitch in the big leagues a little bit last season. Ramirez and Martin each also pitched in the big leagues last season, and Burawa was added to the 40-man this winter. Really, each of these guys has pitched pretty well so far. Rumbelow and Martin have a lot of strikeouts, and at various points Girardi has specifically said he’s been impressed by those two and Ramirez.
Left-handed relievers (2)
Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren
The Yankees brought six left-handed relievers into camp. Two are basically guaranteed spots in the bullpen (Miller and Wilson) and two have already been sent to minor league camp (James Pazos and Tyler Webb), which leaves two guys still fighting for spots on the roster. Might not be an overwhelming need for three left-handers in the bullpen, but none of the Yankees’ lefties have to be true left-on-left specialists, and so far both Shreve and Lindgren have looked sharp in big league camp. Shreve is on the 40-man roster and got some big league experience last season, which might give him a leg up on Lindgren, who was drafted just last season.
Associated Press photos
Masahiro Tanaka was standing in front of maybe a dozen reporters. He’d said very little for about three minutes when someone asked whether anyone — except the group of us — ever asks about his elbow these days.
“No,” Tanaka said, laughing. “Probably just you guys.”
Then his interpreter asked the follow-up question without being prompted.
“It feels good,” Tanaka answered.
Glass half full: There’s still nothing but good stuff to report about Tanaka’s spring training. Tonight’s second start was even better than his first. He faced twice as many batters and got through 3.2 innings with only one hard-hit ball, which was a double against his very last batter. Tanaka struck out three, got a ton of ground balls, and came through with no pain or discomfort in his elbow.
Glass half empty: Tanaka’s dazzling spring is only reminding the Yankees of how much they stand to lose if his ligament finally snaps.
“We felt his arm was pretty good (coming into camp),” Girardi said. “We’ve taken it a little bit different this spring, in a sense. Maybe a little bit slower, trying to give him plenty of time to get ready. Maybe that’s why (he says he feels better than last spring). Maybe he had a better idea of what to expect in spring training, in a sense. He had never been through an American spring training before. Maybe that helped him prepare.”
Tanaka said the slower pace has helped. He feels that he’s built up pretty well, and obviously the elbow had held up so far. Obviously there’s a risk it could blow out, but it’s all good news up to this point.
“Since Day 1 of spring training, we’ve been happy with what we’ve seen,” Girardi said. “I told you, if I’m going to be on the edge of my seat every pitch, it’s going to be a long season. That’s the way it’s going to be. So he appears to be healthy, he’s thrown the ball well, and you just keep running him out there and keep building him up.”
• Despite the fresh diagnosis and the longer time table, Girardi said he’s not at all worried that Jacoby Ellsbury might miss Opening Day. “I’m not really bothered by it,” Girardi said. “I thought he was in a pretty good place as far as being in shape and playing multiple days. There will be plenty of time I think.”
• The new diagnosis is a low-grade oblique strain for Ellsbury. He was originally supposed to be back in the lineup on Friday. He’ll now go basically a week without baseball activities. “It’s his ab,” Girardi said. “He’s got a mild, mild, mild strain. I think we talked about giving him six, seven days off to see where he’s at. I’m not too concerned about it because it’s really mild, but this is the time that we can protect him a little bit and don’t have to rush him back.”
• One other injury update: pitcher Jose De Paula was sent for an MRI after experiencing lingering soreness in his shoulder. De Paula seemed locked in as Triple-A rotation depth and was given a spot on the 40-man roster this offseason.
• Tanaka really didn’t say much of anything about his start other than the fact he thought it was better than his first outing. “He looked great,” Brian McCann said. “Just a typical outing. He located all his pitches again, got ahead, pitched ahead in the count. And with that split, he keeps the hitter on the defensive. He’s able to work all quadrants of the plate.”
• Speaking of McCann, he and Stephen Drew hit their first spring home runs tonight (it was a 12-5 Yankees win, by the way). McCann had a two-hit day and also walked twice. “In the grand scheme of things, you’re trying to work on stuff like contact point,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing right now.”
• The stadium radar gun had Andrew Bailey at 92 mph pretty regularly in tonight’s spring training debut. He would have pitched a 1-2-3 inning but what should have been a third out was ruled an E-4 (bad call: Rob Refsnyder made a nice play to get to a tough ball up the middle, but Francisco Arcia couldn’t scoop the throw to first). Next two batters had hits, leading to an unearned run.
• Bailey on his first outing since July 12, 2013: “I was anxious. I was excited. In the bullpen, normal stuff. It was nice to have that anxious feeling of getting into a game again. I felt good. The ball, I felt, was coming out good. Best run I’ve ever given up, I guess.”
• As for specifics, Bailey said his cutter was a little flat. He wants to work on that between appearances. “We got the first step out of the way,” Bailey said. “Now the next step is to see how it feels, see how it responds and get out there again.”
• Speaking of Bailey’s outing, his inning ended with a really nice diving catch by Mason Williams. In the very next half inning, Williams worked a long and impressive at-bat before missing a grand slam by maybe two feet. He settled for a sac fly. He also had a hit in the game and is now batting .357 for the spring.
• Big three-hit day for Didi Gregorius to bring his spring average up to .273. He came into this game hitting .158. There’s a lesson to be learned here about small sample sizes. Gregorius had a triple, his second of the spring. He also had a stolen base.
• This game lasted far too long at nearly four hours. Even the players hanging in the Yankees clubhouse for the final innings were clearly counting down the outs. Pace of play, indeed.
• Former Yankees infielder Kelly Johnson hit a three-run home run off Jose Ramirez. All three of those runs were unearned. Only one run against the Yankees — charged to Danny Burawa, who also had two strikeouts — were unearned.
• We’ll give the final word to Girardi about Bailey’s debut: “I was happy for him. I thought he threw the ball alright. I mean, he hasn’t been out there in a long time. He came off and there was a smile on his face. It was a definite step in the right direction.”
Associated Press photos
Last night, CC Sabathia said he was surprisingly nervous to pitch in his first real game in 10 months. If that was the case, imagine how Andrew Bailey feels about pitching in his first game since July 12, 2013.
“I’m anxious,” Bailey said. “I’m ready to get out there. You just have to trust the work we’ve put in the past year and a half, almost two, and trust that it will be there. We’ve put all the right pieces together, and this is the next step.”
Tonight will be Bailey’s spring debut with the Yankees. He spent all of last year rehabbing after shoulder surgery, and he signed back on a fresh minor league contract to get a fresh look and a new opportunity. Bailey said he still believes he could have enough time to make the Opening Day roster. Joe Girardi said it’s possible, but he seemed to be setting lower expectations.
“Obviously he has a great chance of making an impression,” Girardi said. “Our big thing with him is getting him through these first (outings), and then when does he feel that he’s able to go back-to-back? That’s the big thing because as a bullpen guy you have to be able to do that unless you’re a long guy. … I think, from what we’ve seen so far, I definitely think it’s a possibility he could be a player in our bullpen (at some point). You’re talking about experience, a guy that’s pitched at a high level, that’s pitched in big markets, knows how to close. He could be another nice arm in our bullpen.”
Bailey was an all-star closer his first two big league seasons with Oakland, but he hasn’t thrown as many as 30 innings in a season since 2011. Now 30 years old, Bailey said his bullpens and simulated outings have been encouraging. He doesn’t know how hard he’s throwing, but he said he’s been noticeably better than he was at this time last year. He said he feels the way he did when he thriving in the majors.
“Going through the process, I never thought I’d actually feel this good again,” he said. “You’re going through that process at that time, and the way the shoulder is, it’s pretty complicated. So you’re like, ‘Oh man, is it ever going to happen?’ The doctor said 18 to 24 months, and we’re at 19, and pretty much right on track. It feels really good, and it’s refreshing to feel this. You’re going through the process throwing on the back fields all last year, you’re questioning, what are you even doing? You put the time in, and you grind through it, and you’re here.”
Does Opening Day feel realistic for Bailey?
“I think everybody’s goal here is to make the team Day 1, and mine obviously still is,” he said. “If I need more time, I totally understand that, or if they feel I need more time, I understand that. But I want to be there Day 1, for sure, just as everyone in this room does. … One of my goals was to pitch in spring training and make the decision hard for them. I think that’s all you can do, in my shoes, just make the decision as hard as I can for them.”
• Brendan Ryan remains on track to also play on Friday. That would be Ryan’s first game of the spring.
• Upcoming rotation:
Thursday: Esmil Rogers
Friday: Adam Warren
Saturday: Michael Pineda
Sunday: CC Sabathia
• Girardi said he thinks the rotation competition truly begins this next turn through, beginning with Rogers’ start tomorrow. Girardi said he plans to give Bryan Mitchell at least one more start, but it sounds like Chase Whitley and Scott Baker are unlikely to start again this spring. I would think those two are stronger bullpen candidates than fifth-starter candidates at this point.
• Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to 45-50 pitches tonight. Girardi said he has no plans of asking Tanaka to throw fewer splits given the elbow issue. “I don’t think you can ask him to stop pitching the way he pitches because I think,” Girardi said. “As a pitcher, you feel like you’re going out there without all your weapons, and that probably is not great for confidence. So I don’t think you can really do that.”
• Jose Pirela gets a start in left field tonight. My own take on his situation: I think Pirela is the odd man out right now, but I think he’s the guy who will make the roster if anyone (aside from a catcher) gets hurt. Infielder, outfielder, doesn’t matter. I think Pirela is the next guy in line, which is why he’s getting some time all over the place. Again, that’s just an opinion, though. “You never know what’s going to happen, that’s the bottom line,” Girardi said. “And he played the outfield last year. There’s a chance that you’ll even see him in center this spring training.”
• Ryan, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez and Austin Romine are all scheduled to stay behind and take batting practice in Tampa today.
• Today’s second string: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Francisco Arcia, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cole Figueroa, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Ramon Flores, CF Mason Williams, RF Slade Heathcott
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Jose Ramirez, Andrew Bailey, Jacob Lindgren, Danny Burawa, Nick Rumbelow
Associated Press photos
I doubt Joe Girardi will admit it, but today’s lineup has to be the frontrunner for Opening Day.
The Yankees have left no doubt these nine are the favorites at each position. Even if there’s a vague competition at second base, the Yankees are prioritizing Stephen Drew by letting him regularly play alongside Didi Gregorius. Something could change between now and then, but for right now, these are the starting position players.
And if these are the starting position players, why not put them in the order Girardi’s considering for Opening Day?
Lessons learned from today’s batting order: Stephen Drew batting ahead of Gregorius, Alex Rodriguez in the No. 7 spot behind Chase Headley, and Mark Teixeira in the cleanup spot after hitting fifth on Opening Day last season.
I do wonder if things might be different if the Yankees see a lefty on Opening Day.
• Masahiro Tanaka threw another bullpen this morning and came back into the clubhouse laughing before heading for a workout. He has yet again managed to throw a bunch of pitches without his elbow falling apart.
• Two random Tanaka moments from the clubhouse: Because Tanaka’s locker is really close to a row of young position players, a bunch of prospect hitters actually seem to have gotten to know Tanaka a little bit this spring. This morning, Jake Cave came over to Tanaka’s translator strictly to say that he likes Tanaka’s shoes (Tanaka loved that). Mason Williams also engaged Tanaka in a random round of Rock-Paper-Scissors, and it was clearly not the first time they’d done that. Seems to be a running thing between the two of them. Tanaka threw paper and lost. Mason gloated. A lot. Tanaka, again, loved it. He’s definitely more one of the guys than you might expect.
• Andrew Bailey will throw a simulated game tomorrow. He’s already thrown live batting practice, but I have to think a sim game will the final step toward getting him in a real game. Despite Brian Cashman’s previous statements about Bailey being an extreme longshot, Bailey continues to say that he feels great. He’s throwing all of his pitches and sounds encouraged by the results. Needs to get in games, though.
• Mostly a quiet morning in the clubhouse today. There weren’t even very many pitchers in the room through much of the morning. Now everyone is here and the morning workout has started. Typical stuff, fielding drills first and then batting practice.
Masahiro Tanaka (to Juan Graterol)
Chris Capuano (to Gary Sanchez)
Scott Baker (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Kyle Davies (to Kyle Higashioka)
Jose De Paula (to Trent Garrison)
Domingo German (to Roman Rodriguez)
Tyler Webb (to Juan Graterol)
• Bailey will pitch his simulated game early tomorrow. CC Sabathia, Adam Warren, Luis Severino, Wilking Rodriguez, Jose Campos and Ivan Nova are also scheduled for early work tomorrow, though they’ll presumably throw regular bullpens.
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Nathan Eovaldi, David Carpenter, Justin Wilson, Chris Martin, Diego Moreno (with Nick Rumbelow, Danny Burawa and Nick Goody on standby just in case)
• Tomorrow’s travel squad to Sarasota:
Pitchers: Danny Burawa, Nick Goody, Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, Jose Ramirez, Esmil Rogers, Nick Rumbelow, Chasen Shreve, Chase Whitley
Catchers: Trent Garrison, John Ryan Murphy, Eddy Rodriguez, Gary Sanchez
Infielders: Cito Culver, Stephen Drew, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones, Nick Noonan, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder, Kyle Roller, Mark Teixeira
Outfielders: Jake Cave, Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott, Aaron Judge, Mason Williams, Chris Young
From minor league camp: None listed so far
Associated Press photos
When Brian Cashman is asked for an on-the-record player evaluation, it’s often hard to know what to make of his response. His tendency is to downplay things, to keep expectations low. We saw that last year when he called Chase Headley an average defensive third baseman, and before that when he called Masahiro Tanaka a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
So today when, Cashman answered a question about the status of Andrew Bailey, it was hard to know whether he was setting the bar low or sending a real message.
“It’s one of those things where, non-roster situation, it’s a flyer, and the odds are against it,” Cashman said. “And it didn’t work out for us last year. But because of who he is, his makeup, his work ethic, all those things, it made it easier to say, ‘All right, let’s keep trying.’ And he’s someone, if it doesn’t work out, everybody here loves him. I don’t know if he has any interest — and this is not what he has an interest in now — but finding a niche in the game in another capacity down the line (is a possibility) because he’s such a great high-character guy, work ethic, everybody gets along (with him). So, we’re rooting for him to make it on the field, but yeah, the odds are against it from what he’s coming back from. But so far, he’s still plugging in.”
Bailey himself has been far more optimistic, saying he feels a lot like he did back in those all-star years with the Athletics. But it’s been a long time since he pitched in a game, and he’s coming back from a dreaded shoulder injury. Bailey’s certainly not a prospect, but he’s in a similar situation. The upside is significant. But so is the challenge of reaching that point.
“Let’s see him in games where we can truly evaluate him,” Cashman said. “Right now, he still is obviously on a throwing program in a bullpen setting. Is he good enough to get into a competition situation and truly be evaluated right now? (When he is), then it becomes a performance-oriented situation. We haven’t gotten him there yet.”
Associated Press photo
The Yankees might not have an experienced closer on their roster, but they do have one in camp.
Andrew Bailey is back with the Yankees on a minor league contract. He threw a bullpen this afternoon, and said he no longer thinks of himself as a rehab pitcher just trying to get healthy. He sees himself as a legitimate reliever trying to make the big league roster.
“One hundred percent,” Bailey said. “I came in and spent the offseason training, working as I would if I played last year. The doctor gave me 18, 24 months (to be healthy after surgery), and we’re in that 18th, 19th month. Everyone around here, training staff, coaches and strength and conditioning have all kind of (treated it as if) I’m a normal guy with some needs. Hopefully we get rid of those needs. Everything feels great. I’m with the team and doing everything as I would normally, and if I need a little extra work here or there, that’s fine too. I’m here to compete and earn a spot.”
Bailey has thrown five bullpens since he reported to Tampa after the Super Bowl. In between bullpens, he takes a few more days off than other guys, but the Yankees believe that’s a temporary precaution. Bailey expects to start throwing live batting practice around the time the exhibition schedule begins, which he believes will give him enough time to pitch the innings necessarily to break camp.
“I thought today he looked pretty good, actually,” Joe Girardi said. “I talked to Gil Patterson about it. Compared to where he was last year to where he is (now), there’s significant improvement. I don’t know exactly what we’ll see as far as games, and his bullpens are a little more spread out than maybe some of the other relievers, but that’s on purpose right now, and our hope is that we can catch him up and keep him healthy.”
Bailey’s still just 30 years old. He made two all-star teams as a closer in Oakland, and he could be an option for that wide-open spot in the Yankees bullpen (maybe not as closer, and maybe not by Opening Day, but certainly at some point he could play a significant role). Hard to know what exactly to expect from a guy who hasn’t pitched anything beyond a simulated game in more than a year, but Bailey was awfully good in the past, and he said he feels that way again.
“To feel as good as I do and locate as well as I have been, it’s a pretty awesome feeling,” Bailey said. “I feel fresh and ready to go, and excited for the next step.”
• Bailey is one of the few players who aren’t expected to be ready to play in games the first week of camp. Bailey is just slightly behind the others, but Girardi said he expects Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia to each be ready for games when the spring schedule starts.
• Over at the minor league complex, Rodriguez was asked about the leadership void in the Yankees clubhouse. “First, no one can replace The Captain,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I know I’m going to miss him tremendously. I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of things. If guys want to ask questions, I love talking baseball, and you guys know that better than anyone. I love the game, and I love to talk it. Whoever needs my help, I’m available.” Clearly Rodriguez isn’t going to be a leader in the way Derek Jeter is a leader, but he really does talk hitting with other players a lot.
• Speaking of which, Didi Gregorius said he got some hitting tips from Rodriguez at the minor league complex this afternoon. Said it was good to meet him. “He’s a good teammate,” Gregorius said. “He introduced himself to everybody when he walked in (at the complex). New player, you don’t know everybody yet, so everybody comes to introduce (themselves) or you go to them.”
• Several other position players began to move stuff into their lockers this afternoon, including outfield prospects Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin, who have three lockers in a row right next to one another on a back wall. Jose Pirela also arrived today. Rodriguez, Gregorius, Chase Headley, Chris Young and Garrett Jones all worked out at the minor league complex.
• Heathcott had yet another knee surgery last season and spent six months recovering at the Andrews Institute. He said he feels a significant difference between now and last spring. “Excellent,” he said. “I’m ready to play in a game right now.” I’ve been talking to Heathcott for many springs at this point, this is the most confident I’ve heard him in years. Finally sounds like he truly believes he’s healthy.
• So far, no significant injuries to report in Yankees camp, though minor league catcher Juan Graterol is still coming back from a broken arm and hasn’t been taking batting practice with the other guys. He’s been catching bullpens, though.
• Speaking of bullpens, there were a lot of them today. I caught most of Michael Pineda’s, and he looked sharp. “I thought his bullpen was excellent,” Girardi said. “I think he ended up throwing 35 pitches. I thought everything was working for him. Arm strength was really good, so that was good.” Remembering that spring of 2012, the arm strength seems to be a key issue.
• Another bullpen that seemed to catch the manager’s eye: “You know, I thought (CC Sabathia’s) bullpen was good today,” Girardi said. “I was pleased, I mean really pleased, with what I saw. Physically, I know the recovery is important, and going out there inning after innings, sitting down and getting back up (will be a different challenge), but I saw a lot of good signs today.”
• Girardi has not yet talked to Rodriguez face-to-face about playing first base, but he said he expects that conversation at some point. “I anticipate that, yeah,” Girardi said. “I’ll talk to him about taking some grounders over there just to be prepared, if I need to give a guy a day off or whoever we chose to do it, but yeah, I’m going to talk to him about it and see how comfortable it is.”
• With Rodriguez set to work at first base, and Headley having some experience there, Girardi left open the decision about who will backup Mark Teixeira. There seems to be one obvious standout candidate, though, and Girardi mentioned him by name. “I think it’s too early to decide who our backup first baseman is,” Giradri said. “Garrett Jones has played over there. That’s something that we’ll work on in spring training.”
• Interesting tidbit from Brendan Kuty: Former Gold Glove third baseman Scott Rolen has been working with third-base prospect Eric Jagielo at the minor league complex. That was at the suggestion of Gary Denbo.
• Final word goes to Girardi, about the way he’ll handle Rodriguez now that position players are set to report in the morning. “The idea for me as a manager is to get the most out of a player,” Girardi said. “I have to do whatever it takes; that’s my job. Will I be any different? I don’t know if the situations will be the same, in a sense. In 2013, he hadn’t served his suspension, a lot of things were still in question and it was different. Now it’s different. He’s served his suspension, a lot of questions have been answered, and now my job is to get to the most out of him again. I’ll do what it takes.”
Associated Press photos
Above is video of new Yankees starter Nathan Eovaldi throwing live batting practice this morning. There was no radar on the field, but velocity really isn’t much of an issue with Eovaldi. The Yankees are well aware that he can throw hard. They’re also well aware that his strikeout numbers aren’t what you’d expect from a guy with such a big fastball.
“I want to be a swing-and-miss guy,” Eovaldi said. “But contact (isn’t bad). If you locate the pitch, you should get quick outs. That’s really the main goal; limit the pitches and try to get guys out as fast as possible.”
The Yankees have said they want Eovaldi to get more comfortable with his secondary pitches. They want him to feel confident mixing pitches in various counts. In short, they want him to be more than a guy who throws hard. To that end, Eovaldi began working on a split-finger last year, and he’s planning to carry that into this season.
“The curveball was just kind of (used for) a first-pitch strike,” Eovaldi said. “I needed another strikeout pitch other than the slider and the fastball. We just started messing around with it, and it just happened to feel real good. … I took it in the bullpen and it’s just a comfort pitch. It felt good for me, so I felt comfortable throwing it out there. This year I’m going to mix it in there a lot more.”
• Kind of an under-the-radar candidate for the Yankees bullpen, former Athletics’ closer Andrew Bailey said he feels “night and day difference” since last spring training, which was his first after shoulder surgery. Bailey’s thrown four bullpens — last threw one on Friday, has another on Tuesday — and said he feels like he did during those all-star years in Oakland. He’s already throwing all of his pitches. Sounds incredibly optimistic and confident.
• While Bailey is throwing bullpens, he’s still on a slightly different program than the other guys in camp. Instead of throwing another bullpen today or tomorrow, he’ll simply long toss and throw off flat ground before his next bullpen on Tuesday. He’s basically getting a little extra rest between pens at this point, but Bailey said he feels healthy and feels on track. “It’s all geared toward Opening Day,” he said.
• As expected, Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to throw another bullpen today. He threw one on Thursday at the minor league complex.
• Once again, Brian McCann is assigned to catch one of the Yankees new relievers. He’s matched with Justin Wilson for today’s bullpen. John Ryan Murphy will handle new lefty Chasen Shreve.
• Branden Pinder was initially assigned to the Arizona Fall League this offseason, but he said that after coming back from a mid-season groin injury, he felt some elbow soreness — nothing serious — and the Yankees decided to not to put the extra innings on his arm. Feels good now.
• Carlos Beltran is not listed for batting practice today.
• Adam Warren and Danny Burawa also threw live batting practice this morning. Eovaldi pitched to Gary Sanchez; Warren to Kyle Higashioka; Burawa to Trent Garrison. Eddy Rodriguez and Francisco Arcia hit against all three pitchers. Sanchez hit against Warren and Burawa.
John Ryan Murphy
Kyle Davies (to Francisco Arcia)
Chris Martin (to Juan Graterol)
Masahiro Tanaka (to Austin Romine)
Esmil Rogers (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Chasen Shreve (to John Ryan Murphy)
Justin Wilson (to Brian McCann)
Jose De Paula (to Gary Sanchez)
Wilking Rodriguez (to Trent Garrison)
Associated Press photos
The Yankees’ first spring workout is four days away. We’ll continue counting down the team’s key spring training decisions by looking at the end of games. While the Yankees have considerable depth in their bullpen, they’ve left themselves without an experienced closer. There are standout relievers, but the Yankees still have to answer this question:
Who replaces Dave Robertson in the ninth inning?
Although there’s something to be said for a closer-by-committee situation, or perhaps a mix-and-match closer depending on matchups, manager Joe Girardi has indicated that he’d like to have defined roles when the season starts.
“I think it’s important they have an idea how they’re going to be used,” Girardi said during the Winter Meetings. “But sometimes it takes time to develop that.”
That second sentence is worth remembering. Bullpen usage could evolve during the season. The Yankees saw that last year with the emergence of Dellin Betances, who went from basically the last guy in the pen, to a trusted strikeout pitcher in key spots, to one of the best setup relievers in baseball. Now he stands out as an obvious option to takeover as closer in just his second big league season.
While the role could evolve, the Yankees will want to make some sort ninth-inning of decision out of camp. Someone is going to get the first crack at the closer role.
“I would not assume that anybody could do that (job),” Brian Cashman said at the end of last season. “It’s just not that type of role that you could guarantee someone can easily transition to.”
Someone’s going to get a chance to do it. The question is who, and in what capacity. Here are five directions the Yankees could go.
1. Just give Betances the job
It’s the most obvious solution, and it might be the most likely. Betances was one of the very best relievers in baseball last season, so good that he generated comparisons to Mariano Rivera’s 1996 season (which was Rivera’s final step toward becoming a closer). Betances generates a ton of strikeouts, he’s able to pitch back-to-back days, he’s been thrown into tough late-inning situations, and he can get more than three outs when necessary. Why over-think it? Just give Betances the job.
2. Go with the guy who’s getting closer money
When the Yankees decided to let Robertson walk away, they did so knowing they could sign a free agent with similarly dominant numbers. Andrew Miller has never been a closer, but he has a longer big league track record than Betances. He’s also older and last year pitched well for the Orioles in the thick of a pennant race. Betances is relatively inexperienced, and why mess with such a good thing? Leave Betances in his multi-inning setup role and let Miller take the place of the guy he essentially replaced on the roster.
3. Build the bridge first
Clearly baseball is beginning to put increased value on middle-inning setup men. That’s why a guy like Miller got so much money, and why a guy like Wade Davis has gotten so much attention. There’s incredible value is being able to bridge that cap between a starting pitcher and a closer. The Yankees could let Miller and Betances focus on those in-the-middle outs, while trusting that someone like David Carpenter or Adam Warren — or former closer Andrew Bailey, if he’s healthy — can take care of the final inning. Why save the best relievers for an inning that might not matter as much?
4. Don’t pick one
Of course someone is going to pitch the ninth inning of a close game, but why should it be the same person each time? The Yankees could push away from the tradition of the past few decades and simply use their relievers based on in-the-moment need instead of assigned roles. If the 3-4-5 hitters are due up in the eighth, and the 6-7-8 hitters in the ninth, why save the better reliever for the bottom of the order? Just use relievers as they fit in the moment, making pitching changes based on matchups and situations — runners on base, score of the game, place in the order — rather than preassigned roles. Betances might close one night, Miller might close the next night, and Warren might be the guy the next night.
5. Bring in an expert
The only experienced closer coming to Yankees camp is Bailey, who didn’t pitch at all last season and hasn’t been a full-time closer since 2011. Hard to know what to expect from him. Even a good spring might not give real confidence in his ability to slide back into the ninth inning. The free agent market, though, still has a pair of experienced closers available. Both Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano are still out there, available to the highest bidder, and the Yankees could make a push for one of them. Even if they only hold the closer job out of spring training before someone replaces them, Rodriguez or Soriano would surely add depth and options for the late innings.
Associated Press photos