Masahiro Tanaka’s first big league complete game shutout came on May 14 of last season. It was at Citi Field, and Chris Young was one of Tanaka’s eight strikeouts that day.
“You never know what you’re going to get when you’re at the plate,” Young explained tonight. “There’s really no way to have a legit approach against him. You can get anything in any count, and that makes him really tough.”
Manager Joe Girardi’s most common critique through Tanaka’s first two starts this season was that Tanaka had yet to pitch a game with all of his weapons. Couldn’t locate his fastball quite right. Didn’t quite have his breaking balls working. It’s the total package that makes Tanaka so effective, and he had not shown his full arsenal until tonight.
Seven innings. Two hits. No walks. Eight strikeouts. All on just 85 pitches, a start that surely would have gone longer had the Yankees not spent so much time scoring runs in the seventh that Tanaka had to throw to stay loose on the bench.
“I thought he had all his pitches tonight, which was the big difference,” Girardi said. “He located his fastball. He elevated it as well. He used his curveball, his slider and his split really effectively, and that’s the difference. When you have all your weapons you usually are going to go deeper into the game.”
Tanaka cruised tonight. At one point he struck out seven of 10 batters. He retired 15 in a row. He clearly had enough to go at least eight innings tonight, maybe even the full nine if the Yankees wanted to push his pitch count above 100. His fastball, according to the stadium gun, regularly hit 92 mph and topped out at 94. He got swings and misses with his split, but seemed just as capable of finishing off at-bats with his slider.
“He was better,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “The command of the fastball was better. I thought he had a better downhill plane on it, and threw some fastballs down and away to the spot to right handers very well. That means that he’s getting through pitches pretty well. I think it’s a real good step in the right direction.”
Brian McCann singled out Tanaka’s slider for having better tilt. Tanaka himself said he was most pleased with his fastball, and said the difference came down to better mechanics.
“He did whatever he wanted tonight with the baseball,” McCann said. “He (had) sink and cut. He put his curveball in there for a strike whenever he wanted to. … I feel like this is what he’s been doing since he got over here. I mean, I really do. There’s no questions in here about it. The guys that are in this clubhouse, that watch him prepare on a daily basis, that see him go about his business, (all believe) he’s ready to go.”
That’s what the Yankees have been saying since the end of spring training. But saying it is one thing. Seeing it is another.
Tonight they saw it.
“I think it’s really important for him to see when I have my stuff, I’m going to pitch extremely well,” Girardi said. “And that’s what he did tonight. … In life, you need to have some success or you get frustrated with yourself. I hadn’t noticed any (lack of confidence). His confidence has been fine. He’s been the same person to me, but we all want to have success.”
• Rothschild said the Yankees still haven’t decided whether Tanaka will take his next turn on five days or six days rest. Girardi said the Yankees definitely plan to have Tanaka pitch on five days rest at some point, they just aren’t sure whether it will happen this turn. “We’ll see how he comes in tomorrow,” Rothschild said. “And then we have to decide to go the fifth day or the sixth day.”
• Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira were each pulled from the game in the late innings, but both were strictly because the game was so lopsided and it was worth getting them off their feet a little earlier. No new injuries, Girardi said.
• Huge game for McCann who became the first Yankees player to have a triple this season. He’s currently the team leader in that category. I know because McCann asked a bunch of writers to look it up and make sure no other Yankee had a triple so far. Kept bragging — as a joke — about his blinding speed. McCann has four triples in his career. “When you’ve got speed, you don’t have stop signs,” he said.
• McCann is now 8-for-13 with two home runs, a double, a triple and six RBI in his career against Rays starter Jake Odorizzi. The rest of the Yankees had two singles against Odorizzi tonight. McCann went 3-for-3 against him. “With some people, the numbers stack up,” McCann said. “Sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight I was able to get some pitches up in the zone and not miss it.”
• As a result of his big night, McCann’s batting average jumped from .179 to .250. “I’ve been feeling good at the plate since Opening Day,” he said. “It’s early in the season. A couple of hits fall here and there and it’s a different story. I’ve been feeling good at the plate.”
• Aside from McCann’s triple, the other big hit of the night was Chris Young’s grand slam off Grant Balfour. A grand slam is great,” Young said. “But it’s not what’s in your mind when you’re at the plate, especially the way my at-bat started tonight. I had a couple of bad swings on sliders in the dirt, so I was just trying to grind, battle, try to work a walk, a base hit. He happened to leave one up on me.”
• Young’s was the Yankees’ second grand slam of the season following Stephen Drew’s, which came earlier in the week in Baltimore. It was Young’s third career grand slam. Young, Drew and Mark Teixeira are now tied for the second-most home runs on the team with three apiece.
• After the game, the Rays designated Balfour for assignment. Rough night.
• Brett Gardner made his first start since being hit by a pitch on Monday. He reached base three times and stole a base twice. He has three stolen bases this season, all in the past two days. This was Gardner’s first multi-steal game since May 30 of last year.
• Branden Pinder struck out the first batter he faced in the ninth for his first career strikeout. Pinder said yesterday that he had a lot of family flying to Tampa for this series, so I assume that explains the people going nuts in the stands after that strikeout. It was a rough inning from there — he walked two and had the bases loaded before finally ending it — but Pinder got through it without the Yankees having to bring in Chris Martin, who was getting loose.
• By the way, Pinder was called for a balk in the ninth inning. I didn’t see anything, and Girardi said he had no idea what happened to cause the balk call. “We’re still trying to figure it out,” Girardi said.
• Final word goes to Young: “The biggest thing for all of us today collectively, we were able to make the adjustment off chasing too many pitches and kind of take our walks and put ourselves in a position to have a big inning. I think the biggest thing for us was the walks. Granted, Mac had the big hit, I had a hit as well in a big situation, but the walks kind of put you in that situation. Sooner or later, it’ll catch up to you.”
Associated Press photos
Even the best bullpens have games like this one. One inning spirals out of control, and a night is ruined a group of guys whose only job is to keep a narrow lead intact.
Tonight, the problems started with David Carpenter, who went with a first-pitch fastball down and away for strike one, but when he tried to follow it with a slider in roughly the same spot, Jonathan Schoop hit a game-tying home run.
“Hindsight’s always 20-20,” Carpenter said. “Maybe I should have busted him in.”
It got worse with Justin Wilson, who let the go-ahead run score on a single by lefty-killer Delmon Young before allowing the big blow on a two-run double by left-handed hitter Chris Davis. It was a two-strike cutter that Davis jumped on.
“Not the tightest breaking cutter I’ve ever thrown,” Wilson said. “Tad bit up, and that guy’s a good hitter. You’re going to get beat sometimes. Get back to 2-2 and hope to put the guy away right there, but just didn’t make the exact pitch I wanted. Made a decent pitch, and he did a good job of hitting.”
It happens. We all know that. Problem is, for the Yankees, a blown lead by their supposed-to-be-a-strength bullpen meant another series lost to a division rival. And perhaps the bigger issue was going to the bullpen in the sixth inning to begin with. Nathan Eovaldi had pitched well, racked up plenty of strikeouts, and gotten out of trouble in both the fourth and fifth innings.
But he was at 101 innings after five, so the Yankees needed to bring in some fresh arms.
Given the abundance of health issues looming over their top three starters, the Yankees would like to think of Eovaldi as a guy who can give them some distance, but so far he’s gone five innings and 5.1 innings in his two starts.
“In the first inning and the fourth inning I threw a lot of pitches,” Eovaldi said. “I have to do a better job of getting deep into games. It’s early in the season, but still. When I get the quick outs, I need to bounce back from that and keep attacking the zone. I know a lot of times when I did get quick outs, I fell behind 2-0, then it’s 2-1 and they’re battling back and fouling off more pitches.”
Nine strikeouts was encouraging for Eovaldi — he had that many only once in 33 starts for the Marlins last season — but strikeouts sometimes cost pitches, and Eovaldi simply wasn’t able to work deep tonight. The Yankees needed four good innings from their bullpen. Instead, one bad inning made all the difference.
“We just couldn’t seem to get through that sixth inning, and it’s unfortunate,” Joe Girardi said. “I thought Nate battled pretty much all night. Threw a lot of pitches in the five innings. That’s why I took him out. But we struggled in the sixth.”
• Alex Rodriguez’s second home run of the season was a monster blast to left field. Easily the hardest ball he’s hit since 2013. “That one felt amazing off the bat,” Rodriguez said. He now leads the team in RBI and he’s third behind Chris Young and Mark Teixeira in slugging percentage.
• Beyond Rodriguez, it really wasn’t an awful day for the Yankees offense. They had five runs on eight hits including four doubles and the Rodriguez homer. Of course, they also went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position and struck out 12 times with home plate umpire Sean Barber’s generous strike zone.
• Carlos Beltran drove in two runs with his go-ahead double in the third inning. Of his six hits this season, four have gone for two bases. He and Stephen Drew are each hitting below .200 but are still tied for second on the team in RBI. “He just missed a three-run homer too,” Girardi said. “I thought Carlos swung the bat better tonight has well. I thought he centered a lot of balls.”
• Beltran on whether he thought he had a home run on that second-inning double: “I hit it good,” he said. “It was a pitch middle away. I hit it OK. I didn’t hit it on the sweet spot. I hit it a little bit off the end. I thought it had a chance but it just hit the top of the wall. Double. I’ll take a double.” That double was Beltran’s 999th American League hit.
• With his home run, Rodriguez scored his 1,923rd career run, tying Derek Jeter for ninth place on baseball’s all-time runs scored list. Stan Musial is eighth on the list with 1,949.
• Eovaldi’s career-high in strikeouts is 10 set May 5, 2014 against the Mets. He came one shy of that tonight. That 10-strikeout game was the only time he struck out more than eight in a game last season. “I think just the slider, it had a lot more depth to it as opposed to my last outing,” Eovaldi said. “I was getting behind it. It was more of a cutter. Then I worked my fastball up in the zone a lot better today, too. I didn’t get the swing and misses I wanted, but it was a lot more effective.”
• Big outs for Eovaldi to strand the bases loaded in the fourth inning and to leave two on with a strikeout in the fifth. But in each of those innings, he had earlier opportunities to end the inning and couldn’t do it. “It was a lot better outing than my last (start),” he said. “But there’s still things I’ve got to do. I’ve got to relax a little more with two outs. I tend to try to do too much and get us back to the dugout quick, and I end up staying out there longer.”
• Encouraging appearance by Betances who allowed one hit but also got two strikeouts in the eighth. He said he was happy with his ability to throw his breaking ball for strikes because “that helps everything.” Girardi said he thought Betances looked sharper. “I thought he had better break on his curveball,” Girardi said. “I thought it had a better shape tonight than it’s had, so that was encouraging too.”
• Weird big league debut for Branden Pinder. He threw a total of four pitches in a scoreless seventh. He allowed a triple, but got out of the inning with a popped up bunt, which Pinder caught and tossed to third for a double play. He literally flipped the ball to Chase Headley as he walked off the field. Headley handed the ball back, and Pinder kept it.
• Jacoby Ellsbury’s hitting streak extended to seven games. He’s hitting .323 during the streak, and tonight’s double was his first extra-base hit of the year. Mark Teixeira also extended his hitting streak to seven games. He’s hitting .269 with a .731 slugging percentage during the streak.
• Girardi said he was well aware the Orioles would go to Delmon Young if he brought Wilson into the game in the sixth inning, but he chose to intentionally walk Adam Jones anyway. “Jones is swinging as well as anyone in the game is the bottom line,” Girardi said. “I felt good about bringing Willy in. He’s thrown the ball good for us, but tonight it didn’t work.”
• Final word goes to Beltran: “We need to get going. There’s no doubt about that. We’ve been close to winning some games and unfortunately the other team has been able to play better than us. It’s been only nine games so we just need to find a way to turn the page and concentrate in Tampa.”
Associated Press photos
Brett Gardner is out of the lineup for the second day in a row, but his right wrist was unwrapped when he sat at his locker this afternoon.
“Much better today,” he said. “Definitely happy that it feels the way it does.”
Hit by a pitch on Monday, Gardner went for X-rays that came back negative and said he’s expecting to be back in the lineup on Friday (the Yankees are off tomorrow). The Yankees are prepared to send him for an MRI when they get to Tampa tomorrow, but for now, it seems that might not be necessary.
“If it didn’t progress in the two days like we thought it should, we would MRI it,” manager Joe Girardi said. “But I’m hoping we won’t have to. He’s feeling a lot better today than he did yesterday, so it would be more precautionary than anything. We kind of wanted to give us that option if he didn’t feel any better.”
Just like last night, Gardner is available to pinch run and play defense. He said he might take some swings inside and didn’t sound like he’d be completely unable to hit, just prefers to rest if he can.
Despite facing a right-handed starter today, the Yankees are playing righty Chris Young and not lefty Garrett Jones in Gardner’s place. Young’s off to a strong start in a parttime role, hitting .333/.400/.778 for the highest OPS on the team.
• Ivan Nova came through yesterday’s live batting practice with no problems and continues to make good progress as he nears one year since Tommy John surgery. Girardi said he’s pretty sure Chris Capuano is throwing live batting practice tomorrow and could be about a month away from becoming a big league option again. Girardi said Capuano should be ready slightly ahead of Nova.
• Signed to a minor league contract this winter, reliever Wilking Rodriguez has been suspended 80 games after testing positive for Furosemide. Rodriguez was in big league camp with the Yankees this spring, and he pitched two games for the Royals last season. Seemed like a solid bit of additional — but probably unnecessary — bullpen depth. “He threw the ball pretty well for us in spring training, and it’s not what you want to see,” Girardi said. “It’s still what we’re still dealing with.”
• Speaking of bullpen depth, now that the major league season is 10-days old, the Yankees are allowed to call up someone from their 40-man roster. Branden Pinder is here to provide a fairly typical bullpen arm, and Joel De La Rosa has been optioned back to Double-A since the Yankees have Esmil Rogers rested and don’t need another long man at the moment. “Our bullpen is pretty much at full strength now,” Girardi said.
• Pinder had five strikeouts, no walks and three hits allowed in three innings for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He last pitched on Monday, when he went two innings.
• Kyle Davies has cleared waivers and been outrighted back to Triple-A. He should basically fall back into the role he played at the beginning of the season, pitching out of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen and providing just-in-case depth if the Yankees need someone who can provide a bunch of innings. Pitched well in his one big league outing this year.
• Girardi said there has been some early talk about Brendan Ryan possibly going to Tampa with the team this weekend so that he can start doing some work at the minor league complex. Not sure it’s going to happen, though.
• In four starts against the Yankees last season, tonight’s Baltimore starter Bud Norris went 4-0 with a 2.74 ERA. He was knocked around in his first start this season — gave up eight runs against Toronto — but the Yankees are well aware that Norris can be tough. Some of the Yankees with N.L. experience (Headley, Drew, Jones, Beltran) have good career numbers against Norris. “I think he’s got outstanding stuff,” Girardi said. “I think he pitches inside effectively. He’s had one start against a real good-hitting team. I’m not making too much of it. But he knows how to pitch. He knows how to compete.”
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
With the Yankees first workout now seven days away, we’ll continue counting down some of the key spring training decisions by looking at the most wide open spot on the roster. The Yankees have a two-way competition for the backup catcher, they could be convinced to change their plans at second base, but there’s only one roster spot that has a slew of candidates and no obvious favorites heading into camp.
Who’s going to fill the final spot in the bullpen?
Granted, that one open spot could be two or three open spots by the time Opening Day rolls around. But that’s always the case. What’s unusual about this particular bullpen spot is there’s really no telling which direction the Yankees might go.
To be clear, these are the 11 spots on the pitching staff that have clear favorites:
Rotation: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Capuano
Bullpen: Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, Esmil Rogers
Of course “favorites” aren’t guarantees, but based on what we know today, those 11 feel like safe bets. The 12th spot, on the other hand, is thoroughly up in the air. The Yankees could go several directions with that final spot in the bullpen, and nearly every direction comes with its own set of options.
A hard-throwing right-hander
Based on pure numbers, this might be the most likely decision. Protecting Danny Burawa and Branden Pinder from the Rule 5 draft added two hard-throwing, right-handed prospects to the 40-man roster. Acquiring Chris Martin from the Rockies added yet another. As long as Jose Ramirez is fully healthy, he’ll be another possibility (having made his big league debut last season). Nick Rumbelow isn’t on the 40-man, but he was invited to big league camp and finished last season in Triple-A. Minor league free agent Wilking Rodriguez seems like a long shot, but he did pitch in the big leagues with the Royals last season. It’s worth remembering that one of these guys could fill, essentially, the role Betances had at the beginning of last season. Joe Girardi often talks about taking the 12 best pitchers, and it’s worth wondering if one of these guys could really take advantage of the opportunity.
A third left-hander
With Miller and Wilson, the Yankees seem to have two left-handed relievers with big league spots waiting for them. Miller is certainly going to make the team, and Wilson seems like a near lock, if not an absolute lock. But is there room for a third lefty? Neither Miller nor Wilson is purely a left-on-left specialist, the Yankees could ease a young pitcher into the big leagues by starting him in a situational role. Maybe that’s the way top draft pick Jacob Lindgren gets his feet wet. Or it could be the way the Yankees get their first up-close look at Chasen Shreve, who broke into the big leagues with Atlanta last season. Tyler Webb didn’t have standout splits last season, but he did put up good numbers in Triple-A. James Pazos would seem like the long shot of this group, but he was dominant against Double-A lefties last year.
A former big league closer
Only one guy in all of Yankees camp fits this description, and it’s not any of the guys listed as favorites for the big league bullpen. After missing all of last year while recovering from shoulder surgery, former Oakland closer Andrew Bailey signed a new minor league deal with the Yankees this offseason. He’s said to be healthy and expected to be pitching off a mound this spring. It’s hard to know what to expect from Bailey, but that’s part of what makes him so intriguing. He was the Rookie of the Year in 2009, an all-star in 2010, and as recently as 2013 he had huge strikeout numbers with the Red Sox. Hard to know what he can do at this point, but there could be high-end potential if he’s close to his pre-surgery form.
A pure long man
With plans to have Warren and Rogers work as starters in spring training — just in case they’re needed in the rotation — the Yankees projected bullpen already has two guys who could serve as long relievers. They also have both Betances and Miller who aren’t necessarily restricted to one inning at a time. But there could still be room for a long reliever/sixth starter. Perhaps Chase Whitley, who worked as a reliever most of his career before getting to the big leagues as a starter last season. Or maybe Bryan Mitchell, who’s become one of the Yankees top upper-level rotation prospects, but could find an immediate role in the bullpen. Long relief could also open a big league door for new lefty Jose De Paula. If the Yankees prefer a veteran, both Scott Baker and Kyle Davies are coming to camp, each with multiple years of big league rotation experience.
Associated Press photo of Whitley
On the 40-man: Branden Pinder • 01.25.15
Next up in our look at the Yankees’ players on the 40-man roster is a guy who’s somewhat similar to yesterday’s 40-man spotlight, Chris Martin. This is another tall right-handed reliever who could compete for a big league job in spring training. The big difference is that this Yankee was drafted by the organization, developed in the minor league system, and has risen slowly to the brink of his first major league opportunity.
Age on Opening Day: 26
Acquired: 16th-round pick in the 2011 draft
Added to the 40-man: Protected from the Rule 5 this winter
In the past: One of many college pitchers the Yankees have drafted in recent years, Pinder was drafted five rounds after Mark Montgomery, and has since passed Montgomery on the organizational depth chart. As an older prospect, Pinder opened in High-A for his first full season of pro ball and he got to Triple-A last season. Pinder is coming off another pretty solid year, but he was limited to 39.1 innings because of injury.
Role in 2015: With Triple-A experience and a spot on the 40-man, there’s clearly a chance Pinder could make his major-league debut this season. But he’s one of many who fit that description. It seems fair to lump Pinder in with Martin, Danny Burawa and Jose Ramirez. Could even group him with a 40-man starter like Chase Whitley, a lefty like Chasen Shreve, or non-40-man guys like Jacob Lindgren and Nick Rumbelow. Any of those guys could win a spot in New York at some point, depends on need and performance. Most like, Pinder is heading back to Triple-A to open the year.
Best case scenario: Pinder’s a really big guy and he’s had basically a strikeout per inning in the minor leagues. He’s not an elite prospect, but he’s not a non-prospect either. Every organization seems to have a few guys like this, and while the Yankees would probably be happy with Pinder simply solidifying himself as a guy who can plug a bullpen hole from time to time, the best-case scenario is that he emerges as a guy who keeps getting more and more opportunities in bigger and bigger situations. Future closer? Maybe not. Future setup man? That’s probably the absolute best-case scenario.
Worst case scenario: For several years, Pinder was in the shadow of his fellow 2011 draftee Montgomery, who established himself in the lower levels as the Yankees top bullpen prospect. Montgomery, though, lost some velocity and saw his numbers decline in the upper levels. Pinder has just 13 games of Triple-A experience, so the worst-case scenario probably involves him disappearing against that upper-level competition and joining the long line of relief prospects who never quite break through.
What the future holds: First year on the 40-man means Pinder still has three options remaining. He could shuttle back and forth between New York and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre every year from now through 2017, and even after 2017, the Yankees would still have him under team control. He’ll be an easy guy for the Yankees to keep around if he’s effective and worth the roster spot.
Associated Press photo
Assuming the rain goes away, tonight will be Derek Jeter’s eighth start at designated hitter this season. He’s still a long way from his single-season career high — 25 DH games in in 2012 — but it seems significant that four of those turns at designated hitter have come in his past nine games.
Now that Carlos Beltran is available to play some right field, it’s clear that Joe Girardi is taking advantage of the opportunity to get Jeter a half day off now and then. Perhaps it’s strictly a rest issue. Perhaps it has a lot to do with Stephen Drew’s glove.
“I’m in the mode that I’m just taking it day by day,” Girardi said. “But with Carlos being able to go into the outfield once in a while, it gives me more flexibility to do this. … We’ve had some long stretches. We have a lot of lefties coming up the next five days after today where he’s going to play (probably at shortstop), so try to give him a little blow when I can. And I thought today was probably a good day. Two plane flights in two days, and as I said, we have day games after night games, so we’re going to need him in there a lot.”
Obviously Jeter prefers playing the field, but he said he understands the DH days, and he seems to embrace them — even when he’s had so many these past couple of weeks.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve done it,” Jeter said. “What, three or four times this year? I think a couple of years ago, in 2012, I may have done it 20 or 30-something times. Because of injuries, Carlos had to DH, so I haven’t really thought about it. My job is to come here, and when I’m in the lineup, play. I like to play every day. I like to play shortstop every day. Everyone is aware of that. But I get it. I understand it. We’ve had a long stretch here. I think we only have a couple of more days off, and then we have another long stretch at the end of the year. So, I don’t know what his plans are. My job is to play.’
Late last season, we saw Girardi use Mariano Rivera a little more heavily, making sure to get every last bit out of the retiring closer. Would he do the same with the retiring shortstop, running him out there with very little rest down the stretch?
“I don’t think I can play him much more than I’ve played him,” Girardi said. “He’s played in all but about 10 games maybe, maybe a few more than that, but there was a time when he missed three because his leg was bothering him. But when you get in these long stretches, these 13-game stretches, I’ve usually given him on day off. And that might be all he gets in this.”
• Brett Gardner was hoping to run today, which he sees as the final test for his sore ankle. If he can run today, he thinks he should be available in some capacity tonight. Gardner didn’t run at all the past two days. “Hopefully that goes well and I’ll be available to play tonight,” he said.
• Here’s Girardi on his approach to the Gardner injury: “My concern was: he said he felt better but he needed to run,” Girardi said. “Gardy’s pretty tough, and Gardy’s played through a lot, which made me believe that it’s probably not 100 percent, which it might not be for a while. This extra day will probably do us some good. My concern is that he favors it, or that he gets out there and he can’t run, and then I’ve got to make a change. It can just really mess things up.”
• Not much concern about Mark Teixeira’s hamstring. “I think you’re always going to watch it a little bit,” Girardi said. “I think the day off probably helped, and we just tell him to play smart. I mean, he did play smart the couple of days that he had it, so he’s just going to have to continue to do that.”
• Masahiro Tanaka threw today, and as long as he still feels fine tomorrow, he’ll remain on track to throw a simulated game on Thursday.
• Initial Arizona Fall League rosters were announced this afternoon. The Yankees are sending RF Aaron Judge, 3B Eric Jagielo, OF/IF Tyler Austin and 1B Greg Bird. They’re also sending pitchers Caleb Cotham, Branden Pinder and Alex Smith. There remains a TBA spot on the roster listed as a Yankees catcher. Pretty interesting group of position players. I actually thought Ramon Flores might go, but I guess not. Jagielo seemed like a near lock in my mind after missing so much time. Bird and Austin make a lot of sense too.
• On the current Yankees momentum: “I think they feel pretty good about themselves,” Girardi said. “But the thing about baseball is you’ve got to go do it every day. It starts with your starting pitcher that night, and I don’t know how you could for any more (than) what Brandon McCarthy has done, but we need him to continue to pitch like this.”
• On the importance of three games against a team that’s also in the mix for the second wild card: “You’ve got to win the series. It’s extremely important. We know they’re a very good team, and we’re facing a good pitcher tonight who didn’t give up too many runs against us the last time. But Brandon pitched really well. You’ve got to win games.”
Associated Press photos
Looking ahead to September • 08.18.14
This post contains way too many words about possible September call-ups.
Why is this way too many? Because aside from the possibility of a left-handed reliever, there really don’t seem to be any impact September call-ups on the horizon. A few guys will come up to provide pitching and bench depth, but that’s about it. There isn’t a ton of playing time up for grabs, and there aren’t many obvious auditions that could take place. A left-handed reliever might get into some key situations, but that’s about it. If the Yankees fall completely out of contention, I suppose they could give a guy like Bryan Mitchell a start or maybe give Zoilo Almonte a chance to make a fresh impression with some right field starts. Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t expect a ton out of the September additions.
But, I like minor league baseball and I think September call-ups are interesting, so here are a few thoughts and possibilities broken into four pretty typical September call-up categories.
Pretty standard September addition. The Yankees have been playing with an eight-man pitching staff for quite a while now, but even so, they’re still likely to add a few guys just to give them depth down the stretch.
Best bet: RHP Bryan Mitchell
He’s been up and down a few times, and he’s been pitching well out of the Triple-A rotation. He’s pretty much custom-made for providing innings, and there’s a real benefit to giving him some more big league experience. Seems like a strong candidate to be a rotation candidate at some point next season, even if he opens the year in Triple-A.
Keep in mind: RHP David Phelps
Worth remembering that Phelps is currently on the disabled list but due to be reevaluated today. Phelps was pitching pretty well before that mess of a start in Boston, and he could certainly move right back into the rotation once he’s healthy again. That could essentially push Chris Capuano into a bullpen role as another long man.
Uncertainty: RHP Preston Claiborne and RHP Matt Daley
Both are on the 40-man roster, but both are also on the Triple-A disabled list. If they’re healthy, it would be easy to call up both Claiborne and Daley to be extra middle-inning or extra-inning arms. Claiborne seems pretty close to coming off the disabled list. Another injured Triple-A reliever, Jose Ramirez, won’t be healthy in time to come up next month.
Worth mentioning: RHP Brandon Pinder, RHP Diego Moreno, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Danny Burawa
Montgomery and Burawa have been demoted to Double-A, which probably isn’t a good sign for them getting a call-up to the big leagues. Worth mentioning, though, because all four have been pretty good at times this season, and all four should be Rule 5 eligible this winter. If any of these pitchers are going to be protected in the offseason, might make sense to go ahead and add them to the roster now. My guess would be that Pinder is at the top of this particular pecking order right now. Veteran RHP Jim Miller could also be part of this discussion if the Yankees want a short-term roster addition just to provide some innings.
Probably not: RHP Nick Rumbelow
He’s moved quickly through the system and has been alright since getting to Triple-A, but he’s not Rule 5 eligible yet and there’s probably no reason to have him filling a 40-man spot all winter just so he can get a mopup inning or two in September.
The Yankees might very well bring up a new lefty before September 1, but given the fact they’re not carrying a true left-on-left specialist, it seems like a solid bet that they’ll eventually give some young lefty a call-up. Might even try more than one.
Best bet: LHP Manny Banuelos
Can’t say for certain that Banuelos is the “best bet” to come up as a left-on-left reliever, but he’s the only option who’s currently on the 40-man roster. He’s also pitched pretty well lately, which is surely easing some of the concerns about his early season inconsistency. Whether a career starter — and a young one at that — would be a viable situational lefty, I have no idea. But having a spot on the 40-man makes him an easy call-up if the Yankees want to either get his feet wet or see what he can do in a fairly important role.
Keep in mind: LHP Jacob Lindgren
The Yankees first-round draft pick back in June was a college reliever who throws pretty hard from the left side, and the Yankees have already pushed him all the way to Double-A. Pitching in Trenton isn’t exactly knocking on the door, but Lindgren has a big arm and a bunch of strikeouts and it’s not unheard of for a team to push a college reliever all the way to the big leagues in his first pro season.
Uncertainty: LHP Chris Capuano
He won’t be a September call-up, but Capuano factors into this discussion because of David Phelps. If Phelps is ready to return to the rotation fairly quickly, he could takeover for Capuano, who could move into a left-on-left role out of the bullpen. A possibility if the Yankees aren’t sure any of the young guys can handle the job.
Worth mentioning: LHP Tyler Webb, LHP James Pazos, LHP Francisco Rondon, SHP Pat Venditte
My guess is that all of these except Webb should be considered real long shots. I mention Pazos because he has good numbers in Double-A and the Yankees seem to like his arm; Rondon because he was once on the 40-man and has had the Yankees attention at various points; and Venditte because he’s been a pretty solid reliever for years now and has generally been pretty good with that side-arm delivery against lefties. Webb, though, is the left-handed relief prospect who’s most on the radar. Doesn’t have to be protected from the Rule 5 draft yet, but the Yankees have been pretty aggressive with him and he’s probably their most advanced left-handed relief prospect.
Probably not: LHP Nik Turley
There are actually a ton of lefties on the Triple-A pitching staff right now, including Turley, Matt Tracy and Jeremy Bleich, all of whom would be capable of giving multiple innings and — in theory — matching up against a left-handed hitter. My thinking, though, is: If the Yankees are going to try a long-time starter in this role in September, why not just try Banuelos? That’s easier than putting some of the other non-traditional relievers onto the roster. Know who else is a probably not? Cesar Cabral. The guy was actually in the big leagues at one point this year, but he’s fallen completely off the radar. Double-A lefties are knocking him around.
Happens basically every September that teams give themselves an extra catcher for the final month of the season. The question with the Yankees isn’t whether they’ll call up a third catcher, it’s whether they’ll call up a fourth catcher.
Best bet: C John Ryan Murphy
Even thought it was Austin Romine who came up when Brian McCann went on the disabled list, I’m still going to bet that Murphy is the best bet for a September call-up. I’m basing that almost entirely on the fact that Murphy played well during his extended big league call-up earlier this season, and based on the fact that Mark Newman has said Murphy is likely to come off the Triple-A disabled list pretty soon.
Keep in mind: C Austin Romine
These days, Murphy generates much more prospect buzz than Romine. But, down in Triple-A, it’s actually Romine who has better offensive numbers this season. He’s also played a decent amount of first base and could, in theory, fill in for Mark Teixeira in some late innings. Romine hasn’t played much in August, but he hit .342/.385/.466 in July, and it’s not like the big league staff is unfamiliar with him.
Uncertainty: Why not both?
Does it make sense to go ahead and bring both Murphy and Romine to the big leagues in September? Maybe leave one of them behind to play that last Triple-A game, and then just carry four catchers in the final month? In blowouts, one could get behind the plate and the other could rest Teixeira by playing first base.
Worth mentioning: C Francisco Cervelli
There’s only one other catcher call-up candidate worth mentioning, and we’ll get to him in a second. For now, it’s worth mentioning that the Yankees are facing an offseason decision about whether to bring back Cervelli — who’s been awfully good — or to give the backup catcher job fulltime to either Murphy or Romine. If the Yankees are out of it in September, one of these September call-up catchers could step into some serious playing time just to see what they’ve got.
Probably not: C Gary Sanchez
He’s on the 40-man roster, and he’s one of the biggest names in the Yankees minor league system, but it’s hard to predict a Sanchez call-up this year. He’s been alright this season, but he’s also been benched for disciplinary reasons, and it’s hard to imagine much playing time being available for him. Just doesn’t seem that he’s on the verge of getting his feet wet, but I guess you never know. If he’s sorted out his disciplinary issues, maybe he’s rewarded. My guess is that he won’t be.
VERSATILITY ON THE BENCH
There’s no one currently in the system who seems on the verge of a September call-up to play a significant role in the everyday lineup. Position players who come up are most likely going to be complimentary pieces given very occasional playing time.
Best bet: OF Zoilo Almonte
Joe Girardi hasn’t seemed sold on Almonte ever since his so-so performance last season, but he’s still a powerful left-handed hitter — technically switch hitter, but he’s significantly better from the left side — and he’s on the 40-man roster with some big league time already this season. Not sure he’ll actually get at-bats, but he seems like an obvious choice to bring up at least serve as an option for some pop as a pinch hitter or occasional platoon starter.
Keep in mind: UT Zelous Wheeler
In a lot of ways, Wheeler is an ideal September call-up. He’s already on the 40-man, he’s held his own in the big leagues already this season, and he can play almost any position on the field, which means he provides terrific versatility down the stretch. As long as Wheeler stays on the 40-man roster, there’s little reason not to give him a call-up.
Uncertainty: UT Jose Pirela
The one reason not to call up Wheeler would be to call up a somewhat similar but younger player in Pirela. Wheeler is probably the better defensive player, but they’re both versatile right-handed hitters who are putting up good numbers in Triple-A. If the Yankees aren’t planning to keep Wheeler through the offseason — but are interested in keeping Pirela — they could basically swap the two, putting Pirela on the roster in Wheeler’s place and giving Pirela the September call-up. Pirela can play second base and left field, and he could play third base, first base, right field and presumably shortstop in a pinch.
Worth mentioning: OF Ramon Flores, 1B Kyle Roller, OF Adonis Garcia, OF Taylor Dugas
Of these four, only Flores is on the 40-man, and he’s a nice fit for September. He can run, he can play all three outfield spots, he has some first base experience, and he was playing pretty well in Triple-A before an injury. Indications are that Flores could be off the DL and active by the time September rolls around, but would the Yankees call up a guy who’s hardly played since the start of June. The other three listed are not on the 40-man, and I’m not sure they’d play roles significant enough to find a way to get them on the roster. Dugas in particular has been terrific this year, but he’s not yet Rule 5 eligible, so there’s probably little sense having him take up a 40-man spot all winter. I would suggest OF Antoan Richardson as an interesting possibility as well — speed off the bench, ability to play all three outfield spots — but he’s currently on the temporarily inactive list, and I’m not sure what that’s about or how long he’ll be there. Could temporarily add him without worrying about a DFA this winter.
Probably not: 2B Rob Refsnyder
Arguably the most buzzworthy September call-up possibility. Probably is, Refsnyder is just like a handful of guys on this list in that he’s playing in Triple-A already but won’t be Rule 5 eligible this winter. If he’s only going to come up to sit the bench and maybe get his feet wet, is that really worth taking up an otherwise valuable 40-man spot all winter? If he were coming up to play every day, that would be one thing. But bringing him up to backup Stephen Drew probably isn’t worthwhile.
Associated Press photos