Hard to remember the last time Yankee Stadium got as loud as it did tonight. But there was no walk-off, no monumental home run. There was no milestone, and that was kind of the point. Those weren’t cheers that filled this stadium. They were chants and boos directed at a 27-year-old pitcher who seemed far more willing to hit Alex Rodriguez than give up a hit to him.
“I was just trying to get him out,” Marlins reliever Sam Dyson said. “… If he was going to beat me, he was going to have to get the head out. I ended up throwing four balls kind of at his belt off the plate.”
Four straight pitches inside with Rodriguez one hit away from 3,000. The crowd was not happy about it. Never mind that the walk was part of a four-run inning that removed any doubt about who would win this game. The fans wanted to see history. They wanted to see A-Rod swing the bat. They were supporting Rodriguez as much as they were dismissing Dyson.
“I don’t even know how to describe it,” Rodriguez said. “It feels great. Every time moments like that happen, I can just reflect on a year ago today, (and) how great the fans have been to me. I think their support has actually helped me play a lot better.”
No one seemed to think Dyson was trying to hit Rodriguez (though at least a few of those pitches might have done it had Rodriguez not backed out of the box).
“He didn’t really have much of a chance in his last at-bat,” Joe Girardi said. “I think the crowd wanted to see it, I think that’s the bottom line, and I understand that. I’m sure the young man was trying to get him out, he just threw a bunch of sinkers that were too far inside, and Alex couldn’t even swing at them.”
So history will have to wait. Tomorrow the Yankees get Justin Verlander and the Tigers.
“I’ll think about it some,” Rodriguez said. “But I’m in a good place. Our team is playing well, we like playing at home, having the fans behind us was phenomenal today. My daughters are in town, Father’s Day is around the corner, I’m just really excited and having fun.”
• Not a bad start by Sabathia, but not a great one either. It just kind of felt like a lot of Sabathia’s starts these days. Three runs across six innings is a 4.50 ERA, and if Sabathia could pitch like this every time out, I think the Yankees might take that. It was a winable start, and at times Sabathia looked great with seven strikeouts and no walks. “It’s difficult not, I guess, being the guy I used to be who went deep into games,” Sabathia said. “Just kind of is what it is. I go out there hard as I can until I’m done.”
• When did Sabathia come to grips with being that type of pitcher? “That’s something I came to grips with a couple of months ago; a couple of years ago,” he said. “It just kind of is what it is. Go out there and use my pitches and try to pitch deep into the game. … It really doesn’t change the way I pitch. It’s just frustrating for me that I can only give them six innings at a time.”
• After putting the side down in order the first three innings, Sabathia allowed one run apiece in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. Just falling behind, he said. He got into bad counts, and the Marlins were able to chip away and take the lead for a while. “He did a good job,” Girardi said. “To limit them to three runs, a team that has really hit left-handers this season, I thought he did a really good job.”
• Chasen Shreve extended his scoreless streak to 11 innings over his past 10 games. He got his fourth win of the season. Each of his past 17 strikeouts have been swinging third strikes.
• Even though this had become a lopsided game, Girardi had Dellin Betances warming in the ninth. Girardi said he felt the Marlins were too close to being back in it to not have Betances at least getting ready just in case. “If I don’t bring him in and we lose the game, how’s that wear and tear? Girardi said. “Not too good. I’ll be crucified.”
• Carlos Beltran’s game winner was the 30th home run of his career to tie a game or give his team a lead in the seventh inning or later. It was his second such home run with the Yankees. After a few good games in a row, Beltran is hitting .286/.348/.405 in the month of June. That’s after a good month of May. “The past couple of months I’ve been putting good at bats,” Beltran said. “It’s a long season, man. I know that it sounds cliché for me to say that, but I just have to approach each at-bat and every game as an individual.”
• After tonight’s game-tying shot, Brett Gardner’s hit 46 career homers, and 22 of those have tied a game or given the Yankees a lead. The Yankees have gone 34-11 in games when Gardner’s gone deep. “He’s been coming up huge for us the whole time,” Sabathia said.
• Mason Williams had two doubles tonight. Of his five big league hits, four have gone for extra bases. “I think he’s done a good job of making adjustments,” Girardi said. “It’s not easy being a young player, really hasn’t spent a lot of time in Triple-A. Not really knowing any of the pitchers that he’s facing. He’s made some nice little adjustments.”
• The Yankees are 9-1 in their past 10 home games. This was technically their sixth series sweep of the year, one away from their total from last year. … This was the fifth time Sabathia made a start without walking anyone this year. … Brian McCann has 20 RBI in his past 22 games. He had three hits tonight and I didn’t even notice until I saw the box score postgame.
• Still really weird to watch Carter Capps pitch with that little hop off the rubber. He must deliver the ball an extra foot closer to home plate, plus he’s able to reach 100 mph (which he did tonight). “When I saw Capps warming up,” Rodriguez said. “I told a bunch of my teammates in the dugout, ‘three-thousand is going to have to wait for another day.’ The chances of me even putting the ball in play are very little. Once I saw him walk out of the game, I was pretty excited.”
• Final word goes to Rodriguez about chasing No. 3,000: “It’s a lot easier to deal with these at-bats because we’re in the middle of a game and we need to win badly. It’s all about wins for us. The game was 5-3 and we’re doing everything in our power to keep the big guy out of the game. The focus is always winning.”
Associated Press photos
On the day he was drafted, Yankees reliever Jacob Lindgren was home in Mississippi. His girlfriend got into town that morning, and so he showed her around. A family friend invited some people over, and so there was barbecuing and swimming.
“It was nice and hot out,” Lindgren said.
It was June 5 of last year, and Lindgren knew he might be a high-round pick. When his name was called, he was the top selection of a Yankees team that hadn’t had much success with top picks. He was a college reliever built to move quickly, joining an organization notorious for advancing even its top prospects slowly.
Less than a year later, Lindgren was in the big leagues, tangible evidence that this might be a new era for the Yankees on draft day.
“A lot of guys that got drafted behind you, they’re like, oh, why did this guy get drafted ahead of me? Stuff like that,” Lindgren said. “There’s always that. Obviously you’ve just got to play good and show them why they drafted you high.”
The Yankees, too, have something to prove.
After two decades of far more failure than success, the Yankees enter tonight’s first round of the draft with the 16th overall selection, their highest pick since 1993. They have three of the top 57 selections, and they have something of a hot streak going. Focused heavily on college players like Lindgren, Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo, the Yankees early picks the past two years have advanced quickly and shown significant promise.
Lindgren is already in the major league bullpen, Judge is considered the top hitting prospect in the system, and Jagielo has nine home runs in Double-A. Both Judge and Jagielo could be in Triple-A by the end of the summer, just two years after being drafted.
“I always heard (the Yankees) were slow moving their guys,” Lindgren said. “But I was going to do everything in my ability to make things happen.”
Lindgren pitched at four levels with 17.5 strikeouts per nine innings the year he was drafted. He pitched well in big league camp this spring, opened the season in Triple-A, and was called up on May 24, the first Yankees prospect since Deion Sanders in 1989 to reach the majors less than a year after being drafted.
It was a significant step for the Yankees, not only because they were willing to make the move, but because they had a top pick playing well enough to deserve the promotion.
With a few exceptions — Phil Hughes in 2004, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain in 2006 — the Yankees’ top picks have mostly fallen flat since the overwhelming success of Derek Jeter taken sixth overall in 1992.
The Yankees took a high schooler named C.J. Henry during the otherwise talent-rich first round of 2005. They took a shot on injured basketball player Andrew Brackman with their top pick of 2007. They took a signability risk with Gerrit Cole in 2008. They gambled on high school shortstop Cito Culver in 2010 and have watched him hit well below .200 this season. In the decade before that, they picked forgotten names like Shea Morenz, David Walling and David Parrish.
What draft success the Yankees have had in recent years has been largely confined to the middle rounds: Brett Gardner in the third round of 2005; Adam Warren in the fourth round of 2009; Dellin Betances in the eighth round of 2006, the same year they got former closer David Robertson as a 17th-round steal.
Draft classes, though, tend to be defined by their top picks, and so Lindgren stands out as a success story, both for the player and the organization.
He had been a 12th-round pick of the Cubs out of high school, but Lindgren said Chicago didn’t offer him the signing bonus he wanted until the day before classes started at Mississippi State. Lindgren was already moved in, living on campus and ready to start college. He decided to stay and take his chances that pro ball would be waiting for him.
“Early on, especially when you’re not getting the playing time you wanted, you’re like, man, what am I doing here?” Lindgren said. “But it worked out. It kind of taught me how you have to compete for any job you want. … There was a lot of hype and stuff (as a first-round pick), but I knew I had to come in and prove myself. I always tried to prove that I didn’t belong at each level and just tried to move up as fast as possible.”
It’s hard to move much faster than Lindgren has. He made his big league debut in the same year as the Yankees 2009 first-round pick, Slade Heathcott, whose development had been slowed by a series of injuries (he’s back on the disabled list now). The Yankees, though, seem to believe the arrival of Lindgren and Heathcott – plus the development of Judge, Jagielo, and former fifth rounders Rob Refsnyder and Greg Bird – are a sign that the team’s draft futility is turning around. They’ve especially struggled to find impact hitters, and suddenly the upper levels are crawling with both high-probability and high-ceiling bats.
“We do have an evolving system with some high-end position players,” general manager Brian Cashman said.
Tonight, the Yankees look to add to that stable of talent, trying to build off the recent success of their past two drafts, and trying to find someone capable of following Lindgren’s path to the big leagues.
“They probably just draft whoever’s the best available,” Lindgren said. “They’re just trying to bring good talent into the organization.”
Associated Press photos
Postgame notes: “He’s never lost that fire” • 06.07.15
Just when it seemed CC Sabathia might succumb to yet another not-what-he-used-to-be disappointment, the fiery old ace reemerged. He got some strikeouts, got out of some trouble, limited the damage and finally erupted during a confrontation with home plate umpire Dan Bellino about a pitch that ultimately didn’t matter very much.
“He’s never lost that fire, that competitive spirit,” Brett Gardner said. “That’s one of the things that’s made him so successful, I think. Not necessarily yelling at umpires, but the way he approaches the game and his drive, and the way that he wants to win, bottom line.”
The Yankees said they didn’t have a record of career ejections, and Elias doesn’t keep track either, but this was believed to be Sabathia’s first ejection since 2006. And it was sparked by — of all things — the pitch immediately before an inning-ending double play. It was the sixth inning, the Yankees had pulled ahead by three runs, and Sabathia was pitching with one out, two one and a 1-1 count to Kole Calhoun. His slider looked like a strike to the Yankees, but it looked low to Bellino. He called a ball, Sabathia got a double play on the next pitch, and Sabathia complained on his way off the mound.
Crew chief Tom Hallion declined to give details except to say Sabathia was arguing balls and strikes. The whole thing seemed calm until the ejection, at which point Joe Girardi came running out of the dugout and Sabathia got in Bellino’s face. John Ryan Murphy tried to hold him back, which was somewhat absurd.
“He’s a lot bigger than I am,” Murphy said, not exactly breaking news to anyone.
Sabathia was at 87 pitches and had settled in nicely after back-to-back home runs in the first inning. Girardi said he was planning to send Sabathia back out for the seventh. If this were four or five years ago, with that pitch count, pitching into the eighth or ninth surely would not have been out of the question. Sabathia allowed just three hits, all singles, after those two home runs. His biggest pitch might have been his last one.
“That’s been a spot where I’ve kind of struggled with runners on,” Sabathia said. “And to get that double play is huge.”
It was huge, and it’s huge that Sabathia’s won three of his past five starts after winning none of his first six starts. This might not have been vintage Sabathia, but it was a strong and fiery start that let the Yankees finish off their second straight series sweep.
It was a good start. Just happened to end with Sabathia flipping out.
“Just wanted to get my money’s worth, I guess,” Sabathia said.
• In his career, C.J. Wilson has allowed 93 home runs to right-handed hitters. He’s allowed just 18 to left-handed hitters, including today’s go-ahead homer by Brett Gardner. “He just fell behind 2-0,” Gardner said. “I felt like I was going to get a good pitch to hit. I think the catcher setup away, but he missed with a fastball in, and I beat him to the spot. I was ready for it. Just took a good swing, got a good result, and it was a good result today.”
• Gardner has now hit 45 home runs in his career, and the Yankees are 33-11 when he’s gone deep.
• With Brendan Ryan nearly ready to come off the disabled list, Jose Pirela is making a final push to stay on the roster. He doubled and hit his first major league home run today. “It was awesome,” Murphy said. “I told him after his first at-bat, when he went off the wall, he had no power. He proved me wrong.”
• Not so long ago, Pirela had the worst numbers on the team. Now his .268 batting average is the third-highest on the active roster. He has five hits in his past five games. “I’ve been working very hard,” Pirela said through a translator. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity because I haven’t been playing that much. But now that I have the opportunity, I’m really excited that I could contribute and I hope that God allows that I can continue contributing to the team.”
• By the way, Pirela said he wanted a translator because there were so many reporters around him (maybe 20 or so). When he’s talked one-on-one or to a small group, I’ve never had trouble speaking to him in English. Not particularly unusual for a young guy to want a translator in a situation like that. Has to be intimidating in any language, especially a second language.
• With his fifth-inning strikeout of Johnny Giavotella, Sabathia reached 2,500 career strikeouts. “(It means) that I’m old,” Sabathia said. “That I’ve been around for a long time. I always say, when I retire I can look back and say that’s a big deal. But right now, I’m just in the middle of the season, and trying to help this team win some games.”
• Pretty good inside-the-game stuff from Murphy: “The first inning I thought they were on his two-seamer more than the other teams have been,” Murphy said. “… If they’re on that early, then you just have to go to the four-seam inside to the righties to almost setup that comebacker, which also opened up the two-seam down and away to righties a lot better today.”
• Two bad pitches in the first inning gave the Angels their early lead. First Mike Trout went deep, then Albert Pujols did the same. It was the fourth time those two had gone back-to-back in their four years as teammates. “The one to Pujols was a mistake,” Sabathia said. “But the one to Trout was just Mike Trout. Two seamer down, and he put a good swing on it.”
• By the way, Sabathia said he’d looked at video of the ball that he thought was a strike. His postgame analysis: “It was a strike.” Sabathia said he hadn’t watched video of his epic shouting match. Probably more fun to watch than the pitch, right?
• Sabathia got his first Yankee Stadium win since September 20, 2013. Between home wins he went 0-6 with a 9.42 ERA in the Bronx. The Yankees have now won a season-high sixth straight home games, their longest home winning streak since 2013.
• Final word goes to Gardner: “It’s early June, but I feel good about the way we’ve been playing the last week or two. It’s a game of ups and downs, and you want to be as consistent as possible, but it’s easier said than done. Definitely the last week or so we’ve been playing good baseball, and enjoy the off day tomorrow and then play well next week.”
Associated Press photos
One good game can’t change two weeks of disappointment, but if the Yankees are going to end this recent spiral and get their season back on track, this was certainly a giant step in the right direction.
The Yankees actually looked like a good team, again. So good that Nathan Eovaldi shut down one of the highest-scoring lineups in baseball, and it was a secondary storyline at best.
Chase Headley made a nice leaping catch on a line drive, Brian McCann threw out a speedy base runner and Jacob Lindgren delivered a dominant debut. But five home runs — four of them before the team had made its fourth out — thoroughly stole the show. After two weeks of stumbling in every aspect of the game, the Yankees looked like they could hit, pitch and field.
“There was some urgency and a little irritability about how we were playing,” Headley said. “But there was no panic. Guys were (saying), ‘We’re going to come out of this and we’re going to be better for it. We’re going to come together over this.’ Hopefully this was a first step to that.”
Make no mistake, there was no one in the Yankees’ clubhouse claiming one win changes everything, but there was certainly a sense that the Yankees had finally played like they had during that hot streak that lasted from the middle of April through the early part of May.
And it all started with that eight-run first inning, their highest-scoring inning at home since 2013.
“We’ve been on the other side of that for the last week or so it seems like,” Brett Gardner said. “… We haven’t been swinging the bats particularly well the last couple of weeks. When we have given up big innings and gotten in a hole, it’s been tough for us to battle back. Today we were able to jump out in front and Nathan was pretty dominant from the get go.”
Eovaldi didn’t need much help today. The only Royals run came on a little bloop single in the fifth inning. Otherwise, he was thoroughly in control, and the Yankees tacked on after that first-inning outburst. It was their largest margin of victory in more than two years, and it came just when it seemed the team couldn’t get any worse.
“It was nice because we’ve been through some tough losses, we’ve been through some ugly losses,” manager Joe Girardi said. “To be able to get that type of lead was very nice. … Our game is probably as unpredictable as any game in professional sports, just because it really depends on one guy, in a sense: your starting pitcher that day. And you can have you ace going, and he may not have his stuff that day and he might get hammered and give up a lot of runs, so it’s really unpredictable. We’ve been on both sides. And we’ve played really well, and we’ve struggled. Probably like most of the teams in major league baseball right now. We’re over .500 again, we just beat a really good team, and you try to carry that over and carry a good streak again.”
• With first-inning home runs from Headley, Gardner and Brian McCann, the Yankees had their most home runs in an inning since hitting four in the second innings of an October 1, 2012 game against the Red Sox (Cano, Teixeira, Granderson and Martin went deep that time).
• Last time the Yankees scored at least 11 runs off a single pitcher — like they did against Jeremy Guthrie today — it was against Rick Reed on April 21, 2003. Reed also allowed exactly 11 runs (10 earned), but he did it in 4.1 innings. Guthrie’s runs came in an inning plus, jumping his early nearly two runs in the process.
• Gardner, Headley and Alex Rodriguez each reached base twice in the first inning. Gardner, Headley, Rodriguez, Garrett Jones and Slade Heathcott each had multi-hit games. Every home run came with at least one runner on base.
• Pretty aggressive approach by a lot of Yankees hitters today: “When we’re swinging the bats well, that’s what we do as a team,” Headley said. “We can’t go out and work counts. We’re going to be aggressive and hit the pitches we’re supposed to hit. When they make mistakes, you do your damage. When they make their pitches it’s a take. We got back to what we do well and obviously it was a relief for a lot of guys.”
• Slade Heathcott’s thought when he hit his first major league home run? “Is hit real?” he said. “… (Been dreaming about this) ever since I was about 6. It’s just surreal. It’s an awesome opportunity, and I’m just thankful for God, the Yankees, and everyone in my life that’s helped me to get to where I am, had patience to deal with me in the past, and watched me mature and be here now. It’s just been awesome.”
• Heathcott traded some signed baseballs and t-shirts to get the home run ball. “I’ll frame it and put it up in my son’s room, probably,” Heathcott said.
• It’s hard to focus on it after a game like this, but Eovaldi had perhaps his best start of the year against a really dangerous Royals lineup. He allowed one run through seven innings, and although he didn’t strikeout man guys — only four Ks — he did pitch deep into the game without getting his pitch count much above 100. “(Early run support) allows you to attack hitters a lot more,” he said. “You don’t have to be as perfect. Guys were swinging the bat well, playing good defense. It was a good win for us, get us back on track.”
• Eovaldi singled out his slider as the key pitch this afternoon, but Girardi thought it was more about his offspeed pitches in general. “I thought he used his curveball effectively, I thought he got some strikeouts with his split, I just thought he mixed his pitches really well today,” Girardi said. “You know, we’ve talked about Evo a lot, in a sense, when he has his offspeed, he can throw it for strikes, he’s really effective.”
• Terrific big league debut for Jacob Lindgren, who struck out two and got a double play while pitching two scoreless innings. He can miss bats, and he can get ground balls, each of which he did today. “I’d say after the double play ball, was able to lock it in there,” he said.
• This time last year, Lindgren was still pitching in college. He’s the first Yankees prospect since Deion Sanders in 1989 to make his big league debut less than a year after being drafted. “Maybe I should try and play football,” Lindgren said. He later said he’d been a smaller, faster cornerback when he was in high school. Probably picked the right sport.
• Headley has hit .561 with five home runs in seven career games on Memorial Day. He’s had at least one hit in each of those games. That’s according to Elias. Also from Elias: Gardner has a hit in each of his six Memorial Day games hitting .438 in those contests. The Yankees are now 32-11 in games when Gardner hits a home run.
• Interesting to think back to the first inning, which Gardner started with a double. Before the Headley home run that started the scoring, Gardner was very nearly picked off at second. “If I’m two or three tenths of a second slower getting back to the bag, I’m out,” Gardner said. “Maybe he takes the next pitch and before you know it, we’re out of the inning and it’s 0-0. You never know. I always hate to look back and say ‘what if’ because baseball is one of those games where, if something was a little bit different, maybe the same pitch wouldn’t have been made. You never know how it would have turned out, but yeah, it was a close play. I don’t want to say I was ready for it, but thank goodness he didn’t catch me off guard too much.”
• Final word goes to Headley: “We were due. Obviously it’s been a tough couple weeks for us, but you’re going to go through that during the course of a season. Considering how bad it’s gone recently, to be where we are? We’re pretty fortunate. We’re going to take the positive side of that and do what we can to keep playing hard.”
Associated Press photos
The Yankees have two of the top base-stealers in baseball, and in so many ways, they’re basically interchangeable versions of the same player. Both are left-handed hitters. Both are fully capable of playing center field. Both on focused on on-base skills with occasional power and the ability to create havoc with their speed.
But when they do break for second base, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have different ways of finishing off a stolen base: Ellsbury prefers the safer feet-first slide; Gardner chooses the faster head-first approach.
“I could do it a little bit quicker if I went head first,” Ellsbury said. “But you’re just a little more susceptible to fingers getting stepped on, shoulders (getting hurt), all that stuff, so I just go feet first even though it is slower.”
Said Gardner: “I understand the risk. But at the same time, I’m more comfortable doing it that way, and I feel like it’s better, so I feel like it’s a no-brainer.”
For today’s newspaper, I talked to Ellsbury, Gardner and few other Yankees about the risk vs. reward aspect of sliding into second base. The Red Sox essentially forced Ellsbury to abandon the head-first slide, something the Yankees and Mariners tried to do — but were never able to do — with Gardner and Alex Rodriguez.
“Oh yeah, all my coaches and managers begged me not to do it,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously the risk-for-reward: you steal a base versus missing six weeks with a shoulder or wrist (injury) or something. I definitely scared my coaches and managers a lot.”
Ellsbury and Gardner have been steady and productive players at the top of the Yankees’ order. Speed is their greatest attribute, and they put it to use in different ways when sliding into the bag. Get the full story over at Lohud.com.
Associated Press photo
When Alex Rodriguez hit No. 660 on Friday, he stomped on home plate, high-fived his manager, and found himself engulfed by teammates looking to warp him in a hug or slap him on the back. After the game ended, Rodriguez was in front of his locker when those same teammates showered him with beer, treating the home run — as the player — as worthy of a true celebration.
“My teammates have been incredible,” Rodriguez said. “That’s part, also, of why I got so emotional. I didn’t expect them to be so great and gracious.”
I’m not sure anyone knew to expect that. Truth is, there aren’t a lot of guys in the Yankees clubhouse who had played with Rodriguez before this season, so it was anyone’s guess how he might be received. But the guys who had played with Rodriguez in the past, welcomed him back quickly, and ones who were meeting him for the first time, seemed to embrace him in spring training.
“I’ve played with him as much if not more than anybody in this room,” Brett Gardner said. “So I know what he’s all about. I’ve had a chance over the years — over the last eight or nine years — to really see behind the scenes and what goes into his preparation for the game, and the way that he works in the offseason. He doesn’t need to go out of his way to try to win me over.
“Obviously a lot of guys in the room, a lot of new guys in the room, probably coming into spring training weren’t exactly sure what to expect, but I think for the most part, I’ve had a lot of guys come up to me and say that he’s way different than they expected him to be. That’s all a positive. Just a testament to him and how he’s handled the whole situation, and how the team’s handled it.”
I’m not sure anyone would immediately connect Gardner and Rodriguez — one is among the elite players of his generation, the other was a walk-on at the College of Charleston — but they’ve known one another a long time. Gardner was drafted in Rodriguez’s second year with the Yankees, and this is already Gardner’s eighth year in the big leagues.
Gardner’s played with Rodriguez longer than Mark Teixiera, longer than CC Sabathia, longer than anyone else in the Yankees clubhouse.
“I’ve never shied away from saying how I feel about Alex and the way that he works and the way that he plays the game,” Gardner said. “Obviously a lot’s gone on the past couple of years, but his work ethic is still there. And he loves playing the game, and he loves winning, and that seems to be all he really cares about.”
From the outside looking in, Rodriguez seems different. He seems more open, more honest and more candid. Gardner, though, said he hasn’t seen much of a difference in the way Rodriguez handles himself in the clubhouse and on the field.
“He’s been all business since he’s been back,” Gardner said. “Last year, obviously, was very, very tough for him, and tough for a lot of people, but I think ever since he’s come back he’s been all about working hard and trying to help the team win. The way that he is able to help everybody around him and kind of rally everybody together, I think it’s pretty special. It’s a lot of fun watching him work, and a lot of fun playing alongside of him. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Associated Press photos
For two years, CC Sabathia knew disappointment and became familiar with limitations. He struggled, and he got hurt, and Sabathia did little to hide his frustration. He was capable of pitching better, and he knew it.
This year, Sabathia is pitching better, and he knows that, too. But still, there’s frustration.
“I’ve been getting better every time out,” Sabathia said after tonight’s letdown. “Obviously that’s not equating to wins or helping us.”
Three starts into the season, Sabathia’s allowed just two extra-base hits and four walks, but he’s 0-3 with a 4.35 ERA. Tonight he faced the minimum through six innings, finished off a complete game by pitching through the eighth, but took the loss because of back-to-back two-out singles in the seventh. The first hit off Didi Gregorius’s glove at shortstop. The second fell into center field, where Jacoby Ellsbury decided he didn’t have a shot at throwing Victor Martinez out at the plate.
“I think (Sabathia) knows he’s throwing the ball well,” Joe Girardi said. “And I think he’s pleased with the way he’s throwing the ball. But there’s frustration there, I’m sure. … I thought the first two starts were good too. He didn’t give up as few runs as he did tonight, but I thought he threw the ball really well. Those first two starts he was not hit hard. He wasn’t. He just needs to keep doing what he’s doing, and the results will come.”
That’s the idea, but as Girardi said after Masahiro Tanaka finally pitched a gem on Saturday: everyone wants to have success, and right now, Sabathia’s not having success. He’s experiencing little victories along the way — better arm strength, fewer home runs, good control, lots of ground balls — but Sabathia’s a bottom-line kind of guy. Getting Miguel Cabrera to hit into two double plays and nearly into a third one? That’s great, but it didn’t matter in the end.
“Any time you can get him out, it’s a bonus,” Sabathia said. “But it didn’t equate to a win, so it is what it is.”
Ultimately, the Yankees had a late lead against the team with the best record in baseball, and Sabathia was on the mound when it slipped away. Sabathia knows frustration, and he was feeling it again tonight, even if his manager and his teammates were seeing signs of encouragement.
“He’s right where he needs to be,” catcher Brian McCann said. “Third start in, he looks great. Very encouraged. … Arm strength. It’s there. He’s getting in on the righties. He’s sinking it. Everything comes out of the same slot, and his arm speed is the same on all his pitches. It’s good to see.”
The Yankees played pretty incredible defense through much of the game — more on that in a bit — but there were two plays in the seventh worth questioning. I’m not sure mistakes were made on either one, but they were pivotal moments in the game.
The game-tying single was a sharp ball that hit off Gregorius’s glove. He tried to make a diving catch to his right but just missed it. Really tough play, but Gregorius almost made it, which makes you wonder if he should have made it.
“I made a diving play and tried to stop it,” Gregorius said. “Get at least one out. But it hit my glove, went into the outfield, and they got a chance to tie the game right there. … As a player you want to make every play. For me, I want to make every play when I go out there. That’s how I look at it.”
The go-ahead single dropped into center field where Ellsbury decided to throw to third for the final out rather than throwing home to try to keep the run from scoring. Victor Martinez was running, and he’s not a good runner even when he’s not slightly hobbled.
“I didn’t think we had a shot,” Ellsbury said. “With two outs, you have a huge secondary (lead). By the time I’m touching the ball, I don’t know exactly where he’s at. If there’s one out, definitely, we’ve got a play. But with two outs, getting a big secondary, going on contact, that’s the reason he was able to score is because we had two outs.”
For whatever it’s worth, Girardi said he also thought Ellsbury had no shot at the out at home.
• Of course it’s easy to look back at those two hits in the seventh as making all the difference, but the Yankees scored just one run tonight, and it’s tough to win when that happens. “I thought (Alfredo Simon’s) split was exceptional,” Girardi said. “I thought his sinker was good, and I thought his split was exceptional tonight, and he used it really effectively. He threw some for strikes, expanded when he was ahead, and did a good job.”
• The big at-bat for the Yankees was Ellsbury hitting into a double play with runners at the corners in the eighth. Adds a little insult to injury that Joba Chamberlain was on the mound. “I think that’s about the only way you can double me up right there,” Ellsbury said. “With the play drawing him to second like that, flip to Iglesias — that’s about the only way you can double me up. If it’s hit to his left a little bit, they don’t double me up. Even if I don’t quite hit it as hard, they don’t double me up. That’s about the only way they could have. … I think I’ll take 600 more of those swings the rest of the season, but just unfortunately hit it at the wrong person.”
• Ellsbury did have the play of the game with his diving catch to start the bottom of the fifth. “I didn’t (think I’d get there),” Ellsbury said. “But, you know, I always go for everything like I can catch it. I was pleased to cover some ground and make a play on it.”
• Very next batter after the Ellsbury catch, Brett Gardner made a nice sliding catch in left field. That was his second-best catch of the night. Gardner also made a great running catch at the wall to start the second inning. The first Gardner catch and the Ellsbury catch were each against Victor Martinez.
• Speaking of Victor Martinez, Girardi chose to intentionally walk him in the seventh, even though it put the go-ahead run on base. “Looking at the at-bats, and the at-bats he’s had off him for a number of years,” Girardi said. “He’s hit the ball hard. We made two great plays, and I just went with what I thought was a better matchup. … Usually you don’t (put the go-ahead run on, but with two outs it’s kind of a different story there.”
• As it turned out, the Yankees had a prime opportunity to tie the game on the Gregorius single in the eighth. The ball was hit to center and Chase Headley was held up at third base, but Rajai Davis wound up bobbling the ball, which probably would have allowed enough time to score. “He had the ball in plenty of time and then he dropped it,” Girardi said. “And that’s not something you can predict.”
• The Yankees turned three double plays tonight, and Stephen Drew looked pretty good at second making those turns. “I think he’s getting more comfortable there, obviously, the more he has played,” Girardi said. “He makes a really good one, picks it, and then gets the double play, so yeah, I think he’s really kinda settling in there.”
• Sabathia’s changeup was really good tonight. He’s been talking about that pitch since spring training, and he basically had it all night tonight. That’s the pitch he used on both Cabrera double plays. “Arm speed is a big deal,” McCann said. “When your arm speed’s there and it looks exactly like your fastball and it’s a six, seven mile-per-hour difference, you’re going to get a lot of ground balls and you’re going to keep it off the barrel.”
• Mark Teixeira’s solo homer was the 367th of his career, moving him ahead of Lance Berkman for fifth place on baseball’s all-time home runs list for switch hitters.
• Chase Headley had two singles. It was his third multi-hit game of the year and gave him a three-game hitting streak.
• No real final word here, just a link to make sure you don’t miss the epic postgame meltdown by Reds manager Bryan Price tonight. For some reason, Price believes beat writers have to think about the good of the team before they report. I’ll say this for Girardi and Brian Cashman: I’ve never felt that they were mad or felt like punishing a reporter for writing something negative that’s perfectly fair and accurate. If the Yankees tried to hide the fact a player wasn’t at a game, and that fact got out, there’s no chance the Yankees would blame the reporter.
Associated Press photos
Alex Rodriguez hit the first home run so far, and he hit the second one so hard, that this was already his best night of the year even before the at-bat that actually won the game. To cap the night, Rodriguez put together a seven-pitch at-bat against Kevin Jepsen, a pitcher against whom he was 0-for-8 in his career. He gave Brett Gardner time to steal, fouled off a 3-2 pitch, then lifted a low curveball into center field.
His teammates were 2-for-26. Rodriguez was 3-for-4 with four RBI.
“Without Alex, we’re going to lose that ballgame,” Joe Girardi said.
Maybe that much went without saying, but it was worth saying anyway because 10 games into the season, the Yankees are being kept afloat by a guy who came into spring training with absolutely no one certain he could still play this game at a respectable level. Even Rodriguez is surprised it’s gone this well.
When Rodriguez homered in Baltimore earlier this week, he said it was the best he’d hit a ball in well over a year. Imagine, then, how good it felt to hit a ball 471 feet in the second inning (or 477 feet if you’re going by ESPN’s estimates). Whatever the number, the ball was crushed. And he followed that home run with a game-tying two-run shot that left the yard in in a hurry in the sixth. Another hard-hit ball, this one a line drive to left.
“It’s pretty impressive, you know, to take all the time off that he’s taken off,” Brett Gardner said. “He’s no spring chicken anymore, either. But the bat speed, his bat’s really, really quick through the zone. He’s taking good swings. It’s a lot of fun to see. … He’s not somebody I’d ever count out. I see how hard he works and how much he loves playing the game, and how good of a job he’s always done in preparing himself for the game. Being able to focus on hitting and not playing defense that often, he can go out there and use all the energy he’s got for those four or five at-bats. So far, he’s looked great and hopefully he can keep it up.”
I guess the takeaway from tonight’s game is … well, it’s everything about Rodriguez at the plate. The raw power. The ability to work an at-bat. The eye for balls and strikes. The steady production.
Tonight, the bullpen was really good, and Stephen Drew hit a home run, and Carlos Beltran got a much-needed hit, and Gardner stole his way into scoring position. But without Rodriguez, the Yankees would have lost this game, and there’s absolutely no doubt about that.
“More than anything, I’m just feeling very grateful to be back playing baseball,” Rodriguez said. “I’m very grateful to Hank and Hal for giving me the opportunity to put the uniform on again. It’s something I don’t take for granted, and it’s much appreciated. It just feels good to be playing baseball. I’m having fun out there.”
• Another save opportunity, and another great outing by Andrew Miller. The Yankees have done four games, and Miller’s saved three of them. He got the final out of the eighth inning, then allowed a soft hit to open the ninth before striking out the final three batters of the game. “Andrew’s done the job, that’s for sure,” Girardi said.
• Miller on his obvious but still undefined role: “This is what I signed up for. That’s what I told them all along. They asked me if I needed to be told I had a certain role or anything like that, and I told them no, and that was the truth. I’ve been telling you guys that all along and that’s really what it is. I think for me, I’m fortunate. I’ve got a nice contract that’s going to take care of me for a while. However they see fit to use me, they can go for it. I’ll do whatever they ask and give them everything I’ve got.”
• In a setup role, Dellin Betances also looked pretty good tonight. Certainly better than he’s looked most nights. he allowed one hit but also got a strikeout and walked no one. “I think he’s making progress each time he goes out,” Girardi said.
• Not such a good night for Adam Warren, who was actually doing pretty well before a crushing sequence of three hitters. After an infield single, Warren allowed a walk, a three-run homer and a solo homer. “I think the Jennings walk was big there,” Warren said. “Because you fall behind 2-0 to the next guy, feel like you have to throw a strike, (he) puts it over the wall, and things just kind of got away from me there. As a starter, you want to limit the big inning. I threw a lot of pitches, and that kind of hurt us. We had to go to the bullpen early, which you don’t want to do.”
• The biggest mistakes were with fastballs. Girardi said he thought Warren pitched alright without his good curveball or slider earlier in the game, but things unraveled quickly. The Yankees wound up using Esmil Rogers for 2.1 innings of hitless long relief. Rogers has been good in that role. “The bullpen was outstanding,” Girardi said. “After having a tough night the other night, they come back and give us five scoreless innings and do a really good job. As I said, they’re not going to be perfect, but they’re pretty good.”
• Third home run in less than a week for Stephen Drew. That’s the same number of home runs he hit in two months with the Yankees last season. Tonight’s homer was No. 100 in his career. “He’s swung the bat I think a little bit better than his numbers indicate,” Girardi said. “We saw it come around the last couple of weeks of spring training, and we need that to continue because he’s a guy that can hit the ball out of the ballpark and hit some doubles and drive in some runs, and it was good to see.”
• Although Girardi wouldn’t commit to putting him in the lineup tomorrow, Girardi did say Gardner probably would have stayed in the game to hit had the game gone into extra innings. He came through three rounds of batting practice alright before today’s game. “I was prepared if my spot came up in the ninth to get a normal at-bat and get up there and swing the bat,” Gardner said.
• No surprise, but Girardi said he went Gardner in to pinch run with hopes of getting a stolen base in that spot. It finally happened on the 12th pitch after Gardner entered the game. “I wish I could have got there a little earlier, but Alex did his job,” Gardner said.
• One underrated play: Jacoby Ellsbury’s catch to end the eighth inning. “At first, my instinct was that that ball is in the gap and I’m going to have to pitch with a runner on base,” Miller said. “I got really excited. It didn’t look like he had too good of a jump on it, but Ells is a great defender. It’s no surprise. You welcome a guy like that behind me.”
• Girardi said he plans to have Rodriguez back at DH tomorrow. He would prefer not to play him in the field when the Yankees are on turf.
• Final word goes to Miller: “Everyone is going to remember those (Rodriguez) homers, and they were both incredibly well-struck, but that at-bat to give us the go-ahead run was incredible. He fought pitches off and stayed on a breaking ball. We shouldn’t be surprised that Alex knows how to hit. He’s a professional hitter, and he’s really good at that. We’re just glad he’s healthy and he’s on our side because right now he’s been a big part of our offense.”
Associated Press photos
Wearing a new padded wrist guard, Brett Gardner hit inside when he got to Tropicana Field earlier today. That went well enough that he was given permission to take full batting practice with the team during the usual pregame workout.
Doesn’t sound likely that he could hit his way into the lineup, but Gardner said he’s basically ready to play.
“If I don’t get a chance to play today, hopefully tomorrow,” he said. “I hit in the cage and it felt pretty good.”
Even after yesterday’s MRI showed nothing more serious than a bone bruise, the Yankees still decided to give Gardner one more day off. That’s pretty standard around here, where the Yankees seem to favor a cautionary approach to all injuries.
“My inclination is to give him one more day,” Girardi said. “But I want to see BP first. He did take some swings off the tee and said he felt pretty good, but let’s just see what happens after BP.”
The wrist guard Gardner’s wearing is pretty small and it’s designed in a way that doesn’t restrict movement. He said he’ll be wearing it when he finally does get back in the lineup.
• Ivan Nova threw his second live batting practice of the week this morning at the minor league complex. “I’m getting closer,” Nova told The Associated Press. “Feels awesome.” Girardi said Nova’s schedule calls for him to begin pitching in actual minor league rehab games around May 1. Pretty much the schedule that’s been expected for several months now.
• Chris Capuano’s second live batting practice is scheduled for Sunday. He actually has a locker setup in the clubhouse for this series at Tropicana Field.
• When Capuano threw live batting practice earlier this week, Jose Pirela was one of the hitters he faced. Pirela is basically going through every drill and is scheduled to play an extended spring training game on Monday. He’s been working his way back from a concussion since late spring training. When he’s ready, will he go to Triple-A or join the big league bench? “I don’t know,” Girardi said. “Let’s just get him healthy first. Make sure he’s only seeing one of everything.”
• Girardi said Brendan Ryan “might” come down to Tampa next week to start going through some workouts on his way back from that spring calf injury. When Giradri said “might,” I took it to mean Ryan’s definitely coming down barring any sort of setback.
• Given the way Alex Rodriguez has hit — and given the way guys like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann have hit — why isn’t Alex Rodriguez hitting higher than sixth? “I don’t think you can make too much of nine games,” Girardi said. “If you started moving your hitters according to every nine-game period you play, you’d be doing it all the time. We’re trying to have as much of a set lineup as you can. We don’t have Gardy in there, so I’ve used the same lineup two days in a row. I liked the way the guys swung the bats the other night, so we’ll just keep it the same.”
• The Yankees still don’t have a defined closer, but Girardi’s been using Andrew Miller in those situations, and it certainly sounds like that might be the case again here in Tampa. “We haven’t named it,” Girardi said. “Have I used him as the closer the last couple times? Yeah. We’ll let it play out a little but and see how this works out. Obviously in this situation, you would think about against Tampa — because they have so many right-handed hitters in the lineup — that you’d use Dellin more for four- or five-outs more than you would Miller.”
• Girardi said the Yankees are still actively discussing the idea of a spot starter at some point during this heavy stretch of games without many off days. He specifically mentioned Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell as candidates to come up and start at some point to give everyone an extra day off. He said that if/when they do it could depend on weather. If they get rained out in Detroit next week, then the sixth-starter call-up could be pushed back. “It’s something that’s on the back of our minds,” Girardi said. “And we’ve kind of prepared ourselves for it.”
Associated Press photos
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