The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Pregame notes: Replacing Pineda and using Ackley going forward07.30.15

Joe Girardi

A lot going on in the past few hours. Let’s just go topic-by-topic:

Michael PinedaMichael Pineda shut down with forearm strain

After throwing a routine bullpen on Tuesday, Pineda felt some discomfort in his right forearm. He pointed to the front side of his arm, up high, near the elbow. He told the Yankees about it that night, and yesterday he was sent for an MRI. The Yankees obviously feared an elbow issue, but found only a strain in his flexor muscle.

The Yankees plan to have Pineda go 7-10 days without throwing. After that, they’ll try to move toward getting him back this season. Joe Girardi said he’s confident Pineda will pitch again this season. There’s relief that the elbow ligament showed no damage.

“It shouldn’t take too many (rehab) starts because he is stretched out and it’s the middle of the season and his arm’s in shape,” Giradri said. “Just have to make sure he’s healthy before he goes back out.”

There are obviously unique properties to each injury, but it’s worth noting that both Masahiro Tanaka (about six weeks) and Andrew Miller (roughly a month) missed time with forearm injuries this season. Neither one was back quickly.

“I’m not worried,” Pineda said. “I feel a little sad today, because I want to pitch, I want to stay in the game. But I’m not worried about that. I’ll continue working and come back as soon as I can.”

Bryan MitchellFilling the open spot in the rotation

Apparently there was a radio report earlier today that Ivan Nova is also hurt and might miss his next start, but it seems the only thing going on with Nova is that arm fatigue issue that he dealt with on Monday. He threw his bullpen today and remains on track to start on Sunday. The upcoming Yankees’ rotation looks like this:

Friday: Nathan Eovaldi
Saturday: TBA
Sunday: Ivan Nova

Byran Mitchell is a candidate to start Saturday, but Girardi said he will consider Mitchell to be an available long man tonight and tomorrow. If Mitchell’s not needed in either of those games, he could get that Saturday start. If not Mitchell, Girardi did not rule out the idea of using Adam Warren.

Girardi did rule out Diego Moreno for Saturday. After throwing 5.1 innings on Tuesday, Moreno would be on three days rest for Saturday’s game, and Girardi said he would not consider Moreno to be a viable starting option that day.

So it looks like Mitchell and Warren are the top options to fill the open rotation spot in the short term, but the Yankees need a starter beyond Saturday. Is Luis Severino an option?

“Yeah, I mean, he’s obviously in the mix,” Girardi said. “He’s one of the starters down there (in Triple-A), and you’re going to have to talk about it.”

Dustin AckleyFinding a role for Dustin Ackley

Trading away some redundant prospects made a lot of sense for the Yankees. But trading them for a left-handed utility type who’s hit for a low average with a little bit of power, like a slightly more versatile but probably not as good defensively version of Stephen Drew? It’s kind of hard to figure out how exactly Ackley fits this roster.

“Just his versatility (is appealing) especially as we move forward here and you’re trying to spell guys,” Girardi said. “His versatility should help out in that situation. You get a guy that you can put at five different spots, that’s pretty good.”

More of a second baseman or an outfielder?

“In the last few years, he’s played mostly outfield,” Girardi said. “He’s played left, center and right, so it’s a position where we can move him around all over there. He has not played much second — I think he’s played one game this year — so obviously he would have to work there before we would feel comfortable putting him there.”

If he can’t immediately step in at second base, then it would seem he’s not here to replace Drew. If he’s primarily a left-handed outfielder, there’s really no spot for him except to play some right field when Carlos Beltran or Alex Rodriguez needs a day off (with Beltran at DH). Girardi more than once mentioned that Ackley can play five positions, which suggests the Yankees also consider him a first baseman. Could he replace Garrett Jones in that role?

Jose RamirezTrading away Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez

One thing about Ackley being primarily an outfielder who can play first base: If that’s is primary role, couldn’t Flores have done that? I suppose that’s a question for another day. For now, Flores is gone, as is Ramirez. Those are two guys who have been in the big leagues this season, but also two guys are remarkably redundant in a system overloaded with left-handed outfielder and right-handed relievers.

“I think the development in our system has given us more depth and feels like we can do something, in a sense,” Girardi said.

While Flores was kind of always overshadowed, it actually seemed for a while that Ramirez might be emerging as a top young reliever in the system. He got a fairly long look last season and a couple of opportunities this year, but he never did much with those chances. At this point, he seems to have been surpassed by Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder and even Diego Moreno in terms of bullpen depth.

“You know, he had a few chances here,” Girardi said. “He never had consistent work. We’ve had a lot of guys that that stepped up and pitched pretty well up here that have been probably equal to him, and that’s probably made him movable, in a sense. You get another kid that comes up (Tuesday) and does a good job. Throws strikes, competes, so it made him movable.”

In that way, the Ackley trade was exactly the kind of deal Brian Cashman has pulled off quite a bit recently. Just hard to immediately figure out how and where Ackley fits.

Yankees Angels BaseballOdds and ends

• Girardi said there was no hesitation in giving today’s start to CC Sabathia. “You just kind of put everyone on their normal day,” he said. “And then as far as Saturday, we’ll figure it out when we get there. It kind of depends again on what we use and then we’ll go from there.”

• Adam Warren actually lived with Ackley for a year in college. I’ve had a lot of Ackley conversations with Warren over the years. On the record and off the record, Warren raves about the way Ackley works. “I think he’s extremely talented,” Warren said. “He’s a good guy, works hard. It’s just one of those things where you hope he can fit in with the club and I think he will. He’s super quiet. I think he plays hard and just going off what I know at Carolina playing with him, he’s super-talented and a gamer. I’m hoping to see him do that over here.”

• Nova said his agent actually called him today to ask if he was hurt because the agent had heard that somewhere. Nova said he was surprised by the phone call. Said he feels fine, just felt some to-be-expected fatigue on Monday. “I’m not hurt,” he said. “I don’t know where that came from. I’m going to throw everything normal, keep my routine. I’m going to throw my bullpen and get ready for my game.”

• Reaction to the Tigers making another huge trade, this time for David Price: “It’s part of the game,” Girardi said. “Sometimes teams can make a lot of moves and doesn’t always work the way they want, sometimes it does. As I said, I worry about the guys in that room, those are my guys to worry about and that’s what I do. I feel good about the way these guys have played and I still believe in them. And I believe we have the stuff in that room to get it done.”

• Vernon Wells lives down here in Arlington and was in the clubhouse pregame. He’s still a very popular former player. I know he’s not particularly popular within the fan base, but the players seem to like seeing him. Good guy.

Associated Press photos

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Pregame notes: “Being a great baseball player was all that mattered”07.27.15

Alex Rodriguez

In almost any other setting, the question might have been too cliché to generate much of an answer. But on his 40th birthday, in the year after his season-long suspension, in the middle of a remarkable career resurgence, Alex Rodriguez seemed genuinely taken aback by the very notion.

What advice would 40-year-old A-Rod give to himself at 20 years old? At 30 years old? Rodriguez paused, then smiled.

“I’m in no position to give anyone advice, including myself,” he said, with a laugh. “But I think there was a point in time for me when hitting home runs, being a great baseball player, was all that mattered. I figured that if I hit more home runs, it would justify for whatever behavior I had off the field.

Alex Rodriguez“I realize today that it’s not that way at all. Hitting home runs doesn’t make you a good father, it doesn’t make you a good friend, and it certainly doesn’t make you a good teammate. To me they’re both important.”

Rodriguez turned 40 today, and there he is, back in the No. 3 spot in the Yankees lineup. He’ healthy, playing his usual designated hitter role, and he’s leading the team in OPS. Only four players in the entire American League have a higher OPS. Only six have more home runs.

“Forty is forty,” manager Joe Giradri said. “But it’s still just a number. You can still be extremely productive at that age and he’s showing it. … It’s rare, but guys can still do it.”

For Rodriguez, though, the birthday is a different sort of milestone. It’s notable not only because of how good he was a 20 years old, or for all he’d accomplished at 30, but because of where he was on the day he turned 39 while serving a season-long suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

“I think someone asked me about 40 and evaluating where I am, and I think I did a lot of that last year,” Rodriguez said. “I had a lot of time to think and evaluate. It was a dark time, that’s for sure. To be able to come back this year and look back, hopefully I’m going to be a player, but more importantly, a better person, for the next 40 years.”

Rodriguez noted that not many baseball players talk about turning 40 because so few last beyond their mid-30s. Did it feel more significant turning 40 or turning 30?

“Forty feels bigger just because of all the things that have transpired and where I am today,” Rodriguez said.

Where he is today is among the most productive and consistent hitters in baseball. He’s stayed healthy so far, and Girardi has tried to keep it that way by rarely playing him in the field. Perhaps most surprisingly, he’s been cheered at home and seemingly accepted by opponents and some fans on the road.

“I’m going to continue to work hard,” he said. “I thought April would be my most challenging month and as I started getting more repetition, hopefully I would get better. I think that’s happened, and I hope that continues. I’m going to continue to work out and go through my regimen, but it’s also a nice reminder that if you play clean and you play hard, that good things can happen.”

Adam Warren• Still no announced starter for tomorrow. Girardi said it depends on who the Yankees have to use tonight. They prefer to have either Chris Capuano or Adam Warren start tomorrow’s game — with the other basically piggybacking — but that plan will only work if those two aren’t needed tonight. “We’ll try to get three or four innings out of (one of them), use another guy and go from there,” Girardi said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”

• The original plan was to use Bryan Mitchell to start tomorrow’s game, but Mitchell’s schedule was thrown off last week when he was doing band work. The band was attached to a door (pretty common), and the door opened. Mitchell fell, hit his head, and had to sit out a few days. That threw him off turn for tomorrow’s game. “He’s off track now,” Girardi said. “We’ll keep building him up. He’s a guy we’ll definitely look at the next time.”

• Worth noting that Diego Moreno is tomorrow’s scheduled Triple-A starter, so if the Yankees need someone who can give several innings, they could recall Moreno as either a fresh long man or as an emergency starter.

• Jacoby Ellsbury banged his shoulder into the wall making a catcher yesterday, so Girardi decided to keep Ellsbury out of the lineup tonight. The plan was to sit either Ellsbury or Carlos Beltran tonight, and Girardi decided to give Ellsbury the rest. “I think that’s pretty much the plan for everybody to get one (day off) at some point on this road series,” Ellsbury said. “So they decided to give it to me today.”

• Ellsbury said he feels like he could play tonight, and he’ll be ready to run or play defense late in the game. He fully expects to be in the lineup tomorrow. He got some ice on the shoulder last night, but he said he didn’t do anything particularly out of the ordinary today. He can play if the Yankees need him.

• Girardi on Ellsbury: “If I have to use him, I would use him. He ran into the wall pretty hard. I was going to give him or Carlos one of the next two days off. I decided to do Jake today. We’ll go look at tomorrow. You’d like to be able to win the game without using him but if we need him, we’ll use him.”

• It’s really, really hot down here. “Stevie (Donohue) talks (to the players) about the importance of hydration,” Girardi said. “And we continue to do that. It’s hot, but it’s hot for both teams and you’ve got to deal with it.”

Associated Press photos

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Pregame notes: Rodriguez getting healthy day off after three-homer game07.26.15

A few quick notes heading into this afternoon’s series finale in Minnesota:

Alex Rodriguez• Biggest news of the early afternoon has been Ken Rosenthal’s report that the Royals are trading for Johnny Cueto. News of the swap began to leak apparently before the Reds had even told Cueto that a deal was in place. The Yankees trading for Cueto never seemed particularly likely given their reluctance to trade one of their high-end, on-the-verge prospects.

• As for the Yankees, they have Alex Rodriguez on the bench for a day game after a night game. Of course, that night game happened to be a three-homer event for A-Rod. Rodriguez said he feels fine, just getting a day to rest. Days off for a DH seem to bother plenty of folks in the fan base — as does the unwillingness to use Rodriguez in the field from time to time — but at the end of July, Rodriguez has been consistently productive and incredibly healthy. If that’s because of the way Joe Girardi has used him, then it’s hard to argue with the approach.

• Right fielder Aaron Judge has returned to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre lineup after missing basically a week with what seems to have been a minor injury. Could be nothing more than the Yankees being their usual, overly cautious selves. Even without providing details, Brian Cashman insisted several times that there was no serious issue.

• Speaking of Triple-A, Andrew Marchand reports that Bryan Mitchell was supposed to be lined up to start Tuesday’s game in Texas, but a mild injury altered his turn in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation. Mitchell was sent down rather suddenly to start last Saturday, which would have put him perfectly on turn to be on schedule and eligible to return on Tuesday, but he wound up not making his next start until yesterday (when he pitched pretty well). Now it seems either Adam Warren or Chris Capuano will probably make that spot start on Tuesday.

• Scranton/Wilkes-Barre activated Austin Romine from the disabled list today. Going to be interesting to see how they use Romine now that Gary Sanchez is on the roster. It’s not like they have a ton of DH at-bats to give away. Those have been going mostly to Kyle Roller now that Greg Bird is on the roster, and the outfield is also suddenly overcrowded with Judge, Ben Gamel, Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin. There don’t seem to be enough at-bats for everyone who needs regular playing time to actually get regular playing time.

Associated Press photo

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Pregame notes: Drew clearly falling into a strict utility role07.18.15

Stephen Drew, Welington Castillo

Joe Girardi has not officially named Rob Refsnyder his everyday second baseman — in fact, he’s said over and over again that it’s a day-to-day situation — but this morning, Girardi basically declared Stephen Drew to strictly a utility man who’s playing time will come on a pick-and-choose basis.

“He’s been as good as anyone I’ve ever been around in handling all of this this season,” Girardi said. “We talked about what he needed to do, the different spots that he played, and he talked about just trying to help this team win. He’s been great.”

Girardi said he’s told Drew to take ground balls all over the infield. While he might play some second, it certainly seems that Drew is first and foremost a bench player, not really a platoon player or a guy who could get anything close to everyday at-bats going forward.

“We want him to be able to play all three positions, second, short and third,” Girardi said. “We’ve asked our middle infielders to be able to do that if you want to give Headley a day off, if you want to give Didi a day off, obviously he’s going to play some second as well. Those sort of things. He’s prepared to go in anywhere.”

What about taking advantage of Yankee Stadium with Drew’s left-handed power?

“The days that I probably try to use him, I’ll try to take advantage of this ballpark, absolutely,” Girardi said.

Bryan Mitchell• Bryan Mitchell has been optioned back to Triple-A so that he can get stretched out as a starter. Giradri said Mitchell could actually start tonight’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre game in Louisville. “I thought he did a good job (in the big leagues),” Girardi said. “And as I told him last night, it’s not that you did anything wrong; you actually did a lot of good things for us, but we need to stretch you out.”

• Without Mitchell, the Yankees Triple-A rotation was Luis Severino, Esmil Rogers, Kyle Davies and a pair of relievers trying to start for the first time (Diego Moreno and Danny Buraway). After a couple of starts in Triple-A, I have to think Mitchell would immediately be the top choice for a call-up for either long relief or a spot start.

• Branden Pinder is here to fill the open bullpen role.

• If they Yankees needed a spot starter right now, could either Adam Warren or Chris Capuano do the job, or have they been in the bullpen too long? “They could do it,” Girardi said. “But it comes down to a point where you probably couldn’t get a ton of distance out of them, and then you’re not going to have them for three or four days in your bullpen. … Would I feel comfortable throwing Adam 50 pitches? Probably. Capuano 50 pitches, maybe a little bit more? Probably, but not much more than that at this point. I think they’re able to build back up quicker now because they’re in shape.”

• After playing three rehab games with High-A Tampa, Carlos Beltran will fly back to New York today. “There’s a good chance he’ll be activated tomorrow,” Girardi said. No roster move announced, obviously, but the way Girardi talked about Drew pregame made me think Drew’s job is safe. That leaves either Brendan Ryan, Garrett Jones or a reliever as the most obvious choices to open a roster spot. I can’t imagine Ryan’s feeling very comfortable at this point.

• Can Girardi remember a player like Chris Young, who’s numbers are so drastically different against lefties than against righties? “There’s not one that’s really coming to mind,” Girardi said. “You look at his numbers against left handers this year, they’re off the chart. And his at-bats off of right handers have been pretty good. He just missed hitting a home run last night, but I understand there is a pretty big gap between them.”

Associated Press photos

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The Yankees’ rookie class: Chasen Shreve a bunch of other guys07.15.15

Chasen Shreve

The Yankees have used 17 rookies this season. They’ve called up an additional pair of rookies who never got in a game. They’ve had 11 players make their big league debut, which is the second-most in the Majors.

There has been a movement of youth in the Bronx, but there hasn’t necessarily been a youth movement.

Of those 17 rookies, only one could be considered a significant impact player this season, so choosing the Yankees first-half Rookie of the Year is easy. It’s Chasen Shreve and it’s not even close. Two and a half months from now, that might not be the case. If Rob Refsnyder is going to stick around and play regularly, he could ultimately have a bigger impact in a half season than a middle reliever has in a full season.

For now, the Yankees’ rookie class seems to fit into these categories.

Rob Refsnyder, Hanley RamirezBEST OF THE BUNCH
Chasen Shreve

No longer trying to be perfect with every pitch, Shreve began throwing at max effort last season and got himself to the big leagues. This year, he’s had staying power with a 0.98 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning. Shreve seemed to the third piece of an offseason trade that involved David Carpenter and Manny Banuelos, but it’s Shreve who’s had the biggest impact this season. He’s been excellent as both a long man and a go-to, late-inning reliever.

TO BE DETERMINED
Rob Refsnyder, Bryan Mitchell, Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder

Clearly Refsnyder’s ultimate impact is still a mystery. He looked good over the weekend, and word is he’s going to stick around beyond the break, but prospect status doesn’t make him a definite impact player. Like Refsnyder, Mitchell is also on the active roster for the time being. He’s finally getting a look in the bullpen, but he’s not getting many opportunities to prove himself one way or the other. I’ve included Rumbelow and Pinder in this group because each one pitched pretty well and lasted more than a game or two, but neither was trusted with a key role. They’re each back in Triple-A at the moment.

Mason Williams, Didi GregoriusCUT SHORT
Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams

Take away an at-bats requirement, and the Yankees OPS leaderboard looks like this: Refsnyder, Heathcott, Rodriguez, Williams. That’s one through four, the only guys on the team with an OPS higher than all-star Mark Teixeira. Of course, the problem is that three of the four lasted fewer than 10 games. Heathcott was the first to get a call-up after the Jacoby Ellsbury injury, but he went down with a knee issue after six hits in six games. He’s now on the 60-day disabled list. Williams eventually filled that same replacement role, had four extra-base hits in eight games, and also landed on the 60-day.

DISMISSED
Chris Martin, Jose Pirela, Jacob Lindgren, Ramon Flores, Jose Ramirez

To some extent, each of these guys had a real chance to stick and play a role. Martin broke camp with the team and initially pitched his way into some high leverage situations, but his performance dropped and he was replaced. Pirela seemed to be the favored right-handed platoon infielder, but he never hit in a part-time role and now seems to be on the outside looking in. The Yankees clearly wanted to give Lindgren a real look as a potential impact reliever, but he was too inconsistent and wound up optioned (and then hurt). Flores made a strong first impression, but he ultimately had a sub-.500 OPS and wasn’t even used when Carlos Beltren went on the disabled list. Ramirez is a harder one to figure out. He spent about a month on the roster last year, but the Yankees haven’t been especially keen on using him this season, and he hasn’t pitched well when given a chance.

SHORT-TERM FILL INS
Cole Figueroa, Jose De Paula, Diego Moreno, Danny Burawa, Matt Tracy

Upon arrival, no one on this list had the look of a long-term solution. Each one was called up to fill a specific need — Figueroa to play third base against a few right-handed pitchers; everyone else to provide fresh arms when the bullpen was depleted — and each was fairly quickly sent back to Triple-A. None of these five got into more than two games. They didn’t necessarily do a bad job, they just weren’t brought up with the intention of keeping them around. I suppose you could put reliever Joel De La Cruz and outfielder Taylor Dugas into this category as well. They were each called up but never actually played. Each one has since been taken off the 40-man roster.

Associated Press photo

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For Pineda (and the Yankees’ staff) questions loom in the second half07.15.15

Michael Pineda

This was my plan: Write a blog post about the fact that questions loom over basically every piece of the Yankees’ pitching staff.

After including five pitchers in my previous MVP post, there was really no sense in writing a first-half Cy Young post, so I thought looking at the looming uncertainty would be a good way to address the pitching staff. I came up with four categories and then found a way for most of the key pitchers to fit in one group or another.

But Michael Pineda, who I just picked as the most valuable pitcher on the staff, seemed to fit in every category.

• Health concerns? Obviously. He looks good and strong this season, but anyone who’s gone through three seasons of shoulder issues is going to carry some lingering health questions for a while. Those don’t go away with a healthy half season.

• The potential to be even better? Absolutely. Pineda’s been very good this season, but his 3.64 ERA is basically a full run higher than his 2.63 FIP. If he can string together his occasionally elite starts, he could be a real difference maker in the second half.

• Durability and sustainability concerns? Yep. Pineda could get better in the second half, or you could wither under the weight of his largest single-season workload. Pineda’s on pace to throw more innings than he’s ever thrown in a year, and he’s already thrown more innings than in any of his past three seasons.

• The potential to take on a larger role? Sure. Right now, it’s hard to say who truly leads this rotation. Is Pineda the ace or is Masahiro Tanaka the ace? Which one should get the ball in Game 1 of a playoff series? Pineda has a chance in the second half to take hold of that title and make himself the unquestioned No. 1 starter.

As for the rest of the staff, I’ll put the other key guys into these categories:

MillerTanakaCan they stay healthy?
Masahiro Tanaka, Andrew Miller

Obviously health is a concern for any pitcher, but that concern is especially magnified with Tanaka. We already know his elbow ligament was damaged last season, and he’s already missed a month this year because of a forearm strain and some soreness in his wrist. He’s pitched well, but his health is going to be a concern for a while. I’ll also put Miller in this category only because he’s already had one arm issue this season, and I think there’s always some concern that one arm issue could be a part of something more significant. There’s no real evidence that’s the case with Miller, I just think health is always a concern with someone who’s already coming back from an injury.

Eovaldi SabathiaCan they get better?
CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi

Two-fifths of the rotation fall into this category of needing to improve in the second half. Sabathia is the poster child for this issue. He’s been excellent against lefties, and has done a better job providing innings than most of his teammates, but Sabathia’s been awful against right-handed hitters — shockingly bad, actually — and his tendency to let outings get away has been well documented. As for Eovaldi, he gives up a ton of hits, but a lot of that has been relatively soft contact — opponents actually have a higher slugging percentage against Pineda — and he’s done a decent job of limiting damage. Needs to pitch deeper into games, though, and if he could put away a few more batters, that’d be nice, too.

WarrenBetancesCan they keep this pace?
Dellin Betances, Ivan Nova, Adam Warren, Justin Wilson

Hard to have many complaints about what these four have done this season. Now the trick is to keep it going through the second half of the season. At this point, Betances is building a track record of this kind of success, but he’s still set the bar awfully high. Nova’s been good since returning from Tommy John, but coming back from surgery could leave him prone to inconsistency (and he was pretty inconsistent even before the injury). Warren has already pitched more innings than in either of the past two seasons, and Wilson’s trying to avoid a regression back to last year’s numbers. There’s little saying these guys can’t keep this pace, but the Yankees need them to actually do it.

MitchellShreveCan they take on a bigger role?
Chasen Shreve, Bryan Mitchell, Chris Capuano, Luis Severino, Nick Goody

Shreve might have already answered this question by stepping into the seventh inning role while Miller was hurt. He broke camp as basically the last guy in the bullpen, but now he’s pitched so well that the Yankees are clearly going to trust him with big outs from time to time. Mitchell really hasn’t had much opportunity to prove himself one way or another, but his arm is good enough to be curious about what he might do. For Capuano, the question is whether he can prove he’s good enough to keep around while Mitchell, Shreve and Warren are capable of multiple innings. I’ve also included two prospects who haven’t been called up yet, because their potential emergence — Severino especially — could make a difference down the stretch. To some extent, you could put guys like Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder and (if he gets healthy again) Jacob Lindgren into this group as well.

Associated Press photo

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Examining the Yankees’ current roster issues heading to Houston06.25.15

Joe Girardi

As the Yankees head on the road to finish off this stretch of 20 games in a row — there are still seven games left, four in Houston and three in Los Angeles — their roster is in state of constant upheaval. Trying to make up for injuries, disappointing performances and one newborn baby, the team has cycled through a series of relief pitchers and a handful of bench players. The roster has seemed to change daily, and there’s most certainly going to be another change at some point today.

After yesterday’s game, the Yankees sent relievers Branden Pinder and Diego Moreno back to Triple-A. We already know one of those open roster spots will go to Stephen Drew, who’s coming back from the paternity list, but the other could be used for either a pitcher or a position player.

Here’s. look at some of the roster issues heading into this surprisingly important series against the much-better-than-expected Astros:

Adam WarrenFor the time being, the Yankees have just three bench players
Because of the unexpected Brendan Ryan injury, coupled with the Drew paternity leave, the Yankees actually played yesterday’s game with only two bench players. Safe to assume that will be remedied to some extent with Drew’s return this afternoon. Drew could have stayed on the paternity list until Friday, but he was back in the clubhouse yesterday and is expected to be in Houston tonight. With Drew, the Yankees will basically have a bench of Jose Pirela (the backup infielder), John Ryan Murphy (the backup catcher), and Garrett Jones (the backup outfielder/first baseman and possible left-field platoon with Chris Young). But there’s still an open roster spot, and it’s unclear whether the Yankees prefer to fill it with a position player or a pitcher. Normally, it would be a position player without a doubt, but the Yankees are in a bit of an unusual position following the return of Ivan Nova.

The Yankees are currently carrying six starters
Because they want to give all of their starters an extra day off, the Yankees are technically carrying a six-man rotation. Nova came off the disabled list yesterday, and the other five starters will pitch on five days of rest their next turn through the rotation. Extra rest makes obvious sense for a group of starters loaded with health and workload concerns, but it requires a sacrifice somewhere. To make a six-man rotation work, the Yankees will have to carry either a short bench or a short bullpen. Given the way they’ve handled the bullpen up to this point, it’s hard to imagine they’ll go with just six relievers. Then again, Girardi earlier in the week shot down the idea that he was definitely planning to carry a short bench, so maybe they feel covered in the bullpen with Chris Capuano and Bryan Mitchell able to go long. Whichever way they go — short bullpen or short bench — it should last only a few days until they’re ready to move someone — probably Adam Warren — out of the rotation and into the bullpen.

Even if they wanted a full bench, who would they call up?
Because the Yankees didn’t take advantage of the Ryan injury to let them immediately recall Ramon Flores, there’s really not an obvious option to fill a fourth bench spot right now. Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams are still hurt, and there’s really little point in carrying both Gregorio Petit and Pirela. The only other available position players currently on the full 40-man roster are Gary Sanchez (a Double-A catcher) and Tyler Austin (a right-handed outfielder who wouldn’t really have much of a role). Since it seems unlikely the Yankees are ready to give Rob Refsnyder the everyday job at second, it could be that they’ll simply wait for Jacoby Ellsbury to come off the disabled list before carrying the usual number of position players. That said, there’s not exactly an obvious pitching call-up on the horizon either.

John Ryan Murphy, Diego MorenoDistance and durability concerns continue to impact bullpen decisions
Because the Yankees have not gotten consistent distance from their starting pitchers, there’s been a trickle-down effect on the bullpen, which has basically caused all of the up-and-down player movement we’ve seen lately. In the past 12 days, the Yankees have called up and/or activated nine different pitchers (Sergio Santos, Jose Ramirez, Jose De Paula, Mitchell, Pinder, Danny Burawa, Moreno, Nick Rumbelow and Nova). Mitchell was actually called up, optioned and called up again in that span. The long list of moves, though, hasn’t solved the key issues of getting more distance out of the starters and finding bullpen stability for the middle innings. Maybe Nova in the rotation, Warren (or someone else) in the bullpen and Andrew Miller (eventually) off the disabled list will finally fix those problems. For now, they linger, and they’re shaping an ever-changing roster.

It’s hard to tell who’s “next” on the list of impact call-ups
Because Refsnyder hasn’t hit enough to force the Yankees’ hand, and because Drew keeps hitting for good power in those rare moments when he gets a hit at all, it doesn’t seem that the Yankees are considering a change at second base. Their next impact additions to the outfield (Ellsbury) and bullpen (Miller) are more likely to come from the disabled list than the minor league system. So who will be the next young player to make his big league debut? The Yankees have had 10 players debut this season — most in the majors — but No. 11 might have to wait a while unless the Yankees have a trick up their sleeves today. Top prospects Luis Severino and Aaron Judge have each moved up to Triple-A and could be on the radar at some point, but an immediate call-up seems unlikely. Who else could be on the radar? Ben Gamel? Tyler Webb? Jaron Long? There’s not a no-doubt, next-in-line choice.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

Looking for signs of trouble after the Toronto series05.07.15

Yankees Blue Jays

The Yankees are home again. They won’t be for long long — just four games before they’re right back on the road for another long trip — but they’re home with a record good enough for first place in the American League East. For the most part, the Yankees are playing well. Just last weekend they won a series at Fenway, but they’re also coming off a series loss in Toronto where there were plenty of reminders that this is a team with flaws and concerns. Here are five of them:

SabathiaCC SABATHIA

The problem: He was a staff ace for many years, but Sabathia’s now 0-5 with a 5.45 ERA. The Yankees haven’t given him much run support, and some outings have been perfectly solid and winable, but six starts means he’s roughly a fifth of the way into his season and the numbers aren’t pretty. Is he going to get much better than this?
The circumstances: With one more year plus a vesting option left on his contract, Sabathia isn’t a player easily dismissed. He’s also an unquestioned leader in the clubhouse, where players and coaches alike seem to believe him and support him even through his struggles.
The alternative: After another strong start yesterday, Bryan Mitchell now has a 2.59 ERA through six starts in Triple-A. He’s the most immediate rotation alternative should the Yankees decide to insert someone else, but Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova are progressing from their injuries and Masahiro Tanaka could be back around the end of this month.

DrewSTEPHEN DREW

The problem: Although he’s fourth on the team in home runs, Drew still has just 13 hits and a batting average far closer to .150 than .200. And those numbers aren’t simply a one-month problem. Drew basically hit like this — but with less power — through almost all of last season.
The circumstances: Signed to a buy-low, one-year contract, Drew seems to be the Yankees best defensive second base option, and until Brendan Ryan is healthy, he’s their only proven backup shortstop. For the time being, the question with Drew isn’t so much whether he should stay on the roster, it’s whether he should stay in the starting lineup.
The alternative: Yesterday the Yankees activated Jose Pirela, and Pirela immediately delivered two hits including a hustle double. While scouts don’t exactly love his glove — and he’s never been a huge prospect — Pirela does seem to have some offensive potential and could hit his way into regular at-bats.

JonesGARRETT JONES

The problem:
Maybe it’s because he’s hardly played, but the bottom line is that Jones has hit just .152/.176/.242 which is good for the lowest OPS on the roster by a large margin. His expected backup role has been hardly necessary with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez playing well.
The circumstances: Even if the Yankees found someone to put up better numbers, would that player get more at-bats than Jones is getting right now? He’s in the final year of his contract and the power potential exists. Is it worth putting a young player into such a limited role?
The alternative: Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores are playing well and hit from the left side, but Kyle Roller (.278/.414/.481 in Triple-A) stands out as a Jones-type who could occasionally DH and maybe play some limited first base when either Rodriguez or Teixiera needs a day off. At this point, adding a player who can handle the outfield seems unnecessary with both Pirela and Chris Young on the roster.

BeltranCARLOS BELTRAN

The problem: Even with a couple of two-hit games in Boston, Beltran is still hitting just .195/.237/.310 with 22 strikeouts. It feels like a continuation of last year’s brutal second half and a spring training that wasn’t exactly encouraging.
The circumstances: As recently as 2013, Beltran was still a very good hitter. Even in April of 2014 he hit for power before the elbow issue that eventually required surgery. He has this year and one more on his contract, so moving on isn’t as easy as it was with Alfonso Soriano last season.
The alternatives: In the short term, the Yankees have Young putting up good numbers, especially against lefties. The Yankees could basically push Beltran into a platoon with all right field starts against lefties going to Young. They could also consider either Heathcott or Flores as young options from the left side.

CarpenterDAVID CARPENTER

The problem: In a bullpen full of guys with terrific numbers, Carpenter a 5.23 ERA that’s the second-worst on the team behind Sabathia. Carpenter’s pitched 11 times this season, rarely in high-leverage situations, and he’s twice allowed three earned runs.
The circumstances: Really, Carpenter hasn’t been all that bad, and I’m including him here only because he’s the guy with numbers that don’t look great in the pen. Other than those two rough outings, he’s been good. The Yankees, though, have a lot of good young relievers in Triple-A, and they have three starting pitchers looking to come off the disabled list. Something’s going to have to give eventually.
The alternatives: Despite the high ERA, right now it’s pretty hard to imagine Carpenter’s job is remotely on the line at the moment. Girardi hasn’t trusted him in big spots, though, and last year’s top draft pick Jacob Lindgren just made back-to-back appearances the past two days (so did Nick Rumbelow), and Jose Ramirez went back-to-back a week ago. Could be that the Yankees are preparing those young guys for a big league role in the not-so-distant future.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

Even with rotation thin, Yankees considering another sixth starter04.30.15

Bryan Mitchell

Bryan Mitchell is scheduled to make his fifth Triple-A start of the year tonight in Charlotte. It could leave him perfectly in line to make his big league season debut six days from now.

Even with Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he’d still consider inserting a sixth starter this next turn through the rotation. The Yankees play the next 17 days in a row, and team came into this season wanting to give extra rest to all of their starters, not only Tanaka.

“Right now we’re getting in another long stretch,” Girardi said. “But we’re a little thin with our extra starters, and we’ll have to make a decision whether we can do that or not. It’s something we’d like to do. I don’t know if we play 16 or 17 in a row. It’s something I would really like to consider doing in this next long rotation, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to.”

Mitchell’s schedule lines up nicely if the Yankees want to use a sixth starter either next week or the week after.

Because of today’s off day, every Yankees’ starter will naturally have an extra day of rest for his next start. If the Yankees want to give their starters an extra day of rest after that, they could easily insert Mitchell into the rotation Wednesday night in Toronto. He would be on five days rest, and his start would give the extra day of rest the rotation needs. Or, the Yankees could wait until the next turn through the rotation, let everyone pitch their next turn on normal rest, and insert Mitchell on May 11 against Tampa Bay.

Either way, Mitchell’s first opportunity of the year could be coming. His past two Triple-A starts have been terrific — 14 innings, six hits, two earned runs — and the Yankees might have used him instead of Chase Whitley on Tuesday had the schedule lined up differently.

“We’d try to spread out the two guys on the roster who had a little bit of experience in that (spot-start) situation,” Girardi said. “Knowing that at some point we were probably going to have to do it this turn and maybe the next turn, and then you see where you’re at after that. We wanted to set it up that way.”

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

Pregame notes: “Is there concern? Of course there is.”04.29.15

Masahiro Tanaka

At this time yesterday, Masahiro Tanaka has still not told the Yankees about his sore wrist. He hadn’t gone for the MRI that revealed a strained forearm, and he hadn’t received the diagnosis that spark renewed questions about his elbow and ability to avoid Tommy John surgery.

“When he came up and said his wrist hurt, I was like, wow,” Joe Girardi said. “Cause the starts were good, the bullpen session was good, and I wasn’t prepared for that. So that’s why I used the word a little shocked when I heard because everything had went great.”

Michael Pineda was actually supposed to throw a bullpen yesterday and Girardi stopped him in the early afternoon, explaining he might have to pitch today instead. And, of course, that’s exactly what happened.

After those first four starts this season, things were actually encouraging with Tanaka. He’d pitched especially well in the past two starts, and he’d complained of no soreness in his elbow or anywhere else. Now that we know the newest injuries, though, it’s hard to think of Tanaka in any other context. Sure, he was pitching well, but the Yankees have known for a long time that Tanaka’s capable of pitching well. But that’s only when he’s healthy enough to actually be on the mound.

“Is there concern? Of course there is,” Girardi said. “Anytime you have to shut a pitcher down, there’s concern. With what happened last year, I can’t tell you if they’re related or not, but you’re going to think about it. You’re going to think about a lot of different scenarios. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed and hope it’s not much, but we’ll deal with it either way.”

Initially, when Tanaka was only complaining about a little wrist soreness, Girardi was thinking it might be a two-week issue.

“My recommendation was kind of a DL there and he would come back as soon as those 15 days were up because you could back-date it,” Girardi said. “And we were already 5 or 6 days. So with the little bit of a strain (as well), it’s definitely DL.”

That’s the only thing that’s certain for now. Tanaka is definitely on the disabled list. How long he’ll stay there and how soon he’ll be back on it remains anyone’s guess.

Alex Rodriguez• Would Girardi like to see Alex Rodriguez get No. 660 out of the way before this weekend’s series at Fenway? “It just might crowd our clubhouse a little bit more if he doesn’t,” Girardi said. “But it doesn’t matter either way. I’d prefer that he does it with two or three guys on today and gets it over with.”

• Even with another starter added to the disabled list, Girardi said he’d still consider using a spot starter during this next long stretch of games. Wonder if Bryan Mitchell might come up for a start in the next week or so.

• The Yankees have gotten eight scoreless innings out of their bullpen the past two days, but Girardi said the pen is still rested enough to handle today’s game. They’d like to get distance out of Michael Pineda, but it’s not a dire situation. “I think that’s important,” Girardi said. “But our bullpen’s OK. It helps that we have a day off tomorrow, I think that’s important. The only guy that I’d probably stay away from is Esmil.”

• Will the late change of plans impact Pineda today? “It shouldn’t be a factor,” Girardi said. “It probably won’t hurt him at all.”

• Around 10:30 this morning, Gregorio Petit walked into the Yankees’ clubhouse carrying the same bag he took out of the clubhouse yesterday. Teammates were laughing and offering hugs. A bizarre welcome back moment for a guy who barely left.

• Just a day off for Brett Gardner and Brian McCann against a left-handed starter.

• Because these seem a little more relevant now, here’s a quick update on Ivan Nova and Chris Capuano: Each one last pitched on Monday. Nova threw a simulated game, and Capuano pitched in extended spring training. Neither is ready to come off the disabled list just yet, obviously. “They did well,” Girardi said. “I’m not sure if the next step, because it was a shorter outing, if it’s Friday or Saturday.”

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith Comments Off

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