Through a lost month of April, Yankees manager Joe Girardi kept putting Carlos Beltran in the lineup, insisting the veteran right fielder would find his swing again. Since the calendar flipped to May, it seems Beltran has found it.
After back-to-back two-hit games — with a home run in each of them — Beltran is now hitting .324 with seven RBI and six extra-base hits this month. Through his past 36 at-bats he has as many strikeouts (four) as doubles (four). He’s already matched the number of RBI and multi-hit games he had in all of April, and he’s one away from matching his April total for doubles. He didn’t hit a single home run in the first month of the season, and now he’s gone deep twice in 48 hours.
“Just being able to be consistent and have consistent at-bats, that’s the most important thing,” Beltran said. “I know that if I do that, (good results) will happen. It’s hard to think about the opposite without feeling good at the plate.”
At the end of April, Beltran was hitting just .162 with seven RBI. He’d already struck out 21 times in 68 at-bats and had begun to lose a little bit playing time — primarily against left-handed starters — to red-hot fourth outfielder Chris Young. Ten days into the month of May, though, Beltran has looked more like the guy the Yankees expected when they signed him to a three-year contract before last season.
“Average, all that, will come with being able to put good at-bat after good at-bat,” Beltran said. “What (Jacoby) Ellsbury is doing. You don’t see him out front or late. He’s on every pitch. When you’re on every pitch, you’re going to get good results because you’re going to be able to hit the ball hard, be able to go with the pitch and things like that. Being inconsistent is when you see guys in between, and that’s how I have been since the season starts.”
At least, that’s how he was before starting a new month a looking like a new hitter.
“Carlos has a track record that not a lot of people in baseball have,” Chase Headley said. “There’s not a whole lot of concern in this clubhouse from the players that he’s going to get going. Obviously, when you’re (not) the guy that’s going through it or you see somebody going through it from the outside, you know it’s going to end, but when you’re the guy going through it, it can be really tough. So we knew he was going to get it going. He’s just another guy in the lineup who can be dangerous for us. If we can get him going, it’s going to really help us out.”
Associated Press photo
There are plenty of statistical and historical ways to explain how dominant Michael Pineda was this afternoon.
With 16 strikeouts, he tied David Wells and David Cone for the second-most strikeouts by a Yankees pitcher in a single game. It’s been more than two years since any Major League pitcher had as many. It was only the seventh time since 1900 that a pitcher had at least 16 strikeouts in seven innings or less. No one in franchise history had ever recorded this many strikeouts without issuing a walk, and no one in the big leagues had done it since Johan Santana back in 2007.
“I think it has to be location,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I think it has to be outstanding mix of your pitches. Your breaking ball has to be sharp. I thought he used his slider and changeup extremely well today. And he has deception. There’s a lot of things that have to go right to get 16 strikeouts in 21 outs, and he did it today.”
Those were the nuts and bolts of it, but anecdotally, this was the emotion of it. When Manny Machado went down looking at a slider in the fifth inning, the ball broke at the knees, swept across the bottom of the zone, and Machado smashed his bat onto plate. When the bat didn’t snap in half, Machado turned toward the dugout and flung the useless piece of wood to the dirt.
“A couple of (pitches), they were great pitches, right on the corner, right at the knees,” Brian McCann said. “They were perfect pitches. It’s not fun facing him. … He’s a dominant pitcher. He really is. He’s a guy that not many people want to face.”
This was, more or less, Pineda at his very best. He was able to work with his fastball, changeup and slider. He pounded the zone for yet another no-walk game (he’s had no walks in four of his seven starts this season; and never more that one walk all year). He reached a career-high 11 pitches, which was perhaps the only downside. But if that’s the downside — that Pineda lasted only through the seventh inning — the Yankees will gladly take it every time.
“In the first inning, I threw the first slider, I said oh, everything is working good today,” Pineda said. “… I don’t know how to explain to you how happy I am right now. But I’m very happy now.”
Pineda was animated postgame. He’s had a very happy, energetic personality for a couple of years now, but this was over the top. He was shaking his fist at one point, talking about how much he enjoyed going after all of those strikeouts. He recalled his final minor league start in 2008 when he went nine innings with one hit, no walks and 14 strikeouts.
“A really good game in the minor leagues and I’m happy with that,” he said. “But today is the best game. I had more strike ‘em outs than any game I’m pitching. I say thank you God, thank you to the team for giving me this opportunity, and I’m very happy.”
Strike ‘em outs. That’s what Pineda kept calling them, and who are we to argue?
“That’s as good as we’ve seen him,” Girardi said. “He recorded 21 outs and 16 of them were strikeouts. He was able to give most of the bullpen a day off today, and we needed that. But, God, he was really good.”
• Carlos Beltran hit his first home run since August 23. He missed a second-inning home run by about two feet, then got one out in the fifth. Through 32 at-bats this month, Beltran has hit .313 with six RBI in nine games. He’s struck out only twice, and already has nearly as many doubles this month (four) as he had all of last month (five). “Just being able to be consistent and have consistent at-bats, that’s the most important thing,” Beltran said. “I know that if I do that, (good results) will happen. It’s hard to think about the opposite without feeling good at the plate.”
• Although Chris Young has taken some a lot of starts against lefties, Beltran more or less stayed in the regular lineup even through last month’s struggles. These past 10 days seem to be an indication that he’s turning things around. “I think that he’s swung a lot better in the last 10 days since we had that off day before Boston,” Girardi said. “I think he’s swung the bat a lot better, and we’ve seen it. You just running him out there because you know it’s going to change. It’s not fun when you’re going through it, but he’s too good of a hitter for it to last.”
• After Pineda was finished, Dellin Betances added two strikeouts of his own to give the Yankees 18 total tonight. That ties a franchise record for the most team strikeouts in a nine-inning game (they’ve now done it three times, once when Ron Guidry did it all by himself).
• Didi Gregorius went 2-for-3 with two RBI, matching his season highs for hits and RBI in a game.
• Great bit of base running by Chase Headley to score the go-ahead run in the fourth inning. When Delmon Young threw behind Headley to third base, Headley broke for home and scored easily. At the time, it felt key. The Yankees wouldn’t really take control until a batter later when Jacoby Ellsbury doubled in two runs. “Really a smart play,” Girardi said. “You want your base runners to be heads up. A coach can’t always do everything for you, and you’ve got to make some decisions on yourself. He made a very wise decision.”
• Back to Pineda: He threw 111 pitches, which was a career high. Girardi said he didn’t know Pineda was two strikeouts away from a franchise record, and frankly, he didn’t care. “You have to remember Michael’s coming off a pretty serious injury,” Girardi said. “What he had is not something is not in the back of my mind in managing him through the course of a season. He doesn’t have that injury, maybe it’s a different story.”
• Pineda has three starts with at least seven strikeouts and no walks this season, most in baseball. It’s the first time since at least 1914 a Yankees pitcher has ever had three such starts within his team’s first 32 games. In that time, only 11 pitchers have pulled it off with any team. “All pitchers want to throw strikes,” Pineda said. “For me, it’s the best thing, to throw strikes to hitters, and that’s what I’m doing, so I’m happy with that. I’m really happy because this is a really good game and I’m very happy.”
• J.J. Hardy’s home run in the second inning gave Hardy three home runs in nine career at-bats against Pineda. It was the first homer Pineda had allowed since April 19. Pineda had faced 11 consecutive batters at home without allowing a home run.
• The Yankees are now 6-0 in games following a loss since they last lost consecutive games on April 14-15 in Baltimore. According to Elias, every other Major League team has had back-to-back losses in that span.
• Final word goes to Girardi talking about the pink gear used for today’s game: “I don’t think it’s a hard thing for athletes to do because I think you reflect how important your mothers were to you and women who go through breast cancer. I think all of us probably know someone who went through it. For me, I watched my sister go through it, and it’s difficult. Whatever we can do to bring awareness to it, support it, get rid of this disease, hey, we’re all in.”
Associated Press photos
After each of Andrew Miller’s MLB-leading 13 saves — or, at least after most of them — Joe Girardi has been asked the same question about whether he’s willing to name Miller as his official closer.
Every time that the Yankee manager had been asked, he would dodge the question and give a reason as to why he didn’t think it was necessary. But after Friday’s 5-4 win over the Orioles — the Yankees’ 16th win in their last 21 games — Girardi finally caved.
“Is there a reason I have to?” he quipped. “He’s been closing games for us. He’s our closer. Is that better?”
Girardi then paused before asking with a laugh, “Is that going to be the headline tomorrow?”
Reporters quickly delivered the news to Miller, who downplayed the significance and then hit us with the line of the night.
“Not particularly,” Miller said when asked if it meant anything to hear that Girardi publicly called him the closer. “They’ve been very honest with us the whole time, and I think they’ve done a good job of putting us in situations to succeed. It’s worked pretty well. I was honest with them and I’ve been honest with you guys.
“For what they’re paying me, I’ll do anything.”
Ain’t that the truth.
• Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner continue to get it done at the top of the order, and they’re now hitting a combined .435 in their last 12 games with an on-base percentage around .500. That’s a pace that they clearly won’t be able to keep up, but once again, they were right in the middle of both Yankee rallies tonight. But the biggest hit of the night belonged to Carlos Beltran, who desperately needed one. He’s been slumping and is still hitting under .200, but his two-out, two-run double in the third was a laser to right-center field. With Ellsbury on third and Gardner on second, the O’s elected to walk McCann and load the bases in front of Beltran. That’s rarely happened to him in his career, and he made them pay. “It’s just the strategy of the game,” Beltran said. “Honestly, I don’t take those situations personally. I think the manager (knows) I’m not swinging the bat well lately. But at the same time, I’m seeing the ball good off of their pitchers, so that doesn’t worry me.”
• Girardi has kept running Beltran out there in spite of his struggles, and he offered some insight into his reasoning. It’s probably worth noting that Beltran is now third in the AL in doubles with nine. “We think he’s swinging the bat well,” Girardi said. “Sometimes it doesn’t always show up in the numbers, but we think he’s making more solid contact. I mentioned the other day, there are so many stats out there, and one of them is velocity off the bat. Well, his average velocity is second on our team. He doesn’t have a lot to show for it, but that means he’s centering balls and things will change.”
• I’m sure you’re wondering who is first on the team in the average velocity off of the bat category. That would be none other than Alex Rodriguez, who had a sac fly in the first inning tonight and hit his first triple since 2012 in the fifth.
• Beltran admitted that his slump has been getting to him, but he said he’s trying to stay consistent with his approach and work ethic. “I try not to think about that,” he said. “I try to focus on what I can bring to the game, but of course, I think when you go through tough stretches, confidence gets a little bit low and you have to work through that. In my case, I’ve been through situations like this before every year. This is my 17th year, so every year I go through situations like this. Sometimes, when you go through it early in the season, it’s noticeable. But when you start the season well and go through that in the middle of the season, it’s not that bad because you already have some numbers to back it up.”
• Adam Warren has yet to make it through six innings in six starts this season, and he didn’t even make it out of the fifth tonight. He said this might have been the worst stuff that he’s had so far this season and Baltimore got to him in the fifth. Starting the inning with back-to-back walks was probably the biggest killer. “I just kind of lost it there for a little bit. It’s frustrating because I didn’t have my best stuff, but I felt like I was battling,” Warren said. “I just kind of hit that fifth or sixth inning, and it’s hard to explain. Being down in the bullpen last year, you hate to be the guy that kills the bullpen.”
• Here’s Girardi’s take on Warren’s inability to give the Yankees length: “I thought tonight he was going to be able to do it, (but) in the last two innings that he was out there, he got in some long counts and some long innings and threw a lot of pitches,” he said. “That’s why I made the change. I was hoping to at least get six out of him tonight with us winning 5-0. It didn’t happen, but this is a guy that hasn’t started for awhile. He’s been in our bullpen a lot, and he’s got to learn how to get through those.”
• Getting back to the pen, Miller and Dellin Betances have still yet to allow an earned run through 33.1 innings this season. Eventually, something has to give, but it’s been a heck of a run. “It’s really hard to do, to be able to put a streak like that together with two guys,” Girardi said. “One of the big reasons why we’re winning games is because, when we’re ahead, they’re closing the door. Those are important wins. Those are tough losses when you lose those.”
• What gave Girardi the confidence to finally name Miller his closer? “He’s shown that he can do it,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to bother him, is the bottom line. He’s making his pitches. He’s aggressive, he’s attacking people, he’s getting strikeouts when he needs them, he’s holding runners – he’s doing everything he needs to do.”
• Miller’s take on the pressure of being a closer was interesting. He said that he thinks the more tense situations for a reliever often come when you’re brought in with men on to put out a fire, which is a role he was used in a lot last season with Boston and Baltimore. When you’re a closer, you usually enter the ninth with a lead and no one on base. “Ultimately, I feel like what was asked of me, specifically down the stretch of last season, is even greater than anything that’s been asked of me this season,” he said. “Honestly, I think you have a little bit more room sometimes in the ninth inning. In the ninth inning, it’s just about winning the game. In the eighth inning, no matter how big the lead is or the deficit is, you want to keep it at that. I think in the ninth inning, whether you want to or not, sometimes you do have a little bit of cushion. Honestly, I think that’s a challenge sometimes. You need to go out there focused and not worry about that kind of thing.”
• What has Miller thought of Betances? “He’s been really, really good all year, and he’s been absolutely incredible lately,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. I got to see it probably 19 or 20 times last year playing in the division, but that’s a pretty impressive day today.”
• Don’t be surprised if Girardi rests both Miller and Betances tomorrow. “When I have to give them days off, I have to give them days off,” Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line. I have to make sure that I don’t overuse them. I have to make sure that when they’re used a lot, they get a day off. Tomorrow might be the day.”
• Final word goes to Miller, who was asked if he feels more at ease now that Girardi publicly called him their closer: “You don’t want to get too comfortable,” he said. “This game will humble you pretty quick. I think we just try to get better every day and try to prepare ourselves the way that we have been. Ultimately, I think comfort is a bad thing in this game, because you’ll be uncomfortable pretty quick.”
Associated Press photos
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Four hits for Jose Pirela this afternoon with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He had three hits on Saturday, and three more hits on Friday. If you’re scoring at home, that’s 10 hits in the past three days. And they weren’t all soft hits either. Three doubles today. A home run yesterday.
“I would say he’s probably ready to go,” manager Joe Girardi acknowledged. “We wanted to get him a few more at-bats when we had that luxury of calling Petit back, and now we’ve got to make a decision of what we want to do.”
Gregorio Petit has actually played pretty well lately as the Yankees’ right-handed middle infielder, but it’s hard to ignore the potential offensive impact of Pirela who almost certainly would have made the team out of spring training had he not been out with a concussion as the team broke camp.
Now, Girardi said, the team is considering the possibility of ending Pirela’s rehab assignment, and a move to the big league roster isn’t out of the question.
“We’ve talked about it,” Girardi said. “We’ll continue to evaluate and see what we’re going to do.”
As of Wednesday, Pirela didn’t have many at-bats and wasn’t hitting much when the Yankees put Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list and recalled Petit just one day after optioning him to Triple-A. Now it’s a different story. Pirela got red-hot this weekend, he hit well in spring training, and he showed last year that he belongs on the big league radar as an offensive utility guy who just might be able to spark something at the plate.
Would be interesting to see if Pirela could come up and do, basically, what Chris Young has done. While Young doesn’t play every day, he’s gotten more playing time than expected because he’s hit so well. He’s out of the lineup today, but there have been plenty of times he’s played ahead of struggling Carlos Beltran. Could Pirela do the same to either Stephen Drew or Didi Gregorios?
• One other note on that right-handed infield job: Brendan Ryan felt some sort of pull in his hamstring while running yesterday so his rehab has been shut down. He’ll be reevaluated in a week. He seemed to be getting closer to replacing Petit, and I wonder if his setback might make the Yankees more likely to make a move with Pirela.
• Little surprise that Beltran is back int he lineup against a right-handed pitcher tonight. The Yankees have said several times they’re going to keep giving Beltran regular chances to get his bat going. “Let’s go back to the other day,” Girardi said. “He had two hits and he hit the ball hard. His two hits, he swung at good pitches. When he made the out, it was probably a ball just a little bit off the plate. So a lot of it has to do with pitch selection, which is the case a lot of times with hitters when they’re struggling. Sometimes it can be a little bit mechanical. I think it was probably part of that, early on, but I think that’s probably corrected. And now I think it will probably come down to pitch selection.”
• Chris Capuano went four innings without an earned run with High-A Tampa yesterday. Girardi said all went well with Ivan Nova and Jared Burton in an intrasquad game as well. “Everything was good,” he said. “I would imagine that their next step is five days away from yesterday and continue to build them up.”
• Speaking of which, the Yankees plan to stay on rotation this next week, but they might add a sixth starter for the next turn through. Girardi said he doesn’t expect Capuano to be available by then, so this could be — my own speculation — an opportunity for Bryan Mitchell. “I don’t think we’ll use it this time through,” Girardi said. “The next time, we have not discussed it, but there will be some discussion.”
• Girardi said he thinks the bullpen has performed about as well as a bullpen can possibly perform in the past two weeks or so. It is interesting, though, to see David Carpenter not getting many high-leverage situations so far this season. He’s been almost the next-to-last guy in the pen ahead of only Chasen Shreve. “His time is going to come,” Girardi said. “We know that. The other guys have pitched so well, we’ve kind of went with it. That can go in phases. His time is going o come.”
• More than three outs from Andrew Miller tonight? “I’ll see,” Girardi said. “I’ll talk to him. It’s not something you want to do a lot, but if I felt the situation called for it, and he felt OK, I might consider it.”
Associated Press photos
You might not know the name just yet, but my friend Mike Zacchio from The Journal News was at Yankee Stadium last night and wrote a bit about Joe Girardi’s decision to stick with stone-cold Carlos Beltran in the Yankees lineup. Here’s Mike’s blog debut:
He’s moved Beltran a few spots down in the order, and benched him very occasionally in favor of red-hot Chris Young, but mostly Girardi has stayed the course, trusting that he knows where it leads.
“I think you don’t lose perspective,” Girardi said, “that so many players – personally, I went through it, and I was never close to the hitter Carlos was – there are months that are tough. The important thing is that you continue to send him out there and understand that he’s going to turn it around and be a big part of our offense.
“The one thing I try to manage is that he’s 38 years old and some of the day games after night games, you might give him off. I have confidence he’s going to get going, and you just have to keep running him out there.”
Even if Beltran’s screeching double off the center-field wall was part of a 1-for-4, two-strikeout performance, it snapped an 0-for-14 slump and was some glimmer of hope.
“It’s a tough feeling when you feel like you’re just battling instead of going out there to just look for a pitch or whether you see the ball well,” Beltran said. “Right now it’s about winning ballgames; it’s not about me.”
When asked what pitch he doubled off of, Beltran joked. At least, he seemed to be joking.
“Changeup,” he said. “Or a splitter, whatever; right now I don’t know what they’re throwing.”
It’s hard to ignore the fact Beltran has this year and one more remaining on his contract. Moving on is not as easy as it was with Alfonso Soriano and Brian Roberts a year ago. It’s also worth noting it wasn’t so long ago that Beltran was still an excellent hitter. He was an all-star in St. Louis two years ago, and he was still plenty productive last April before the elbow injury sent him to the disabled list.
Girardi said he sees signs of life in Beltran’s bat, even if those signs aren’t showing up in the numbers.
“I think you don’t see (some older hitters) hit balls hard,” Girardi said. “We’ve seen Carlos hit some balls hard, so obviously you know it’s still in there. He’s going through a hard month.”
That “hard month” comes as Ramon Flores and Slade Heathcott are thriving with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Flores is experiencing a power surge (four home runs, three doubles and a triple already this season), and Heathcott has been healthy and consistent in the leadoff spot (hitting .347 after a couple of late-inning hits last night).
Either one of those left-handed hitters would be a readily available alternative – perhaps in a platoon role with Chris Young – should the Yankees decide to move on.
But there’s little indication they’re ready to do that just yet.
Associated Press photos
Joe Girardi’s still not ready to name a closer, but it’s pretty obvious he has one. And he looks like a good one so far.
Andrew Miller is the first Yankees pitcher — of any title — to have eight saves in the team’s first 20 games.
“The only that’s maybe surprising is that Mariano didn’t have 19 saves in 20 games or something like that,” Miller said. “It just means we’re playing well as a team, and we’re getting good opportunities.”
Last night the bullpen went 4.2 hitless. Tonight it was 3.1 scoreless. Justin Wilson got his first win, Dellin Betances pitched a dominant eighth, and Miller handled the ninth. Somewhere in there, David Carpenter also got a key out.
It’s more or less the way Girardi’s been drawing it up for the past few weeks. Wilson against some middle-inning lefties (but willing to face righties), Carpenter for key seventh-inning outs, Betances in a setup role (often for more than three outs), and Miller in the closer role. Depending on situations, the Yankees have also gotten key strikeouts from Chris Martin, long relief from Esmil Rogers and whatever’s necessary from Chasen Shreve.
Do they have a closer?
“I still believe they both can do the job,” Girardi said. “It gives me a lot of options. It’s working the way we’re doing it. … (The plan is) just to stick with what we’re doing. I’m sure at some point one of them may be down and the other guy may have to do something else. Maybe they pitch a couple days in a row and I want to give one of them a day off. I still believe they’re really interchangeable.”
If Betances had pitched well this spring, or gotten off to a strong first week this season, would the roles be different? Would it have been a mix-and-match in the ninth, or maybe Miller in the eighth, or some other combination in various situations?
“It doesn’t really matter,” Girardi said.
That’s really the truth of the matter. Girardi doesn’t want to stick a label on Miller, because why should he? At this point, we all know the plan, we’ve seen it in action, and it’s worked.
“We all believe in each other, that’s the most important thing,” Betances said. “The staff believes in us, as well. Warren pitched a great game today, McCann put us on top and Miller closed the door. Everybody pitched excellent out of the bullpen, and I’m just trying to follow everybody’s lead, trying to match each other’s intensity.”
The Yankees are on a roll, and regardless of labels, the relievers are keeping it that way.
“I’ll put our guys up against anybody,” Brian McCann said. “The stuff that’s coming out of the bullpen is incredible.”
• The big offensive blow, obviously, was McCann’s go-ahead home run in the sixth. It was his second of the year, snapping a stretch of 40 at-bats without one. “I’ve been feeling good all year,” McCann said. “Obviously the numbers aren’t showing it, but I’ve been seeing the ball good from Opening Day.”
• McCann had a second hit tonight, but that one was a relatively soft single to the left side to beat the shift. The home run led to a run (obviously), but so did that single. “Brian is a good hitter, that’s the bottom line,” Girardi said. “He’s going to be productive for us. Some of the guys take a little while to get going. He had two interesting hits tonight. One was a real big one and the other one was important, too. It gave us another run. I think he’s a middle-of-the-order hitter that’s going to be extremely productive.”
• Carlos Beltran also had a big hit with his hard double immediately after the McCann home run. Beltran has been, quite literally, the Yankees worst hitter this season, but Girardi has said he plans to stick with Belran as a regular in the lineup. Tonight it paid off. “I’m just working in the cage every day on my swing,” Beltran said. “It’ll have to come. I feel like the cage, I’ve been having good sessions. It’s about bringing it to the game.”
• The Yankees have now homered in 16 of their 20 games this season.
• Strong start for Adam Warren, who’s pitched very well ever since that brutal first inning in Detroit last week. He has pitched especially well in this stadium where he has a 1.71 ERA since the start of 2014. Of course, most of those outings came as a reliever. “I’m just trying to give the team a chance to win every time I go out there,” Warren said. “And I feel like I’ve done that. I think the big picture is: The team wins. For me, if I can give the team a chance to win after I go out there, that’s what I’m trying to prove.”
• Warren set a career high with six strikeouts, he almost matched the longest start of his career (which he also reached last time out in Detroit). “The first (start) I think I’ve had this year where I’ve had all four pitches working and I can locate them,” he said.
• Girardi on Warren: “I think he was ahead in the count a lot more tonight. I think that helped him, it kept his pitch count down. He was really aggressive. I thought he threw the ball extremely well; he used his curveball and slider well tonight, too. He got some early strikes with his curveball and did a nice job.”
• This was Wilson’s first win with the Yankees. He hadn’t picked up a win anywhere since July 12 of last season. He retired all three batters he faced. “When the phone rings and we’re told to get up, then that’s our time,” Wilson said. “Really, we just want to go out there and get outs.
• Betances has not allowed a hit in his past five appearances, a span of six innings in which he has one walk with 11 strikeouts.
• When did the season start to turn around for Betances? “The second time I pitched in Baltimore,” he said. “I felt my breaking ball was getting better and I was throwing it more for strikes. I felt a lot better after that.”
• Jose Pirela continued his rehab assignment today by playing second base for Double-A Trenton. I really wonder if the Yankees might option Gregorio Petit tomorrow to make room for Chase Whitley and then activate Pirela in time to play against a left-handed starter on Wednesday.
• Tough break for a really good guy: Brandon McCarthy is out for the year with a torn UCL. McCarthy was an obvious injury risk, but the Dodgers were willing to go four years with him. Looks like they’ll get maybe two and a half years out of that contract. Yankees showed some early interest but weren’t willing to a contract that big. Good call.
• Down in Trenton, Dan Pfeiffer reports the Yankees have released left-handed reliever Fred Lewis. Last spring, Lewis put himself on the map with a good big league camp, but he got off to a rough start last season and fell off the radar pretty quickly. Became thoroughly overshadowed in the organization’s upper-level bullpen depth.
• Final word goes to Girardi about moving into sole possession of first place: “It’s better than the alternative. Obviously we have a long way to go, but we’re playing a lot better baseball than we were the first time we were here. That’s a good thing. We just need to continue to do it.”
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One by one, we’ve counted the Alex Rodriguez home runs. His first homer back from suspension. The one he hit in Baltimore. Two in one game against the Rays. And last night, the one that put him one away from Willie Mays. Every A-Rod home run is big news, and that certainly the next time he goes deep.
All of which has let Mark Teixeira hit his home runs in relative silence, quietly leading the Yankees, one away from the Major League lead.
“There’s been some games that he’s single-handley won for us,” Joe Girardi said. “His average is starting to climb now as it’s started to get a little bit warmer. His run production is so important to us, and I’ve been able to pencil him in there basically every day in the same spot and not move him around.”
Even with the .242 batting average — which was below .200 just a few days ago — Teixeira still ranks fifth in the American League with a 1.044 OPS. He’s drawn enough walks to keep his on-base percentage high (more walks than strikeouts), and he’s hit with such power that his doubles and home runs have made it easy to overlook the fact he has just three singles (and two of those singles came in one game).
While Rodriguez was the Yankees’ obvious wild card coming into spring training, Teixeira was also a bit of an unknown. His numbers have declined ever since that standout Yankees debut back in 2009. His 2013 season was lost to wrist surgery, and last year started fairly strong before falling apart through a series of nagging injuries and what Teixeira has described as a lack of strength and endurance. Having rehabbed the winter before, Teixeira simply wasn’t powerful enough to be an offensive force all last season.
“A winter is somewhat of a rehab of your whole body,” Girardi said. “When you spend it on one area, sometimes you can’t do as much in another area that you want to, and that sometimes hurts players.”
Teixeira is a notoriously slow starter, but he’s been a driving force this April, and he was just named the American League Player of the Week after hitting five home runs in his past seven games. He has eight total, and while they haven’t gotten nearly the attention of the guy hitting ahead of him, it seems little coincidence Teixeira’s power surge has come during a good week for the Yankees as a whole.
“What I’ve noticed is he’s healthy,” Girardi said. “That’s been the biggest change for me, not having to come in to see where he’s at physically every day. I haven’t had to do that, and it’s showed up on the field, the way he’s responded. He’s been the Mark we’ve been used to seeing before he started having nagging injuries and obviously the serious one a couple of years ago.”
• Just a day off for Chase Headley, who Girardi felt could use a day. That leaves third base for Rodriguez. “The last time he played third, he played well,” Girardi said. “In spring training, he played third well. He’s going to catch it and he’s going to throw it. He’s going to make the right decision with the baseball. I know his range is not what it was at 25, but no one’s range is what it was 15 years ago, so that’s the reality of it.”
• Obviously still a lot of talk about Rodriguez and the upcoming 660th home run. While the Yankees front office might not want to declare it a marketable milestone, there’s little arguing it’s a milestone. And Rodriguez’s teammates seem genuinely happy about that. “I think our players are happy for him,” Girardi said. “They’re having fun. Those guys are having fun in there. And Alex is a big part of that.”
• Speaking of those guys, Carlos Beltran is back in the lineup, but he’s hitting sixth and getting a turn at designated hitter. Chris Young has been taking some of his at-bats recently, but Girardi remains committed to giving Beltran time to get going offensively. Right now, he has the lowest OPS on the team at .494. “I think you don’t lose perspective that so many players — personaly, I went through it and I was never close to the hitter Carlos was — there are months that are tough,” Girardi said. “The important thing is that you continue to send him out there and understand that he’s going to turn it around and be a big part of our offense.”
• What does Girardi see from an older player that makes him think he won’t turn it around? “I think you don’t see them hit balls hard,” Girardi said. “We’ve seen Carlos hit some balls hard, so obviously you know it’s still in there.”
• At this point, even Girardi laughs at the fact he hasn’t named a closer. It’s clearly Andrew Miller, but Girardi said he feels no need to make that official. Any real reason to not assign the title? “No, not really,” Girardi said. “Just gives me more flexibility.”
• Speaking of the bullpen, Girardi said he feels the pen is still in pretty good shape even after pitching a lot of inning yesterday.
• Girardi said he’s “95 percent sure” Chase Whitley will start tomorrow. The Yankees deliberately kept Whitley and Bryan Mitchell separated in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation so that one of them would be available basically any time the team needed a spot starter. “We wanted to set it up that way,” Girardi said. “And we made him aware of that (out of spring training).”
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David Price actually very good career numbers at Comerica Park, and through most of his career he’s pitched well against the Yankees. The past two times he faced the Yankees in this ballpark, though, his starts have been a mess. Last August, in only his second home start with the Tigers, the Yankees pounced on Price for eight runs and nine straight hits in the third inning. Tonight, it was six runs on five hits, two walks and a hit batter in the first inning, then two more runs in the second inning.
Price’s start got so out of hand that at one point he intentionally walked Gregorio Petit with two outs and a runner at third.
“Being able to do what we did, it gives us a lot of confidence,” Carlos Beltran said. “When the offense is good and everything is working well, we’re capable of doing that.”
“I guess it’s just one of those things,” he said. “For whatever reason we’ve put together good at-bats, strung together consistent at-bats throughout the lineup to get multiple hits. … Each time you’ve got to prepare for him, knowing he watched the game film, knowing he’ll probably attack hitters differently. Then try to put quality at-bats together, grind out at-bats, and do as much as you can to put quality at-bats together. That’s all you can really do against someone like that.”
This was a brutal night, especially in that first inning with the snow falling and hands far colder than anyone would like when they’re throwing a baseball. This wasn’t the best version of Price, but the Yankees took advantage of it. And while Adam Warren got his night turned around, the Yankees kept attacking Price with a two-out rally in the second inning, then a couple of hits in the third.
The Yankees aren’t simply getting better results in the past week, they’re legitimately playing better.
“I said all along, I think this group’s talented,” Girardi said. “Sometimes guys get off to slow starts and you don’t make too much of it. You’ve just got to ride things out. We played really bad the first week at home. Really bad. We’ve turned it around on this road trip and are playing better. Our defense is getting better. Base running’s better. Continuing to swing the bats. It’s a group that really wants to win, and they’ve got a lot of fight in them.”
Tonight that fight was directed at Price, and the Yankees once again knocked him out in the third round.
• Adam Warren said he did enough stretching and throwing during that 31-minute top of the first inning that he felt loose and ready to pitch, but when he got to the mound, he walked four of the first five batters he faced. After that, he was terrific, but that first inning was brutal. “I think you just kind of have to learn how to pitch out there and find a way to get some feeling in your hands and on the ball,” Warren said. “… You want to go out there and just attack hitters, especially in those kind of conditions. So that was tough for me just because I hate walking people in general. It was tough to deal with, but I tried to bounce back and get back to my strengths: pounding the zone.”
• When Larry Rothschild went to the mound, the message was largely about regrouping. Warren said Rothschild reminded him to stay back as long as possible and try to keep the ball down, but he was also telling him to get some more feeling in his fingers. Girardi said going to the mound was as much about giving Warren a break as anything. “Sometimes you just need to step back for a second and regroup,” Girardi said. “I didn’t ask (Rothschild) what he said, but whatever he said worked.”
• After that first inning, Warren and the Yankees relievers — Justin Wilson, David Carpenter, Chasen Shreve — not only kept the Tigers scoreless, but they kept the Tigers from even getting into scoring position. “I’m proud of the way I bounced back and gave the team some depth,” Warren said. “Got into the sixth, so I’m pleased with that.”
• Esmil Rogers started tossing in the bullpen in the first inning, and Girardi said he was about one hitter away from getting him hot and ready to enter the game. Warren getting through that inning and then pitching into the sixth basically saved the bullpen from having to burn out anyone heading into tomorrow’s finale and another seven games in a row without an off day.
• Gregorio Petit came into this game with a .261 OPS. Not batting average. Not on-base percentage. On-base-plus-slugging of .261, yet he’s the one who delivered the big blow with a three-run double in the first inning. Then he was intentionally walked in the second. His OPS climbed by nearly .200 points in one night. “I know I can hit,” Petit said. “I trust myself a lot. Things haven’t gone the way I wanted, but that’s baseball. You’re going to have good days and bad days. You have to just keep working. That’s what I’ve been doing and today it came out at the right time.”
• Petit has five major league walks in his career. Tonight’s was certainly the first time he was walked intentionally in the big leagues. “I was smiling in my head, I can’t lie,” he said. “I was kind of surprised, but it’s part of the game.”
• Price walked Petit to face Didi Gregorius, who made an out that at-bat, but later doubled in two runs for his first extra-base hit of the year. Gregorius also had a walk in the game, but he also made another error and made two questionable decisions in the first inning. “I’ve said all along that this is a place where it takes some guys some time to get comfortable here,” Girardi said. “New York’s not the easiest place to come and play and be really good right from the beginning. We’ve seen a lot of really good players take time to adjust, and I think he’s adjusting as it goes on. I do.”
• Should Gregorius have thrown the ball normally instead of flipping underhand on that potential double play ball in the first? “I don’t think we’re getting it either way,” Girardi said. “I think he was making sure that he got one out.”
• Later in the first inning, Ellsbury actually got his first RBI of the year. Leadoff guy got his first RBI with a first-inning hit that wasn’t a home run. Funny. “I knew it was a matter of time,” Ellsbury said. “I had been putting together quality at-bats with runners in scoring position, and quality at-bats without runners in scoring position. I knew it was a matter of time before it happened.”
• Back-to-back triples by Beltran and Chase Headley. That means four Yankees have tripled in the past week, and those three are Beltran, Headley, Garrett Jones and Brian McCann. None of those four are speed guys by any stretch of the imagination. “I was once,” Beltran said, with a laugh.
• Might not happen often, so let’s give the final word to Petit: “Everybody thought we were going to have a tough game because of the weather. To get that hit against him, we got to him early and took the lead. It was awesome. It was a great feeling for me and for the team. I was super-happy.”
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Just a few days ago, Joe Girardi was talking about not making too much of a few at-bats. He was determined to give his veteran hitters time to right the ship. There would be no significant changes based on strong starts or slow starts.
In the past two days, though, we’ve seen some lineup tweaks involving Carlos Beltran. Last night, Beltran returned from illness to find himself dropped to fifth in the order so that Alex Rodriguez could remain in the No. 3 spot. Today, Beltran is on the bench so that red-hot Chris Young can get another start against a lefty (and so that two left-handed hitting outfielders can stay in the lineup).
Girardi made it clear that Beltran will play again tomorrow, but today he basically had a choice of playing Young ahead of Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner, and he chose to sit the switch-hitter Beltran.
“Just the way Chris has been playing and Gardy and Ells, too,” Girardi said. “Carlos will be back in there tomorrow. Just the way I went with it today.”
Two things at play here: Rodriguez and Young have basically been must-play guys, especially against left-handed pitchers, and Beltran has struggled to a .171/.222/.268 start to the season. Girardi has expressed confidence that Beltran will turn it around — and sitting him today is certainly not an indication that Beltran’s going to be a regular bench player going forward — but at this point, Ellsbury, Gardner and Young have been the Yankees three best outfielders.
Young, in particular, has been a potent source of power, kind of building on his strong September of a year ago.
“It’s been great,” Young said. “I love it here. This team received me well. The clubhouse is amazing. The coaching staff is amazing. I’ve gotten an opportunity here, so I’m really grateful for that.”
Girardi made a point of saying this isn’t a right-field platoon in which Beltran will always sit against lefties, but at this point, Young’s made it awfully hard to keep him out of the lineup.
“I think that’s what he’s done,” Girardi said. “He’s pushed himself into that position, and that’s why I chose to go the way I did today.”
A few quick updates from extended spring training:
• Jose Pirela went 1-for-3 while playing third base in an extended spring game yesterday. He was hit by a pitch in his first at-bat but stayed in the game. He will play seven innings at second base tomorrow.
• Ivan Nova threw two innings, 35 pitches, of live batting practice.
• Chris Capuano will throw two innings in an extended spring game tomorrow.
• Brendan Ryan took ground balls and went through batting practice.
• The Yankees defense was awful when the season started, but lately it’s been a definite strength. “I just think they were too good not to turn around,” Girardi said. “I just think what we saw is not something we ever expected and just kind of got off to a slow start defensively. It was hard to put your finger on it.”
• Meanwhile, the Yankees offense has been extremely home run heavy. They’ve hit a lot of homers, but they don’t have a single player batting .300 and only three everyday guys have an on-base percentage higher than .317. “It is kind of strange,” Girardi said. “We’ve produced a lot of our runs by the home run, and we knew we had power in our lineup. I don’t think it will always be like that. We scored five in Tampa the other day without hitting a home run. I’m not so sure we’ve done that too often this year. That’s the kind of club we are. We have some speed at the top obviously, but you look at 3 through 7, 3 through 8, they have the ability to hit a lot of home runs.”
• The Yankees face another lefty tomorrow (not just any lefty, David Price). Girardi said he expects Didi Gregorius to play that game (presumably with Stephen Drew on the bench), and he expects Beltran back in the lineup with either Gardner or Ellsbury on the bench.
• Chasen Shreve is back, but he’s back against a lineup that has a bunch of right-handed hitters. Essentially, it sounds like he’ll be the long man these next three days, leaving Esmil Rogers available for shorter outings in right-on-right situations. “The one thing about Chasen is he gives you multiple innings more than a Branden (Pinder) does,” Girardi said. “Against a lineup that has a lot of right-handers, it allows you to use Esmil a little bit differently.”
• Talked to Shreve for a little bit this afternoon. He said that the morning after the 19-inning game — when Shreve pitched 3.1 scoreless innings — Andrew Miller actually said something to him about the Yankees definitely needing to call up a fresh reliever for the next game. Shreve said he completely agreed, but it never once occurred to him that he’d be the one sent down. After he was told, Shreve said, he instantly realized that he was the most logical option. Funny, it takes most players a little bit of time before they’re able to put those sort of pieces together. Shreve was smiling about it today. Totally gets why it happened, but he’s obviously happy to be back.
• Girardi on last night’s anti-media rant by Reds manager Bryan Price: “We live in a day that strategy is very important to us, and people (in the media) are so good at what they do now that it’s hard to keep something like (not having a player) under wraps. For me, I try to understand that. And I understand that the media business is very competitive, but we don’t like to give out our strategy. That’s part of it. I’m sure if he had a chance to do it over again, he might have did it a little different. Sometimes we get upset and we say things that we wish we had said a little bit differently.”
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