It’s worth remembering that last spring, CC Sabathia’s numbers were excellent. His fastball velocity was down, but so was his ERA. He made five official starts with a 1.29 ERA with a 0.76 WHIP. His 16 strikeouts were tied for the third-most in camp.
Then he opened the season, got knocked around for a month and a half, and wound up having knee surgery.
“I felt a lot better (today) than I did last spring when I didn’t give up many runs,” Sabathia said after today’s three-homer letdown. “So I’d rather get my (butt) kicked and feel like I did today than give up no runs and feel like I did last year.”
The Yankees keep saying the results don’t matter with Sabathia. At least not the results that end up in the box score. He faced 13 batters today, struck out four of them and gave up hits to five of them. Three of those hits were home runs. One was inside-the-park — and my guess is Jacoby Ellsbury might have caught it — but even that ball was hit awfully hard.
“Just fastballs that were up and they put good swings on them,” Sabathia said. “For me it’s just frustrating because I was throwing the ball so well leading up to this in bullpens and stuff, and to come out here and not have my delivery together is a little frustrating, but it is spring training. It’s March 22 and I’ll take this, file it, and just get ready for the next start.”
The gun here in Port St. Lucie had Sabathia’s fastball at 93-94 mph, and I’m told that, if anything, that gun tends to be slow. That’s encouraging for a guy who needs his strength. For Sabathia’s it’s not all about velocity, but throwing harder is a good sign that his strength is returning. He said that’s a product of a healthy knee, which lets him me more aggressive and direct to the plate.
“I think sometimes we forget that CC didn’t pitch much last year,” Joe Girardi said. “For him it’s just getting back to the consistency and getting him some work. CC’s always thrived on that. It seems the more you work him, the better he gets. He feels great. There’s a lot of life to his arm. I’m still encouraged. I don’t worry about the numbers. I told you I’m not going to because I think he needs to pitch.”
Today’s problem, Sabathia said, was mechanical. Bad mechanics led to pitches up in the zone, and pitches up in the zone were hit hard. When his mechanics were right, Sabathia was plenty effective. Both Sabathia and Girardi said it’s a matter of consistency. There were good pitches today, but also enough bad ones to cause a problem. Opening Day is two weeks away, and Sabathia said that’s enough time — whether he’s pitching Game 1 or not — to get ready for the regular season.
“I’ve still got hopefully two more starts down here, a couple more bullpens,” Sabathia said. “I’m kind of a slow starter anyway. The way I feel right now, I’m encouraged that I could kind of turn this thing around. … Definitely a lot more life than (the fastball had) the past couple of years. It’s just an extra pitch for me that I can use. I feel a lot better. It’s more about getting my command down and hitting my spots and just going from there.”
• Over in Tampa, Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-5 with two singles, two ground outs and a strikeout while playing five innings at third base for the Double-A team. Carlos Beltran started at DH for the Triple-A group and went 2-for-4 with a double, a walk and a strikeout. “Today was just a good day of work,” Rodriguez told reporters in Tampa. “Anytime you can see however many pitches I saw, probably 20, that’s a good day, a productive day.”
• Plan is for Rodriguez to DH and Beltran to play right field at the complex tomorrow. If it rains and the fields are wet, though, Beltran will probably DH as well, Girardi said.
• Speaking of guys getting at-bats, Brendan Ryan started at DH this afternoon. He’ll play again tomorrow, getting his second turn at shortstop.
• Don’t count Scott Baker out of the pitching staff competition just yet. Still vaguely in the mix to be the fifth starter or a long man, Baker delivered 4.1 scoreless innings this afternoon. He allowed just one hit, walked none and struck out two. “He threw really well,” Girardi said. “Down in the zone. Really, really good.”
• Baker’s now appeared in three games. He got clobbered the first time, but he’s been already since then. Still hasn’t walked anyone and said he said today’s results were mostly a matter of throwing better first pitches. There’s also the matter of healthy. Baker said he feels healthier than he has in years. “I feel really good,” he said. “I feel healthy.”
• When the Mets didn’t hold him on at first, Mark Teixeira actually stole a base today. “If you don’t pay attention, he’s a smart player,” Girardi said. “He’s done it before.”
• The Yankees had just three hits today, all singles: Teixeira, Nick Noonan (who’s quietly hitting .300) and John Ryan Murphy had the hits. … The Yankees lost 6-0. … Chasen Shreve allowed the final two Mets runs. He gave up three hits including a homer in the eighth inning.
• Before the game, Girardi talked about Sabathia’s willingness to make his season debut at any time. He said Sabathia’s been fine with the idea that he might not start Opening Day. We’ll make this our final word: “I think CC understands the big picture,” Girardi said. “The big picture is that he’s ready to go and he’s healthy. The last thing we want to do is rush anyone and put them in jeopardy for the season. He’s been really understanding, and he knows we’re just trying to do what’s in the best interest of him and the team.”
Associated Press photos
Today it’s Adam Warren’s turn. Last night it was Esmil Rogers, and at some point it will be Bryan Mitchell again, but today’s it’s Warren trying to make an impression in the fifth-starter competition.
“I always wanted to just come in and get ready for the season,” Warren said. “And those last couple of weeks, get ready to compete a little bit. I think they know what I’m capable of. Maybe not as a starter (though), so just try to go out there and try to prove myself a little bit, and just go from there. I don’t know if I’ve really ramped it up any or anything like that. I just want to go out there and compete. That just says the same no matter what.”
Rogers is relatively new to the organization, and Mitchell has very limited big league experience. The other two vaguely in the mix are Scott Baker and Chase Whitley, another guy who’s new to the organization and another guy with limited big league experience.
Then there’s Warren, who came up through the Yankees organization and has solidified himself as a big league pitcher the past two years. He’s made some spot starts, but his real breakout came as a late-inning reliever last season.
“I was always (thinking), I’m a starter, I’m a starter, I’m a starter,” Warren said. “But then I kind of liked the bullpen the last couple of years. I see myself being more versatile now as opposed to just a starter. I still want to hold onto being a starter because I love doing that. I don’t have a preference. It’s not going to matter to me where I end up. I still want to be labeled as a starter and be a starter because that’s what I’ve always done. … I’m not going to be disappointed either way, but I would love to be a starter so I can kind of hold onto that.”
Joe Girardi has stressed that the Yankees are looking to build a 12-man pitching staff, not just a five-man rotation. They have to take the entire group into account. For a decision like this, it’s not necessarily a matter of picking the best pitcher, putting him in the rotation, and letting the second-best fall into the bullpen. Some guys are better suited for the pen. Some are better suited for the rotation.
Does the fact the Yankees have seen Warren thrive in the bullpen make them lean toward keeping him in the relief role?
“The thing about Adam, I think he’s extremely equipped to do both because he is a four-pitch guy,” Girardi said. “Adam is one of the few guys that uses four pitches out of the bullpen. I think he’s grown up a lot in the last couple years. It’s just trying to figure out how we’re the best.”
• Speaking of the rotation, Girardi said the current rotation order — in which CC Sabathia is on an every-five-days routine that leads toward Opening Day, while Masahiro Tanaka lines up after him — is not necessarily the order the Yankees will take into the season. The Yankees have built in some wiggle room to make adjustments along the way. “We still have plenty of time to iron it out,” Girardi said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. A lot of it depends on Tanaka and CC and where they’re at, where we think they’re at. That’s the bottom line. The fact we haven’t announced anything is because we haven’t got them built up enough to feel comfortable that they’re ready to go.”
• Alex Rodriguez is back at designated hitter today while Garrett Jones gets another turn at first base. Girardi said he still thinks there’s a chance Rodriguez will play first base a game or two this spring, but for now, it’s more important that Jones gets time at the position because he’ll be the go-to backup. “I said I did want to put (Rodriguez) out there one time, two times,” Girardi said. “So it might be something that we mess around with the last couple of weeks. And it may not be.”
• Plan is for Brendan Ryan to play four or five innings at shortstop today. He’s basically on a schedule similar to most guys getting into spring training games for the first time. Girardi wants to make sure he gets a couple of at-bats, but there’s no sense of pushing him to play seven or eight innings right out of the gate.
• Carlos Beltran is skipping the upcoming long road trip to the east side of the state and will instead get at-bats at the minor league complex (Rodriguez is doing the same thing). Girardi said that’s not because Beltran is considered to be behind and in need of extra at-bats, it’s more to let him avoid two long bus rides.
• The Yankees made another round of cuts late last night. Girardi said he didn’t have the full list, but Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Jose De Paula and Nick Rumbelow had their lockers cleared out this morning. Apparently a full, official list of cuts will be sent out later today.
• Dellin Betances is throwing a simulated game today, pitching to John Ryan Murphy while facing Francisco Arcia and Eddy Rodriguez.
• Jose Ramirez, Ivan Nova and Vicente Campos have bullpens today.
• A few guys are back from minor league camp to add extra depth today: RHP Branden Pinder, RHP Cesar Vargas, LHP Fred Lewis, RHP Chris Smith, INF Ali Castillo, OF Ben Gamel, OF Aaron Judge, OF Jake Cave.
• Today’s second string: C Austin Romine, 1B Francisco Arcia, 2B Cole Figueroa, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Ben Gamel, CF Slade Heathcott, RF Aaron Judge, DH Eddy Rodriguez
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Chase Whitley, Chris Martin, Nick Rumbelow, Jacob Lindgren
Associated Press photos
The Yankees have a night game — their first of the spring — so we have a few hours to kill today. Let’s start with a few random observations and thoughts as we enter the middle of March:
• So who’s the fifth starter now, what does that mean for the rest of the pitching staff, and what does that mean for the Yankees idea of using six starters a few times in April and May? It really seems those questions could be answered any number of ways by the time Opening Day roles around. My feeling is that Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers are the heavy favorites for the rotation opening, which further opens the possibility of either Chase Whitley or Bryan Mitchell taking a long-relief role. I also wonder if the Yankees might carry a guy like Scott Baker as their long man, sending Whitley and Mitchell to Triple-A to stay stretched out for a call-up to make a spot start here and there. If I have to guess right now, I’ll say it’s Warren in the rotation, Rogers in the bullpen, with Whitley and Jose Ramirez breaking camp as the 11th and 12th pitchers on the staff. But that’s a true shot in the dark.
• Honestly, Alex Rodriguez looks better than I expected. I don’t think he looks great, but he seems to still have a solid eye at the plate, and I think he can at least make the routine plays at third base. The Yankees might be able to get away with starting him there every 10 games or so, knowing they’ll have to bring Chase Headley or Brendan Ryan (or Jose Pirela) in to play some late-inning defense. Saying that Rodriguez looks better than I thought isn’t to say I think he’s going to be a middle-of-the-order slugger, only that I think there’s at least some reason to hope he can be a useful hitter near the bottom of the order (maybe a little higher against lefties). Most surprising thing about A-Rod this spring: fans seem to be mostly on his side. Certainly not completely on his side, but definitely more cheers than boos.
• Weird thing about covering Masahiro Tanaka’s spring is that each good day seems like a tease. The best the Yankees can say is, well, his elbow hasn’t blown out yet. That’s it. Maybe optimism grows each time he goes out there, but a successful bullpen, batting practice or exhibition game doesn’t eliminate the possibility of his elbow blowing out the very next time he pitches. I think the Yankees should feel encouraged at this point, but I’m not sure they’ll ever feel secure. I do think they made the right call in trying to rehab — I honestly think we rarely hear about the success stories when pitchers approach it that way — but even if Tanaka makes 30 starts this year, those are going to be 30 uneasy outings.
• Tanaka is the best pitcher on this team, but it’s hard to be in the Yankees clubhouse and not see CC Sabathia as the clear ace. Pitchers still look to him for advice. They look to him for leadership. And the big man provides. I have no clue whether he can be a great big league pitcher again. I don’t even know if he can be a solid No. 3. But I don’t think his role in the clubhouse has changed from what it was three years ago. Even veteran guys will gather around near his locker to talk to him about anything and everything.
• When camp opened, I thought Rob Refsnyder would get some chance to compete for a roster spot. I didn’t think he’d win one, but I thought he’d get some significant attention beyond that of his other inevitable Triple-A teammates. Instead, Refsnyder doesn’t seem to be getting any more of a look than Jonathan Galvez or Nick Noonan. Refsnyder might jump into the picture if Stephen Drew gets hurt, but it really seems — they haven’t said this, just seems obvious — that the Yankees have no intention of sending Refsnyder anywhere but the minor leagues, probably to work on his defense.
• Three ways I see for Jose Pirela to make the roster. 1. Brendan Ryan’s back doesn’t get better and the Yankees choose Pirela as a right-handed platoon infielder, sliding Drew to shortstop on days Didi Gregorius needs a break. 2. Chris Young gets hurt, and Pirela is the right-handed fourth outfielder. 3. Alex Rodriguez absolutely can’t play third base, leaving Ryan as the only backup at second, short and third. If that’s the case, the Yankees could decide they need a bigger bat and settle on Pirela instead (again, using Drew at shortstop on days Gregorius sits). Even in that third situation, though — with A-Rod relegated to DH only — I still tend to think Ryan would actually keep the bench job ahead of Pirela, at least coming out of camp. The Yankees seem to want to make sure they have enough shortstop depth to open the season, and losing Ryan really makes that position thin.
• I think Nathan Eovaldi is going to be good, but I also think the closest thing to a sure thing in the Yankees rotation is Michael Pineda, and that’s just crazy after what that guy’s been through these past three years.
• Slade Heathcott looks good so far. Incredibly small sample size, but he’s hit pretty well and has played a pretty good center field when he’s been out there. Heathcott is always in insane shape, and he’s clearly convinced the knee problems are behind him. He lost considerable prospect status and a spot on the 40-man roster for good reason — he simply has to stay healthy — but there’s still a lot of talent there.
• Backup catcher? I still think it’ll be John Ryan Murphy, even though he’s not doing much at the plate. If that’s the case and the Yankees have to put Austin Romine on waivers, I honestly hope he’s claimed so that he can get another shot somewhere else. Romine seems to do things the right way, and he’s just been buried in this organization.
• One thing making me think the Yankees are preparing themselves for the possibility of losing Romine is that Eddy Rodriguez seems to be catching quite a few bullpens with big league pitchers. He caught Masahiro Tanaka’s sim game the other day. He’s caught CC Sabathia. I wonder if the Yankees are trying to get Rodriguez a little familiarity with the big league staff just in case they lose Romine and need another catcher during the year. There’s no guarantee Gary Sanchez will deserve a call-up — and the Yankees might not want Sanchez to be a backup at this stage of his development — so Rodriguez could be that just-in-case veteran waiting in Triple-A. If so, it would make some sense to let him get a little familiar with the guys on the big league staff.
• Carlos Beltran looks healthy, but he’s done nothing at the plate so far. Everyone should know not to make anything of these early at-bats for a veteran guy like Beltran, but it’s hard to apply that logic when he’s coming off such a bad year and the Yankees are counting on him so heavily. I make nothing of Jacoby Ellsbury’s slow start, nothing of Didi Gregeoius’s slow start, and I guess I make nothing of Beltran’s slow start, but I can’t help noticing it.
• Four players who I absolutely do not expect to make the big league roster under any circumstances: Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Luis Severino and Heathcott. Yes, they’re high-end talents, but I just don’t think the Yankees are seriously considering them as big leaguers out of camp. In the second half? Maybe. Especially for Severino. But out of spring training is way too ambitious. I think Refsnyder and Jacob Lindgren could make it under some circumstances — probably Lindgren easier than Refsnyder — but I just don’t see any of the most hyped prospects actually being on the big league radar for April. They’re getting attention because they’re talented, not because they’re about to make the team.
Associated Press photos
Carlos Beltran walked twice, struck out once, played six innings in right field and said he did it all with no pain or discomfort in his right elbow. He wore a brace during the game, but had nothing on his arm when it was over.
“Honestly I’m not concerned at all,” he said. “I’ve been taking a lot of swings in spring training and taking a lot of BP. Thank God every day I wake up feeling good. I have no concerns. Now it’s just time to get the timing and that’s it.”
The walk came in Beltran’s third and final plate appearance before he was lifted for a pinch runner. He had only one play in the field, which was basically recovering a double.
After offseason surgery to repair a bone spur and remove loose pieces from his elbow, Beltran got into spring training games a little later than most of his teammates, but he’s been going through drills since pitchers and catchers reported two weeks ago.
“The good thing is I am pain free,” he said. “Now it’s time to continue to get better and put good at-bats during the whole spring training. … Honestly speaking I have no idea (how many at-bats are necessary). I’m just going up with the program and I know that once we get less people here, you’re going to start playing more often and almost every day. Once we get to that point, then that will be good for us.”
• Alex Rodriguez was also 0-for-2 with a walk tonight. He struck out and lined softly to short on a broken bat. “All I’m looking to do right now is just square the ball, start hitting the ball with good contact,” he said. “I think like any other spring, hopefully in the last week four, week five, I’ll start driving the ball. It’s par for the course right now. You don’t want to be locked in on March . . . whatever it is.”
• Rodriguez’s last at-bat was a strikeout against hard-throwing Blake Wood, whose fastball averages roughly 97 mph. Rodriguez didn’t swing at three straight called strikes. “The last at-bat, I don’t think I saw one of those pitches,” Rodriguez said. “I was hoping one of them was a ball. … The other day I got a 96 MPH fastball and hit it sharply to short. Some days are going to be pretty goods, some days are going to be pretty bad. This is just a work in progress.”
• Plan is for Rodriguez to play again on Sunday. “Do I put him at third?” Giradri said. “It’s possible.”
• The Yankees had their own hard-throwing right-hander on the mound tonight, getting their first look at offseason addition Chris Martin. He seemed to make a pretty strong impression stranding two runners with a strikeout and a couple of ground balls. “Martin did a really good job keeping his fastball down, and they did not have good swings on him tonight,” Girardi said. “That’s something obviously you pay attention to moving forward. Obviously there’s some deception there. He’s tall, and he’s got a real downhill angle.”
• This was also the spring debut of David Carpenter. While Martin is trying to win a spot in the bullpen, Carpenter seems to have one locked up. “Obviously they both have good fastballs,” Girardi said. “… I thought Carpenter threw a really good split. He got a strikeout on it. So we saw some really good things.”
• Yankees starter Chris Capuano had four strikeouts but also allowed a two-run homer in his two innings. He took the loss in a 3-1 game. … The other Pirates run came on a solo homer off Jose Ramirez. … Two strikeouts in an inning and a third for Jacob Lindgren. Another lefty, Chasen Shreve, pitched a scoreless ninth with no hits and two strikeouts. … Only five Yankees hits tonight, one apiece for Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jake Cave, Eddy Rodriguez and Francisco Arcia. Cave had the one Yankees RBI.
• Yankees starters this weekend: Scott Baker on Saturday and Adam Warren on Sunday. No starters announced beyond that, though the rotation — as we’ve seen it so far — lines up for Nathan Eovaldi on Monday and Esmil Rogers on Tuesday.
• Girardi sounded impressed by Bryan Mitchell’s start in the afternoon game. While Mitchell clearly has a big arm, Girardi certainly made it sound like the Yankees aren’t considering him for that open spot in the bullpen. “He’ll be a starter, yes,” Girardi said. “That doesn’t man that during the season you couldn’t use him different, but we’re preparing him to start.”
• For now, I really have to think the Yankees are thinking of Mitchell as readily available rotation depth, perhaps as an option for some of those sixth-starter opportunity. “He’s a guy at some point is going to help us this year,” Girardi said. “… It’s hard to say (whether he could win a job out of camp). There’s always those guys who you’re not sure where they’re going to be at, and they have a great camp and all of a sudden they surprise you and they’re part of your club. One of the reasons we’re starting him is we want him to get the experience because we believe he’s going to help us.”
• Plan was for Jaron Long to pitch two innings this afternoon, but after the 50-minute rain delay, the Yankees kept it to just one inning. “He knows how to pitch,” Girardi said. “He knows how to locate, he knows how to change speeds, so it was nice to watch.”
• From Baseball America’s Mat Eddy: The Yankees have signed Mat Gamel to a minor league deal. Gamel’s brother Ben plays in the Yankees system, and Mat was a pretty good young hitter before a series of knee injuries derailed his career. He hasn’t played in two years, but he used to rake in the minors, and he’s still just 29. Worth a shot I guess. He used to play a lot of third base, but was mostly a first baseman when he got hurt. Makes me wonder how the Yankees might use him if he’s healthy. Gamel hits left-handed, and so do the Yankees top upper-level first basemen Kyle Roller and Greg Bird.
• Final word to Girardi: “You saw some guys get out there for the first time. Martin for the first time and had a really good downhill fastball. Carpenter for the first time, which was good to see. It was good to see Gardy hit a ball on the screws and get on. Jake hit a ball on the screws. That sort of thing. It’s a lot of baseball, but it was a good day.”
Associated Press photos
A bit of comparison from last season:
1. Carlos Beltran’s slash line after May 1: .224/.298/.367
2. Alfonso Soriano’s slash line before his release: .221/.244/.367
The difference? Soriano was in the final year of his contract and was let go. Beltran was a year younger, in the first year of a three-year deal, playing through an elbow bone spur, and was not released at all. In fact, Beltran is right back where he was a year ago: in the corner of the Yankees’ spring clubhouse, being counted on to play right field and hit in the middle of the order.
Beltran will make his spring training debut tomorrow, and while his return to the lineup might not generate nearly the attention of Alex Rodriguez’s return, it will almost certainly be more important to the Yankees’ success or failure this season.
“I wasn’t focusing on taking my swing (last season),” Beltran said. “I was focusing on how I could take my swing and not feel pain. So that’s a different story. Now, being healthy, I’m focusing on how I can take my swing, take a good path to the ball. I’m a competitor. That’s who I am. Some people tolerate pain better than others. I would say I can tolerate a bit of pain.”
Beltran spent last season trying to tolerate pain. He said he hasn’t felt pain-free in seven or eight years, so playing through a nagging elbow injury was nothing new. Cortisone shots eased the discomfort from time to time, but it would always come back. Beltran came off the disabled list in June and put off surgery until the fall, but he was never the same hitter he’d been in April before the bone spur revealed itself.
“The mentality you want every player to have is, I can go out there every day,” manager Joe Girardi said. “And that’s how you get to be a player of Carlos’ magnitude, and a player that has had so many good years, because they have it in (their mind) that I want to be out there every day. … He would have some good days and some bad days, (but) he could never really get rid of it completely. He couldn’t do the work he wanted to do to get prepared every day, and he was extremely frustrated. I think it’s very difficult because I think you think every day, I’ll be productive today.”
There was a little burst of productivity in the middle of June, a good stretch in late July and early August, and a strong week in late August, but that was it. Otherwise, Beltran was a shell of himself. Rarely played the field and rarely hit like a true DH. Finally, the offseason brought surgery, and in mid-December Beltran tried to swing a bat again.
“When I took my first swing, I could tell it was different,” he said. “Which was a little weird because normally when you have surgery, you worry a little bit about how the elbow is going to respond. And the next day I woke up feeling fine. So I said, ‘OK, now it’s in the past. Let’s continue to strengthen the elbow and get better.’”
Getting better. That’s the idea. That’s the idea for Beltran, and that’s the idea for the Yankees. Asked whether he saw enough behind the scenes to feel confident last year’s numbers were 100 percent elbow related, Girardi was defiant.
“Oh, yes, definitely,” Girardi said.
Beltran, who turns 38 in April, seems just as optimistic.
“It was tough as a team (last year),” he said. “There were a lot of injuries. A lot of key guys got hurt. The good thing about this year is that everybody looks healthy. Especially myself. I look at Mark (Teixeira)’s wrist, he looks good to me now. (Ivan) Nova is making improvements. CC (Sabathia) looks pretty good. Masahiro Tanaka, also, is kind of like, healthy. So the key is that, if we find a way to stay healthy as a team, I don’t see a reason why we cannot compete in our division.”
Associated Press photos
When the Yankees signed Stephen Drew, his most obvious fit was at second base. While the Yankees said Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder would still get a chance to make the roster, Drew instantly became the clear favorite at the position. Now that the Yankees have prioritized Drew’s playing time with Didi Gregorius, it’s becoming clear just how thoroughly he has an early hold on the second base job.
Drew’s not just a favorite for the position. It’s clearly his job to lose.
So can there still be room for either Pirela or Refsnyder on the roster? Plans can certainly change, but right now the Yankees seem set on carrying a backup catcher (obviously) along with both Chris Young and Garrett Jones. That leaves one spot, and according to the plan, it belongs to Brendan Ryan.
“He’s a guy that we assume will be our backup shortstop,” Girardi said.
If the Yankees aren’t going to use Drew as their backup shortstop, then it seems the roster has little room for either Pirela or Refsnyder. Pirela is being treated as a guy right on the verge of a roster spot — his at-bats seem to be falling immediately behind the guys who are locked into spots — but for him to make the team, someone might have to get hurt or fall completely flat at the plate.
Girardi said he’s absolutely curious about the idea of using Pirela in a bench role, but there’s clearly not a spot currently waiting for him.
“We’re going to move him around because that flexibility is nice to have,” Girardi said. “In the limited time that he was up last year, he did a really good time for us. And you could put him in the outfield as well. I don’t know how much we’ll put him in the outfield in spring, but I’m comfortable putting him out there anywhere. You never know how things are going to shake out in camp.”
• This winter, the Yankees lost their go-to swing man when they traded David Phelps to Miami. Now it seems Esmil Rogers could fill that role as a long man, spot starter, or possibly even a late-inning reliever if he gets on a roll. “We feel he can do a lot of different things,” Girardi said. “He gives us a lot of flexibility, which is good we like having that on our pitching staff, because you never know when something’s going to pop up.”
• If the Yankees have so much faith in Rogers, why is it he’s never really stuck as a dependable big league pitcher in the past? “We think he’s got good stuff,” Giradri said. “It’s learning how to use it and become more consistent. He’s got velocity. He’s got a breaking ball. He’s got a changeup. He has the ability to pitch. You know he was a position player who turned into a pitcher, and sometimes those guys come a little later. He’s still learning. He has to learn on the job, and that’s not so easy.”
• Chase Whitley is scheduled for two innings out of the bullpen today. He’s also being stretched out this spring and could play a similar swing-man role as a guy who could start or pitch in long relief.
• With a split squad tomorrow, the Yankees are taking only three pitchers from big league camp to Clearwater. The rest of the road pitching staff will be guys from the minor league complex, including former top relief prospect Mark Montgomery and 2014 standout Jaron Long.
• Up from minor league camp for the day, low-level shortstop Tyler Wade is actually scheduled to get into today’s game.
• Three guys coming back from injury — Andrew Bailey, Ivan Nova and Vicente Campos — are each scheduled for early work tomorrow. For Nova, it will be his second bullpen incorporating both fastballs and changeups.
• Carlos Beltran remains on track to make his spring debut tomorrow. Sounds optimistic and happy with the way his workouts have gone so far. Says he knew from his first swing in December that his elbow was significantly better than last season.
• Four home games next week, including two on back-to-back days. Girardi said he wouldn’t rule out the idea of Alex Rodriguez playing all four of those home games.
• Players going through normal drills in Tampa: Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Slade Heathcott, Nick Noonan, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. All nine are listed for regular batting practice.
• Adam Warren and Luis Severino are throwing typical between-outings bullpen sessions.
Group 1 against Kyle Higashioka and Nick Noonan
Michael Pineda (to Gary Sanchez0
Dellin Betances (to Francisco Arcia)
Group 2 against Sanchez and Arcia
Jared Burton (to Kyle Higashioka)
CC Sabathia (to Higashioka)
• Today’s second string: C Austin Romine, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Cole Figueroa, SS Tyler Wade, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Ramon Flores, CF Jake Cave, RF Tyler Austin
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Chase Whitley, Nick Rumbelow, Cesar Vargas, Fred Lewis (with Jacob Lindgren, Zach Nuding, Diego Moreno and Taylor Garrison also making the trip just in case)
• Tomorrow’s travel group for the split-squad in Clearwater:
Pitchers: Nick Goody, Bryan Mitchell, James Pazos
Catchers: Trent Garrison, Kyle Higashioka, Gary Sanchez
Infielders: Greg Bird, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Kyle Roller, Mark Teixeira
Outfielders: Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott, Aaron Judge, Mason Williams
Minor league pitchers: Jaron Long, Matt Tracy, Mark Montgomery, Taylor Garrison, Caleb Cotham
Minor league position players: C Alvaro Noriega, 3B Eric Jagielo, OF Michael O’Neill, OF Taylor Dugas
Associated Press photos
Hard to make much of Game 1 lineup in spring training, but after seeing a similar batting order in yesterday’s intrasquad game, it seems we have a pretty good idea how Joe Girardi plans to stack the top of his lineup. Barring a surprising change of plans, Jacoby Ellsbury is the leadoff hitter, and Brett Gardner is the No. 2 hitter.
“It’s definitely a possibility,” Joe Girardi said (that’s about as much as he’ll ever commit to anything this time of year). “I think that both of them are capable of leading off. Ells has done it a little more in his career than Gardy, but I just kind of like the combination of those two guys together. We’ll take a look at it a lot this spring as we try to keep the outfielders together a lot early on, and the infielders together, just to see how it works. Left-handed, right-handed, in my mind right now I’m not really worried either way.”
Girardi wouldn’t go into detail about why exactly he likes Ellsbury ahead of Gardner — said it was about strategy, and he didn’t want to discuss strategy — but beyond Ellsbury’s experience in the leadoff spot, I think of the fact that Ellsbury seems to run more often than Gardner, and Gardner sees a lot of pitches, which creates plenty of opportunities for Ellsbury to take second or third.
“I would love (stealing bases) to be a successful tool whenever they can do it,” Girardi said. “That’s the key. Our success rate was really good last year. The one thing you don’t want to do is run yourself out of innings. But they’re both capable of stealing a ton of bases, creating a lot of pressure. Putting pressure on defenses, pitchers; maybe taking 10 percent, 15, 20 percent of their attention off the hitter, which is always great for the hitter, and I like that.”
While Girardi said it doesn’t bother him having two lefties at the top of the order, the situation gets a little more tricky when you consider Stephen Drew and Didi Gregorius are natural fits in the No. 8 and 9 spots in the order, creating a lineup with four lefties in a row.
“That’s the one thing that we have to kind of iron out, how that’s going to work,” Girardi said. “It’s possible you could have four in a row, and if I don’t have concerns about 1 and 2, then maybe late in the game you pinch hit at the bottom. They bring in their lefty, you bring in a righty to hit for them, so (the other team has) to make a choice.”
• Adam Warren is starting for the Yankees this afternoon. Girardi said he would consider using Warren as a starter even if everyone is healthy, but he also acknowledged that it’s tempting to keep Warren in the bullpen considering how well he handled that role last season. “I think (putting him in the rotation) is something you have to look at with the way he’s pitched,” Girardi said. “And with the health of our pitchers I think we also have to be prepared. I think it’s both reasons.”
• Alex Rodriguez said he’ll be “a little nervous, for sure” to face live pitching tomorrow. He’s staying behind in Tampa to go through normal drills. He said he expects to begin really focused first-base drills “within the next week.”
• Carlos Beltran is among those scheduled to stay behind in Tampa and go through normal workout drills, with hitting and fielding. Pretty much the same stuff the Yankees have been doing since position players showed up last week. Rodriguez, Stephen Drew, Ramon Flores, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley and Mark Teixeira will all participate in those drills. The catchers who are staying behind are scheduled to catch bullpens and hit.
• Brendan Ryan said he’s scheduled to take batting practice and field ground balls today. Yesterday he hit off a tee and played some light catch. The said his back is progressing well. Seems to be moving a lot a little quicker than he expected.
• Should be cool to see Luis Severino get into his first big league spring training game. “Pretty calm,” Girardi said. “Strike-thrower with very good stuff. I thought the BP sessions, the second one was better than the first; you saw growth, and him getting more comfortable. There’s kind of a buildup for pitchers. I don’t expect them to be in mid-season form their first BP, but he’s pretty calm. He’s a worker too, which is really good.”
• Francisco Arcia and Tyler Austin are making the trip to Clearwater, but they’re not scheduled to play. Drew the short straw, I guess.
Chris Martin (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Jared Burton (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Justin Wilson (to Gary Sanchez)
Andrew Bailey (to Gary Sanchez)
David Carpenter (to Trent Garrison)
• Bullpen sessions in Tampa:
Ivan Nova (to Austin Romine)
Jose Campos (to Juan Graterol)
Michael Pineda (to Brian McCann)
Esmil Rogers (to Joe Graterol)
Bryan Mitchell (to Roman Rodriguez)
Chase Whitley (to Juan Graterol)
• Today’s second string: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cito Culver, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Slade Heathcott, CF Jake Cave, RF Aaron Judge, DH Mason Williams
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Luis Severino, Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Nick Goody, Diego Moreno (also on the trip as just-in-case backups: Kyle Davies, Danny Burawa, Chasen Shreve and Tyler Webb)
Associated Press photos
I’ll try to have video from today’s intrasquad game posted to the blog soon. For now, a few quick notes from today:
1. Alex Rodriguez will make his spring training debut at home on Wednesday. He will start at designated hitter. Joe Girardi said he expects to give him two or three at-bats.
2. Carlos Beltran is scheduled to make his spring debut on Friday. No setback in camp, just moving intentionally a little slower with him.
3. Yankees sound happy with Masahiro Tanaka’s first live batting practice of the spring. “He’s right where we want him to be,” Joe Girardi said. CC Sabathia will face hitters for the first time later this week.
4. After Adam Warren on Tuesday, Nathan Eovaldi on Wednesday and Esmil Rogers on Thursday, the Yankees will have Bryan Mitchell and Chris Capuano start Friday’s split-squad doubleheader. Capuano will start the home game.
5. Catching prospect Luis Torrens has a shoulder injury. Assistant general manager Billy Eppler says the team is still evaluating the situation but should know more in the next 24 hours or so about the severity and the next step.
Associated Press photo
Today’s main event might be the afternoon intrasquad game, but the most important development is surely Masahiro Tanaka’s first live batting practice session.
Tanaka faced hitters earlier this morning and once again showed no signs of struggle or discomfort. He was scheduled to face a handful of minor league hitters, but Brett Gardner and Chris Young also got involved (they seemed to tracking pitches more than trying to actually hit).
Although Tanaka didn’t speak to media immediately after the session, he seemed to go straight to a normal workout, which is surely a good sign that he came through it healthy. Another step forward for a guy who claims to feel nothing unusual in his elbow. Tanaka sounds incredibly optimistic, and he’s passed every test so far.
Long way to go, but so far, so good.
There’s some video of the batting practice session at the top of this post.
• Alex Rodriguez will DH and hit cleanup in today’s intrasquad game, but he will not make tomorrow’s road trip to Clearwater. It seems his spring debut will be Wednesday at home, a game that happens to be televised on YES Network. Looks like Rodriguez and the bulk of the Yankees projected infield will be playing on Wednesday, while the outfielders will make the road trip tomorrow.
• Carlos Beltran is not playing in today’s intrasquad game, and he’s not making tomorrow’s road trip. Beltran, though, said he feels fine and deferred to Joe Girardi regarding the decision about not playing today or tomorrow. Beltran has been going through pretty normal drills, and was clearly on his way to the cage when he said he felt fine this morning. Seems like the Yankees are simply being cautious with him.
• Top pitching prospect Luis Severino is making tomorrow’s road trip and said he’s definitely scheduled to pitch. Severino’s been in Tampa since January 18, so he’s been throwing for a while and is clearly ready for games.
• You know who was pretty psyched to see his name on tomorrow’s travel roster: Slade Heathcott. I was talking to him at his locker before he’d seen the travel squad, and even then he said he was hoping to make the trip because it’s been so long since he played in a game. I’ve written before that Heathcott sounds as confident and optimistic as he’s been in a long time. Last spring, he seemed to be hoping his knee would stay healthy. This spring, he seems to fully expect it.
• Every catcher now has a drop in the Yankees spring “drop contest.” The last catcher without a drop was John Ryan Murphy, but he apparently dropped one yesterday.
• CC Sabathia threw a bullpen today. He was the only true bullpen listed on the schedule. He threw to Brian McCann.
With Cole Figueroa, Slade Heathcott and Aaron Judge hitting
Chris Capuano (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Jose Ramirez (to Trent Garrison)
James Pazos (to Gary Sanchez)
Nick Rumbelow (to Kyle Higashioka)
With Ramon Flores, Tyler Austin and Jonathan Galvez hitting (Gardner and Young joined them)
Masahiro Tanaka (to John Ryan Murphy)
Dellin Betances (to Austin Romine)
Scott Baker (to Francisco Arcia)
Team Gator: Cito Culver (SS), Cole Figueroa (3B), Kyle Roller (1B) and Rob Refsnyder (2B) are scheduled to play off the bench as straight-up replacements for Gregorius, Headley, Teixeira and Drew.
Team Goose: Slade Heathcott (CF), Jake Cave (LF), Aaron Judge (RF), Eddy Rodriguez (C) and Francisco Arcia (1B) are scheduled to play off the bench as straight-up replacements for Ellsbury, Gardner, Young, Romine and Bird.
• Tomorrow’s travel squad:
Pitchers: Danny Burawa, Kyle Davies, Nick Goody, Jacob Lindgren, Diego Moreno, Branden Pinder, Luis Severino, Chasen Shreve, Adam Warren, Tyler Webb
Catchers: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine
Infielders: Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Garrett Jones, Nick Noonan, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder, Kyle Roller
Outfielders: Tyler Austin, Jake Cave, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Slade Heathcott, Aaron Judge, Mason Williams, Chris Young
• Tomorrow’s early work:
Chris Martin, Ivan Nova, Vicente Campos, Michael Pineda, Jared Burton, Esmil Rogers, Bryan Mitchell, Chase Whitley, Justin Wilson, Andrew Bailey and David Carpenter are each scheduled to do early pitching work tomorrow morning.
Associated Press photo
The video above is a little bit of footage from Alex Rodriguez’s introduction to first base. It came during pitchers’ fielding practice this afternoon, and as you might guess, the drills were really designed for pitchers, not for a novice first baseman. Rodriguez basically just covered the bag a few times and scooped some slow grounders. You’ll be able to tell from the video above that this was not a thrown-into-the-fire situation. Rodriguez really didn’t do much.
And when the workout was over, as Rodriguez stood in the clubhouse talking about his determination to learn the position, he realized he’d actually lost his brand new first baseman’s mitt.
Perhaps the transition will be harder than anyone realized.
“As we go through these drills, I think it’s important that he go over there and tries to get a better understanding of what the position entails, and the spots he’s supposed to be at,” Joe Girardi said. “… It’s one of the few places that you hold the runner on, in a sense, and then you have to sprint and change the way you’re shaped for a ground ball, so your setup is different. All your responsibilities on cuts and relays. It’s just different. And you’re looking, in a sense, the opposite way.”
Of course, it’s worth wondering if this “learning first base” situation is more smoke than fire, getting a lot of attention strictly because it’s A-Rod and not because it actually matters to the Yankees. If Mark Teixeira is healthy, he’ll surely play first base almost every day. And Teixeira is weakest from the left side, so when he gets a day off, might make more sense to let experienced left-handed hitter Garrett Jones play the position, not inexperienced right-handed hitter Rodriguez.
Girardi, though, dismissed the idea that this is an insignificant experiment.
“I think we’ve seen over the last two years, there’s a lot of times you don’t think someone would ever play a position, and then things change,” Girardi said. “I think you definitely think about playing him on days when you’re giving Mark a day off. Maybe Garrett’s playing right field, maybe your DH is moving around a little bit, maybe you’re DHing Carlos (Beltran) a day. There’s a lot of things you can do.”
Ultimately, Rodriguez’s ability to play first base will be more valuable if he’s hitting well enough that an extra position keeps him in the lineup more often. Even Girardi has acknowledged that hitting is, by far, the most important aspect of his return to the team. So is there some chance that learning a new position is adding an unnecessary wrinkle to this already uncertain process?
“I do whatever they tell me,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just happy to get some playing time. … It’s too quick to tell (how it’s going). I’m anxious to learn, though.”
• The Yankees have their first injury of the spring. Brendan Ryan is expected to miss about five days of baseball activity because of a mild strain in the middle of his back. He hurt himself lifting weights before reporting to Tampa. Specifically, he was hurt doing biceps curls. “It’s an eyewash exercise anyway,” Ryan said. “… I don’t know what I’m doing in (the weight room) in the first place, you know? What am I going to go from hitting two homers to four?”
• CC Sabathia threw a bullpen today and has been wearing a protective brace on his surgically repaired right knee. “The fact that he’s wearing a brace or not wearing a brace doesn’t concern me anymore,” Girardi said. “If they feel that he’ll stay healthier wearing the brace, then I would tell him, wear the brace.”
• Because of that knee issue, the Yankees are moving slowly with Sabathia. “We’re taking it slow with him, knowing that we don’t really think that he’s behind and he’s got plenty of time,” Girardi said. “We’re not rushing it because of his knee, and we want to take it step by step.”
• Along those lines, Girardi said he will wait until tomorrow to announce the starting pitchers for those early exhibition games. Marly Rivera of ESPN Deportes reported that Adam Warren is “probably” going to start Tuesday’s opener.
• Before Tuesday’s spring opener, the Yankees are scheduled for an intrasquad game on Sunday. Girardi said he expects Monday to be a fairly light day leading into the Grapefruit League games.
• For whatever it’s worth, I was told today that Teixeira and Carlos Beltran have made a strong impression from the way they reported to camp. Apparently their early workouts have been impressive, and both are in great shape. Three other names singled out as having reported to camp in especially good shape: Austin Romine, Mason Williams and Cito Culver.
• Also heard a lot of good things about Luis Severino’s sim game today. “Young kid with a great arm,” Giradi said. “Good slider, good changeup. It’s something to get excited about.”
• And Nathan Eovaldi’s two-inning simulated game: “Really good stuff,” Girardi said. “Powerful arm. I think he has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do. He has pretty good command. He threw some good splits today. Athletic. So I think he’ll do a good job in those parts of the game where you have to be an athlete. I liked what I’ve seen and we like where he’s at right now.”
• One personal observation: When Aaron Judge takes batting practice, he doesn’t hit the towering fly balls you might expect from a power hitter his size. It’s all line drives — hard line drives — up the middle and toward the gaps. He didn’t hit very many out today. One that did go out probably never got higher than the top of the scoreboard. Just a line drive that he clobbered. You know who from Judge’s group might have hit the most homers? Ramon Flores.
• Hideki Matsui was the batting practice pitcher for the group of Williams, Romine, Slade Heathcott and John Ryan Murphy.
• Noticed today that Cole Figueroa (who was at second yesterday) got some time at shortstop during defensive drills. Jonathan Galvez (who was at third) got some time at second, and Nick Noonan (who was at short) got some time at third. A lot of utility types who seem destined for Triple-A but could follow the Solarte/Wheeler path to New York.
• A source of annoyance this afternoon: writing a blog post that would have been posted hours ago, if only I’d hit the “public” button instead of the “save draft” button. I guess it’s spring training for everyone.
• Final word goes to Girardi on Rodriguez learning first base: “I think he’s trying to learn. I think he was paying attention and trying to learn. He’s never taken balls over there, he’s never seen what a bunt defense looks like from over there, and that’s going to take some time.”
Associated Press photos