In trying to break down the state of the Yankees organization, it’s hard to look at pitchers the same way we look at position players. The development is different. The roles are different. The number of jobs available is different. It’s just … different. In trying to look at the state of the Yankees rotation, it seems best to start by looking directly at the current 40-man roster (before free agency) where no less than 12 rotation possibilities are already in place. Given the Yankees injury concerns, they’re going to need some rotation depth heading into next season. They just might be able to find that depth while staying in house.
THE OBVIOUS INJURY CONCERNS
Masahiro Tanaka – His elbow might be a ticking time bomb, but he’s also an ace-caliber pitcher. The Yankees know Tanaka might need Tommy John surgery at any moment, but they’ve done what they can to postpone that procedure, and a couple of healthy starts at the end of the year were enough to build some cautious optimism. Tanaka should be the Yankees No. 1 starter. But that depends largely on a tiny ligament in his elbow.
Michael Pineda – The Yankees finally got to see the guy they acquired years ago, and they liked what they saw. Sure, the pine tar situation was embarrassing, and there was yet another shoulder setback, but when Pineda was on the mound, he was terrific. He’s far removed from surgery, but that doesn’t mean health concerns don’t linger. Would be a strong No. 2, but again, that’s only if he stays healthy.
CC Sabathia – This could be the year his run of Opening Day starts come to an end. That said, if he gets to spring training healthy and reasonably effective, he might still get the nod in the opener if only because he’s still very clearly the leader of the staff (and this is a clubhouse that could be searching to leadership next season). Whether Sabathia will be anything more than a symbolic choice, though, remains to be seen. If he can at least be a reliable back-of-the-rotation arm, that would be helpful. There’s clearly a new ace in town.
Ivan Nova – Almost certainly will not be ready to break camp with the Yankees, but initial word about Nova’s recovery from Tommy John surgery has been nothing but positive. Still a long way to go, but Nova made it through the initial rehab steps with no problem. Tommy John has become a relatively routine procedure these days, but some pitchers say it takes close to two years to truly feel 100 percent. Timing suggests Nova could be back in the New York around early May. But how effective will he be?
THE REPLACEMENT STARTERS
David Phelps – When the Yankees rotation went through a series of injuries last season, Vidal Nuno was technically the first replacement starter, but Phelps wasn’t far behind. He was solid, then he got knocked around one game, then he looked really good for about a month and a half before his upper elbow became a problem. Phelps should be arbitration eligible this season, and he might once again come to camp as a rotation candidate who could easily slip into a bullpen role.
Shane Greene – Phelps’ chances of winning a spot in the rotation surely took a hit when Greene showed up. Having made a strong impression in spring training, and having struggled in his brief big league debut, Greene wound up pitching like a rotation mainstay through the second half of the season. He had a 3.24 ERA before a six-run mess in his final start. Given the Nova injury, Greene could legitimately come to camp as a rotation favorite.
Chase Whitley – A career minor league reliever until the very end of 2013, Whitley moved to the Triple-A rotation, improved his breaking ball and got his first big league call-up as a replacement starter. He was a bit streaky — very good at first, pretty good at the end, plenty of rough outings in the middle — but Whitley joins the mix as a swing man who could start or work in long relief. Could also go to Triple-A as rotation insurance.
THE MINOR LEAGUERS
Manny Banuelos – Once considered to be among the top left-handed pitching prospects in baseball, Banuelos needed Tommy John surgery, which slowed his ascent considerably. He missed all of 2013 and put up inconsistent results this year in Double-A and Triple-A. Banuelos has an awfully good arm, though, and being further removed from surgery surely helps his cause heading into his age-24 season.
Bryan Mitchell – For the longest time, Mitchell’s reputation was far better than his results. The Yankees regularly touted his potential, and that was enough to put him on the 40-man roster last winter despite a 5.12 ERA in High-A the year before. More so-so results followed in Double-A this season, but the Yankees challenged Mitchell with a Triple-A promotion and things seemed to take off. He got 11 innings in the big leagues and looked solid. Probably no more than rotation depth to open the season, but he’s among the most advanced young starters in the system.
Matt Tracy/Nik Turley – These guys aren’t on the current 40-man roster, but they stand out as Rule 5 eligible lefties had at least 60 Triple-A innings with mid-4.00 ERAs this season. Neither one was great next season, and there’s a chance both will be left exposed to the Rule 5 this winter — guys like Zach Nuding, Jairo Heredia and Caleb Cotham are in vaguely similar situations — but they’re potential rotation depth options who could be on the 40-man eventually (or could be added next year if necessary). Turley’s been on the 40-man before, and he in particular was putting up better numbers at the end of the year.
THE SOON-TO-BE FREE AGENTS
Hiroki Kuroda – Of all the Yankees soon-to-be free agents, none has a future quite as uncertain as Kuroda. He turns 40 in February, and despite yet again providing some much-needed stability for the Yankees rotation, there seems to be a solid chance Kuroda will retire this winter. He could also come back, pitch elsewhere, or decide to pitch one last season in Japan. Kuroda left all options open at the end of the year.
Brandon McCarthy — Aside from Dave Robertson, there might not be an outgoing free agent who’s more interesting for the Yankees. McCarthy throws strikes and gets ground balls, he thrived during his three-month stint with the Yankees, and he seems like a strong fit in this unusual market. At the right price, McCarthy could be a strong choice for additional rotation depth (though he comes with injury concerns of his own).
Chris Capuano – Would be easy to dismiss Capuano as a non-factor going forward, and maybe that’s exactly what he’ll be. Two things to consider, though: 1. Capuano really was a pretty good No. 5 starter during his time with the Yankees, and he has experience as a bullpen lefty, which the Yankees don’t really have at the moment. Probably least like to return of anyone on this list, but he did his job during his time with the team.
Associated Press photos
Yesterday was the big test for Masahiro Tanaka, but it wasn’t until this afternoon that the Yankees got a final grade on his long-awaited return to the rotation. It was important not only that he pitch well, but that he feel good the day after.
“He was all smiles today, which was good,” Joe Girardi said. “He was doing his normal routine that he would do after any other start, so it’s all good news.”
Yesterday’s game was encouraging. So was today’s catch. Tanaka remains on track to start again on Saturday. These last few steps are all about testing Tanaka’s elbow as much as possible heading into the offseason. There’s no way to be 100 percent certain his ligament will hold up, the more steps he gets through, the better. Today was another small one.
“Just the fact that I was able to throw yesterday and the fact I’m feeling good today (is encouraging),” Tanaka said. “Having the start coming up on Saturday, if I come out from that strong, then obviously that’s a positive. From where I am right now, I should be able to have a good offseason of training that I want to do, and I should be good to go for next season.”
CC Sabathia also played catch today — his first official throwing session since knee surgery — which was another small but encouraging step for a Yankees rotation facing quite a bit of uncertainty heading into this offseason.
“And I think you can add another guy in there; Nova’s rehab has went extremely well,” Girardi said. “He has had zero setbacks and has progressed very, very well. Obviously CC has done well after this new knee surgery and we’re pleased about that. These guys play a very important role. Pitching is a huge part and when you have pitching you can stay in most games and have an opportunity to win them. When you get distance from your starters, your bullpen stays more rested and you can use them a little more different. It would be big for us.”
• Mark Teixeira got a third cortisone injection for his sore right wrist. He got it yesterday and said this injection was in a slightly different spot — “The first two shots were kind of inside the tendon sheath and this is outside the tendon sheath,” he said — and the hope is that he’ll be back in the lineup tomorrow. Why get a third injection at this point? “You never want to end the season hurt,” he said. “You want to finish the season. Every game you can’t play, you make a lot out of it, but realistically, to take a couple days off and get it taken care of, play the last five or six games whatever it might be — it’s worth it.”
• Can Teixeira ever be a 150-game player again? “As many games as hopefully I can,” he said. “I never want to say I am going to play 150 games-plus again because, who knows? You never know what is going to happen. I know my wrist is going to be healthier next year. It’s going to be stronger. That’s all I can say because I’ll have that full offseason of working out and strengthening and not necessarily rehabbing.”
• Sabathia said he wants to build up to throwing a bullpen, then he’ll shut down and have a relatively normal offseason. He did 20 throws at 60 feet today. “We’re trying not to make it that much (different from a normal offseason),” Sabathia said. “I’ll come up here a few times a week, but as far as workouts and stuff, it should be a normal winter.”
• Maybe we already knew this and I just forgot about it, but Sabathia said today that he got a second stem-cell injection last month. “I haven’t (had an knee pain), not since I went back out there for (another) stem cell,” Sabathia said. “I think that was the end of August. It feels great. I haven’t had any problems in the workouts.”
• First time playing catch today? “I’ve kinda been throwing the football a little bit, and throwing at home,” Sabathia said. “So it feels good to come out here and not have to hide and throw.”
• The Yankees claimed OF Eury Perez off waivers and opened a roster spot by designating Josh Outman. “We acquired a young center fielder, left fielder, plays all over, from the Washington Nationals,” Girardi said. “With some of the nicked up position players we had, we felt it was probably in our best interest to (DFA) a pitcher. Outman had done a pretty good job for us. He’s a situational lefty, which are kind of difficult to use this time of year because every time you send a lefty to face a lefty, they put a right hander up because they have so many players. It becomes more difficult to use them.”
• Girardi said Carlos Beltran’s elbow is still bothering him. No update on Jacoby Ellsbury’s hamstring.
Associated Press photos
Again, Josh Thomson here in for Chad. I have a few things to share from this morning’s pregame.
CC Sabathia met with the media this morning, a day after Brian Cashman announced the lefty would undergo season-ending arthroscopic knee surgery, but one that will allow him to avoid dreaded micro-fracture surgery. Sabathia said he was disappointed to learn he would miss the remainder of the season. However, news that he would, for now, avoid the much more invasive micro-fracture and the long-term uncertainty that comes with it was welcome.
“I was very concerned,” he said. “I told my wife last night, my season’s over, but it was the first time I was able to get some real sleep just kind of knowing I didn’t have to have the micro-fracture and that I can return next year.”
Dr. Neal ElAttrache will perform the surgery next Wednesday, but Sabathia confirmed that team physician Dr. Chris Ahmad and Rangers team doctor Dr. Keith Meister both agreed with the form of treatment. He expects it will be approximately 6-8 weeks after his surgery next Wednesday before he can resume activity.
Sabathia said it was basically the same procedure performed on Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook, who obviously returned to form without any trouble. Sabathia believes he can pitch another 5-6 years, although he admitted the possibility of having to undergo future knee scopes for maintenance.
Here’s what Sabathia had to say today in its entirety:
The big-ticket catcher is getting a rest tonight against the Rays, at least at the start. He’s batting just .221 through the first half, with a .281 on-base percentage. He has hit nine homers and drive in 36.
“I think everything involved — you talk about coming to a new town, a new contract, learning all these new pitchers — it can be difficult,” Girardi said. “His RBI total isn’t too bad. His home runs aren’t too bad. I think he’s done a really good job with our pitching staff.
“But when he looks at his average, I’m sure he’s frustrated and knows that he can do better. So I don’t want to just focus on one aspect of the game because he has driven in some big runs for us and he has done a great job with our staff.
“And he needs to remind himself of that, too.”
Without question, Dellin Betances belongs at the All-Star Game. And Girardi made a good case for him.
“If you want a big strikeout and you want a guy to come in in the middle of an inning and get people out, he’s pretty good at it,” Girardi said. “He’s done a tremendous job. He’s a reliever that can obviously give you multiple innings. Sometimes you get in an extra-inning game, that can be pretty important, too.”
Betances, who may get a game or two off after pitching in three of the last four, is 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA in 35 appearances. He’d love to be at Target Field July 15.
“You’re talking about guys that you grew up watching, unbelievable players,” Betances said. “I haven’t really thought too much about it, but I’d be honored.”
After the 12-inning game last night, the Yankees needed a fresh arm in the bullpen. Righty Jim Miller has the arm that was summoned from Triple-A. Jose Ramirez got sent down. And CC Sabathia got moved to the 60-day DL.
Speaking of Sabathia, he will pitch a rehab game on three days’ rest. His next start will come tomorrow for Trenton. Sabathia threw just 37 pitches in his first rehab start, Saturday with Tampa.
“After that, it’ll be every five days,” Girardi said.
Photo by The Associated Press.
CC hoping “spring training” ends early • 06.18.14
CC Sabathia could be at least six weeks away from returning after throwing his first bullpen session Monday. Joe Girardi indicated Tuesday it was fair to compare this to the start of spring training for him. But Sabathia is hoping to return sooner than later. His problematic right knee has been cooperating.
“I’ve been throwing the whole time,” Sabathia said. “I feel pretty good. Obviously you have to be cautious, not wanting to hurt my arm. But we’ll see. I feel good. Hopefully we can skip some steps.”
The 33-year-old lefty was just 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA when he was done with his last start on May 10.
“It’s hard to watch the games and sit here and not be a part of it,” Sabathia said. “This is one of toughest things I’ve ever had to deal with as far as my career goes.”
Sabathia is scheduled to throw another bullpen today.
“We’ll just continue to increase the amount of pitches and the pitches that he throws,” Girardi said. “He threw fastball, changeup the first day. I think he’s going to mix in some other pitches (today), mix in his slider as well. And then just kind of go day by day with him for me.
“If he gets through (today), then he’ll probably throw another bullpen and we’ll increase the number there. And then if he gets through that, eventually you start to see hitters and BP and then you get the games.
“So it’s really just taking it a step at a time. … He’s been out for a little bit. We’ve said when you’re a starter and you have not thrown a lot, we have to somewhat rebuild you up. So it’s fairly similar (to spring training).”
Masahiro Tanaka just continues to win. Here’s my story on his victory over the Blue Jays last night. Francisco Cervelli is back and ready to help in any way possible, while John Ryan Murphy is now back in Triple-A. Here’s my story on Cervelli’s return and other Yankees notes. And Chase Whitley will take the ball tonight against Toronto. Here’s my feature story on Whitley and his success as a rookie.
Yankees pregame: Cervelli back, Murphy down • 06.17.14
John Ryan Murphy has been sent down to Triple-A and Francisco Cervelli has been activated from the DL, not just to be the backup catcher, but again to possibly be one of the backups for Mark Teixeira. When Cervelli hurt his hamstring back in mid-April, it was a game in which he started at first base. Two of his five starts in April were at first.
Joe Girardi said a choice between Kelly Johnson and Cervelli would come down to matchups.
“I think I’m comfortable there,” Cervelli said. “But I don’t want to forget about catching. That’s what I like, but I want to help any way I can.”
This has been the second straight season Cervelli has missed a huge chunk of time. He said he stayed positive these last two months.
“It’s frustrating,” Cervelli said. “But this time I took it differently. … I spent time with my dad. I recovered so fast before the 60 days.”
John Ryan Murphy got sent down to Triple-A to make room. He hit .286 with one homer and eight RBI in 24 games.
“He played extremely well,” Girardi said. “Obviously we were pleased with what he did. … We think it’s important for him to go play every day.”
CC Sabathia threw a 25-pitch bullpen yesterday and will have another session out there tomorrow. Joe Girardi compared this to the beginning of spring training for him.
Michael Pineda, who was shut down after his setback, is scheduled to play catch Saturday.
Rotation fill-in Vidal Nuno is 1-3 with a 5.90 ERA. Adam Warren has been mentioned as a possible replacement. But the reliever would have to be stretched out. Girardi said Warren could probably only go up to about 50 pitches now.
“We’ll continue to evaluate our staff and decide what we’re going to do,” Girardi said.
Tonight it appears the ball is in good hands. It’s Masahiro Tanaka time.
“Obviously Tanaka is the best pitcher on the planet,” Sabathia said.
Photo by The Associated Press
Yankees postgame: CC struggles again • 05.04.14
His ERA through seven starts stands at 5.75, which goes with a 3-4 record.
“I think last year I got down on myself and made myself miserable,” Sabathia said. “This year, I’m going to stay positive. … I know I can get these guys out.”
He had trouble with that in the 5-1 loss to the Rays Sunday, giving up the five runs and 10 hits in 3 2/3. He heard the boos coming off.
“I would’ve booed myself today, too,” Sabathia said. “I wouldn’t want to come to the ballpark and watch that.”
It was his shortest outing since 2009.
“I still think he’s evolving into a different type of pitcher,” Joe Girardi said, “but today he didn’t have his normal type of stuff.”
Hiroki Kuroda is 2-3 with a 5.14 ERA in six starts. Then there are the injuries to Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda.
“Is it a concern? Sure,” Larry Rothschild said. “But I think Kuroda and CC have a chance to get things going here.”
Alfredo Aceves pitched well in long relief, allowing no runs and three hits over the final 5 1/3.
“He did a heck of a job today,” Girardi said. “He saved our bullpen.”
Aceves had a problem in the fifth in the right thigh area.
“The doctor checked it out and said it was OK,” Aceves said.
Alfonso Soriano had a double and now needs just three hits to become the seventh with 1,000 hits in the AL and the NL.
Derek Jeter went 0 for 4 in the game and 4 for 30 on the homestand. His average fell to .240. But he said he feels good.
“When you’re an older player, any time you go through a slump, the age thing is going to be brought up,” Girardi said. “… We have to get him back on track.”
Photo by The Associated Press.
Yankees postgame: Sabathia frustrated • 04.12.14
CC Sabathia had a lot of reasons to be frustrated. He pitched a good game overall, seven innings — four runs, six hits, nine Ks, two walks — but he pitched a bad sixth inning, giving up all four of the runs and four of the hits. He felt he let his emotions get the best of him in this 4-2 loss to the Red Sox, frustrating him the most. You can see his reaction above as he walked off the mound following the third out in the sixth.
The Yankees had a 1-0 lead going into the sixth and Sabathia had a one-hit shutout. Then he gave up a leadoff homer to Jonny Gomes. OK, it happens.
One out later, he gave up a checked-swing infield hit to Big Papi Ortiz. OK, that doesn’t usually happen. It made Sabathia angry. He lost his focus and he lost the game.
“Usually I’m able to stay even keel and not let that get to me, not let that frustrate me,” Sabathia said. “Next thing I know, it’s 3-0 on Napoli before I even calmed down. That’s something that I did when I was in my 20s and younger. I have to get better.”
Mike Napoli singled, and Grady Sizemore, Sabathia’s old friend from Cleveland, launched a slider for a three-run homer to right for the 4-1 lead.
“I was just frustrated,” Sabathia said. “I kind of rushed through and left the pitch hanging.”
So Sabathia is 1-2 with a 6.63 ERA after three starts.
Joe Girardi said: “He hasn’t thrown that poorly.”
Girardi also said: “I think it’s fair to say any time a guy has less velocity, there’s less margin for error.”
Sabathia said he just hasn’t put a full game together.
“I’m light years ahead of where I was last year,” Sabathia said. “I still have some work to do.”
Ichiro Suzuki went 2 for 4, so he has hit safely in all four of his starts, going 8 for 17. That’s .471.
Game 3 of this four-game series is scheduled for 1:05 Saturday. The matchup is Hiroki Kuroda vs. John Lackey.
Photo by The Associated Press.
Yankees postgame: Starved for runs • 07.09.13
It looks like that 29-run eruption in Minnesota was just a mirage, accomplished against bad pitching. The Yankees have just 11 runs to show for their last five games and only three in their three straight home losses. They became the final AL team to drop three in a row at home after this 3-1 loss to the Royals.
“We have not scored a ton of runs all year long,” Joe Girardi said. “As I said when we left spring training, we were going to have to win a lot of close games … That’s what we’re going through.”
The Yankees wasted a complete game from CC Sabathia, who allowed three runs and seven hits. The Yankees managed just six hits. Sabathia is looking forward to the injured hitters coming back. Derek Jeter is the closest right now.
“The guys in here that have been called up to step up have done a good job, but it’s hard to replace those guys,” Sabathia said.
Travis Hafner struck out three times and walked in his four plate appearances. He’s 13 for his last 58 and down to .217 overall.
“Getting some of the guys who have been hurt back will be a big help, but I think the guys that are here can swing the bat better — obviously myself,” Hafner said.
Sabathia obviously would’ve had to pitch a shutout to win. He rued the inside fastballs that David Lough and Billy Butler hit for solo homers.
“Two big mistakes,” Sabathia said.
There is practically no margin for error with this offense in the state it’s in right now.
Ivan Nova gets the ball Wednesday night. Wade Davis, who’s 4-7 with a 5.42 ERA, will start for Kansas City.
Photo by The Associated Press.
Support for A-Rod • 06.06.13
“We haven’t had him the last two months,” Brett Gardner said. “It won’t change anything.”
You would think Rodriguez would appeal if there’s a penalty. But if a ban is announced, as Tuesday’s ESPN report indicated it would be for Rodriguez and about a total of 20 players over alleged ties to PEDs, the attitude in the clubhouse will be forgiving. That’s what CC Sabathia indicated.
“I think it’ll be support,” Sabathia said. “Everybody makes mistakes. We’ll just have to wait and see. But I think there will be nothing but love and support in here.”
Gardner said Rodriguez is like a brother to the players. Mariano Rivera said he doesn’t think he will bring up the current situation with Rodriguez, but he’s open to listening if A-Rod wants to share his thoughts.
Asked if he has sympathy for Rodriguez, who always seems to be in the middle of some controversy, the closer said, “He’s my friend. Besides that, he’s my teammate also. Definitely it’s not easy. It’s not easy to be on the cameras or in the papers, always being chased. But at the same time, all I have to do is support.”
Here’s a link to my full story today on this matter, complete with Terry Francona’s thoughts on who’s to blame, plus an attached video at the top that I shot of Joe Girardi talking about the situation. Also, here’s a link to my story today about Sabathia feeling encouraged after his last two starts, including yesterday’s complete game. I also shot a video of Girardi talking about Sabathia with that one. Thanks for reading the last three days. Chad will be back later to take you through the West Coast trip.