What to do with CC Sabathia? • 10.21.15
Health issues in the Yankees’ rotation are nothing new. Neither are age issues throughout the Yankees’ roster. Continuing to look through some of the Yankees who face some uncertainty for next season, we’ll next look at a player who has a combination of health and age issues that contribute to his uncertain role going forward. The Yankees won a World Series with this guy at the top of the rotation, but at this point, it’s hard to know what role would let the team get the most out of him.
This year: Through the end of July, Sabathia was pretty close to his worst-case scenario. He had a 5.54 ERA, but the Yankees were locked into his contract, worried about Adam Warren’s workload and never fully healthy enough to replace him. So they stuck with him, and in August, their faith paid off. Finally pitching with more effort, and eventually pitching with a new knee brace, Sabathia pitched to a 2.86 ERA in his final nine starts. That’s a lower ERA than Luis Severino had in his 11 starts. He was unexpectedly left off the wild card roster because he checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation center.
A few possibilities for next season:
1. Put him back in the rotation; find out what he has left
Sabathia didn’t simply finish the season with one or two good starts. He was good for two months, and with a big contract like his, the Yankees owe it to themselves to find out whether that late-season success is sustainable. Joe Girardi said himself at his end-of-the-season press conference that Sabathia will almost certainly be in the rotation come Opening Day. There are so many questions in the rotation as it is, the Yankees have to at least find out whether their most accomplished starter can fully transition to be an effective No. 4-5 starter at the end of his career.
2. Put him in the bullpen; give him the best chance to be successful
Sabathia’s never been used in a true bullpen role, but that might be the best way to get both performance and durability out of him. Early in the year, even when he wasn’t have success otherwise, Sabathia was very good against lefties. He finished the year holding them to a .186 batting average. The Yankees could pick their battles with him early in the season — give him as many left-on-left matchups as possible — and see how it goes, putting him in higher leverage situations against righties if he pitches well. The Yankees currently have enough rotation options that they can afford to put Sabathia in the pen.
3. Build a roster as if he’s not there
It’s not realistic to suggest the Yankees either trade Sabathia or cut him loose. He’s owed too much money with too much uncertainty for that to work. The Yankees are going to have him next year, but that doesn’t mean they have to game plan for him. They can treat Sabathia kind of the way they treated Alex Rodriguez last winter. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Put a five-man rotation in place, assemble enough pieces for a full bullpen, and if Sabathia does enough to change to plans, great. If he falls flat, have enough pitchers that it won’t matter. At this point, whatever Sabathia does has to be a bonus, not a necessity.
Associated Press photo
Ten teams advanced to the postseason this year. The Yankees were the only one without a starting pitcher ranked top 30 in ERA.
Of baseball’s top 18 pitchers in ERA, only four — Sonny Gray, Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner and Shelby Miller — played for a team that didn’t advance. Gray was the only starter ranked top 10 who didn’t start a postseason game.
Pitching is the key to the kingdom. That’s the phrase Brian Cashman likes, and it seems to ring true this year. But what exactly does it mean? Does it mean truly elite pitching — a dominant No. 1 and No. 2 — is what makes a rotation great, or does it mean a deep rotation full of impact starters — without necessarily having a can’t-miss ace — is what makes a rotation stand out?
“That’s why we thought if we could get to postseason,” Mets manager Terry Collins said on Sunday, “we could match up with a lot of teams, everybody, because we have depth. Everybody’s got real good (pitching) — this is big league pitching, everybody’s got them — but we’ve got some talented guys.”
- The Pirates have Gerrit Cole. And he lost the wild card game.
- The Astros have Dallas Keuchel, traded for Scott Kazmir, and were the lowest seed to advance in the American League. They were knocked out of the playoffs even with Keuchel winning each of his postseason starts.
- The Rangers thought they were going to have Yu Darvish, lost him to Tommy John, traded for Cole Hamels, and lost in the division series.
- The Cardinals thought they were going to have Adam Wainwright, lost him in spring training, and still managed to win the most games in baseball without a starter most would peg as a dependable ace. John Lackey pitched like an ace, though, and still the Cardinals were eliminated when they won only one of Lackey’s two starts in the division series.
- The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, arguably the best one-two punch in the game. They were knocked out in a five-game series with Kershaw and Greinke starting four of those games.
- If the Dodgers don’t have the best one-two punch, it might be the Cubs with Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. Of course, the Cubs are down 2-0 in the NLCS, with both Arrieta and Lester taking a loss.
- The Blue Jays made the biggest pitching acquisition of the season by trading for David Price, but they’re also behind in the League Championship Series. Price has mostly struggled in the postseason.
The two teams in the best position right now are the Royals, whose ace is the largely unpredictable Johnny Cueto, and the Mets, whose entire postseason rotation is young and still establishing itself.
“They don’t have the credentials that Kershaw and Greinke, and Lester and Arrieta have,” Collins said. “But they’re going to be good pitchers. They’re going to be really, really good, and we’re really proud of as fast as they’ve come and the way they’ve handled themselves this summer. But they’re going to (be good). We think we can stack up with anybody.”
What the Yankees’ rotation has right now is depth.
Counting Adam Warren, they’re returning no fewer than seven pitchers who could fit in the big league rotation. Three of them — Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino and Michael Pineda — have at times pitched like high-end, top-of-the-rotation starters. Another, Nathan Eovaldi, has a huge fastball and pitched to a 3.43 ERA in his last 14 starts this season (that’s a top-30 ERA if it holds up for a full year). CC Sabathia used to be a Cy Young winner, and bounced back in a big way late in the year. Warren has looked like at least a capable middle-of-the-rotation starter.
So what does the Yankees’ rotation need this year?
Two years ago, they invested heavily in Tanaka. Last winter, they traded for Eovaldi. This season, they called up Severino. Can they afford to invest in Price (and should they)? Is it worth putting Aaron Judge and others on the trade market for the best starting pitcher available? Should they make a smaller investment in another mid-rotation arm, or do they have enough depth and enough high-end potential as it is?
“Looking at Tanaka, I think he’s a top-of-the-line rotation pitcher,” Joe Girardi said. “Is he a 1? Is he a 2? I don’t know. But I think Sevy has a chance to be a top-line rotation (pitcher), and I think to me, the most important thing is that during the course of the season, we have five starters that can compete every day and give you a chance to win. That’s the most important thing. Really, to be safe, you better have six or seven.”
Associated Press photos
Stunning statement from CC Sabathia. The statement was just released by the Yankees.
“I love baseball and I love my teammates like brothers, and I am also fully aware that I am leaving at a time when we should all be coming together for one last push toward the World Series. It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, and I want to be a better man, father and player.
“I want to thank the New York Yankees organization for their encouragement and understanding. Their support gives me great strength and has allowed me to move forward with this decision with a clear mind.
“As difficult as this decision is to share publicly, I don’t want to run and hide. But for now please respect my family’s need for privacy as we work through this challenge together.
“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids — and others who may have become fans of mine over the years — to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.
“I am looking forward to being out on the field with my team next season playing the game that brings me so much happiness.”
Associated Press photo
Slade Heathcott stole the show in the end, but last night’s most significant development just might have been the performance of CC Sabathia.
If this is Sabathia’s new reality — pitching well and staying healthy doing it — then a lot has changed for the Yankees going forward. In the short term, their rotation might not be as thin as it seemed during the Blue Jays series. In the long term, those two years left on Sabathia’s contract might not be as hopeless as they seemed through most of the season.
Since he stopped holding back at the end of July, Sabathia’s only bad start has been the one when he was too hurt to keep pitching. Since he got the new brace, Sabathia’s made two good starts, and last night’s just might have been his best in more than two years.
It was the first time since April 7, 2013 that Sabathia finished a start without an earned run.
“He came up big for us,” Joe Girardi said. “… The three starts before the one he got hurt, he was throwing the ball pretty well. Now it seems like the knee brace has helped, and he’s kind of picked up where he left off.”
Tampa Bay came into last night’s game with the baseball’s fifth-best OPS against left-handed pitchers (better than Houston, Texas, Kansas City and every National League team). Eight of their nine starters last night were either switch hitters and right-handed hitters, who’d given Sabathia fits most of the year.
Here’s last night’s Rays lineup with each hitter’s slash line against lefties coming into the game:
Brandon Guyer – .267/.374/.422
Mikie Mahtook – .268/.375/.585
Evan Longoria – .352/.414/.568
Logan Forsythe – .299/.373/.625
Asdrubal Cabrera – .288/.300/.456
Steven Souza Jr. – .213/.359/.427
Richie Shaffer 1B – .077/.226/.077
Kevin Kiermaier CF – .237/.267/.307
J.P. Arencibia C – .294/.278/.647
Six guys in that lineup had an OPS of .785 or better against lefties (for comparison, that’s almost identical to Brett Gardner’s season OPS). Three of them had an OPS of .960 or better against lefties (that’s better than Josh Donaldson’s season OPS). Shaffer spent almost all year in Triple-A and hit .310/.382/.621 against lefties down there.
Point is, this lineup could have been trouble, and Sabathia delivered a vintage start in a big moment. Three good starts in August and a couple of good starts in the past week don’t prove anything. They don’t mean Sabathia’s going to be great the rest of the year, and they certainly don’t mean he’s going to hold up through the rest of his contract.
But these past few starts have been positive signs, and they’ve come from a pitcher who’d given almost nothing but warning signs for a couple of years now.
Associated Press photos
A-Rod: “Big, signature Yankee moment” • 09.15.15
From our old friend Mark Didtler, here’s the Associated Press game story from tonight’s remarkable Yankees win.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Alex Rodriguez enjoyed being overshadowed by a rookie.
Rodriguez had a tying, two-out RBI double in the ninth and Slade Heathcott followed with a three-run homer, leading the New York Yankees to a 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night.
The 24-year old Heathcott’s second career homer came on his first at-bat in the major’s since May 27. He was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday.
“Just tremendous,” Rodriguez said. “You get caught up and I become a fan when you’re watching a young kid with so much talent. Big, signature Yankee moment.”
The victory moved the Yankees within three-games of AL East-leading Toronto.
“To be able to do it with two outs in the ninth, it was special,” New York manager Joe Girardi said.
Erasmo Ramirez held the Yankees hitless until Carlos Beltran led off the eighth with a hot shot that took a short-hop off first baseman Richie Shaffer and went into right field.
In the bottom half Tampa Bay snapped a scoreless tie, ending its 21-inning run drought on Logan Forsythe’s RBI double.
The Yankees, though, rallied in the ninth. Down to their last out, Brett Gardner was walked by Brad Boxberger (4-10) on four pitches and stole second. Then Rodriguez tied Craig Biggio for 21st place all-time with his 3,060th hit.
Heathcott homered after Brian McCann was intentionally walked, setting off a raucous celebration in the New York dugout, A-Rod leading the way.
“It was awesome,” Heathcott said.
Caleb Cotham (1-0) got the final out in the eighth for his first big league win before Andrew Miller pitched the ninth to pick up his 33rd save.
Ramirez allowed just the one hit, walked two and had six strikeouts in 7 2-3 innings.
“I definitely checked it (the no-hitter) out in the fifth and sixth, but I tried to stay away from that and stay focused on the next hitter and what pitch I’m going to use,” Ramirez said.
CC Sabathia had a strong start for the Yankees, giving up three hits over 6 2-3 scoreless innings. He worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second.
“You just look at our dugout, the way they reacted, it’s the biggest hit of the season,” Sabathia said of Heathcott’s blast.
New York is 3-54 when trailing after eight innings.
The Yankees had two baserunners through the seventh. Rodriguez walked with two outs in the fourth and Gardner drew another walk to start the seventh.
Gardner was doubled off second after Mikie Mahtook made a leaping catch into the right-field wall on Brian McCann’s drive.
Girardi said CF Jacoby Ellsbury, in a 1 for 29 slide, is physically fine. “He feels pretty good,” Girardi said.
Girardi said RHP Adam Warren (6-6, 3.29) will be able to throw around 65 pitches in a spot start Tuesday night.
Associated Press photos
Asked yesterday why Rob Refsnyder hasn’t gotten more playing time this month, Joe Girardi leaned on the familiarity and experience of Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan.
“I’m going with the guys that have gotten us here,” Girardi said.
Asked about Refsnyder again today, Girardi cited a specific aspect of his inexperience.
“He spent the whole year in Triple-A,” Girardi said. “He doesn’t know the pitching staffs up here.”
Ultimately, it seems that Refsnyder’s disappointing second half in Triple-A and Jose Pirela’s underwhelming first half in the big leagues didn’t show enough offensively to convince the Yankees that they’re worth risking a defensive downgrade at second base.
After his four-game big league audition in July, Refsnyder returned to Triple-A and hit just .229/.296/.379 in the second half of the season. After having the exact same number of strikeouts as walks in the first half, his strikeout-to-walk ratio jumped to 29-to-12 after the All-Star break. None of that’s to say Refsnyder won’t hit, but he hasn’t forced the issue.
Pirela, on the other hand, had this right-handed utility job early in the year and hit just .212/.232/.303. He went down to Triple-A and raked as an everyday guy, but right now, Pirela and Ryan have played in the exact same number of big league games this season, and Ryan has the higher batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage to say nothing of his more trusted glove.
In the past two and a half weeks, Ryan has hit .286/.333/.429. It’s only 15 plate appearances, so the sample size is tiny, but he hasn’t been such a zero with the bat that the Yankees absolutely have to replace him. For the year he’s hit .286/.333/.500 against lefties. That’s his job, and in the bigger picture, he’s actually done it pretty well.
Ryan hasn’t hit his way out of this role, and neither Pirela nor Refsnyder has necessarily hit his way in.
• Lately, center field has generated as many lineup questions as second base. Jacoby Ellsbury has hit just .208/.250/.325 since the All-Star break. He’s been especially bad in the month of September, hitting just .114/.152/.114, yet the Yankees are sticking with him in the leadoff spot. “He’s got too much of a history of being one of the better leadoff hitters in the game,” Girardi said. “He had a tremendous start, he went through the injury, he’s had his ups and downs, and to me he’s due to turn and have an up. These guys need to get it done.”
• Against a pitcher who struggles against right-handers, it’s worth noting that the Yankees’ only right-handed outfield alternatives are Chris Young (who’s hit just .185/.241/.346 against righties), Pirela (who’s been mostly an infielder in the majors) and Rico Noel (who’s here strictly to run).
• The Rays have scored the fewest runs in the American League, but that doesn’t necessarily this a great matchup for Yankees’ starter CC Sabathia. The Rays have actually hit lefties pretty well. They have a league-worst .694 OPS against righties, but they’re fifth in the A.L. with a .760 OPS against lefties (better than the Astros, Royals or Rangers).
• Top four hitters in tonight’s Rays lineup with their slash lines against lefties: Brandon Guyer (.267/.374/.422), Mikie Mahtook (.268/.375/.585), Evan Longoria (.352/.414/.568) and Logan Forsythe (.299/.373/.625).
• Girardi said yesterday that he would use Adam Warren as a reliever tonight if necessary, but the hope is to stay away from him and keep him lined up to start on Monday. Warren said it’s unusual but not really a problem to not know for certain whether he’s starting tomorrow. Said he’s familiar with each routine and able to bounce back and forth.
• Mark Teixeira is the Yankees’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, which recognizes the player who “best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement.” Each team nominates one player and a single winner will be announced during the World Series. Teixeira has been heavily involved with the Harlem RBI program as well as various scholarship programs. Former Yankees Curtis Granderson and David Robertson were also nominated.
Associated Press photos
With a bigger, sturdier brace protecting his right knee, CC Sabathia threw a four-inning simulated game this afternoon. Assuming no unexpected setbacks, the plan is to have him come off the disabled list to rejoin the rotation on Wednesday.
Less than two weeks ago, Joe Girardi was talking about the possibility of Sabathia’s season being over. Today he was talking about revisiting a six-man rotation down the stretch.
“We weren’t sure what we were going to get when we saw the MRI,” Girardi said. “And the good thing is the MRI came back basically the same as it’s been, which allowed us to proceed forward. And he felt better and felt comfortable wearing the brace, which allowed us to move a little bit faster. So I am surprised.”
The new brace is thick, the kind of thing you often see on players who have had elbow or knee surgery. It has a joint that bends with the knee but otherwise stays thoroughly secure. Previously this season, Sabathia was wearing a tight sleeve. It was restrictive, Sabathia said, which might have been the point, but it became a problem.
“That other brace, it was just a little too restricting,” Sabathia said. “This one gives me a little more range of motion and stops right before I can hyperextend, so I feel comfortable with it (pitching) and running around getting bunts and that kind of thing. … I think the brace kind of holds my knee in one spot, not letting me get that grinding feeling, twisting and turning. I tested it as much as I could, and I let a lot of them go, so I felt pretty good.”
Sabathia faced Dustin Ackley, Rico Noel, Austin Romine, Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder. That’s one left-handed hitter and four righties, which might have been the point. Sabathia said his biggest test was throwing fastballs inside to right-handers. Something about that was problematic with the old sleeve, but those pitches were comfortable this afternoon.
“I don’t feel (knee pain) at all on any pitch,” Sabathia said. “Before, I felt it on a couple of pitches here and there in the bullpen, here and there playing catch. Throughout this whole last 10 days of playing catch, I haven’t felt it one time with the brace on.”
With that, the Yankees are prepared to put Sabathia right back into their rotation. If he comes back on Wednesday, he will have missed just 16 days. He will also come back just in time to give the Yankees a sixth starter exactly when they will need one in order to give the entire rotation an extra day of rest.
“Physically, we’ve had concerns all year,” Girardi said. “And we’ve kind of done this (spot starter routine) all year. Sometimes we didn’t know who was going to make the start to break it up, but if everything is OK, we know. … The whole thing is to make the knee more stable and for him to feel like he can do what he needs to do. He can let it go without having fear that something might pop up. Hopefully it works.”
• Mark Teixeira stood on his own as he spoke to reporters in the Yankees’ clubhouse this afternoon, but when he walked away, it was on crutches without weight on his bruised right leg. “There’s a progression now,” Teixeira said. “I basically went from crutches to trying to run last time. Now that we know it’s a lot worse than first expected, there’s going to be a build-up from jogging to walking to running and making sure I can do everything.”
• Confident you’ll play again this season? “One hundred percent,” Teixeira said. “There’s no permanent damage. It’s just a really bad bone bruise, worse than we first expected. It’s unfortunate, but hopefully we have two months of the season left so there’s plenty of time for me to get healthy and come back.”
• Putting Teixeira on the disabled list wipes out any chance of getting him back in the lineup before the weekend, but the Yankees knew that wasn’t going to happen anyway. By putting him on the DL, they could bring back Nick Rumbelow a little bit earlier without waiting a full 10 days since he was optioned.
• Was the original injury worse than expected, or did trying to play through it make the injury worse? “Playing on it didn’t make it worse,” Teixeira said. “It just didn’t allow it to heal. That’s kind of the thing that we always knew, that, hey, you’re not going to make it worse by playing on it, but it just didn’t have a chance to heal. That’s why I’m back on the crutches, really letting the whole thing calm down and start from scratch. … Sometimes it takes more than 24 hours to get the full picture. We kind of went with our best guess the first time. We underestimated it a little bit. That’s the way it happens sometimes.”
• Probably goes without saying, but the Yankees are not pulling anyone out of the rotation when Sabathia comes back. There’s only one more scheduled off day the rest of the season. “We’ll insert him in here to give everyone an extra day’s rest,” Girardi said.
• A lot of attention on Stephen Drew’s bat these days, but you know who else is really hot? His double play partner, Didi Gregorius. “I think that Didi has grown up a lot in these five months,” Girardi said. “Playing every day, playing against lefties, allowing his talent to come out, gaining confidence each month, refining his swing; all of that. It’s your hope when you have a young player that it’s a transition that continues to go up and that’s what we’ve seen.”
Associated Press photos
Even after Brian Cashman said he was against it, Joe Girardi said yesterday that he was still considering the possibility of Alex Rodriguez getting a little bit of time at first base against left-handed starters.
Today, Girardi changed his tune.
“I just don’t think Alex is ready to do it,” Girardi told reporters in Boston.
Against a left-handed starter this afternoon, the Yankees are sticking with left-handed rookie Greg Bird at first base. Red Sox starter Henry Owens has reverse splits this season, so that might have factored into the decision (though Girardi tabbed Dustin Ackley, another left-handed hitter as the backup first baseman).
Aside from a month of reverse splits at the end of 2014, Bird generally put up better numbers against right-handed pitchers in the minors. His numbers against lefties weren’t awful, but he was significantly better against right-handers in both Double-A and Triple-A this season, so there’s reason for the Yankees to want at least some sort of right-handed first base option. Girardi has previously mentioned Chase Headley, Brendan Ryan and Austin Romine as possibilities, but today he’s sticking with Bird.
If the team is unwilling to let Rodriguez play first base for even a game against a lefty, it’s hard to imagine they’ll want him to play first or third during the three-game series at Citi Field later this month.
• CC Sabathia threw another bullpen this afternoon. Seems he could face hitters relatively soon. Brian Cashman has said the Yankees still see Sabathia as a starter, not a reliever, when he’s healthy enough to come off the disabled list.
• Jacoby Ellsbury is out of the lineup against a left-handed starter. It’s not unusual for one of the Yankees regular outfielders to sit against a lefty, but Ellsbury has been dealing with a hip issue, and Girardi acknowledged that there’s still some swelling. Girardi called this a healthy day off for Ellsbury, but there could be some desire to give him back-to-back days off with the scheduled off day tomorrow.
• Stephen Drew has six hits and six RBI in his past eight at-bats. With Owens having reverse splits anyway, the Yankees are sticking with Drew at second base for today’s game.
• Speaking of second base, Girardi said he’s not sure when Rob Refsnyder will play. Refsnyder was called up yesterday, but the Yankees have been using Brendan Ryan as their platoon second baseman, they’re clearly committed to Drew against right-handers, and they also have Jose Pirela as an additional right-handed second base option (plus Ackley as yet another second base option). A lot of possibilities at that position going forward.
• The Mariners announced today that they’d optioned Jesus Montero back to Triple-A. Even with expanded rosters. Ouch.
• Two days after the Yankees left Atlanta, the Braves’ box score from yesterday included some familiar names. Manny Banuelos started the game (six hits in 2.2 innings for the loss) and Danny Burawa finished it with two hitless innings and four strikeouts. Banuelos was traded to the Braves this offseason and Burawa was claimed by the Braves off waivers mid-season. Speaking of familiar names in new places: Nick Noonan, who opened this season as the everyday shortstop in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, was one of the Giants’ September call-ups. He signed with San Francisco after being released by the Yankees this summer.
• The Yankees have won five consecutive series at Fenway Park since the start of 2014, going 12-5 in that span. They?last won six or more consecutive series at Fenway from September 21, 1956 to June 1, 1958. With a win today, the Yankees will have six straight series wins in Boston.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees expected to have Mark Teixeira back in the lineup on Friday. Now it’s three days later, and Teixeira is still not ready to play.
Instead of holding out more hope, the Yankees have sent Teixeira back to New York for more tests on his sore right leg. Teixeira hurt himself fouling a ball off his leg two weeks ago and has started only one game since. Joe Girardi said this afternoon that Teixeira will not play during this Boston series. Rosters will expand tomorrow, but for tonight, the Yankees will be short-handed.
“We’re not happy with where it’s at,” Girardi told reporters.
Teixeira is the Yankees’ leader in OPS (.906) and home runs (31). He ranks top three on the team in on-base percentage, walks and RBI. Greg Bird has been an encouraging young replacement, but his .255/.339/.412 slash line doesn’t have nearly the explosive power of Teixeira’s .255/.357/.548.
There’s also a matchup issue in play. Although Bird has handled both lefties and righties in his minor league career, the Yankees are a left-leaning lineup as it is, and Teixeira brought some switch-hitting balance. He has been much better against right-handers this season, but generally has been better against lefties in his career.
Without Teixeira, the Yankees don’t have a strong right-handed option at first base. Bird is a lefty (so was Garrett Jones), and now the Yankees are considering Alex Rodriguez as a first-base option for Wednesday when they face another left-handed starter.
Even when rosters expand, there’s not an experienced first baseman who hits right-handed in line for a call-up. Tyler Austin has played some first, but he’s stuck in Double-A and seems unlikely to join the team. Dustin Ackley has played some first, but he hits left-handed. Jose Pirela has a little first base experience, but he’s been there only once this season.
UPDATE, 5:33 p.m.: Brian Cashman said pregame that he would prefer to have Chase Headley at first base ahead of Rodriguez. I suppose that opens the possibility of Headley at first, Refsnyder at second and Ryan at third (or Pirela at second or third) against lefties.
Hard to make up for losing a player like Teixeira in any circumstance. Pressure might fall to the other middle-of-the-order hitters — not necessarily the replacement at first base — to pick up the offensive slack.
• From Meredith Maarakovits: CC Sabathia threw a regular bullpen today. It was his first time since going on the disabled list, and he’s expected to throw one more bullpen before facing hitters.
• Brian Cashman said pregame that the Yankees see Sabathia as a starter, not a reliever, when he comes off the disabled list.
• Girardi mentioned this weekend that he was considering the idea of Rodriguez at first base against a lefty. He’s not doing it today, but could use him at first base on Wednesday. Just my own opinion, but it might make more sense to wait until Wednesday to make that move when rosters have expanded and it’s easier to pull Rodriguez out of the game after the Red Sox go to their bullpen.
• As he’s said since Spring Training, Rodriguez told David Lennon that he’s willing to play wherever Girardi wants him to play, though Lennon notes that Rodriguez sounded “less than enthusiastic” about playing first again. Rodriguez really does seem to have grown to like the regular DH role. It’s kept him healthy so far, and he’s clearly found some success with that routine.
• Jon Heyman reported today that the Yankees put in a claim on closer Dave Robertson. That sort of thing isn’t unusual, and it’s little surprise that the White Sox pulled Robertson back without making a trade.
• Carlos Beltran is one double away from 500 for his career. His 30 doubles this season lead the Yankees and rank eighth in the American League. The only American League outfielder with more doubles is Michael Brantley, who has more than anyone at any position in the Majors this season.
Associated Press photos
The second opinion on CC Sabathia’s sore right knee was basically the same as the first. Another trip to another doctor revealed nothing Sabathia and the Yankees didn’t already know.
“It’s just arthritic,” Sabathia said. “It’s just a bad knee, like we knew. I think getting this rest will help.”
There’s no surgery planned, and Sabathia hopes that rest and rehab will get him back on the active roster as soon as he’s eligible to return from the disabled list in roughly two weeks. Of course, the specifics of Sabathia’s return are thoroughly up in the air and subject to change.
Will he be a starter? Is he better off in the bullpen at this point? Can he be reliable enough to have a spot in the postseason?
“I think we just have to see what his body can physically handle at this point what that knee can handle,” Joe Girardi said. “And then you try to make some decisions. … The thing is you hope it calms down, you rehab it, you strengthen it and you hope that he can be a player for us sometime in September. And you’re really not gonna know until you go through everything but it was better than what the alternative news could have been.”
Simply getting Sabathia off the disabled list won’t answer the bigger questions about his long-term health, durability and effectiveness. Even Sabathia himself acknowledged that for now his protocol is only designed to get him through another month (another two months all goes extremely well). At some point, though, he’ll have to tackle bigger issues.
“I think this is stuff that’s going to get me through the season,” Sabathia said. “I think what’s going to keep me pitching for years is just proper rehab and making sure that I go out and keep working and making sure everything is strong and going out and making sure my body’s good, I guess.”
It really does feel like guesswork. The Yankees know the problem, the question is what to do about it. Sabathia said that, short of simply not pitching, there’s really nothing he can do to fix the issue. The trick is figuring out how to deal with it. For now, he has no plans to continue babying the knee. When he comes back, Sabathia said, he’s going to be pitching at full force despite the obvious risk. He won’t be holding back like he was earlier in the season.
“It’s not that time for that,” Sabathia said. “That’s why I wanted to make sure I’m healthy and hopefully this rest will allow me to do that.”
For now, Sabathia said he simply wants to get back and find a way to be helpful in the short term. The long term will be an issue worth addressing in the winter. Even if he’s in the bullpen, Sabathia said, he simply wants to pitch again this season.
“Helping this team in any way I can is what I’m here to do,” he said. “If that means pitching out of the bullpen, then it is what it is. I’m not here to make that decision. That’s not (a decision) for me to make. If I’m healthy enough, I know I can start on any team. Let them make the decision.”
• After last night’s game, Mark Teixeira told Girardi to plan on having him in the lineup. It’s a good time to get him back because Dallas Keuchel is holding left-handed hitters to a .137/.167/.198 slash line this season. “We talked last night and he said, ‘Pencil me in,’” Girardi said. “And I said, ‘I’ll pencil you in.’ Saw him today, said ‘I’ll pencil you in, you go through everything and if something comes up and you feel like you need another day, take it.’ But the plans are for him to play.”
• How will the Yankees use Greg Bird now that Teixeira is back? “In Atlanta, obviously there’s pinch hit possibilities there,” Girardi said. “If you decide to give Alex a day off, maybe you DH Tex. If you give Tex a day, (Bird will play). We have a long stretch coming up. After this six, I think it’s 30 out of 31, so you’re going to have to spell the guys once in a while.”
• Dustin Ackley plans to begin a rehab assignment with Double-A Trenton on Thursday. I can’t imagine him being activated before rosters expand on September 1. Ackley said he expects his return to depend entirely on how he’s playing and feeling.
• Chase Headley’s surprisingly bad defensive season continued with his 20th error last night. “I think the last six weeks he’s played a lot better at third,” Girardi said. “I think the errors have not come at a rapid pace for him. He made a tough play yesterday and threw the ball away but I feel good about Head there. It’s just for whatever reasons he’s made a few more errors this year but he continues to work at it.”
• The Yankees have four left-handed hitters on the bench, obviously in reaction to Keuchel’s incredible success against left-handed hitters this season. Righties have a .606 OPS against the Astros’ ace, which isn’t great, but it’s a lot better than the lefties who have a .365 OPS against him. One bright spot: Keuchel hasn’t been overwhelming on the road. He has a 1.35 ERA at home this year, but a 3.65 ERA on the road.
Associated Press photos