For two years, CC Sabathia knew disappointment and became familiar with limitations. He struggled, and he got hurt, and Sabathia did little to hide his frustration. He was capable of pitching better, and he knew it.
This year, Sabathia is pitching better, and he knows that, too. But still, there’s frustration.
“I’ve been getting better every time out,” Sabathia said after tonight’s letdown. “Obviously that’s not equating to wins or helping us.”
Three starts into the season, Sabathia’s allowed just two extra-base hits and four walks, but he’s 0-3 with a 4.35 ERA. Tonight he faced the minimum through six innings, finished off a complete game by pitching through the eighth, but took the loss because of back-to-back two-out singles in the seventh. The first hit off Didi Gregorius’s glove at shortstop. The second fell into center field, where Jacoby Ellsbury decided he didn’t have a shot at throwing Victor Martinez out at the plate.
“I think (Sabathia) knows he’s throwing the ball well,” Joe Girardi said. “And I think he’s pleased with the way he’s throwing the ball. But there’s frustration there, I’m sure. … I thought the first two starts were good too. He didn’t give up as few runs as he did tonight, but I thought he threw the ball really well. Those first two starts he was not hit hard. He wasn’t. He just needs to keep doing what he’s doing, and the results will come.”
That’s the idea, but as Girardi said after Masahiro Tanaka finally pitched a gem on Saturday: everyone wants to have success, and right now, Sabathia’s not having success. He’s experiencing little victories along the way — better arm strength, fewer home runs, good control, lots of ground balls — but Sabathia’s a bottom-line kind of guy. Getting Miguel Cabrera to hit into two double plays and nearly into a third one? That’s great, but it didn’t matter in the end.
“Any time you can get him out, it’s a bonus,” Sabathia said. “But it didn’t equate to a win, so it is what it is.”
Ultimately, the Yankees had a late lead against the team with the best record in baseball, and Sabathia was on the mound when it slipped away. Sabathia knows frustration, and he was feeling it again tonight, even if his manager and his teammates were seeing signs of encouragement.
“He’s right where he needs to be,” catcher Brian McCann said. “Third start in, he looks great. Very encouraged. … Arm strength. It’s there. He’s getting in on the righties. He’s sinking it. Everything comes out of the same slot, and his arm speed is the same on all his pitches. It’s good to see.”
The Yankees played pretty incredible defense through much of the game — more on that in a bit — but there were two plays in the seventh worth questioning. I’m not sure mistakes were made on either one, but they were pivotal moments in the game.
The game-tying single was a sharp ball that hit off Gregorius’s glove. He tried to make a diving catch to his right but just missed it. Really tough play, but Gregorius almost made it, which makes you wonder if he should have made it.
“I made a diving play and tried to stop it,” Gregorius said. “Get at least one out. But it hit my glove, went into the outfield, and they got a chance to tie the game right there. … As a player you want to make every play. For me, I want to make every play when I go out there. That’s how I look at it.”
The go-ahead single dropped into center field where Ellsbury decided to throw to third for the final out rather than throwing home to try to keep the run from scoring. Victor Martinez was running, and he’s not a good runner even when he’s not slightly hobbled.
“I didn’t think we had a shot,” Ellsbury said. “With two outs, you have a huge secondary (lead). By the time I’m touching the ball, I don’t know exactly where he’s at. If there’s one out, definitely, we’ve got a play. But with two outs, getting a big secondary, going on contact, that’s the reason he was able to score is because we had two outs.”
For whatever it’s worth, Girardi said he also thought Ellsbury had no shot at the out at home.
• Of course it’s easy to look back at those two hits in the seventh as making all the difference, but the Yankees scored just one run tonight, and it’s tough to win when that happens. “I thought (Alfredo Simon’s) split was exceptional,” Girardi said. “I thought his sinker was good, and I thought his split was exceptional tonight, and he used it really effectively. He threw some for strikes, expanded when he was ahead, and did a good job.”
• The big at-bat for the Yankees was Ellsbury hitting into a double play with runners at the corners in the eighth. Adds a little insult to injury that Joba Chamberlain was on the mound. “I think that’s about the only way you can double me up right there,” Ellsbury said. “With the play drawing him to second like that, flip to Iglesias — that’s about the only way you can double me up. If it’s hit to his left a little bit, they don’t double me up. Even if I don’t quite hit it as hard, they don’t double me up. That’s about the only way they could have. … I think I’ll take 600 more of those swings the rest of the season, but just unfortunately hit it at the wrong person.”
• Ellsbury did have the play of the game with his diving catch to start the bottom of the fifth. “I didn’t (think I’d get there),” Ellsbury said. “But, you know, I always go for everything like I can catch it. I was pleased to cover some ground and make a play on it.”
• Very next batter after the Ellsbury catch, Brett Gardner made a nice sliding catch in left field. That was his second-best catch of the night. Gardner also made a great running catch at the wall to start the second inning. The first Gardner catch and the Ellsbury catch were each against Victor Martinez.
• Speaking of Victor Martinez, Girardi chose to intentionally walk him in the seventh, even though it put the go-ahead run on base. “Looking at the at-bats, and the at-bats he’s had off him for a number of years,” Girardi said. “He’s hit the ball hard. We made two great plays, and I just went with what I thought was a better matchup. … Usually you don’t (put the go-ahead run on, but with two outs it’s kind of a different story there.”
• As it turned out, the Yankees had a prime opportunity to tie the game on the Gregorius single in the eighth. The ball was hit to center and Chase Headley was held up at third base, but Rajai Davis wound up bobbling the ball, which probably would have allowed enough time to score. “He had the ball in plenty of time and then he dropped it,” Girardi said. “And that’s not something you can predict.”
• The Yankees turned three double plays tonight, and Stephen Drew looked pretty good at second making those turns. “I think he’s getting more comfortable there, obviously, the more he has played,” Girardi said. “He makes a really good one, picks it, and then gets the double play, so yeah, I think he’s really kinda settling in there.”
• Sabathia’s changeup was really good tonight. He’s been talking about that pitch since spring training, and he basically had it all night tonight. That’s the pitch he used on both Cabrera double plays. “Arm speed is a big deal,” McCann said. “When your arm speed’s there and it looks exactly like your fastball and it’s a six, seven mile-per-hour difference, you’re going to get a lot of ground balls and you’re going to keep it off the barrel.”
• Mark Teixeira’s solo homer was the 367th of his career, moving him ahead of Lance Berkman for fifth place on baseball’s all-time home runs list for switch hitters.
• Chase Headley had two singles. It was his third multi-hit game of the year and gave him a three-game hitting streak.
• No real final word here, just a link to make sure you don’t miss the epic postgame meltdown by Reds manager Bryan Price tonight. For some reason, Price believes beat writers have to think about the good of the team before they report. I’ll say this for Girardi and Brian Cashman: I’ve never felt that they were mad or felt like punishing a reporter for writing something negative that’s perfectly fair and accurate. If the Yankees tried to hide the fact a player wasn’t at a game, and that fact got out, there’s no chance the Yankees would blame the reporter.
Associated Press photos
Game 13: Yankees at Tigers • 04.20.15
LHP CC Sabathia (0-2, 5.68)
Sabathia vs. Tigers
Rajai Davis CF
Ian Kinsler 2B
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Victor Martinez DH
J.D. Martinez RF
Yoenis Cespedes LF
Nick Castellanos 3B
James McCann C
Jose Iglesias SS
RHP Alfredo Simon (2-0, 2.03)
Simon vs. Yankees
TIME/TV: 7:08 p.m., YES Network and ESPN
WEATHER: Rainy all day, but the forecast suggests it might stay dry enough to actually play tonight. A few days ago, the forecast suggested there was not much chance of playing today.
UMPIRES: HP Tony Randazzo, 1B Will Little, 2B Gerry Davis, 3B Phil Cuzzi
ONE THEY’LL MISS: The Yankees won’t face Shane Greene this week. Traded away in the Didi Gregorius deal, Greene last pitched on Sunday and has so far gone 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA through his first three starts this season.
SAVINGS PLAN: Andrew Miller has four saves through the Yankees’ first 12 games this season, marking the most saves through this point of a season by a Yankees pitcher other than Mariano Rivera since John Wetteland tallied five saves in the Yankees’ first 12 games of 1995. Miller is the first pitcher in Yankees history to record a save and at least three strikeouts in three consecutive relief outings.
GOOD MATCHUP: No Yankees hitter has more at-bats against Alfredo Simon than Mark Teixeira, and Teixeira is 6-for-14 with a home run against the Tigers’ starter. The current Yankees have collectively hit .297/.373/.453 against Simon. Yankees starter CC Sabathia’s had success against this current group of Tigers — they’ve hit .226/.286/.377 against him — but he’s had real trouble (no surprise) against Miguel Cabrera. In 29 at-bats, Cabrera’s hit .345/.417/.621 against Sabathia.
UPDATE, 7:24 p.m.: Teixeira continues his potent numbers against Simon with his fourth home run of the season. Now the Yankees also had a one-out double by McCann. They’re up 1-0 with Headley getting a chance to expand the lead here in the second.
UPDATE, 8:03 p.m.: Sabathia is through three scoreless. He’s allowed a couple of singles but has ultimately faced the minimum.
UPDATE, 8:14 p.m.: Another single for the Tigers, but another 1-2-3 inning for Sabathia who just got Miguel Cabrera to hit into another double play.
UPDATE, 8:30 p.m.: Impressive catch by Ellsbury in center followed by a nice catch by Gardner in left. Sabathia is through another scoreless inning having still faced the minimum through five.
UPDATE, 8:46 p.m.: Another double play, and Sabathia has faced the minimum through six.
UPDATE, 8:59 p.m.: With two outs in the seventh, the Tigers are on the board after a sharp single got past Gregorius. Would have been a really impressive play, but the ball got under the glove for a single to tie the game at 1.
UPDATE, 9:00 p.m.: And now another single for a 2-1 Tigers lead. Nothing but singles off Sabathia today (plus two really good catches on deep fly balls).
Four runs on seven hits, but after tonight’s disappointment, CC Sabathia kept coming back to one particular pitch. It was the four-seam fastball he threw to Caleb Joseph in the seventh inning. It was a 3-1 game at the time, and Sabathia wanted the ball down and away. The pitch was middle, and it was hit to center for a triple.
Never mind that Jacoby Ellsbury very nearly caught it, Sabathia knew he made a mistake with that pitch and it was hit hard. He might have run into some rough luck in other moments, but in that situation, the blame fell on his shoulders. That triple led to a late insurance run, and that run made all the difference.
The other Baltimore runs came on a home run (first extra-base hit Sabathia allowed this season), after a leadoff walk (Sabathia’s only walk of the season), and after an infield single (one of many soft hits Sabathia has allowed). Aside from the home run and the triple, this was another case of relatively soft contact leading to a bunch of runs. They didn’t all come in one inning like last time out, but Sabathia still wound up with a lot of runs on his pitching line.
“I think his luck’s going to change,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I’m going to take my chances if he’s throwing the ball the way he’s throwing that the results are going to be better.”
Of course Girardi has a reputation of backing his players no matter what, but it’s also pretty easy to see what the Yankees and Sabathia are talking about. He really is throwing a lot of strikes and getting quite a few swings and misses. He’s walked one guy, pitched more innings than either Michael Pineda or Masahiro Tanaka, and allowed one home run.
Through two starts in 2013, Sabathia had already walked seven guys. Through two starts last year, he’d already allowed three homers and three doubles.
“I’m just seeing better movement on his fastball,” Girardi said. “I’m seeing consistency in his changeup; it’s not cutting. His slider is better. I just think he’s locating a lot better. I think it’s because he’s healthy. It’s hard when you’re dealing with nagging injuries to go out there and perform at a high level.”
• Didn’t help the Yankees that tonight they went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, continuing that early trend of not taking advantage of opportunities on offense. Some of that was clearly because Miguel Gonzalez was awfully sharp, but still, it’s hard to place all the blame on Sabathia when the offense didn’t do much of anything until the eighth inning. “(Gonzalez) deserves a lot of credit,” Mark Teixeira said. “He pitched really well. When he needed to make big pitches, he did. It’s not like he needed to get out of too many jams, but he did when he needed to.”
• This was the first time in his career that Gonzalez struck out 10 batters in a game. He retired 10 in a row from the second inning through the fifth.
• Sabathia not covering first base on a potential double play and failing to get an out on a slow roller up the first-base side didn’t ultimately cost him any runs, but his ability to move around defensively is clearly an issue. It’s just an issue the Yankees are willing to accept. Sabathia said the knee feels fine, but… “It’s the product of a big man, too,” Girardi said. “It’s not Gonzalez trying to get over there. He’s falling the opposite way. He’s falling toward third base. It’s just, it’s a big man.”
• Sabathia on trying to make a play on the slow roller, when he was ultimately charged with an error for flipping the ball into the runner: “It’s wet out there. I made the best play I could. I didn’t want to go down and slide, and I just threw it into the runner. … I mean, it’s just being 34 years old. Four years ago, I probably could have made that play.”
• Sabathia completely dismissed questions about whether his knee is bothering him either pitching or fielding. “I’m fine,” he said.
• Adam Jones is 11-for-17 with four home runs and nine RBI in his past five games. He homered in his first at-bat tonight, then had a sacrifice fly. “He’s one of the best hitters in the game,” Sabathia said. “He got a two-seamer and put a good swing on it (in the first inning). I felt like we pitched him a little better after that. But he’s hot, and there’s nothing you can really do.”
• Plan was for Brett Gardner to pinch run for Alex Rodriguez if Rodriguez got on base in the ninth inning. Gardner would have stayed in to play defense, but it’s still doubtful he’ll start tomorrow. Said he did only ice treatment today. “Maybe a little bit (better),” he said. “Pretty similar. Just pretty sore. Inflammation is limited. I haven’t tried to swing a bat. All I did today was ice. I didn’t try and heat it up or anything. Maybe I’ll be able to do that tomorrow.”
• Girardi chose to pinch hit Gregorio Petit to lead off the ninth because he wanted to save Rodriguez for the at-bat when Stephen Drew’s turn came up (there was a lefty on the mound). If Garrett Jones’ turn in the lineup had come up with runners on base in the eighth, Rodriguez would have pinch hit then. Basically, Girardi was trying to maximize the impact of the Rodriguez at-bat whenever it came. If there had been two on with no outs for the Drew at-bat, Drew might have stayed in to bunt them over, letting Rodriguez come up with the tying run at third and the go-ahead run at second with one out. “If the first two guys get on, or the first guy gets on, I want a guy with power behind him,” Girardi said. “The first two guys get on, you can think about doing something else.”
• Ellsbury on running after the triple in the seventh inning, when he made a diving attempt but couldn’t make the catch: “I knew it would be close,” Ellsbury said. “You always hope to catch the ball. It couldn’t have been much. I haven’t seen the replay, but within inches, I would imagine.”
• Another good outing by Chris Martin who struck out two — including Jones — during a 1-2-3 eighth.
• Final word goes to Girardi on Sabathia: “I thought he was good again. It’s unfortunate. He gave up a few hard-hit balls and you look at some of the hits he gave up, you know, I know that’s part of it but I like the way he’s throwing. … I thought he pitched well. It’s unfortunate that he gave up four runs. I thought he pitched better than that.”
Associated Press photos
Game 8: Yankees at Orioles • 04.14.15
LHP CC Sabathia (0-1, 6.35)
Sabathia vs. Orioles
Everth Cabrera SS
Manny Machado 3B
Adam Jones CF
Steve Pearce 1B
Delmon Young RF
Chris Davis DH
Jonathan Schoop 2B
Caleb Joseph C
Alejandro De Aza LF
RHP Miguel Gonzalez (0-1, 1.59)
Gonzalez vs Yankees
TIME/TV: 7:05 p.m., YES Network
WEATHER: Been rainy all day, but looks like there’s a solid chance they’ll get this game in.
UMPIRES: HP Cary Cederstrom, 1B Sean Barber, 2B Eric Cooper, 3B Lance Barksdale
TOUGH MATCHUP: Orioles shortstop Everth Cabrera has just four career at-bats against CC Sabathia, but he’s had success with those opportunities. He’s 4-for-4 with a triple.
GRAND TIME: Last night, Stephen Drew hit a pinch-hit go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning. It was the first pinch-hit grand slam by a Yankee since Jorge Posada on June 6, 2001, which was also against Baltimore (off Mike Trombley). According to Elias, since 1980, the only Yankees other than Drew to hit a pinch-hit, go-ahead grand slam are Glenallen Hill (2000) and Jorge Posada (2001).
ON THIS DATE: Sixty years ago today, Elston Howard became the first black player in Yankees history when he made his MLB debut on April 14, 1955. The two-time Gold Glove Award-winning catcher contributed to nine pennants in his first 10 seasons with the club. He was the winner of the 1963 American League MVP and was elected to the All-Star Game in nine different seasons (1957-65).
UPDATE, 7:20 p.m.: Two quick outs for Sabathia, then a solo homer by Adam Jones.
UPDATE, 7:36 p.m.: Couple of two-out base runners for the Yankees in the second inning, but Gregorius went down swinging. If there’s an upside, it might be that Gonzalez has already thrown 38 pitches.
UPDATE, 7:40 p.m.: The Yankees know CC can’t move very well and might not be able to cover first base very often. Might have cost them a double play opportunity here in the second inning.
UPDATE, 7:43 p.m.: Slow roller that Sabathia couldn’t get to very quickly, and now it’s two on with two outs for De Aza.
UPDATE, 7:44 p.m.: Sabathia’s through the inning without any damage done. This is why the Yankees say they’re OK with him not moving very well. It’s obviously not ideal — costs him pitches and creates some risk — but the Yankees feel he can ultimately pitch his way out of being hurt by that shortcoming.
UPDATE, 8:07 p.m.: Sabathia’s first walk of the year comes back to hurt him. A soft single moved the runner to third and a sac fly brought him in to score. It’s now 2-0 in the fourth.
UPDATE, 8:16 p.m.: Infield single. Wild pitch. Two strikeouts. Two-out, RBI single to right. This is looking more and more like Sabathia’s first start of the year. Other than the home run, he really hasn’t been hit hard, but he’s allowed three runs on five hits.
UPDATE, 8:39 p.m.: Two-out RBI double for Teixeira puts the Yankees on the board and cuts the lead to 3-1 in the sixth.
UPDATE, 9:10 p.m.: Second extra-base hit Sabathia has allowed this season was a leadoff triple in the seventh inning. Ellsbury nearly made a diving catch, but he couldn’t get there and a sacrifice fly brought in the fourth Orioles run of the night. This start feels a lot like Sabathia’s first start of the year.
UPDATE, 9:15 p.m.: Couple of hits and an RBI ground out have cut the lead to 4-2 in the eighth. Didi Gregorius actually got a hit, if you can believe it.
Pitching matchups at Baltimore • 04.13.15
RHP Michael Pineda (0-0, 3.00)
LHP Wei-Yin Chen (0-0, 6.23)
7:05 p.m., PIX 11
LHP CC Sabathia (0-1, 6.35)
RHP Miguel Gonzalez (0-1, 1.59)
7:05 p.m., YES Network
RHP Nathan Eovaldi (0-0, 5.06)
RHP Bud Norris (0-1, 24.00)
7:05 p.m., YES Network
Associated Press photo
Postgame notes: “It’s something to build on” • 04.09.15
All through spring training, CC Sabathia insisted he felt great despite the fact he was pitching his way to an 8.10 ERA and a loss in each of his three starts.
Tonight’s regular-season debut felt similar.
There were plenty of obvious good things — eight strikeouts, no walks, no extra-base hits — but Sabathia still allowed five runs, four earned, through 5.2 innings. For now, that’s enough for a 6.35 ERA and an 0-1 record. Sabathia is usually hard on himself after a loss, but he seemed mostly encouraged after this one, despite the ugly result.
The real problem was the second inning when Sabathia allowed four runs on five singles and a couple of run-scoring ground outs. A comebacker off Sabathia’s own glove might have been a double play had he not touched it, but Sabathia’s deflection loaded the bases with no outs, and the Blue Jays chipped away from there.
“If he’s going to be hit that hard every time he starts, I’ll take it because he’s not going to give up that many runs in most games,” Joe Girardi said. “But it was just one of those nights. … We’ll take our chances when you’re getting ground balls because you’re going to get some double plays there. It looked like we may have had the one if he doesn’t touch it, and that could have changed the whole complexion of that inning. I thought he threw the ball pretty good.”
Sabathia said he got away from pitching inside in that second inning, and that was his biggest problem. He need to keep pounding fastballs inside to get hitters off his offspeed pitches. He didn’t do that in the second inning, and the Blue Jays pounced; not with home runs and doubles, but with a lot of contact and a lot of effective base hits.
Aside from the second inning, and before he allowed a pair of two-out hits in the sixth, Sabathia actually faced the minimum. The only other hit he allowed was quickly wiped out by a double play. There were some positives, and on some nights he might have finished with better results, but one big inning is nothing new for Sabathia. It’s also nothing new for the Yankees, who were undone by a similar inning by Masahiro Tanaka on Monday.
“He kept the ball in the ballpark,” Girardi said. “He kept the ball on the ground. He did what he was supposed to do, in a sense.”
In a sense, that’s true. In another sense, a loss is a loss, and four earned runs are four earned runs.
“A bad inning got away from us,” Sabathia said. “I wish I could have stopped the bleeding right there.”
• Alex Rodriguez hit his first home run since September 20, 2013. “I felt like I needed Google Maps or something to round the bases,” he said. “It’s been a long, long time. It certainly felt good to get some cheers in front of the home fans and get us going a little bit.”
• Moved into the second spot in the order, Rodriguez also drew a walk. He struck out in his other two at-bats. “We talked about it in spring training, anything that I do this year is going to be kind of a surprise to everyone – sometimes even myself,” Rodriguez said. “That one felt good to get us on the board and start a little momentum.”
• The home run, by the way, was No. 655 in Rodriguez’s career. His last homer came off former Yankees prospect George Kontos.
• Continuing a familiar issue, the Yankees went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. They had similar problems last night. Their only RISP hit tonight was an RBI single by Didi Gregorius, who was promptly thrown out rounding too far around first base. “To win games, you have to hit with runners on,” Girardi said.
• Speaking of Gregorius, that’s his second base-running blunder in three games. “I slipped a little bit trying to go back to first and I got stuck there,” he said. “That’s what happened. … For me, I just want to be aggressive on the bases. I slipped on that one, and I can’t take it back. It happened and just go forward from there.”
• Girardi on the Gregorius mistake: “He takes too wide of a turn, he slips and then he’s out. You’ve got to read the throw, and if the throw is low enough, you can’t take that wide of a turn.”
• Two fielding mistakes by Sabathia tonight. The first was the comebacker that he couldn’t snag in the second inning. If he’d let it go through, it probably would have been a double play. “I asked Didi, he was standing right behind me,” Sabathia said. “So I just gotta trust that he’s going to be there and he would’ve made the play.”
• The second fielding mistake came when Sabathia didn’t back up at third base in the sixth inning. When a throw from right field hit the runner, the ball got away and let a run score. “He went toward first (on contact), and it’s hard for him to get over there (to third),” Girardi said. “With his knee issues, we might have to live with that from time to time. I’m not so sure he’s even going to make it over there.”
• For whatever it’s worth, Sabathia said he felt great despite the cold weather.
• This was the 21st time in Sabathia’s career that he struck out at least eight without allowing a single walk. Last time he did it was May 31, 2013. … Sabathia has now lost each of his past four starts at Yankee Stadium, his longest home losing streak since joining the Yankees in 2009.
• Mark Teixeira homered to score the 1,000th run of his career. It was also his 500th RBI with the Yankees.
• Two doubles for John Ryan Murphy, who was making his first start of the season. Murphy got off to a slow start in spring training, but he started to hit a little toward the end. The Yankees chose to keep him over Austin Romine as the backup catcher.
• Jacoby Ellsbury was caught trying to steal in the third inning snapping a streak of 16 consecutive stolen bases without being caught. That streak dated back to July 18 of last season.
• We’ll give the final word to Rodriguez: “It’s three games. Today, I was more encouraged. We hit some of the hardest balls; some were outs. Tex hit a rocket that easily could have been a couple ribbies. Ellsbury had some great at-bats, Didi hit the ball well. Sometimes a run with this type of weather can count for two or three.”
Associated Press photos
Game 3: Yankees vs. Blue Jays • 04.09.15
LHP CC Sabathia (3-4, 5.28 in 2014)
Sabathia vs Blue Jays
BLUE JAYS (1-1)
Jose Reyes SS
Russell Martin C
Jose Bautista RF
Edwin Encarnacion DH
Josh Donaldson 3B
Danny Valencia 1B
Kevin Pillar CF
Steve Tolleson LF
Devon Travis 2B
LHP Daniel Norris (0-0, 5.40 in 2014)
Norris vs. Yankees
TIME/TV: 7:05 p.m., YES Network
WEATHER: Still cold. Still don’t like it.
UMPIRES: HP Jerry Meals, 1B Paul Schrieber, 2B Fieldin Culbreth, 3B Jim Reynolds
LIMITED EXPERIENCE: The Yankees collectively have a total of four career plate appearances against Daniel Norris. In those four plate appearances they have one walk and one hit. The one hit is a home run. It was hit by Brian McCann, who is of course not playing today.
RED SOX SET THEIR WEEKEND ROTATION: Boston’s weekend rotation has included a TBA for Saturday, but the Red Sox have now settled on Joe Kelly as the Saturday starter. Wade Miley will start tomorrow’s series opener and Clay Buchholz will start the Sunday night finale.
ON THIS DATE: It was on April 9 that the Yankees played their home opener in 1996. Joe DiMaggio threw the ceremonial first pitch, and both Joe Girardi (replacing Mike Stanley) and Tino Martinez (replacing Don Mattingly) were booed during pregame introductions.
UPDATE, 7:33 p.m.: Good first inning for Sabathia, but the Blue Jays have been relentless in chipping away at him here in the second. Five singles this inning have the Blue Jays in front 4-0.
UPDATE, 7:49 p.m.: Two strikeouts to open the third inning. Sabathia has five strikeouts already. It’s those five singles that have killed him.
UPDATE, 8:01 p.m.: Ellsbury’s two-out single was the Yankees’ first hit of the night, but he was promptly thrown out trying to steal second. Ended the third inning, and ended Ellsbury’s streak of 16 steals without being caught.
UPDATE, 8:07 p.m.: Eight strikeouts through four innings for Sabathia. He’s been perfect outside of that second inning.
UPDATE, 8:12 p.m.: Walk for Rodriguez, double by Beltran, and Teixeira nearly put the Yankees on the board but his sharp line drive was snagged by Donaldson at third.
UPDATE, 8:17 p.m.: Blown opportunity in the bottom of the fourth. Runners at second and third with no outs, and the Yankees get nothing out of it.
UPDATE, 8:39 p.m.: Well, the Yankees are on the board after Murphy’s double and a Gregorius single, but Gregorius was caught too far off first base, so the inning was limited to one run. Second base-running mistake in three games for Gregorius.
UPDATE, 8:54 p.m.: Couple of two-out singles and an error gave the Blue Jays another run in the top of the sixth, but the Yankees have answered in the bottom of the inning with a pair of home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
UPDATE, 9:05 p.m.: Second double of the game for Murphy. Drew hitting for Petit with two on and two outs in the sixth.
UPDATE, 9:06 p.m.: And Drew struck out. Still 5-3.
With the lineup already posted on the door that leads to the batting cage, Alex Rodriguez came walking through the clubhouse this afternoon and suddenly stopped in his tracks. Someone had just mentioned that he was hitting second. The words initially seemed to pass without Rodriguez hearing them, then he froze and looked back.
“You’re kidding me,” he said.
He walked to the door. Looked at the lineup. Walked away. Came back. Looked again and kind of whispered, “wow” before going to hit in the cage.
“I didn’t tell him,” Joe Girardi said with a little laugh. “But we’re taking Gardy out, and against a left-hander I decided to move (Rodriguez) up. I like the way he’s swinging the bat, so we moved him up today.”
For a guy with Rodriguez’s resume, a turn in the No. 2 hole in early April surely doesn’t rate as any sort of real accomplishment. But for a guy who’s almost 40 and coming off a year-long suspension, hitting second seems pretty telling. Can’t imagine Rodriguez — even with Brett Gardner out of the lineup, even with a lefty on the mound — would be hitting second if he hadn’t shown the Yankees quite a bit in spring training.
Six weeks ago, the Yankees had no idea what to expect from him. Now he’s as dependable as anyone at the top of the order.
“Joe and I have a long history,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been through a lot together, we won a championship together, so I think there’s a lot of trust on both sides. Whether you’re hitting second or seventh, third or fourth, the goal doesn’t change. You have to help the team win.”
Asked if he’s surprised by the way Rodriguez has looked at the plate, Girardi said that after spring training, he’s come to expect it. Rodriguez has shown a good eye since exhibition games started, and he’s done a good job of making contact and occasionally driving mistake pitches.
“Naturally, any time you hit at the top of the order, you should have better pitches to hit because they want to stay out of the meat of the order,” Rodriguez said. “It doesn’t matter where they’re hitting me; I think they’re always going to honor the power at some point.”
So today he’s in the No. 2 spot. Tomorrow, who knows?
“Anything that Skip wants me to do, I’m ready to do,” Rodriguez said. “… It’s all about trust. You have to regain the trust every day. Every day is an opportunity to prove yourself and help the team win.”
• Stephen Drew, Brian McCann and Brett Gardner all have the day off because of the lefty starting for Toronto. No one is hurt. It’s just a chance to give guys a day off, and so three lefties are on the bench. Girardi said he plans to play Drew and sit Didi Gregorius tomorrow. Seems safe to assume McCann will be back in the lineup tomorrow as well, and I would expect the same for Gardner.
• Usually Girardi likes to pair his backup catcher with one particularly pitcher, but he said the decision to starter John Ryan Murphy today had more to do with the opposing starter and less to do with the Yankees starter. Doesn’t sound like Murphy and Sabathia will be paired together regularly, it just worked out that way this time around. “I think I’ll try to rotate it based on when Mac needs a day,” Girardi said.
• Speaking of today’s Yankees starter, it’s CC Sabathia’s return. “It means a lot to him, I know it does,” Girardi said. “But it also means a lot to us. It’s important that we have him in our rotation. I look back on last year, I didn’t realize how few starts he actually made. It’s really great to have him back, and we’ve just got to keep him in the rotation. I think that’s the important thing.”
• First two games of the season, the first pitcher out of the bullpen has been Chris Martin, and Martin’s been impressive. Two innings, no base runners, three strikeouts. “We’ve liked what we’ve seen obviously his last outing,” Girardi said. “But his last few outings of spring training (were also encouraging). His breaking ball has improved, which I think is really going to help him during the course of this season. He had the cutter, but he’s added a little bit bigger breaking ball which gives a different look. So I feel good about our guys in the bullpen, and I brought him in a close game hoping he would keep it there. I think our parts are somewhat interchangeable down there, and you just have to keep the guys fresh.”
• Rodriguez has moved up in the order, but when’s he going to play the field? “I have no idea,” he said. “I already took my ground balls this afternoon. Did the same thing yesterday early. I’m ready when my number is called.”
• Minor league seasons get started tonight. Bryan Mitchell has the start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Associated Press photos
CC Sabathia pitched just 10 innings this spring, Masahiro Tanaka made just four starts, and Carlos Beltran got just 37 at-bats, only four more than Jacoby Ellsbury who was hurt for more than two weeks.
Recognizing the age and injury concerns up and down their roster, the Yankees went with an intentionally lighter workload for several key players this spring. Sabathia and Tanaka progressed slowly and will be on slightly limited pitch counts when they make their first regular season starts. Beltran got quite a few at-bats at the minor league complex, but he didn’t play a ton in actual Grapefruit League games. Alex Rodriguez played the field sparingly, including just two games at first base, a position he’d never before played in his career.
But the additional rest went beyond those obviously diminished statistics.
“I opted to give them more complete days off this spring than just not playing,” Joe Girardi said. “It was something I thought would help refresh them more. You play a night game and you’re not playing the next day, and (if) you come in and work out, you’re not into the first two or three rounds of BP because maybe you’re a little bit tired. Then you’re frustrated because you don’t like your BP, so you go and take 150 swings. It kind of defeats the whole purpose.
“So there were times I chose to say, ‘I don’t want you coming in tomorrow. Stay home and relax.’ I think it helped; I do. I think it breaks up the monotony of spring training, too, for veteran guys.”
Despite a long list of obvious injury concerns, the only projected big leaguers set to open the season on the disabled list are Chris Capuano (an older player, but not one with a lingering health issue) and Brendan Ryan (a little used utility man who’s still not sure how he strained his calf muscle on a relatively routine play). The only other significant sprint injury was Jose Pirela’s concussion, which happened because of a collision in the outfield, not because of workload or lack of rest.
So far, Tanaka’s elbow seems fine. So does Beltran’s. Rodriguez has complained of no problems with his hips, Sabathia says his surgically repaired knee feels fine, and Mark Teixeira suffered no significant injuries throughout spring training (a month-long healthy streak possibly unmatched all of last season). Most of the injuries that did pop up — Teixeira’s bruised knee, Jacoby Ellsbury’s strained oblique, Didi Gregorius’s sprained wrist — cleared up well before breaking camp.
Injuries can popup when players and coaches least expect them, but the Yankees have done what they can to keep guys healthy this spring, and it seems to have worked so far. If it means Tanaka and Sabathia are slightly limited in their first starts, it’s still a long way from the worst-case scenario.
“(Sabathia) makes one more start in the season and he’s where everybody else is,” Girardi said. “I don’t really consider him that far behind. We chose to do this because we had guys coming off injuries and we said we were going to take it slow. If their pitch count is a little bit less the first start, so be it. We’ll deal with that.”
Associated Press photo
Three hits, three runs and two walks in the first inning. Two hits, one walk and no runs through the next 4.1 innings. That was CC Sabathia’s final start of the spring. The YES Network gun showed his velocity basically the same as we’ve seen it all spring — low 90s with his fastball — and Sabathia was stretched out to 83 pitches in his final tune-up before the regular season.
For Sabathia, that was a successful finish to an encouraging spring.
“I am (ready), I am,” he said. “I think just being able to go out there and throw 85 pitches or whatever pain free is very encouraging so I’m ready for the next one. … I feel great. I feel like I’m just a couple of ticks away from where I want to be.”
Those last few ticks, Sabathia said, are mostly about command. It’s in finishing off a few hitters and getting ahead of others. It’s a pretty sparse crowd here today, so it was pretty easy to hear Sabathia yelling at himself occasionally on the mound (something he does often). Today’s biggest blow up might have been after Danny Espinosa lined out to center to finish off a 1-2-3 fourth inning.
Sabathia had the result that he wanted, but he wasn’t happy with himself for letting the No. 8 hitter make such solid contact in that situation.
“I got the pitcher on deck, there’s two outs, I gotta make a better pitch,” he said. “I can’t give them a chance to extend the inning. I want to start the next inning with the pitcher leading off. Hopefully that’s an easy out. Just frustrated in that way. Like I said, I just need to narrow my focus and be able to make pitches to get us off the field.”
That’s Sabathia in spring training, a pretty clear indication that his expectations remain pretty high. There was no exhale of relief about a hard out, just a shout of frustration knowing he could have made a better pitch.
“I’m happy with the stuff, and I think the consistency will come,” Girardi said. “I do. I think you’ll see a different guy. He hasn’t pitched a lot (in recent years). He’s had to deal with a lot of injuries. The arm strength is much better than it’s been. His knee has been good. So, I’m encouraged.”
• Andrew Miller on the strong possibility that the Yankees will not have a defined closer this season: “There’s no established closer in here,” Miller said. “There’s nobody where they can expect to be in that role, you’re not ruffling any feathers, really. So I think they’ll treat us three outs at a time, one hitter at a time, whatever cliché you want to use, and we should be okay. … It’s a good problem to have when you can’t determine who to give the ball in the ninth inning. We’re all flexible. There’s nobody in here who can say they have a routine that will help them pitch better if they pitch in the ninth inning.”
• Girardi said the decision to go without a defined closer would have nothing to do with Betances having a shaky spring. Girardi said he would have made the same decision even if Betances had pitched as well as he did last spring. “I think so, I do,” Girardi said. “I just think because of the two arms we have there, you can do it. It’s an interesting thought. If you name one, you do it that way. But if you don’t name one, maybe some of the things you can do with it (will be more effective) if you don’t name one.”
• It really seems that both Miller and Betances were prepared for spring to end with this sort of late-inning situation. Each one has stressed that he doesn’t care about a specific role, and neither has indicated that being name closer would be particularly meaningful. “I think neither of us has been in a situation where we’ve been an anointed closer before,” Miller said a few days ago. “So it’s not like we can say that’s a comfort zone for us. When the phone rings, we’ll pitch, and until otherwise I have no problem with it. And I can’t imagine anyone else does. I think it might be a little unique, but I think we’ve come to establish that closing… doesn’t have to be that specific as it has been historically the last couple of decades or whatever.”
• Of the seven expected relievers, Betances is the only holdover from last year’s Opening Day bullpen. There’s a lot of unfamiliarity in the pen, but Girardi said that’s not the reason he’s hesitant to define roles. “It’s not that I’m not sure how the pieces fit together,” Girardi said. “It’s just that I think you can move the pieces around and put the puzzle together every night, as opposed to being so cut-and-dried, this is the way it is. I know what we have, and I know how I want to use them, but a lot of it is going to depend on the lineups those days.”
• No roster developments during or immediately after today’s game. The Yankees ended the game planning to bring both Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy to Washington D.C. for tomorrow’s exhibition finale. Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin are also traveling with the team as the final two pieces of the bullpen, and Gregorio Petit is set as the utility infielder. That could change this weekend, but that’s how the Yankees broke camp.
• Plan is still for Carlos Beltran to play tomorrow. He sat out the past two days because of flu-like symptoms.
• Not Yankees news, but pretty significant baseball news: MLB announced that Twins starter Ervin Santana has tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. He’ll get an 80-game suspension. The league also announced that neither Josh Hamilton (recreational drugs) nor Jarred Cosart (gambling) will be suspended by the league. It was ruled that Cosart didn’t bet on baseball, while an arbitrator ruled that Hamilton didn’t violate his treatment program.
• Josh Norris tweeted some of the preliminary minor league assignments for the Yankees. They include Danny Burawa, Jacob Lindgren and Nick Rumbelow each getting spots in the crowded Triple-A bullpen. Norris noted that these assignments could change, but they seem to be indications of where the Yankees are leaning. A lot of tough decisions coming, especially in that Triple-A pen.
• Biggest adjustment Sabathia made this afternoon was not so much mechanical: “It was just hard for me to get a grip (in the first inning),” he said. “I kept going to the dirt. I was trying to dry my hand off. I came back in the dugout and was able to get it dry and felt pretty good after that. It was hot outside.”
• Andrew Bailey was charged with three runs on a hit and two walks in his final appearance of the spring. Didn’t help him that Nick Goody allowed a three-run home run that brought in two of Bailey’s runners. Still, an encouraging spring for Bailey, who will stay behind to get more work done here in Tampa.
• The Yankees lost their spring finale, 8-2, against the Nationals. … Branden Pinder came up from minor league camp to strand a runner and finish off the sixth inning. … Chase Headley stayed hot with his fifth double of the spring, and Rob Refsnyder hit his team-leading sixth double. Refsnyder will finish spring training with a .372 batting average. The kid can hit. Headley’s two-hit day leaves him with a .321 average. … Mark Teixiera also doubled. The other Yankees hits belonged to Brian McCann, Chris Young, Ramon Flores and Ben Gamel.
• Final word goes to Girardi: “I thought camp went good. I mean, I’m pleased with the way it went. We had a couple of injuries that we have to deal with. We’ll try to get through these next two days without anything happening, but (it was) pretty good.”
Associated Press photos