Only two active pitchers have more career wins than CC Sabathia. He’s won playoff games and season openers. He’s won shutouts and blowouts. He’s won near no-hitters, and he’s won sloppy starts when the offense bailed him out. Sabathia’s won more than 200 times, and until this season, he never had to wait long for his next one.
“He’s one of the best pitchers of our era,” Brian McCann said. “I don’t know if he even thinks about it. He goes out there and competes hard. I’m glad to get him a win tonight, for sure.”
Career win No. 209 doesn’t change Sabathia’s resume very much. It does move him from 101st into a tie for 97th all-time — into the top 100 is pretty good — but this win isn’t a nice round number to be celebrated. It was a long time coming, though, and Sabathia might have gotten there weeks ago had the Yankees scored more than four runs in any of his previous starts. The lineup scored 11 runs tonight, after scoring 13 runs combined in the previous six games Sabathia pitched.
“Our boys did what they needed to do with CC,” manager Joe Girardi said. “They got him a lead, and allowed him just to go to work.”
Yes, he allowed those two home runs in the seventh inning. And, yes, the first inning got off to a brutal start with the back-to-back walks and the hard-hit double. But from the end of the first inning through the start of the seventh, Sabathia was as good as he’s been all season. After those first two batters, he didn’t walk anyone else. He struck out nine, and said the key was locating his fastball, especially inside to righties. The Rays were laying off his changeup, so he had to find other ways to get outs, and he did that.
“The walks were just me being erratic early,” Sabathia said. “I came out with my fastball. I felt pretty good, my body felt good, so I had to ease into the game and tell myself to let the ball go.”
“It was bothering me more that we hadn’t won games I’d started, or tried to keep us in games, or keep us close to win games,” Sabathia said. “That’s my biggest concern is always just trying to help the team. I think wins will come, and it was good to get this one.”
When it was all over, Sabathia’s line wasn’t overwhelming — three earned runs, an ERA still above 5.00, even Sabathia said he came out of the game kicking himself for those late runs more than celebrating the first win — but the end result was positive, and there was a long stretch in there when Sabathia looked awfully sharp and tough to hit.
The lineup did the heavy lifting, but Sabathia did his part to earn the win and end the drought.
“It was bothering me more that we hadn’t won games I’d started, or tried to keep us in games, or keep us close to win games,” he said. “That’s my biggest concern is always just trying to help the team. I think wins will come, and it was good to get this one.”
• Might have noticed Alex Rodriguez favoring his left leg a little bit after stealing second base in the ninth inning. He said his left hamstring was a little tight, but both Rodriguez and Girardi said they expect him to be back in the lineup tomorrow. It’s basically the same tightness he was dealing with a few days ago. “Just a little sore on that last run,” Rodriguez said.
• By the way, I called that a steal, but the official scorer actually changed it to defensive indifference.
• Five home runs was the most for the Yankees in a single game since May 17, 2014. It also matches the most homers hit by any team in a single game this season. This was the third time the Yankees scored at least 11 runs this season, and the fifth time they had at least 14 hits.
• Carlos Beltran has homered in back-to-back games — his first two home runs of the season — making this the eighth time this season a Yankees player has gone deep in consecutive games. No other team has done that more than seven time this season.
• With Beltran hitting second, the Yankees top four hitters each had a home run today and combined to go 9-for-19 with seven RBI. “I just think our guys were looking for a ball in their zone,” Girardi said. “They got it, and they hit it.”
• Specifically, Girardi seemed really impressed by Mark Teixeira’s ninth-inning home run. It kept the Yankees from getting Andrew Miller warmed up, and it went to the opposite field, which Giradri took as a good sign. “That’s big,” Girardi said. “That just tells me he’s really healthy when he’s able to do that, and he’s hit a couple of home runs like that this year. Those are important runs. You don’t have to get Miller up again tonight, and that’s nice.”
• Another moment Girardi pointed out — and one that clearly stood out as an early turning point — was Didi Gregorius making the strong relay throw in the first inning to get Steven Souza out at the plate. Without that relay throw (and without Gardner doing a good job getting to the ball quickly to start the play) the Rays would have already scored two runs, had just one out and had solid hitters coming to the plate with a runner in scoring position. Gregorius said he thought all along he had a shot at getting the out. “I saw that he went all the way back to second because he thought Gardy caught it,” Gregorius said. “So, yeah. I was peeking.”
• Weirder play by Gregorius to end the game after a hard-hit fly ball hit one of the catwalks and fell into play. It was a live ball that it seemed Gardner was going to catch in the corner. Instead, Gregorius caught it in shallow left field. “I was running to the left field corner to catch it and the ball disappeared,” Gardner said. “Before it hit (the catwalk), I thought there was a good chance that it was going to hit it. I was going to catch it, it was just a matter of if it hit the catwalk or not. I completely lost it for two or three seconds, and then I saw it falling down. I don’t know why, but Didi was standing right there underneath it, looking for it, like he knew it was going to happen. Great heads up play on his part.”
• McCann on Sabathia: “His two-seamer and four-seamer were really working tonight. He had the hitters off-balance and he mixed in some great changeups and threw some great back-door sliders. Once he settled down after the first, he had some really good movement in the zone.”
• Sabathia tied Vida Blue for the 25th-most wins all-time by a left-handed pitcher. This was his 92nd win as a Yankee, moving him into a tie with Tommy John for 20th on the franchise’s all-time list.
• Headley had four RBI for the first time since September 9, 2012. He hit his 10th Yankees home run, but only his second Yankees home run on the road. … This was Gardner’s second home run with at least two runners on base this season. He had just one of those last year, which was a grand slam. … Teixeira tied his career-high with four hits, something he hadn’t done since 2012.
• After the game, Rodriguez was outside the Yankees clubhouse meeting and signing items for the couple who caught his home run ball tonight. “They wanted to give me the ball back,” he said. “They wanted a little trade and they wanted to meet me, so it was my pleasure to meet them.”
• Final word goes to Headley: “It was great. (Sabathia)’s pitched a lot better than his record shows, and anytime you have some run support it makes a pitcher’s job a lot easier, so we were happy to finally put some runs on the board for him. Now hopefully we got that first win out of the way, he can get rolling. … He’s awesome. He’s as big a leader as we have on this team. He loves to have a good time. He’s a competitor. We love him in here, so it was great to finally see him get that first win.”
Associated Press photos
On the day Masahiro Tanaka went on the disabled list, Joe Girardi said he didn’t want any of his starting pitchers to try to fill those shoes. Girardi simply wanted his pitchers to be the best versions of themselves.
Fact is, on any given night, the best version of Pineda just might be the best Yankees starting pitcher even when Tanaka’s healthy. If the title of ace is up for grabs, Pineda made a strong case with tonight’s performance.
“He’s doing the job, and that’s the bottom line,” Girardi said. “It’s what we saw last year from him. He’s been as good as anyone we’ve got.”
Honestly, Pineda could have been better. Not because he didn’t pitch a complete game, but because he didn’t have his complete arsenal in the early innings. It took Pineda a while to find his slider, which accounts for some of those early base runners and hard-hit balls out of the gate. It was only after he found the slider and finished off his three-pitch mix that Pineda was truly dominant in the later innings.
“He’s a big-time pitcher,” Jacoby Ellsbury said. “If you don’t have one of your pitches, it’s a game of adjustments, not only from the offense’s side, but from a pitcher’s side. If you can go in there knowing one pitch isn’t working for you and find a way to get outs, that’s very impressive.”
With the slider, Pineda breezed through his final 10 batters. He didn’t seem to be slowing down. Instead, he seemed to be finding his stride. Girardi said he didn’t want to push Pineda past 101 pitches — he still remembers those shoulder problems of the past three seasons — but Girardi recalled the old saying that hitters have to get to a starting pitcher early or they won’t get to him at all. Once Pineda had his slider working, the Blue Jays had no chance.
“He pounds the zone with three pitches, and he knows exactly where they’re going,” Brian McCann said. “So you can throw the 3-1 slider. You can do a lot more to pound the zone. It’s impressive to have the command he has, with the stuff he has. … You can go wherever you want. You can attack hitters’ weaknesses. It’s not, because he can’t find the zone you have to call a fastball. You don’t have to. You see how the game goes, but it’s a lot easier to call a game when a guy knows where it’s going.”
Pineda said he’s not worried about the label of staff ace, but his ERA is down to 2.97 and he’s been the winning pitcher in four of his six starts. He’s pitched into the eighth inning twice and through the eighth inning once. Tonight he shutdown the highest-scoring offense in baseball.
“He’s a top of the rotation starter,” McCann said. “We’re not big on saying this guy’s an ace, that guy’s an ace. We’ve got five guys who compete every single night, and we’re glad he’s at the top of our rotation.”
• Chase Headley didn’t come in for ninth-inning defense because his back was bothering him after last night’s diving play at third base. Headley said it’s no big deal and isn’t the same as the back issue that lingered with him in San Diego. Girardi said he expects Headley to play tomorrow. “Just sore,” Headley said.
• Gregorio Petit had a fluoroscope done on his hand after tonight’s game. That early test came back negative — it’s sort of like an X-ray — and Girardi said the team might do more tests tomorrow. Petit was hit by a pitch in the ninth inning and had to leave the game. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Girardi said. “If we have to X-ray it, we’ll X-ray it.”
• Worth noting that Petit’s injury could make the move simple for activating Jose Pirela tomorrow. “We’ll wait and see what we’ve got tomorrow (before announcing a move),” Girardi said.
• Jacoby Ellsbury had three hits tonight and now has 18 hits in his past 35 at-bats. “It’s hard to imagine you could be hotter than he is,” Girardi said. “He’s been unbelievable at the top of the order.”
• Ellsbury on his absurd hot streak: “You just go out there each and every day, try to put quality at-bats together and get on base for guys to drive me in. It obviously gives you a lot of confidence going each at-bat, each game. Just trying to keep it going as long as possible.”
• After missing yesterday with a sore lat, Mark Teixeira returned tonight to make some nice plays in the field and hit his team-leading 10th home run of the season. “You deal with bumps and bruises all year,” Teixeira said. “Yesterday, Joe thought it was a good day for me to take off and let it rest. It feels a little better today.”
• Tonight’s home run moved Teixeira into a tie with Carlos Beltran for the fourth-most home runs by a switch hitter. Both have 373. “It’s great to be able to play with a guy like Carlos,” Teixeira said. “I’ve played with Carlos, Chipper Jones and Lance Berkman, three of the best switch-hitters of our generation. It’s been a lot of fun playing with those guys. Hopefully we’ll be battling on that list for the next couple years.”
• This game seemed well in hand with a 6-0 lead in the ninth, but David Carpenter’s brutal night forced the Yankees to bring Andrew Miller in for a one-out save. Miller needed just nine pitches for his 11th save of the season. “It’s not what you want to do, but we had to,” Girardi said. “And we won the game, and that’s the most important thing.”
• Carpenter hasn’t been used very much this season, and he certainly hasn’t been used in many high-leverage situations. Tonight he was hit hard and hit often allowing three runs while getting just two outs. He gave up one home run and just missed two others. “Just missed location,” Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line. He’s a guy that relies on location even though he throws hard. You still have to locate, and he missed location.”
• Girardi had the bullpen up at the end of the seventh, but he said that was precautionary. “Just in case (Pineda) got into a long inning and some long at-bats,” Girardi said. “You don’t want to put him out there too long. We’ve talked about Michael, you know. Michael came off a serious shoulder injury and has not thrown 200 innings, so we’re going to watch him a little bit.”
• We’ll give the final word to McCann about Pineda: “I felt like he was tough from the first pitch. He creates such tough angles for hitters, that it’s hard to square him up. And it’s hard to do it consecutive at-bats. That’s why he doesn’t give up big innings. That’s why he pitches deep into ballgames. He’s just got really good stuff and knows what he’s doing.”
Associated Press photos
This was the Yankees’ eighth straight game decided by three runs or less. Six of those games were decided by two runs or less, and only two of those games have been Yankees losses. The team’s bullpen has been terrific, but late-inning relief work is naturally a bit of a high-wire act: there’s little margin for error, and there’s risk in going that route it over and over again.
“It’s a lot of innings they’ve had to log in,” Joe Girardi said. “We’ve had a couple of long stretches, which is not helping either. We’ve been able to seem to rest guys, and it’s seemed to work pretty good. Just, tonight it didn’t.”
Nope, it didn’t. The Yankees’ relievers really weren’t hit all that hard — two relatively routine singles off Chris Martin, then a bloop double and an infield single against Dellin Betances — but that’s why the risk is so high. A few bad bounces, and even a good bullpen can have a bad game.
This loss really hangs on Garrett Jones failing to scoop a ball off the turf, and on the lineup failing to get more than three hits. Those were the short-term problems. The bullpen issue was something bigger; something that had been building even during this strong stretch of 13 wins in 16 games.
So many close games forced the Yankees to lean heavily on their go-to relievers. Andrew Miller wasn’t available tonight after pitching such a tough inning last night, and Girardi didn’t want to burn through Betances for two full innings, so he went to Martin.
“We were trying to get a couple of outs out of Martin and then we go to Dellin,” Girardi said. “… I was trying to do four outs (from Betances) at the most.”
After Martin put two on — again, not hit hard, just hit effectively — the Yankees asked Betances for five outs. But his first pitch was the game-tying double blooped down the left-field line, then Russell Martin hit a 3-2 curveball for the game-winner down the third-base line.
That’s all it took for a team strength to let one slip away.
“Unfortunately I didn’t get the job done today,” Betances said. “It was definitely tough, but I felt I couldn’t do anything different. … I’ll throw (the same pitch) again nine out of 10 times.”
• Chase Headley very nearly made an incredible play to keep the game tied in that eighth inning. On Martin’s sharp ground ball, Headley made a diving stop and a strong throw, but the ball skipped off the turf and out of Jones’ glove. “I didn’t know if I even had a chance to catch it,” Headley said. “But when I got up, I just threw it as hard as I could, and almost got him. … In the moment, you go from being extremely fired up to dejected a little bit, because you see the whole thing develop, you think you’re going to make a great play, and you’re going to get out of a big spot, and it doesn’t go your way.”
• Here’s Jones explaining his end of the play: “Stretched out for it, thought it was in my glove, and looked up and saw it rolling away. It’s unfortunate, because it was a helluva play. We got out of some jams in the game, and our pitchers pitched their butts off. It sucks to have to give them two runs on a great play, and a pick I should make.”
• Apparently there was some thought that Brett Gardner should have gotten to the game-tying double. It honestly never occurred to me. Seeing it live, I really thought throughout the play that the Yankees’ only hope was that the ball might land foul. Otherwise, it was just hit to exactly the right spot. “No, I didn’t (think Gardner had a chance),” Girardi said. “Because he got jammed a little bit on it, it didn’t hook. It’s just unfortunate for us.”
• Of course, Girardi tried to stack his lineup with guys who had previous success against R.A. Dickey, but the team finished with just three hits. Jones and Stephen Drew — the guys who had their roles significantly altered because they were facing Dickey — combined to go 0-for-6 with nothing but ground balls. Jones did have the Yankees’ only RBI, but even that was on a grounder off the first baseman’s glove.
• Here’s Headley, who had one of the Yankees hits: “It’s really tough (against Dickey) because it’s so much different than anything that you do. You can’t really prepare for it. It’s not like you have somebody who can go in the cage and throw good knuckleballs to you. Frankly, I thought we swung the bats great. The first time around there were a lot of really hard-hit balls. He settled down some, and I’m not trying to take anything away from the way he pitched, but whatever three hits we had easily could have been five, six, seven hits early on.”
• Best start of Chase Whitley’s young Major League career. Against this lineup, he went seven scoreless innings. “It was just outstanding pitching on his part,” Girardi said. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t score some runs and get him a win.”
• Whitley was pulled after just 90 pitches, but Girardi said he didn’t want Whitley to throw much more than that, and he didn’t want to leave him in to face the lineup a fourth time around. Whitley threw more than 90 pitches only twice last season, and never more than 95. He threw 93 in his first start this year and has never gone 90 in Triple-A. “Yeah, he’s started before,” Girardi said. “But he’s not a guy that’s used to going 95, 100 pitches. That’s not who he is. I just thought it was time for a change.”
• Girardi said he was actually considering going to Chasen Shreve earlier in the game, but he wanted to stick with Whitley a while longer, so he let him go through the seventh. At that point, it had gone as long as Girardi was comfortable. “I just was going until they pulled me out,” Whitley said. “I felt good. It was good.”
• Two huge strikeouts for Whitley. The second was against Encarnacion in the sixth, and that was on a slider, a go-to breaking ball for Whitley. The first key strikeout, though, was against Devon Travis in the third inning, and that pitch was a curveball, which is a relatively new pitch for Whitley. I believe he began using it in spring training. “I stayed with (John Ryan Murphy) the whole time and that’s where he wanted to go,” Whitley said. “We went with it and it was a big at-bat.”
• By the way, if you’re wondering why Whitley made such a bad throw to first in that third inning, just look at the picture above. That is not the way anyone wants to grip a baseball. Clearly just lost the handle trying to rush the throw, and the result was … well, not good. Huge pitches after that, though.
• Final word goes to Whitley: “Results are one thing. They’re going to go in different ways every day. I’ll take my chances with this bullpen any day of the week.”
Associated Press photos
This might not have been the worst game of Alex Rodriguez’s career, but it had to be close. He came to the plate in the 13th inning with a chance to change that completely and instead hit into a game-ending double play, meaning he accounted for seven outs in six at-bats today.
“You just have to press delete,” Rodriguez said. “Today was definitely a tough day for our offense and specifically for me, but just (have a) short memory. Another game on Friday.”
It was the fifth four-strikeout game of Rodriguez’s 21-year career, and according to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the first time he’d ever had six at-bats without a hit. After a blistering start to the season — hitting .344 with four home runs in his first 10 games — Rodriguez has hit .135 with one home run in his past 10 games.
“If I had to answer every time a guy had a bad day at the plate, we’d be here a long time,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We’d be talking about every hitter that we had. A lot of times it’s just pitch selection.”
Pitch selection had been a strength for Rodriguez throughout spring training and through those productive early games this season, but he acknowledged chasing some pitches lately. He’s still drawn plenty of walks — 10 in the past 10 games — but he hasn’t made the same contact lately. He admitted that he didn’t pick up the ball out of Rays’ starter Drew Smyly’s hand very well today.
“I definitely chased today,” Rodriguez said. “And I will often talk about, going back to spring training, one of the keys for our offense — and me specifically — is swing at strikes and take your A swing. And today I didn’t do that.”
Of course, Rodriguez wasn’t alone. Hard to pin an entire loss on him, especially when the Yankees had just seven hits in 13 innings, three of them from Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees botched walk-off opportunities in each of the game’s extra innings, and not all of those wasted opportunities hinged on Rodriguez ground balls.
That last at-bat, though, wasn’t a one-of-a-kind moment. Rodriguez just hasn’t been as good lately. His batting average is down to .232, and while his on-base percentage and slugging percentage are still good, any extended slump for a player like this leads to natural questions about whether the first 10 games or the last 10 games is a more accurate picture of who he’ll be going forward.
“It’s just kind of what you go through as a hitter,” Girardi said. “There’s going to be times where you’re extremely hot, and there’s going to be times where you’re not swinging it as well, and you hope when you’re not swinging it as well the other guys can pick you up.”
The other guys couldn’t pick him up this afternoon, and Rodriguez couldn’t turn his afternoon around in that final at-bat.
• Sure, Chasen Shreve lost it in the 13th inning, but this was another really, really good game for the Yankees’ bullpen. Until that two-out, go-ahead single, the bullpen had delivered seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts. Since April 22, the bullpen has a 0.88 ERA. “The amount of innings they’ve had to pitch is incredible,” Girardi said. “You give up the one run today and it beats you. It’s unfortunate. We got a lot of innings out of them today, and they did a great job.”
• The Yankees bullpen retired the first 14 batters it faced with five different relievers contributing to that stretch.
• According to Elias, that run Shreve allowed in the 13th was the first earned run allowed by a Yankees reliever in 17.2 innings in Michael Pineda’s starts this season.
• Of course, it might not have come to that if the Yankees hadn’t blown scoring opportunities in every extra inning today. They had runners on base in the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th and had nothing to show for it. “As an offense, you want to be able to come through in those situations and show the bullpen some love,” Chris Young said.
• Dellin Betances has struck out at least two batters without allowing a hit in each of his past six appearances. It’s the longest such streak by any Yankees reliever since at least 1914. That’s according to Elias.
• Andrew Miller pitched two perfect innings with three strikeouts. He has multiple strikeouts in six of his 10 outings and has 20 strikeouts in 11.1 innings today. He’s allowed just three hits.
• Pretty good start for Michael Pineda. The Rays worked some long at-bats against him, and Kevin Kiermaier got the big two-run triple, but otherwise Pineda was pretty good through 5.2 innings. He said he was dropping his hand a little bit in his delivery which led to his occasional struggles. He still didn’t walk anyone.
• Pineda was just about to throw a bullpen yesterday when he found out he was making today’s start. Did that affect him at all? “No. Today is my first day (fully rested) for pitching, you know?,” Pineda said. “Joe tell me that, and I say okay, because today is my first day for pitching.”
• Girardi said he felt OK about going into his bullpen in the sixth inning because he knew there was an off day tomorrow. He felt he had enough innings available to get through the game.
• That game-winning single was actually stopped by Stephen Drew in shallow right field. He made a sliding stop but decided he had no chance to get an out at first base (Mark Teixeira had to rush over to cover the bag, but Drew said there wouldn’t have been time anyway). “I didn’t think I really had a shot, to be honest, to even get to the ball,” Drew said. “When I got up to go throw, there was no shot to get him, and really no momentum, especially when you’re going to your left there.”
• The Yankees struck out 16 times today. That’s their highest total since they also struck out 16 times in a 14-inning game on September 29, 2013.
• Chase Headley hit his first home run since April 12, and the Yankees have now homered in 17 of 22 games this season. Headley has hit nine home runs since coming to the Yankees, and eight of them have come at Yankee Stadium.
• Jacoby Ellsbury had three singles — the rest of the Yankees had just four hits — and he now has nine multi-hit games this season. He’s hitting .444 with five stolen bases in his past seven games.
• Final word goes to Rodriguez: “Our goal is to win games. We won another series here against Tampa. The team is playing very well. It would have been nice to get today, for sure, for the sweep. But our goal continues to be the same: Go to Boston; win a series.”
Associated Press photos
Postgame notes: “I was planning on going” • 04.23.15
From his spot at third base, Jacoby Ellsbury wasn’t sure what just happened. He knew something looked wrong about Anibal Sanchez’s throw to the plate, but he couldn’t analyze the particulars. He was concentrating on something else.
“I was planning on going if he had continued to roll through his motion,” Ellsbury said. “I haven’t looked at the replay, but I think they said maybe because he stepped off in the middle of his motion. Something just didn’t look quite right, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure.”
It was a balk, an awkward one at that as Sanchez started his delivery and then seemed to notice Ellsbury farther off third base than usual.
“When you’re in those shifts, sometimes it’s not what a pitcher’s used to seeing, a guy so far down the line,” Joe Girardi said. “You have to prepare for it.”
“You can’t really say, ‘I’m going to go,’ because if you don’t get a big-enough lead (it won’t work),” Ellsbury said. “In the past, I didn’t know until I went that I was going to go. It’s not predetermined. There are a lot of variables. … I was getting ready to go. I initially took off, then he stepped off and I stopped. I was like, ‘Whoa!’”
There was no call initially, but third-base coach Rob Thomson and hitter Chase Headley immediately signaled for some sort of call – “I was like, ‘You can’t do that!’” Headley said — and Girardi said the Yankees were screaming from the bench.
“(Sanchez) started his delivery and then stepped off the rubber to throw home,” umpire Gerry Davis explained. “I took a couple seconds to process what I saw. I wanted to be sure he had started his delivery before I made the call.”
It was a balk that brought in the Yankees’ tying run, a run they needed to finish off a wildly successful week in Tampa Bay and Detroit. And while the balk itself scored that run, it was Ellsbury who set up the situation with his speed and ability to get one base. The Yankees had only three hits today, but Ellsbury was on base three times and turned two of those opportunities into runs. He got into scoring position once with a stolen base and once with a hustle double.
“That’s what he can do,” Girardi said. “He creates and puts a lot of pressure on the defense. He’s going to take advantage of the extra base when he can. He did it today, and it paid off a lot.”
• Five days after his seven shutout innings against Tampa Bay, Masahiro Tanaka was terrific again this afternoon. And this time he did it against one of the best lineups in the American League. “I’m really satisfied with the way I was pitching today,” Tanaka said. “To put it in perspective, I’m as satisfied as I was pitching against Tampa.”
• What made Tanaka good today? “Location,” Brian McCann said. “That’s it. I feel like when he’s hitting the mitt, he’s really hard to hit. He had everything going. He had the cutter going, the sinker in, he had the split obviously – I feel like it’s always there. He got a lot of early count outs, which I think is a big deal for him to pitch deep into ballgames.”
• It was really cold today, and last night we saw what cold can do to a pitcher, but Tanaka was sharp. “Actually, I spent my high school years in a really cold area,” Tanaka said. “So as I was pitching I was remembering about those days.
• The Yankees had three hits today. Ellsbury obviously had one of them. Petit, believe it or not, had one of them. And Chris Young, of course, had one of them. Young is hitting .357. He struck out twice, so this clearly wasn’t one of his better games, but he still did what most guys couldn’t.
• Good defensive game by Headley at third, and a nice play by Gregorio Petit to get a force out on a low throw from Headley to second. “When you get late in the game, you know every run’s a premium,” Headley said. “Obviously I was able to stop it and Gregorio made an unbelievable pick. I threw it straight into the ground. I thought we were going to have a chance to turn the double play, and Cespedes really got down the line, so I hurried the throw and he picked us up over there.”
•Why did Dellin Betances go with nothing but breaking balls in that key at-bat in the seventh? “In that situation, first and third with two outs, I’m trying to go with the best pitch I can throw right there,” Betances said. “I rely on my breaking ball to get big outs. I’m going off McCann, whatever he calls.”
• Girardi said there was no thought of leaving Betances in to face the middle of the Tigers’ lineup in the ninth. “I just think we were able to do it last year, but we had to give him two days off, three days off,” Girardi said. “I’d like to have him available as much as possible, and with all the other strong arms we have down there, I feel we can do that.”
• Another strong save by Andrew Miller, who sent down the heart of the order, starting with a strikeout against Miguel Cabrera. And Cabrera didn’t look good in that at-bat either. “I hate to say overmatched,” Headley said. “But you don’t see him take a lot of bad swings and swing at bad pitches. He’s the best for a reason. That just shows what Andrew’s capable of.”
• Is this the best bullpen Girardi’s ever had? “We have as much power as I’ve ever had in this bullpen,” Girardi said. “And it has a chance to be really special. I’m trying to think of the bullpens that I’ve been a part of. As a player I was with some pretty good ones here, and as a manager, but we have as much power as we’ve ever had.”
• Final word goes to Girardi answering the question, were the Yankees as bad as they looked the first week? “I didn’t think so,” Girardi said. “Did we play bad? Yeah. I mean, we played very poorly, and I said that I think this team is much better than what we played. And (the team) came out on this road trip and showed that we can play baseball, and we can win different types of games. We won one-run games. We had a couple of big offensive explosions on certain days. So we won a lot of different types of games. But we weren’t too good the first week.”
Associated Press photos
We all know Adam Warren’s background, and so it’s easy to understand why he’s in the mix to be the Yankees’ fifth starter. Warren came up through the organization, made his big league debut as a spot starter, and he moved into the bullpen only because that’s where a door first opened. The Yankees never really stopped seeing him as a potential starter down the road.
Esmil Rogers, though, is less familiar, and his place in this competition is a bit more mysterious. Rogers made 20 starts with the Blue Jays back in 2013, but most of his big league time has been as a reliever, including his two months with the Yankees last season. It’s hard to see a career 5.54 ERA and think he’s really the best option to start games at Yankee Stadium next month.
“Well, he’s got a good arm,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s got four pitches that he can go to, so he’s got a couple of different breaking balls and a changeup, so it allows him to get right handers and left handers out. Larry (Rothschild)’s tried to make subtle changes to come of his mechanics to give him more consistency. It’s there, it just comes down to consistently making pitches. This was a position player who made a change, so sometimes those guys bloom a little later.”
Since he became a pitcher, Rogers has worked as a starter throughout the minor leagues, and he’s been a starter in the Dominican Winter League, where he helped pitch his team into the championship round this offseason. Does raw talent and experience out of the big leagues make him a great rotation option? Probably not, which is why he’s having to earn it this spring.
And on the first day that Girardi said he was really evaluating results, Rogers was knocked around for the first time this spring. He allowed three runs on five hits and a walk through 3.1 innings. He struck out three and said he was specifically working on his curveball, which didn’t do him many favors. Girardi labeled the outing as “OK” and pointed out that Rogers at least limited the damage in individual innings.
“I know I (allowed) a couple of base hits; I got a homer,” Rogers said. “I just try to pound the zone. That’s one of the keys I got in this spring training. Today I came in a couple of times behind in the count, and I’ve got to pay for that.”
Tomorrow, Warren gets his turn to make an impression. In a few days, it will be Bryan Mitchell again. Chase Whitley and Scott Baker are also vaguely in the mix. Is Rogers really going to be the guy who wins this job?
“If they’re going to give me that spot, it’s not because I need it,” Rogers said. “It’s because I (earned) it.”
• The Yankees had just four hits today, but all four came from big leaguers, including Chase Headley’s second home run of the spring. Stephen Drew also had an RBI double and Didi Gregorius had another hit, pushing his average up to .280. Carlos Beltran, another guy who’s struggled so far this spring, had the other Yankees hit. “It’s timing,” Girardi said. “Getting at-bats under your belt. I think you’re seeing our regular guys hit the ball harder more consistently now; better at-bats. One thing you kind of worry about is if they peak too early, they get a little bit bored, so you want them to continue to strive to get to where they need to be Opening Day.”
• Alex Rodriguez went hitless, but he did have one sharp line drive that was caught. “His at-bats have been pretty decent,” Girardi said. “But when we start getting down to the last 10 days or so is really when you start to pay attention and you want to see guys get to where they need to be.”
• Plan is for Rodriguez to DH again tomorrow.
• Brendan Ryan is still on schedule to make tomorrow’s road trip to Lakeland. He’s scheduled to start at shortstop in his first game of the spring.
• Nothing new on Jacoby Ellsbury. “I don’t think we need to rush him,” Girardi said. “I’m not concerned about him being ready for Opening Day now. If we got to the off day (on March 30) and the day after, and he couldn’t play, I’d be concerned.”
• Who had the best night of all the Yankees? Might have been Tyler Webb, who’s already been reassigned to minor league camp, but today he delivered 1.2 perfect innings with two strikeouts. “We like him,” Girardi said. “He’s a guy who was on our radar last year. He’s a young kid, we understand hasn’t had a ton of experience, but we have a number of left handers who we believe will pitch in the big leagues, who may not necessarily be there when we leave here, but they can help us. He’s one of them.”
• One of those left handers is surely Chasen Shreve, the new lefty acquired from Atlanta. Shreve has looked sharp all spring, but he was knocked around a little bit tonight, allowing three runs — two earned — on three hits through an inning.
• Shreve got little help from Jose Pirela, who dropped a ball while playing center field for the first time this spring. He hasn’t played center very often in his career, and the drop came on a ball Pirela had to try to catch on the run going back toward the wall in right center. Not an easy play, but certainly a play you expect a center fielder to make. Bounced off his glove.
• Right-handed pitcher Moises Cedeno has received a 72-game suspension after testing positive for Clenbuterol, a performance-enhancing substance in violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. He was on the Yankees’ Dominican Summer League roster.
• We’ll give the final word to Rogers: “All of my career I’m a starter, so I feel comfortable for a start. I just want to be here to be part of the team. It doesn’t matter what I’m going to be, if I’m going to be in the bullpen or a starter. If I have to fight for that spot, I’m going to.”
Associated Press photos
Stephen Drew made all the plays he was supposed to make today, but he also went 0-for-3 at the plate. It was kind of a take-the-good-with-the-bad kind of day for a guy who’s suddenly having to prove himself on both offense and defense.
“These guys brought me over here to fill that role (at second base),” Drew said. “And playing in the league for as long as I have and understanding the game, it’s definitely big. And it’s still early. With these at-bats, it’s huge for me, whereas last year I was going into a season where guys were four months (ahead). It’s not an easy task. It’s not an excuse, but at the same time, it’s something that really I don’t think anybody has done quite like that. Knowing that, and knowing that feeling, it’s definitely a big key to be here in spring (training) right now.”
Yes, Drew knows there’s a big league job waiting for him. But it would be hard for anyone to not notice the way Jose Pirela is hitting so far this spring, and Rob Refsnyder gets more attention in the clubhouse than some of the veterans. Drew is coming off the worst offensive season of his career, and now he’s trying to learn a new position. Will he really break camp as the Opening Day second baseman? Probably. The Yankees have basically committed to that much, the question is whether he can play well enough to keep the job going forward.
“I mean, if (anyone) was to struggle, we’d probably make a change,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s the nature of our game, but we didn’t sign him to struggle. We signed him to play at a very high level, and we expect that he will.”
How does Drew go about learning second base and getting his numbers back on track with the rest of his career? Well, it starts right here, with games like today. If he stays healthy, this will be Drew’s first full spring training since 2011. He played no spring training games in 2012 because of a broken ankle, he missed most of the 2013 spring with a concussion, and he didn’t sign last year until May. He was in the big leagues roughly two weeks later.
“I was in good shape (last spring),” Drew said. “And like I keep telling you guys, the biggest thing is you haven’t seen live pitching, Major League pitching, along with that (time off). Last year was definitely a challenge. Really, you’ve got to slow the game down. I was rushing the game, trying to speed it up, trying to play catch up. To be here now is definitely a big moment for me.”
Drew has just 11 at-bats this spring, but he also has just one hit. He made an error on his first opportunity of the exhibition schedule. Anyone who follows this game knows not to make much of early spring training results, but it’s hard not to analyze everything Drew’s doing given his situation. For those who hated the signing in the first place, every 0-for-3 and every defensive mistake seems like proof that Drew’s contract was a mistake.
The Yankees, though, see a good defensive player, who’s athletic and experienced enough to learn a new position, and who’s 2013 — when he had a .777 OPS — is far more indicative of the kind of hitter he’s been through most of his career. They see a potential bargain where others see a sure bust.
“We expect him to be a productive hitter, to get back to the form that he was at before last year,” Girardi said. “I think he got behind, and I think it was difficult for him to catch up when you miss spring training. When you slowly progress into playing and then you have a rushed spring training in a sense. He wasn’t there very long. Maybe he had 15, 16 at-bats or whatever he had. It’s just hard to catch up. I think you get behind, and then you start off slow and you try to make things up. It just makes things worse a lot of time. We feel that he’ll get back to the form that he was at.”
• Despite going three scoreless innings, Chase Whitley wasn’t all happy with his start today. He walked three guys, got into jams in the first and second innings, and threw only 24 of 46 pitches for strikes. Good work to get out of trouble with a lot of ground balls, but Whitley said he’s clearly still in early spring mode. “Overall pleased with the result,” he said. “But the process has to get a little bit better.”
• Girardi seemed to like the fact Whitley had to handle some adversity and make big pitches. “He got some big ground balls when he needed them,” Girardi said. “He got in some long counts and got some baserunners, but he did a good job with runners in scoring position. You want to see that.”
• The Yankees lost 3-1 with all of the Orioles runs coming against Branden Pinder and Chasen Shreve, two 40-man guys who seem to be fighting for that open spot in the bullpen. Pinder was knocked around early in the fifth inning — four straight hits, two runs — but also got some big outs to limit the damage. Shreve gave up a solo home run to a switch hitter.
• Both Jacob Lindgren and Esmil Rogers pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts.
• A sure sign that it’s absurdly early: Chase Headley came into this game hitting .100 for the spring. He went 3-for-3 and in one day raised his average to .308. He had hits from each side of the plate. “It’s tough to figure out what you’re trying to do early,” Headley said. “You really want to see pitches, track the ball good out of the pitchers’ hands. I didn’t feel very good doing that, wasn’t seeing them like I wanted to, so I figured today I’d be a little bit more aggressive, try to take it a little more like regular-season at-bats. I think that put my rhythm and timing in better spots. It was good. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but you want to get hits.”
• Yet another start for Didi Gregorius against a left-handed starting pitcher. Girardi seems happy about that, but he said it’s strictly coincidence. The lineups are generally set before the Yankees know who they’re facing in spring training. “I want to see him (against lefties),” Girardi said. “Obviously a lot of times you can get pegged early on in your career; I’ve seen it happen to a lot of players. We have a lot of confidence in Didi and we want him to get at-bats.”
• Aaron Judge made a nice diving catch in right field today. Headley almost made a terrific diving stop on a Machado double. He dived toward the foul line, but the ball hit off the tip of his glove. “I was mad at myself that I didn’t catch it,” Headley said. Would have been a sick catch.
• Big-time injury in the American League East as Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman is likely to miss all year with a torn ACL. “I feel like it’s becoming the NFL; there’s one big injury every day,” Girardi said. “It’s frustrating when you lose your players, guys that you count on. No one is going to feel sorry for you and you have to just move on, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”
• Speaking of AL East injuries, the Yankees saw Manny Machado back in the Orioles lineup today. He went 3-for-3, and Girardi said the situation reminded him of a Yankees prospect. “Two knee surgeries, and having to fight back; it’s frustrating as a player,” Girardi said. “For him, he’s really young, but you know your time is limited. And that’s the last place you want to spend it is rehabbing on the DL. I look at a young kid that we have. He’s not as accomplished as Manny, but what Slade (Heathcott) has gone through, the knee surgeries. It’s frustrating. It delays your progress as a player.”
• Gary Sanchez hit a pretty long home run for the Yankees only run of the day. … Pirela went 1-for-2 with a walk and a stolen base. He’s hitting .462 (Refsnyder went hitless but is hitting .455). … Aside from Pirela, Sanchez and Headley, the only Yankees hit belonged to Mark Teixeira.
• For today’s final word, here’s Girardi’s response to a joking question about whether he’s ready for the big game against Boston tomorrow. “Huh? Oh yeah. I was thinking, big Boston game, what’s he talking about? Do you guys (in the media) have a game or something?” Rivalry games just don’t carry the same weight down here in spring training.
Associated Press photos
Headley and A-Rod: “It’s business as usual” • 02.24.15
Peering over an outfield wall some 350 feet away, it’s hard to pick up on the details of a conversation between two people meeting for the first time. A camera lens, though, can zoom in and create an image that seems to tell the story.
Today, an Associated Press photo of Alex Rodriguez’s first workout with new teammate Chase Headley was begging for a snappy back-page headline. With his arms out and a quizzical look on his face, Headley seemed to be saying: What are you doing over here? We already have a third baseman.
“I promise you I didn’t say that,” Headley said, laughing. “I don’t know what I said, but I promise you I didn’t say that.”
With Rodriguez and Headley each early arrivals in Tampa, today was their first opportunity to work side-by-side. They ran, they hit, and they fielded ground balls at third base; the position Rodriguez used to play every day in Bronx, and the one Headley will now play every day.
“For me to be here, I feel like (playing third base) is what made sense,” Headley said. “We established that early on (in offseason contact negotiations). There’s a lot of things that can happen over the course of a season. Obviously the more bodies that you have that can fill positions (is) great, but if I thought I was coming here to be a first baseman or a left fielder or whatever, I wouldn’t have came back. That wouldn’t have made sense for me or the Yankees.”
Really, Headley said working out with Rodriguez was a lot like working with any other new teammate. Obviously it’s a unique situation that has its own quirks, but Headley said there was nothing awkward about today’s workout. He and Rodriguez spoke on the phone earlier this winter — it was Rodriguez who initiated that conversation — and today was a pretty typical first meeting.
“As a player, you experience different things in your career,” Headley said. “And I’ve been around long enough that there’s been different sets of circumstances that I’ve dealt with, and this just another one. As far as a teammate, I expect him to be great. I’ve heard great things from other guys, and every interaction that I’ve had with him has been positive. Hopefully here in a few days everything will calm down and we’ll start talking about baseball, but you know, obviously you expect to answer the questions about him. But from my point of view, it’s business as usual.”
Joe Girardi reiterated that he expects Rodriguez to primary play designated hitter. Bu the said Rodriguez will also get some time at third base, and Girardi wants him to take some ground balls at first base just in case he’s needed to back up over there.
“To me, the most important thing is getting him at-bats,” Girardi said. “If you’re (having him play third base regularly), I don’t know if you can get him enough at-bats in spring training for him to feel comfortable. I’m going to take it week-by-week, see where he’s at physically and how he’s responding, make sure he’s getting enough at-bats.”
As for Headley, he’s signed to a four-year contract and seems perfectly secure in his role on this roster. There are a lot of new guys for him to get to know this year. Rodriguez is just one of them.
“Really, he’s another teammate,” Headley said. “And (I’ll do) anything I can do to help him, and I’m sure he feels the same way. That’s what’s important. We’re going to try to win a lot of games.”
Associated Press photos
On the 40-man: Chase Headley • 02.20.15
The Yankees first spring workout is tomorrow, and we’ve made it to the end of our one-by-one look at each player on the Yankees 40-man roster. We’ll finish the series with the team’s largest offseason investment.
Age on Opening Day: 30
Acquired: Traded from San Diego last season, re-signed in December
Added to the 40-man: New contract became official December 15
In the past: A top prospect at the end of his minor league career, and primarily a left fielder when he broke into the big leagues — back when the Padres thought Kevin Kouzmanoff was their future at third — Headley eventually took over San Diego’s hot corner and had a breakout season in 2012 when he lead the league in RBI and finished fifth in MVP voting. He’s been more of a solid on-base guy than a true slugger the past two seasons, but his defense is strong and the Yankees were impressed by his half-season debut last year.
Role in 2015: Unable to depend on Alex Rodriguez to play third base, the Yankees gave Headley a four-year deal that basically locks him into the lineup as their regular third baseman. He’s a switch hitter who could fit almost anywhere in the lineup (basically anywhere from second to eighth) and the Yankees will rely on him to improve their infield defense while providing solid run production.
Best case scenario: Pie in the sky? A return to that one outrageous season in 2012, when Headley was a legitimate slugger and a Gold Glove winner. More realistically, assuming 2012 remains an outlier — he’s never before or since slugged anywhere near his .498 slugging percentage that season — Headley’s most reasonable offensive expectation probably centers on a high on-base percentage with occasional power (something like his .262/.371/.398 slash line with the Yankees last season; except maybe with a little more pop). If he’s a high-end defender who lengthens the lineup but doesn’t necessarily have to hit third, fourth or fifth, he should be a good fit on a good team.
Worst case scenario: If Headley’s hitting third or fourth this season, it might be a sign that the other veterans are struggling again, and the Yankees are trying to recapture some of Headley’s 2012 magic. That’s not an ideal situation. Leaning too heavily on Headley’s bat, only to have him yet again fail to meet those 2012 expectations, would spell trouble for the lineup. And a return of his past back issues could spell trouble for the infield, which would turn to, who, A-Rod to play third base?
What the future holds: Signed to a four-year deal, Headley has a future with the Yankees. While the organization has some legitimate minor league talent at third base, there are questions about Eric Jagielo’s ability to stay at the position and about Dante Bichette Jr’s ability to hit with consistency. Young Miguel Andujar is promising, but still a teenager. Until forced out of the position, Headley will be the Yankees’ third baseman for the near future. He’ll be 34 when his contract expires, so the Yankees are hoping to avoid a late-30s collapse.
Associated Press photo
The Yankees announced today that they have signed right-handed reliever Jared Burton to a minor league contract with an invitation to big league spring training. Burton, 33, spent most of the past eight years in the big leagues. His past two seasons were with the Twins, and he had a cumulative 1.28 WHIP those two years. His strikeouts went down quite a bit last year. Looks like just another bit of bullpen depth.
Also, here are three Yankees items coming from The Associated Press today: two straight from the minor league complex in Tampa, and one random story from New York.
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Chase Headley says Alex Rodriguez has “reached out and introduced himself.”
Headley was signed to a $52 million, four-year contract by the Yankees, who plan to start him at third base and shift Rodriguez to designated hitter.
Returning from a season-long suspension for violations of baseball’s drug agreement and labor contract, the 39-year-old Rodriguez hopes to win back his old job at third base. Headley said A-Rod contacted him shortly after he reached the agreement in mid-December.
“We didn’t talk about that,” Headley said Monday after working out at the Yankees’ minor league complex. “It was just more of an introduction. I think we both care about winning. That’s the most important thing and that’s what we talked about. That (other) stuff will sort itself out. I’m not going to concern myself with that. I’m going to come out and try to do the best I can to do my job, and however that shakes out it will shake out.”
Headley was acquired from the San Diego Padres last July, then became a free agent before signing with the Yankees.
Rodriguez met with top Yankees officials last Tuesday and apologized to the team as he prepares to report to spring training ahead of the first full-squad workout on Feb. 26.
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is set to start workouts ahead of spring training.
Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Tanaka was scheduled to arrive in Florida on Monday night from Japan. Tanaka missed 2½ months last year while rehabilitating a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He returned for two late-September starts.
“So far everything is good,” Rothschild said Monday at the Yankees’ minor league complex. “That doesn’t mean it will be going forward, but we’re going to do everything we can. We’ll put schedules together and things like that to try to keep him healthy.”
Signing to a $155 million, seven-year contract, Tanaka went 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA in 20 starts. The Yankees say he has been throwing as part of his normal conditioning program in Japan.
NEW YORK (AP) — The glove Jeffrey Maier used to catch Derek Jeter’s tying home run against Baltimore in the eighth inning of the 1996 AL Championship Series opener at the original Yankee Stadium will be auctioned.
Heritage Auction said Monday the glove will be put up for bids on Feb. 21 in New York. It did not identify the current owner, who it said had purchased the glove from Maier.
Then 12, Maier reached in front of the right-field wall and prevented Tony Tarasco from catching Jeter’s drive on Oct. 9, 1996. Umpire Rich Garcia declined to call fan interference and Bernie Williams hit an 11th-inning home run that gave the Yankees a 5-4 victory. Baltimore’s protest was denied by baseball’s ruling executive council and AL President Gene Budig.
New York went on to defeat the Orioles in five games and win the first of what would be four World Series titles in five years.
Associated Press photos