Ivan Nova walked off the mound to a standing ovation. He pulled the Yankees cap off his head and waved it to the Yankee Stadium crowd. He sat in the dugout to see the final out of the inning, and he settled into the clubhouse to talk about the 14 months that took him from Tommy John surgery back to the big leagues.
Chase Whitley watched all of it.
Standing at his own locker just a few feet from Nova’s after last night’s game, Whitley held two fingers an inch and a half apart to show what it meant to see Nova return with a gem.
“Say I’m this far from touching my shoulder easily,” Whitley said. “And I’m thinking, what’s the big deal (if I try to force it)? Well, 14 months ago, he was in the same spot. Now he’s in there. That sort of stuff’s encouraging.”
Last April, it was Nova who threw a pitch in Tampa Bay and knew something wasn’t right. Days later he was having Tommy John surgery to repair the torn ligament in his elbow. Last month, it was Whitley, also in Tampa Bay, also throwing pitches knowing something wasn’t right, also just days away from Tommy John surgery.
Nova’s reached the finished line. Whitley’s a little more than a month into the process.
“I couldn’t pick up my kid,” Whitley said. “I’m just now being able to pick him up pain-free. You think about that, much less throw a baseball. We’re talking about an injury, even though it’s popular now, there’s no guarantee you’re coming back. To see a guy like that, the work he put in, come back. It’s encouraging.”
The Tommy John success rate is high, and the Yankees’ clubhouse is filled with players who have been through it, from Nova to Chris Capuano to Dellin Betances.
“I see a lot of guys coming back, but who knows?” Nova said. “You never know if you’re going to come back, and be able to go through six innings and get into the seventh inning, it’s amazing.”
What was amazing for Nova was reassuring for Whitley; a reminder of what’s waiting at the end of a very long tunnel.
“I’m not concerned with when I start throwing again,” Whitley said. “I’m concerned with trying to touch my shoulder right now. It’s the little goals. It’s not trying to worry about throwing again, because I can’t throw right now. I’m not trying to get ready. What is throwing two days early going to help me? It’s about the process. If I’m back a week earlier or a week late, what’s the difference?”
The Yankees didn’t rush Nova’s recovery. Even though every step of his recovery was positive, the Yankees moved him slowly through spring training and gave him one extra rehab start at the end. Recovery was methodical, and it was calculated, and that’s what lies ahead for Whitley. For one night, though, Nova provided a glimpse of the end result.
“It was so encouraging because you know the hard work that he put in,” Whitley said. “I know the hard work that I’m putting in right now. To see him, the success he had (on Wednesday), the execution he had. He hadn’t pitched in 14 months, and to see him go out there and it looked like he just made a start two days ago. It was awesome.”
Associated Press photos
Chase Whitley kept clenching his fist. He wasn’t finishing off his pitches. He’d focus on Brian McCann’s glove set on the inner half of the plate, then fire a fastball outside for a ball.
“I had no idea where it was going,” Whitley admitted.
It was finally McCann who motioned to the dugout and called for the trainer. He knows what Whitley’s supposed to look like on the mound, and this wasn’t it. Manager Joe Girardi got to the rubber, and for the first time, Whitley admitted that his elbow was bothering him. That’s when Girardi patted Whitley on the chest. When Whitley slammed the ball into McCann’s glove, it wasn’t because he wanted to stay in the game, it was because he knew he couldn’t.
“I knew something was up,” McCann said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s not going to say anything, so he wanted to keep pitching. It was one of those things where you could see it. … He wanted to fight through it.”
The Yankees haven’t said Whitley needs Tommy John surgery, but that’s clearly the concern. Girardi said only that the pain is “in that area you don’t want to talk about,” and Whitley seemed to have accepted whatever tomorrow’s MRI is going to show. The team has already announced that Chris Capuano will take Whitley’s spot in the rotation.
“It’s extremely disappointing because this kid’s done everything that we’ve asked,” Girardi said. “He’s been trying to deal with it. It’s a kid that’s never been hurt and he just felt like, he said, ‘You know, once I got going, I was always fine.’ … I feel for him, because like I said, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. A reliever turned starter that gave us big innings last year. He’s done a good job for us this year. Pitched extremely well in spring training. We asked him to go down and be a starter for us in case something happens, and now he’s got to deal with this.”
In his previous starts, Whitley said, adrenaline seemed to take over. Whatever pain he’d felt in bullpens more or less disappeared in his games. He had a terrific spring, pitched well in Scranton, gave the Yankees two strong starts after his call-up, then struggled the past two times out. This time, the pain was there from the beginning. McCann said Whitley was spiking his changeup (usually his best pitch) and fastball command was erratic (that’s usually a strength).
“Tonight it just carried over to the game,” Whitley said. “I’ve been able to get through it in the game, and tonight obviously you could pretty much tell.”
Tomorrow’s MRI should give the Yankees their final diagnosis, but optimism seemed low in the clubhouse.
“The first thought is Tommy John because it’s so prevalent,” Adam Warren said. “Just makes it more real when it’s somebody real close to you. It’s just one of those injuries, it’s hard to prevent. It’s a unnatural arm motion for your arm. I hate to assume the worst right away, but that’s the first thing you think about. That’s my concern, and I’m sure he’s worried about it too.”
• While Girardi committed to Chris Capuano joining the rotation, he wasn’t sure when it would happen. Wouldn’t be surprising to see a reliever come up for at least the start of the Royals series. Earliest Capuano could pitch would be Sunday, anyway.
• When Whitley left the game, Esmil Rogers’ first pitch was a pretty decent slider that No. 9 hitter Rene Rivera hit for a three-run homer. “It was a good pitch, good location,” McCann said. “All you can do is tip your hat on that one.”
• Although Rogers had to be rushed into duty, he had plenty of time to get ready. He said he felt fully loose and didn’t think the circumstances coming into the game contributed to the home run. “It was a good pitch,” Rogers said. “I think maybe they were looking for that. The location was down and away, and he got it.”
• Whitley actually threw more balls than strikes tonight. He’s the first Yankees starter to do that since A.J. Burnett on June 26, 2010 against the Dodgers.
• Reliever Branden Pinder, who could easily have been the guy sent down for Capuano, seems like to stick around now. Tonight he pitched another scoreless inning. He’s only pitched four innings so far this season, but he’s allowed just two hits. Three of his four appearances have come at Tropicana Field. He’s pitched here three times and still hasn’t pitched at Yankee Stadium.
• Alex Rodriguez’s ninth-inning home run let the Yankees avoid their first shutout loss since September 15, 2014 (a game that also happened at Tropicana Field). They have played 49 games since their last shutout. They are one of three teams that have not been shutout this season (Detroit and Toronto are the others).
• Rodriguez’s home run also let the Yankees avoid going without an extra-base hit for the third-straight game. Would have been the first time that had happened to the Yankees since 2000. Before the home run, the Yankees went 98 at-bats without an extra-base hit between Mark Teixeira’s ninth-inning home run on Monday and Rodriguez’s ninth-inning home run tonight.
• The Yankees have scored in three of their past 27 innings.
• Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Rodriguez — the one, two, three hitters — combined to go 5-for-11 tonight. The rest of the lineup went 0-for-19.
• Rodriguez’s home run was his 1,000th RBI as a Yankee. He’s two career RBI away from Babe Ruth’s total of 1,992 (fourth all-time since RBI became an official stat in 1920). Of Rodriguez’s nine home runs this season, four have come against the Rays, and three of those have come against rookies.
• Girardi and several Yankees players said they felt the team hit the ball harder than the numbers suggest tonight. That really did seem to the case, at least for this game. Maybe not the past two games, but tonight there were some hard-hit balls. “I’d say we hit six or seven balls really hard that they caught tonight,” Girardi said. “You put that with the four or five hits, if they fall, I mean the one inning we had three guys line out. You could add a couple of runs in possibly, with a runner on second and nobody out. But it didn’t happen. They played good defense and we just didn’t get the hits.”
• Final word goes to Gardner: “I think if we went out there and struck out 15 or 20 times and things were real ugly, I think it would be a little different, but some guys swung the bats well. Chase Headley swung the bat really, really well tonight and nothing to show for it. We’ve got to keep our heads up and realize we’re still in first place. The last couple of days have been tough, but we’ll be fine.”
Associated Press photos
Game 36: Yankees at Rays • 05.14.15
Chase Whitley (1-1, 3.06)
Whitley vs. Rays
Kevin Kiermaier CF
Steven Souza Jr. RF
Evan Longoria 3B
James Loney 1B
Logan Forsythe 2B
David DeJesus LF
Asdrubal Cabrera SS
Joey Butler DH
Rene Rivera C
RHP Erasmo Ramirez
Ramirez vs. Yankees
TIME/TV: 7:10 p.m., YES Network and MLB Network
WEATHER: Another nice day. Oddly kind of chilly inside.
UMPIRES: HP Lance Barksdale, 1B Eric Cooper, 2B Adam Hamari, 3B Dan Iassogna
IN A GOOD SPOT: The Yankees need a win tonight to avoid their second three-game losing streak of the year. At 21-14, they have the third-best record in the American League (Houston and Kansas City, both 21-13), and the fifth-best record in the Majors. Regardless of tonight’s result, the Yankees will end this day with at least a share of the AL East lead for the 22nd straight day including sole possession for the 18th straight day (since April 27).
PROVIDING DISTANCE: Yankees starters have completed at least seven innings in four consecutive starts for the first time since four straight starts in April of 2013 (Sabathia-Hughes-Pettitte-Kuroda).
ON THIS DATE: It was on May 14, 1996 that Dwight Gooden pitched the eighth no-hitter in Yankees history. He beat the Mariners 2-0 at Yankee Stadium, throwing 134 pitches with five strikeouts and six walks.
UPDATE, 7:35 p.m.: Loney gets a two-out RBI single off Whitley, but he’s ultimately thrown out stealing to end the inning.
UPDATE, 7:55 p.m.: Control issues like this aren’t particularly normal for Whitley, and after his second straight walk — with a wild pitch earlier in the game — the Yankees have decided there’s something physically wrong. Whitley’s out. Esmil Rogers is in with two outs in the second inning.
UPDATE, 8:00 p.m.: First pitch from Rogers, three-run home run by the No. 9 hitter.
UPDATE, 8:50 p.m.: Elbow issue for Whitley. He’s being examined right now and will stay in Tampa for tests tomorrow.
UPDATE, 9:02 p.m.: Couple of singles in the sixth inning — the first hits since Ellsbury’s leadoff single — but the Yankees still can’t get on the board. It’s still a 5-0 Rays lead.
UPDATE, 9:07 p.m.: Pretty nice play by Pirela up the middle to get through the bottom of the sixth.
Every year, as the Yankees finalize their roster at the end of spring training, Joe Girardi talks about needing more than 25 guys. Specifically, he stresses the need for more than five starting pitchers. Only five will make the team on Opening Day, but it will take more than that to get through a season.
It was with that in mind that the Yankees sent Chase Whitley to Triple-A to start the season. They knew they’d need him eventually, and it turns out, they need him now.
“I’m just thankful for this opportunity,” Whitley said last night, after making the finest start of his career.
Truth is, Whitley probably earned some sort of opportunity out of spring training. Of all the Yankees who threw at least eight innings this spring, Whitley had the lowest ERA and the fifth-lowest WHIP. He didn’t walk many guys, handled multiple roles, and almost certainly had a long relief job sewn up if the Yankees wanted to use him that way. Instead, he went to Triple-A to stay stretched out so that he could be available for a start like he delivered last night.
“I think he’s matured, and I think his stuff has gotten better,” Girardi said. “His location has continued to improve as a starter.”
A year and a half ago, Whitley passed through the Rule 5 draft unselected. He had yet to really prove he could be a starting pitcher, and his fastball didn’t have the velocity teams tend to covet in right-handed relievers. But Whitley had always pitched well in the minor leagues. He was converted full-time to the rotation last season, wound up getting his first big league opportunities, and this year he was the first player inserted into the rotation when the Yankees needed a sixth starter. He stuck around because Masahiro Tanaka got hurt.
Last night, though, he proved worthy of the opportunity.
Whitley’s finest moment came in the sixth inning when he put runners at second and third with no outs. He had to face the heart of the Toronto lineup, starting with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Bautista grounded harmlessly to third. Encarnacion went down swinging at a slider.
It was a big league moment for a guy who said he believed, even as he was sent down, that he could pitch in those situations.
“I just tried to not let the moment get too big,” Whitley said. “Once we got the first out, and then once we had an opportunity to strike the guy out, that was kind of when I got going. Before, I might have tried to do too much early. … I think that’s where you have to take a step back, breathe and juts go for it.”
Looking ahead, the Yankees’ rotation is heading for some uncertainty; the kind of uncertainty that could make Whitley the odd man out again. Chris Capuano is about to make his second rehab start, Ivan Nova is pitching in intrasquad and simulated games, and Tanaka is looming as an obvious big league starter as soon as he’s cleared to pitch.
For now, though, the Yankees need Whitley — just as they always knew they would — and he’s done the job through his first two starts of the season.
Associated Press photo
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
Pitching matchups in Toronto • 05.04.15
RHP Chase Whitley (1-0, 1.80)
RHP R.A. Dickey (0-3, 5.23)
7:07 p.m., YES Network
RHP Michael Pineda (3-0, 3.73)
RHP Marco Estrada (1-0, 0.84)
7:07 p.m., YES Network
LHP CC Sabathia (0-4, 5.40)
LHP Mark Buehrle (3-2, 6.75)
7:07 p.m., YES Network
Associated Press photo
First, the basics of what’s going on with Masahiro Tanaka:
He’s going on the disabled list tomorrow, and the Yankees will keep Chase Whitley in the rotation. Michael Pineda will start tomorrow’s game on regular rest, and it sounds likely Gregorio Petit will be activated just one day after being optioned (the Yankees can do that since it’s a reaction to a player going on the disabled list). Now, onto the bigger questions.
What exactly happened to Tanaka’s forearm?
The short answer is, it seems no one is entirely sure. Tanaka said he felt fine after Thursday’s start in Detroit, and Brian Cashman said there were actually rave reviews about Tanaka’s bullpen on Sunday. Cashman said there was some early speculation — before the MRI results came in — that maybe some of the torque from that bullpen caused Tanaka to aggravate something in his wrist, but the tests actually came back negative in the wrist. The forearm issue that was discovered is incredibly mild and Tanaka never complained about it.
“He has the wrist complaint, but that led us to run into something else,” Cashman said. “So when you package it all together, we’re taking the safe conservative route. He has no complaint of his elbow, none, and he physically tests out fine with the elbow. I think he was surprised about the very small (strain) — and I stress small, I can’t even call it a Grade 1 — the very small signal in the forearm muscles. The combination of the tendinitis in the wrist — he throws that split finger — with the signal on the forearm muscle, Dr. Ahmad recommended the disabled list.”
Tanaka dismissed the idea that pitching on normal rest caused the issue, and Cashman repeatedly stressed that there’s been no physical change in the elbow, though it’s impossible for anyone to rule out the idea that this issue might be somehow related to the lingering elbow issue in one way or another.
What does this mean for Tanaka’s elbow?
In the short term, nothing. I guess it means the elbow is going to get some unexpected rest, but ultimately the Yankees don’t seem to be approaching this as an elbow issue, and certainly not as an issue that changes their approach to Tanaka. They’re shutting him down to make sure this issue doesn’t spread to the elbow ligament.
“We want to make sure that we protect, obviously, the elbow because obviously the forearm protects the elbow,” Cashman said. “We want to make sure that this doesn’t lead to the more horrific problems that we’re trying to avoid.”
Tanaka said he doesn’t consider this to be an elbow issue. His wrist hurt, and he found out his forearm was slightly injured. That’s the immediate medical reality. The bigger medical reality is that the elbow is an issue that will linger over everything. The Yankees have treated Tanaka differently because of the elbow, and now they’re taking a typically cautious approach in an effort to further protect the elbow. This is nothing new, and Cashman said he still has no regrets about the way the Yankees have handled Tanaka’s health.
“Absolutely no regret because we’re following the medical directives,” Cashman said. “I can’t remember any time we’ve ever gone against doctors’ orders. Why would we? They’re the experts. We follow what they prescribe.”
What will the Yankees change going forward?
It seems, not much. Cashman said the team would have reacted the same way should any pitcher get this diagnosis at this point in the season. They’re typically conservative, and they follow their doctors’ advice, and so Tanaka is being shut down for seven to 10 days before beginning the slow return.
“Nothing really big came out from the MRI or anything,” Tanaka said. “So I feel that I can come back strong.”
Joe Girardi has said since spring training, and he said again today, that the Yankees won’t ask Tanaka to stop throwing his split-finger because the split-finger is a big part of what makes Tanaka effective. It’s just a cost of doing business. He’d been throwing splits since early spring, and there was no issue until today, and even today’s issue seems relatively minor and so far seems to come with no additional damage to the elbow. Pitchers get hurt, and so far, this pitcher’s been hurt quite a bit in his year-plus with the Yankees. There’s surely some relief that this isn’t an elbow issue, but it’s still an issue.
“The fact that I’m talking to you right now, I don’t feel like is a good thing,” Cashman said. “It’s good that the elbow is fine as of right now, and there’s no change there. Listen, I wanted him to make his next start (before discovering the injury), but we’re going to do the right course of action to make sure when he’s on that mound he’s able to be the best he can possibly be. Could he pitch? He can take the ball. Should he pitch? We’ll have to wait until he’s 100 percent.”
• After Chase Whitley pitched a 1-2-3 first inning, I tweeted that there was basically no circumstance in which Whitley would not be optioned tomorrow morning. Even if he pitched a complete game, I joked, he would still be sent down. Then this happened. “Right now he’s in our rotation,” Girardi said. “He will be here tomorrow.”
• Whitley nearly made the Yankees out of spring training, and tonight he finally got here and allowed one run through five innings. He pitched out of jams, struck out five, walked one and seems to made the most of this opportunity. “It feels good to be able to go out tonight and do my job,” Whitley said. “I’m not trying to look ahead to anything else, just pitch when and where they tell me to pitch.”
• Whitley was spot starting, and both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were unavailable after pitching the past two nights, and the pitching staff still allowed just two runs with 12 strikeouts. “To do what they did tonight, they’re pitching in roles that they’re not accustomed to, and they’re all thriving,” Brian McCann said.
• Chris Martin got the first save of his big league career. He’s been a really nice find early in the season. “I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t (feel different in the ninth),” Martin said. “It was a little nerve racking, but I settled down there for the first hitter.”
• Interesting that Girardi went with Martin instead of David Carpenter in the ninth. Girardi said he was saving Carpenter for just in case the Rays came back to tie the game and force extra innings. With Miller, Betances and Justin Miller having each pitched back-to-back games, Carpenter would have been the last line of defense.
• Esmil Rogers went 2.2 scoreless innings with five strikeouts and one hit. He struck out half the batters he faced. He’s really been terrific in that long relief role. “A tremendous outing out of Esmil Rogers,” Giradi said. “Comes in with a runner on third and one out and gets two outs; strikes out the first guy, Beckham, then gets a ground out and gets us to the ninth inning. And then Martin does a really good job as well.”
• Three consecutive 10-strikeout games for the Yankees pitching staff. They have 11 games of 10 or more strikeouts this season, the most in the big leagues.
• Another big night at the plate for McCann who had two doubles and three RBI. Last night he had the big home run. “I feel good,” he said. “I’ve been feeling good all season long, to be honest with you. Hits are starting to fall and I’m finding the barrel.”
• Jacoby Ellsbury had his team-high eighth multi-hit game of the season. Since April 22 he’s hitting .429 with six runs and four stolen bases in six games.
• Ellsbury stole two bases tonight. Brett Gardner stole one. Those two are each hitting over .300 at the top of the order.
• Jose Pirela continued his Double-A rehab assignment and went 0-for-3 as Trenton’s starting second baseman. He was pulled for a defensive replacement in the bottom of the sixth, which I would assume is because the original plan was to have Pirela activated for tomorrow’s game in New York. Instead, Cashman said he’s expecting to bring back Petit.
• Final word goes to Girardi on Tanaka: “I was shocked because he said it was his wrist, and we had heard nothing in the five days that had led up to this. He threw his bullpen as scheduled he was ready to go tomorrow, so I was like, wow, it’s not what I expected. … We’re hoping that he gets the time off and he’s completely healthy. That’s what we’re hoping. It’s different than what he dealt with last year. He didn’t say nothing until today and he said that it was sore, he didn’t say it was bad. I was shocked when I heard it. It is what it is and you’ve got to deal with it.”
Associated Press photos
Game 21: Yankees vs. Rays • 04.28.15
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Brett Gardner LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Brian McCann C
Carlos Beltran RF
Garrett Jones DH
Chase Headley 3B
Stephen Drew 2B
Didi Gregorius SS
RHP Chase Whitley (2-0, 2.12 in Triple-A)
Whitley vs. Rays
David DeJesus LF
Steven Souza Jr. RF
Asdrubal Cabrera SS
Evan Longoria 3B
James Loney 1B
Logan Forsythe 2B
Kevin Kiermaier CF
Tim Beckham DH
Rene Rivera C
RHP Jake Odorizzi (2-1, 1.65)
Odorizzi vs. Yankees
TIME/TV: 7:05 p.m., YES Network and MLB Network
WEATHER: It’s a little cold, but nicer than last night.
UMPIRES: HP Marvin Hudson, 1B Chad Fairchild, 2B Jim Joyce, 3B Greg Gibson
VIEW FROM THE TOP: The Yankees are alone in first place in the A.L. East for the first time since May 19, 2014. Also, let that be a reminder: The Yankees were in first place later than this last season. How’d that work out?
DEALIN’ DELLIN: Dellin Betances has not allowed an earned run in 11.1 innings this season. His 11.1 innings are the most among MLB relievers with 0.00 ERAs. Batters are hitless in their past 22 at-bats against him with one walk and 12 strikeouts. Betances is one away from his career-best hitless streak (0-for-23 in April 2014), according to Elias. He is tied for third in the Majors in strikeouts by a reliever.
ON THIS DATE: It was on April 28, 1989 that Rickey Henderson hit the 36th leadoff home run of his career in a 3-1 win against the White Sox. The home run broke a tie with Bobby Bonds to give Henderson the most leadoff homers in baseball history.
UPDATE, 7:13 p.m.: Welcome back to the big leagues, Chase. There’s a 1-2-3 first inning for Whitley. Amazing thing is, he could pitch a completely game shutout tonight and he’d still be optioned to Triple-A tomorrow.
UPDATE, 7:24 p.m.: Yankees scored two quick runs in the bottom of the first. Ellsbury singled, stole second, took third on an error and scored on a grounder. Teixeira and McCann had back-to-back doubles. It’s a 2-0 lead for Whitley.
UPDATE, 7:28 p.m.: George King reports that Masahiro Tanaka is “believed” to have gone for tests on his right wrist today. It wouldn’t be all that unusual for him to have left the park early today — starting a day game tomorrow — but obviously a test on his wrist is something different altogether.
UPDATE, 7:37 p.m.: Whitley loads the bases with three soft singles but gets out of it with a relatively shallow fly ball to left and a routine ground ball to third.
Before batting practice this afternoon, Didi Gregorius was on the field going through some drills at shortstop. His instructor: Alex Rodriguez.
“It’s just a veteran player looking to lend a helping hand in situations,” Girardi said. “Didi is still a young player. We know that there are going to be some things that he goes through that sometimes might be the first or second time. He’s not a seasoned veteran out there. Alex’s experience playing short and his experience playing here in New York can help Didi.”
We hear often that Rodriguez is a great teacher of the game. Players speak highly of the way Rodriguez talks hitting around the cage, and clubhouse interviews that get in-depth about the game can be legitimately insightful rather than cliche.
“He’s making a lot of transitions,” Rodriguez said. “New York is one. The Yankees, things are different here for sure. The one thing about playing shortstop that I tried to convey to him was positioning, cadence and also that internal clock that a shortstop needs. You only get that with preparation and experience.”
Rodriguez said the Yankees’ coaching staff asked him to spend some pregame time with Gregorius on the field, and so today’s session was set up a few days ago.
“It was just more game situation (drills),” infield coach Joe Espada said. “I think kind of working on his game clock, knowing runners, outs, when to charge a ball and when to stay back on a ball. The situations that we have been working on throughout Spring Training and throughout the season. I wanted Alex to be out here to kind of give him some of that insight that, as a coach, I probably can’t give that view.”
Said Rodriguez: “The abilities are off the charts. I said that in spring training. We saw that in Spring Training. He’s got the things you can’t teach; incredible range, great arm strength. People forget, he’s only been playing shortstop for eight years. The more he comes out, the more he gets experience, the better he’s going to be.”
Obviously Gregorius and Rodriguez are off to basically opposite starts. Rodriguez has been a surprise in the best ways; Gregorius has been a disappointment in almost every facet. But Rodriguez was quick to remind everyone that it’s been only three weeks.
“It’s a process,” Rodriguez said. “Didi is going to be a fine shortstop here for a long time. I told him, sometime around June 15 or June 1st, he’s going to look at all of us and say, ‘I feel much more comfortable.’ It just takes a little bit.”
• Originally, Girardi said he expected to play Rodriguez all six games this home stand. Girardi said that plan changed last night when he decided to have Rodriguez play third base to give Chase Headley a day off. After a day in the field — and with a night game tomorrow — Girardi decided to give Rodriguez tonight off. No injury. He’s available if the Yankees need him.
• Does the decision to option Gregorio Petit indicate Jose Pirela is close to being ready to join the big league team? “It could,” Girardi said. That’s about as close to confirmation as we’re going to get. Seems pretty clear the Yankees are planning to activate Pirela to take Chase Whitley’s roster spot and replace Petit tomorrow.
• For the time being, the Yankees are taking a calculated risk by playing a game without a backup middle infielder. “I feel like I can put (Headley) at second base if I needed to,” Girardi said. “Realistically, I could put Al there, I’m sure. I think he would say, ‘Yeah, I’ll go out there and try it.’ We’ve been there before the last couple years, so there’s not a situation that I’m too worried about. If it happens, we’ll handle it.”
• Whitley pitched very well this spring and seemed to have a bullpen job locked up, but the Yankees preferred to have him stretched out for a spot start just like this one. “I’m sure he’s very excited,” Girardi said. “It was difficult to send him down because he meant a lot to us last year and pitched well in spring training. He understood why we did what we did. That doesn’t necessarily mean that as a player you want it to happen or you like it, but he went down there with the right attitude.”
• Worth noting that the Yankees preferred to have Whitley make a spot start today rather than last week against Detroit. Not sure this was a factor in the decision, but Whitley gets a much easier lineup this way. “He’s faced a number of teams in the big leagues now and understands how he got those hitters out,” Girardi said.
• The current situation in Baltimore hits home for Mark Teixeira who’s from roughly 30 minutes outside of downtown. His uncle is a priest at a downtown church that’s being protected by the National Guard. “People start attacking churches, it’s a good thing the National Guard’s there, because that’s the bottom of the bottom,” Teixeira said. “… Any time there’s a crisis, people step up. Good people always trump bad.”
• Because of the unrest in Baltimore, tomorrow’s game between the Orioles and White Sox has been moved up to 2:05 p.m. and will be played without fans allowed in the stadium. This weekend’s Orioles series against the Rays has been moved to Tampa Bay. Asked what it would be like to play a baseball game in a totally empty stadium, Teixeira deadpanned: “Did you ever go to a Rangers-Rays game between 2003 and 2005?”
• A quick bit of minor league news: Infield prospect Angel Aguilar has been added to the Charleston roster. I believe he opened the season in extended spring. Not a massive prospect, but good enough that it’s significant to get him into real games at the full-season level.
Associated Press photos
One by one, we’ve counted the Alex Rodriguez home runs. His first homer back from suspension. The one he hit in Baltimore. Two in one game against the Rays. And last night, the one that put him one away from Willie Mays. Every A-Rod home run is big news, and that certainly the next time he goes deep.
All of which has let Mark Teixeira hit his home runs in relative silence, quietly leading the Yankees, one away from the Major League lead.
“There’s been some games that he’s single-handley won for us,” Joe Girardi said. “His average is starting to climb now as it’s started to get a little bit warmer. His run production is so important to us, and I’ve been able to pencil him in there basically every day in the same spot and not move him around.”
Even with the .242 batting average — which was below .200 just a few days ago — Teixeira still ranks fifth in the American League with a 1.044 OPS. He’s drawn enough walks to keep his on-base percentage high (more walks than strikeouts), and he’s hit with such power that his doubles and home runs have made it easy to overlook the fact he has just three singles (and two of those singles came in one game).
While Rodriguez was the Yankees’ obvious wild card coming into spring training, Teixeira was also a bit of an unknown. His numbers have declined ever since that standout Yankees debut back in 2009. His 2013 season was lost to wrist surgery, and last year started fairly strong before falling apart through a series of nagging injuries and what Teixeira has described as a lack of strength and endurance. Having rehabbed the winter before, Teixeira simply wasn’t powerful enough to be an offensive force all last season.
“A winter is somewhat of a rehab of your whole body,” Girardi said. “When you spend it on one area, sometimes you can’t do as much in another area that you want to, and that sometimes hurts players.”
Teixeira is a notoriously slow starter, but he’s been a driving force this April, and he was just named the American League Player of the Week after hitting five home runs in his past seven games. He has eight total, and while they haven’t gotten nearly the attention of the guy hitting ahead of him, it seems little coincidence Teixeira’s power surge has come during a good week for the Yankees as a whole.
“What I’ve noticed is he’s healthy,” Girardi said. “That’s been the biggest change for me, not having to come in to see where he’s at physically every day. I haven’t had to do that, and it’s showed up on the field, the way he’s responded. He’s been the Mark we’ve been used to seeing before he started having nagging injuries and obviously the serious one a couple of years ago.”
• Just a day off for Chase Headley, who Girardi felt could use a day. That leaves third base for Rodriguez. “The last time he played third, he played well,” Girardi said. “In spring training, he played third well. He’s going to catch it and he’s going to throw it. He’s going to make the right decision with the baseball. I know his range is not what it was at 25, but no one’s range is what it was 15 years ago, so that’s the reality of it.”
• Obviously still a lot of talk about Rodriguez and the upcoming 660th home run. While the Yankees front office might not want to declare it a marketable milestone, there’s little arguing it’s a milestone. And Rodriguez’s teammates seem genuinely happy about that. “I think our players are happy for him,” Girardi said. “They’re having fun. Those guys are having fun in there. And Alex is a big part of that.”
• Speaking of those guys, Carlos Beltran is back in the lineup, but he’s hitting sixth and getting a turn at designated hitter. Chris Young has been taking some of his at-bats recently, but Girardi remains committed to giving Beltran time to get going offensively. Right now, he has the lowest OPS on the team at .494. “I think you don’t lose perspective that so many players — personaly, I went through it and I was never close to the hitter Carlos was — there are months that are tough,” Girardi said. “The important thing is that you continue to send him out there and understand that he’s going to turn it around and be a big part of our offense.”
• What does Girardi see from an older player that makes him think he won’t turn it around? “I think you don’t see them hit balls hard,” Girardi said. “We’ve seen Carlos hit some balls hard, so obviously you know it’s still in there.”
• At this point, even Girardi laughs at the fact he hasn’t named a closer. It’s clearly Andrew Miller, but Girardi said he feels no need to make that official. Any real reason to not assign the title? “No, not really,” Girardi said. “Just gives me more flexibility.”
• Speaking of the bullpen, Girardi said he feels the pen is still in pretty good shape even after pitching a lot of inning yesterday.
• Girardi said he’s “95 percent sure” Chase Whitley will start tomorrow. The Yankees deliberately kept Whitley and Bryan Mitchell separated in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation so that one of them would be available basically any time the team needed a spot starter. “We wanted to set it up that way,” Girardi said. “And we made him aware of that (out of spring training).”
Associated Press photos