Right before today’s game, general manager Brian Cashman discussed some of the decisions the Yankees have to make in the next week and a half:
Choosing a fifth starter
The Yankees came into camp with Chris Capuano as a rotation favorite, but his injury has opened the door to a true competition. While Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell and Scott Baker are a part of that conversation, the decision really seems to have come down to Esmil Rogers and Adam Warren. And right now, Warren is the front runner.
“I think there’s a predictable favorite,” Cashman said. “I guess that’s as far as I can go on that one. Right now, if we had to make a decision today, I think we all know what that decision would be. There’s a Secretariat right now in this race for me that’s got a number of lengths ahead of the field.”
Although he initially seemed hesitant to name a name, Cashman later acknowledged “it would obviously have to be Warren” who’s leading the race. That can change quickly, Cashman said, but it certainly seems that a solid start tomorrow would lock Warren into a rotation job.
Picking a backup catcher
John Ryan Murphy was behind the plate today. Austin Romine will be behind the plate tomorrow. Neither is having a particularly good spring, and the Yankees seem to be giving each one an equal opportunity.
“Don’t have a read yet,” Cashman said. “It’ll take more time.”
For now, the Yankees have sent Gary Sanchez to Double-A. If it stays that way, the Yankees will have a Triple-A spot open just in case. Murphy still has an option remaining. Romine does not.
“It’ll factor in,” Cashman said.
Rounding out the bullpen
The Yankees seem to have 10 pitchers set. They know their top four starters, they know four relievers, and they have two guys — Warren and Rogers — who will almost certainly have jobs in one role or another. That leaves two openings in the bullpen, and there are still plenty of options in camp: there are still 23 pitchers on the spring training roster.
Cashman made clear that this isn’t necessary a permanent decision. The Yankees are quite deep with hard-throwing right-handers, multiple lefties, and a handful of long-relief options.
“The clock is ticking,” Cashman said. “I don’t think it’s a lot of work, (but) I think we have to pick people, and whoever we pick at the end of this, it doesn’t mean that they’ll be guys throughout the process. We’ve had a number of guys that I think are quality and I think are Major League caliber, some of which have gone down with injuries. We’ll obviously finalize it here at some point, but that doesn’t mean we’re married to anybody as we move it through April, May and June.”
Naming a closer
With both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller appearing to be obvious candidates for the job, Joe Girardi has said he might not name a full-time closer this spring. The managers seems to believe he has more than one guy who can handle the ninth inning, and he’s willing to use them as the situation dictates.
Cashman seems fine with that approach. Basically, it doesn’t seem to be a problem, so there doesn’t seem to be a rush to solve it.
“I haven’t focused on it,” Cashman said. “I just want as many quality arms and choices for our manager as we can possibly have, and go from there. Again, we don’t have to name anything right now, or today, so I’ve got other issues I’m thinking about. It’s not one I’m thinking about right now or my manager’s thinking about right now. Backup catcher and the remaining spots in the pen.”
How to use Alex Rodriguez
Cashman said time and time again — from the early offseason to the start of spring training — that he had no idea what to expect from a 39-year-old coming back from a year-long suspension. Cashman expected A-Rod to be on the team, just didn’t know what exactly he’d be able to do.
Now the Yankees have actually seen Rodriguez perform, and while the results might not have been overwhelming, they’ve been encouraging. They’ve been enough for the Yankees to imagine having Rodriguez in their everyday lineup.
“I think he’s certainly taken a run at the full-time DH situation, for me,” Cashman said. “We’ll talk about all these things, but the way he’s looked so far down here, I would say he’s definitely pushing himself in the mix for full-time DH consideration. … I’m not looking at performance and statistics as much as just how he’s been swinging the bat. He’s got a lot of life in his body. If he continues to show athleticism, that means he’s going to impact the baseball. That will be good for us.”
Associated Press photo
Today it was a breaking ball hung up the zone, where Juan Lagares crushed it for a two-run home run. Last night it was a leadoff walk and a costly line-drive single. Throughout this spring, it’s constantly been on thing or another — four straight outings with at least one earned run — leading Dellin Betances to a 6.75 ERA with a 1.69 WHIP. Opponents are hitting .318 against him, and he has just four strikeouts in 5.1 innings.
Granted, it’s a tiny sample size, but Betances just hasn’t looked as sharp as he did last season.
“I’m obviously frustrated,” Betances said. “I mean, it’s been four outings where every time out, I’ve given up a run. Today I felt better, but you got to make a better pitch than that to Lagares. It’s frustrating, but I’m sure I got four more outings left and I’ll do whatever I can to be better for the season.”
A scout in attendance said he had Betances at 92-93 mph, and while he said he expected Betances to be “much higher,” he also had little problem imagining Betances getting back to the velocity we’re used to seeing. Joe Girardi insisted Betances is actually throwing at least as hard as he was at this time last spring (I can’t find any reports of exactly how hard Betances was throwing in the next-to-last week of camp a year ago).
“He’s actually throwing harder than he did (at this time) last year,” Girardi said. “It was the last week that it kind of jumped up. … It’s all part of the build-up process. Like I said, if it’s the last week, the last day, you might have a little bit more concern.”
Today’s outing was really all about one bad pitch, the one Lagares hit over the wall in left, but even Betances acknowledges he hasn’t been especially good this spring. Relievers are notoriously inconsistent from year to year, so a guy with a short track record like Betances is perhaps susceptible to extra scrutiny coming off one good year.
“I think he set a pretty high standard last year that’s not always so easy to live up to,” Girardi said. “My only concern is that he’s right at the end of spring training. That’s my concern.”
Last spring, Betances came into camp with very little expectation. This year, he’s basically expected to be an elite reliever and possibly a closer. His production will not be a bonus this season. The Yankees are banking on it.
“A lot of these guys know who I am now,” he said. “Last year, there was a lot of unknown, but right now I need to get those few more velos (added velocity) and maybe attack the zone better. But today, I thought it was good, I just made a mistake to Lagares.”
Said Girardi: “He’s a power pitcher, and we expect there’s going to be more. You’re going to see more at the end of spring training.”
• Before today’s game, Brian Cashman said he’d seen enough production out of Alex Rodriguez to think Rodriguez could be the team’s everyday designated hitter this season. Coming into camp there seemed to be a chance the Yankees might try to platoon him if he wasn’t capable of hitting, but Rodriguez went 1-for-3 to raise his average to .290. He’s been good. Not necessarily great, but he’s been good. “I think I’m getting better,” Rodriguez said. “I’m happy with my strike zone discipline, and for me the goal never changes. Just get a good pitch and put my A-swing. I thought I took some good swings today, fouled them off. But anytime I give myself a chance to do some damage and swing at strikes, that’s a good thing.”
• Cashman also said before today’s game that Adam Warren is the clear favorite for the fifth starter job. Girardi, though, wouldn’t make such a commitment. “I told you, when I make a decision, I talk to the players first,” Girardi said. “That’s how I do it. Before I say anything, I think it’s only fair to do it that way.” Warren is starting tomorrow.
• Jacoby Ellsbury is scheduled for tee and toss tomorrow. That’s usually the last step before getting into some light batting practice. The Yankees remain convinced Ellsbury will get back into the lineup before breaking camp. He’s been out more than a week with a strained oblique.
• Jose Pirela’s neck is still sore, and that’s his biggest problem at the mometn. “Until we get that soreness out, Stevie (Donohue) doesn’t really want to elevate his heart rate a lot to see if the (concussion) symptoms come back,” Girardi said. The Yankees are still optimistic that Pirela will get back in a game this spring.
• Weird to see Chase Whitley used for just an inning today. He was originally supposed to pitch in a minor league game, but the Yankees instead kept him here and gave him one inning. He allowed his first run of the season, but said he felt good on the mound, just made a mistake with a fastball. “We’ll get him stretched out again,” Girardi said. “Tanaka with his 60 pitches went pretty far. We thought he might get more innings, it just didn’t work out.”
• Whitley allowed a run. Betances was charged with a run in one-third of an inning. Andrew Miller gave up one run on two hits in a third of an inning. David Carpenter allowed a run in the ninth. “It wasn’t a very good day for our bullpen today overall,” Girardi said. “You have those days. If it was the last day of spring training, you might worry a little bit more about it, but you’re going to have those days. Obviously we know we have to get these guys right, and they’re very important to us.”
• The two exceptions: Justin Wilson got a double play against his only hitter, and Andrew Bailey pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts.
• Seven hits in the past six games for Didi Gregorius. He had a double today. … Chase Headley remains red hot with a two-hit day including a double. … Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Nick Noonan had the other Yankees hits. … The Mets won, 7-2.
Associated Press photos
Around 9:30 this morning, Chris Martin walked across the Yankees clubhouse, wrapped his long arms around Jose Pirela’s shoulders, and offered an apology that was nearly three years in the making. Pirela smiled and slapped Martin on the arm. All was forgiven a long time ago.
Three days ago, Pirela crashed into an outfield wall, hit his head on the warning track, and suffered the second concussion of his career. His first concussion came on April 11, 2012 when he was playing second base and batting seventh in a Double-A game against Portland. It was the fifth inning when he was hit flush in the head by a fastball. Pirela still remembers that it was registered at 97 mph.
Pirela, and the pitcher who hit him, Martin.
“I remember it clearly,” Martin said. “As soon as it hit him, he hit the ground. I was just like man, I hope he’s OK. Obviously he got up and walked off. I had no idea he had a concussion. I didn’t know who it was. I thought I actually hit Abe Almonte. I didn’t know it was him.”
Pirela missed a little more than a month recovering from that head injury. He said he experienced constant headaches and he kept vomiting, two symptoms he hasn’t had this time around.
“The only thing I have is a little bit of soreness in my neck and my entire back,” Pirela said.
Martin throws hard — that’s what carried him all the way to the big leagues last season — and he said he’s only ever hit one player in the head. He was surprised to learn this morning that the player he hit, the image he remembers so well, is currently playing with him in Yankees camp.
“Obviously you never want to hit a guy,” Martin said. “Sometimes you hit a guy – hit him in the butt, in the leg – it’s going to sting a little bit and they take first base. You never want to break a bone, never want to put them out. In the head, that could be a career. Obviously it’s a rough thing, but you have to throw in to be successful. You have to do it. I mean, not in the head, but you have to be able to throw in on their hands. That’s their hole. You feel bad when you do it, but it’s only happened once to me, and hopefully that’s the only one. I’m sure they it’s vice versa. If they hit one back at us, I’m sure they feel bad too. It’s just a game and things happen.”
• This will be the first time John Ryan Murphy has ever caught Masahiro Tanaka in a game. Murphy’s caught him in bullpens, but even though his extended time in the big leagues last season — and through last spring training — Murphy never caught him in a game.
• What does it mean for the backup catcher competition that Murphy is getting a turn with Tanaka? I honestly have no idea. You could make the case that this is a clear indication the Yankees are getting Murphy ready to catch their ace, but you could also make the case that the Yankees will generally keep Brian McCann paired with Tanaka, and it’s more telling that Austin Romine caught Nathan Eovaldi’s minor league game yesterday (Romine’s going on the road to catch Adam Warren tomorrow). It really does seem that the Yankees are keeping each backup catcher possibility on the table.
• Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are each scheduled to pitch today. It will be the first time going back-to-back for each of them.
• Yesterday Chase Whitley thought he was going to pitch in a minor league game this afternoon. Today he said he expects to stay here and pitch in today’s big league game. Yesterday, Joe Girardi said he expects guys like Betances and Miller to face only one or two batters, so there might be plenty of innings leftover for Whitley to get stretched out a little bit.
• Just a thought, but I also wonder if keeping Whitley in today’s big league game is a sign the Yankees plan to keep him as a long man. If he’s going to break camp in that role, there’s really no need to have him start a minor league game and get stretched out behind three innings or so. Just a thought, not sure it really means much.
• Andrew Bailey is also scheduled to pitch today. It will be his third spring outing. The Yankees have said they’re not sure when he’ll go back to back, which they want him to do before they really consider him for a spot in the big league bullpen.
• Brendan Ryan is playing shortstop off the bench today. He’s also scheduled to make tomorrow’s road trip. He’s making that trip with Didi Gregorius, but Stephen Drew isn’t going. Makes me wonder if tomorrow’s going to be Ryan’s first chance to play second alongside Gregorius, something he’s likely to do during the season.
• For those asking: While the Yankees have officially optioned Jose Ramirez and Danny Burawa to Triple-A, each has actually remained in big league camp. As far as I know, neither has spent a day at the minor league complex since being sent down. Might be some technical reason the Yankees needed to option them already even if they wanted to keep them around.
• Today’s bullpen sessions: Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Bryan Mitchell, Kyle Davies, Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren
• Today’s second string: C Eddy Rodriguez, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Brendan Ryan, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Ben Gamel, CF Slade Heathcott, RF Ramon Flores
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Chase Whitley, Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, David Carpenter, Andrew Bailey (with Nick Rumbelow, Jacob Lindgren, Alex Smith, Chris Smith and Nick Goody available just in case)
• Tomorrow’s travel squad:
Pitchers: Danny Burawa, Chris Martin, Jose Ramirez, Nick Rumbelow, Adam Warren, Tyler Webb (up from minor league camp)
Catchers: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, Eddy Rodriguez, Austin Romine
Infielders: Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Didi Gregorius, Garrett Jones, Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Brendan Ryan
Outfielders: Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott, Chris Young
• For those curious, the rest of the Trenton lineup on the day Pirela was hit in the head: Abe Almonte, Ronnier Mustelier, Dan Brewer, Cody Johnson, Melky Mesa, Gustavo Molina, Addison Maruszak and Walter Ibarra. Shaeffer Hall was the Thunder starting pitcher.
Associated Press photos
If these past two days were the first round of the fifth-starter competition, then it’s Adam Warren with an early lead.
Warren allowed one run through five strong innings today. He struck out three, induced two double plays, and allowed his only damage on a solo home run by Yoenis Cespedes. Joe Girardi has said results matter now, and last night Esmil Rogers — who seems to be Warren’s primary rotation competition — scuffled through three runs in 3.1 innings.
“(Warren) had everything today,” Girardi said. “He was effective with all his pitches. He was ahead in the count. He was really good. … You’re going to talk about (who’s ahead in the competition), but let’s let them have the whole body of work because things can change quickly in a week or 10 days. Adam threw the ball exceptionally well today, and that’s what competition does. You’re going to have a lot of discussion about it, but you wait until the end.”
Rogers hadn’t allowed a run all spring until last night’s game. His overall numbers are still plenty impressive with a 2.89 ERA and nine strikeouts with one walk through 9.1 innings. Warren has a 2.77 ERA, six strikeouts and no walks through 13 innings. The overall numbers are pretty even, but Girardi has said it’s the most recent results that carry the most weight. That’s why Warren seems to have the lead, but there’s still plenty of time between now and Opening Day.
“I feel like that was the best I’ve felt this spring,” Warren said. “I feel like I’m getting close. Just spotting the fastball, getting ahead in the count for the most part with all my pitches. I feel like I’m getting there and a lot more consistent with everything in my delivery. I was pleased. I just want to take the next step next outing and keep building on that.”
Warren’s strikeouts came on a high fastball and a pair of sliders. He said he felt a little more consistent with his brekaing balls, which Rogers said was his biggest problem last night.
There’s time for two, maybe three more starts apiece before Opening Day. No decision will come based on this first round of true competition, but based on this window, it’s Warren who’s looked the best. Could be completely different five days from now.
“We’ll meet (as a coaching staff) a couple of times a week probably and just talk about different things,” Girardi said. “But that’s one thing that always comes up.”
• In case you missed it, the Yankees optioned OF Tyler Austin, RHP Danny Burawa and LHP Jose De Paula to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They optioned OF Mason Williams to Double-A Trenton and reassigned RHP Wilking Rodriguez to minor league camp. Reliever Nick Rumbelow’s locker seemed cleared out this morning, but apparently he’s still officially in camp.
• Brendan Ryan played shortstop and went 1-for-3 today in his first game of the spring. “Great, awesome,” he said when asked if he felt alright afterward. Ryan doubled in his first at-bat.
• Turns out, Ryan’s biggest problem came during batting practice. Girardi said a pair of line drives nearly drilled Ryan while he was playing catch. Something similar happened to Ryan last year, except I believe he was actually hit. That’s the kind of thing that seems to always find Ryan, who has a quirky personality and just seems like the guy who would get smoked by a batting practice line drive. “That’s Brendan,” Girardi said. “Just leave it at that.”
• The Yankees had 11 hits today, all from different players. Alex Rodriguez and Rob Refsnyder homered, Brett Gardner, Jonathan Galvez and Slade Heathcott each tripled, and both Ryan and Jose Pirela doubled. Francisco Arcia, Garrett Jones, Austin Romine and Brian McCann each singled.
• By the way, Rodriguez said he’s still open to playing some first base this spring. “Whatever Joe needs,” he said. “I’ll play the outfield if he wants me to play the outfield. Whatever Joe wants.”
• Former Yankees reliever (and sometimes starter) Joba Chamberlain pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts today. He struck out Chris Young and Refsnyder, got Pirela to ground out.
• Hard to consider him anything more than a long shot for the open rotation spot, but Chase Whitley continues to get results in spring training, which could certainly open the door for a long-relief role out of camp. Today Whitley pitched three scoreless innings with no walks, no strikeouts and three singles. “I didn’t think he had good command of his changeup,” Girardi said. “But he managed to get through it, which is important because sometimes you’ve got to find it. Sometimes it takes a little while to find it, but I thought he did a good job with it.”
• By the way, Whitley’s pitching line for the spring: 10 innings, 7 hits, 0 runs, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts.
• Chris Martin was the only other Yankees pitcher to get into today’s game. He allowed a run on two singles in the sixth inning.
• Final word goes to Warren, on what it’s like to be in a competition with a teammate: “I try not to (focus on what Rogers is doing). It’s kind of human nature to do that a little bit, but for me I’ve always focused on what I can control. He’s going to be my teammate. It’s not like I’m going to root against anybody. I’m just really focused on what I can do and how I can get better. Ultimately, I’m still trying to get ready for the season. That’s my ultimate goal.”
Associated Press photos
In the past four days, the Yankees have sent seven pitchers to minor league camp. As of yesterday, they’ve now gotten every non-rehab pitcher into a spring training game. They have Esmil Rogers starting tonight, Adam Warren starting tomorrow, and Bryan Mitchell scheduled for at least one more start this spring.
“The competition’s on now, in a sense,” Joe Girardi said. “These guys are competing for jobs. Even if they felt it before, this is when we’re really going to start playing attention.”
Now’s the time to start ironing out the pitching staff. Assuming health — a big assumption, but best we can do so far — the Yankees seem to have 10 pitchers locked into one role or another.
That leaves the Yankees with two spots to fill. Could be a starter and a reliever. Could be a pair of relievers. Could prioritize the need for a long man. Could lean toward adding another lefty.
“I think a lot of these guys have thrown pretty well,” Girardi said. “You look at the amount of runs we’ve given up in spring training, we haven’t given up too many. Is it a clear-cut? No, but we still have two and a half weeks to go, and I think that’s the important thing.”
Here are the options still in big league camp (I’m not counting either Ivan Nova or Vicente Campos, each of whom is in camp but working back from Tommy John surgery):
All five of these could be long relievers in the bullpen, could be fifth starters in the rotation, or could be spot starters when the Yankees want to give everyone else an extra day of rest. The one who might not be totally flexible is Mitchell, not because he can’t pitch out of the pen, but because he’s young enough with a high-enough ceiling that the Yankees might prefer to keep him working as a starter no matter what. He’s the only one of this group who seems in line to get another start this spring, but the smart money seems to be on either Warren or Rogers getting that open rotation spot. Could certainly be room for another long man in the pen, though, and one of these could take that job.
Right-handed relievers (7)
Jose Ramirez, Chris Martin, Jared Burton, Danny Burawa, Andrew Bailey, Nick Rumbelow, Wilking Rodriguez
The Yankees have loaded up on hard-throwing right handers, including one (Branden Pinder) who’s already been sent down to minor league camp. Burton and Bailey are the veterans of this group, though it’s hard to know whether Bailey has time to prove he’s ready for Opening Day. Rumbelow and Rodriguez are non-40-man players, though Rodriguez did pitch in the big leagues a little bit last season. Ramirez and Martin each also pitched in the big leagues last season, and Burawa was added to the 40-man this winter. Really, each of these guys has pitched pretty well so far. Rumbelow and Martin have a lot of strikeouts, and at various points Girardi has specifically said he’s been impressed by those two and Ramirez.
Left-handed relievers (2)
Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren
The Yankees brought six left-handed relievers into camp. Two are basically guaranteed spots in the bullpen (Miller and Wilson) and two have already been sent to minor league camp (James Pazos and Tyler Webb), which leaves two guys still fighting for spots on the roster. Might not be an overwhelming need for three left-handers in the bullpen, but none of the Yankees’ lefties have to be true left-on-left specialists, and so far both Shreve and Lindgren have looked sharp in big league camp. Shreve is on the 40-man roster and got some big league experience last season, which might give him a leg up on Lindgren, who was drafted just last season.
Associated Press photos
Joe Girardi said the Yankees don’t have a full prognosis for Chris Capuano just yet, but it’s pretty clear he won’t be ready for Opening Day.
“I’d be surprised if he’s not down for a while,” Girardi said.
That leaves the Yankees sorting through a bunch of options for the fifth starter spot. Capuano might not have had the job locked up heading into camp, but he seemed to be a heavy favorite. Now the job is wide-open with a series of relievers, prospects and minor league free agents fighting for the gig.
“We’ll look at everyone, that’s the bottom line,” Girardi asid. “Because we need to fill a spot now.”
Adam Warren has a start coming up on Friday and Esmil Rogers has one on Saturday. Earlier today, Brian Cashman sounded impressed by Rogers, and Girardi seems to feel the same way.
“He’s thrown the ball really well,” Girardi said. “Larry (Rothschild) worked with him long and hard last year during some bullpen sessions about changing a few things. I thought he pitched pretty well for us. He’s started in his career and he’s got a number of pitches he can go to. He’s been really good this spring. He’ll be one of the guys we’re really looking at.”
Here are eight guys who could fill that spot in the rotation (though some of them are candidates only in theory):
1. Adam Warren
In my mind, the current favorite of this group. After a breakout season as a late-inning reliever, Warren was told to prepare as a starter this spring, and he’s been stretched out for a situation just like this one. He started the spring opener, has yet to make a relief appearance, and is currently scheduled to make his third spring start on Friday. He’ll have three starts before anyone else on this list has two.
2. Esmil Rogers
Earlier this spring, Joe Girardi said he thinks of Rogers much the same way he used to think of David Phelps. And really, if Phelps were still here, he’d surely become a quick favorite for this rotation opening. Rogers’ numbers have never quite measured up to his raw stuff, but he pitched well as a starter this winter and the Yankees have him scheduled for a season spring start on Saturday.
3. Chase Whitley
In his very first press conference of the spring, Girardi mentioned Whitley unprompted as a candidate to be either a long reliever or a spot starter. He’s pitched five scoreless innings so far this spring, and while he got himself into significant trouble last time out, he also got out of jams with a series of ground balls. Put himself on the radar with a strong big league debut before fading late last season.
4. Bryan Mitchell
Looked excellent in a split-squad start earlier this spring, then was knocked around for four runs on seven hits through two innings this afternoon. Mitchell has great stuff — fastball gets up to 97, effective curveball, relatively new slider/cutter — but his minor league results have been inconsistent. Seems to have a big enough arm that he could impress and pitch his way into this job.
5. Luis Severino
There is surely a lot of desire to think of Severino as a favorite, I’m just not sure there’s much reason to do so. He’s looked great in his early spring outings, but he still has just six games of experience above Class-A ball. Perhaps he can dazzle the rest of the way and force the Yankees’ hand, but he seems more like a second-half possibility. Strep throat has knocked his spring schedule slightly off track.
6. Scott Baker
Strongest track record of anyone on this list, but it’s also been a long time since his last particularly good big league season. Baker was a mainstay in Minnesota before having extensive Tommy John surgery — had to repair the tendon as well — back in 2012. Had a rough spring debut on Saturday. Had a 1.19 WHIP (with a 5.47 ERA) in 25 appearances for Texas last season.
7. Kyle Davies
Like Baker, Davies is a big league veteran in camp on a minor league deal. Unlike Baker, Davies hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011 and the Yankees have not yet given him a start this spring. Seems far more likely to be a veteran presence in Triple-A, but have to mention him as an experienced candidate who’s played this sort of role before.
8. Jose De Paula
Like Davies in that he’s a candidate in theory only. Unlike Davies, De Paula’s candidacy has nothing to do with big league experience and everything to do with a spot on the 40-man roster. He’s never pitched in the big leagues, but the Yankees gave him a big league contract this winter. He pitched two scoreless inning in his only spring appearance so far, but that was a relief outing.
Associated Press photos
Chase Whitley guessed he was 12 years old the last time he threw a curveball. Not in a game or anything, just messing around with friends. A “look what I can do” kind of thing. As he truly developed into a pitcher, a changeup became Whitley’s go-to weapon along with a good fastball that he could locate. Last year, he broke into the big leagues with a much improved slider.
Now, this spring, the curveball is back. It’s just an early-in-the-count pitch that he can throw to get a strike; something to keep hitters off balance and on their toes.
“The slider came a long way last year,” Whitley said. “The changeup has always been there. (The curveball is) just something to get a strike early and, who knows, maybe it will develop into something (more).”
Whitley said he got some effective results with the curveball today, using it to get back into bad counts. It might never be a go-to strikeout pitch, but it provides another weapon for a guy who spent most of his life in the bullpen before moving into the rotation at the very end of 2013.
This spring, he’s so far thrown five scoreless innings, trying to show the Yankees that he could be a long man or a spot starter whenever they need him. He’s in that mix to break camp in the Yankees bullpen, or he could end up in Triple-A to serve as rotation depth.
“I’m trying to prove myself every day,” he said. “Just go out and perform. Whatever happens, happens.”
Today was a good example. A lot of base runners, which he wasn’t happy about, but also a lot of big pitches that kept the Orioles from scoring. Whitley hasn’t had many standout springs, but he’s been effective so far this year.
“There’s times last year I had that same outing – multiple times in years past – and it didn’t go that way,” he said. “Try to take a step back and breathe a little bit, and go out and try to perform, it was good.”
Associated Press photo
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
Spring Game 9: Yankees at Orioles • 03.10.15
Didi Gregorius SS
Chris Young CF
Chase Headley 3B
Mark Teixeira 1B
John Ryan Murphy C
Jose Pirela DH
Stephen Drew 2B
Aaron Judge RF
Ramon Flores LF
RHP Chase Whitley (4-3, 5.23 in 2014)
Manny Machado 3B
JJ Hardy SS
Chris Davis 1B
Adam Jones CF
Matt Wieters C
Delmon Young RF
Travis Snider LF
Ryan Lavarnway C
Jonathan Schoop 2B
LHP Wei-Lin Chen (16-6, 3.54 in 2014)
TIME/TV: 1:05 p.m., not on TV
WEATHER: Bright and sunny. Some clouds in the sky, but still a beautiful afternoon.
UMPIRES: HP Jeff Gosney, 1B Bill Welke, 2B Paul Emmel, 3B Will Little
TODAY’S SECOND STRING: C Gary Sanchez, 1B Kyle Roller, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cole Figueroa, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Jake Cave, CF Mason Williams, RF Slade Heathcott
TODAY’S SCHEDULED RELIEVERS: Esmil Rogers, Chasen Shreve, Jose Ramirez, Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Nick Goody
ANOTHER LEFTY: The Yankees all-left-handed middle infield is getting yet another look at a left-handed starter in Wei-Lin Chen. The Yankees are working with Didi Gregorius in particular to improve his numbers against lefties, hoping that more repetition will help.
FOR THE ORIOLES: Baltimore has RHP Kevin Gausman scheduled to follow Chen out of the pen. All righties listed as scheduled relievers today.
GETTING CLOSER TO CUTS: The Orioles made their first cuts from big league camp yesterday. Yankees minor league camp opened this week, so it might not be long before we see the first Yankees cuts of the spring.
UPDATE, 1:14 p.m.: Sharp single by Headley. Otherwise, Yankees didn’t get the ball out of the infield in the top of the first.
UPDATE, 1:23 p.m.: Chase Whitley stranded runners at the corners in the top of the first. Allowed a single, a walk, a stolen base and a wild pitch, but got a popup and a routine grounder to get out of it. Was shaking his head as he walked off the field. Doesn’t seem satisfied with the inning.
UPDATE, 1:44 p.m.: A clean second inning for Whitley. Still scoreless after two.
UPDATE, 1:52 p.m.: Machado opened the third inning with a rocket that hit off Headley’s glove and went for a double down the left-field line. Headley very nearly turned it into an out, but Machado earned the two-base hit. He smoked that ball.
UPDATE, 1:57 p.m.: Whitley out of a jam again. Had two on with no outs, but he got a 4-6-3 double play and a routine grounder to short.
UPDATE, 2:27 p.m.: With a start scheduled on Saturday, Rogers pitched just one inning. Here’s Pinder to start the fifth.
UPDATE, 2:33 p.m.: Every time I’ve checked the stadium radar gun, Pinder’s thrown a 95-mph fastball (literally, every time I’ve checked, exactly 95), but he’s been knocked around so far. Four straight hits to start the inning. Two runs in already. Runners at the corners. No outs.
UPDATE, 2:39 p.m.: Pinder gets some credit for getting out of that mess without any further damage.
UPDATE, 2:47 p.m.: Chase Headley with a hard double off the wall in right. That’s his third hit of the day and now Galvez is in to pinch run. A 3-for-3 day will raise Headley’s spring batting average from .100 to .308.
UPDATE, 2:55 p.m.: Pirela has another hit to load the bases. Drew pops up to stand all three runners.
If it hadn’t become obvious already, Joe Girardi left no doubt this morning.
“We signed (Stephen Drew) to be out second baseman,” Girardi said. “We didn’t sign him to struggle. We signed him to play at a very high level, and we expect that he will.”
Once again, the Yankees are putting Drew and Didi Gregorius together in the middle of the infield. Neither has played an inning in the field without the other this spring. Brendan Ryan has yet to go through full drills, yet the Yankees seem to have no interest in giving either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder a chance to become familiar with Gregorius as a double-play partner.
“Our plan is for it to be Stephen,” Girardi said.
That’s the plan despite two curious factors: 1. Drew’s only previous experience at second base came when he was thrust into the position late last year, and 2. He’s coming off a horrible season in which he was one of the game’s worst offensive performers.
“We feel that he’ll get back to the form he was at (in 2013),” Girardi said. “… We think these guys (Drew and Gregorius) are more than capable of carrying the load offensively.”
In 2013, Drew had a .777 OPS as the Red Sox starting shortstop. Last season, only five teams got an OPS that high out of the second base position (only the Mariners and Astros got an OPS over .800 at second base). If he does return to form, Drew could be a high-end hitter for a player at that position. If he doesn’t, he could be a fool-me-twice mistake blocking the advancement of a younger alternative.
For now, though, the Yankees seem confident Drew is more of a potential bargain than a potential bust, and they trust that spring training — with all of those starts alongside Gregorius — will give him enough time to truly learn the defensive side of second base.
“He got enough reps last year, we felt pretty comfortable,” Girardi said. “… I think he’s too accomplished a player (to not adjust to the position).”
• The Yankees are giving Chase Whitley a spring training start today. As the top starters are beginning to fill the spring rotation, it seems this could be Whitley’s only true start in the Grapefruit League. The fact he’s getting a turn is an indication the Yankees haven’t forgotten about how well he pitched when he first got to the big leagues last season. The Yankees see him as a starter or a long reliever going forward. “I think you could put Chase anywhere,” Girardi said.
• One thing to consider as guys like Whitley pitch in games, the Yankees are still considering the idea of a sixth starter from time to time. That could be a long man who steps into the rotation occasionally, or it could be a Triple-A starter who’s called up when necessary. Girardi said the Yankees are considering each option, though as it gets later in the season, it would be harder to ask a big league reliever to make a start. Early in the year, that would be a consideration.
• Worth noting: Girardi said Whitley came into camp having learned a new curveball that he’s using occasionally early in the count. His go-to strikeout pitch is a changeup, and last year he greatly improved a cutter/slider, but the curveball gives him a fourth option just to mix it up a little more.
• Ivan Nova threw another bullpen this morning and he continues to feel “better every day.” He will begin throwing breaking balls in the bullpen next week, but he said he’s already spun a few off flat ground. Said it felt good.
• Esmil Rogers will only pitch an inning or two out of the bullpen today. He’s scheduled to start on Saturday.
• As expected, Luis Severino is not in camp today. He was held out because of strep throat. Should return tomorrow.
• Garrett Jones was scratched from today’s road trip because of illness. The Yankees think he simply has food poisoning, but it could be some flu-like situation. He was in the clubhouse this morning, just didn’t look great.
• Nick Noonan isn’t making today’s trip because of a stiff neck.
• Plan is still for Brendan Ryan to do some light baseball drills tomorrow. He has yet to do much this spring because of a back injury.
• Today’s second string: C Gary Sanchez, 1B Kyle Roller, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cole Figueroa, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Jake Cave, CF Mason Williams, RF Slade Heathcott
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Esmil Rogers, Chasen Shreve, Jose Ramirez, Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Nick Goody (with Nick Rumbelow, James Pazos and Danny Burawa making the trip just in case)
Associated Press photos