This weekend, the Yankees finally saw Masahiro Tanaka deliver a dominant start reminiscent of last season. Now the question is, when should they send him back to the mound to try it again.
In a stretch of 13 consecutive games without an off day, the Yankees are considering a sixth starter to give their rotation an extra day of rest this turn. So far this season, scheduled off days have let Tanaka make each of his first three starts with five days of rest instead of four. By inserting a sixth starter, Tanaka could stay on that schedule for his fourth start as well.
“It’s (being considered) for all of our pitchers,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I don’t want all the focus to be on Tanaka. We have CC (Sabathia), who’s put in a lot of innings, and Michael (Pineda), who’s had a serious arm injury. It’s kind of just to see how the guys are going and how they get through their starts. You have to measure it as a group.”
Since spring training, the Yankees have limited Tanaka’s workload as a precaution in the wake of last year’s slightly torn elbow ligament, and they have Triple-A starter Chase Whitley – who last pitched on Friday – lined up as a candidate to start sometime this week. In theory, Whitley could start in Adam Warren’s place on Wednesday or in Tanaka’s place on Thursday.
The other obvious spot start candidate would be Bryan Mitchell, but he pitched yesterday, taking him out of the mix for this Detroit series.
Of course, the Yankees could simply let Tanaka pitch on his fifth day like most major league starters do. Girardi has said Tanaka will pitch on a every-fifth-day schedule at some point, and this might be a good time to do it considering he threw just 85 pitches last time out. Pineda, who would also be pitching on five-days rest, threw only 92 pitches yesterday.
For now, there’s not rush to make a decision because there’s heavy rain the forecast for today’s Tigers series opener, and a rainout could change things significantly.
“I want to kind of see what happens,” Girardi said. “I think (Monday) looks like the tricky day for us. … You don’t want a rainout because there you’re looking at a split doubleheader, and that’s rough on your players, especially when you still have a lot of days in a row.”
Associated Press photo
Twenty three strikeouts. One walk. Michael Pineda knew he’d been pretty good this spring, but he didn’t know those numbers until a reporter mentioned them in the clubhouse after today’s start at Steinbrenner Field.
“It’s good,” Pineda said, laughing. “I’m very happy for that. I’m not really paying attention, but thank you for telling me about it. I’m very happy because I’m feeling, in spring training today, it’s a really good number. I’m very happy. It’s what I try to do: throw a strike when I get on the mound and get an out.”
Pineda struck out six this afternoon. He walked none, allowed one run and finished spring training with a 1.42 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP. There’s been no indication that there’s any lingering problem in his shoulder. Instead, Pineda has looked fully healthy, and fully dominant.
“I think he really just picked up where he left off last year,” Joe Girardi said. “I really didn’t expect a whole lot different because of what we saw last year from him and how well he pitched, but it’s really nice to see it carry over. … I feel really good when he takes the mound. I do. You know he’s going to pound the zone and he’s going to give you every opportunity to win.”
Pineda’s not the only Yankees starter who pounded the zone. Nathan Eovaldi has 14 strikeouts and no walks this spring. Masahiro Tanaka has 13 strikeouts and one walk. Adam Warren: 11 strikeouts and one walk. CC Sabathia: six strikeouts and no walks.
That’s 67 strikeouts and three walks for the rotation.
“It’s good because if you don’t walk too much hitters, you don’t get in trouble,” Pineda said. “When you walk a lot of hitters, you get in trouble. So, it’s good. Throw strikes.”
Easier said than done, but the Yankees have thrived in that regard this spring. And Pineda seems to be leading that charge. If the shoulder issues really are behind him, Pineda just might be the Yankees’ most reliable starter. This spring he’s been their most dominant, looking like an even better version of the guy the Yankees first acquired more than three years ago.
“Every year I’m growing and growing, (becoming) a better person,” Pineda said. “So now I’m a better person and a better pitcher. I feel happy with that.”
• Another rocky outing for Dellin Betances who walked two batters but got through his inning without a run. “I’m getting my work in,” Betances said with a laugh. “I’m throwing a lot of pitches, but health-wise I feel fine. I felt a little stronger today. I’ve just got to be able to get that first guy out right away. I can’t be walking the leadoff guy. I got myself into a little jam again but I was able to come out with no damage, I guess. That’s a positive note.”
• Betances said he’s convinced his command issues have been caused by a minor mechanical issue that he’s close to fixing. He said he’s drifting too much, and that’s hurt him. It’s led to walks and pitches up in the zone. He’s expecting to pitch again on Saturday, which should be his final tune-up before Opening Day.
• Still no word on who will be the closer. “That’s one discussion we have not talked a lot about,” Girardi said. “It’s probably something we’ll talk a lot about tomorrow.”
• Speaking of the bullpen, it now looks like the Yankees will carry three left-handed relievers. Obviously Andrew Miller will be used as something more than a lefty specialist, and Girardi said the same is true for both Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve. “Shreve was a starter for most of his career,” Girardi said. “And I trust Justin against both, too.”
• Carlos Beltran did not play today because he had flu-like symptoms. He probably won’t play tomorrow either. “You worry about the dehydration factor,” Girardi said. “My guess is, right now I do not have him penciled in (tomorrow). Everyone who’s had this, we’ve given them two days.”
• Girardi on the decision between Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy: “I think defense has to come first in that situation. Pitchers being comfortable, you want them to be able to work. So we have a tough decision.” The Yankees aren’t expecting to make that decision until Saturday night.
• Pretty good day for Alex Rodriguez at first base. He had to make a couple of scoops and nearly started a double play on a sharp ground ball. “I didn’t realize how involved and alert you have to be on every play (at first base),” Rodriguez said. “Even on that base hit up the middle, I had to sprint to the mound for a cutoff man. Those are things that I’ve never really had to do. A couple times, you find yourself just kind of standing around not knowing what to do and then you kind of go. It’s not really natural.”
• Girardi was clearly happy with the way Rodriguez looked in the field today and said he would not hesitate to use him at first base during the season. Garrett Jones is still the go-to backup, but Girardi said he could also imagine putting Jones in right field and playing Rodriguez at first on days he wants to DH Carlos Beltran and rest Mark Teixeira.
• The first real challenge for Rodriguez came on first-inning a throw in the dirt from Stephen Drew, who was playing shortstop for the first time this spring. “It’s natural,” Drew said, joking that he was trying to make sure Rodriguez got his work in. “It’s just more or less getting throws over there, which I haven’t taken all spring because of Didi. He’s done a good job, and knock on wood, everybody’s healthy and we’re ready to go.”
• The Yankees got their first look at Gregorius Petit this afternoon. He played shortstop and got a couple of at-bats in the second half of today’s home game. “He’s a player that can play anywhere; second, short and third,” Girardi said. “He’s going to give you good at-bats, going to play hard. He can run a little bit. I’ve heard nothing but good things about him. He got caught in a position where there were a few guys over there that could do the same role that he could, so he became available. We’re happy to have him.”
• As planned, Didi Gregorius played shortstop in today’s road game. He seems past the wrist issue and should be ready for Opening Day. So when Gregorius takes a day off, will Drew or Petit play shortstop? “It’s probably something I need to talk about our scouts with, what’s the best scenario there,” Girardi said.
• Girardi stressed that the Yankees are sending Rob Refsnyder to Triple-A because they expect him to be an everyday guy when he finally gets to the big leagues. “He’s pretty close,” Girardi said. “I think for him, it’s a guy that’s made a position change, really. There was talk about him yesterday, could he possibly be that guy? I think we felt it was more beneficial for him to play every day, finish his development, and when he comes he’s here for good and that he’s an everyday player. Because I think that’s how we envision him.”
• Speaking of guys sent down, a source told me today that the Yankees will have center fielder Slade Heathcott open the season in Triple-A. That wasn’t the plan coming into spring training, but Heathcott has played so well that the Yankees think Heathcott is ready to make the jump. For whatever it’s worth, I also heard that Gary Sanchez has looked very impressive in minor league camp. Apparently the feeling is that he’s taken a giant leap forward.
• Final word goes to Girardi on a day the Yankees very nearly finalized their roster: “There’s a lot of guys in this camp I’ve had to send down that you can’t really tell them they’ve done a lot wrong. And (that includes) even some of the younger kids we played. These guys did a lot of things right, and it is difficult. I still say, it’s the worst part of my job. It’s very difficult for me and I feel for them, because it’s a dream of theirs. Obviously we believe that a guy like Chase Whitley is going to help us at some point this year. We believe that. And you just have to remind him of that. And you just try to talk about where you were last year at this time, and how far you’ve come, and be prepared, because there’s a good chance we’re going to need you at some point.”
Associated Press photos
In the very back of the Yankees’ clubhouse, along the wall that separates the showers from the batting cage door, John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine have sat side-by-side all spring knowing eventually there will be room for only one of them. And now that the Yankees are about to break camp, that time is fast approaching.
With a minor trade and wave of roster cuts, the Yankees have settled just about every aspect of their roster except the backup catcher. Barring a trade or a late waiver claim, the team is set except for that inevitable choice between Romine and Murphy, two guys in their 20s, developed by the organization, and finally given a real chance to make the team out of camp.
“We kind of talk about it,” Murphy said. “It’s no secret. We know what’s going on, and we’re both trying to play our best, and we’re both trying to make the team. Inevitably, one of us is going to and one of us isn’t.”
With Opening Day a little more than 72 hours away, the Yankees have made every other in-camp decision. They’ve set their rotation, picked their relievers, and found a new utility infielder. They could still make a trade or put in a late waiver claim — and this time of year usually sparks a flurry of minor activity — but barring an addition, all that’s left is that inevitable decision between Murphy and Romine.
Joe Girardi said the Yankees might not make that decision until Saturday night, and he’s dreading it. Girardi likes working with catchers, and he’s known these particular catchers for a long time. He doesn’t want to tell either one he hasn’t made the team.
“There’s a mutual respect there,” Romine said. “I like looking across the pitch and seeing a guy who’s busting his butt as hard as I am. I don’t want to say it’s a good thing – he is competition – but at the same time, it’s nice to know someone else is busting their butt; the guy you’re going up against. … However it turns out, I wish him nothing but the best, I’m sure he feels the same upon me. We’re just here trying to play.”
General manager Brian Cashman today wouldn’t comment on any trade talk regarding Romine, who’s out of options and has not hit as well as Murphy this spring. In the past, Cashman has said that the fact Romine’s out of options could factor into the final decision, suggesting the Yankees could elect to carry Romine strictly because they have the option of sending Murphy to Triple-A, but that remains to be seen.
Here’s Cashman explaining some of the other decisions made in the past 24 hours or so:
Gregorio Petit set as utility infielder
This seemed obvious from the moment the Yankees traded for Petit last night. He’s a right-handed hitter, he has big league experience, he hit pretty well this spring — and last season — and he can play all over the infield. Petit was acquired to replace Brendan Ryan on the roster.
“We brought him in here with that in mind,” Cashman said. “He’s right-handed versus, for instance, (Nick) Noonan. We didn’t want (Rob) Refsnyder to sit the bench.”
Ultimately, the in-house candidate who best fit as a Ryan replacement is Jose Pirela, but at this point there’s a solid chance he’ll open the season on the disabled list because of that concussion suffered almost two weeks ago. Without Pirela, it was Refsnyder who seemed to have the best shot, but the Yankees didn’t like the idea of him playing a part-time, platoon role at this stage of his career. They’d rather send Refsnyder to Triple-A to get the defensive reps he needs. Refsnyder’s hit a ton this spring, but he’s also made a team-high six errors.
“I think he had a tremendous camp,” Cashman said. “But at the same time — we were talking to him earlier today — (he has) maybe 240 games at second so far. He just needs to finish off some more defense. If we needed to use him, we’d be comfortable enough, but at the same time, you guys saw in camp he’s got some work to do on the defensive side. We want him to be finished off and ready to go whenever we need him. But at some point, if injuries hit and we have to have him in that role or situation, I’m not saying you won’t see that down the line. But we’d prefer not to do that right now.”
Esmil Rogers set as only long reliever
Yesterday, Joe Girardi really seemed to hint that the Yankees were going to carry a second long reliever. He acknowledged that the team has some workload concerns in the rotation, and said that rainy weather in early April could make it important to carry another multi-inning pitcher in the bullpen. This morning, though, the Yankees made the opposite decision in optioning Chase Whitley to Triple-A.
“We’re going with one long man and that’s Rogers,” Cashman said. “So that was really, basically, it came down to that. (Whitley) will get stretched out and start in Scranton for us and be one of the names vying for an opportunity when and if something presents itself.”
Whitley pitched extremely well this spring, but the Yankees seem to be prioritizing rotation depth ahead of bullpen innings. A bunch of off days early in the season seem to make that a little easier. The idea of using a sixth starter at some point also suggests Whitley could have another opportunity before the end of April.
“It just makes the most sense to get him down there and continue to get stretched out and be ready when and if we need him at some point,” Cashman said. “Obviously he has to pitch well to put himself in that position still, so the competition continues. We have a lot of flexibility with the bullpen, a lot of these guys have options, so it’s going to be something that we can recycle during the season which gives us a lot more flexibility. Chase did everything he needed to. Those are not easy conversations. He’s a Major League pitcher right now on his way to Scranton.”
Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin set in the pen (for now)
The Yankees have decided to keep Andrew Bailey in Tampa, assigned to the Class-A roster, out of spring training. Bailey will stay down here where it’s warm to go through those final steps back from shoulder surgery. He’s pitched well this spring, but he hasn’t pitched much, and he hasn’t gone back to back. He’ll change that in Tampa, which could make him a big league option fairly soon. Bailey said he’s totally on board with the plan.
“Man, he looks good,” Cashman said. “He really does. I love the fact that he also knows his body too, and he agrees that the prudent thing is to finish it off properly to make sure that he responds well, that he’s recovering great from everything and improving on that and feeling better and better. So he’s all in, and he agrees that staying here (is best). We’ll have (Greg) Pavlick watching him every game and working through the back to back situation. If he stays like this and he gets through all that, he can help us.”
With Whitley and Bailey gone, the Yankees have essentially chosen Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin to fill the final two spots in the bullpen. With Martin, in particular, Cashman said the Yankees couldn’t ignore the fact he has 16 strikeouts and only one walk. They also like that he gets ground balls. Shreve has 12 strikeouts with three walks and also gets more ground ball outs than fly outs.
“We always have flexibility if we so choose,” Cashman said. “But obviously these (moves) were all designed where Shreve and Martin would be in the bullpen for the start of the season. But it’s only Thursday, and the season doesn’t start until Monday, and I’m open-minded about things that might present themselves over time. And we can adjust. As of right now, we know those guys are in good position.”
Associated Press photos
Only one Yankees pitcher has thrown more innings than Chase Whitley this spring, yet Whitley still has a tiny 1.17 ERA and an impressive 1.04 WHIP. All three of his walks came in a single game, and today he doubled his strikeout total with six in his final spring audition.
Whitley’s pitched a lot, he’s pitched well, and at this point I believe he’s pitched his way onto the Yankees’ roster.
“I feel like I’ve done what I wanted to do,” Whitley said. ” And that’s to make it a tough decision.”
There was nothing Whitley could do this afternoon to throw his name back into the fifth starter competition, and that might actually be a good sign for him. While the Yankees seem to want Bryan Mitchell stretched out as a starter, Whitley seems to have more immediate value as a potential bullpen arm.
“Chase we kind of envision as a long guy and spot start, that sort of thing,” Joe Girardi said.
So the question is, do the Yankees need a second long man in their bullpen? Esmil Rogers, who lost the fifth-starter race to Adam Warren, is already locked into one long relief role. Whitley could provide another option for up to four or five innings at a time.
That’s something the Yankees might need considering the early pitch count on Masahiro Tanaka and the workload concerns for CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda.
“You have to think about weather (as well),” Girardi said. “How many rain delays are you going to have early? Is your starter going to start and then all of a sudden he goes three innings and it rains? You could look at our forecast the first week, there’s a lot of rain in the forecast. I think that’s something that has to be talked about as well.”
If the Yankees know their starters can’t give a ton of innings early in the season, and they know there’s a good chance for some funky weather situations, and they know Whitley’s pitched well all spring, then he’s surely a favorite to fill one of those two openings.
“I think any time you’d be disappointed (to not make it),” Whitley said. “But at the same time, you’ve still got to play baseball. You go down there (to Triple-A) and you don’t perform then, you ain’t gonna get a shot no matter how good you did in spring. So I just gotta pitch whenever they tell me to pitch. I learned that a couple of years back. Just pitch whenever they tell you to pitch, wherever they want you to pitch. That’ll help me the most.”
Associated Press photo
Think back to the beginning of March.
Despite a lot of offseason talk about Rob Refsnyder getting a real opportunity this spring, he was getting no significant time with the big league regulars, and it seemed clear the Yankees weren’t considering him an go-to option for the major-league roster. As recently as today’s fifth inning, Refsnyder still seemed to have no realistic chance of opening in the big leagues.
By the end of the sixth inning, he was perhaps a favorite break camp with the team.
Utility infielder Brendan Ryan strained his right calf muscle during an awkward play in the sixth inning, leaving the Yankees searching for a last-minute replacement only five days before Opening Day. One week removed from his 24th birthday, Refsnyder has been one of the Yankees’ best hitters this spring, and just enough dominoes might have fallen to land him a spot in New York.
“The young man, I think, has continually improved,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s a name that I’m sure is going to fly around a lot today.”
It was less than two weeks ago that Ryan returned from a back injury, and the Yankees made it clear they fully expected him to be on their roster despite the shortened spring training. The Yankees liked his defense, liked the fact he hits right-handed, and liked the fact he could play both shortstop and second base. He was going to make the team.
If not Ryan, the best alternative would have been Jose Pirela, another right-handed utility man who had the highest batting average in camp before suffering a concussion last Sunday. Now Pirela’s gone more than a week without baseball activities and Girardi called him a “long shot” to be ready for Opening Day.
That means the only Refsnyder alternative in big league camp is Nick Noonan, who has some big league time but also hits left-handed, making him a less-than-ideal backup to lefties Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew. Even if the Yankees were to bring someone up from minor league camp, Cole Figueroa — the other Triple-A middle infielder — also hits lefty.
“Things can happen quick,” Girardi said. “I think a lot of clubs hold their breath this time of year that you leave camp the way you are. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you’ve got to deal with it. … Didi and Drew are healthy, so we’re going to have to look at probably more of a second baseman in a sense. You could look at a second baseman more than a shortstop because you have two shortstops.”
Assuming Drew can slide back to shortstop without any problem — he has yet to take a single ground ball there this spring — the Yankees don’t need someone who has Ryan’s versatility. Instead, hitting from Ryan’s side of the plate might be more important. Refsnyder has impressed with a .333/.447/.538 slash line and the most doubles in camp, but he’s also shown room to grow with his team-high six errors. That’s twice as many as anyone else in camp.
“I think that my game reps haven’t reflected how well I’ve fielded in practice,” Refsnyder said. “Some of the errors I’ve made have been tempo plays, getting into the rhythm of the game again. … I wish I could have played better on all sides of the ball. But I’m happy with where my work is right now. Hopefully it translates in the game a little bit more, in the season, to be honest.”
It’s a curious situation. Refsnyder fits the profile of what the Yankees want and need, but they clearly want him to improve defensively, and it’s worth wondering whether they would be OK with one of their top prospects getting sporadic playing time off the big league bench. Carrying Refsnyder is certainly not what the Yankees had in mind, but it might be what they decide to do.
“Shoot, coming into camp, I was 23,” Refsnyder said. “I’m 24 now, and I’m playing with some of the best players in the entire world. Some of the best guys. It’s definitely not discouraging. Every day you can learn and get better from all these guys. They’ve been awesome to younger guys like myself who started this camp. I’ve learned a lot. Some things I can really continue on for the rest of my career hopefully. This has been a great opportunity for me.”
• Really strong outing by Chase Whitley today. He allowed a run on three hits in the second innings, but that was the extent of the damage. He finished with four innings, one run, no walks and six strikeouts. That might have locked up a spot in the Yankees bullpen. “I wanted to have a good spring and I was able to accomplish that,” Whitley said. “The results matched up today with how I felt, so that was pretty good.”
• If the Yankees carry Whitley, it would be as a second long man. Girardi said today that he considers Esmil Rogers locked into a roster spot. Rogers pitched 1.1 innings with an unearned run today. He struck out three and walked one.
• Another bullpen candidate, Chasen Shreve, allowed one hit and one unearned run in two-thirds of an inning. He struck out one. Most damaging to his case might be the fact he allowed a hard double to left-handed hitter James Loney. Presumably, Shreve would have to handle lefties to play much of a role in New York.
• Andrew Bailey delivered another scoreless inning with one hit and one walk. He has yet to allow an earned run this spring, but he’s also thrown just five innings.
• Why Adam Warren as fifth starter? “Consistency,” Girardi said. “Four-pitch mix. He throws strikes. His ability to get lefthanders and righthanders out, holds runners, does the little things, fields his position. He just does a lot of things right.”
• Gregorius is definitely playing tomorrow. “Unless something happens overnight,” Girardi said. “He felt good in BP. He’s scheduled and circled in on the trip. He’s going.” Gregorius said he’s perfectly unconcerned about the wrist after taking BP and going through fielding drills today. He’s fine.
• Alex Rodriguez is playing first base again tomorrow. He’ll play in the home game.
• Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira came through today’s game with no problems.
• Here’s Girardi on Refsnyder’s defense: “It’s a guy that was a right fielder. I think it’s improved over the spring. I’ve seen him on the back field every day and it’s improved. I think he’ll continue to get better. There’s no shortage of work ethic in this young man. He’s young. That’s the bottom line, he’s young. But depending on what we do, do I think we have a number of candidates that can handle it? Yes, I do. It’s just picking which one we think is the right one.”
• Would Pirela have been the favorite had he stayed healthy? “Yeah, I think he would’ve had a good shot at it,” Girardi said. Amazing how that weird decision to play Pirela in center field in Port St. Lucie — under what circumstances would Pirela play center this season? — might have impacted things.
• No surprise, but Girardi said he plans to stay on rotation at least through the early part of the season. Even after off days, the Yankees won’t skip Warren or any other starter. They’ll use off days for extra rest and occasionally insert sixth starters for even more rest when necessary.
• Chris Capuano is playing catch — not in a chair, standing up — but there’s still no time table for his return. “That’s hard to say,” Girardi said. “Obviously he’s playing catch, but it’s not the freedom you would have if you didn’t have a leg injury.”
• Final word goes to Girardi: “Those guys (Gregorius, Ellsbury, Teixeira), in my mind, I was pretty convinced we’d have them back. Now, it’s different now with Brendan. I think it’s a long shot. What happens, your depth is tested. We’ve got to talk about it. You understand going in that these things can happen and you’ve got to deal with it. I think that’s why they try to go out and acquire as many good players as they can.”
Associated Press photos
Spring Game 30: Yankees vs. Rays • 04.01.15
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Brett Gardner LF
Carlos Beltran RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Brian McCann C
Chase Headley 3B
Alex Rodriguez DH
Stephen Drew 2B
Brendan Ryan SS
RHP Chase Whitley (0-0, 0.79 this spring)
John Jaso DH
Logan Forsythe 2B
Asdrubal Cabrera SS
Desmond Jennings LF
James Loney 1B
Rene Rivera C
Kevin Kiermaier CF
Brandon Guyer RF
Juan Francisco 3B
LHP Jordan Norberto (1-0, 4.82 this spring)
TIME/TV: 1:05 p.m., YES Network
WEATHER: Warm and sunny, of course.
UMPIRES: HP D.J. Reyburn, 1B Eric Cooper, 2B Marty Foster, 3B Phil Cuzzi
TODAY’S SECOND STRING: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Garrett Jones, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Taylor Dugas, CF Jake Cave, RF Ramon Flores
TODAY’S SCHEDULED RELIEVERS: Esmil Rogers, Chasen Shreve, Andrew Bailey, Nick Rumbelow, Jose Ramirez, Tyler Webb
TWO OPEN SPOTS: The Yankees have two open spots in their bullpen, and they have three candidates — plus another reliever — pitching in today’s game. Esmil Rogers is scheduled to be the first guy out of the pen, and he seems to have a bullpen role locked up. Today’s starter, Chase Whitley, could join him as a second long man. Chasen Shreve is also pitching today, trying to basically match what Chris Martin did yesterday (two perfect innings). Andrew Bailey is also pitching today, though his chances of making the team seem slim because he has yet to go back-to-back this spring.
UPDATE, 1:11 p.m.: Whitley works a 1-2-3 first inning. One strikeout and two routine ground balls. I really think he’s going to break camp with the team.
UPDATE, 1:28 p.m.: Three hits and a run so far against Whitley here in the second inning. The first hit was a legitimate double and nearly a home run. The second was an RBI ground ball. The third was a pretty decent pitch on a hit-and-run, and Kiermaier just flung his bat toward the ball and wound up looping a double into right.
UPDATE, 1:55 p.m.: Strong third inning for Whitley and it’s still a 1-0 lead for the Rays.
UPDATE, 2:05 p.m.: Strikeout and a double play in the fourth and Whitley’s through four innings with one run. Strong outing.
Of the four pitchers still in the running for an open spot in the Yankees’ bullpen, Andrew Bailey has the lowest WHIP and the lowest opponents’ batting average this spring. He also has the most big league experience and perhaps the greatest upside as a former All-Star closer.
Problem is, Bailey’s pitched only four innings, he missed all of last season, and there’s a solid chance he simply won’t be ready to open the season.
With only four games left on the schedule, Joe Girardi said today that the Yankees won’t consider Bailey for the Opening Day roster if he doesn’t pitch in back-to-back games at least once this spring.
“I don’t see how you could do that,” Girardi said. “And the one thing is, we’re not going to rush him.”
So far, Bailey hasn’t pitched with any less than two days of rest. He would have to move quickly to get in back-to-back outings before the Yankees break camp on Friday, and at this point, it seems — just based on the way the Yankees have talked about him and treated him — that Bailey is more likely to open the year in the minor leagues to take those final steps back from 2013 shoulder surgery.
A team source confirmed today that Bailey’s contract allows the Yankees to send him to the minor leagues out of spring training without the risk of losing him. Bailey does not have an immediate opt-out clause.
Assuming Bailey is eventually sent down, the Yankees basically have three pitchers for two spots: They have a long man in Chase Whitley (who’s starting tomorrow), a hard-throwing right-hander in Chris Martin (who pitched 1.2 scoreless this afternoon) and a potential third lefty in Chasen Shreve (who’s had scoreless outings his past two appearances).
“I think it comes down to who we think is going to help us the most is the bottom line,” Girardi said. “I don’t think you necessarily in your mind say (for example) I have to have a third lefty. Is it a luxury, sure it is, but I think it’s who we think is going to help us the most.”
Bailey might be able to help, but perhaps not on Opening Day.
Associated Press photo
Got to Fort Myers just in time to talk to Joe Girardi and get some quick pregame notes posted. No huge news coming out of batting practice today but there was a slight change of plans.
John Ryan Murphy was supposed to make this trip, but he’s staying behind at the minor league complex to catch Adam Warren, who’s starting a minor league game.
Speaking of which, Girardi said he’s still not ready to name a fifth starter. He said there’s one guy he still needs to talk to before making anything public.
That said, I imagine you should feel free to read into the fact Warren’s getting a start today. That puts him on schedule — in theory — to make another start on Sunday on four-days rest and then pitch the fifth game of the regular season on five-days rest.
• Carlos Beltran is also playing at the minor league complex today. Girardi wasn’t sure if he was DHing or playing right field. Said they wanted Beltran to get at-bats without having to make the long road trip.
• Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled for 75 pitches.
• Girardi seemed to downplay the possibility of Andrew Bailey making the team out of spring training. He said there’s no way the Yankees could carry him if he hasn’t pitch back-to-back days, and the team is not going to rush him to make that happen. Of the four guys vying for the final two bullpen spots, Bailey seems like the long shot. Chase Whitley, Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve are also in the mix, and each is on the 40-man.
• Speaking of which, Whitley is starting tomorrow’s game against the Rays. Clearly keeping him stretched out in case they decide to carry him as a second long man.
• Brendan Ryan is getting a turn at third base today. Girardi said he just wants to see it and give Ryan a chance to play the position down here. Girardi said that, for now, he’s leaning toward playing Alex Rodriguez — not Ryan — at third base on days Chase Headley needs a break. Obviously Ryan could be a defensive replacement at the position, though.
• Mark Teixeira remains on track to play tomorrow. He was hit by a pitch in the knee on Sunday. Seems fine.
• Didi Gregorius had some swelling in his sprained wrist on Monday. He still might play tomorrow, but Girardi said they want to make sure the swelling is gone before they get him back in a game. Still seems to be a very low level of concern.
• Today’s second string: C Eddy Rodriguez, 1B Greg Bird, 2B none, SS none, 3B Eric Jagielo, LF Taylor Dugas, CF Mason Williams, RF none
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Chris Martin, Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder, Cesar Vargas, Nick Goody
• Today’s starting lineup:
Brett Gardner LF
Brendan Ryan 3B
Chris Young CF
Garrett Jones 1B
Austin Romine C
Rob Refsnyder 2B
Ramon Flores RF
Nick Noonan SS
Eric Jagielo DH
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
The Yankees technically have 17 pitchers still in big league camp, but that includes three guys who are hurt and will inevitably open the season on the disabled list. In reality, they have 10 guys who seem locked into big league roles and four others to compete for two open spots.
Major league rotation: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Adam Warren
Major league bullpen: Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, Justin Wilson, Esmil Rogers
Bullpen candidates: Chase Whitley, Chris Martin, Andrew Bailey, Chasen Shreve
Injured/rehab: Chris Capuano, Ivan Nova, Vicente Campos
A few issues to consider as the Yankees prepare to fill these last two spots on the pitching staff:
1. Is the 40-man roster an issue?
Whitley, Martin and Shreve are on the 40-man. Bailey is not. But that shouldn’t be an issue. With Nova surely heading for the 60-day disabled list, the Yankees can easily open at least one spot if they want to carry Bailey. If there’s some other injury and they need to open a second spot, they could do so by designating Austin Romine for assignment or perhaps by putting Capuano on the 60-day. The 40-man doesn’t seem to be a significant roadblock.
2. How many long relievers do the Yankees want?
This seems to be a worthwhile question. It seems relatively safe to assume Rogers will be one long man — I suppose he’s the least “locked in” of the projected big leaguers, but he still seems relatively safe — so the Yankees have to decide whether they want a second multi-inning guy. If they do, Whitley clearly has the advantage. He’s pitched well in camp and could be a long man or spot starter. If they don’t want a second long man, Whitley could go to Triple-A to be stretched out.
3. Does Bailey have time to go back to back?
Joe Girardi has made it clear that any middle reliever who wants to make the team has to prove he can pitch in back-to-back games. Bailey hasn’t done that yet, and there’s a chance he won’t be up for it — or allowed to do it — before the Yankees break camp. If Bailey can’t go back to back in spring training, the Yankees might have to send him to the minor leagues for at least a short stint so that he can cross that final item off the list.
4. Should the sixth starter factor into this decision?
We know the Yankees want to use a sixth starter sometime around the fourth turn through the rotation. For that to happen, the Yankees might want a little flexibility. For example: Perhaps they carry Martin out of spring training, option him down in favor of Bryan Mitchell when they need a spot starter, then bring up Shreve after Mitchell’s made his spot start. Would carrying Whitley in the big league bullpen rule him out for a spot start a few weeks into the season? If so, is that enough reason to send him to Triple-A?
5. Is there a benefit to carrying a third lefty?
In recent years, the Yankees have rarely carried a second lefty, but now it seems they might carry a third. With Miller and Wilson guaranteed big league jobs, the Yankees still have to seriously consider Shreve, who made his big league debut last season with Atlanta. He’s actually been better against righties than against lefties this spring, but the Yankees could try Shreve as more of a situational lefty by Wilson and Miller play more universal late-inning roles.
6. Will the field change in the next week?
Let’s not forget, every team is on the lookout for marginal upgrades this time of year. An out-of-options reliever somewhere else might be a perfect fit for the Yankees. With a 40-man spot pretty easy to open, the Yankees could certainly put in a claim or make a small trade to fill one of their bullpen openings. They’re down to four options in camp, but there are plenty of other options outside of camp.
Associated Press photos
First, a reminder that we’re doing a chat today at noon. This is an off day in Yankees camp. For me, that means a day to sit in a hotel room and write a whole lot of season preview stuff for the newspaper. For the Yankees, it means a day to catch their breath before one last burst of exhibition games and decision making. Heading into this final week, here are a few thoughts and impressions from Tampa:
• I actually think CC Sabathia looks pretty good. His numbers are awful, but I’m buying it when he says he’s encouraged. He’s clearly stronger than he was last year, and I think it’s good that he’s talking about his changeup a lot. He’s going to have to pitch smart and keep hitters off balance, and I think he’s able to do that. Scouts keep telling me what a “pitcher” he is; that Sabathia knows what he’s doing out there even with diminished stuff. The numbers are awful, but this is one of those situations in which I’m not sure spring training numbers mean much. He’s going to give up some home runs now — that’s just the way it goes — but I think he’ll be better than he was the past two seasons. Not a Cy Young candidate, but I think he’ll be a good No. 3 starter as long as he stays healthy.
• The middle of the order does not look very good. At this point, I think that’s a bigger problem than the rotation. Even if the lineup stays healthy, I’m still not sure what the heart of the order can provide. Carlos Beltran hasn’t looked great, Brian McCann has been so-so, and Mark Teixeira hasn’t hit for much power (though I do think Teixeira seems to be in much better shape than last spring, so maybe he can stay on the field and avoid a second-half decline). I just haven’t seen a lot that suggests the lineup is much better than it was last season. Veteran guys like that might be able to turn it on once they’re in real games, I just don’t think they’ve shown it down here.
• Whether Alex Rodriguez has a successful season might depend on your definition of success. If he carries his spring training slash line through the season he’ll be an MVP candidate, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. More likely, I think he’ll get on base at a decent clip, pounce on some bad pitches to hit home runs now and then, and generally provide what you’d expect from a No. 6-7 hitter. That’s honestly better than I was expecting. He’s not running well, but I think he’s running well enough. He’s not a good defender, but he’ll field balls that are hit right to him. He’s better than I thought he would be.
• As a side note to the Rodriguez situation: He’s also handled all of the off-the-field stuff pretty well. Believe it or not, he actually makes some small talk and jokes with reporters in the clubhouse. Teammates seem to like him. Opposing players don’t seem to completely hate him. He’s heard his share of boos, but he’s heard plenty of cheers as well. I’m telling you, from every angle, this situation has been much better and easier than I expected. The Yankees seem to feel the same way. Both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi said yesterday that they’re happy with the way Rodriguez has settled back into the clubhouse.
• I have no idea what the Yankees are going to do about those final two spots in the bullpen. I think Chase Whitley is a favorite for one of those spots, if only because I think they’ll want another long man other than Esmil Rogers (and all the other long relief candidates have been sent away). What I can’t figure out is who the favorites might be for that last spot in the pen. I do think it’s worth noting that Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve are on the 40-man and have options, and I think that final bullpen spot might be very flexible early in the season. For that reason — because the 12th reliever might have to go up and down to Triple-A a few times — I’m not surprised the Yankees steered away from Jacob Lindgren. He’s looked great, but I imagine that once he’s on the big league roster, the Yankees want him to stay there. Why not carry Martin or Shreve out of camp, send him down for a sixth starter in late April, and then think about adding either Lindgren or Andrew Bailey?
• Backup catcher might be more wide-open than I expected when camp opened. Last season showed the Yankees clearly prefer John Ryan Murphy, but don’t think they’ve completely given up on Austin Romine. Ideally, I think — and this is just a gut feeling — the Yankees would prefer to trade Romine before the season starts, but I think they’d like to get real value for him. If they can’t, maybe he gets one month to prove himself one way or the other in the big leagues. If he can’t do it, Murphy comes up to take his place. That said, if the Yankees choose to DFA Romine in favor of Murphy, that wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. I really think it could go either way. If I had to guess right now, I think I’d still pick Murphy.
• Slade Heathcott has looked so good this spring, I wonder if the Yankees might get aggressive and send him straight to Triple-A to play center field every day. That would free Jake Cave, Mason Williams and Aaron Judge to play the outfield every day in Trenton (and Williams had a good enough spring that I think he’s worth everyday at-bats as well). Put Heathcott in the Triple-A outfield with Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin and see what happens. This isn’t a typical development year for Heathcott. The Yankees really need to find out by the end of the season whether he’s a high-end asset again.
• At this point, I’m assuming Jose Pirela will end up in Triple-A, but where does he play regularly? Obviously he’ll have to bounce around a little bit — some time in the outfield corners, some time at second base — but it might make sense to see what he can do as a regular third baseman. If Chase Headley gets hurt, Rodriguez isn’t good enough in the field to play third every day, so the Yankees might want to get Pirela prepared just in case he has to play that role at some point. But he really can’t play any one spot every single day. He’s going to have to maintain some flexibility because the Yankees might want his bat at some point even without an injury at third.
• Sure, Sabathia says his knee feels fine and Masahiro Tanaka is pitching like his elbow is healthy, but the biggest reason to be optimistic about the Yankees’ rotation might be Michael Pineda. That guy looks fantastic. He’s still throwing hard, still throwing a ton of strikes, and his offspeed stuff is more effective than when the Yankees first acquired him. It’s amazing that, after missing much of three years with shoulder problems, Pineda just might be the most reliable piece of the Yankees rotation. I think Nathan Eovaldi could be pretty good, but Pineda could be great.
• Speaking of the rotation, what happens if everyone stays healthy and Adam Warren has a 3.00 ERA at the end of May. Would he move right back into the bullpen to make room for Chris Capuano? What about Ivan Nova? Granted, this is a pretty extreme hypothetical — it involves Warren having an all-star caliber first two months, and involves a rotation full of injury concerns staying healthy — but I really think Warren’s a nice pitcher who could thrive. Maybe not to the tune of 3.00, but what about a 3.20 or a even a 3.50? Would you take that out of the rotation in favor of a guy one year removed from Tommy John?
• Relief pitchers are notoriously inconsistent from year to year. Only a very few are able to truly get the job done season after season. For that reason, I think the Dellin Betances struggles should raise some red flags. Not white flags of surrender, but red flags of concern. He just hasn’t looked great, and it’s not just the fact he’s not throwing 98 mph. Some of that added velocity could very easily come with regular-season adrenalin. Right now, he’s also missing spots and looking fairly hitable. I think that should be a bit of a concern. The Yankees have banked on the idea of having a standout bullpen. What if they don’t?
Associated Press photos