In theory, what the Yankees have created is absurd. Five lefties in the bullpen? It makes no sense. Not if you’re starting from scratch and trying to choose the proper pieces. Hard to imagine any team would go to the drawing board and elect five left-handed relievers.
But teams are never choosing pieces. Not two months into the season, anyway. At this point it’s more about putting the pieces together, which means working with what you have. And what the Yankees have right now is Adam Warren in the rotation, David Carpenter designated for assignment, and a bunch of relatively unproven guys in Triple-A.
For at least the time being, the Yankees have put the pieces together, and as absurd as it might look on the surface, they’ve come up with five lefties in a seven-man bullpen.
“You don’t see that very often,” the best of the lefties, Andrew Miller, said. “But honestly, all those guys can get right-handers out. We’re just starting to see what Lindgren can do. Cap’s been a starter. It’s something that I’ve felt like I had to prove, but I proved I can do it, and Shreve’s been really, really good lately. That’s important, and Joe can feel comfortable using those guys against right-handed hitters, or in a 50/50 mix. I think we’ll be fine.”
Hard to imagine the Yankees will stick with this alignment for long — at least partially because they don’t need this many long relievers — but it doesn’t have to be a total mess in the short term. If recently converted starter Chris Capuano can be the primary long man and Esmil Rogers can become a reliable middle reliever from the right side, the Yankees could have a fairly traditional bullpen that just happens to lean to the left.
Closer: Andrew Miller
Setup man: Dellin Betances
Go-to lefty: Justin Wilson
Middle-innings righty: Esmil Rogers
Long man: Chris Capuano
Flexible bullpen role player: Chasen Shreve
Rookie breaking into the bigs: Jacob Lindgren
Those roles really aren’t unusual, it just so happens that five of those spots are being fill by guys who throw with their left arms. It could certainly became a matchup issue in certain situation — there are a lot of right-handed hitters around there, and many of them can feast on lefties — but Wilson actually has fairly neutral splits in his career (though this season he’s been quite a bit better against lefties), and Shreve has dominated righties this season. Lindgren is projected to be much more of a setup man than a situational lefty, Miller has already performed well beyond a matchup role, and Capuano’s a long-time starter who’s used to facing both lefties and righties.
Actually, the biggest problem with this experiment might not be the lefties, it might be the second righty.
Betances is exceptional, but Rogers has struggled, especially in the month of May. Girardi tried to use him in a short-relief situation on Sunday, and Rogers retired only one of the three batters he faced. If Rogers can’t get himself back on track, the Yankees are going to have to find someone — either right-handed or left-handed — who can change that roster spot for the better.
For now, they’ll roll with a bunch of lefties and see what happens.
“I think it’ll change somewhat when you continue to get pitchers back,” Joe Girardi said. “But it is what it is, and you have to adapt to it. Cappy’s been a guy who’s pitched short and long out of the bullpen, Esmil’s been a guy who’s pitched short and long out of the bullpen. I wouldn’t consider Lindgren a real long guy, he’s more of a one or two inning guy in a sense. You’ve just got to adapt.”
Associated Press photo
Heading into Masahiro Tanaka’s first big league start in more than a month, Joe Girardi said he would look for two things: command and sharpness of pitches.
Well, Tanaka walked no one and got through the seventh inning on 78 pitches. He struck out nine and got only one two outs on true fly balls into the outfield. As a bonus, his velocity regularly reached into the mid-90s, topping out at 96 mph for the first time this season.
“We’ll take him anytime we can get him,” Andrew Miller said. “I know he’s been battling a little forearm or elbow stuff, or whatever, but when he’s been on the mound he’s been incredible. We want him out there as often as possible, and we want him for the long haul. To have a guy on a pitch count go out and give us seven innings is really, really impressive. He’s the star of the game, for sure.”
Tanaka’s first pitch was a 92-mph fastball, and it was clobbered well over the fence but foul. Tanaka went on to strike out the leadoff hitter on three pitches, which was a sign of things to come. Two more strikeouts in the second inning. Two more in the third. A strikeout to end the fourth, another to end the fifth, and another to end the seventh. All three hits Tanaka allowed came in the third inning when the Mariners scored their only run. After that, he retired the final 13 batters he faced.
“I would have to agree, I think it was the best outing I’ve had this year so far,” Tanaka said. “… It was a good outing, but it’s just one outing. I can’t be too high about that. Right now, maybe I’ll celebrate today, but starting tomorrow I’ll look forward to my next outing and work on my stuff.”
Obviously health will be a lingering concern for a player with a known elbow issue, but this was pretty substantial proof that Tanaka can be plenty effective as long as the elbow doesn’t blow out completely. His offspeed pitches were effective, and Tanaka’s four-seamer was so good that he was willing to throw it up in the zone to finish off hitters. Tanaka had been trying to work mostly down in the zone with two-seamers early in the season, but he said that two starts before going on the DL he starting thinking more about going up in the zone to get outs. He did that effectively today.
“I’m not so sure I expected (that velocity) the first time out,” Girardi said. “Velocity has been a huge topic for him. We talked about his average velocity has been there. In April, a lot of times you don’t see guys’ (full) velocity. You just don’t. Part of it has to do with that stinky weather that we play in, but I was a little surprised.”
Tanaka’s explanation for finally reaching the mid 90s: “I think maybe (because) we’re a little bit deeper in the season. Warming up a little, maybe that has to do with it.”
Maybe a few weeks off helped him. Maybe he simply needed to build up arm strength after a relatively light spring training. Maybe this was simply a really good day. Whatever it was, the Yankees got their ace back this afternoon, and he looked as good as ever.
“If we’re going to go where we want to go this year,” Mark Teixeira said. “We need guys like Tanaka to be healthy and be in our starting rotation. Hopefully that’s what we’re going to have the rest of the year.”
• Andrew Miller had to work for his 17th save. He came in with a runner on, then a hit a batter, walked a guy on four pitches and fell behind 3-0. Miller came back to get a strikeout and a ground ball to get out of that eighth-inning jam before pitching a scoreless ninth. “He’s got a toughness to him,” Girardi said. “In that situation, it’s a tough situation. Bases loaded, 3-0 on a hitter, and to be able to get out of it, it just shows you that he has a lot of ability and believes in himself.”
• Miller on his outing: “I wasn’t missing by a lot. But I was missing consistently in one spot. And that’s kind of a tough thing, because you’re trying to come up with a fix and things keep going in the same direction. I was able to slow things down, and get back in the zone eventually. He chased a 3-2 slider, which is a pitch I throw a lot of times, but with the bases loaded there, if he lays off of that, it might be a different story. But fortunately that happened and got out of it.”
• Girardi said he didn’t want to use Dellin Betances after back-to-back outings. He wound up going to Chris Capuano to start the eighth inning. It was Capuano’s first relief appearance of the year, and it came in a two-run game. Says a lot about the state of the Yankees’ pen beyond Betances and Miller. “They had lefties coming up, and you force their hand to make a change, and Cap’s done it in the bullpen before,” Giradri said, explaining the decision to use Capuano in that spot.
• Any thought of just sending Tanaka out for the eighth? He was at 78 pitches and could have gone up to 85. “No, just because we had talked about 80-85 pitches, but we were expecting that in six innings,” Girardi said. “The extra up-down situation, we thought it was enough. Believe me, I would have loved to.”
• This was the seventh time in his career that Tanaka struck out at least nine batters. First time he’d done it this season.
• This was the first time in Tanaka’s career that he pitched in a major league game to anyone other than Brian McCann. “We were basically on the same page for the most part,” John Ryan Murphy said. “There was a handful of pitches that he shook off, like any other pitcher. … It’s a little uncomfortable going in the second inning, because I didn’t do all the pregame scouting reports and that stuff with him and Larry, but as soon as I knew I was going in I talked to him and (translator) Shingo. We got on the same page, simple as that.”
• Second game in a row that Garrett Jones hit a game-winning home run. He’s homered in back-to-back games. Before this, he’d homered once all year. “Just relaxing,” he said. “Going in there just letting it go, being loose, and try to contribute. I’ve been feeling good at the plate and just trying to stay relaxed, let it fly. Got some pitches to hit and put a good swing. When I’m in there, just trying to make the most of it.”
Another home run for Mark Teixeira, who’s already at 16 homers and 41 RBI. This was his 19th career home run at Safeco Field, the most ever hit here by an opposing player. “Every day is different,” Teixeira said. “It really is. You get a couple of good pitches to hit, hit right-handed, hit left-handed, tomorrow is a day off and then Friday is a new day. I feel good physically.”
• For the second time in less than a week since joining the big league team, Ramon Flores threw out a runner at the plate.
• Final word goes to Murphy on Tanaka: “He was incredible. Everything was for strikes. He threw all of his pitches. The thing that he does so well is on both sides of the plate, the ball can go sideways both ways and go straight down. Everything was working today. Makes it really hard on the other hitters. It showed today.”
Associated Press photos
Had spring training gone as planned, Adam Warren might never have stepped into the Yankees’ rotation in the first place. Two months into the season, though, Warren’s proven too valuable to play any other role.
When Masahiro Tanaka comes off the disabled list on Wednesday, it will be veteran Chris Capuano who’s taken out of the rotation and moved into the bullpen. Warren, who thrived as a reliever last season, will continue working as a starting pitcher.
“I’ve really gotten back into the starter mode,” Warren said. “I’ve enjoyed pitching as a starter, and I wanted to stay that way. I’m excited about it, and that’s what I want to do right now.”
Having been developed as a starter all through college and the minor leagues, Warren spent the past two years in the Yankees’ bullpen, first as a long man and then as trusted setup man. He came into spring training as a kind of just-in-case rotation option, and broke camp as a starter largely because Capuano opened the season on the disabled list. Warren got off to a so-so start, but he’s thrived his past four times out. Since May 13, Warren has a 2.70 ERA while pitching into the seventh inning each time.
“Obviously I think he could be really effective in the bullpen,” manager Joe Girardi said. “But his starts are important too. We decided to keep him there.”
Putting Warren in the bullpen would have been tempting because the Yankees have lacked a dependable right-handed reliever beyond Dellin Betances. With a return to last year’s performance, Warren could have solidified the seventh inning, which has been a weak spot for the Yankees. Instead, the Yankees will put Capuano into the bullpen, where the team already has two long relievers (Esmil Rogers and Chasen Shreve) and four lefties (Shreve, Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson and Jacob Lindgren). Girardi said Capuano will be available for many roles, either for multiple innings or for short relief or for left-on-left matchups.
“With Masa coming off the DL on Wednesday, and (Ivan) Nova not far behind, I figured it was a numbers game,” Capuano said. “Going to try to be ready to do my job in the bullpen.”
Indeed, the Yankees might face a similar decision in a few weeks. Nova has been working his way back from Tommy John surgery and is scheduled for one last extended spring training start before beginning an official rehab assignment.
Assuming Nova’s ready by the end of the month, Warren might have to continue proving himself as a starter between now and then.
“I’m only worried about my next start,” Warren said.
• Benched the past two days, Stephen Drew is back in the lineup at second base. “It’s tough, but we signed him to be our second baseman,” Girardi said. “He’s worked really hard the last couple days to see if he could work on a couple little things here or there. I want to get him back out there.”
• So Drew’s been working on mechanics? “It’s always a little bit (mechanical) when you’re struggling,” Girardi said. “It’s working on your path to the baseball and he’s worked really hard the last two days. I want to see it.”
• Has to become a confidence issue at some point, right? “No. I think he’s done a pretty good job of keeping upbeat and having confidence in what he can do,” Girardi said. “He knows he can hit. He’s probably been as unlucky as any hitter that we have. Hopefully that changes.”
• The Mariners will apparently bring up Mike Montgomery to make his major league debut as tomorrow’s starter. That means, Jose Pirela will return to the lineup tomorrow. “I think we’re facing a lefty tomorrow, so I’ll sit one of my left handers and Pirela will be back out there,” Girardi said.
• The Yankees will almost certainly shuffle their rotation because of all the off days coming up. Girardi indicated that they will likely not simply stay on rotation.
• Girardi on the Mariners’ lineup: “Nelson Cruz has had as good a season as anyone up until this point. He’s hit the ball out of the ballpark, and not in the most friendly ballpark in the world for home run hitters. We know how dangerous he is. We saw how important he was to the Baltimore lineup last year. The big thing with Nellie is you have to keep people off base. Robbie Cano is a guy that can hit any pitch, and he can hit it hard and drive the baseball. That’s a tough order, keeping him off in front of Nellie, but I think it’s important.”
• Girardi on today’s pitching matchup: “You look at Felix, he’s as good as it gets when it comes to being an ace of a staff, understanding what his job is and getting deep into games. It’s something that I’m sure Michael has paid close attention to and is trying to learn. He developed a changeup, probably because he saw what Felix did with his changeup and how effective it was. It wasn’t your typical changeup that had a 10-12 mile per hour difference, but it was fairly close it had sink and was an effective pitch.”
Associated Press photos
Game 49: Yankees at Athletics • 05.29.15
LHP Chris Capuano (0-2, 7.36)
Capuano vs. Athletics
Billy Burns CF
Marcus Semien SS
Ben Zobrist 2B
Billy Butler DH
Stephen Vogt 1B
Brett Lawrie 3B
Josh Reddick RF
Josh Phegley C
Mark Canha LF
RHP Sonny Gray (5-2, 1.77)
Gray vs. Yankees
TIME/TV: 10:05 p.m., YES Network
WEATHER: Nicer than last night. Same clear sky, but a bit warmer.
UMPIRES: HP Mike Estabrook, 1B Dana DeMuth, 2B Paul Nauert, 3B Ed Hickox
IN THE OUTFIELD: Yankees outfielders are hitting .285 this season, the team’s highest combined outfield batting average 2000 when the team’s outfielders finished with a .289 average. This year’s outfield has the second-best outfield batting average in the American League. Of course, a lot of that is helped by Jacoby Ellsbury, who’s currently on the disabled list.
MAC ATTACK: Brian McCann has homered in three straight games, the first catcher in the big leagues with a streak as long this season. He is the first Yankees catcher to homer in three straight games since Jorge Posada in 2010.
ON THIS DATE: May 29, 2009 was just another save in Mariano Rivera’s career, but it happened to be his 58th career save of an Andy Pettitte win, pushing the pair ahead of Bob Welch and Dennis Eckersley for the most win/save instances of any pitcher/reliever due on major league history.
UPDATE, 10:20 p.m.: Rodriguez hits into a double play to end the top of the first, then Capuano pitches a 1-2-3 bottom of the first.
UPDATE, 10:39 p.m.: Billy Butler is not fast. Couldn’t score from second on what seemed to be a sure RBI single, and that was a big break for the Yankees. Capuano wound up getting a routine fly ball to left to leave the bases loaded and keep the game scoreless after two.
UPDATE, 10:53 p.m.: Ball stayed low on Headley, and the weird hop resulted in yet another E-5 for the usually sure-handed fielder. The bigger problem this inning is that Capuano has been brutal his second time through the order. Five straight A’s have reached base to start the third inning, including the error. It’s now a 4-0 Oakland lead.
UPDATE, 11:17 p.m.: Capuano came back and got the Yankees through the fourth after that brutal start to the third. Still not a great situation, though. Sonny Gray has a no hitter going, and it hasn’t been luck. Yankees haven’t had any hard contact against him.
UPDATE, 11:21 p.m.: There goes the no-hitter. Brian McCann has now homered in four straight games, only the second Yankees catcher to do it since 1957 (Jorge Posada never did, but Mike Stanley did in 1993). It’s 4-1.
UPDATE, 11:45 p.m.: Chipping away a little bit. Gregorius doubled and just scored on a ground ball to shortstop. That makes it 4-2 in the middle of the sixth.
UPDATE, 11:55 p.m.: Capuano is out after 5.1 innings. Actually pretty impressive considering I didn’t think he’d make it out of the third. Wound up retiring 10 of the last 11 batters he faced after that brutal series of five straight to start the third. Esmil Rogers now pitching.
Chase Whitley kept clenching his fist. He wasn’t finishing off his pitches. He’d focus on Brian McCann’s glove set on the inner half of the plate, then fire a fastball outside for a ball.
“I had no idea where it was going,” Whitley admitted.
It was finally McCann who motioned to the dugout and called for the trainer. He knows what Whitley’s supposed to look like on the mound, and this wasn’t it. Manager Joe Girardi got to the rubber, and for the first time, Whitley admitted that his elbow was bothering him. That’s when Girardi patted Whitley on the chest. When Whitley slammed the ball into McCann’s glove, it wasn’t because he wanted to stay in the game, it was because he knew he couldn’t.
“I knew something was up,” McCann said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s not going to say anything, so he wanted to keep pitching. It was one of those things where you could see it. … He wanted to fight through it.”
The Yankees haven’t said Whitley needs Tommy John surgery, but that’s clearly the concern. Girardi said only that the pain is “in that area you don’t want to talk about,” and Whitley seemed to have accepted whatever tomorrow’s MRI is going to show. The team has already announced that Chris Capuano will take Whitley’s spot in the rotation.
“It’s extremely disappointing because this kid’s done everything that we’ve asked,” Girardi said. “He’s been trying to deal with it. It’s a kid that’s never been hurt and he just felt like, he said, ‘You know, once I got going, I was always fine.’ … I feel for him, because like I said, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. A reliever turned starter that gave us big innings last year. He’s done a good job for us this year. Pitched extremely well in spring training. We asked him to go down and be a starter for us in case something happens, and now he’s got to deal with this.”
In his previous starts, Whitley said, adrenaline seemed to take over. Whatever pain he’d felt in bullpens more or less disappeared in his games. He had a terrific spring, pitched well in Scranton, gave the Yankees two strong starts after his call-up, then struggled the past two times out. This time, the pain was there from the beginning. McCann said Whitley was spiking his changeup (usually his best pitch) and fastball command was erratic (that’s usually a strength).
“Tonight it just carried over to the game,” Whitley said. “I’ve been able to get through it in the game, and tonight obviously you could pretty much tell.”
Tomorrow’s MRI should give the Yankees their final diagnosis, but optimism seemed low in the clubhouse.
“The first thought is Tommy John because it’s so prevalent,” Adam Warren said. “Just makes it more real when it’s somebody real close to you. It’s just one of those injuries, it’s hard to prevent. It’s a unnatural arm motion for your arm. I hate to assume the worst right away, but that’s the first thing you think about. That’s my concern, and I’m sure he’s worried about it too.”
• While Girardi committed to Chris Capuano joining the rotation, he wasn’t sure when it would happen. Wouldn’t be surprising to see a reliever come up for at least the start of the Royals series. Earliest Capuano could pitch would be Sunday, anyway.
• When Whitley left the game, Esmil Rogers’ first pitch was a pretty decent slider that No. 9 hitter Rene Rivera hit for a three-run homer. “It was a good pitch, good location,” McCann said. “All you can do is tip your hat on that one.”
• Although Rogers had to be rushed into duty, he had plenty of time to get ready. He said he felt fully loose and didn’t think the circumstances coming into the game contributed to the home run. “It was a good pitch,” Rogers said. “I think maybe they were looking for that. The location was down and away, and he got it.”
• Whitley actually threw more balls than strikes tonight. He’s the first Yankees starter to do that since A.J. Burnett on June 26, 2010 against the Dodgers.
• Reliever Branden Pinder, who could easily have been the guy sent down for Capuano, seems like to stick around now. Tonight he pitched another scoreless inning. He’s only pitched four innings so far this season, but he’s allowed just two hits. Three of his four appearances have come at Tropicana Field. He’s pitched here three times and still hasn’t pitched at Yankee Stadium.
• Alex Rodriguez’s ninth-inning home run let the Yankees avoid their first shutout loss since September 15, 2014 (a game that also happened at Tropicana Field). They have played 49 games since their last shutout. They are one of three teams that have not been shutout this season (Detroit and Toronto are the others).
• Rodriguez’s home run also let the Yankees avoid going without an extra-base hit for the third-straight game. Would have been the first time that had happened to the Yankees since 2000. Before the home run, the Yankees went 98 at-bats without an extra-base hit between Mark Teixeira’s ninth-inning home run on Monday and Rodriguez’s ninth-inning home run tonight.
• The Yankees have scored in three of their past 27 innings.
• Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Rodriguez — the one, two, three hitters — combined to go 5-for-11 tonight. The rest of the lineup went 0-for-19.
• Rodriguez’s home run was his 1,000th RBI as a Yankee. He’s two career RBI away from Babe Ruth’s total of 1,992 (fourth all-time since RBI became an official stat in 1920). Of Rodriguez’s nine home runs this season, four have come against the Rays, and three of those have come against rookies.
• Girardi and several Yankees players said they felt the team hit the ball harder than the numbers suggest tonight. That really did seem to the case, at least for this game. Maybe not the past two games, but tonight there were some hard-hit balls. “I’d say we hit six or seven balls really hard that they caught tonight,” Girardi said. “You put that with the four or five hits, if they fall, I mean the one inning we had three guys line out. You could add a couple of runs in possibly, with a runner on second and nobody out. But it didn’t happen. They played good defense and we just didn’t get the hits.”
• Final word goes to Gardner: “I think if we went out there and struck out 15 or 20 times and things were real ugly, I think it would be a little different, but some guys swung the bats well. Chase Headley swung the bat really, really well tonight and nothing to show for it. We’ve got to keep our heads up and realize we’re still in first place. The last couple of days have been tough, but we’ll be fine.”
Associated Press photos
Jorge Posada doesn’t think Alex Rodriguez belongs in the Hall of Fame, and he seems unhappy that A-Rod beat him for the MVP award a dozen years ago.
“You know, the only thing that I can think is 2003,” Posada said during a interview with CBS This Morning. “You know, I was close to the MVP. Didn’t happen. Alex won the MVP and, you know, I think second was either Carlos Delgado or David Ortiz, I don’t remember. But, I was almost there. You know what could’ve happened if, you know, it’s tough. It’s really tough.”
All of this, of course, is because of Rodriguez’s use of performance enhancing drugs. Posada made his comments while promoting his new book.
“I think the guys that need to be in the Hall of Fame need to be a player that played with no controversy,” Posada said.
During the interview, Posada acknowledged he had never discussed any of this with Rodriguez, and in the Yankees’ clubhouse this afternoon, Rodriguez took the high road in responding to Posada’s criticism.
“I consider Jorgie a friend,” Rodriguez said. “… I have nothing bad to say about Jorgie. I have nothing but good things to say about Jorgie. He was a great player and a good teammate and we won a championship in ’09 together.”
For the most part, Rodriguez seems to have been embraced by many players throughout the league, and his current teammates seem to have accepted him with no problems.
“I’ve been so humbled by the response I’ve gotten, not only from my current teammates but from former teammates,” Rodriguez said. “The support that I’ve had is overwhelming and I just feel extremely grateful.”
Posada will be at Yankee Stadium later this season to have his number retired. Rodriguez said he will not find that inevitable encounter to be awkward.
“No, not at all,” he said. “Jorge is a friend. We’ll keep it simple. Keep it light.”
The video above is from this morning’s interview.
• Stephen Drew said that, in his entire life, he has never played third base in a game. He took some ground balls at the position yesterday, and now he’s starting there in a big league game. “I kind of know my role,” Drew said. “Yeah, it’s something new, but at the same time just trust my hands and my feet and go from there. That’s all you can really do. I’m not going to go over there and start stressing that I haven’t played. It’s just more reaction and hopefully I can do my job there.”
• Joe Girardi said he no longer considers Rodriguez to be a true backup at either third base or first base. He might play the field occasionally, but the Yankees want him to be a full-time designated hitter. “I’m thinking we’ll play him a lot more if we can DH him,” Girardi said.
• Rodriguez said he’s on board with being a full-time DH going forward. “I’m totally on board with whatever Joe wants,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve said that from Day 1. Whatever Joe wants. I played third base in the ninth inning the other day and was pretty nervous about that. That was pretty alarming. Whatever Joe wants, I can do.”
• Jose Pirela actually has some third base experience, but the Yankees clearly don’t like him at the position. Asked why he’s using Drew at third ahead of Pirela, Girardi said only: “We just felt that Stephen will make the adjustment easier than Jose.”
• Rodriguez said his sore left hamstring feels better today. Obviously he’s been able to play through the issue. Doesn’t seem to be a huge issue, but Girardi said he was especially hesitant to use Rodriguez at third while the hamstring is even a mild issue.
• Chase Headley doesn’t have a specific injury, Girardi said, but he’s taken a beating lately with diving plays and such. “He’s just beat up,” Girardi said. “All the diving that he does. He just kind of physically could use a day, so we decided to do it today.”
• Masahiro Tanaka will throw another bullpen on Friday.
• The Yankees are still deciding whether to have Chris Capuano make another rehab start or activate him in a few days to rejoin the rotation. Two off days next week really takes some of the urgency away. The rotation is about to get extra rest regardless. “We just kind of touched on (discussing Capuano’s play) today,” Girardi said. “I talked to Cash. I talked to Larry some. Obviously we want to see how he feels physically and have a chance to talk to him. We’ve got to make a decision. It’s not urgent that we make it today or tomorrow, but we’ll probably have him throw a side tomorrow and have him be on line depending on what we do.”
Associated Press photo
Weird to see a player show up without being added to the active roster, but that’s exactly what’s happened with Jose Pirela. He’s still technically on the disabled list — so he can be with the team — but his rehab assignment has ended, and the Yankees plan to activate him tomorrow.
“It’s kind of strange,” Joe Girardi said. “But we felt that we’ll fly him in today, have him hit, get him on the turf and feel what it’s like.”
Makes perfect sense that the Yankees want Pirela active for tomorrow’s game against a lefty, but it does seem a bit odd that he’s not playing tonight considering the Yankees are having Gregorio Petit start at third base. Pirela’s played that position, and in theory could have played there tonight. Maybe the Yankees want to keep Pirela at second base? Maybe someone other than Petit is coming off the roster tomorrow? Maybe the team wants to make sure certain players get through today healthy before making a decision.
“Let us get through today and then we’ll go from there,” Girardi said. “I know you guys are trying to figure out what the move is, but we’ll make it tomorrow. Something could change it today. That’s why you don’t do it.”
Pirela’s been terrific in his past few games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but Girardi indicated that he still expects Stephen Drew to get regular playing time despite his .149 batting average.
“I still think he’s hit the ball better than the numbers indicate,” Girardi said. “He hasn’t had a lot of luck, and he’s had some really big hits for us. I know he’s a better hitter than what the average shows. I know that.”
So is there a chance for Pirela to become more than just a right-handed platoon player?
“I’ll go day-by-day,” Girardi said. “Until he’s reinstated, until we start seeing what we have, I don’t think it does us a lot of good to speculate.”
• Last night’s lineup and late-inning defense make a little more sense now. Turns out, Mark Teixeira has been dealing with a lat issue that made him available only in an extreme situation last night. “We talked about possibly giving him Sunday off (as well),” Girardi said. “I said, ‘If you need more than one day you’ve got to let me know.’ He came in today and said he was fine.”
• Girardi said he was going to let Teixeira pinch hit last night if it were a one-run game, or presumably if Teixeira could have come to the plate as the tying run, but the team didn’t put anyone on base in the ninth. “He’s been able to manage it,” Girardi said. “You try to get him a day off to see if you can get it to calm down and get it healed. He’s been getting treatment for the last few days, and hopefully it’s gone, it’s behind us, but we’ll see.”
• Healthy day off for Chase Headley, Girardi said. “He’s almost played every game,” Girardi said. “We felt he needed a day today.”
• Why not let Alex Rodriguez play third? “I really didn’t want to do it just because of the turf and I’d like to keep him at DH as much as possible,” Girardi said.
• Dellin Betances is not available today. He’s pitched three of the past four, and Girardi doesn’t want guys to pitch four of five. He didn’t completely rule it out, but it’s pretty clear using Betances would be a kind of last resort at best.
• Girardi said he’s pretty sure Chris Capuano is making a rehab appearance with Double-A Trenton on Thursday. Capuano will pitch somewhere that day. Girardi thinks it will be Trenton.
• Jared Burton is off the disabled list. He was assigned to High-A Tampa today. Seems likely to end up with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre eventually.
• Chris Young will play tomorrow against the lefty, Girardi said. The Yankees have been encouraged by Carlos Beltran’s at-bats lately.
Associated Press photos
Four hits for Jose Pirela this afternoon with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He had three hits on Saturday, and three more hits on Friday. If you’re scoring at home, that’s 10 hits in the past three days. And they weren’t all soft hits either. Three doubles today. A home run yesterday.
“I would say he’s probably ready to go,” manager Joe Girardi acknowledged. “We wanted to get him a few more at-bats when we had that luxury of calling Petit back, and now we’ve got to make a decision of what we want to do.”
Gregorio Petit has actually played pretty well lately as the Yankees’ right-handed middle infielder, but it’s hard to ignore the potential offensive impact of Pirela who almost certainly would have made the team out of spring training had he not been out with a concussion as the team broke camp.
Now, Girardi said, the team is considering the possibility of ending Pirela’s rehab assignment, and a move to the big league roster isn’t out of the question.
“We’ve talked about it,” Girardi said. “We’ll continue to evaluate and see what we’re going to do.”
As of Wednesday, Pirela didn’t have many at-bats and wasn’t hitting much when the Yankees put Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list and recalled Petit just one day after optioning him to Triple-A. Now it’s a different story. Pirela got red-hot this weekend, he hit well in spring training, and he showed last year that he belongs on the big league radar as an offensive utility guy who just might be able to spark something at the plate.
Would be interesting to see if Pirela could come up and do, basically, what Chris Young has done. While Young doesn’t play every day, he’s gotten more playing time than expected because he’s hit so well. He’s out of the lineup today, but there have been plenty of times he’s played ahead of struggling Carlos Beltran. Could Pirela do the same to either Stephen Drew or Didi Gregorios?
• One other note on that right-handed infield job: Brendan Ryan felt some sort of pull in his hamstring while running yesterday so his rehab has been shut down. He’ll be reevaluated in a week. He seemed to be getting closer to replacing Petit, and I wonder if his setback might make the Yankees more likely to make a move with Pirela.
• Little surprise that Beltran is back int he lineup against a right-handed pitcher tonight. The Yankees have said several times they’re going to keep giving Beltran regular chances to get his bat going. “Let’s go back to the other day,” Girardi said. “He had two hits and he hit the ball hard. His two hits, he swung at good pitches. When he made the out, it was probably a ball just a little bit off the plate. So a lot of it has to do with pitch selection, which is the case a lot of times with hitters when they’re struggling. Sometimes it can be a little bit mechanical. I think it was probably part of that, early on, but I think that’s probably corrected. And now I think it will probably come down to pitch selection.”
• Chris Capuano went four innings without an earned run with High-A Tampa yesterday. Girardi said all went well with Ivan Nova and Jared Burton in an intrasquad game as well. “Everything was good,” he said. “I would imagine that their next step is five days away from yesterday and continue to build them up.”
• Speaking of which, the Yankees plan to stay on rotation this next week, but they might add a sixth starter for the next turn through. Girardi said he doesn’t expect Capuano to be available by then, so this could be — my own speculation — an opportunity for Bryan Mitchell. “I don’t think we’ll use it this time through,” Girardi said. “The next time, we have not discussed it, but there will be some discussion.”
• Girardi said he thinks the bullpen has performed about as well as a bullpen can possibly perform in the past two weeks or so. It is interesting, though, to see David Carpenter not getting many high-leverage situations so far this season. He’s been almost the next-to-last guy in the pen ahead of only Chasen Shreve. “His time is going to come,” Girardi said. “We know that. The other guys have pitched so well, we’ve kind of went with it. That can go in phases. His time is going o come.”
• More than three outs from Andrew Miller tonight? “I’ll see,” Girardi said. “I’ll talk to him. It’s not something you want to do a lot, but if I felt the situation called for it, and he felt OK, I might consider it.”
Associated Press photos
Mid-summer 1994, Alex Rodriguez was right here at Fenway Park for his Major League debut. He was an 18-year-old kid, barely a year removed from being the top overall draft pick out of high school. He’d played a half season of minor league ball. He remembers his mother, brother and sister being in the crowd. He also remembers this:
“How nervous I was,” he said. “I was a month (removed) from my high school prom.”
Now Rodriguez is back. It would be absurd to try to capture in a few sentences all that’s happened between then and now, but Rodriguez’s go-to quote about his early season at-bats seems appropriate: “Some good. Some bad.”
Unlike 21 years ago, Rodriguez isn’t in the lineup tonight. Joe Girardi has loaded the Yankees lineup with left-handed hitters to take advantage of Red Sox starter Justin Masterson’s weakness against lefties, and so it seems Rodriguez’s hunt for milestone home run No. 660 will have to wait for either another day or a late-inning pinch hit opportunity.
“I wanted to do it Wednesday at home,” Rodriguez said. “It would have been nice to do it at home in front of our home fans. But now I’m on the road and the goal doesn’t change. It’s still to win games and to win series.”
Out of spring training, Rodriguez homered four times in his first 31 at-bats. That outburst put him two away from tying Willie Mays for fourth on baseball’s all-time list. Since he got that close, he’s hit one homer in his past 37 at-bats. Since he pulled within one of the milestone on Sunday, he’s gone 1-for-12, including that brutal four-strikeout game on Wednesday.
Rodriguez didn’t specifically say he was pressing on Wednesday, but he acknowledges a past difficulty with approaching milestones. It took him 28 at-bats to finally hit home run No. 500, and 46 at-bats to finally reach 600.
“Some of the pitches that he’s swung at and the ones that he’s missed a little bit, maybe (he’s been) trying to get it out of the way,” Girardi said. “As much as I want to tell him to relax, it’s something he’s going to have to do to get it out of the way. … I think it’s probably part of most players when they get to the level of accomplishments these guys have reached. We saw it weigh really hard on Derek (Jeter trying to reach 3,000 hits). That was one that I didn’t think that would be. I just think it’s difficult.”
Seems safe to assume Rodriguez will be back in the lineup tomorrow afternoon for his next shot at tying Mays, who Rodriguez has called a hero; his father’s favorite player. Does it bother him that many will see his 660th home run as something far less impressive than Mays’ 660th?
“The only thing I can control is what I do from here on out and how I conduct myself both on and off the field,” he said. “I can’t really decide for other people what to think. … You know I have regrets, and I’m trying to do the best to finish my career on a high note.”
• Chris Capuano will start a rehab assignment with High-A Tampa tomorrow. He’s scheduled for four innings or 60 pitches. Sounds like he could need as little as three minor league starts before becoming a big league option. “Everything that he’s doing is going in the right direction,” Girardi said. “You think about 60, 75, 90 and then you go from there.”
• Ivan Nova will pitch one inning in an intrasquad game tomorrow. Jared Burton will pitch in the same game.
• Now that Jose Pirela’s rehab has been moved up to Triple-A, he’s clearly getting much closer to being a big league option — and the Yankees were ready to call him up on Wednesday before Tanaka got hurt — but Girardi said, at this point, the team still hasn’t decided whether Pirela will come to the big leagues or stay in Triple-A after his rehab is finished. “It’s something that we have discussed about what we might possibly do with him or not do with him,” Girardi said. “But obviously I think at-bats are important. He was out a month, maybe? Almost a month? You’ve got to get him some at-bats and some real game situations playing different positions.”
• Brendan Ryan got some DH at-bats today in extended spring training. He’s obviously inching closer to a rehab assignment of his own.
• Stacking the lineup with lefties means a rare start for Garrett Jones, who’s played in fewer games than Gregorio Petit at this point. “When we envisioned him, we envisioned him DHing some and maybe playing a little first and a little outfield,” Girardi said. “With Alex swinging the bat so well in April, Chris Young swinging the bat so well in April, it’s just been tough for Garrett.”
• Speaking of that lineup of all left-handed hitters (counting the switch hitters), Girardi said that was a decision 100-percent connected to Red Sox starter Justin Masterson. In his career, Masterson has held right-handed hitters to a .220 average and .606 OPS. Lefties have hit .287 with a .794 OPS.
• CC Sabathia is going for his first win of the year. He’s taken the loss in all four of his starts. “I think there’s frustration there because I think he’s pitched well enough three of the four games to win,” Girardi said. “He loses an extremely tough on in Detroit. We haven’t scored a lot of runs in his games. Hopefully we can do that tonight and give him some run support and get him a win.”
• By the way, the Yankees mustache thing is still going strong. John Ryan Murphy and Gregorio Petit are among the more impressive stache-growers of the bunch. Poor Dellin Betances and Adam Warren, not so much.
Associated Press photos
A few rehab and injury updates from Brian Cashman:
After finally pitching in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, Bailey was taken off the High-A Tampa roster and reassigned to extended spring training. The move was made because of a shoulder issue, and an MRI revealed a strain. Bailey has been shut down for now, and Cashman said he didn’t have a clear timetable for when Bailey will be back on the mound. Bailey has an opt-out in his contract, but obviously that won’t be an issue if he’s hurt. I suppose the good news is that bullpen help is the least of the Yankees’ worries right now.
After one game with High-A Tampa and three games with Double-A Trenton, Pirela’s rehab assignment will move to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre today. Pirela played both second and third with Trenton, and I can’t help thinking he might focus on third base with Scranton since Rob Refsnyder is at second and the Yankees don’t have a clear go-to option at third should Chase Headley get hurt. Cashman said it has yet to be determined what the Yankees will do with Pirela when his rehab ends, whether he goes to New York or gets optioned to Triple-A. So far he’s 1-for-14 in these early minor league games.
The Yankees have a rehab schedule set for Capuano, though Cashman wouldn’t give details of when it starts or when it’s expected to finish (wants to avoid questions if the schedule has to be slightly tweaked along the way). For now, the bigger point is that Capuano is very close to pitching in rehab games. He last pitched in an extended spring training game on Monday. He’s getting closer to becoming a big league option following that spring training quadriceps injury. I suppose Capuano could be an alternative should Chase Whitley struggle in his return to the rotation. No rehab assignment plan in place for Ivan Nova, Cashman said.
I’m guessing this could be a factor in the Pirela decision: Ryan has been playing in extended spring training games, so he also seems close to a rehab assignment, which could put him in line to replace Gregorio Petit as the right-handed middle infielder fairly soon.
Remember him? The veteran reliever who spent the past few years with the Twins got hurt in spring training, wound up released and then re-signed a minor league deal. He’s been pitching in extended spring training, and Cashman said Burton could be assigned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pretty soon. The Yankees liked the way Burton pitched early in spring training, but he wound up going down with a lat injury. He’s further depth for a bullpen that already looks awfully deep.