Just a few quick notes and some leftovers from today’s Brian Cashman conference call:
• Anything Kevin Long could have or should have done differently with this offense? “I think he tried everything in his power,” Cashman said. “By his own assessment, I know when I talked to Kevin today he told me, he was like, ‘Cash, I wouldn’t do anything different, because I tried everything.’ I think Kevin can sleep at night knowing he tried every tool in the toolbox. I know that he publicly stated late in the year that he did everything and tried everything. It wasn’t sufficient, but the effort was sufficient. The results just weren’t.”
• On whether Mick Kelleher was to blame for the Yankees defensive problems in the first half: “That was more personnel-related,” Cashman said. “When we lost players like Cano, for instance, who was an exceptional defender, to free agency; or when we lost Alex to a suspension, for instance. We had Derek Jeter coming back, as well as Mark Teixeira, from injury. Those players possessed a certain amount of ability, and I think Mick addressed that to the best of his abilities. As we were able to acquire better defenders as the season went on and they presented themselves, we obviously improved our team defense. I would not hold Mick Kelleher responsible for any defensive deficiencies. That was personnel related.”
• Interesting comment about the decision to get rid of Kelleher: “There are some individuals, I think, as we move forward, (who) will bring more for the global perspective of the coaching staff.”
• The latest on Alex Rodriguez’s offseason workouts: “Matt Krause, our strength coach, just visited with him yesterday in Miami to continue the process that I talked to you all about in Boston at Fenway Park at the end of the season,” Cashman said. “That we’re going to be reconnecting with Alex, all of our staff. Alex reached out and said, ‘Hey, let’s start proactively doing that.’ That’s what Alex is about. He’s proactive and trying to put himself in the best position to be successful and hit the ground running when he gets reactivated.”
• On whether the Yankees want to bring back Dave Robertson or let Dellin Betances transition into the closer role: “What happens as we move forward with (Robertson) and the qualifying offer is yet to be determined,” Cashman said. “But we thank David, and we’re proud of what he’s done here and how he’s handled himself here. The final decision that has to be made here first and foremost is yet to be made. Because of that I don’t think it’s really fair to speculate on alternatives in house. It’s obviously a tough role, and if you’ve never done it, I’d answer that question the same way I answered it maybe to David’s anguish last year, all winter, where I would not assume that anybody could do that. It’s just not that type of role that you could guarantee someone can easily transition to.”
• Any other coaching changes coming? “These are the moves we’re making,” Cashman said. “And any other moves that we choose to make or want to pursue, obviously we’ll reveal them. If we choose to make any other changes we’ll let you know, otherwise everything is status quo until then.”
Associated Press photo
Yesterday the Associated Press reported that this year’s qualifying offer will be set at $15.3 million, a raise of nearly $1 million from last season. For the Yankees, that number is most interesting for free agent closer Dave Robertson, who’s ready to test the market for the first time and might have to seriously consider becoming the first player to ever accept such an offer.
First things first, the Yankees have not definitively said they’re going to extend a qualifying offer to Robertson, it just seems to be a strong possibility if only because it would be a chance to retain their closer on a short-term deal, keep their immediate bullpen depth intact, and buy some time for other young arms to develop while waiting for Dellin Betances to eventually take over the ninth inning. A qualifying offer would nearly triple Robertson’s 2014 salary and would make him a very, very well-paid relief pitcher, which is why he would have to consider accepting it. Then again, MLB Trade Rumors on Tuesday guessed that Robertson could earn something in the neighborhood of four years, $52 million on the open market, which is why he would have to consider rejecting.
Bottom line: Robertson is going to get paid this winter. The only questions are by which team and for how long? For our purposes, the questions get even more specific: Should the Yankees bring him back and on what kind of contract?
Here’s a quick look at what the Yankees already have in place for next year’s bullpen:
Proven late-inning arms
Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley
Betances is still two years from arbitration, Warren is one year from arbitration, and Kelley has a year of arbitration left. That puts three pretty good relievers under team control for next season. That late-inning depth was one of the bullpen’s great strengths this season, giving the Yankees plenty of alternatives when Robertson and Kelley dealt with injuries, when Warren went cold for a few weeks, and when go-to relievers were inevitably shut down because of workload concerns. Might be a stretch to call either one of them “proven,” but the Yankees also have Esmil Rogers and Preston Claiborne under team control. Rogers seems like a prime non-tender candidate, but Claiborne is in place as additional bullpen depth.
Long relief options
David Phelps, Chase Whitley, Shane Greene, Bryan Mitchell
Before he was hurt late in the year, Phelps really seemed to be emerging as a solid back-of-the-rotation option for next season. His overall numbers weren’t great, but at his best, Phelps was a perfectly good starting pitcher and seems to be an obvious swingman candidate to work as either a starter or reliever next season. Same could be said for Whitley, who had fairly drastic ups and downs, possibly attributable to his increased workload in his first season as a starting pitcher. Again, when he was good, Whitley threw strikes and got outs with a good changeup/slider combination. Depending on rotation depth, the Yankees could also consider putting either Greene or Mitchell into the bullpen if necessary. Such a move worked well with Warren this season, but the Yankees may be better served with Greene in the big league rotation and Mitchell in the Triple-A rotation to open the season.
David Huff, Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Webb, James Pazos
One thing to keep in mind about that list of four left-handed relief options is that there’s a solid chance none of them will be on the 40-man roster in spring training. Huff is a non-tender candidate while Lindren, Webb and Pazos have such little professional experience that none needs to be protected from the Rule 5 draft this offseason. Left-handed relief is kind of an odd spot for the Yankees right now because they don’t have a reliable option in place — they traded away Matt Thornton — but their minor league system could be ready and able to fill the hole immediately. They could also jump into the market for a guy like Andrew Miller.
Minor league depth
Jose Ramirez, Dan Burawa, Mark Montgomery, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow
Ramirez might be a more reliable option by now, but he was hurt again — it was a lat issue this time — and the latest injury held him to just 22.1 innings this season. That said, he’s expected to be healthy for spring training, which makes him an obvious bit of bullpen depth. Burawa, Montgomery and Pinder are each strong 40-man candidates this offseason, and Rumbelow pitched his way to Triple-A in just his first full season of pro ball. “Has toughness and poise,” Mark Newman said. The Yankees have some bullpen depth in place, but it would be hard to count on this group for a can’t-miss reliever this season. Someone might emerge, there’s just some uncertainty here. Ramirez has the injury history, Burawa and Montgomery have been inconsistent, Pinder has just 13 games of Triple-A experience, and Rumbelow was in college two years ago.
Without signing a free agent or making a trade, the Yankees could pretty easily roll out an Opening Day bullpen of Betances, Kelley, Warren, Lindgren, Phelps, Whitley and Huff (just to pick a group that might make some sense), and that might not be the worst bunch of relievers in the world. The Yankees would have a big-time arm for the ninth inning, two pretty good setup men, an experienced long reliever in Phelps and a high-potential young lefty in Lindgren.
Adding another arm like Robertson, though, would greatly increase the bullpen depth, and that’s largely what the Robertson decision is about.
Based on what he showed this year, Betances is a capable closer in waiting. But adding a one-inning guy like Robertson would free Betances to put out fires in the seventh inning before building a bridge through the eighth. It would free Kelley and Warren to hover as late-inning alternatives and high-end options as early as the sixth inning. It might even free Warren to become a rotation option again (same with Phelps), and it might minimize the need to immediately put a guy like Lindgren into high leverage situations in his first big league season.
It’s often seen as foolish to give too much money to a reliever because relievers are unpredictable, but that unpredictability is the same reason it’s worthwhile to stockpile a bunch of bullpen arms. With so many young, cheap options already in place, the Yankees could pay Robertson for a few years and still keep their overall bullpen payroll relatively low. That said, this is a team looking to get younger and cheaper, and the emergence of Betances and Warren might give the Yankees a chance to immediately do both of those things in the bullpen.
If it were up to me, I’d bring Robertson back, keep him in the ninth inning, and build a young bullpen around him. But it’s not my roster, not my money, and it’s certainly not my decision. Both the Yankees and Robertson could be facing a tough choice come time for qualifying offers to go on the table.
Associated Press photos
After good outings, after bad outings, after outings even he was likely to forget about in a few days, Dave Robertson would routinely walk into the Yankees clubhouse, make eye contact with a reporter, and point to himself. It was his way of asking whether the beat writers needed to talk to him. He was just making sure, one way or the other, that he wasn’t neglecting that part of the job.
That’s Robertson. He’s observant. He sees the bigger picture. And after nearly a decade in the Yankees organization, he’s most certainly observed the business side of the game. This might his first time as a free agent, but he knows how it works.
So, Dave, are the Yankees your top choice this offseason?
“Yeah, I’m not going to discuss that at all,” he said.
So, manager Joe Girardi, do you want your closer back next season?
“Obviously those are decisions that are made upstairs about the club,” Girardi said. “…I’ve loved having Robby the whole time he’s been here, and he’s done a great job for me. And that’s the hardest part for me in this game — besides the losing — is the relationships that you make with players and the time that you invest, and sometimes they leave, but that’s part of it and sometimes you have to deal with it.”
Girardi gets it too.
Of all the Yankees heading for free agency, Robertson just might be the most interesting case for a fresh contract. Maybe it’s a qualifying offer. Could be a multi-year deal. Or it just might be that some other team – one that doesn’t have Dellin Betances waiting in the wings – will lure him away.
I’m of the opinion that it’s worth bringing Robertson back. Obviously Betances looks like a closer in waiting, but there’s great value in being free to use Betances earlier in the game – maybe to put out a fire in the seventh inning before pitching the eighth – while saving Robertson for the ninth. And with so many young and cheap relievers in place, the Yankees could pay Robertson for the next three years and still have a relatively cheap bullpen.
“I think everyone wondered who was going to replace Mariano Rivera,” Girardi said. “David Robertson did a tremendous job. Did he have a couple of hiccups? Yeah. So did Mo in 2013, so did Mo in 2012, and so did every closer who’s ever taken the field. I’m very fond of Robby and what he’s done here, but Robby’s approaching a situation in his career that a lot of players look forward to getting to getting to – a free agent and you see where you’re at.”
Associated Press photo
Kind of weird to watch a game that was most notable for the guy who wasn’t playing.
Derek Jeter had warned Joe Girardi even before last night’s game that he probably wouldn’t want to play tonight. In some ways, the overwhelming circumstances of Thursday night surely caught Jeter off guard, but in other ways, his entire season was building to that moment. He knew it was going to be draining, but perhaps didn’t realize it was going to be so overwhelming. Even when it was over, Jeter said he slept only a couple of hours last night.
Had he ever before asked to sit out? Jeter acted as if he couldn’t believe the question was being asked.
“Me?” he said. “Never. Yeah, today, I couldn’t play today. First time.”
Jeter’s desire to be in the lineup is notorious. Two years ago, he kept playing through an ankle injury until his ankle finally snapped. This year, even at 40, he’s been mildly frustrated by the occasional days off that he’s received through the course of the year. Jeter likes to play, and he said he still wants to DH on Saturday and Sunday. He just didn’t want to play tonight.
“I can’t tell you (what it will be like) on Sunday,” Jeter said. “But I can’t imagine it (will be as emotional as Thursday), because that’s pretty much as good as it gets, I think, for me. Like I said, I’m playing here because I have respect for this rivalry, for Boston, and the fans. If it was anywhere else, I don’t know if I’d play.”
Jeter said he literally doesn’t remember taking his uniform off last night. It was the last time he ever took off a white pinstriped uniform, and you’d think that would be a memorable experience, but Jeter said he didn’t think about it.
“I was just happy, you know what I mean?” Jeter said. “Everything happened so quickly in terms of the swing of the emotions. Taking off the uniform, I don’t even remember it.”
If his desire to play is notorious, so is the fact the pays little attention to baseball beyond those games he is playing. But Jeter said he’d actually like to host a private screening to re-watch Thursday’s game with friends and family. Why that game?
“Because a lot of it I don’t even remember,” Jeter said. “I mean, I was doing things last night, like I told you, I almost told Joe, ‘Get me out of here.’ I was giving signs to (second baseman Stephen) Drew on who to cover second base on a steal, and there’s no runner on first, you know what I’m saying? There were a lot of things going on. I’d like to see how it went because I think I missed a lot of it.”
Ultimately, there’s still a chance Jeter will back out of playing this weekend. After all, when the Yankees left for Houston at the end of last season, everyone seemed certain Mariano Rivera was going to want to play at least one inning in center field. Rivera changed his mind, and there’s still a chance Jeter will as well. It just doesn’t seem very likely.
“I really think Jeet will go back out there,” Girardi said. “If he didn’t, I don’t have a problem with that, and I completely understand it. I’m not so sure what I would do if I was him in that situation. But he loves to compete, and I just have a feeling he’ll go back out.”
Jeter seems pretty sure about that as well. But this one night, for the first time in his career, he preferred to sit and watch.
“I don’t know if I could play tonight if I wanted to play tonight,” Jeter said.
• Small bit of news coming out of the clubhouse: Girardi said Jacoby Ellsbury won’t play this series. “He’s done,” Girardi said. “He’s done. I am not going to use him. I would think it would be silly for him to re-injure himself at this point in the season and have to deal with it in the offseason. So, let’s send him home a healthy player, and we don’t have to worry about it over the offseason.”
• Dave Robertson was smiling tonight. Even though last night ended on a high note, he was obviously frustrated by last night’s blown save. He joked that he considered blowing tonight’s save just so the Yankees could let Jeter be the hero again. “I definitely thought they should have pinch-hit him after I gave up the run,” Robertson said.
• In all seriousness, Robertson now has 39 saves with two days to reach 40. That’s pretty good for a guy who came into this season answering big questions about whether he’d be able to handle the role in the wake of Mariano Rivera’s retirement. “Forty is just a number to me,” Robertson said. “The biggest thing for me personally, if I was 35-for-35, that’s what I would want to be. I don’t want to be the guy who lets people down. I know I’ve got five blown saves. It happens. Those are the games I want back. I don’t really care about the number that I get to. It’s just more the games that I help our team win.”
• If Robertson had given the Yankees an opportunity to use Jeter again, this crowd wouldn’t have had a problem with that. There were Derek Jeter chants often tonight. :There’s a substantial number of Yankees fans here,” Girardi said. “There always is, but also, I’ve got to believe there’s some Boston people chanting that too. … And I understand people want to see him, but he’s been through a lot. He’s been through a lot this year. It’s extremely emotional. He’s given everything he’s had inside of him for 20 years, and I respect whatever he does.”
• In the later innings, the crowd was booing the other Yankees hitters, always wanting Jeter to pinch hit. “I kind of felt bad for Austin (Romine) going up to the plate,” Chris Capuano said. “He was getting booed just because the fans wanted Jeter in that spot. He had such a special night last night. I think everyone can understand him wanting to take a day.”
• Speaking of Capuano, another strong start from him. This was the third time since joining the Yankees that Capuano made a start without allowing an earned run. It was his fourth start without a walk. He matched a season-high with 6.2 innings. “I feel like I learned a lot,” Capuano said. “I just got to soak in Derek’s last couple of months, and last night was amazing. It was among the best two months I’ve had in the big leagues, that much fun.”
• When he was pulled from the game, Capuano shook Girardi’s hand. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be here,” Capuano said. “I just wanted to thank Joe for that. Just a great opportunity to pitch.”
• Girardi on Capuano: “I think every player wants to finish strong. I think that’s a feeling that you want to have going home. … I thought he did a really good job for us. And I thought tonight he was excellent again.”
• Did Girardi consider pinch hitting Jeter at any point? “As I’ve said, I’m going to leave it up to him,” Girardi said. “He felt that he just needed a day today. He didn’t sleep much last night. We got in late. He was up early today. That’s what happens when you get older, you kind of get set on the time you wake up in the morning and it’s hard to change.”
• Still plan to have him DH the next two games? “Whatever he tells me. I’m sticking to that,” Girardi said. “Whatever he tells me he wants to do, that’s what we’re going to do.”
• Francisco Cervelli went 2-for-3. Since being recalled from the 60-day disabled list on August 25, he’s hit .306 with 10 doubles and two homers.
• New outfielder Eury Perez singled in his first at-bat of the season for his third career hit. He also stole a base, his fifth career steal.
• Final word to Robertson: “There’s a lot of Yankees fans in the seats tonight, and I know that the Red Sox fans respect (Jeter). They’ve enjoyed seeing the rivalry. It’ll be fun to watch him tomorrow when he plays.”
Associated Press photos
This game didn’t have to be a farewell. The Orioles are certainly heading toward the playoffs, and if the Yankees were heading the same way, there would still be some chance of Derek Jeter returning to Baltimore for one last postseason showdown. But the Yankees are going the other way, and it seems Jeter’s career has two weeks until its expiration date.
“I’ve always talked about, you want to be in a position where you control what happens,” Jeter said. “Unfortunately now we’re not in control of what happens. We’re in control of our games, but now you need help from other people. We need to continue to come out and play well, and more importantly to win games. We’re at the point now where playing well isn’t good enough. We need to win games, and then we need some help from some other teams. It’s not an ideal situation, but we are what we are.”
Five games out of the second wild card with 14 games to play. That’s what the Yankees are. Tonight was an opportunity to gain ground on every other team in the race for that final postseason spot, but the Yankees took yet another one-run loss. They’ve been good in close games most of the year, but five of their past six loses by been by two runs or less. Four have been by one run.
“It’s very difficult because of what we’re trying to do,” Joe Girardi said. “Each game that you lose like this, it just makes it harder and harder to get to where we want to get.”
It now seems that those two emotional wins at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday and Thursday were little more than the last gasp of a team that hasn’t been able to maintain much of a winning streak all year. They had a real chance to win all four games here in Baltimore — two were one-run losses, another was a shutout — but the Yankees scored a total of six runs in the series and managed just one win.
“We’re in a spot where we’ve got to win,” Brian McCann said.
And at this point, even that might not be enough.
• Dave Robertson threw 35 pitches on Friday, but he threw just 11 pitches last night and told Girardi pregame that he actually felt pretty good. Girardi decided he would use Robertson in a save situation. “I felt great,” Robertson said. “He came up and talked to me in the outfield, asked me how I felt, and I told him I feel good, I was ready to go if we got a save situation. I wasn’t able to do it today, I just stunk. It wasn’t how I felt, it was how I pitched.”
• Girardi on the decision to go to Robertson for a third day in a row: “I mean, he’s my closer. That’s the thing. It’s the time of year (to use him aggressively). That’s why I try to take care of him all year long. You get to September and sometimes you’ve got to do that. Like I said, he’s been great for us all year and it just didn’t work out.”
• Any thought of simply using Dellin Betances for two innings? “No, no. Absolutely not,” Girardi said. “Dellin has been used a lot too, so, no.”
• With his strikeout of Adam Jones in the eighth inning, Betances tied Mariano Rivera’s 1996 record for the most strikeouts in a season by a Yankees reliever with 130. Betances reached that number in far fewer innings. “Yeah, but he did it with one pitch though,” Betances said. “Big difference. … It’s a great accomplishment, especially after everything I’ve gone through to get up here. I’m honored to be a part of this team, and for me to just be in the same area, or just by Mariano, that’s a huge accomplishment for me.”
• Betances said he didn’t realize he’d reached the record. “I had no idea,” he said. “I’m just trying to go out there and do my job, I’m not really worrying too much about that. As soon as Joe asked for the ball I had a feeling something happened, but I didn’t know if I had tied or gone ahead, I don’t know.”
• The problem for Robertson was hanging breaking balls. He left balls up in the zone, which seems to be an indication of fatigue, but Robertson said he really didn’t think that was the case. “I pitched like crap,” Robertson said. “I left three balls up to three of the best hitters in the game, and they all hit doubles. It was a terrible job by me out there. … I felt good in the pen, felt great warming up earlier today, and I thought I had good enough stuff to get people out, but I just kept leaving pitches up, and those guys are too good to leave pitches in the zone.”
• Hiroki Kuroda was awful last time out, but he was awfully good tonight. He went seven innings with one run. In the third inning, he reached 3,000 innings for his career (1,700.1 of them came for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp). It actually seems Kuroda might be effective through the end of the season this year, but it also seems unlikely to matter.
• Girardi said he found out after batting practice that Carlos Beltran felt good enough to pinch hit. He had a four-pitch at-bat in the seventh inning and swung only once. He swung and missed to finish off the strikeout and end the inning. He hadn’t played since Tuesday.
• Jeter is hitless in his past 24 at-bats and in the midst of a six-game hitless streak. It’s the second-longest hitless stretch of his career behind a seven-game streak in 2004. He has only got hitless in five or more games three times in his career (once in 2004, once in 2008 and now in 2014).
• Martin Prado is doing the opposite. He’s hit safely in 10 of his past 13 games including seven multi-hit games. In that span he’s had three home runs and batted .391. He’s now hit seven homers in 36 games with the Yankees. He hit five home runs in 106 games with the Diamondbacks.
• Chris Young’s six-game hitting streak ended.
• Final word goes to Jeter: “That (McCann home run) was huge, because it was a pitchers’ duel up to that point. I don’t know how many hits we had up to that point, but Mac hit that big home run and obviously we were all excited. But then, those guys aren’t going to give up over there, so we still needed three outs, and they came up with some big hits. Robertson’s been good for us all year long.”
Associated Press photos
When that final groundball rolled through the infield, settled into Martin Prado’s glove and was tossed to first base, Dave Robertson turned back toward the plate and pumped his fist. At least in the mind of the Yankees’ closer, this win mattered.
“Every win’s big for us now,” Robertson said. “We’ve dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, but this is September baseball, and I’ve seen amazing things happen. I’ve seen Tampa get in on the last day, and Boston fall out of the playoffs. You can’t give up hope, and you’ve got to try to grind out every single game. One win today. Wish we could have taken one yesterday, but one win’s big. Have to continue.”
We’ll find out later tonight whether this win actually made any sort of difference in the standings, but the key for the Yankees is that they keep this from being an isolated incident. They needed to bounce back from yesterday’s disappointment, and a three-run second inning did that. Now the only thing to do is try to win again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day.
“I told you, we’re going to have to win a lot of games,” Joe Girardi said. “Win one tomorrow. That’s all we can do. We have to go out and win tomorrow.”
It was another game when the offense didn’t do a ton, and it was another win that rested largely on the pitching staff, but a win is a win. For one day, all the Yankees could do was win one, and I guess that’s big enough for the time being.
“Three runs by no means is a lot, especially when we got them all early,” Chris Young said. “But for our guys to lock that lineup down like they did, it was huge for us today. It was a really big win today.”
• Bit of a grind for Shane Greene today, but even with an elevated pitch count he got the Yankees into the sixth inning with just two runs. “He did a really good job,” Girardi said. “He was getting outs when he had to, that’s the bottom line. He was making pitches when he had to. They fouled a lot of pitches off on him today, but he made some big pitches.”
• Here’s Greene: “I felt like early my slider was good, but I couldn’t throw it for a strike. As the game went on, I started throwing it for a strike a little bit more and it helped a lot. … I trust it. I just have to keep going to it until I find it.”
• Greene is 4-0 with a 2.72 ERA in six road starts this season. The Yankees have not lost a game that he started on the road. Overall, the Yankees have won six of Greene’s past eight starts and Greene has left the game with the Yankees leading in nine of his 12 starts.
• Camden Yards might be an early favorite for Greene. He’s struck out nine or more batters three times this season, and two of those have come here in Baltimore.
• Robertson threw 35 pitches yesterday, and he could feel it today. “A little sore warming up,” he said. “Once I got going, I felt a lot better. I didn’t have the greatest command coming into the game, but I knew that I was going to be able to find the zone. Obviously I wasn’t going to allow any walks. Kind of hung a curveball. I was throwing it for strikes, but it kind of hung up a little higher than I would have liked. Started out with a runner on first because of that single.”
• Before the game, Robertson assured Girardi and Larry Rothschild that he’d be able to lock down one inning. Given the current situation, how sore would he have been to tell the coaching staff he couldn’t pitch? “Unable to get the ball to the catcher to not come in there today,” he said.
• Another hit for Chris Young who’s hitting .417/417/.958 since stepping into the Yankees lineup. “He’s been really, really good,” Girardi said. “You look at his last at-bat, he just missed hitting a homer. A couple today. He’s swinging the bat well; that’s why he’s in there.”
• Young technically stole home today. It was on the back end of a double steal. He was basically able to walk home after Antoan Richardson stole second with two outs in the second. “We talk about it at third base before it even happens,” Young said. “You know if he gets a good jump, most likely he’s going to be safe. The situation being that they still may gamble and taking a chance on getting him, you just go for it and say if you see the catcher look like he’s going to throw it, you just take a gamble, take a chance and try to steal a run. It was pretty easy for me just to walk in. The credit really goes to Twon just to get the bag in that situation.”
• Speaking of Richardson, he got his first career RBI today. He’s played alright these past two days in his first career starts.
• Brian McCann hit his 19th home run of the season, and his third home run on the road. All eight of his previous hits against the Orioles this season were singles.
• Robertson has 36 saves this season and 44 saves in his career. That puts him in a tie with Rafael Soriano for the eight-most saves in Yankees history.
• Final word to Girardi: “We’ve been in a lot of these games, yeah. We’ve been in a ton of these games and I’ve said going back to May or June that we were going to have to win these type of games. These are the type of games we need to win.”
Associated Press photos
Dave Robertson had not allowed a home run his past 27 games. He hadn’t allowed a hit since August 2. He still has baseball’s longest active streak of consecutive saves converted.
But even the best relievers have bad nights, and right now the Yankees aren’t able to make up for those inevitable stumbles.
“Those bullpen guys have been operating on a pretty thin line,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Tonight, we weren’t able to get it done. But David’s been about as good as you could be.”
Tonight was not one of those nights. Robertson walked the first two batters he faced and at one point threw seven straight balls, four to walk Jose Altuve and three to fall behind 3-0 against Chris Carter. He found the strike zone with his next pitch. The distance on Carter’s home run was a pretty good indication of just how badly Robertson missed his spot.
“Trying to make a good pitch down and away,” Robertson said. “Instead I threw it right into his bat path and he put it 30 rows deep. It stinks when (the count is) 3-0 that happens, but if a make a good quality pitch, maybe I get a groundball double play. … When you’re not making quality pitches and you’re not throwing the ball where you want to, you’re not going to get outs. I struggled out there tonight, and I blew it for our team.”
He did, and in a vacuum this game might be all about a good reliever having a bad night. But the Yankees offense came down to two big hits tonight: Brian McCann’s two-run homer and Martin Prado’s two-run double. Ultimately, it was more of the same. Another night when the Yankees had a chance to take control of the game, but when their pitching staff slipped up, there was no offense to pick up the slack. The Yankees were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
“I thought we hit some balls pretty decent, but we didn’t get too many hits,” Girardi said. “Prado got the lone hit, I think, with runners in scoring position. I think to win you have to do a better job in those situations.”
• A lot of really close pitches for Robertson in that ninth inning. The crowd here at Yankee Stadium seemed to groan with every ball believing so many of them could have been strikes. “That’s the game,” Robertson said. “Sometimes you get those (calls), sometimes you don’t. It changes from day to day with different umpires. I went and looked them. They’re close. I’m not going to say they’re dead giveaway strikes, though.”
• No surprise to anyone that Carter was swinging away on a 3-0 pitch. “You know that he’s swinging there,” Girardi said. “You can’t just groove one. I’m sure that if he had it back – he wasn’t trying to throw it there – (but) it’s just kind of the way the night went for him.”
• With one out and Jacoby Ellsbury at third base in the eighth, the Yankees had Ellsbury running on contact. When Carlos Beltran hit a ball sharply right to the shortstop, Ellsbury was out easily at the plate. “You’re looking at the speed you have at third, the lead he can get, and it’s got to be hit hard at one of the infielders (for him to be out),” Girardi said. “The chances are that (small). A step to his right, a step to his left, he scores. That’s the chance we’re going to take with one out.”
• Actually thought Chris Capuano was perfectly good again. Found up getting away from him in the sixth, but this was the first time since joining the Yankees that he failed to pitch through the sixth, and he gave the team a chance to win. He’s been a perfectly fine fifth starter. Tonight he matched a season-high with eight strikeouts. He has 28 strikeouts and only three walks over his last four starts.
• Capuano on his start: “My command wasn’t as sharp as I would have liked it to have been in those last two innings. I started leaving some balls over the middle. Still in the sixth inning there with one out and nobody out, 2-2 game. I had a good chance to get through that inning, and Dominguez pulled his hands in and did a good job on a 2-2 pitch. I wasn’t able to get the lefty behind him, so it really came down to those last two batters in the sixth for me.”
• It’s getting to the point of having no new questions to ask these hitters. They all recognize what’s going on, and if they had answers, things would be different. “We’ve got to score more runs,” Mark Teixeira said. “We’ve had two-run leads, but to get a two-run lead in the (fourth) inning doesn’t mean much. You’ve got to keep adding on.”
• And here’s further recognition of an obvious problem: “We came together in spring training and expected to have a little more thunder,” Teixeira said. “We’re a little bit different team than we were to start the season, and we just haven’t really had that power.”
• I mentioned on Twitter before the game that there were a ton of guys on the field for early batting practice today — I’d say there’s usually two or three, today there were at least eight that I counted. “Our guys come to work every day,” Girardi said. “They work at their trade and they work really hard and they grind it out and they try to get better every day. That’s all you can really ask from them. Sometimes it works really well and sometimes it doesn’t and it’s been inconsistent this year. I think we had seven or eight guys hit early today.”
• Brian McCann has homered in three of his last four home games. He has hit 12 of his 14 home runs at Yankee Stadium this year.
• This was the second time this season that Robertson allowed more than two earned runs. Also only the third time this season that he allowed two or more walks. The only other time he did both was that June 1 letdown against Minnesota.
• If you’re scoring at home, the Yankees have now lost six of their past eight games. Could say they’ve won two out of three, but losing six of eight seems to paint a more accurate picture of what’s going on right now.
• Girardi said David Phelps saw Dr. Ahmad during the game, and Girardi wasn’t sure about the plan for Phelps going forward. Indications are, so far, that Phelps feels fine and expects to keep throwing. Might have a more definitive plan tomorrow.
• Final word to Teixeira: “Two days ago we were talking about a two game win streak and going on a run. We’re not going to let one game get us down too much. Pretty sure we’re still in the race, we just need to score more runs and win more games.”
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The schedule won’t let the Yankees give Hiroki Kuroda six days off before every start down the stretch, but they were able to give him that many this time, and it seemed to make a difference. Coming off a rough outing against Cleveland, Kuroda looked like a dependable piece of the rotation again this afternoon.
At times, he looked like more than that.
“When he’s got his stuff darting like that to both sides of the plate, he’s tough to beat,” Brian McCann said. “… He was splitting both sides of the plate, kept them off balance all day. They came out really aggressive, he slowed them down a little bit with some offspeed early in the count. He pitched awesome.”
Last time out, Kuroda couldn’t make it through the fifth inning, and the Yankees would like to believe that was simply a bump in the road, not a sign that he’s about to begin the down-the-stretch collapse that became familiar the past two seasons. Before that disappointment last Sunday night, Kuroda had pitched to 3.49 ERA in his previous nine starts.
“The two extra days, I was able to physically get refreshed, as well as mentally,” Kuroda said.
Kuroda is the only part of the Opening Day rotation that’s lasted the whole season. He had a pretty rough month of April, but he’s been pretty consistent ever since. There have been some short, ineffective starts mixed in there, but he hasn’t allowed more than four earned runs since the beginning of May.
“He had everything in his arsenal today,” Joe Girardi said. “I think it was important because people would start asking questions, ‘Is he tired?’ Maybe the extra days helped him. … We will do it when we can. Unfortunately, we lose one off-day going to Kansas City where he could have been afforded it, but I think he’ll only go one start this time through with five days. It should help, yeah.”
• Mark Teixeira’s home run was No. 361 in his career, passing Gary Gaetti and tying Joe DiMaggio for 80th place on baseball’s all-time list. He was the first Yankees hitter to reach 20 home runs this season, the latest they’ve gone into a season without a 20-homer guy since 1995 when Paul O’Neill reached that number on September 12.
• Brett Gardner’s two-run signle in the fifth inning gave him 52 RBI for the season, matching his single-season career high. For a little while, Gardner was tied with Teixeira and Jacoby Ellsbury for the team lead in RBI, but both Teixeira and Ellsbury drove in runs later in the game.
• That two-run single up the middle was a huge hit for the Yankees, who had been hitless in the game until the batter before, Martin Prado, came through with a double. For a team desperate for offense, that Gardner at-bat felt like a must-have opportunity. “I’m thinking about trying to get a run across, you know?” Gardner said. “I’m just thinking about trying to find a way to get a pitch to handle. I’m definitely not thinking negative thoughts.”
• Including Gardner and Prado, five straight Yankees reached base with two outs in that fifth inning. “You get an excellent at-bat from Stephen Drew, a long at-bat (for a walk),” Girardi said. “A long at-bat from Prado, then Gardy gets the big hit there. Then Ells; a big hit as well as Jeter. To be able to put those together when it looks like you have nothing going and he’s rolling along with a no-hitter, it’s big.”
• It was Ellsbury’s first hit of the road trip. He was 0-for-17 on the trip before that two-out RBI single.
• Derek Jeter has a hit in 12 of 14 games this month. He went 4-for-13 this weekend. Of his 11 hits against the Rays this season, seven have come with two strikes. How’s that for relatively obscure stats coming from the Rays media relations department?
• After allowing those back-to-back singles in the first inning, Kuroda retired his next 17 in a row. “I think my slider, especially against righties, was a pretty decent staple,” Kuroda said. “For me, the thing was I wanted to pound the zone today and be aggressive; a lesson from the last time.”
• Kuroda threw 72 pitches in the first six innings, but he threw 25 pitches in the seventh before being removed with two outs. Shawn Kelley got a huge strikeout to get Kuroda out of the jam. Really, that might have been the at-bat of the night. Runners were left stranded at the corners, and it was only a one-run game at the time. “That’s a huge out, obviously,” Girardi said. “If he doesn’t, they’re going to tie the score and have a chance to take the lead. It’s a really big out.”
• Dave Robertson has now converted 21 straight save opportunities. Oddly, though, he hasn’t had a strikeout in three straight appearances. He’s stuck at 499 career strikeouts. This is only the fifth time in his career that he’s gone three consecutive outings without a strikeout. He also did it back in April.
• McCann on returning to the lineup after more than a week off: “Good after the first couple innings. I felt it get in game speed. The first couple innings were a little fast on me, but then (things) settled down and it was just like another game.” McCann said the speed of the game struck him more behind the plate than at the plate.
• Yet again, excellent infield defense for the Yankees. Chase Headley made a diving play at third, and Martin Prado made at least three really nice plays at second. “It was really good,” Girardi said. “They made some excellent plays. Prado made some excellent plays today and some tough plays. You can look at the play in the eighth inning where he doesn’t try to do too much; he understands to just get an out. It was outstanding.”
• Final word goes to Gardner: “Well, we’ve won our last two games. Obviously we’ve got another off-day tomorrow and hopefully we’ll go home and have a good week at home. We didn’t do what we wanted to do in Baltimore and obviously losing Friday night here, but the last two days have gone pretty good. We continued to pitch great and hopefully this week our offense can pick up the slack and give our pitchers a little breathing room.”
Associated Press photos
Derek Jeter actually has the second-highest batting average among Yankees regulars. When the team needs only a single with a left-handed pitcher on the mound, Jeter’s about as likely as anyone to come through with the big hit.
But neither he nor Joe Girardi had any thought of swinging away when Jeter walked to the plate in the ninth inning. Jeter said he didn’t even need to look for a sign, he knew he was bunting. His job, he said, was to get the runner to third base with less than two outs; make the RBI opportunity that much easier for the next guy.
“(Jacoby) Ellsbury has had a lot of success off (Jake) McGee as well,” Girardi said. “You’ve got speed, so there are a lot of different things (that can score the run. A chopper, Gardy is going to score. There are just so many ways Gardy can score (from third).”
But things don’t always go according to plan, and when Jeter fell into a two-strike count, he was swinging away. Hit a ground ball just past the second baseman for a game-winning single. It wasn’t much, but for a team starved for offense, it was just enough.
“I always like to be in those situations,” Jeter said. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to succeed — I’ve failed quite a bit as well — but I like those situations. I’m lucky it found a hole there.”
It felt lucky. The Yankees got that two-run home run from Martin Prado in the second inning, and then their offense went as silent as ever until catching a break on that throwing error in the ninth. They nearly wasted a great start from Shane Greene, and we might have been talking a lot about Brendan Ryan failing to cover second base in the seventh inning. Instead, this game came down to Jeter swinging away at a 2-2 pitch and getting the tiny little hit the Yankees needed to snap a losing streak.
“Every at-bat, every pitch, you have to try to find a way to do your job,” Jeter said. “No one is thinking about how many games we’ve lost in a row when we’re taking the field; at least, I’m not. It’s just basically let’s try to win this game. That’s the approach you have to have. This game is a game of up and downs. It’s a game of failure. It’s not easy. When you’re scuffling a little bit, that’s when you find out a lot about teams. You find out a lot about players. You’ve just got to try to stay optimistic.”
• Shane Greene might very well be pitching his way into a rotation job next season. In games like this, he looks like something far more than a fifth starter who can simply give the Yankees a chance. He throws hard, he throws strikes, and he gets a bunch of ground balls and strikeouts. “He had everything today,” Girardi said. “His sinker was really good, his cutter was good, his slider was good and his changeup was good. He used them really effectively, he and Cervy did an outstanding job in reading swings and doing what they had to do to get hitters out.”
• Greene rarely says much, but he seemed early on to know he had especially good stuff tonight. He gave a fist pump when he got out of the first inning, and he really pitched like a guy who fully expected to plow through hitters. “I felt really good when I was long tossing, and then in the bullpen, and in the game as well,” Greene said. “I think it led me to overthrow a little bit some pitches, but I felt really good.”
• Ten strikeouts was a career-high for Greene, and he got all of those strikeouts in his first 20 hitters. That’s his most at any level since he had 12 strikeouts with High-A Tampa on May 8 of last season.
• Greene became the 11th pitcher in Yankees history to have a double-digit strikeout game within his first eight career games. Masahiro Tanaka did it three times to start this season. Prior to Tanaka, the last Yankees pitcher to do it was Mariano Rivera when he had 11 strikeouts in his fifth career appearance.
• When Desmond Jennings led off the first inning with a double, it was only the second time this season that Greene allowed an extra-base hit to a right-handed hitter.
• Martin Prado had one hit in his previous 19 at-bats before hitting that two-run homer in the second inning. He seemed especially excited after crossing home plate. “You get excited in every game,” Prado said. “Sometimes it doesn’t go the way you actually want it to. But when you contribute for the team, you’re always excited, you know, and even better when we win the game, because we know that it’s a team effort.”
• Here’s Prado breaking down that home run at-bat, in which he fell behind 0-2 before going deep: “He threw a fastball middle-in, and I took it for a strike. Then I saw Chase taking off (stealing second). He threw me a pretty good breaking ball. I laid off. I didn’t know it was a strike. I was down in the count, so I was just hoping that he could make a mistake. He actually threw a fastball and he left it up. I put the best swing I could probably put.”
• Prado’s two home runs with the Yankees have come off Drew Smyly and David Price, two guys who were traded for one another at the deadline. So that’s something.
• Jeter’s game-winner was his 12th career go-ahead hit in the ninth inning or later, and his first since October 2, 2010 at Boston against Jonathan Papelbon. Jeter has 20 career game-winning RBI against the Rays, second-most all-time behind David Ortiz, who has 26.
• Dave Robertson has converted his past 20 save opportunities, the longest active streak in the majors. Robertson hadn’t pitched since August 7. “I felt really comfortable throwing my fastball,” Robertson said. “My breaking ball felt a little short. That’s something I’ll have to work on, that way I can get a little more distance on it and get it to Cervelli so he’s not having to block every 50-foot curveball I throw.”
• That last fly ball out seemed crushed off the bat. “I sure did (think it was trouble),” Robertson said. “It was really loud off the bat. I know he hit it hard, but he just barreled it straight up and thank goodness it didn’t go in the seats. That’s a pitch I wanted back, but it turned out to be an out.”
• What happened on that chopper in the seventh when no one covered second base? “I think at first, for a second, (Brendan Ryan) reacted to the ball the way it was hit,” Girardi said. “His responsibility is at second base. He has to get back to second base. Chase thought he had a play at second, but once he didn’t see Ryan there, Kiermaier is too fast and he was safe.” Actually looked to me as if Ryan went to second initially, then thought Prado was going to cover and so changed direction to cover third for some reason. Just a bad play that helped setup the tying run.
• Why not go straight to Dellin Betances with one out and runners at second and third in the seventh? “I was going to stick with Shawn (Kelley),” Girardi said. “He’s a strikeout guy, too.” Kelley ultimately allowed only weak contact, but it was enough to drive in that tying run.
• Brian McCann said he felt much better going through drills today. He’s hoping to be in the lineup tomorrow.
• Final word goes to Jeter: “We need all of them. I mean, we’re getting down to crunch time. What do we have, 40-something games left? So every game we play is important. This was a big one for us, but we have to come back tomorrow and play well tomorrow.”
Associated Press photos
A first-inning decision to intentionally load the bases had backfired, but the Yankees offense had rallied. CC Sabathia’s fastball command had been erratic, but he’d settled down. Dave Robertson had put the tying run at third base, but he’d struck out three in a row.
The Yankees had been in trouble all night, but it was only when they seemed to be in safe hands — arguably the safest hands in the history of the game — that Opening Day unraveled into a stunning one-run loss.
“(Mariano Rivera) is not going to be perfect the whole year,” Joe Girardi said. “But I believe he’s going to be really, really, really good. … We’re pretty used to seeing him do it. We’ve seen it over 600 times, so when it doesn’t happen, you’re a little shocked.”
The pitch Rivera wanted back was a 1-2 cutter to Desmond Jennings. It was a leadoff single, the least damaging hit of the inning, but it was a legitimate mistake. Rivera wanted the pitch down, he left it up, and everything soon spiraled. Both Rivera and Russell Martin seemed to think the Zobrist triple was a good pitch, Zobrist just did a good job with it. Loading the bases was an obvious decision, and the Sean Rodriguez might have been pivotal if not for Carlos Pena’s three-hit, five-RBI day.
“After we got that strikeout, I thought we had a chance,” Martin said. “It’s a tough spot. You try to get out of those situations, but it’s easier said than done.”
Even for the greatest of all time.
“It’s my fault,” Rivera said. “I felt good. I’m not going to make excuses for what happened. I just left the ball over the plate. It’s bad. You don’t want to start a season that way, but thank God it’s only one game.”
• What a strange night of managerial decisions. The Yankees twice intentionally loaded the bases, the Rays put on a suicide squeeze with two strikes, and at the end the Yankees had five infielders playing on the edge of the grass while two outfielders played extremely shallow.
• Girardi said intentionally loading the bases in the first inning was because of the matchup and because of the opposing starter. CC Sabathia had great numbers against Carlos Pena, and Girardi expected a low-scoring game against James Shields. “Sean Rodriguez has hit (Sabathia) hard,” Girardi explained. “And it’s not something I’ll do a lot in the first inning with CC, but as I said, Shields has been pretty tough on us. … I felt good about CC getting him out, but it didn’t work.”
• Sabathia on the decision to load the bases: “I knew I had some success off him, but like I said, it’s a lefty so I knew if I make the right pitches then we get out of it. … It was a lefty, so I felt like it was the right move.”
• Pena on his reaction to walking Rodriguez in the first inning: “I was like, ‘Woah, they are walking Sean to get to me.’ After you get past the first, initial shock, it’s time to get to business.”
• Although the grand slam came on a 3-2 pitch, Sabathia was behind 2-0 and 3-1 in the Pena at-bat. Fastball command was an early problem for the Yankees ace. The third-inning Longoria home run came on a 1-0 pitch. “Early in the game, he wasn’t really where he wanted to be,” Russell Martin said. “But as the game went along, it looked like he started to get that comfort level back.” Sabathia pitched his final 3.2 innings scoreless.
• I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d ever actually seen a true five-man infield. I’ve seen some shifts where an outfielder plays extremely shallow, almost in the infield, but in the ninth inning the Yankees had five true infielders, all playing on the edge of the infield grass. Eduardo Nunez was playing up the middle. “Man, it has been a while,” Teixeira said. “They never ask me to go to the middle. But that was the right call there.”
• Raul Ibanez had never hit an Opening Day home run until today. It was his 14th time on an Opening Day roster and his 11th start. In the final two weeks of spring training he hit .304 with three homers, and had a fourth home run opportunity robbed by an over-the-wall catch. “Spring training’s over now and everything that happened before today is really irrelevant,” Ibanez said.
• Shields had gone at least seven innings in 11 straight starts. Tonight he lasted five innings and gave up all six Yankees runs. “I don’t ever remember scoring that many runs off him,” Teixeira said. “He’s been really tough off us. We did get a lot of guys on base, but it’d be nice to get a couple more.” The Yankees were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
• The Rays have now won five straight against the Yankees for the first time in franchise history.
• Pena was 0-for-11 with three strikeouts in his career against Rivera. He was 4-for-35 against Sabathia, including an 0-for-14 slump with 11 strikeouts.
• Alex Rodriguez has hit safely in all eight Opening Day games he has played with the Yankees, the longest streak for the franchise since Lou Gehrig hit safely in 12 straight Opening Day games from 1926 to 1937.
• I don’t think anyone expects Rivera to blow a save or for Sabathia and Shields to be knocked around on the same night, but there was something very familiar about the Yankees opener. “It was a good four-hour game,” Girardi said. “We’re back. Nothing’s changed.”
Associated Press photos