“Same as it’s been, just a few more people” • 04.08.12
After two months in Tampa, I kind of feel like ended this day on a positive note. Thankfully, David Phelps can help with that.
After he’d gotten loose in the bullpen, been called into the game, thrown his warmup pitches on the mound and let Russell Martin take one practice throw to second base, Phelps walked to the back of the mound to get ready for his first big league appearance. It was Derek Jeter who stopped him and jogged over for a few quick words.
“Same as it’s been,” Jeter told him. “Just a few more people.”
Phelps major league debut was a short one – a strikeout and a groundball to second – but it was a good one. In a weekend full of negatives for the Yankees, Phelps provided a positive moment.
“This game is all about first impressions,” he said. “So you want to go out there and do the best you can, the first time out especially.”
“The kid came in and threw strikes with all his pitches,” Joe Girardi said. “It’s not a situation he’s used to coming into, he’s used to being a starter and he came in and did a nice job.”
In the past three weeks – less than that, actually — Phelps has become a father for the first time, made his first big league roster and made his big league debut. His parents, brother, wife and newborn daughter were all in the stands today. His wife, Maria, is flying home to Pittsburgh tomorrow and would have missed his debut if it hadn’t happened tonight.
“They’ve been here all three days, hoping I’d pitch,” Phelps said. “I was really hoping I would get in these three games because she really didn’t want to miss it. To have it on Easter, you can’t ask for anything more.”
Associated Press photo
At his best, Ivan Nova was unhitable today, and that’s what he and the Yankees seemed to take out of this outing.
“The command that I had — my fastball, my curveball, slider, especially the changeup today — was unbelievable,” Nova said. “Every time, here in spring training, when you’re trying to work on something, and you have a good day like today – everything was working – you’ve got to take it. You’ve got to be positive on that.”
Nova retired the first 12 batters he faced, then he closed his outing with a 1-2-3 seventh inning. He needed just 76 pitches, 58 strikes, to get through seven. In the middle, there was a two-run home run in the fifth inning and a two-run single in the sixth, but the Yankees came away yet again impressed by an outing that was better than the final pitching line might suggest. Nova’s had a couple of those this spring.
“Seven innings, five of them were really, really excellent,” Joe Girardi said. “He had the two that he struggled a little bit, but I was happy with what he did.”
• Not too far away in Clearwater, Hiroki Kuroda also finished with a pretty good game. He went 5.2 innings allowing one run on six hits. Kuroda got all the way up to 89 pitches in only his fourth start. Nova was making his fifth start and said he expects to start two more before breaking camp.
• The Yankees starters have performed well since Andy Pettitte signed, but Nova said that’s more about time than timing. “I think right now, everybody is in better shape than two weeks ago,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot of good results. Everybody is going to pitch good because everybody is feeling better. Everybody has more command, and I know for sure that pitches are working better than two weeks ago. For me, I expect the guys to pitch well too. I know it’s a competition, but you need not one man, I need my teammates to pitch good and have a good spring.”
• Derek Jeter went 1-for-2 in his return to the lineup. He had a first-inning single and grounded into a double play in the third inning. “I said, ‘You were actually pretty smart today,’” Joe Girardi said. “He didn’t try to kill himself running to first, which was smart.”
• Girardi said there were no other injury updates. He said after the game that he still had not heard any results from MRI and CT scan on Joba Chamberlain’s dislocated ankle.
• Jeter on Chamberlain’s injury: “You feel extremely bad for him. He’s worked hard to get his arm back in shape. It seemed as though he was ahead of schedule on that, and that’s because he worked extremely hard at it. Then to have something like this, a fluke accident, you feel extremely bad for him.”
• Mariano Rivera pitched another hitless inning and has yet to allow a hit in five outings this spring. Rafael Soriano also pitched a scoreless inning out of the bullpen today.
• New father David Phelps pitched in relief of Kuroda in Clearwater and 3.1 innings allowing two runs on three hits and a walk.
• Eduardo Nunez had three hits agianst the Twins today, and Robinson Cano had three hits against the Phillies. … Francisco Cervelli had two hits to raise his average to .214. … Ramiro Pena was 1-for-1 with a solo homer today. … Russell Martin, Brett Gardner, Eric Chavez, Brandon Laird, Chris Dickersona and Dewayne Wise had one hit appiece. … Mason Williams also singled today. He’s 2-for-2 in his pair of appearances in big league camp.
• Doug Bernier had another two-hit game in another start at shortstop. It’s still hard to imagine him making this team, but he’s really had a terrific spring. His batting average is up to .385.
• Speaking of good springs with no obvious roster spot: Justin Maxwell was 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored. His average is up to .444 this spring.
• Despite Bobby Valentine’s criticism, Girardi offered no apologies for not going into extra innings yesterday. “I’m going to worry about our guys,” Girardi said. Apparently much of Valentine’s criticism was based on the fact he had a pitcher — Clayton Mortensen — who he wanted to get in the game. Girardi said he would have been fine with playing just the top of the 10th if Valentine had asked. “That would have been acceptable to me,” Girardi said. “But there was no communication, and usually there is. And it’s not like this is something new. There’s a lot of tied ballgames in spring training that end in the ninth inning.”
• Mortensen, by the way, was optioned out of big league camp today.
Associated Press photos
Adam Warren was supposed to pitch yesterday, and it wasn’t until after the game — after he’d waited and waited for his turn to come — that he found out his turn would wait a little longer for a primetime start against the Red Sox.
“That’s what I think spring training is about for us guys trying to make it is to just make an impression,” Warren said. “For me, I’m just trying to go out there and show I can handle the situation, just trying to go out there and attack the zone. I’m just going to go out there and take care of my own business, not really worry about where I stand.”
Warren took care of business, alright. Facing a lineup full of Boston regulars, the Yankees pitching prospect fired four scoreless innings with three strikeouts, no walks and two hits. One of those hits was a ball that glanced off Warren’s own glove for an infield single.
“Warren was excellent,” Joe Girardi said. “I thought he moved the ball in and out well. His slider was really good tonight. I thought he was excellent.”
Dellin Betances followed Warren with three hitless innings. David Phelps — who was supposed to start this game before his wife went into labor — has pitched 7.2 innings without an earned run this spring. D.J. Mitchell has a 0.89 WHIP and 1.00 ERA. The Yankees upper-level pitching prospects have each made strong impressions this spring, suggesting they’re more than capable of filling a hole should this overflowing rotation need a spot starter or two.
“I’m not going to worry about who’s ahead of me or how people are doing,” Warren said. “I just want to focus on myself and not get caught up in everything else. I feel like, I take care of my business and things will take care of themselves.”
• Tonight’s game ended in a tie because Girardi had run out of pitchers who he actually planned on pitching in this game. The Yankees had extra lower-level pitchers on the trip, but it seems Girardi didn’t want to use them. “I just said, that’s it,” Girardi said.
• Bobby Valentine wasn’t happy with Girardi for calling the game before it could go into the 10th inning. It is odd that Girardi had extra pitchers on the travel roster but chose not to use them. He said that he was worried about tomorrow’s doubleheader. “We’ve got a long day tomorrow too,” he said. “We need pitching.”
• One seemingly available pitcher was D.J. Mitchell, but the Yankees had him throw a side when it seemed there wouldn’t be enough innings for him to pitch. “We have a responsibility to build him up too,” Girardi said.
• Turns out CC Sabathia was hit in the shin by a comebacker this afternoon, but that was in the first inning and Sabathia stayed in to pitch five more innings. Sounds like he’s fine. Girardi’s not concerned.
• Raul Ibanez had another 0-for-3 and his average dropped to .054 this spring. “I’m just worried about us staying healthy down here right now,” Brian Cashman said. “Veterans like him, I’m certainly not going to make any judgments on.”
• Cashman said there are no real concerns about any of the nagging injuries (Jeter, Swisher, etc) in Yankees camp. Girardi said Derek Jeter came through today’s workout just fine and plans to play tomorrow.
• He’s pretty far down the depth chart, but Doug Bernier is really having a nice spring. He had two more hits today, including a two-run single. He also made a nice play up the middle in the fourth inning. He’s hitting .364.
• Rough day for Cory Wade who let the Red Sox back in the game with four hits and three earned runs in the eighth inning. Wade got only two outs in the inning before Juan Cedeno finished it.
• RBI triple for Curtis Granderson, who continues to have a terrific spring. … Brett Gardner, Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez each had a hit in this game, but none of those three is hitting better than .194 this spring. … Jose Gil is batting .571 after his 1-for-3 night, and Gustavo Molina is batting .545 after his 1-for-1. Neither has a lot of at-bats.
• Jorge Vazquez was hit by a pitch in the hand and had it heavily wrapped after the game, but there’s no word on how serious the injury might be. He had to be taken out of the game, letting Jose Toussen get some unexpected playing time.
• I wrote this morning about how good Clay Rapada has looked in camp, but Rule 5 Cesar Cabral has also looked pretty sharp with 11 strikeouts and only one walk. The Yankees seem to have room for only one of those two. “(Cabral)’s pitched so well,” Cashman said. “If he was looking terrible, 29 other clubs would pass on him, (but) he ain’t looking terrible. To me, he’s either making this club, getting waiver-claimed or getting traded.”
• Rapada, by the way, has an out in his contract at the end of spring training. Cashman confirmed that this afternoon.
• For those of you who closely follow the minor league system, reports that Rafael DePaula has obtained a visa are true, but in an email, Mark Newman said DePaula still has to pass a physical “before anything progresses.” DePaula signed with the Yankees in 2010 but has been stuck in limbo ever since. He has a chance to be a legitimate talent.
• Phelps’ wife, by the way, had the baby late last night.
Associated Press photos
Up and down through the middle of March • 03.19.12
The off day seems like a good time to take a look at some of the players making an early impression — one way or another — in Yankees camp. In some cases — Jose Gil hitting .667 or Robinson Cano hitting .185 — the numbers up to this point mean absolutely nothing. Gil isn’t likely to play his way onto the big league radar, and Cano isn’t going to play his way out of the big league lineup. But in some case, players are making an impression that just might matter at some point.
.333/.385/.667 with five doubles
Seems like not much has been written about Granderson’s spring, but he’s been driving the ball consistently, which seems to be a good sign that he might be able to pick up where he left off. Obviously spring training numbers don’t mean much, especially when a lot of these at-bats have come so early in camp, but Granderson has at least given reason to believe last year’s breakout season wasn’t a fluke. So far, so good.
1.08 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, five strikeouts, one walk
Andy Pettitte might complicate things down the road, but for now, the Yankees are still trying to pick five starting pitchers from a group of six. And right now, Hughes is making a strong case that he belongs. With fastball velocity that’s much better than last spring, and fastball command that seems to be improving every time out, Hughes has been a very effective starter this spring, with the lowest ERA and lowest WHIP of any rotation candidate. Freddy Garcia’s hand injury did nothing to hurt Hughes’ cause.
0.00 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, seven strikeouts
A fairly late addition to Yankees camp, Rapada is trying to win the one open spot in the Yankees bullpen, and he’s making a pretty good case for the job. Through 5.1 innings, the lefty specialist has allowed just two hits while striking out seven. He has a track record of getting out left-handers in the big leagues, and depending on what the Yankees want from that last bullpen spot, might have emerged as a favorite to win a big league job.
.065/.121/.097 with seven strikeouts
I’m a real believer that spring training numbers — especially at this point — don’t mean much. But there were plenty of fans who weren’t sold on Ibanez in the first place and his slow start has done nothing to ease those concerns. A lot of his spring at-bats have come against lefties, which he will hardly ever face in the regular season, but he’s admitted that his timing is off right now. Results in spring training might not mean much, but there are certainly plenty of people who would like to see some results at some point.
54.00 ERA, four walks, no strikeouts
Two spring outings. That’s it. It’s a tiny sample size from a pitcher signed to a minor league deal, so it shouldn’t be even a blip on the radar. However, Miller is an intriguing possibility as a former elite prospect trying to work his way back from a series of injuries. He’s still just 27 years old with a past that makes people wonder “what if?” but his early spring impression did nothing but make him one of the first cuts. Not many pitchers have thrown particularly poorly in Yankees camp, but Miller certainly did.
Zero games played
He was always a long shot to make the team, but with Raul Ibanez struggling, Branyon might have been able to open some eyes and at least give the Yankees something to consider. Instead, he’s missed most of camp with soreness in his back. His situation wasn’t particularly good to begin with, but it’s only gotten worse as the injury has lingered.
NOWHERE TO GO
D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps
0.54 combined ERA, 16 strikeouts, six walks
Adam Warren and Dellin Betances have also pitched well this spring, but Phelps and Mitchell have been true standouts. Problem is, it’s hard to know what these numbers mean from two guys who are clearly no higher than eighth and ninth in the rotation pecking order. The addition of Andy Pettitte does nothing to help open a door for them, but they’ve been impressive.
.368/.455/.474 with three stolen bases
The only problem with Maxwell is what to do with him. A shoulder injury robbed him of last year’s second half, but he was productive when he played, and he’s been terrific this spring. The toolsy outfielder might be a great fit on the bench if the Yankees had a spot for him. Instead, his big spring might only help his trade value because he’s out of options and the Yankees don’t seem to have room for him.
.292/.370/.625 with two home runs
No doubt about it, Rodriguez has been good this spring. But unlike Granderson, the questions surround Rodriguez have little to do with his ability to hit. They’re all to do with his ability to stay healthy. So far, Rodriguez has shown no signs of injury, but he showed no signs last spring either and wound up on the disabled list. There’s very little Rodriguez can prove this spring. His only test is whether he can stay on the field through the end of October.
Associated Press photos
Thursday notes: “It’s got to be something” • 03.08.12
Ivan Nova knows the meeting is coming. At some point on Friday, Larry Rothschild is going to pull him in front of a video screen and show him the footage of today’s start in Dunedin.
“I know for sure tomorrow we’re going to talk about it,” Nova said.
Nova’s fastball hit 95 mph. He was happy with his slider and happy with his changeup, but much like his previous start against the Phillies, Nova’s command was unreliable at best. He fell behind often against the Blue Jays, and it was a 2-0 pitch that J.P. Arencibia hit for a home run. Hunter Pence homered on a 3-0 pitch from Nova five days ago.
“I throw, for me, perfect bullpens,” Nova said. “Once I get out there, sometimes, I guess I do too much. I think that’s what happened, maybe. I’ve got to figure it out… Sometimes you can be open too much or too quick. The first inning was really good, I wasn’t pushing my body or anything like that. The second and third inning (were bad). It’s got to be something.”
Nova said he doesn’t feel out of shape, and he’s encouraged that his velocity suggests his arm strength is where it needs to be. He just needs to get his mechanics ironed out. Joe Girardi said he’s still a long way from making a judgment about Nova.
“These guys are just getting ready to compete and getting their arm strength,” Girardi said. “We saw some velocity out of him today. We saw some 95s today. They’re still going through all of that.”
• The Yankees were on the verge of a second consecutive shutout when Colin Curtis hit a solo home run in the ninth inning to leave the Yankees with a 6-1 loss. Ramiro Pena was the only Yankee with two hit, and other than the Curtis home run, Pena’s double was the team’s only extra-base hit. Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, Brandon Laird, Justin Maxwell and Doug Bernier each singled in the game.
• David Phelps let one of Nova’s runners scored on a passed ball by Francisco Cervelli, but otherwise, Phelps pitched 2.1 innings allowing one hit, two walks and a strikeout. I didn’t think he was especially sharp, but he settled in a little bit.
• If he’s going to have a chance of making this team — and the Yankees seem to be giving him a legitimate look — Cesar Cabral is going to have to retire lefties. Giving up a home run to lefty Travis Snider didn’t exactly help his cause this afternoon. It also didn’t help that lefty Eric Thames singled off him later in the inning.
• Raul Ibanez looked fine in right field. He only had two chances to make a play and one of those was a ground ball. The other was a fly ball near the foul line, and Ibanez made a running catch for the out. Not the hardest play in the world, but he made it with no problem. “You have to take balls, and see more balls hit out there,” Ibanez said. “Today was a great thing to be able to go out there, spend a little time out there, and catch one. Angle off the bat is good.”
• Dellin Betances and Dan Burawa each pitched around some trouble to leave runners on base and pitch scoreless seventh and eighth innings. It was a better-than-last-time appearance for Betances.
• As you can imagine, everyone was pretty focused on Dave Robertson after the game. Most conversations centered on his injured foot, but Girardi really didn’t have many answers. “There’s always something in every camp,” Girardi said. “It seems like there’s something freaky that happens.”
Associated Press photos
Waiting for doors to open • 03.03.12
There was nothing David Phelps, Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances could have done this afternoon to make themselves favorites for the Yankees rotation. There are plenty of big league starters on the roster, and as long as everyone stays healthy, the next wave of pitching talent will have to wait.
“I made that clear in my first meeting with all the guys,” Girardi said. “I said, ‘Look, we used 28 pitchers last year, and I guarantee you all 28 weren’t on the 40-man when the year started. But at some point, they were there. If you think we’re not going to call you up because you’re not on the 40-man, think again. Everyone in this room has an opportunity to possibly pitch for us this year or you wouldn’t be here.’ I think it’s important that they know that. We like to use our system, and we want our system to be deep.”
The Yankees have homegrown Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and Dave Robertson on the roster. Joba Chamberlain will be there soon enough, and guys like Betances, George Kontos and Kevin Whelan got some big league time last year. The young guys have seen doors open, and they’re well aware it could happen again.
“We saw it last year,” Phelps said. “The majority of the guys that were in camp last year helped the team at some point or another. It’s more about going out and trying to prove to myself that I can do it… We were down in Triple-A last year seeing a lot of our friends and teammates getting called up. It’s great watching them pitch, and it’s like, ‘I could be next.’ It’s a matter of going out and doing your job and hopefully your turn will come. It’s definitely motivation. It’s knowing that if you go out and do your job to the best of your ability, there’s a good chance that at some point during the season, you’ll be able to help the club.”
If one of those doors is opened much sooner than expected, these early spring outings could be a factor in which young pitcher gets the call. “You try to get a feel for who would handle the situation the best,” Girardi said. Today, Phelps seemed to make the best impression, but Adam Warren looked good yesterday and there’s still a long way to go.
“We get a lot of questions about how it feels to compete against your friends,” Phelps said. “We don’t see it as we’re competing against each other; we know that if we go out and do what we’re capable of doing, it’s not like if I pitch well, that means Warren isn’t going to get called up if Warren goes out and pitches well. If we all go out and do what we’re capable of doing, it’s going to be good for all of us. We feed off each other; when one is doing well, it really helps out the rest. We go over scouting reports, pick each other’s brains about how to set up hitters. If anything coming up with the same group of guys and being comfortable with them has made it easier to succeed as a group.”
Associated Press photo of Betances
Trying to build on a solid but injury shortened Triple-A season, David Phelps first three Arizona Fall League starts were uninspiring. He allowed three earned runs each time, never throwing more than 3.1 innings. His past two outings have been more what the Yankees were hoping to see.
In his past two starts, Phelps has pitched nine innings, allowing two runs on six hits and one walk while striking out seven. And that’s without throwing more than 67 pitches.
Phelps is one of those guys who was brought in to observe late in the season. The Yankees clearly believe he can play a role next season, and his Fall League stint is about building a few more innings before shutting things down for the winter.
• Speaking of young starters: Hector Noesi keeps getting better in the Dominican. After two not-so-great outings, Noesi pitched six innings without an earned run in his most recent start. He struck out five, walked one and dropped his winter ERA to 3.38 through three starts.
• Ronnier Mustelier, the utility man from Cuba, continues to hit in the Fall League. He’s batting .390/.405/.610 while playing third base (played mostly outfield and second base in Tampa this season). He’s new to the Yankees farm system, and a little old for a low-level prospect, but so far he’s been a steady hitter.
• Jorge Vazquez, the Yankees slugging Triple-A first baseman, is hitting .320/.400/.587 through 75 at-bats in Mexico. He has 21 RBI and 23 strikeouts. That’s pretty much the kind of hitter he is.
• Outside of the Arizona Fall League, there are only four Yankees with more than 20 winter at-bats. One of them is Vazquez. The other three are Jose Gil (an organizational catcher), Luis Nunez (an organizational infielder) and Jose Pirela (a borderline shortstop prospect). Pirela didn’t do much in Double-A this season, but he’s hitting .389/.421/.500 in Venezuela.
• Corban Joseph has a modest four-game hitting streak in the Fall League. He’s been kind of up-and-down in Arizona.
• Ramiro Pena has played in one game in Mexico. He went 1-for-4.
• Reliever Chase Whitley is a fast riser in the Yankees system, and he has nine strikeouts with one walk in his past seven Fall League outings. That’s a total of 9.1 innings in those appearances. Opponents are hitting .178 against him, and that’s usually an offensive league.
• Class-A reliever Dan Burawa is getting knocked around in Arizona. He was charged with five earned runs today and has a 9.00 ERA through 10 appearances. He’s been charged with multiple runs in each of his past three outings.
• Nine of Pat Venditte‘s 12 appearances in Mexico have been scoreless, but he’s twice allowed multiple runs, pushing his ERA to 4.15. More telling is the fact hitters are batting .238 with 11 strikeouts and just one walk against him.
Pretty quiet day here at Yankee Stadium. The first person I saw in the clubhouse was Yogi Berra, dressed in a sharp suit for today’s Roger Maris ceremony. The last person I talked to in the Yankees clubhouse was Phil Hughes, having just sat down after a morning bullpen.
“I didn’t even feel it,” he said.
In this case, Hughes was referring to his lower back, which started causing him problems last weekend and cost him a start this week. Hughes threw 35 to 40 pitches and he remains on schedule — assuming no setbacks — to pitch next week in Tampa. There’s no date scheduled for that appearance.
“I think you really have to wait and see how he feels tomorrow and decide what we’re going to do,” Joe Girardi said.
Given the fact he hasn’t pitched since September 12, there’s a very real possibility that the Yankees will decide to simply move him into the bullpen for the division series.
“I think you have to think about that,” Girardi said. “I think that’s one of the things you have to think about just because he hasn’t thrown in a while and we’re not sure how it’s going to play out in the next couple of days after throwing this bullpen. Just a lot of decisions to be made by Friday.”
• Francisco Cervelli ran for about 10 minutes today. He’s still not ready to begin baseball activities, but he’s making progress. “I still would be a little bit surprise if we got him back,” Girardi said. “But, you know, maybe it stays away and maybe he’s able to help us.”
• Without Cervelli, the Yankees have to consider a postseason roster without a traditional backup catcher. “It changes the way that maybe you think about your roster a little bit,” Girardi said. “You know, when you think about your roster, the expectation is that Russell is going to play every day. You really have to think about how you’re going to do things and the combination of guys. There’s a lot of thought that’s going to go into this. The one thing about making a roster is you try to guard against everything, that’s what you try to do, but you really can’t.”
• A.J. Burnett will start the first game tomorrow. Ivan Nova will start the second.
• Girardi was asked today about the impact of Mark Teixeira’s defense at first base: “He saves us errors,” Girardi said. “Saving errors to me is important. It saves runs, No. 1. No. 2, it saves pitches for our starter. An inning ends up being prolonged and a pitcher throws 12 extra pitches, and it takes an inning away from them, and it affects your bullpen. It’s just kind of a trickle effect. So, being able to save pitches by saving errors is extremely important to me, and he does a wonderful job.”
• I actually have not yet seen Manny Banuelos, but I know he’s here. I’ve seen Adam Warren and David Phelps hanging around the past two days. They’re here to observe for the weekend, just to get themselves used to the big league environment.
“This is something that our club has done in the past where we bring young kids up that we think could have an impact either next year or the year after,” Girardi said. “(They) kind of get a feel what it’s like to be in our clubhouse, see all the media, understand our clubhouse — our clubhouse is something you have to learn – so when they do get here, they’re more comfortable. We all know that those first couple days as a big league player, a lot of times, there’s a lot of butterflies, but you try to get rid of some of that. But these are kids that we believe are going to help us, and that’s why they’re here.”
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Carl Crawford LF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
David Ortiz DH
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
Mike Aviles 3B
Marco Scutaro SS
Josh Reddick RF
Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
Associated Press photos
Yankees at the break: The rotation • 07.12.11
This was supposed to be the Yankees weakness. It’s become a strength. Because of better-than-expected performances from Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, the Yankees rotation has been dependable, and it’s grown deep enough that Ivan Nova is tucked away in Triple-A.
This winter, there was one free agent starter who could make the Yankees feel confident about their rotation. He picked Philadelphia, and the Yankees were left scrambling for spare parts. Those spare parts have been outstanding, A.J. Burnett has bounced back from last season’s misery, Nova has been inconsistent but generally pretty good as a rookie, and CC Sabathia is once again an early Cy Young candidate. When Phil Hughes landed on the DL after just three starts, the Yankees rotation was tested, but it rose to the challenge.
The Yankees have obvious rotation depth heading into the second half of the season. Nova was crowded out of the rotation despite success, so he’s ready to step in if the Yankees need someone. Based on results, there’s little reason to doubt Colon and Garcia, but their age and recent injuries raise some obvious red flags. The biggest question, though, is probably Hughes. He’s made just one start since coming off the disabled list, and although his velocity was much better than it was in April, he didn’t exactly plow through the Indians lineup. The Yankees are hoping that the Hughes saw in last year’s first half shows up for this year’s second half.
D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Lance Pendleton each have ERAs of 3.38 or lower in Triple-A. Now they’re joined by Nova to give the Yankees a good, young Triple-A rotation. Their success helps cover the fact that Andrew Brackman has been surprisingly bad, losing his rotation spot and struggling to find consistency as a reliever.
The bigger names are in Double-A, where Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances have each pitched well – Betances especially – but their control issues are proof that they’re still young and have some work to do. Both have 40 walks in fewer than 80 innings this season. In the lower levels, Mikey O’Brien, Josh Romanski and Nik Turley have pitched their way into call-ups. A few other standouts whose names might not be familiar: Craig Heyer (Fall League selection with a 3.19 ERA in Double-A), Jairo Heredia (improving prospect with a 3.29 ERA in High-A) and Brett Marshall (outstanding since the end of April in High-A).
What happens if Nova dominates in Triple-A?
In his return to Triple-A, Nova struck out 10 and walked none through 7.2 innings that proved he was a Major League pitcher in a minor league game. If that pace continues and one of the Yankees starters slips – doesn’t get hurt, doesn’t fall apart completely, just starts allowing four runs every time out – how quickly would the Yankees make a change and decide they need to move Nova back into the big league rotation?
It will be interesting to see whether the Yankees push either Betances or Banuelos in the second half. It’s entirely possible that they’ll be big league ready at some point next year, but it might not be at the start of the season unless they get at least a half season at Triple-A. It’ll also be interesting to see if Phelps, Mitchell or Warren gets some big league time kind of like Nova did last year. The bigger question, though, centers on Sabathia, who can opt out of his contract at the end of this season. Even if Sabathia opts out, the Yankees would remain a favorite to bring him back, but it’s an issue that could have a significant impact on the next five or six years (maybe more).
Associated Press photos of Sabathia and Colon, headshots of Mitchell, Banuelos and Nova
Looking for upgrades: The pitching staff • 06.27.11
Two weeks from the all-star break and a little more than a month before the trade deadline, the Yankees are at a point where they can — sort of — figure out what they need to add for a second-half push toward the playoffs. Making this picture a little less clear is the status of their injured players who could provide a significant boost if/when they get healthy.
On the pitching staff, the preseason concern has become a surprising strength, and the preseason strength has become a surprising concern. These are three areas where the Yankees might look to upgrade their pitching staff in the second half.
The Yankees rotation has been better than anyone could have expected, and that’s despite injuries to Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon. The Yankees, though, will surely kick the tires on alternatives, if only to add depth and peace of mind.
Trade market: Hit-and-miss.
A starting pitcher will be traded before the deadline, history tells us that much. The question is whether an addition would be an upgrade over the Yankees in-house options. If Hughes and Colon come back and pitch well – and both Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova continue to pitch well enough – then the need for a starter will be minimal (though the want might still exist). If Hughes or Colon suffers a setback, Garcia or Nova regresses, or A.J. Burnett falls into last year’s habits, then the Yankees will need someone. Carlos Zambrano and Brett Myers seem to be available targets, but are they worth the headache? The Twins have been disappointing and could shed starting pitchers at the deadline, but are they more reliable than what the Yankees already have?
In-house: The kids.
Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos are still in Double-A and both are pitching well (though still working on some control issues). Not so long ago, the Yankees had Hughes and Alan Horne dominating in Double-A as highly regarded prospects, but the Yankees left them there, and there’s not much reason to expect the Yankees to change course and suddenly rush Betances or Banuelos without at least a brief stop in Triple-A. More likely options might be Carlos Silva, Hector Noesi or someone from the David Phelps-Adam Warren-D.J. Mitchell trio in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Warren is probably at the top of that pecking order with Phelps is currently on the DL.
Joba Chamberlain is lost for the year, and Rafael Soriano is almost certainly lost until after the all-star break. Dave Robertson has been terrific in the eighth inning, but the Yankees are mixing-and-matching in the sixth and seventh, still searching for one-inning relievers to complete that bridge to Mariano Rivera.
Trade market: They’re all relievers. Last year, the Yankees took a chance on Kerry Wood, and that move completely changed the bullpen. At the time of the trade, though, Wood was coming off injury and had ugly numbers with Cleveland. He came to the Yankees as a complete wild card and became a dominant setup man. The Yankees could go looking for something similar, but relievers are an unreliable group. Based on what Wood was doing at this time last year, he would not have looked like an especially attractive target. There will be risk in anyone the Yankees go after, though some big names seem to be on the market, including Padres closer Heath Bell.
In-house: Untested. The Yankees have had success plugging minor league starters into bullpen roles, and that’s occasionally worked as a stepping stone to the big league rotation. Right now, they seem to be trying something similar with Noesi.* They also might have found something in Cory Wade, though his innings have been limited. Andrew Brackman has moved to the Triple-A bullpen, but the results have not been encouraging. The Yankees have looked at Kevin Whelan and they’ve run through a series of long-relievers, but so far Noesi has been the call-up standout and Luis Ayala has been better than expected. George Kontos still seems to be pitching himself toward a call-up in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The Yankees top two left-handed relievers should be Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte, but those two proven veterans have yet to pitch this season because of injuries. In their place, Boone Logan has been erratic, unable to repeat last year’s second-half success.
Trade market: Still relievers. The same problem that applies to the setup trade market applies to the lefty trade market: These guys tend to be unpredictable. The Yankees could take their chances on a veteran, with hopes that he doesn’t fall into either the Logan Trap of ineffectiveness or the Feliciaino/Marte Trap of arm problems. The Phillies just released J.C. Romero, who actually had solid numbers against lefties this season but passed through waivers without a claim. Logan has struggled all season, and the Yankees haven’t traded for a replacement yet, which might say something about the market.
In-house: Minor league veterans. The Yankees have signed some lefties for the Triple-A pitching staff, and those might be legitimate options. Randy Flores has pitched well out of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen, holding lefties to a .233 average with nine strikeouts, seven hits and one walk. Greg Smith has pitched well out of the rotation, but that’s only 14.2 innings and he has almost zero bullpen experience. If he could pitch in relief, Smith could give the Yankees a second lefty who doubles as a long man. It’s also worth noting that Whelan has had tremendous success against left-handers, but he’s currently on the DL and his first stint in New York was so short, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees trusting him with the bizarre role of right-handed lefty specialist.
* In my mind, this is why it makes sense to have Noesi playing a bullpen role while Brian Gordon gets a few spot starts. Noesi’s role could be a long-term thing. The Yankees have a very real need in the late innings, and if Noesi adapts to the role, he could be a significant boost the rest of the way. The current rotation opening is a no-doubt-about-it part-time job. Gordon is going to get one or two more starts before Hughes is ready, and obviously they’re going to skip him when they can. He had great numbers this year, so the Yankees are riding the hot hand for a while. They’re hoping for more than a short-term contribution from Noesi.
Associated Press photos