It was a little more than two weeks ago when Dellin Betances had one of his most memorable innings of the year. He faced six batters, walked half of them and struck out the other half. He was both completely erratic and perfectly dominant. He got the job done, but it was touch-and-go for a while.
And it turns out, that was just the start of it.
Beginning with that wild inning on September 7, Betances has now walked 10 batters in his past eight innings. Of course, he’s also struck out 15, so it’s usually been just fine, but that’s the kind of tightrope the Yankees would rather not walk. It cost them a little bit last night when Betances walked in a run.
“I’m limiting the damage,” Betances said. “But I can’t keep doing it.”
Before this stretch of wildness, it took Betances 22.2 innings to build up his previous 10 walks. It seems there are two things to notice about him running into control issues at this time of the year. Both should be fairly obvious.
1. He’s pitched in a lot of games this season. His innings workload is lighter than last season, but he’s only one away from matching last year’s number of appearances. Betances said he feels fine, but Joe Girardi acknowledged that fatigue could be an issue.
“Of course,” he said. “If you’re in the bullpen the whole year, and you’re an eighth-inning guy or a ninth-inning guy, there’s probably going to be some fatigue all around the league.”
2. He’s a big man. Betances checks in around 6-foot-8, and pitchers that big often have a hard time repeating their mechanics. It was a problem for Betances when he was young, but obviously he’s learned to keep it together since he got to the big leagues.
“When you’re 6-8 and you’re not throwing strikes, it’s going to be a little bit of a mechanical issue,” Girardi said. “That’s what it’s going to be. But when he has to make the pitches, he’s made the pitches. That’s the bottom line. All pitchers can get a little out of whack — a starter, a reliever. It’s all possible for anyone. I still feel really good when he goes out there.”
If Betances is the Yankees’ biggest problem going into the postseason, then they’re probably in good shape. Even through this period of wildness, he’s generally been effective.
“Sometimes I’m going a little too quick,” Betances said. “Sometimes my hands are breaking late. But that’s something I can fix though, so it’s OK. … I’m just trying to bring my hands early, trying to stay back, break my hands and make sure everything is right when I land. You know, when I’m out there, I think I’m going too quick, so just got to kind of control myself.”
Associated Press photo
The Yankees have sent three pitchers to the disabled list with forearm issues this season. CC Sabathia has missed time with a lingering knee issue, Chase Whitley had Tommy John surgery, Diego Moreno and Jacob Lindgren also had elbow issues, and now Nathan Eovaldi is shut down with his own elbow inflammation. Even the Yankees’ minor league system is dotted with high-end pitching prospects who’ve had surgery this year.
In an effort to limit rotation injuries, the Yankees have inserted sixth starters, had Michael Pineda skip a start altogether, and sent Adam Warren to the bullpen. To protect relievers, they have implemented universal bullpen rules in which Joe Girardi refuses to use relievers three days in a row or pitch them immediately after they’ve pitched three out of four days.
“I think really hard about that, how we use our relievers and how you keep them healthy during the course of the year,” Girardi said. “There’s that fine line where they can have too many days off where they’re not sharp, so you’re always weighing that. Are we going to need him three out of the next four days or do I use him today just to get him (an inning)? We think really hard about it. And that’s kind of why I stay pretty steadfast to my rules about no more than two days in a row just because I want them healthy and strong in September.”
Despite Girardi’s bullpen rules, Dellin Betances has pitched more innings than any other Major League reliever this season.
Should there be concern about Betances going forward? Girardi says, no. At least, he feels the workload placed on Betances has been monitored and regulated in a such a way to minimize the risk.
“I think if you have your days off, I think sometimes you can work a few more innings,” Girardi said. “If you give them good, sufficient amounts of rest periods and they don’t throw necessarily a lot of pitches in certain innings, I think you can manage it.
“The one thing that Dellin did when he was a reliever down in Triple-A, there were a lot of inning-and-a-third, two-inning stints. (He would throw) 16, 17 innings in a month. That sort of thing. It’s kind of what we did last year with him, very similar to the way he was used in Triple-A with the days off. This year, it’s been less innings per month. We’ve been cognizant of that, and we’ve tried to use him less than we did last year because we want him to last and be healthy in September and for a long time.”
Betances is on track to pitch in 75 games this season, which is five more than last year. He’s also on track to pitch 85.1 innings, which is roughly five fewer innings than last season. The Yankees have basically kept that pace with Betances all year, pitching him more often but with fewer innings at a time.
|April||10 games, 13.1 innings||11 games, 12.1 innings|
|May||12 games, 17.1 innings||13 games, 15 innings|
|June||13 games, 17.1 innings||10 games, 11 innings|
|July||12 games, 15.2 innings||14 games, 16.1 innings|
|August||13 games, 16.1 innings||11 games, 12.2 innings|
|September||10 games, 10 innings||4 games, 4.1 innings|
Yesterday’s control issues for Betances? The run allowed by Andrew Miller? The rare home run off Justin Wilson? Girardi chalked it up to relievers being imperfect and said he’s not concerned that workload has taken its toll beyond the inevitable fatigue of a long season.
“Believe me,” Girardi said. “We are conscious about their breaks all year long. And I’m probably one of the few managers who doesn’t use people three days in a row, and I have stuck with that. We just don’t do it really around here. I did it a little bit with (Mariano Rivera) and I did it a little bit with David Robertson, but I know when I have to give them days off, I give them days off. And I stick to my plan. These guys are still throwing the ball well. You don’t see a drop off in velocity. They’re gonna give up run. When you have an ERA in the 1′s, when they give up a run, sometimes it’s kind of surprising because you don’t see it a lot. But they’re really good.”
Associated Press photo
When American League players submitted their ballots for next week’s All-Star Game, no reliever got more votes than Yankees second-year standout Dellin Betances. But, I suppose, even the big and powerful guys like that can hang a breaking ball. This one was an 0-2 pitch, a prime opportunity to bury a pitch in the dirt and get Brett Lawrie swinging.
That’s what Betances tried to do.
“All the other guys I faced, I felt like I was doing better,” Betances said. “A better job getting ahead. There, I just left that pitch over the plate. Bad location. … Right down the middle. It didn’t do much. Really bad pitch.”
Lawrie crushed it. The only question was whether it would stay fair, and when it sailed just inside the left-field foul pole, Betances slammed his fist into his glove. Betances also allowed a home run in his previous outing. Those are the first two home runs he’s allowed all season, and it’s the first time Betances has ever allowed back-to-back homers in the big leagues. He’s allowed at least one run in three of his past seven outings after allowing an earned run only once before this stretch.
“The last two home runs he’s given up just backed up on him a little bit to the middle of the plate,” catcher Brian McCann said. “But he’s as good as they come.”
That was kind of the story of the night for the Yankees’ bullpen. Chasen Shreve allowed a first-pitch homer to Billy Butler in the sixth inning — the home run that tied the game — and Betances allowed the game-winner in the 10th. Otherwise, Shreve, Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, Betances and Chris Capuano retired every single batter they faced.
If there’s second guessing to be done, it probably centers on Girardi’s decision to go to the bullpen in the first place. Starter Nathan Eovaldi had thrown just 86 pitches when Girardi brought in Shreve to face Josh Reddick. Shreve got the lefty out, then gave up the home run on the first pitch he threw to the following right-hander. Shreve actually has better numbers against righties than against lefties this season.
“Reddick had hit (Eovaldi) pretty hard, and I had a fresh bullpen,” Girardi explained. “The way my bullpen’s been throwing, I thought I would go to Shreve, and then I knew I had Adam, and then continue to roll out the guys. … If I have a fresh bullpen in that situation — Reddick had an RBI single, hit a really hard line drive double play — with a fresh bullpen, I would do it again. Especially lefty on lefty in that situation.”
• Not the sort of thing I’d usually mention up high in the notes, but it seems worth pointing out that Rob Refsnyder tonight homered for the second night in a row. It was his fourth two-hit game in his past 10, and he’s made one error since June 9 (two errors since May 22). His season slash line is up to .286/.384/.409 with nearly as many walks (43) as strikeouts (44).
• I mention Refsnyder’s hot stretch because Stephen Drew took another 0-for-3 tonight (he did walk) and has just one hit in his past 23 at-bats since the end of the previous home stand. Granted, he did slug .514 during the month of June.
• Also from tonight’s Triple-A game: Luis Severino allowed just one run, but he also lasted just four innings on 85 pitches. … Wilking Rodriguez returned from suspension, pitched a scoreless inning and got a win. … One-day call-up Taylor Dugas had three hits.
• Betances said he doesn’t see any lingering problem in these recent outings. Bad pitches in bad situations. “No, man, I feel good,” he said. “I’m starting to get locked in. My last couple games, a couple of bad pitches. That’s about it.”
• Any concern about the way Betances might bounce back from allowing home runs in two straight outings for the first time? “I don’t even worry about it,” Girardi said.
• This felt like a pretty typical Eovaldi start. He wasn’t awful, and he got some outs when he needed them, but he kept putting guys on base. He allowed six singles and a walk through 5.1 innings. “I feel like I threw the ball pretty well tonight,” he said. “My split felt good tonight. I’ve just got to do a better job of going deeper into ballgames. I didn’t feel like I attacked the hitters as well as I should have, getting first pitch strikes. It’s just one of the little things I’ve got to do better of.”
• We’ve known for a while, and Eovaldi has known for a while, that attacking hitters can be an issue. “That’s just me,” he said. “First pitch strikes. That sets the tone of the at-bat. Just getting ahead 0-1, regardless of fastballs or offspeed pitches, you’ve just got to be able to work ahead in the counts.”
• Surprised to be pulled in the sixth? “I was surprised,” Eovaldi said. “But our bullpen has been outstanding this year. I understand the situation and stuff, it was a close ballgame and they had the heart of the lineup coming up there.”
• Opponents have now stolen a base in two of Eovaldi’s past three starts. Before this, he’d gone 33 starts without a stolen base. … Tonight was Eovaldi’s 100th big league game. … He has not allowed a home run in five straight starts, one shy of his career high.
• For the A’s, Sonny Gray looked rusty from his long layoff, then he settled in and pitched the way everyone expects. “He really settled down after the first inning,” Girardi said. “He started throwing strikes was the difference. And started getting ahead in the count.”
• A’s closer Tyler Clippard got out of trouble with a game-ending strikeout to pick up the save in his first appearance at the new Yankee Stadium. He hadn’t pitched here since the Yankees traded him away following the 2007 season.
• Final word goes to Betances: “It’s definitely tough when you’re ahead in the count. You have to be able to put guys away and I left that pitch over the plate. He obviously crushed it. Last time I was fortunate we won the game; today, we weren’t able to do that. Just a bad pitch.”
Associated Press photos
The Yankees’ pitching staff just coughed up 11 runs for the third game in a row. It’s the first time the Yankees have done that since September of 2000, and they’ve done it with the guys who are supposed to be the top three starters in their rotation. First Masahiro Tanaka, then Michael Pineda, and tonight CC Sabathia.
Easy to dismiss the first two as simply bad games by good pitchers. But can the Yankees say the same about Sabathia?
Ivan Nova is coming off the disabled list tomorrow, which means someone is about to fall out of the rotation. Statistically, the worst starter of the bunch is the guy who used to be the staff ace just a few years ago. His 5.65 ERA suggests he’s not only lost that ace title, but he’s also become one of the worst regular starting pitchers in the big leagues.
But Joe Girardi made it clear postgame that Sabathia’s going nowhere.
“He’s a starter for us,” Girardi said. “That’s what he is. That’s what we’re paying him to do, and that’s what he’s going to do.”
This start, though, felt all too familiar. It was yet another Sabathia outing when he pitched well for a while, got out of some trouble, but eventually crumbled under the weight of one big inning and a couple of big home runs. Little surprise that each of the Phillies’ homers was hit by a right-handed batter: Sabathia’s actually put up great numbers against lefties this season, but righties have an OPS well over .900 against him.
“I really don’t have an answer (for why righties have had so much success),” Sabathia said. “I feel like I’m just getting in some bad counts and these guys have been not missing. … It’s definitely frustrating. My stuff is there. I’ve just got to pitch smart. It’s not a case of my stuff being short or anything like that. It’s just: pitching smarter, pitching better.”
Sabathia said his knee hasn’t been bothering him at all. In fact, he said he feels healthy, and he thinks his stuff is good enough to get consistent outs. He got a couple of big strikeouts in the first inning and limited the damage against the heart of the order in the third, but that fourth inning was a mess.
Once again, the Yankees offense scored quite a few runs — enough runs to win on a lot of nights — but the pitching staff couldn’t do its part, and that started with Sabathia once again leaving the Yankees in a hole.
“I always feel good about CC when he’s out there,” Girardi said. “I’ve seen him do it too many times not to believe in him. It’s frustrating for him, but as I said, we’ll continue to work at it, and we’ll get him right.”
Six days from now, it will be Sabathia’s turn again.
“To try to turn this thing around,” Sabathia said of what’s next. “There’s a lot of season left, obviously. Like I said, I feel good about my stuff and my body, where I’m at. It’s just a matter of me going out and executing and putting a game plan together and pitching better.”
• It was Sabathia making the mistakes early. It was Betances making the mistakes late. After striking out the two batters he faced in the eighth inning, Betances simply wasn’t sharp in the ninth. “It’s just that ninth inning my pitches weren’t good,” he said. “Breaking ball wasn’t sharp, my fastball was off, I wasn’t commanding my fastball. It starts with the fastball and goes off that. I’m going after any hitter who I’m facing, and I’m going with my best stuff. It was just today, I didn’t have it in that ninth inning.”
• Betances had been charged with one run all season. Tonight he was charged with four and took his first career loss. He had been 9-0 to start his career, matching Whitey Ford for the longest winning streak by a Yankees pitcher to start his big league career.
• Betances had not pitched since last Wednesday, and Girardi said he was planning to get Betances in this game no matter what strictly because he’d gone so long between outings. “There’s no excuses,” Betances said. “I sucked today and they got the best of me today. … I threw bullpens in between, try to stay as sharp as I can. It was just one of those things. I was good the eighth inning, so I don’t think that was the (problem). It was just the ninth inning. I feel like I’ve got to be more aggressive and make better pitches. I wasn’t able to do that.”
• With starting pitchers struggling, the Yankees have been forced to lean heavily on their bullpen. Five different relievers got in this game. “I think (lack of rotation distance) is the reason you see so many changes in the bullpen,” Girardi said. “We’re shuffling people in and out and we’ve got to start getting some distance.”
• Phillies rookie Maikel Franco had his second straight five-RBI game. He’s now homered three times, doubled once and gone 6-for-8 in these first two games. “We just haven’t made good pitches,” Girardi said. “You look at the three-run homer he hit off CC, it was up and out over the plate. We’ve just got to make better pitches on him.”
• Here’s Betances when asked what he knew about Franco coming into this series: “Not too much. It doesn’t matter. You just have to make pitches whoever it is. He’s hot right now and the credit goes to him, but you face guys that have done it for a while like Miguel Cabrera, you go out there and try to make your best pitch. Today that wasn’t the case. He got the best of me. It was unfortunate we lost this game the way it happened.”
• The Yankees scored six runs, but they also blew some opportunities. The had a runner at third with less than two outs in both the sixth and the seventh innings and couldn’t cash in. “We had opportunities, and we didn’t get it done,” Girardi said. “And that’s frustrating too. Guys are, they’re fighting, they’re scoring runs, and they’re having good at-bats. We just didn’t get it done.”
• Brett Gardner remains red hot. He got on base five times last night, and got on base three times tonight. He also homered for the fourth time in six games. This is the sixth time in his career that Gardner’s homered in back-to-back games.
• Chase Headley’s been stone cold lately, but tonight he had two hits including the 100th home run of his career. The homer snapped a 105-at-bat homerless stretch. “It’s good to see him hit the ball out of the ballpark,” Girardi said. “I’m sure he’s going to hit plenty more. Hopefully he hits another 100 to 150 with us. It’s a big home run, and it means something, and we need him to continue to swing the bat.”
• Headley and Alex Rodriguez hit back-to-back homers in the fifth. It was the second time this season the Yankees went back to back (Stephen Drew and Headley did it back on April 12).
• Chasen Shreve has not allowed a run in his past 12 appearances, during which he’s thrown 13 innings with four hits, four walks and 12 strikeouts. Justin Wilson also hasn’t allowed a run in his past 12 outings, with his streak spanning 11.2 innings with five hits, five walks and eight strikeouts.
• Nick Rumbelow was the fourth Yankees pitcher to make his major league debut in the past three games. Rumbelow allowed a walk and a triple before striking out the last two batters he faced.
• Final word goes to Girardi: “It’s not enjoyable to watch, and it’s not enjoyable to be a part of it. The pitchers are doing everything they can to get people out. Right now we’re just not making pitches, and we’ve got to get better at it. Hopefully we can come out and get a good outing from Nova tomorrow, and you go from there. The last three days have been a struggle. It happens. It happens to teams, but it’s been a lot of runs.”
Associated Press photos
This three-game series in Baltimore exposed plenty of still unanswered questions about the Yankees’ bullpen, but Joe Girardi has insisted he still has at least three relievers he can count on to hold a late lead. Finally given a late lead this afternoon, Girardi went to the best available, and they delivered.
Four outs from Chasen Shreve (in essentially his debut as the go-to middle innings reliever). Six outs from Justin Wilson (in his setup debut, and also his finest outing of the season). Then three outs from Dellin Betances (in his first save since Andrew Miller went on the disabled list).
Still to be determined whether the Yankees have any other relievers worth Girardi’s confidence, but those three delivered 4.1 hitless innings that let the Yankees avoid a series sweep.
“I’ve said all along, these guys get righties and lefties out,” Girardi said. “I don’t worry that I’m bringing in two left handers to face right handers. I don’t worry about that with these two guys. It was just nice to have them rested. We had to ask them for a few more outs than you want to on a daily basis, but it worked.”
Friday night saw Jacob Lindgren and Esmil Rogers struggle so badly that they weren’t on the roster the next day. Saturday night, it was second-chance relievers Chris Martin and Sergio Santos who fell flat, turning a tied game into a lopsided loss. Whether anyone can emerge from the group of Martin, Santos, Jose Ramirez and Chris Capuano is anyone’s guess, but the Yankees do like what they’ve seen out of Shreve, Wilson and Betances.
“I just want to try to go out every time and throw strikes and hit my spots,” Shreve said. “Try to ignore the situation, kind of. The more pressure you put on yourself, the worse you’re going to pitch. I try to just focus on the glove and hit my spots.”
Betances feels like a relatively safe bet as the replacement closer, and Wilson’s had some previous experience and success with the Pirates — “Today was one of those days where it didn’t matter who was hitting (against Wilson),” John Ryan Murphy said. “You weren’t going to hit him today.” — so the biggest surprise is Shreve, who felt like a secondary piece of the David Carpenter trade and might now fill the role Carpenter couldn’t handle the first two months of the season.
“His fastball’s not going to overpower you,” Murphy said. “But mixing that with the slider and then the splitter, it plays up a bit and gets in on guys. That splitter’s got a lot of depth, and hitters have a pretty tough time picking it up if they haven’t seen it.”
Because the Yankees finally got the big bases-loaded hit they didn’t have in the first two games, this was their most winable game of the series, and the bullpen locked it down. This team is going to miss Andrew Miller, but for at least one day, the other guys had it under control.
“The only difference is that I’m shaking hands at the last out,” Betances said. “But I’m trying to stay the same. The job that Shreve and Wilson did is motivation to go out there and get it done.”
• When he came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth inning, Murphy had a total of three RBI this season. He nearly doubled that number with his sharp two-run double past defensive wizard Manny Machado. “I guess anytime you hit the ball that way you expect it to be caught,” Murphy said. “It was a tough play for him diving down the line. I hit it hard.”
• Murphy had a three-hit game, the second of his career. Girardi also praised the work he did behind the plate. Just a really nice game from the young backup catcher. “No question every time I play I want to win,” Murphy said. “Whether I go 0-for-4 or 4-for-4. But obviously getting some hits, the way I’ve been swinging it, was great. I just want to help the team win, and it was a great team win today.”
• Shreve has not allowed a run in his past eight appearances. He got his second win of the season today, and he’s held opponents to a .097 batting average during this eight-game scoreless stretch. “I thought maybe my arm was, not hanging, but a little worn down from that 19-inning game,” Shreve said. “And it’s finally coming back. My velo’s been down from last year, so it’s finally getting back up, and I think that’s helped.”
• Why leave Shreve in to face one batter in the seventh? “I was going to ask him to give me one more hitter,” Girardi said. “I was hoping he would get one more out and I would only have to ask four from Willy, but it didn’t quite work out that way.”
• And why pull Warren after a strikeout in the fifth when he was one out away from getting through five and being the pitcher of record? “It was a hot day,” Girardi said. “He threw 93 pitches in less than five innings. If he had breezed through a bunch of innings and maybe was in the sixth or seventh inning, it’s a different story. I was just looking at his slider and some of his pitches, he had gotten behind in some counts and I just thought it was time. You want to leave him in, but…”
• Here’s Warren on his start: “The competitor in you wants to finish that and get deeper in the game. It worked out for us. I want to win ballgames. I’m not concerned with having wins under my name or whatnot, as long as we win as a team. It worked out, so no problem with it at all.”
• Pivotal play for Warren came in the first inning when he got a sure double play ball, but because it was a hit-and-run, Stephen Drew was going to cover second and the ball got through for a single. If the Yankees turn two there, Warren’s out of the first inning without two runs scoring and having thrown almost half of the 29 pitches he needed that inning. “I fell into a little bad luck with the hit and run,” Warren said. “I feel like that would’ve been a ground ball to second. Just trying to make pitches, trying to get into a rhythm. I didn’t make good enough pitches in the first. I’m just trying to get back to making quality pitches and getting into that kind of rhythm.”
• Is Warren going to the bullpen when Ivan Nova gets back? “That decision won’t be made for a while,” Girardi said.
• Girardi’s comment certainly suggests Nova won’t be coming back this week, but Girardi said he still has to talk to Brian Cashman before settling on a decision about Nova’s next outing. “To be honest, I really haven’t thought about it,” Warren said. “It’s just one of those things that I can’t control. I just want to go out there and pitch, wherever it may be. I just don’t want to think about stuff I can’t control.”
• Big at-bat in the game was Wilson getting pinch hitter Delmon Young in the seventh. It was the first batter Wilson faced, and Young was at the plate as a home run threat that would have been the tying run. “I wanted to go right after him,” Wilson said. “Felt like from watching the game from the bullpen, the strike zone today was a little tight at times. For me, strikes is a key, so I wanted to go right after him. Luckily he swung through it.”
• Alex Rodriguez took an 0-for-4 today and said he’s fine with knowing he won’t be in the lineup the next two days in Miami. “Just like Washington, like I’ve said all along, whatever Joe wants,” Rodriguez said. “Whether we’re going to Marlins Stadium, Yankee Stadium or any place on the road, that’s cool.” Rodriguez also wouldn’t comment on a potential grievance about that $6-million home run milestone payment.
• Final word goes to Girardi: “You don’t want to get swept; it’s a division opponent. We did not play well the first two days, but we played much better today. We didn’t give them extra outs and we won the game.”
Associated Press photos
First, a quick note: We’re going to do a chat today at noon. Come by if you can. Obviously there’s plenty to talk about. Until then…
On April 28, the Yankees discovered a strain in Masahiro Tanaka’s forearm. He missed 32 games, and the Yankees with 15-17 without him. Their strong start to the season ended exactly two weeks after Tanaka hit the disabled list, and he returned to help the Yankees win seven in a row to start the month of June.
Life without Tanaka wasn’t always pretty — even his rotation replacement got hurt — but the Yankees survived. Adam Warren stepped up, Michael Pineda had some ace-like start, and the Yankees weathered the storm.
On May 19, the Yankees pulled Jacoby Ellsbury out of a game and discovered a sprain in his right knee. He’s so far missed 19 games, and the Yankees have gone 11-8 without him. They were in the middle of losing 10 of 11 when Ellsbury got hurt, they started to turn things around a week later, and got on a roll.
Ellsbury had been an ideal leadoff hitter — and like Tanaka, his replacement eventually wound up hurt as well — but again, the Yankees survived and occasionally thrived. Brett Gardner moved to the top of the lineup, Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores held their own, and the Yankees had their longest winning streak in more than two years without him.
Now it’s June 11, and the Yankees are going to be without Andrew Miller for a while. He has a strain in his forearm and isn’t planning to so much as play catch for 10 to 14 days. There’s another storm to weather.
“He’s done a helluva job,” Dellin Betances said. “He’s probably done the best out of any closer probably in baseball right now. He’s converted every save he’s gotten a chance to, so it’s hard losing him, but we have to step up. Everyone has to look forward for the challenge and just try to get the job done.”
Two and a half months into the season, the Yankees have lost an ace, a leadoff hitter and a closer to significant injuries.
Is it possible the closer will be the hardest one to deal with?
It probably feels that way right now, even though it’s hard to make the case that a closer is more important than a No. 1 starter or a top-of-the-order hitter with a .412 on-base percentage. Of course, replacing a closer has a significant trickle-down effect on the rest of the bullpen, and perhaps the rest of the pitching staff.
In theory, Betances should be able to seamlessly step into the ninth inning. But that means moving someone else in the eighth inning. Which means further thinning the options for the seventh inning. Which means putting more high-leverage situations in the hands of a previously low-leverage relievers.
“I’m still getting my feet wet,” Lindgren said. “But whatever situation they put me in, I want to give it my best and succeed.”
At some point, the Yankees could move a starter into the bullpen — is the temptation to move Warren even greater now? — but a move like that might have to wait until Ivan Nova has finish his rehab plan with at least one more minor league start.
For now, it seems the Yankees will call up a reliever — Chris Martin, according to YES Network — and simply hope the rest of the bullpen can step up the way Warren and Chase Whitley stepped up in the rotation, and the way Gardner and Heathcott stepped up in the outfield.
“You never want to feel like you have to go in and say, I’m a little concerned about my ability to pitch,” Miller said. “I think I wasn’t that concerned that it was something catastrophic or anything. It’s more frustrating for me than anything. … I feel obligated to be one of the 25 guys on this team to go out there and help us win games, but it just got to the point that I needed to do something about it.”
Which means it got to the point that the Yankees have to find a way to survive without him.
Associated Press photos
On the day he was drafted, Yankees reliever Jacob Lindgren was home in Mississippi. His girlfriend got into town that morning, and so he showed her around. A family friend invited some people over, and so there was barbecuing and swimming.
“It was nice and hot out,” Lindgren said.
It was June 5 of last year, and Lindgren knew he might be a high-round pick. When his name was called, he was the top selection of a Yankees team that hadn’t had much success with top picks. He was a college reliever built to move quickly, joining an organization notorious for advancing even its top prospects slowly.
Less than a year later, Lindgren was in the big leagues, tangible evidence that this might be a new era for the Yankees on draft day.
“A lot of guys that got drafted behind you, they’re like, oh, why did this guy get drafted ahead of me? Stuff like that,” Lindgren said. “There’s always that. Obviously you’ve just got to play good and show them why they drafted you high.”
The Yankees, too, have something to prove.
After two decades of far more failure than success, the Yankees enter tonight’s first round of the draft with the 16th overall selection, their highest pick since 1993. They have three of the top 57 selections, and they have something of a hot streak going. Focused heavily on college players like Lindgren, Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo, the Yankees early picks the past two years have advanced quickly and shown significant promise.
Lindgren is already in the major league bullpen, Judge is considered the top hitting prospect in the system, and Jagielo has nine home runs in Double-A. Both Judge and Jagielo could be in Triple-A by the end of the summer, just two years after being drafted.
“I always heard (the Yankees) were slow moving their guys,” Lindgren said. “But I was going to do everything in my ability to make things happen.”
Lindgren pitched at four levels with 17.5 strikeouts per nine innings the year he was drafted. He pitched well in big league camp this spring, opened the season in Triple-A, and was called up on May 24, the first Yankees prospect since Deion Sanders in 1989 to reach the majors less than a year after being drafted.
It was a significant step for the Yankees, not only because they were willing to make the move, but because they had a top pick playing well enough to deserve the promotion.
With a few exceptions — Phil Hughes in 2004, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain in 2006 — the Yankees’ top picks have mostly fallen flat since the overwhelming success of Derek Jeter taken sixth overall in 1992.
The Yankees took a high schooler named C.J. Henry during the otherwise talent-rich first round of 2005. They took a shot on injured basketball player Andrew Brackman with their top pick of 2007. They took a signability risk with Gerrit Cole in 2008. They gambled on high school shortstop Cito Culver in 2010 and have watched him hit well below .200 this season. In the decade before that, they picked forgotten names like Shea Morenz, David Walling and David Parrish.
What draft success the Yankees have had in recent years has been largely confined to the middle rounds: Brett Gardner in the third round of 2005; Adam Warren in the fourth round of 2009; Dellin Betances in the eighth round of 2006, the same year they got former closer David Robertson as a 17th-round steal.
Draft classes, though, tend to be defined by their top picks, and so Lindgren stands out as a success story, both for the player and the organization.
He had been a 12th-round pick of the Cubs out of high school, but Lindgren said Chicago didn’t offer him the signing bonus he wanted until the day before classes started at Mississippi State. Lindgren was already moved in, living on campus and ready to start college. He decided to stay and take his chances that pro ball would be waiting for him.
“Early on, especially when you’re not getting the playing time you wanted, you’re like, man, what am I doing here?” Lindgren said. “But it worked out. It kind of taught me how you have to compete for any job you want. … There was a lot of hype and stuff (as a first-round pick), but I knew I had to come in and prove myself. I always tried to prove that I didn’t belong at each level and just tried to move up as fast as possible.”
It’s hard to move much faster than Lindgren has. He made his big league debut in the same year as the Yankees 2009 first-round pick, Slade Heathcott, whose development had been slowed by a series of injuries (he’s back on the disabled list now). The Yankees, though, seem to believe the arrival of Lindgren and Heathcott – plus the development of Judge, Jagielo, and former fifth rounders Rob Refsnyder and Greg Bird – are a sign that the team’s draft futility is turning around. They’ve especially struggled to find impact hitters, and suddenly the upper levels are crawling with both high-probability and high-ceiling bats.
“We do have an evolving system with some high-end position players,” general manager Brian Cashman said.
Tonight, the Yankees look to add to that stable of talent, trying to build off the recent success of their past two drafts, and trying to find someone capable of following Lindgren’s path to the big leagues.
“They probably just draft whoever’s the best available,” Lindgren said. “They’re just trying to bring good talent into the organization.”
Associated Press photos
In theory, what the Yankees have created is absurd. Five lefties in the bullpen? It makes no sense. Not if you’re starting from scratch and trying to choose the proper pieces. Hard to imagine any team would go to the drawing board and elect five left-handed relievers.
But teams are never choosing pieces. Not two months into the season, anyway. At this point it’s more about putting the pieces together, which means working with what you have. And what the Yankees have right now is Adam Warren in the rotation, David Carpenter designated for assignment, and a bunch of relatively unproven guys in Triple-A.
For at least the time being, the Yankees have put the pieces together, and as absurd as it might look on the surface, they’ve come up with five lefties in a seven-man bullpen.
“You don’t see that very often,” the best of the lefties, Andrew Miller, said. “But honestly, all those guys can get right-handers out. We’re just starting to see what Lindgren can do. Cap’s been a starter. It’s something that I’ve felt like I had to prove, but I proved I can do it, and Shreve’s been really, really good lately. That’s important, and Joe can feel comfortable using those guys against right-handed hitters, or in a 50/50 mix. I think we’ll be fine.”
Hard to imagine the Yankees will stick with this alignment for long — at least partially because they don’t need this many long relievers — but it doesn’t have to be a total mess in the short term. If recently converted starter Chris Capuano can be the primary long man and Esmil Rogers can become a reliable middle reliever from the right side, the Yankees could have a fairly traditional bullpen that just happens to lean to the left.
Closer: Andrew Miller
Setup man: Dellin Betances
Go-to lefty: Justin Wilson
Middle-innings righty: Esmil Rogers
Long man: Chris Capuano
Flexible bullpen role player: Chasen Shreve
Rookie breaking into the bigs: Jacob Lindgren
Those roles really aren’t unusual, it just so happens that five of those spots are being fill by guys who throw with their left arms. It could certainly became a matchup issue in certain situation — there are a lot of right-handed hitters around there, and many of them can feast on lefties — but Wilson actually has fairly neutral splits in his career (though this season he’s been quite a bit better against lefties), and Shreve has dominated righties this season. Lindgren is projected to be much more of a setup man than a situational lefty, Miller has already performed well beyond a matchup role, and Capuano’s a long-time starter who’s used to facing both lefties and righties.
Actually, the biggest problem with this experiment might not be the lefties, it might be the second righty.
Betances is exceptional, but Rogers has struggled, especially in the month of May. Girardi tried to use him in a short-relief situation on Sunday, and Rogers retired only one of the three batters he faced. If Rogers can’t get himself back on track, the Yankees are going to have to find someone — either right-handed or left-handed — who can change that roster spot for the better.
For now, they’ll roll with a bunch of lefties and see what happens.
“I think it’ll change somewhat when you continue to get pitchers back,” Joe Girardi said. “But it is what it is, and you have to adapt to it. Cappy’s been a guy who’s pitched short and long out of the bullpen, Esmil’s been a guy who’s pitched short and long out of the bullpen. I wouldn’t consider Lindgren a real long guy, he’s more of a one or two inning guy in a sense. You’ve just got to adapt.”
Associated Press photo
After each of Andrew Miller’s MLB-leading 13 saves — or, at least after most of them — Joe Girardi has been asked the same question about whether he’s willing to name Miller as his official closer.
Every time that the Yankee manager had been asked, he would dodge the question and give a reason as to why he didn’t think it was necessary. But after Friday’s 5-4 win over the Orioles — the Yankees’ 16th win in their last 21 games — Girardi finally caved.
“Is there a reason I have to?” he quipped. “He’s been closing games for us. He’s our closer. Is that better?”
Girardi then paused before asking with a laugh, “Is that going to be the headline tomorrow?”
Reporters quickly delivered the news to Miller, who downplayed the significance and then hit us with the line of the night.
“Not particularly,” Miller said when asked if it meant anything to hear that Girardi publicly called him the closer. “They’ve been very honest with us the whole time, and I think they’ve done a good job of putting us in situations to succeed. It’s worked pretty well. I was honest with them and I’ve been honest with you guys.
“For what they’re paying me, I’ll do anything.”
Ain’t that the truth.
• Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner continue to get it done at the top of the order, and they’re now hitting a combined .435 in their last 12 games with an on-base percentage around .500. That’s a pace that they clearly won’t be able to keep up, but once again, they were right in the middle of both Yankee rallies tonight. But the biggest hit of the night belonged to Carlos Beltran, who desperately needed one. He’s been slumping and is still hitting under .200, but his two-out, two-run double in the third was a laser to right-center field. With Ellsbury on third and Gardner on second, the O’s elected to walk McCann and load the bases in front of Beltran. That’s rarely happened to him in his career, and he made them pay. “It’s just the strategy of the game,” Beltran said. “Honestly, I don’t take those situations personally. I think the manager (knows) I’m not swinging the bat well lately. But at the same time, I’m seeing the ball good off of their pitchers, so that doesn’t worry me.”
• Girardi has kept running Beltran out there in spite of his struggles, and he offered some insight into his reasoning. It’s probably worth noting that Beltran is now third in the AL in doubles with nine. “We think he’s swinging the bat well,” Girardi said. “Sometimes it doesn’t always show up in the numbers, but we think he’s making more solid contact. I mentioned the other day, there are so many stats out there, and one of them is velocity off the bat. Well, his average velocity is second on our team. He doesn’t have a lot to show for it, but that means he’s centering balls and things will change.”
• I’m sure you’re wondering who is first on the team in the average velocity off of the bat category. That would be none other than Alex Rodriguez, who had a sac fly in the first inning tonight and hit his first triple since 2012 in the fifth.
• Beltran admitted that his slump has been getting to him, but he said he’s trying to stay consistent with his approach and work ethic. “I try not to think about that,” he said. “I try to focus on what I can bring to the game, but of course, I think when you go through tough stretches, confidence gets a little bit low and you have to work through that. In my case, I’ve been through situations like this before every year. This is my 17th year, so every year I go through situations like this. Sometimes, when you go through it early in the season, it’s noticeable. But when you start the season well and go through that in the middle of the season, it’s not that bad because you already have some numbers to back it up.”
• Adam Warren has yet to make it through six innings in six starts this season, and he didn’t even make it out of the fifth tonight. He said this might have been the worst stuff that he’s had so far this season and Baltimore got to him in the fifth. Starting the inning with back-to-back walks was probably the biggest killer. “I just kind of lost it there for a little bit. It’s frustrating because I didn’t have my best stuff, but I felt like I was battling,” Warren said. “I just kind of hit that fifth or sixth inning, and it’s hard to explain. Being down in the bullpen last year, you hate to be the guy that kills the bullpen.”
• Here’s Girardi’s take on Warren’s inability to give the Yankees length: “I thought tonight he was going to be able to do it, (but) in the last two innings that he was out there, he got in some long counts and some long innings and threw a lot of pitches,” he said. “That’s why I made the change. I was hoping to at least get six out of him tonight with us winning 5-0. It didn’t happen, but this is a guy that hasn’t started for awhile. He’s been in our bullpen a lot, and he’s got to learn how to get through those.”
• Getting back to the pen, Miller and Dellin Betances have still yet to allow an earned run through 33.1 innings this season. Eventually, something has to give, but it’s been a heck of a run. “It’s really hard to do, to be able to put a streak like that together with two guys,” Girardi said. “One of the big reasons why we’re winning games is because, when we’re ahead, they’re closing the door. Those are important wins. Those are tough losses when you lose those.”
• What gave Girardi the confidence to finally name Miller his closer? “He’s shown that he can do it,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to bother him, is the bottom line. He’s making his pitches. He’s aggressive, he’s attacking people, he’s getting strikeouts when he needs them, he’s holding runners – he’s doing everything he needs to do.”
• Miller’s take on the pressure of being a closer was interesting. He said that he thinks the more tense situations for a reliever often come when you’re brought in with men on to put out a fire, which is a role he was used in a lot last season with Boston and Baltimore. When you’re a closer, you usually enter the ninth with a lead and no one on base. “Ultimately, I feel like what was asked of me, specifically down the stretch of last season, is even greater than anything that’s been asked of me this season,” he said. “Honestly, I think you have a little bit more room sometimes in the ninth inning. In the ninth inning, it’s just about winning the game. In the eighth inning, no matter how big the lead is or the deficit is, you want to keep it at that. I think in the ninth inning, whether you want to or not, sometimes you do have a little bit of cushion. Honestly, I think that’s a challenge sometimes. You need to go out there focused and not worry about that kind of thing.”
• What has Miller thought of Betances? “He’s been really, really good all year, and he’s been absolutely incredible lately,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. I got to see it probably 19 or 20 times last year playing in the division, but that’s a pretty impressive day today.”
• Don’t be surprised if Girardi rests both Miller and Betances tomorrow. “When I have to give them days off, I have to give them days off,” Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line. I have to make sure that I don’t overuse them. I have to make sure that when they’re used a lot, they get a day off. Tomorrow might be the day.”
• Final word goes to Miller, who was asked if he feels more at ease now that Girardi publicly called him their closer: “You don’t want to get too comfortable,” he said. “This game will humble you pretty quick. I think we just try to get better every day and try to prepare ourselves the way that we have been. Ultimately, I think comfort is a bad thing in this game, because you’ll be uncomfortable pretty quick.”
Associated Press photos
This was the Yankees’ eighth straight game decided by three runs or less. Six of those games were decided by two runs or less, and only two of those games have been Yankees losses. The team’s bullpen has been terrific, but late-inning relief work is naturally a bit of a high-wire act: there’s little margin for error, and there’s risk in going that route it over and over again.
“It’s a lot of innings they’ve had to log in,” Joe Girardi said. “We’ve had a couple of long stretches, which is not helping either. We’ve been able to seem to rest guys, and it’s seemed to work pretty good. Just, tonight it didn’t.”
Nope, it didn’t. The Yankees’ relievers really weren’t hit all that hard — two relatively routine singles off Chris Martin, then a bloop double and an infield single against Dellin Betances — but that’s why the risk is so high. A few bad bounces, and even a good bullpen can have a bad game.
This loss really hangs on Garrett Jones failing to scoop a ball off the turf, and on the lineup failing to get more than three hits. Those were the short-term problems. The bullpen issue was something bigger; something that had been building even during this strong stretch of 13 wins in 16 games.
So many close games forced the Yankees to lean heavily on their go-to relievers. Andrew Miller wasn’t available tonight after pitching such a tough inning last night, and Girardi didn’t want to burn through Betances for two full innings, so he went to Martin.
“We were trying to get a couple of outs out of Martin and then we go to Dellin,” Girardi said. “… I was trying to do four outs (from Betances) at the most.”
After Martin put two on — again, not hit hard, just hit effectively — the Yankees asked Betances for five outs. But his first pitch was the game-tying double blooped down the left-field line, then Russell Martin hit a 3-2 curveball for the game-winner down the third-base line.
That’s all it took for a team strength to let one slip away.
“Unfortunately I didn’t get the job done today,” Betances said. “It was definitely tough, but I felt I couldn’t do anything different. … I’ll throw (the same pitch) again nine out of 10 times.”
• Chase Headley very nearly made an incredible play to keep the game tied in that eighth inning. On Martin’s sharp ground ball, Headley made a diving stop and a strong throw, but the ball skipped off the turf and out of Jones’ glove. “I didn’t know if I even had a chance to catch it,” Headley said. “But when I got up, I just threw it as hard as I could, and almost got him. … In the moment, you go from being extremely fired up to dejected a little bit, because you see the whole thing develop, you think you’re going to make a great play, and you’re going to get out of a big spot, and it doesn’t go your way.”
• Here’s Jones explaining his end of the play: “Stretched out for it, thought it was in my glove, and looked up and saw it rolling away. It’s unfortunate, because it was a helluva play. We got out of some jams in the game, and our pitchers pitched their butts off. It sucks to have to give them two runs on a great play, and a pick I should make.”
• Apparently there was some thought that Brett Gardner should have gotten to the game-tying double. It honestly never occurred to me. Seeing it live, I really thought throughout the play that the Yankees’ only hope was that the ball might land foul. Otherwise, it was just hit to exactly the right spot. “No, I didn’t (think Gardner had a chance),” Girardi said. “Because he got jammed a little bit on it, it didn’t hook. It’s just unfortunate for us.”
• Of course, Girardi tried to stack his lineup with guys who had previous success against R.A. Dickey, but the team finished with just three hits. Jones and Stephen Drew — the guys who had their roles significantly altered because they were facing Dickey — combined to go 0-for-6 with nothing but ground balls. Jones did have the Yankees’ only RBI, but even that was on a grounder off the first baseman’s glove.
• Here’s Headley, who had one of the Yankees hits: “It’s really tough (against Dickey) because it’s so much different than anything that you do. You can’t really prepare for it. It’s not like you have somebody who can go in the cage and throw good knuckleballs to you. Frankly, I thought we swung the bats great. The first time around there were a lot of really hard-hit balls. He settled down some, and I’m not trying to take anything away from the way he pitched, but whatever three hits we had easily could have been five, six, seven hits early on.”
• Best start of Chase Whitley’s young Major League career. Against this lineup, he went seven scoreless innings. “It was just outstanding pitching on his part,” Girardi said. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t score some runs and get him a win.”
• Whitley was pulled after just 90 pitches, but Girardi said he didn’t want Whitley to throw much more than that, and he didn’t want to leave him in to face the lineup a fourth time around. Whitley threw more than 90 pitches only twice last season, and never more than 95. He threw 93 in his first start this year and has never gone 90 in Triple-A. “Yeah, he’s started before,” Girardi said. “But he’s not a guy that’s used to going 95, 100 pitches. That’s not who he is. I just thought it was time for a change.”
• Girardi said he was actually considering going to Chasen Shreve earlier in the game, but he wanted to stick with Whitley a while longer, so he let him go through the seventh. At that point, it had gone as long as Girardi was comfortable. “I just was going until they pulled me out,” Whitley said. “I felt good. It was good.”
• Two huge strikeouts for Whitley. The second was against Encarnacion in the sixth, and that was on a slider, a go-to breaking ball for Whitley. The first key strikeout, though, was against Devon Travis in the third inning, and that pitch was a curveball, which is a relatively new pitch for Whitley. I believe he began using it in spring training. “I stayed with (John Ryan Murphy) the whole time and that’s where he wanted to go,” Whitley said. “We went with it and it was a big at-bat.”
• By the way, if you’re wondering why Whitley made such a bad throw to first in that third inning, just look at the picture above. That is not the way anyone wants to grip a baseball. Clearly just lost the handle trying to rush the throw, and the result was … well, not good. Huge pitches after that, though.
• Final word goes to Whitley: “Results are one thing. They’re going to go in different ways every day. I’ll take my chances with this bullpen any day of the week.”
Associated Press photos