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
This might not have been the worst game of Alex Rodriguez’s career, but it had to be close. He came to the plate in the 13th inning with a chance to change that completely and instead hit into a game-ending double play, meaning he accounted for seven outs in six at-bats today.
“You just have to press delete,” Rodriguez said. “Today was definitely a tough day for our offense and specifically for me, but just (have a) short memory. Another game on Friday.”
It was the fifth four-strikeout game of Rodriguez’s 21-year career, and according to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the first time he’d ever had six at-bats without a hit. After a blistering start to the season — hitting .344 with four home runs in his first 10 games — Rodriguez has hit .135 with one home run in his past 10 games.
“If I had to answer every time a guy had a bad day at the plate, we’d be here a long time,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We’d be talking about every hitter that we had. A lot of times it’s just pitch selection.”
Pitch selection had been a strength for Rodriguez throughout spring training and through those productive early games this season, but he acknowledged chasing some pitches lately. He’s still drawn plenty of walks — 10 in the past 10 games — but he hasn’t made the same contact lately. He admitted that he didn’t pick up the ball out of Rays’ starter Drew Smyly’s hand very well today.
“I definitely chased today,” Rodriguez said. “And I will often talk about, going back to spring training, one of the keys for our offense — and me specifically — is swing at strikes and take your A swing. And today I didn’t do that.”
Of course, Rodriguez wasn’t alone. Hard to pin an entire loss on him, especially when the Yankees had just seven hits in 13 innings, three of them from Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees botched walk-off opportunities in each of the game’s extra innings, and not all of those wasted opportunities hinged on Rodriguez ground balls.
That last at-bat, though, wasn’t a one-of-a-kind moment. Rodriguez just hasn’t been as good lately. His batting average is down to .232, and while his on-base percentage and slugging percentage are still good, any extended slump for a player like this leads to natural questions about whether the first 10 games or the last 10 games is a more accurate picture of who he’ll be going forward.
“It’s just kind of what you go through as a hitter,” Girardi said. “There’s going to be times where you’re extremely hot, and there’s going to be times where you’re not swinging it as well, and you hope when you’re not swinging it as well the other guys can pick you up.”
The other guys couldn’t pick him up this afternoon, and Rodriguez couldn’t turn his afternoon around in that final at-bat.
• Sure, Chasen Shreve lost it in the 13th inning, but this was another really, really good game for the Yankees’ bullpen. Until that two-out, go-ahead single, the bullpen had delivered seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts. Since April 22, the bullpen has a 0.88 ERA. “The amount of innings they’ve had to pitch is incredible,” Girardi said. “You give up the one run today and it beats you. It’s unfortunate. We got a lot of innings out of them today, and they did a great job.”
• The Yankees bullpen retired the first 14 batters it faced with five different relievers contributing to that stretch.
• According to Elias, that run Shreve allowed in the 13th was the first earned run allowed by a Yankees reliever in 17.2 innings in Michael Pineda’s starts this season.
• Of course, it might not have come to that if the Yankees hadn’t blown scoring opportunities in every extra inning today. They had runners on base in the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th and had nothing to show for it. “As an offense, you want to be able to come through in those situations and show the bullpen some love,” Chris Young said.
• Dellin Betances has struck out at least two batters without allowing a hit in each of his past six appearances. It’s the longest such streak by any Yankees reliever since at least 1914. That’s according to Elias.
• Andrew Miller pitched two perfect innings with three strikeouts. He has multiple strikeouts in six of his 10 outings and has 20 strikeouts in 11.1 innings today. He’s allowed just three hits.
• Pretty good start for Michael Pineda. The Rays worked some long at-bats against him, and Kevin Kiermaier got the big two-run triple, but otherwise Pineda was pretty good through 5.2 innings. He said he was dropping his hand a little bit in his delivery which led to his occasional struggles. He still didn’t walk anyone.
• Pineda was just about to throw a bullpen yesterday when he found out he was making today’s start. Did that affect him at all? “No. Today is my first day (fully rested) for pitching, you know?,” Pineda said. “Joe tell me that, and I say okay, because today is my first day for pitching.”
• Girardi said he felt OK about going into his bullpen in the sixth inning because he knew there was an off day tomorrow. He felt he had enough innings available to get through the game.
• That game-winning single was actually stopped by Stephen Drew in shallow right field. He made a sliding stop but decided he had no chance to get an out at first base (Mark Teixeira had to rush over to cover the bag, but Drew said there wouldn’t have been time anyway). “I didn’t think I really had a shot, to be honest, to even get to the ball,” Drew said. “When I got up to go throw, there was no shot to get him, and really no momentum, especially when you’re going to your left there.”
• The Yankees struck out 16 times today. That’s their highest total since they also struck out 16 times in a 14-inning game on September 29, 2013.
• Chase Headley hit his first home run since April 12, and the Yankees have now homered in 17 of 22 games this season. Headley has hit nine home runs since coming to the Yankees, and eight of them have come at Yankee Stadium.
• Jacoby Ellsbury had three singles — the rest of the Yankees had just four hits — and he now has nine multi-hit games this season. He’s hitting .444 with five stolen bases in his past seven games.
• Final word goes to Rodriguez: “Our goal is to win games. We won another series here against Tampa. The team is playing very well. It would have been nice to get today, for sure, for the sweep. But our goal continues to be the same: Go to Boston; win a series.”
Associated Press photos
The YES cameras caught Dellin Betances limping off the field at the end of the eighth inning. He was clearly wincing and moving slowly, but Betances said it’s a non-issue. He has a blister on his left big toe.
“It hasn’t really been bothering me,” he said. “Just going to first I felt it a little bit, but I’m good.”
Betances said he’ll be fully available for the upcoming series in Boston. Looked worse on TV than it really was.
“I could have gone back out (for the ninth inning),” Betances said.
Joe Girardi’s still not ready to name a closer, but it’s pretty obvious he has one. And he looks like a good one so far.
Andrew Miller is the first Yankees pitcher — of any title — to have eight saves in the team’s first 20 games.
“The only that’s maybe surprising is that Mariano didn’t have 19 saves in 20 games or something like that,” Miller said. “It just means we’re playing well as a team, and we’re getting good opportunities.”
Last night the bullpen went 4.2 hitless. Tonight it was 3.1 scoreless. Justin Wilson got his first win, Dellin Betances pitched a dominant eighth, and Miller handled the ninth. Somewhere in there, David Carpenter also got a key out.
It’s more or less the way Girardi’s been drawing it up for the past few weeks. Wilson against some middle-inning lefties (but willing to face righties), Carpenter for key seventh-inning outs, Betances in a setup role (often for more than three outs), and Miller in the closer role. Depending on situations, the Yankees have also gotten key strikeouts from Chris Martin, long relief from Esmil Rogers and whatever’s necessary from Chasen Shreve.
Do they have a closer?
“I still believe they both can do the job,” Girardi said. “It gives me a lot of options. It’s working the way we’re doing it. … (The plan is) just to stick with what we’re doing. I’m sure at some point one of them may be down and the other guy may have to do something else. Maybe they pitch a couple days in a row and I want to give one of them a day off. I still believe they’re really interchangeable.”
If Betances had pitched well this spring, or gotten off to a strong first week this season, would the roles be different? Would it have been a mix-and-match in the ninth, or maybe Miller in the eighth, or some other combination in various situations?
“It doesn’t really matter,” Girardi said.
That’s really the truth of the matter. Girardi doesn’t want to stick a label on Miller, because why should he? At this point, we all know the plan, we’ve seen it in action, and it’s worked.
“We all believe in each other, that’s the most important thing,” Betances said. “The staff believes in us, as well. Warren pitched a great game today, McCann put us on top and Miller closed the door. Everybody pitched excellent out of the bullpen, and I’m just trying to follow everybody’s lead, trying to match each other’s intensity.”
The Yankees are on a roll, and regardless of labels, the relievers are keeping it that way.
“I’ll put our guys up against anybody,” Brian McCann said. “The stuff that’s coming out of the bullpen is incredible.”
• The big offensive blow, obviously, was McCann’s go-ahead home run in the sixth. It was his second of the year, snapping a stretch of 40 at-bats without one. “I’ve been feeling good all year,” McCann said. “Obviously the numbers aren’t showing it, but I’ve been seeing the ball good from Opening Day.”
• McCann had a second hit tonight, but that one was a relatively soft single to the left side to beat the shift. The home run led to a run (obviously), but so did that single. “Brian is a good hitter, that’s the bottom line,” Girardi said. “He’s going to be productive for us. Some of the guys take a little while to get going. He had two interesting hits tonight. One was a real big one and the other one was important, too. It gave us another run. I think he’s a middle-of-the-order hitter that’s going to be extremely productive.”
• Carlos Beltran also had a big hit with his hard double immediately after the McCann home run. Beltran has been, quite literally, the Yankees worst hitter this season, but Girardi has said he plans to stick with Belran as a regular in the lineup. Tonight it paid off. “I’m just working in the cage every day on my swing,” Beltran said. “It’ll have to come. I feel like the cage, I’ve been having good sessions. It’s about bringing it to the game.”
• The Yankees have now homered in 16 of their 20 games this season.
• Strong start for Adam Warren, who’s pitched very well ever since that brutal first inning in Detroit last week. He has pitched especially well in this stadium where he has a 1.71 ERA since the start of 2014. Of course, most of those outings came as a reliever. “I’m just trying to give the team a chance to win every time I go out there,” Warren said. “And I feel like I’ve done that. I think the big picture is: The team wins. For me, if I can give the team a chance to win after I go out there, that’s what I’m trying to prove.”
• Warren set a career high with six strikeouts, he almost matched the longest start of his career (which he also reached last time out in Detroit). “The first (start) I think I’ve had this year where I’ve had all four pitches working and I can locate them,” he said.
• Girardi on Warren: “I think he was ahead in the count a lot more tonight. I think that helped him, it kept his pitch count down. He was really aggressive. I thought he threw the ball extremely well; he used his curveball and slider well tonight, too. He got some early strikes with his curveball and did a nice job.”
• This was Wilson’s first win with the Yankees. He hadn’t picked up a win anywhere since July 12 of last season. He retired all three batters he faced. “When the phone rings and we’re told to get up, then that’s our time,” Wilson said. “Really, we just want to go out there and get outs.
• Betances has not allowed a hit in his past five appearances, a span of six innings in which he has one walk with 11 strikeouts.
• When did the season start to turn around for Betances? “The second time I pitched in Baltimore,” he said. “I felt my breaking ball was getting better and I was throwing it more for strikes. I felt a lot better after that.”
• Jose Pirela continued his rehab assignment today by playing second base for Double-A Trenton. I really wonder if the Yankees might option Gregorio Petit tomorrow to make room for Chase Whitley and then activate Pirela in time to play against a left-handed starter on Wednesday.
• Tough break for a really good guy: Brandon McCarthy is out for the year with a torn UCL. McCarthy was an obvious injury risk, but the Dodgers were willing to go four years with him. Looks like they’ll get maybe two and a half years out of that contract. Yankees showed some early interest but weren’t willing to a contract that big. Good call.
• Down in Trenton, Dan Pfeiffer reports the Yankees have released left-handed reliever Fred Lewis. Last spring, Lewis put himself on the map with a good big league camp, but he got off to a rough start last season and fell off the radar pretty quickly. Became thoroughly overshadowed in the organization’s upper-level bullpen depth.
• Final word goes to Girardi about moving into sole possession of first place: “It’s better than the alternative. Obviously we have a long way to go, but we’re playing a lot better baseball than we were the first time we were here. That’s a good thing. We just need to continue to do it.”
Associated Press photos
Postgame notes: “I was planning on going” • 04.23.15
From his spot at third base, Jacoby Ellsbury wasn’t sure what just happened. He knew something looked wrong about Anibal Sanchez’s throw to the plate, but he couldn’t analyze the particulars. He was concentrating on something else.
“I was planning on going if he had continued to roll through his motion,” Ellsbury said. “I haven’t looked at the replay, but I think they said maybe because he stepped off in the middle of his motion. Something just didn’t look quite right, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure.”
It was a balk, an awkward one at that as Sanchez started his delivery and then seemed to notice Ellsbury farther off third base than usual.
“When you’re in those shifts, sometimes it’s not what a pitcher’s used to seeing, a guy so far down the line,” Joe Girardi said. “You have to prepare for it.”
“You can’t really say, ‘I’m going to go,’ because if you don’t get a big-enough lead (it won’t work),” Ellsbury said. “In the past, I didn’t know until I went that I was going to go. It’s not predetermined. There are a lot of variables. … I was getting ready to go. I initially took off, then he stepped off and I stopped. I was like, ‘Whoa!’”
There was no call initially, but third-base coach Rob Thomson and hitter Chase Headley immediately signaled for some sort of call – “I was like, ‘You can’t do that!’” Headley said — and Girardi said the Yankees were screaming from the bench.
“(Sanchez) started his delivery and then stepped off the rubber to throw home,” umpire Gerry Davis explained. “I took a couple seconds to process what I saw. I wanted to be sure he had started his delivery before I made the call.”
It was a balk that brought in the Yankees’ tying run, a run they needed to finish off a wildly successful week in Tampa Bay and Detroit. And while the balk itself scored that run, it was Ellsbury who set up the situation with his speed and ability to get one base. The Yankees had only three hits today, but Ellsbury was on base three times and turned two of those opportunities into runs. He got into scoring position once with a stolen base and once with a hustle double.
“That’s what he can do,” Girardi said. “He creates and puts a lot of pressure on the defense. He’s going to take advantage of the extra base when he can. He did it today, and it paid off a lot.”
• Five days after his seven shutout innings against Tampa Bay, Masahiro Tanaka was terrific again this afternoon. And this time he did it against one of the best lineups in the American League. “I’m really satisfied with the way I was pitching today,” Tanaka said. “To put it in perspective, I’m as satisfied as I was pitching against Tampa.”
• What made Tanaka good today? “Location,” Brian McCann said. “That’s it. I feel like when he’s hitting the mitt, he’s really hard to hit. He had everything going. He had the cutter going, the sinker in, he had the split obviously – I feel like it’s always there. He got a lot of early count outs, which I think is a big deal for him to pitch deep into ballgames.”
• It was really cold today, and last night we saw what cold can do to a pitcher, but Tanaka was sharp. “Actually, I spent my high school years in a really cold area,” Tanaka said. “So as I was pitching I was remembering about those days.
• The Yankees had three hits today. Ellsbury obviously had one of them. Petit, believe it or not, had one of them. And Chris Young, of course, had one of them. Young is hitting .357. He struck out twice, so this clearly wasn’t one of his better games, but he still did what most guys couldn’t.
• Good defensive game by Headley at third, and a nice play by Gregorio Petit to get a force out on a low throw from Headley to second. “When you get late in the game, you know every run’s a premium,” Headley said. “Obviously I was able to stop it and Gregorio made an unbelievable pick. I threw it straight into the ground. I thought we were going to have a chance to turn the double play, and Cespedes really got down the line, so I hurried the throw and he picked us up over there.”
•Why did Dellin Betances go with nothing but breaking balls in that key at-bat in the seventh? “In that situation, first and third with two outs, I’m trying to go with the best pitch I can throw right there,” Betances said. “I rely on my breaking ball to get big outs. I’m going off McCann, whatever he calls.”
• Girardi said there was no thought of leaving Betances in to face the middle of the Tigers’ lineup in the ninth. “I just think we were able to do it last year, but we had to give him two days off, three days off,” Girardi said. “I’d like to have him available as much as possible, and with all the other strong arms we have down there, I feel we can do that.”
• Another strong save by Andrew Miller, who sent down the heart of the order, starting with a strikeout against Miguel Cabrera. And Cabrera didn’t look good in that at-bat either. “I hate to say overmatched,” Headley said. “But you don’t see him take a lot of bad swings and swing at bad pitches. He’s the best for a reason. That just shows what Andrew’s capable of.”
• Is this the best bullpen Girardi’s ever had? “We have as much power as I’ve ever had in this bullpen,” Girardi said. “And it has a chance to be really special. I’m trying to think of the bullpens that I’ve been a part of. As a player I was with some pretty good ones here, and as a manager, but we have as much power as we’ve ever had.”
• Final word goes to Girardi answering the question, were the Yankees as bad as they looked the first week? “I didn’t think so,” Girardi said. “Did we play bad? Yeah. I mean, we played very poorly, and I said that I think this team is much better than what we played. And (the team) came out on this road trip and showed that we can play baseball, and we can win different types of games. We won one-run games. We had a couple of big offensive explosions on certain days. So we won a lot of different types of games. But we weren’t too good the first week.”
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Throughout spring training and into the first week or so of the regular season, Dellin Betances simply was not very good. His velocity was not what anyone had come to expect last season, his command of the strike zone was erratic at best, and he remained in a late-inning role largely on the faith of manager Joe Girardi.
Now, Betances looks like his old self again.
“He’s really starting to,” Girardi said. “And I even think it’s going to get better. I do. But it was really good today.”
Called in to protect a one-run lead with two outs and two on in the seventh, Betances fired six straight breaking balls before Nick Castellanos popped out in foul territory. Sent back out for the eighth, Betances got two strikeouts and a ground out to the mound. His fastball was consistently in the mid-to-upper 90s.
“I mean, it’s always good when you can go out there and get outs,” Betances said. “I feel like I did it even when I was struggling. Obviously you don’t want to put guys on, especially out of the bullpen that hurts you. I’ve been able to make pitches when I got myself in trouble. But these last few games I feel a lot better, and I’m ready to keep it rolling.”
Among the most important developments during this Yankees hot streak has been the return of Betances. He never went away, but he wasn’t in last year’s form when the season started. He was wild and underwhelming, and although he was never charged with an earned run, he put the Yankees in some tough spots and had trouble closing out innings. Those weren’t problems last year, and they haven’t been problems in the past week or so, either.
He’s now allowed two hits and one walk in his past five outings, and two of those outings have been for more than one inning.
“I think it’s just rhythm,” Betances said. “I feel in a better rhythm, the more times I go out there, the better I feel. That’s the thing with me: I feel better the more I pitch, and I’m starting to get in a rhythm. … I made small adjustments all through spring training. And I’ll keep trying to make adjustments. I felt good man, I keep telling you guys I feel good, and everything will come. I’m just happy that we’re winning, no matter what.”
Associated Press photo
Even the best bullpens have games like this one. One inning spirals out of control, and a night is ruined a group of guys whose only job is to keep a narrow lead intact.
Tonight, the problems started with David Carpenter, who went with a first-pitch fastball down and away for strike one, but when he tried to follow it with a slider in roughly the same spot, Jonathan Schoop hit a game-tying home run.
“Hindsight’s always 20-20,” Carpenter said. “Maybe I should have busted him in.”
It got worse with Justin Wilson, who let the go-ahead run score on a single by lefty-killer Delmon Young before allowing the big blow on a two-run double by left-handed hitter Chris Davis. It was a two-strike cutter that Davis jumped on.
“Not the tightest breaking cutter I’ve ever thrown,” Wilson said. “Tad bit up, and that guy’s a good hitter. You’re going to get beat sometimes. Get back to 2-2 and hope to put the guy away right there, but just didn’t make the exact pitch I wanted. Made a decent pitch, and he did a good job of hitting.”
It happens. We all know that. Problem is, for the Yankees, a blown lead by their supposed-to-be-a-strength bullpen meant another series lost to a division rival. And perhaps the bigger issue was going to the bullpen in the sixth inning to begin with. Nathan Eovaldi had pitched well, racked up plenty of strikeouts, and gotten out of trouble in both the fourth and fifth innings.
But he was at 101 innings after five, so the Yankees needed to bring in some fresh arms.
Given the abundance of health issues looming over their top three starters, the Yankees would like to think of Eovaldi as a guy who can give them some distance, but so far he’s gone five innings and 5.1 innings in his two starts.
“In the first inning and the fourth inning I threw a lot of pitches,” Eovaldi said. “I have to do a better job of getting deep into games. It’s early in the season, but still. When I get the quick outs, I need to bounce back from that and keep attacking the zone. I know a lot of times when I did get quick outs, I fell behind 2-0, then it’s 2-1 and they’re battling back and fouling off more pitches.”
Nine strikeouts was encouraging for Eovaldi — he had that many only once in 33 starts for the Marlins last season — but strikeouts sometimes cost pitches, and Eovaldi simply wasn’t able to work deep tonight. The Yankees needed four good innings from their bullpen. Instead, one bad inning made all the difference.
“We just couldn’t seem to get through that sixth inning, and it’s unfortunate,” Joe Girardi said. “I thought Nate battled pretty much all night. Threw a lot of pitches in the five innings. That’s why I took him out. But we struggled in the sixth.”
• Alex Rodriguez’s second home run of the season was a monster blast to left field. Easily the hardest ball he’s hit since 2013. “That one felt amazing off the bat,” Rodriguez said. He now leads the team in RBI and he’s third behind Chris Young and Mark Teixeira in slugging percentage.
• Beyond Rodriguez, it really wasn’t an awful day for the Yankees offense. They had five runs on eight hits including four doubles and the Rodriguez homer. Of course, they also went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position and struck out 12 times with home plate umpire Sean Barber’s generous strike zone.
• Carlos Beltran drove in two runs with his go-ahead double in the third inning. Of his six hits this season, four have gone for two bases. He and Stephen Drew are each hitting below .200 but are still tied for second on the team in RBI. “He just missed a three-run homer too,” Girardi said. “I thought Carlos swung the bat better tonight has well. I thought he centered a lot of balls.”
• Beltran on whether he thought he had a home run on that second-inning double: “I hit it good,” he said. “It was a pitch middle away. I hit it OK. I didn’t hit it on the sweet spot. I hit it a little bit off the end. I thought it had a chance but it just hit the top of the wall. Double. I’ll take a double.” That double was Beltran’s 999th American League hit.
• With his home run, Rodriguez scored his 1,923rd career run, tying Derek Jeter for ninth place on baseball’s all-time runs scored list. Stan Musial is eighth on the list with 1,949.
• Eovaldi’s career-high in strikeouts is 10 set May 5, 2014 against the Mets. He came one shy of that tonight. That 10-strikeout game was the only time he struck out more than eight in a game last season. “I think just the slider, it had a lot more depth to it as opposed to my last outing,” Eovaldi said. “I was getting behind it. It was more of a cutter. Then I worked my fastball up in the zone a lot better today, too. I didn’t get the swing and misses I wanted, but it was a lot more effective.”
• Big outs for Eovaldi to strand the bases loaded in the fourth inning and to leave two on with a strikeout in the fifth. But in each of those innings, he had earlier opportunities to end the inning and couldn’t do it. “It was a lot better outing than my last (start),” he said. “But there’s still things I’ve got to do. I’ve got to relax a little more with two outs. I tend to try to do too much and get us back to the dugout quick, and I end up staying out there longer.”
• Encouraging appearance by Betances who allowed one hit but also got two strikeouts in the eighth. He said he was happy with his ability to throw his breaking ball for strikes because “that helps everything.” Girardi said he thought Betances looked sharper. “I thought he had better break on his curveball,” Girardi said. “I thought it had a better shape tonight than it’s had, so that was encouraging too.”
• Weird big league debut for Branden Pinder. He threw a total of four pitches in a scoreless seventh. He allowed a triple, but got out of the inning with a popped up bunt, which Pinder caught and tossed to third for a double play. He literally flipped the ball to Chase Headley as he walked off the field. Headley handed the ball back, and Pinder kept it.
• Jacoby Ellsbury’s hitting streak extended to seven games. He’s hitting .323 during the streak, and tonight’s double was his first extra-base hit of the year. Mark Teixeira also extended his hitting streak to seven games. He’s hitting .269 with a .731 slugging percentage during the streak.
• Girardi said he was well aware the Orioles would go to Delmon Young if he brought Wilson into the game in the sixth inning, but he chose to intentionally walk Adam Jones anyway. “Jones is swinging as well as anyone in the game is the bottom line,” Girardi said. “I felt good about bringing Willy in. He’s thrown the ball good for us, but tonight it didn’t work.”
• Final word goes to Beltran: “We need to get going. There’s no doubt about that. We’ve been close to winning some games and unfortunately the other team has been able to play better than us. It’s been only nine games so we just need to find a way to turn the page and concentrate in Tampa.”
Associated Press photos
When Brett Gardner arrived in the clubhouse this afternoon, his right wrist was wrapped, and Gardner said it had been that way all day and all last night. He’s out of the lineup today, and Joe Girardi said the hope is to have him back on Friday.
“He’s just sore,” Girardi said. “I gotta see what availability he is for me tonight whether it’s pinch running and playing defense. I don’t think he’ll be able to hit, but we’ll see.”
Even after being hit last night, Gardner was able to stay in until late in the game, so Girardi said he wouldn’t be surprised to have him available for speed on the bases or late-inning defense.
Actually, the more jarring name out of the lineup is Alex Rodriguez, who’s been one of the team’s best hitters and had previously started every game. He’s the oldest Yankees’ regular, and the last to get a day off.
“He’s played every game, started every game, and he played defense last night,” Girardi said. “So I thought it would be best to give him today. … I think you can’t forget about, it’s a long season. When he’s going good, you’re going to want to keep him in there every day. That’s how your guys get fatigued and that’s how they end up injuring something in their leg. I have to guard against that. That’s why I thought today was a great day to give him off.”
• Before he struggled through two hits and two walks while getting three outs, the plan was to use Dellin Betances for more than an inning last night and basically save Andrew Miller for the ninth. Instead, Miller got five outs, which might keep him out of tonight’s game. Girardi indicated that, despite the fact Betances has struggling this year, he could still get the nod in a save situation tonight.
• Betances said last night that he feels close to getting his mechanics sorted out, but so far he’s had a hard time controlling the strike zone. “I know it’s frustrating for him,” Girardi said. “The big thing is that he understands it’s just a little mechanical thin that he has to fix and he has to get back on track. He’s been able, for the most part, to get through without giving up a lot of damage which is a good thing. We’ve got to get him back on track and we’ll get him there.”
• Here’s Girardi on the current closer situation: “We haven’t really made a decision one way or another. I said I’d wait to see how it plays out here a little bit. We’ll re-evaluate, but it’s just kind of been where we’ve been in the lineup that I’ve made that decision. … I’m not sure that’s what we’re going to do all year. We’ll continue to re-evaluate, but at the beginning of the year we thought that was the best way to handle it.”
• Joel De La Cruz is still on the roster as the emergency long man. He almost certainly would have been sent down if he’d gotten into last night’s game. Instead, he’s still here for an emergency. The Yankees should have Esmil Rogers available tomorrow, so this might be De La Cruz’s last opportunity to get in a game before the Yankees go to someone else.
• Despite a slow start this year and a rough finish last year, the Yankees have stuck with Carlos Beltran in the No. 3 spot. “Just like we say every season, there’s a couple hitters you need to get going,” Girardi said. “And he’s one we need to get going.”
• After last night, the Yankees are now tied with the Orioles for the most home runs in the majors. “We missed it a lot (last year),” Girardi said. “We’ve had a lot of people in and out of the lineup. The big thing is keeping them in.”
• Second start of the year for CC Sabathia. He allowed a bunch of runs on a bunch of singles last time out, but he also got a ton of strikeouts, walked no one, and consistently kept the ball on the ground. “The ground balls and the strikeouts (stand out),” Girardi said. “It seemed like he stayed off the barrel of the bat; that’s really important against another good-hitting club that can hit the ball out of the ballpark.”
• According to The Associated Press in Tampa, Ivan Nova threw live batting practice today. He threw 20 pitches at the minor league complex, his first time facing hitters since Tommy John surgery.
Associated Press photos
If there’s a pitcher who knows what it’s like to have his mechanics out of whack — who also knows what it’s like to get them together again — it’s surely Dellin Betances. Long touted for his big league potential, Betances spent much of his minor league career trying to get his 6-foot-8 frame to consistently throw pitches over the plate with the same delivery, over and over again.
He couldn’t always do that when he was younger. And, frankly, he can’t always do that right now.
“Before (in the minor leagues) I was way off,” Betances said. “Like, not even close. Now I feel a lot better. I’m right there. I’m missing right there, but you just have to have confidence in yourself. Keep going out there and battling. You have guys like (Andrew) Miller picking you up. I made some good pitches to get out of that inning, and we won that game, so you have to look at the positives.”
After another spotty performance last night, these are the positives Betances can take away from his third appearance of the season.
1. The Yankees won. This team has won only three times this season, and Betances has pitched in two of those games.
2. The box score will show Betances pitched an inning without allowing a run. The one run he did allow was already on base when he entered, and it scored on a ground out that was pretty close to a double play.
3. Even though he did let one inherited runner score, he got the huge out when he needed it. Betances could have blown the lead completely, but he struck out Chris Davis to leave the bases loaded.
“He’s a tick off,” Joe Girardi said. “We’ve just got to get him right, that’s all. He’s been through it before in his career and what he did last year is an unbelievable year. We’ll get him right.”
If you want to look beyond the silver lining, the reality is that Betances walked two batters and gave up two hits last night. That’s a bit of a recurring theme because, despite his 0.00 ERA, Betances has already allowed three hits and six walks in 3.1 innings this season. And that’s after a pretty bad spring training.
“I’m right there,” Betances said, indicating he’s close to having his mechanics sorted out. “I know I’m right there. I just have to attack the hitters, be aggressive in the strike zone and keep making pitches. … I think right now I’m throwing some good (breaking balls) that they’re laying off of, but I just have to be able to show it for strikes. If I do that, they’ll swing at the ones that are opening up late. It’s just trying to stay back a little bit more and I think it will be there.”
It is, perhaps, easier said that done, but Betances has been down this road before. He’s a big guy, and big guys sometimes get out of whack for a little bit. Betaances seems confident he’ll have it figured out soon, and that big strikeout against Davis was a sign of good things to come.
“Those are the way I need to throw it to all (breaking balls),” he said. “I thought those breaking balls I threw to him were really good. … I feel great, man. I feel like my ball feels good. Right now my breaking ball, I’m throwing too many balls and falling behind, but I have confidence in that pitch that it will (come around). If I threw it for strikes, it’s a different story.”
Associated Press photo