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
How to close a win without a closer • 04.09.15
Last night’s late innings gave the Yankees their first win, and gave the rest of us a better idea of how Joe Girardi plans to use a bullpen that has no defined closer.
“They’re going to look at the lineup card and try to determine who has what portion of the lineup,” Andrew Miller said after getting last night’s save. “So it’s just however it falls. If it had fallen that the eighth inning had been that 6 through 1 section, it would have been me in the eighth and Dellin would have gone out and closed the game.”
As it turned out, Betances came in to face No.2 hitter Russell Martin to start the eighth inning. He stayed in through the middle of the order, facing Martin, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, Dalton Pompey and Kevin Pillar — five right-handed hitters and a switch hitter. The inning was a little more dicey than the Yankee would have liked, but they stuck to their plan.
“I already knew those were the guys I had,” Betances said. “I was prepared to come in whenever their (part of the) lineup came up. … (Bullpen coach Gary) Tuck told me to be ready for Bautista and the middle of the order, so I was ready for that situation.”
Miller came in to face Justin Smoak, a switch hitter, to start the ninth. The Blue Jays went to a pinch hitter, but Miller stayed in to retire three in a row and close out the win. The Blue Jays literally have no left-handed hitters on their roster, so Miller was assigned the part of the lineup with the most switch hitters.
“I’ll be prepared for the seventh, honestly,” Miller said. “They want us to be flexible. It’s my job to be flexible because they asked for that, and I think that makes perfect sense. I’m perfectly satisfied with the way that they’ve prepared us. It’s our job to get outs when called upon. That’s all we know.”
Associated Press photo
I suppose this is true for every team in baseball, but it seems especially true for these Yankees as they prepare to start a season loaded with uncertainty.
“There’s a lot of things that have to go right for you to be where you want to be at the end of October,” Joe Girardi said. “But I feel there’s a lot of great pieces here. I feel there’s a lot of guys that are going to have really good years, and it’s our job to keep them on the field every day. But I like what we’ve assembled.”
A lot that has to go right, indeed. The entire heart of the Yankees’ lineup is coming back from disappointing seasons. They have no defined closer. Alex Rodriguez is nearly 40 and hasn’t played in more than a year.
Then there’s today’s starting pitcher.
On a team full of unpredictability, there is perhaps no all-or-nothing situation quite like Masahiro Tanaka.
Still trying to avoid Tommy John surgery, Tanaka made it through spring training healthy, but he’s raised a lot of eyebrows with his admission that he’s not planning to throw as hard this season. Tanaka says that’s all about preferring his two-seam fastball ahead of his four-seam fastball, but when a guy’s playing through an injury, any situation like this is sure to raise red flags.
Not white flags of surrender, but red flags of caution and curiosity.
“There’s so much talk about it,” Girardi said. “But until guys get out there, it’s speculation. He’s not exactly sure what he’s going to have every day when he goes out there. That’s just the nature of being a pitcher. You feel you’re always going to have your best stuff when you warm up, but some days it’s just not quite the same. For me, I’m just going to watch and see what happens.”
• Tanaka might be the most important piece of the Yankees’ roster, but Rodriguez will surely generate the most attention. He’s back from a year-long suspension, playing designated hitter and batting seventh. It’s certainly a different situation than what we remember from most of his career. “I think you’re going to get production from him,” Girardi said. “I don’t want to make a prediction on homers & RBIs, but I think you’re going to have good at-bats. You’re going to see him get on base and you’re going to see him hit some homers. I think the thing, as we get into this, that I have to pay close attention is when I feel I need to give him a day off, that sort of thing.”
• As expected, the Yankees are opening the season without a true closer. Girardi said again today that he’ll pick who pitches the ninth inning depending on matchups. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are the go-to options, but which one gets the ninth will depend on lefties and righties in the Blue Jays’ lineup. “They know who their guys are in the lineup and who we expect them to get out,” Girardi said. “If we’re in this part of the lineup, this is who you got. Their well aware of what we’re doing, I’ve explained it to them. They’re fine with it. So, we’re going to go with it and see how it works.”
• I suppose it’s worth noting that the Blue Jays do not have any pure left-handed hitters in their starting lineup. Instead, they have three switch hitters and a bunch of righties.
• As previously reported by Dan Barbarisi, CC Sabathia has moved into Derek Jeter’s old locker in the Yankees clubhouse. Brian McCann has moved into the locker most recently used by Mariano Rivera and Dave Robertson. Dellin Betances has moved into Sabathia’s old locker. Rodriguez has the same locker he had before last season (the locker Chris Young used briefly last year).
• The Blue Jays have former Yankees catcher Russell Martin batting second today. They also have former Yankees catching prospect Dioner Navarro at DH batting sixth. In between is one of the most dangerous middle of the orders in baseball: Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson.
• Today’s pregame schedule:
12:43-12:53 p.m. - Baseline introductions
12:53:30 p.m. - Unfurling of giant American flag by West Point Cadets
12:54 p.m. - Presentation of Colors: West Point Cadet Color Guard
12:55 p.m. - National Anthems: United States Military Academy Band
1:05 p.m. - Umpires and Managers to Home Plate
1:08 p.m. - Yankees take the field; ceremonial first pitch thrown by Joe Torre
1:10 p.m. - First Pitch
Associated Press photos
Three hits, three runs and two walks in the first inning. Two hits, one walk and no runs through the next 4.1 innings. That was CC Sabathia’s final start of the spring. The YES Network gun showed his velocity basically the same as we’ve seen it all spring — low 90s with his fastball — and Sabathia was stretched out to 83 pitches in his final tune-up before the regular season.
For Sabathia, that was a successful finish to an encouraging spring.
“I am (ready), I am,” he said. “I think just being able to go out there and throw 85 pitches or whatever pain free is very encouraging so I’m ready for the next one. … I feel great. I feel like I’m just a couple of ticks away from where I want to be.”
Those last few ticks, Sabathia said, are mostly about command. It’s in finishing off a few hitters and getting ahead of others. It’s a pretty sparse crowd here today, so it was pretty easy to hear Sabathia yelling at himself occasionally on the mound (something he does often). Today’s biggest blow up might have been after Danny Espinosa lined out to center to finish off a 1-2-3 fourth inning.
Sabathia had the result that he wanted, but he wasn’t happy with himself for letting the No. 8 hitter make such solid contact in that situation.
“I got the pitcher on deck, there’s two outs, I gotta make a better pitch,” he said. “I can’t give them a chance to extend the inning. I want to start the next inning with the pitcher leading off. Hopefully that’s an easy out. Just frustrated in that way. Like I said, I just need to narrow my focus and be able to make pitches to get us off the field.”
That’s Sabathia in spring training, a pretty clear indication that his expectations remain pretty high. There was no exhale of relief about a hard out, just a shout of frustration knowing he could have made a better pitch.
“I’m happy with the stuff, and I think the consistency will come,” Girardi said. “I do. I think you’ll see a different guy. He hasn’t pitched a lot (in recent years). He’s had to deal with a lot of injuries. The arm strength is much better than it’s been. His knee has been good. So, I’m encouraged.”
• Andrew Miller on the strong possibility that the Yankees will not have a defined closer this season: “There’s no established closer in here,” Miller said. “There’s nobody where they can expect to be in that role, you’re not ruffling any feathers, really. So I think they’ll treat us three outs at a time, one hitter at a time, whatever cliché you want to use, and we should be okay. … It’s a good problem to have when you can’t determine who to give the ball in the ninth inning. We’re all flexible. There’s nobody in here who can say they have a routine that will help them pitch better if they pitch in the ninth inning.”
• Girardi said the decision to go without a defined closer would have nothing to do with Betances having a shaky spring. Girardi said he would have made the same decision even if Betances had pitched as well as he did last spring. “I think so, I do,” Girardi said. “I just think because of the two arms we have there, you can do it. It’s an interesting thought. If you name one, you do it that way. But if you don’t name one, maybe some of the things you can do with it (will be more effective) if you don’t name one.”
• It really seems that both Miller and Betances were prepared for spring to end with this sort of late-inning situation. Each one has stressed that he doesn’t care about a specific role, and neither has indicated that being name closer would be particularly meaningful. “I think neither of us has been in a situation where we’ve been an anointed closer before,” Miller said a few days ago. “So it’s not like we can say that’s a comfort zone for us. When the phone rings, we’ll pitch, and until otherwise I have no problem with it. And I can’t imagine anyone else does. I think it might be a little unique, but I think we’ve come to establish that closing… doesn’t have to be that specific as it has been historically the last couple of decades or whatever.”
• Of the seven expected relievers, Betances is the only holdover from last year’s Opening Day bullpen. There’s a lot of unfamiliarity in the pen, but Girardi said that’s not the reason he’s hesitant to define roles. “It’s not that I’m not sure how the pieces fit together,” Girardi said. “It’s just that I think you can move the pieces around and put the puzzle together every night, as opposed to being so cut-and-dried, this is the way it is. I know what we have, and I know how I want to use them, but a lot of it is going to depend on the lineups those days.”
• No roster developments during or immediately after today’s game. The Yankees ended the game planning to bring both Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy to Washington D.C. for tomorrow’s exhibition finale. Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin are also traveling with the team as the final two pieces of the bullpen, and Gregorio Petit is set as the utility infielder. That could change this weekend, but that’s how the Yankees broke camp.
• Plan is still for Carlos Beltran to play tomorrow. He sat out the past two days because of flu-like symptoms.
• Not Yankees news, but pretty significant baseball news: MLB announced that Twins starter Ervin Santana has tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. He’ll get an 80-game suspension. The league also announced that neither Josh Hamilton (recreational drugs) nor Jarred Cosart (gambling) will be suspended by the league. It was ruled that Cosart didn’t bet on baseball, while an arbitrator ruled that Hamilton didn’t violate his treatment program.
• Josh Norris tweeted some of the preliminary minor league assignments for the Yankees. They include Danny Burawa, Jacob Lindgren and Nick Rumbelow each getting spots in the crowded Triple-A bullpen. Norris noted that these assignments could change, but they seem to be indications of where the Yankees are leaning. A lot of tough decisions coming, especially in that Triple-A pen.
• Biggest adjustment Sabathia made this afternoon was not so much mechanical: “It was just hard for me to get a grip (in the first inning),” he said. “I kept going to the dirt. I was trying to dry my hand off. I came back in the dugout and was able to get it dry and felt pretty good after that. It was hot outside.”
• Andrew Bailey was charged with three runs on a hit and two walks in his final appearance of the spring. Didn’t help him that Nick Goody allowed a three-run home run that brought in two of Bailey’s runners. Still, an encouraging spring for Bailey, who will stay behind to get more work done here in Tampa.
• The Yankees lost their spring finale, 8-2, against the Nationals. … Branden Pinder came up from minor league camp to strand a runner and finish off the sixth inning. … Chase Headley stayed hot with his fifth double of the spring, and Rob Refsnyder hit his team-leading sixth double. Refsnyder will finish spring training with a .372 batting average. The kid can hit. Headley’s two-hit day leaves him with a .321 average. … Mark Teixiera also doubled. The other Yankees hits belonged to Brian McCann, Chris Young, Ramon Flores and Ben Gamel.
• Final word goes to Girardi: “I thought camp went good. I mean, I’m pleased with the way it went. We had a couple of injuries that we have to deal with. We’ll try to get through these next two days without anything happening, but (it was) pretty good.”
Associated Press photos
For years, Joe Girardi has talked about the value of defined roles in the bullpen. Even this spring he’s talked about it. Relievers like to know when they’re getting in a game, and so it helps to have a true closer, setup man, long reliever, lefty specialist, etc.
But on this final day of camp, it seems the Yankees might be prepared to go into the season with more flexibility than definition in their pen. Girardi strongly indicated that he has no plan of naming a closer and will instead mix-and-match the final two innings, using Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances interchangeably depending on matchups.
“I really think that if you do it that way, and as long as you’re prepared, it has a chance to be advantageous to you,” Girardi said.
Girardi said the Yankees have not prioritized a closer decision, and now it seems they won’t make a decision at all. Instead, Girardi said he’s looking at Miller and Betances as his eighth- and ninth-inning relievers, but he’s open to using either one in either role. If there are lefties coming up in the eighth, then Miller will be the setup man and Betances the closer. If there are more lefties due up in the ninth, the roles will reverse.
“My thought has been more like with a power lefty who strikes out a lot of guys and a power righty, the lineups just might match up where one day he’s the eighth inning guy and then one day he’s the ninth inning guy a little bit better,” Giradri said. “… I think you start managing who you’re going to use (in the ninth) in about the sixth inning, because you try to prepare them.”
The flexibility goes beyond the ninth. The Yankees are currently planning to carry three lefties, but Girardi has said none is necessarily a true left-on-left specialist. They’ll all be used to get right-handers out as well. And while Esmil Rogers is the only real long man in the pen, today Girardi named him along with David Carpenter and Justin Wilson as options to will basically the seventh-inning role that Adam Warren had last season. Chasen Shreve was a starter through much of his minor league career, and Chris Martin has pitching multiple innings this spring, so one of those two might be available for long relief if necessary.
The Yankees see their bullpen as a strength, but they also see it as a evolving piece of the roster, which could change from day to day and game to game.
“I’ve talked to both (Miller and Betances)” Girardi said. “They’re concerned about winning more than (roles), in the sense of I’m this guy, I’m this guy. That’s the sense I’ve got from them. Now, could it iron itself out and you start to do it one way? Yes. But we talked a little bit about it yesterday. I’ll continue to talk about it with my coaches and Larry and his feelings about it as they get a feel, and Gary Tuck who’s in the bullpen, what do you think the importance of it is that we actually set a role? But as of right now, we haven’t felt that we have to.”
• CC Sabathia is cleared for 80-85 pitches today. This will be his final start before pitching the third game of the season. Sabathia has so far thrown only 4.2 innings this spring and will surely break camp with less than 10 innings of actually game experience, but Girardi said he’s satisfied that Sabathia’s gotten all the work he needs. After one regular season start, he’ll basically be as stretched out as any other starter, and the Yankees prioritized taking it slow ahead of giving him a ton of spring training work.
• Normal day off for Alex Rodriguez today. Carlos Beltran is also sitting out a second straight day because of flu-like symptoms. Girardi said he expects both to play tomorrow’s final exhibition game in Washington D.C.
• Still no catcher decision. Girardi said both John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine will make tomorrow’s trip to D.C. He expects to make a final decision after tomorrow’s game.
• Although they’re playing in a National League park, the Yankees will use a designated hitter tomorrow. Girardi said he expects to give all of his regulars a few at-bats. Sounds like the Opening Day lineup might be in there tomorrow.
• Talked to Slade Heathcott a little bit this morning. I didn’t realize this, but Heathcott said this should be the first year he’s ever broken camp with a team. Amazing how much injuries have slowed him down, but a source said yesterday that the team is planning to open Heathcott in Triple-A strictly because he’s played so well this spring. He finally feels fully healthy. “DL and injury are not in my vocab anymore,” Heathcott said.
• Just based on a few conversations these past few days, it seems a bunch of the upper-level minor league relievers are getting anxious to find out about Opening Day assignments. They all seem to recognize that there are way too many guys for the Triple-A bullpen, so some are going to naturally be forced back to Double-A. These guys have to get an apartment somewhere in the next few days, and right now it seems none of them has a clue where he’s going.
• The two Tommy John rehab guys, Ivan Nova and Vicente Campos, are each throwing bullpens today. Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled for long toss and some flat ground work.
• Today’s second string: C Austin Romine, 1B Jonathan Galvez, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Eric Jagielo, LF Ben Gamel, CF Slade Heathcott, RF Ramon Flores, DH Stephen Drew
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Chasen Shreve, Andrew Bailey, Branden Pinder, Cesar Vargas, Nick Goody
Associated Press photos
Twenty three strikeouts. One walk. Michael Pineda knew he’d been pretty good this spring, but he didn’t know those numbers until a reporter mentioned them in the clubhouse after today’s start at Steinbrenner Field.
“It’s good,” Pineda said, laughing. “I’m very happy for that. I’m not really paying attention, but thank you for telling me about it. I’m very happy because I’m feeling, in spring training today, it’s a really good number. I’m very happy. It’s what I try to do: throw a strike when I get on the mound and get an out.”
Pineda struck out six this afternoon. He walked none, allowed one run and finished spring training with a 1.42 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP. There’s been no indication that there’s any lingering problem in his shoulder. Instead, Pineda has looked fully healthy, and fully dominant.
“I think he really just picked up where he left off last year,” Joe Girardi said. “I really didn’t expect a whole lot different because of what we saw last year from him and how well he pitched, but it’s really nice to see it carry over. … I feel really good when he takes the mound. I do. You know he’s going to pound the zone and he’s going to give you every opportunity to win.”
Pineda’s not the only Yankees starter who pounded the zone. Nathan Eovaldi has 14 strikeouts and no walks this spring. Masahiro Tanaka has 13 strikeouts and one walk. Adam Warren: 11 strikeouts and one walk. CC Sabathia: six strikeouts and no walks.
That’s 67 strikeouts and three walks for the rotation.
“It’s good because if you don’t walk too much hitters, you don’t get in trouble,” Pineda said. “When you walk a lot of hitters, you get in trouble. So, it’s good. Throw strikes.”
Easier said than done, but the Yankees have thrived in that regard this spring. And Pineda seems to be leading that charge. If the shoulder issues really are behind him, Pineda just might be the Yankees’ most reliable starter. This spring he’s been their most dominant, looking like an even better version of the guy the Yankees first acquired more than three years ago.
“Every year I’m growing and growing, (becoming) a better person,” Pineda said. “So now I’m a better person and a better pitcher. I feel happy with that.”
• Another rocky outing for Dellin Betances who walked two batters but got through his inning without a run. “I’m getting my work in,” Betances said with a laugh. “I’m throwing a lot of pitches, but health-wise I feel fine. I felt a little stronger today. I’ve just got to be able to get that first guy out right away. I can’t be walking the leadoff guy. I got myself into a little jam again but I was able to come out with no damage, I guess. That’s a positive note.”
• Betances said he’s convinced his command issues have been caused by a minor mechanical issue that he’s close to fixing. He said he’s drifting too much, and that’s hurt him. It’s led to walks and pitches up in the zone. He’s expecting to pitch again on Saturday, which should be his final tune-up before Opening Day.
• Still no word on who will be the closer. “That’s one discussion we have not talked a lot about,” Girardi said. “It’s probably something we’ll talk a lot about tomorrow.”
• Speaking of the bullpen, it now looks like the Yankees will carry three left-handed relievers. Obviously Andrew Miller will be used as something more than a lefty specialist, and Girardi said the same is true for both Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve. “Shreve was a starter for most of his career,” Girardi said. “And I trust Justin against both, too.”
• Carlos Beltran did not play today because he had flu-like symptoms. He probably won’t play tomorrow either. “You worry about the dehydration factor,” Girardi said. “My guess is, right now I do not have him penciled in (tomorrow). Everyone who’s had this, we’ve given them two days.”
• Girardi on the decision between Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy: “I think defense has to come first in that situation. Pitchers being comfortable, you want them to be able to work. So we have a tough decision.” The Yankees aren’t expecting to make that decision until Saturday night.
• Pretty good day for Alex Rodriguez at first base. He had to make a couple of scoops and nearly started a double play on a sharp ground ball. “I didn’t realize how involved and alert you have to be on every play (at first base),” Rodriguez said. “Even on that base hit up the middle, I had to sprint to the mound for a cutoff man. Those are things that I’ve never really had to do. A couple times, you find yourself just kind of standing around not knowing what to do and then you kind of go. It’s not really natural.”
• Girardi was clearly happy with the way Rodriguez looked in the field today and said he would not hesitate to use him at first base during the season. Garrett Jones is still the go-to backup, but Girardi said he could also imagine putting Jones in right field and playing Rodriguez at first on days he wants to DH Carlos Beltran and rest Mark Teixeira.
• The first real challenge for Rodriguez came on first-inning a throw in the dirt from Stephen Drew, who was playing shortstop for the first time this spring. “It’s natural,” Drew said, joking that he was trying to make sure Rodriguez got his work in. “It’s just more or less getting throws over there, which I haven’t taken all spring because of Didi. He’s done a good job, and knock on wood, everybody’s healthy and we’re ready to go.”
• The Yankees got their first look at Gregorius Petit this afternoon. He played shortstop and got a couple of at-bats in the second half of today’s home game. “He’s a player that can play anywhere; second, short and third,” Girardi said. “He’s going to give you good at-bats, going to play hard. He can run a little bit. I’ve heard nothing but good things about him. He got caught in a position where there were a few guys over there that could do the same role that he could, so he became available. We’re happy to have him.”
• As planned, Didi Gregorius played shortstop in today’s road game. He seems past the wrist issue and should be ready for Opening Day. So when Gregorius takes a day off, will Drew or Petit play shortstop? “It’s probably something I need to talk about our scouts with, what’s the best scenario there,” Girardi said.
• Girardi stressed that the Yankees are sending Rob Refsnyder to Triple-A because they expect him to be an everyday guy when he finally gets to the big leagues. “He’s pretty close,” Girardi said. “I think for him, it’s a guy that’s made a position change, really. There was talk about him yesterday, could he possibly be that guy? I think we felt it was more beneficial for him to play every day, finish his development, and when he comes he’s here for good and that he’s an everyday player. Because I think that’s how we envision him.”
• Speaking of guys sent down, a source told me today that the Yankees will have center fielder Slade Heathcott open the season in Triple-A. That wasn’t the plan coming into spring training, but Heathcott has played so well that the Yankees think Heathcott is ready to make the jump. For whatever it’s worth, I also heard that Gary Sanchez has looked very impressive in minor league camp. Apparently the feeling is that he’s taken a giant leap forward.
• Final word goes to Girardi on a day the Yankees very nearly finalized their roster: “There’s a lot of guys in this camp I’ve had to send down that you can’t really tell them they’ve done a lot wrong. And (that includes) even some of the younger kids we played. These guys did a lot of things right, and it is difficult. I still say, it’s the worst part of my job. It’s very difficult for me and I feel for them, because it’s a dream of theirs. Obviously we believe that a guy like Chase Whitley is going to help us at some point this year. We believe that. And you just have to remind him of that. And you just try to talk about where you were last year at this time, and how far you’ve come, and be prepared, because there’s a good chance we’re going to need you at some point.”
Associated Press photos