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