Game by game, Jeter still eyes the division • 08.29.14
Even though the second wild card is the Yankees most obvious and attainable path to the playoffs, it surely comes as little surprise that Derek Jeter is not ready to give up on the division just yet.
“It’s always the goal, you know what I mean?” Jeter said after yesterday’s loss. “Until something else happens and you have to alter your goals, that’s the goal. But once again, we play (within) our division, so if we win our games, we’ll be fine. I don’t ever think you set your sights on something unless than you can accomplish it, so our goal is to win games. We need to win tomorrow.”
Jeter always seems to have his eye on the bigger picture while focusing on the smaller tasks at hand. Win the division. And do it by winning tonight’s game. And then tomorrow’s game. And the game after that.
“Like I always tell you, when you play the teams that are ahead of you, you don’t have to look at the scoreboard,” Jeter said. “We play our division, so we need to have the approach that we have to win every day. What do we have, 30 games left? You can’t sit around and look at the scoreboard. It’s in our own hands, so we need to win.”
That’s largely true. But the fact is, the Yankees aren’t going to play winning baseball every game the rest of the way. They’re likely going to need some help along the way, whether that’s in the form of another playoff contender stumbling down the stretch, or a few teams making mistakes that hand the Yankees an undeserved win or two.
Just last night, the Yankees hit the ball hard, but had few hits to show for it. They nearly got a huge home run in the ninth, but it was blown foul. Shawn Kelley pitched himself to the verge of a great escape, then made his final mistake. Did the Yankees earn a win yesterday? Obviously not. But if a few small things had bounced a different way, they might have gotten a win just the same.
“You saw what happened (Wednesday),” Brett Gardner said. “We had nine straight hits off (David) Price. Something’s got to go your way for that to happen. That’s why we play 162 games instead of 100. I feel like it all works itself out in the end. Hopefully in the end we’re still standing.”
That’s the big picture hope. The smaller task at hand is tonight’s game in Toronto, just another in a string of “must win” games for a team with very little margin for error.
“We’ve got to turn the page and go and put up a win (tonight),” Joe Girardi said. “You’ve got to take it day by day. It’s definitely not what we wanted (in Detroit), but our guys played hard, played extremely hard this series, and we’ve got to go continue on to Toronto.”
Associated Press photo
When a team is winning, a $20 horsehead mask bought on Amazon feels like good luck.
When a team has lost two of three in a tight wild card race, a one-run loss feels like rock bottom.
“That’s about as bad as I’ve felt walking off a mound in my career,” Shawn Kelley said.
Surely a misplaced slider on August 28 isn’t the low point of Kelley’s career, but I have no doubt it’s going to feel that way on the flight to Toronto. Three days ago, the Yankees had won five straight and Kelley’s goofy horsehead had become an unlikely team mascot. Now the team has lost two of three and fallen to three games behind both the Tigers and Mariners for the second wild card.
“We need to win every single game,” Derek Jeter said. “I don’t know how else to say it. That’s the approach we need to have. We’re in this position because of how we’ve played up to this point. So we are where we are, and now we need to win.”
As you might expect, there was a definite sense of lost opportunity in the Yankees clubhouse postgame. There were line drive outs. Brian McCann’s near home run was blown just foul. Kelley was one out away from escaping the ninth-inning jam.
When things are going well — when masks are good luck charms, and the team is winning, and 90s hip-hop is blasting in the clubhouse — there’s a real sense that games like this will eventually turn in the Yankees favor. But today, there was no laughing and no music blasting. And that horse mask was nowhere to be found.
“I didn’t watch (the game-winning hit),” Kelley said. “I just put my head down and walked off the field. It would’ve been a nice surprise if he would’ve (caught it), but I assumed it was a homer.”
• To be clear, off the bat I felt certain Alex Avila’s game-winner was a home run. I never thought Ichiro Suzuki had a shot at it until he closed the gap and came fairly close to a full-sprint catch at the wall. Ichiro was close, but I have a hard time suggesting he misplayed it. I’m mostly stunned he got that close. “It’s a do-or-die play,” Ichiro said. “I just went to where I thought the ball was going to be.”
• Girardi on whether Ichiro had a shot to make the catch: “It’s really hard for me to see once it gets out there. I heard him hit the wall, and I think I heard the ball hit the wall. I can’t tell you what exactly happened, but the bottom line is that it ended up being a base hit.”
• Kelley struck out both Nick Castellanos and Torii Hunter on fastballs, and he gave up both the Victor Martinez and Avila base hits on sliders. Surprised he went slider in that two-out situation against Avila? “No, that’s his bread-and-butter pitch,” Girardi said. “He also made some pretty good pitches with some sliders during some of the at-bats too.”
• Kelley on the first-pitch slider to Avila: “I got the outs I wanted to get, and then just overthrew a slider and left it up. Avila can hit that pitch. Most guys can.”
• Everyone involved seem to think McCann had a two-out, three-run home run in the top of the ninth. It seemed fair initially, but it eventually wound its way just foul. “I did (think it would stay fair),” McCann said. “It just kept going. I don’t know if the wind took it or what. It would have been nice if it stayed fair, but it didn’t.”
• Girardi said it “wasn’t a consideration” to use Dellin Betances for two innings tonight, and he indicated that it had nothing to do with using Betances last night. “You feel good about (Kelley) on the mound, especially the way he’s been throwing the baseball,” Girardi said. Kelley’s past five games leading into this one: 4.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K.
• Another pretty good start by Hiroki Kuroda, who has a 3.28 ERA in his past nine games. “I think I was pretty consistent with my splits,” Kuroda said. “I was able to be effective against the right-handers with my split.”
• We’re not into September yet, but Kuroda seems fairly confident that he can finish this season stronger than he did last year. “Yes, I had a bad second half last year and I am conscious of that,” he said. “I try to be different this year.” Kuroda has done things like limit the pitches he throws between starts in an effort to stay strong down the stretch.
• What made rookie Kyle Lobstein so effective? Girardi actually said the Yankees hit the ball better today than they did against David Price. “From the game that I saw, we swung the bats better than we did yesterday,” he said. “We just hit balls at people. That’s unfortunate. One inning we lined out three times. That’s part of the game, and we’re able to put a number of hits together and that’s why we didn’t score, but I actually thought we swung the bats well.”
• Jacoby Ellsbury had one hit, an RBI single. he’s hitting .462 in his past 10 games. Carlos Beltran is also fairly hot lately. He had two hits including a double and is batting .375 on the current road trip. This was his 27th multi-hit game of the season.
• This was the 42nd time the Yankees were limited to two runs or less this season. Little surprise they’re 7-35 in those games.
• Final word to Brett Gardner: “If we make up one game per week we’ll be in good shape at the end. I feel like we’re playing better baseball. Our pitching has been pretty consistent and they give us a chance to win ballgames. We’re headed in the right direction. It’s disappointing today, but we have another game tomorrow so we can’t get too down. We’ll keep grinding away.”
Associated Press photos
The Yankees made David Price throw 28 pitches in the first inning. In the second inning, their first two hitters singled. Price pitched out of each jam, but already the Yankees offense was showing some signs of life, and that was before the nine-hit third inning.
“It’s fun, but you don’t see that very often,” Derek Jeter said. “We had some good at-bats. We were lucky we found some holes. That’s why you play the games. Price is as good as anyone in baseball, so we were fortunate. But we needed it.”
They did need it, and that’s the real significant of what happened that inning. It’s not only that the Yankees batted around — nine straight hits, straight through the order — against one of the best pitchers in baseball, it’s that they did it one night after seeing their five-game winning streak come to an end.
This team has repeatedly crumbled just when it’s seemed things are finally going their way, so to regain momentum right away felt significant.
Their past three wins came in games started by Chris Sale, James Shields and Price.
“It’s important,” Joe Girardi said. “We’re talking about winning series, but the other thing is who we’re playing. This is one of the teams in front of us. It’s the last time we see them and the only chance to make up ground that we can rely on ourselves, so we need to win.”
Players said they didn’t realize what exactly had happened after Francisco Cervelli got that RBI single that chased Price from the game. The Yankees obviously realized they were having a good inning, but Jacoby Ellsbury said he didn’t realize everyone had gotten a hit until Kevin Long told him.
“I realized there was no outs when I was on second base,” Brett Gardner said. “But I didn’t realize we had already hit around the order a full time.”
It just kind of happened. There were a few hard-hit balls. A few grounders that found a hole. One infield single when the shortstop simply had no play.
“It’s tough to get that many hits, even if the guys hit the balls on the screws,” Ellsbury said. “… It builds confidence, you know? You want to be the next guy up, just keep the line moving. Even though we only scored that inning, I thought we still hit some balls hard and still had great ABs the rest of the game.”
Said Gardner: “It’s surprising to get three or four hits against him over the first couple of innings, to be honest, as good as he is. We just had some things go our way. Some balls fall. Some guys swinging the bats well. It was a big inning for us.”
• For obvious reasons, Shane Greene was pretty thoroughly overshadowed by the lineup’s one big inning, but the Yankees rookie starter delivered yet another gem of a pitching performance. Two runs on five hits with eight strikeouts through seven innings. The Yankes have won each of Greene’s past five starts, and they’re 5-0 when he starts on the road. “I got to give the credit to Cervy,” Greene said. “I’ve been following his lead for the most part. He knows these guys a lot better than me, so I just listen. Every once in a while I’ll shake him off, maybe two or three times in a game, but other than that, it’s all him.”
• This was Greene’s second strong start against this dangerous Detroit lineup. The big difference this time: Miguel Cabrera was in the lineup (he had the day off last time Greene faced the Tigers). Cabrera had one double against Greene, but Greene got him the other two times they squared off. “I live for that,” Greene said. “I live for those moments.”
• Greene’s key pitch is almost always his sinker, but tonight his slider was tremendous. “I hope it’s good for me every time,” Greene said. “But Cervy will let me know if it’s not or if it is. Just stay with him, you know. Probably by the second I could tell I had a good slider.”
• Why go to Dellin Betances in the ninth inning? “He’s had about three days off,” Girardi said. “And I was well aware of who was the tying run and the winning run, too. I didn’t want to get a couple guys on and then have to get Robby in, so I just felt I would go to Dellin. He was up and hot, so I thought I’d go to him.” — Had the Tigers put together a ninth inning like the Yankees third inning, the tying run was Miguel Cabrera and the go-ahead run was Victor Martinez.
• Because Seattle lost, the Yankees pulled within 2.5 games of the second wild card. They also gained a game in the division. “I didn’t look at (the out-of-town scoreboard),” Ellsbury said. “I know if we play well and we do what we’re supposed to do, it’s going to take care of itself. Obviously I’ll check tonight.”
• What’s Greene thinking as the Yankees offense has that big third inning? “Sometimes you think, hurry up, I want to get back out there,” Greene said. “But it’s nice when a team can go out there and put up runs like that. … When you put up that amount of runs it’s more of just, I need a quick inning, don’t give them any chances, don’t back down. Something like that.”
• Gardner said his ankle felt pretty good. “I was happy with the way it felt,” he said. “Obviously there’s still a little discomfort, but I felt pretty close to full-speed so I was happy with it.”
• Ellsbury leads the Majors with 28 games with two-or-more hits and two-or-more stolen bases since 2008. He had two of both tonight.
• The Yankees are 8-0 this season when Jeter has two or more RBI.
• A few third-inning facts: The Yankees were two shy of the Major League record for consecutive hits in an inning. … The last American League team to have nine straight hits in an inning was Detroit in 1996 (the Cardinals did it last year). … Nine hits was a single-season high for the Yankees. So was right runs. … This was the second-shortest outing of Price’s career and eight earned runs matched his career high.
• Rock solid pregame ceremony by the Tigers, who included Jeter’s family — his nephew stole the show by tipping his cap — his high school coach, former teammates Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain, Tigers greats Al Kaline and Willie Horton, and various kids from Jeter’s foundation in Kalamazoo. “I thought it was very nice that they involved my family and our leadership program from Kalamazoo,” Jeter said. “We appreciate it a lot. It was a class act by a class organization to include them. Our foundation means a lot to us, and for them to include them, it meant a lot to us.”
• Final word to Jeter on how badly the Yankees needed to keep last night’s loss from becoming a losing streak: “We don’t think like that,” Jeter said. “We think we have to win a game. We had to win today, now regardless of what happened today, we need to win tomorrow. That’s the approach you have to have. You can’t think about winning streaks and losing streaks; we just have to play well.”
Associated Press photos
Assuming the rain goes away, tonight will be Derek Jeter’s eighth start at designated hitter this season. He’s still a long way from his single-season career high — 25 DH games in in 2012 — but it seems significant that four of those turns at designated hitter have come in his past nine games.
Now that Carlos Beltran is available to play some right field, it’s clear that Joe Girardi is taking advantage of the opportunity to get Jeter a half day off now and then. Perhaps it’s strictly a rest issue. Perhaps it has a lot to do with Stephen Drew’s glove.
“I’m in the mode that I’m just taking it day by day,” Girardi said. “But with Carlos being able to go into the outfield once in a while, it gives me more flexibility to do this. … We’ve had some long stretches. We have a lot of lefties coming up the next five days after today where he’s going to play (probably at shortstop), so try to give him a little blow when I can. And I thought today was probably a good day. Two plane flights in two days, and as I said, we have day games after night games, so we’re going to need him in there a lot.”
Obviously Jeter prefers playing the field, but he said he understands the DH days, and he seems to embrace them — even when he’s had so many these past couple of weeks.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve done it,” Jeter said. “What, three or four times this year? I think a couple of years ago, in 2012, I may have done it 20 or 30-something times. Because of injuries, Carlos had to DH, so I haven’t really thought about it. My job is to come here, and when I’m in the lineup, play. I like to play every day. I like to play shortstop every day. Everyone is aware of that. But I get it. I understand it. We’ve had a long stretch here. I think we only have a couple of more days off, and then we have another long stretch at the end of the year. So, I don’t know what his plans are. My job is to play.’
Late last season, we saw Girardi use Mariano Rivera a little more heavily, making sure to get every last bit out of the retiring closer. Would he do the same with the retiring shortstop, running him out there with very little rest down the stretch?
“I don’t think I can play him much more than I’ve played him,” Girardi said. “He’s played in all but about 10 games maybe, maybe a few more than that, but there was a time when he missed three because his leg was bothering him. But when you get in these long stretches, these 13-game stretches, I’ve usually given him on day off. And that might be all he gets in this.”
• Brett Gardner was hoping to run today, which he sees as the final test for his sore ankle. If he can run today, he thinks he should be available in some capacity tonight. Gardner didn’t run at all the past two days. “Hopefully that goes well and I’ll be available to play tonight,” he said.
• Here’s Girardi on his approach to the Gardner injury: “My concern was: he said he felt better but he needed to run,” Girardi said. “Gardy’s pretty tough, and Gardy’s played through a lot, which made me believe that it’s probably not 100 percent, which it might not be for a while. This extra day will probably do us some good. My concern is that he favors it, or that he gets out there and he can’t run, and then I’ve got to make a change. It can just really mess things up.”
• Not much concern about Mark Teixeira’s hamstring. “I think you’re always going to watch it a little bit,” Girardi said. “I think the day off probably helped, and we just tell him to play smart. I mean, he did play smart the couple of days that he had it, so he’s just going to have to continue to do that.”
• Masahiro Tanaka threw today, and as long as he still feels fine tomorrow, he’ll remain on track to throw a simulated game on Thursday.
• Initial Arizona Fall League rosters were announced this afternoon. The Yankees are sending RF Aaron Judge, 3B Eric Jagielo, OF/IF Tyler Austin and 1B Greg Bird. They’re also sending pitchers Caleb Cotham, Branden Pinder and Alex Smith. There remains a TBA spot on the roster listed as a Yankees catcher. Pretty interesting group of position players. I actually thought Ramon Flores might go, but I guess not. Jagielo seemed like a near lock in my mind after missing so much time. Bird and Austin make a lot of sense too.
• On the current Yankees momentum: “I think they feel pretty good about themselves,” Girardi said. “But the thing about baseball is you’ve got to go do it every day. It starts with your starting pitcher that night, and I don’t know how you could for any more (than) what Brandon McCarthy has done, but we need him to continue to pitch like this.”
• On the importance of three games against a team that’s also in the mix for the second wild card: “You’ve got to win the series. It’s extremely important. We know they’re a very good team, and we’re facing a good pitcher tonight who didn’t give up too many runs against us the last time. But Brandon pitched really well. You’ve got to win games.”
Associated Press photos
Just got into my Detroit hotel after missing Monday’s makeup game in Kansas City, so we’ll start this day with the AP story from last night. Here’s Dave Skretta:
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Michael Pineda kept throwing strikes. The Royals kept taking them, trying in vain to drive his pitch count up. When Yankees catcher Brian McCann looked up in the third inning, his right-hander had still thrown just 35 pitches.
He knew then that Pineda was in a groove.
Pineda wound up pitching into the seventh inning Monday night to win for the first time since April 16, helping New York beat the Kansas City Royals 8-1 for its fifth straight win.
“He’s got so much cut on his fastball,” McCann said. “I feel like he could literally throw it every pitch and be successful. When he’s like that, he’s as good as anybody.”
In the makeup of a game rained out in early June, Pineda (3-2) gave up a solo shot to Mike Moustakas leading off the third inning. But that was about it in Pineda’s third game back from the disabled list. He struck out five without a walk.
Jacoby Ellsbury drove in a run in the seventh inning with the 1,000th hit of his career, then added a two-run homer in the ninth. Derek Jeter added a pair of RBIs in his final scheduled trip to Kauffman Stadium, and Stephen Drew and Martin Prado had solo home runs.
“It’s nice when you have a lot of people contribute,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
James Shields (12-7) allowed six runs over 6 2-3 innings for Kansas City.
“We’ve been playing really, really good baseball the last month or so. We’re definitely not going to let just one little game take care of us,” Shields said. “We’re going to move onto this next series and hopefully we’ll win it.”
If you’re willing to count the makeup against New York as a true series, it was the first time in their last 11 that the Royals have dropped one.
“It’s going to happen,” outfielder Alex Gordon said. “We’ll bounce back. We’ll be OK.”
Moustakas tied the game with his 15th homer in the bottom half.
Drew gave the Yankees the lead back in the fourth with his home run, and they piled on four more runs off Shields in the seventh to put things out of reach.
The last of the runs was scored by Ellsbury, who came home on a sacrifice fly by McCann. Ellsbury initially was ruled out at the plate, but the call was overturned after a 2-minute video review showed his left leg sliding just under catcher Salvador Perez’s tag.
That was plenty of support for Pineda, who had gone through the ringer since his previous win. He served a 10-game suspension for getting caught with pine tar on his neck in a game against Boston, then landed on the DL with shoulder trouble that kept him out until mid-August.
Pineda was stuck with a pair of no-decisions in his first two starts back.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I feel like I have good power in my arm.”
BRONX BOMBERS: The Yankees homered at least three times in a game for the seventh time this season, but it was the first time they had done it since July 9 at Cleveland.
CRACKED SHIELDS: Speaking of homers, Shields gave up at least two in a game for the seventh time this season, tied for second-most in the majors behind the Brewers’ Marco Estrada with nine.
TRAINER’S ROOM: 1B Mark Teixeira (left hamstring) and OF Brett Gardner (right ankle) were held out of the starting lineup. Girardi hopes both will be available Tuesday in Detroit.
UP NEXT: RHP Brandon McCarthy makes his ninth start with the Yankees to open a three-game series in Detroit, one of the clubs they’re chasing in the AL wild-card race.
Associated Press photos
The video above is from this morning’s live batting practice — felt more like a sim game — when Masahiro Tanaka threw 35 pitches to Brendan Ryan and Zelous Wheeler. He threw 20 pitches announcing what’s coming, then sat for a while, then threw another 15. He was mixing all of his pitches, including splitfingers that Wheeler said looked exactly like what he saw when facing Tanaka during spring training.
“I thought it was a good progression,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “As long as he’s healthy, his stuff’s in the right direction, being able to throw 35 pitches and do full warmups and everything. We’ll see how he comes in tomorrow, but he feels good afterwards so that’s a good sign.”
Seems telling that when Tanaka talked about the session, he made no real mention of his elbow. He talked all about his stuff — whether he was hitting his spots, how he felt about his breaking balls. It’s pretty clear that Tanaka feels healthy, and at this point he’s simply getting ready to pitch in a game again.
“I’m not saving anything when I throw each pitch,” he said.
Tanaka said he wasn’t hitting his spots quite like he’s used to, and his offspeed stuff was a bit rusty, but he feels healthy. He said he’ll pay attention to his elbow, and he’ll naturally think about it, but he’s letting his pitches go without holding back.
“I thought (his strength and stamina) was good for the time off he’s had,” Rothschild said. “Overall I thought it was pretty good. It wasn’t where it was before he got hurt, but I didn’t expect it to be. This is another step in the progression so we’ll just keep going with it.”
The Yankees have not announced a timetable for Tanaka’s return, and they’re even vague on what the next step would be.
“He’s going to have to make some rehab starts (eventually),” Joe Girardi said. “I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to be able to do it as we build him up because you’re going to run out of minor league season, but we’ll be creative enough to do whatever we have to do to get him ready.”
• Carlos Beltran is back in the lineup after missing three days because of a cortisone shot in his sore elbow. Beltran hit tee and toss yesterday, and Girardi said the results were so encouraging he considered pinch hitting Beltran last night. So the team feels pretty secure in thinking he’ll be able to play today.
• Three straight left-handed hitters at the top of the lineup? “Gardy is a guy who really works the count and Jake’s on and has a chance to do some things,” Girardi said. “They sent their left-handed reliever out, so I don’t have to worry about stacking lefties today.”
• Derek Jeter out of the lineup for a day game after a night game. “Just a day off,” Girardi said.
• What’s next for Tanaka? “We’ll talk about it, what we think the next step is,” Girardi said. “If it’s more of a BP session, another BP session or treat it more like a simulated game. Big thing is we’ll see how he feels tomorrow and then we’ll make a decision.”
• Any chance of asking Tanaka to throw fewer splitfingers when he comes back in an effort to save the elbow? “He’s got to pitch the way he’s going to pitch,” Girardi said. “if you’re going to really try to change everything, you’re not going to get the same guy. Let’s just see what we have as we move forward.”
• The number 6 is painted into foul territory as the Yankees prepare to honor Joe Torre with a pregame ceremony. “Joe’s demeanor was always the same during the course of a game, during good times, bad times,” Girardi said. “That’s my personality normally, but I saw the importance of it from Joe, that your mood doesn’t change as long as the effort is good every day. I’ve often talked about Joe’s ability to make people believe that everything was going to be OK all the time, no matter what we were going through and we went through a lot in the years that he was here, on and off the field and those are the things I tried to take the most from Joe.”
Associated Press photo
Hard to know what to make of yesterday’s pregame meeting of Yankees position players, who gathered to discuss the state of the offense and to talk about the desire to live up their potential down the stretch. Team meetings are always interesting, and it’s particularly interesting in this case because the offense has been so very bad, but it might mean a little more of the team had actually — you know — scored a bunch of runs yesterday.
Instead, yesterday’s win was mostly defined by Brandon McCarthy’s pitching rather than the lineup’s hitting.
“I’ve said all along, these guys have worked hard and they’re trying to figure it out,” Joe Girardi said. “Whatever it takes, it takes. They’re going to do whatever it takes to try to get better and try to be more productive. I am all for that. It’s not something where they come to work and they say, ‘OK, this is what it is.’ They don’t do that. They look for every road to get better every day, and they’re doing the necessary things they have to do.”
Hard to say how many times a similar message has been delivered one way or another this season. As has been written and said many times, this is certainly a veteran team that’s well aware of the way things work. I can’t imagine any of the players needed to be told that the offense has struggled, and you would certainly hope that they didn’t need some sort of meeting to make them work toward getting it turned around.
“I think there’s different ways to go about things,” Girardi said. “There are going to be times where I call the meetings and I have a specific message that I want delivered and I’m going to talk about it. There are going to be times that players just talk amongst themselves. They might be talking about what they see. Can you help me, in a sense, or those sorts of things. Meetings are meant to stay in house. How we do them is going to be different from time to time. There are going to be meetings where I’ll ask players to speak up and there will be meetings where I don’t ask them to speak up. I don’t think you can characterize meetings as just one way because there’s different ways to be effective.”
• Carlos Beltran was planning to swing a bat today. If that goes well, it’s possible — but not certain — that he could be in the lineup tomorrow. “We hope it works and then we get him in a game,” Girardi said. “It wouldn’t happen today, but he’s going to take some swings today.”
• Ramon Flores has been activated from the Triple-A disabled list. The young outfielder was having a nice year before he went down with an ankle injury that’s cost him much of the season, but with a spot on the 40-man roster, Flores could be a September call-up candidate now that he’s healthy.
• Interesting column from Joel Sherman today. Joel wrote that Larry Rothschild is interested in exploring a six-man rotation, possibly down the stretch this season and potentially heading into next season. Doesn’t sound like the Yankees are particularly close to doing it, but it seems fairly significant that the team’s pitching coach is interested in giving it a shot.
• Earlier this season, Derek Jeter did a press conference specifically for Japanese media. Today he did one specifically for Latin media. Pretty clear sign of his international significance. “I think you’re pretty aware of the impact that he has in the game of baseball,” Girardi said. “We see that as we travel around and you’re going to visiting parks. Obviously Derek has meant a lot to fans all over the world, and it’s because of the way he has handled himself on and off the field, and the way he plays the game. He plays it hard, and he plays to win. Never shows anybody up and does things the right way. That’s why he’s had such a big impact.”
• Another start for Shane Greene, who’s been terrific since sliding into the rotation last month. “You know what we’ve seen, we’ve seen him overcome some things during some of his starts where he might have struggled a little bit early and found a way to get back on track,” Girardi said. “The growth that I’ve seen from the first time he threw in the big leagues, in his relief appearance, to now, has been pretty amazing.”
• Has absolutely nothing to do with baseball, but tomorrow is the 20-year anniversary of Jeff Buckley’s album Grace. I mention it only because it’s remarkable and everyone should hear it.
Associated Press photo
A few thoughts heading into the weekend • 08.22.14
The big picture is pretty obvious heading into this weekend. The Yankees are four games out of the second wild card and about to play three games against a pretty bad White Sox team (granted, with Chris Sale pitching one of those games). They’re not in a great spot, but they are remarkably not buried just yet. They have to hit better, they have to get on a roll, and they have to take advantage of situations like this weekend if they want to make any sort of playoff run. All of that goes without saying at this point. So here are a few random thoughts heading into the weekend.
• Easy to say this after yesterday’s strong start, but of all the guys the Yankees traded for his season, Brandon McCarthy stands out as the best option for a new contract. Martin Prado is going to stick around anyway, and while there’s an argument to be made for both Chase Headley (who I think might be more expensive than expected) and Stephen Drew (who doesn’t strike me as the best shortstop on the market this winter), McCarthy seems like a great fit. He gets groundballs in a stadium where fly balls are dangerous, he throws strikes, and he has a personality that fits this market and this clubhouse. Kind of walks that line between being goofy and still having a leadership quality. And this year has proven beyond a doubt that there really is no such thing as too much starting pitching.
• Speaking of McCarthy, there are some similarities between him and tonight’s Yankees starter, Shane Greene. And yesterday, McCarthy had some awfully nice things to say about Greene. “I like watching Shane pitch. I don’t care if I’m not here anymore (next year), he’s a really fun kid for me to watch pitch because he lies and calls it a cutter even though it’s s disgusting, unhittable slider. His fastball is just explosive. He’s a guy I’d never heard of before a came here, and 10 years ago that’s a kid that’s on the cover of Baseball America, and he’s the next big thing. It’s crazy where pitching has gone, but I think it shows how good he is that, nobody really knows who he is, probably, and I guarantee you when hitters go back to the dugout they’re (saying), ‘I don’t know what I just saw.’”
• On Wednesday night, Joe Girardi said that Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Derek Jeter — the top three hitters in the lineup — have been probably the team’s most consistent hitters. While I think most people are on board with Gardner and Ellsbury being two of the bright spots this season, I wanted to look up Jeter’s numbers. He hit .272 in April, .275 in May, .272 in June, and .289 in July. His on-base percentage — except for a down much of June — and slugging percentage have also been fairly steady from month to month (though all of his numbers are down in August). Jeter has not been a great hitter this season, but I really believe that if the offense were more productive around him, we’d all be talking about what a nice, steady, still-productive final seasons he’s having. Instead, with the offense struggling so much, Jeter occasionally becomes a go-to argument as if he’s the source of the problem.
• Carlos Beltran seems confident that playing catch and playing the outfield have nothing to do with his recent elbow setback. But that’s been a risky situation ever since the bone spur was discovered, and I can’t help wondering if throwing a baseball a little bit might have played some small role in expediting a setback that was probably inevitable anyway. He’ll have surgery regardless, but now he’s had three cortisone shots in a year. That just seems like a lot. If doctors cleared it, I’m sure it’s fine, but he’s really doing what he can to stay on the field.
• On the flip side of the Beltran-in-the-field argument: I was never sure it was a good idea, and I’m still not sure it was a good idea, but I became significantly more on board when Girardi made it clear he was willing to give Derek Jeter significant time at designated hitter so that either Drew or Brendan Ryan could spend more time at shortstop. Freeing up the DH spot not only let the Yankees rest veterans more easily, but it helped their infield defense on those days Girardi was willing to play his best defensive shortstops. That seemed like a real plus. It might have been an obvious move, but I wasn’t sure Girardi would be willing to do it.
• I assume yesterday’s Zelous Wheeler call-up makes him a shoo-in for a September call-up (meaning he’ll stick around once rosters expand). Nothing against Wheeler, who’s done a nice job establishing himself as a kind of utility option in the big leagues, but I really wondered if his roster spot might be up for grabs next month. There’s little sense keeping both he and Jose Pirela on the roster — they’re fairly similar — and I thought the Yankees might prefer to check out the younger guy. I guess it still might happen. With Wheeler and Yangervis Solarte, the Yankees did a nice job over the winter of finding some useful pieces among the six-year minor league free agents. Need to do that kind of thing when the upper levels of the minor league system are fairly thin.
• Take away any requirement for number of at-bats, and the only Yankees who have hit better than .300 with runners in scoring position this year are Scott Sizemore (2-for-4), Zoilo Almonte (1-for-3) and John Ryan Murphy (4-for-13). The other Yankees hitting better than .250 with runners in scoring position are Brett Gardner (.295), Stephen Drew (.294), Jacoby Ellsbury (.292), Yangervis Solarte (.284), Kelly Johnson (.280) and Derek Jeter (.275).
• Not the usual sort of item for a post like this, but it sounds interesting: Yesterday, MLB announced that Robinson Cano, Adam Jones, Yasiel Puig and Albert Pujols will be among a group of Major Leaguers who will travel to Japan this November to play a five-game series against “Samurai Japan” (Japan’s National Team) in “All-Star Series 2014.” Ron Washington will manage the team. No word on a full roster just yet. I think it would be cool to see Brett Gardner, Dave Robertson or Dellin Betances make the trip. Maybe even a guy like Shane Greene or David Phelps if MLB is going to flesh out the roster with younger guys like that. Certainly not the biggest names on the Yankees roster, but absolutely among the most deserving of something like this.
• One reason the Yankees are still in the race is because of the general parity in baseball. I really wonder if we’ll see another run where a team makes the playoffs as consistently as the Yankees did the previous two decades. “I think that with the way that baseball has (gone) with the revenue sharing and the TV contracts and everything that’s going on, I think you’re seeing more parity in the game,” Girardi said. “It doesn’t appear that there’s going to be a team that wins 100 games this year. I don’t know how many teams are going to win 90 games this year. You’re seeing, I think, a group of 30 teams that from top to bottom, I think there’s more competition and it becomes really difficult. We can look at Boston last year, they won the World Series. They made a few changes, but they didn’t make a ton of changes, and this year for whatever reason it hasn’t worked out for them. And I don’t think they expected that. It’s not easy to win a championship.”
Associated Press photos
David Phelps played catch yesterday. He also got a precautionary MRI and will meet with team physician Dr. Chris Ahmad later tonight. Phelps said he’s been told he could be back in roughly three weeks, but that time table really depends on how the Yankees choose to use him down the stretch.
Is it worth waiting to get him back in the rotation, or is it better to move more quickly and put him in the bullpen?
“You hate to say anything because my fear is that it will change tomorrow,” Joe Girardi said. “Right now our starters are throwing well, and our relievers have really been pretty good too. I think what you look at is, let’s see what the doctors says today. And then if we feel that we need him as a starter, how long does that take in the doctor and Stevie (Donohue)’s eyes? And how long would it take to get him back as a reliever. Then you go from there.”
Phelps was pitching awfully well before that start in Boston that sent him to the disabled list. He had a 3.29 ERA in nine starts before the Boston game, and even that ERA would have been below 3.00 if not for one bad inning in Texas. A few bad games, and one rough stretch, have inflated Phelps’ season numbers, but he was emerging as one of the Yankees most reliable starters before he got hurt.
He’s missed just two weeks, which doesn’t seem like a huge problem — and the injury seems more focused at the bottom of his triceps, not necessarily in the usual elbow ligament — but the Yankees are a cautious bunch, and so it’s not likely Phelps will be rushed back under any circumstances.
“It’s been well over a week since I felt anything, which is good news,” Phelps said. “What we’re doing is working. We have to wait and see what (Dr. Ahmad) says, and then hopefully move forward. … They’ve talked three weeks potentially. It all depends. We want to make sure everything goes smooth just so we don’t have a setback at this point in the season. I think it might be a little bit more careful than trying to rush things. I don’t think it should take that long. It’s only been two weeks. Hopefully it will go faster than that.”
Seems like a guy who should be able to help in one role or another.
“How we use him probably depends on how long it takes him to get back,” Girardi said. “Obviously we feel it’s important he sees the doctor today and we go from there. He’s hasn’t been off that long to where if he’s a start obviously it will take longer. If he’s a bullpen guy it doesn’t take as long.”
• Random note on Derek Jeter: The scoring has been changed on the hit that originally moved him into a tie with Honus Wagner on the all-time hits list. That hit is now an error, which means Jeter did not tie Wagner on August 8, he actually tied him on August 9 and passed him on August 11. The Yankees actually kept each ball (apparently just in case that August 8 hit was changed to an error) so Jeter has the new milestone baseballs, just in case you were worried. “If it was the last hit I ever got, then it would be a story,” Jeter said. “This one? We got the ball, so (it’s not a big deal).”
• Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to throw another bullpen tomorrow.
• Speaking of Jeter, he’s back at shortstop and Stephen Drew is on the bench. Drew hasn’t hit much since coming to the Yankees, and the team seems happy with Martin Prado’s ability to play second base, so tonight Prado and Ichiro Suzuki are in the lineup. Girardi said the lineup could change quite a bit from night to night. “It’s something that I’ll look at, and with Carlos (Beltran) able to play the outfield, I think it helps us,” Girardi said. “It’s also important, too, that we give Carlos his DH days as well. Prado gives us a lot of flexibility. He played a very good second base the other day and we’ll play him there today.”
• By the way, Girardi didn’t rule out the idea of DHing either Francisco Cervelli or Brian McCann from time to time. Cervelli has been a pretty productive hitter this season. “We’ve talked about that,” Girardi said. “We have. You run the risk that, if sometimes one gets nicked up during the game, then you’ve got to move him. It’s something that – is there a possibility you’ll see us do that? Yes.”
• Adam Warren has not looked sharp in his most recent outings — he has a 9.82 ERA and .621 opponents slugging percentage his past nine times out — but the Yankees haven’t used him in a week. Girardi said it just kind of happened that way, but there certainly seemed to be times when Shawn Kelley was coming into situations that Warren might have pitched if he weren’t struggling. “The situation just didn’t dictate (bringing him in),” Girardi said. “I don’t think the days off hurt him. And I think he should feel pretty strong and rested now, which is a good thing for us.”
• Tiger Woods is here today. So that’s something.
• Six games at home against teams with losing records. This should be an opportunity to pad the Yankees record. “You have to win series,” Girardi said. “You have to win games. It gets to the point where there’s not a lot of room for error. These are very important games.”
Associated Press photos
An interesting thing happened these past two days.
The Yankees designated hitter spot opened up, and Derek Jeter filled it on back-to-back games. He’s been the Yankees DH six times this season, and a third of those came over the weekend.
It’s worth wondering: In this final month and a half, are we going to see a little more Stephen Drew at shortstop and a little less Jeter in the field?
“That’s not a discussion that I really want to have right now,” Joe Girardi said. “With Carlos being able to play the outfield, I can obviously do some different things. But Jeet’s my shortstop.”
Girardi was clear about that. Jeter is still the Yankees shortstop. But Carlos Beltran has been cleared to play right field, and the Yankees can now use the DH spot to give a few other players a rest — even relatively young guys like Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury might like a half day off now and then — and it’s hard to ignore the current roster and the way Girardi used it over the weekend.
Drew and Brendan Ryan are considered awfully good defensive players. Metrics suggest they’re better shortstops than Jeter, who’s 40 years old and coming off a series of lower-body injuries last season.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Girardi uses his infielders down the stretch. Drew, Ryan and Martin Prado provide quite a bit of flexibility. Jeter is obviously considered the starting shortstop — makes little sense to expect Girardi to label him any other way — but we’ll see whether the Yankees become tempted into using other players to regularly handle the position.
Associated Press photo