The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Pregame notes: Swisher back in the outfield09.13.11

Three and half hours before first pitch, Joe Girardi still wasn’t sure who would be starting in right field. Nick Swisher was going to make some throws in the outfield, and his availability would depend on how he felt.

Obviously, he felt good enough to get in there.

“Tendinitis is going to go away,” Girardi said. “It could irritate him a little bit. It’s when it irritates him a lot that you worry about. There are a lot of guys that are probably playing with tendinitis in their arm right now, it’s just when it becomes too painful that you can’t do what you need to do.”

Just a few days ago, the Yankees seemed incredibly beat up, but the pieces are slowly falling back into place. Swisher is back in the outfield, Russell Martin is back behind the plate and Alex Rodriguez seems to be getting closer.

“It is good to see,” Girardi said. “It seemed like they all came at once, so we could have two back tonight and maybe a third – Alex – when we get to Toronto.”

• Curtis Granderson has a standard day off. Girardi figured it was a good day — as good as any, anyway — with a left-hander on the mound.

• Initially, the Yankees said Rodriguez would sit out three to four days. This is the fourth game he’s skipped, but Girardi is now planning to give him tomorrow, plus Thursday’s scheduled off day. “I think Friday is reasonable for Alex,” he said.

• Francisco Cervelli has been placed on the disabled list retroactive to Friday.

• Girardi said it’s still uncertain whether the Yankees will get Cervelli back this season. “I think it’s really hard to predict what’s going to happen,” he said. “Concussions today have become so unpredictable, you think you’re getting a guy back, he plays one game and then goes right back to the symptoms. I have no idea.”

• Phil Hughes pitched well last night. Now it’s A.J. Burnett’s turn. “I think he can get better and better,” Girardi said. “His changeup was the best I’ve ever seen it the other day. It still comes down to being able to locate your fastball, and I think his curveball has been better with the depth rather than going across.”

• Both Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman were getting loose during last night’s game, but neither actually got in. “I thought about using one of them,” Girardi said. “They were just throwing after that.”

• For those of you curious, four first-year pitchers have been carrying kids backpacks to and from the bullpen. George Kontos got Elmo, Hector Noesi got Dora the Explorer, Dellin Betances got Hannah Montana and Andrew Brackman got some sort of fairy character that I’ve never seen before.

MARINERS
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Kyle Seager 3B
Dustin Ackley 2B
Mike Carp LF
Justin Smoak 1B
Miguel Olivo C
Adam Kennedy DH
Casper Wells CF
Brendan Ryan SS

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 408 Comments →

Postgame notes: “I told him, ‘It’s like riding a bike’”09.11.11

The Yankees have lost four in a row and they’ve scored one run in their past 25 innings. But we’ll get to all of that later.

Tonight’s most intriguing subplot was behind the plate where each of the four catchers on the active roster — and one who’s not yet on the roster — became newsworthy in one way or another.

Jorge Posada
Of course it starts with Posada, who hadn’t caught in a game — any game — since last year’s American League Championship Series. Even though Russell Martin initially stayed in the game, Joe Girardi told Posada to start getting loose just in case.

“That’s incredible, what he did today,” Girardi said. “It showed a lot of guts on his part. I told him, ‘It’s like riding a bike. Go ahead and get back on the bike.’ He wasn’t so sure. I’m not sure he believed me when he went back there, but he did a nice job.”

Chances are Posada won’t be back behind the plate. This was probably his one appearance of the season, and it was clear Posada enjoyed it. CC Sabathia said it was a “welcome sight” and Derek Jeter said it was “just like old times.”

“Fun again,” Posada said. “It was fun. I’ll be sore tomorrow. I’ll sleep well tonight… I didn’t think in September it was going to happen. You’ve got another catcher up here, but baseball’s a funny game.”

Russell Martin
X-rays were negative and Martin was diagnosed with a bruised thumb. After the game, he had it heavily wrapped, but Martin refused to rule out the idea of catching tomorrow.

“It was to the point when I really could feel the baseball in my hand,” Martin said. “I tried to throw to second base and didn’t have any feeling. The ball took off on me. They took me out of the game. We’re going to see probably how it feels tomorrow, just come in and get some treatment on it, and you know, go from there. It’s just a bruised thumb. The X-rays were negative. So, I’m feeling pretty good that I should be able to get in there tomorrow. We’ll see tomorrow. But I’ve played with a bruised thumb before.”

Martin asked to stay in the game, to at least give his hand some time for the feeling to come back. He said the ball hit the tip of his thumb, and his thumbnail split open a little bit, leaving blood coming from the side of his finger.

“I watched Russell throw to CC when he was warming up (before the third), then I saw his throw to second and said, ‘He can’t do it,’” Girardi said.

Francisco Cervelli
Dizzy for a third straight day, Cervelli is going to New York tomorrow for tests and treatment. Cervelli said this is his third concussion, though I was almost certain it was his fourth.

“I had a little dizziness (yesterday), but today is the same, so I had to say something because it’s not normal,” Cervelli said. “… I think I just need to rest a couple of days, but we’ll see what the doctors say.”

Doctors in Los Angeles have told Cervelli it’s safe to fly. Girardi’s not sure when Cervelli will rejoin the team. It might not be before the end of this road trip.

Jesus Montero
With Martin banged up, Cervelli heading for New York and Posada having just caught for the first time in nearly 11 months, Girardi really has only one option to start at catcher tomorrow.

“It would be pretty hard to ask Jorge to go back-to-back days when he hasn’t caught all year,” Girardi said. “We’ll see what we’re going to do tomorrow. Montero will probably catch.”

It would be Jesus Montero’s first time catching a big league game. He’s become a regular at designated hitter, even against right-handers, but he obviously wants to prove himself behind the plate. The first thing he did when he was called up was catch a bullpen with Freddy Garcia, who happens to be tomorrow’s starter.

“I haven’t heard any decisions,” Montero said. “I don’t know anything yet. I might catch. I might not… I would be happy, yeah, to catch my first game in the big leagues.”

Austin Romine
Girardi strongly hinted that the Yankees will add a catcher before tomorrow’s game. He wouldn’t say who — or even confirm that a move will be made — but he said, “Let’s see who gets here tomorrow.”

Asked specifically about Romine, Girardi smiled and said, “He’s a possibility.”

Here’s Posada.

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Here’s Martin.

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• CC Sabathia doesn’t have a start like this one very often. He allowed eight hits and four walks through six innings, but gave up only one run because he made huge pitches — and got some huge defensive plays — when he needed them. “I felt like I had to battle,” he said. “Fastball command was really off, and I couldn’t get ahead of anybody but we were able to make some pitches and try to keep the game close.”

• The Yankees still had a shot until Hector Noesi gave up four runs in the seventh, two of them on a home run by .183-hitter Jeff Mathis. George Kontos made his big league debut in relief of Noesi and gave up a solo shot to Torii Hunter. “That’s my fault,” Sabathia said. “I need to be able to go deep into games. I know the guys have been sucking it up in September. A lot of guys are tired. They’ve been used a lot. I blame that game on me.”

• Girardi on the bullpen: “Noesi has thrown the ball pretty good for us. He had a rough day today. We’re not scoring runs, and that changes the way you run a game, in a sense. We’re going to need those guys when we’re winning games or are tied. It’s frustrating, but this team has bounced back a lot this year. We’re in a tough streak right now, but we’ll bounce back.”

• The Yankees have scored just one run since the second inning of Thursday’s game in Baltimore. “We need to swing the bats better,” Derek Jeter said. “That’s the bottom line. They’ve pitched well; you run up against good pitching. It’s going to be tough at times. It’s one of those streaks where it doesn’t seem like too many people are hitting.”

• Girardi said the decision to go with Posada behind the plate was an easy one. He didn’t want to lose his DH so early in the game, and that would have happened had he gone to Montero.

• Posada said he expected the Angels to try to run on him, so he wasn’t surprised when the first base runner took off. “I knew they were going to attempt, so just be prepared, be ready,” Posada said. “It’s been a while, but I just got rid of it.”

• The throw was high, but Robinson Cano made a nifty leaping catch and tag to get the out.

• Jeter said he didn’t say much to Posada on the field. “’Good throw,’ that’s about it,” Jeter said. “I didn’t get too deep.”

• Martin was asked if he could have positioned himself differently to avoid being hit in the hand. “They talk a lot about having your hand behind your back,” he said. “When there’s guys on base, you have to have your hand in position to make the transfer. That was the situation where there was a guy on first base, or second base, I don’t remember where he was. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. My hand was right behind my glove.”

• Cervelli was asked if he was this dizzy before he left Baltimore. “After the collision, yeah,” he said. “I was catching. I don’t know how, but I stayed there. The next day, everything was sore: Nose, mouth, neck. I’m just dizzy right now. I just think I need a couple of days.”

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 24 Comments →

Pregame notes: Short-handed heading to Boston08.29.11


Alex Rodriguez jammed his thumb making a play at third base in Minneapolis. He aggravated the injury swinging a bat here in Baltimore. Although an MRI came back clean, the Yankees aren’t certain they’ll have their third baseman at all this week in Boston.

“I think it’s really questionable,” Joe Girardi said. “But let’s just see.”

Rodriguez saw hand specialist Dr. Melvin Rosenwasser, and Girardi said the Yankees just have to make sure the thumb is ready to go. It bothers him more swinging than fielding, and Girardi doesn’t believe it’s the kind of injury that will linger. Once it’s healed, it’s healed.

Meanwhile, the Yankees are heading to Boston for a key three-game series, and their third baseman isn’t the only concern. Derek Jeter seems better, but obviously he’s a little banged up, and he’s spent a ton of time in the trainer’s room this afternoon. The Yankees bullpen is also short-handed with Hector Noesi optioned to Triple-A to make room for Freddy Garcia.

“It is a little bit (of a concern), knowing how some of the games can get up north,” Girardi said. “With Freddy tonight, it is a little bit of a concern. We’re going to have to deal with it.”

• Noesi has been optioned, and so he won’t be available for a call-up on September 1. Demoted players have to stay in the minors for 10 days. In the case of September, a player has to stay in the minors either 10 days or until the end of that particular minor league season. So Noesi won’t be back — barring injury — until September 6.

• Without Noesi, the Yankees are carrying a six-man bullpen, none of whom is a true long man. Girardi said the bullpen is plenty deep enough for tonight, and he’ll adjust if necessary the next few days. Just a guess, but I’d say this basically assures either Lance Pendleton or George Kontos or one of the Triple-A starters getting an immediate September call-up to fill that long-man void.

• Girardi on Derek Jeter: “He was walking around fine today. Walking a lot better than I would have anticipated wnen I saw him walk out last night. He healed up pretty good, so I can use him in case of an emergency.”

• Both Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte have suffered setbacks. They pitched on Thursday, but they felt soreness and have been shutdown. Girardi said it’s still very unlikely that either will pitch in the big leagues this season. If Feliciano ends up having surgery, Girardi acknowledged that it could be career-ending.

• Tonight, Freddy Garcia’s pitch count could be a “a little short” but nothing significant. He’s still pretty stretched out after that one rehab game. “I’m not sure what to expect,” Girardi said. “I feel better that he threw better Monday in Scranton, was able to use all of his pitches and that his finger is healed. But when a guy hasn’t pitched off a mound in a while, you worry a little about control and stamina.”

• Girardi was asked a little bit about September call-ups today, but he wouldn’t give any indication about who they’re planning to promote. He didn’t commit to any specific pitchers or hitters, and didn’t say whether they planned to add a third catcher.

ORIOLES
J.J. Hardy SS
Nick Markakis RF
Adam Jones CF
Vladimir Guerrero DH
Matt Wieters C
Mark Reynolds 1B
Ryan Adams 2B
Nolan Reimold LF
Robert Andino 3B

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 135 Comments →

Random thoughts on the way back home07.22.11

Last time the Yankees played at home, they were still feeling warm and fuzzy in the glow of Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. Seems like that was three months ago. This eight-day road trip was a long one.

“Obviously you’d like to have done better,” Joe Girardi said. “But after how we started losing the first two, we finished up pretty good and it will be nice to get off the turf and get home for a while. I think we have 10 games in 10 days, and I think our guys are looking forward to that.”

Just a few thoughts before I get back to New York.

• Phil Hughes gets the ball tonight. It will be his first start at home since the start that convinced the Yankees he needed to go on the disabled list. It’ll be interesting to see if that curveball is as good as it was in Toronto.

• Be careful what you wish for at the top of the order. I can’t see Derek Jeter being dropped to the bottom, so moving Brett Gardner to the top only pushes Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher down a spot. As always, I’m of the belief that lineup construction doesn’t matter all that much.

• Also worth considering (as Sweeny Murti pointed out a couple of days ago): In the eight games since the all-star break, Gardner is hitting .517 with a .576 on-base percentage. In the eight games before the break, he was hitting .207 with a .281 on-base percentage. I think he’s the right choice at the top, but you have to accept that he’s a streaky hitter.

• Big spot in the seventh inning, who would you trust more: Luis Ayala, Hector Noesi or Cory Wade? Who do you think Girardi would most trust? I’m honestly not sure the right answer to either of those questions.

• Gardner, Jeter, Andruw Jones and Jorge Posada have each taken turns as the most anger-inducing Yankees hitter this season. Now it seems to be Mark Teixeira’s turn. He’s also a streaky hitter, and he always talks about waiting for that next hot streak that will turn his batting average around.

• Girardi when asked if he’ll have to eventually take Teixeira out of the No. 3 hole if the batting average doesn’t improve: “He has taken his fair share of walks and gotten on base. That’s the one thing Tex does. Sometimes people look at average a lot. We’re going ot look at on-base percentage too because he does take his fair share. You hit .250 and you’ve got a .370 on-base percentage or .360, you’re doing OK.” It’s a fair point — and Teixeira does have a higher OBP than Cano — but Girardi overestimated the numbers a little bit. Teixeira has a .240 average with a .341 on-base.

• If the Yankees are going to trade for a starter, they really only have a spot for a legitimately elite pitcher. They have plenty of No. 3 types. To find someone obviously better than what they have is going to cost a lot in terms of young players. Maybe it’s worth it, maybe it’s not, but it would be costly.

• I’ve always liked but never loved U2, but I absolutely loved this performance on Letterman. I’m surprised I haven’t broken the internet watching it over and over again the past few days. Say what you will about Bono, but the guy has a terrific voice and knows how to deliver a song.

• Kind of surprised that Eric Chavez was able to get in the field this quickly. Not much to lose there, I guess. The Yankees need to find out before July 31 whether he can help them in the second half.

• Dave Robertson just keeps doing it. Rafael Soriano has a longer track record, and there’s a lot to be said for that, but it’s hard to imagine him coming back and throwing any better than Robertson.

• George Kontos has to get to New York eventually, right? The Yankees could actually use a long man now, and Kontos has 64 strikeouts and a .210 opponents batting average in Triple-A. Also worth mentioning that D.J. Mitchell and Lance Pendleton just put together terrific back-to-back starts.

• Speaking of Triple-A guys: Jorge Vazquez’s numbers have fallen off quite a bit, but Kevin Russo is really hitting again. And if you were waiting for Jordan Parraz to fall off, it doesn’t seem to be happening.

• If Russell Martin really is a Gold Glove caliber catcher, and he keeps hitting exactly like this — low batting average with occasional pop — is he worth bringing back next season? All things considered, isn’t he still one of the better everyday catchers in the league?

• Don’t let the fact that you gave up on Boone Logan in the first half — or that he misplayed a ball three nights ago — keep you from seeing the fact he’s pitching much better. I know I’m usually a glass-half-full kind of guy, but since May 28 opponents are hitting .196 with four walks and 17 strikeouts against Logan.

• There’s still something very fun about talking to a guy who just got his first big league call-up. It was fun when I was covering the minor leagues, and it’s just as fun now that I’m covering the big leagues.

• Martin made the right choice. He put in a good effort and did everything the right way, but the mustache had to go. It was time. It really was, “ugly as (crap).”

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 473 Comments →

Yankees at the break: The bullpen07.12.11

This was supposed to be the Yankees obvious strength, instead they’ve spent the season plugging holes and moving Dave Robertson into later and later innings. At this rate, he’ll be their designated 10th-inning reliever by mid-August. The Yankees bullpen has held it together despite a series of injuries and a few disappointments.

First half
The problems started when Pedro Feliciano couldn’t break camp. Pretty soon Phil Hughes was hurt, which forced Bartolo Colon out of the bullpen and into the rotation. Then Rafael Soriano went on the disabled list. Then Joba Chamberlain needed Tommy John. If not for Robertson’s all-star performance, the Yankees bullpen would be a mess. Given the situation, though, it’s been pretty good. CoryWade’s been a nice pickup, Luis Ayala has given the Yankees more than they could have expected, Hector Noesi has filled in from minor league system and Boone Logan has finally had some success after a brutal beginning. All things considered, the situation could be much worse.

Second half
At this point, Damaso Marte actually seems closer to a return than Feliciano, but the guy the Yankees really need to get back is Soriano. He would give the bullpen some of the late-inning depth that made it so imposing when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. Logan’s shown some recent signs of getting himself straightened out, and that could also be huge in the second half (he was certainly crucial in the second half last season). Every year, relievers are among the most discussed trade possibilities, but it’s worth remembering that last year’s bullpen addition – Kerry Wood – had ugly numbers and was coming back from an injury when the Yankees acquired him. You just never know who might make the difference in a bullpen.

The minors
The Yankees have already seen a long line of long relievers up from Triple-A. At this point, George Kontos might have moved to the top of the pecking order. Temporarily lost in the Rule 5 draft this offseason, Kontos has been outstanding with a 2.26 ERA and 59 strikeouts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Back from Tommy John surgery, he seems to have regained a lot of his prospect status. The Yankees also have right-hander Kevin Whelan and veteran lefty Randy Flores putting up good Triple-A numbers. And don’t forget the name Tim Norton. He was terrific before a shoulder injury, and Donnie Collins has reported that he could be back soon.

Beyond the relievers on the verge of the big leagues, the Yankees have had great success with some of the college relievers that they drafted last year. Chase Whitley has already pitched his way to Double-A, Preston Claiborne has a 1.17 ERA and 24 strikeouts in his past 10 outings at High-A, and Tommy Kahnle has a 68 strikeouts and a .194 opponents batting average in Low-A. Ryan Flannery, a 47th-rounder in 2008, has 13 saves and has allowed a total of two walks out of the Tampa bullpen (and this is the second year in a row he’s shown outstanding control). Everyone’s favorite switch pitcher, Pat Venditte, has pitched pretty well in Trenton after a miserable first month.

One question
Is there a new version of Hughes or Chamberlain waiting in the system?
In the past, the Yankees had great success moving Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain out of the Triple-A rotation and into a big league setup role. Could they try a similar trick this season? The Triple-A rotation has been impressive, and guys like Adam Warren and David Phelps have fastballs that might translate to late-inning success. Ivan Nova, too.

The future
The Yankees have Mariano Rivera under contract for one more year, so they don’t have to find his replacement just yet. Soriano can opt out after this season, but surely that’s not going to happen after an injury. Robertson is just now eligible for arbitration, so he’ll still be incredibly cheap. Those are three pretty important pieces coming back next year, and the Yankees should get Chamberlain back at some point next season. There are pieces already in place for next year and beyond. What’s left is for the Yankees to sort through their upper-level pitching depth to decide who can help their rotation, and who’s better suited for a bullpen role in the near future.

Associated Press photos of Rivera and Robertson, headshots of Kontos, Claiborne and Chamberlain

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 372 Comments →

Postgame notes: “It’s hard to think about anything else”07.02.11

From his spot in center field, Curtis Granderson has a perfect view of Bartolo Colon’s two-seamer. He’s not trying to hit it, and he’s not trying to catch it. He’s just watching it move.

“Even Gardner in left can see it,” Granderson said. “We’ll make hand gestures to each other about how much the ball is moving. It’s definitely moving a lot.”

Colon has a breaking ball and a changeup, but it’s that fastball that makes him so good. It’s the reason he gets so many strikeouts looking. He’s now thrown 13 consecutive scoreless innings, a stretch of dominance that extended to both sides of a DL stint.

“That happened to me before when I went to the DL,” he said. “Every time I come back, I pitch the same way.”

There have been plenty of chances to doubt Colon. There was reason to scoff at Brian Cashman for signing him this winter, and there was reason question whether he was fit enough for spring training, and there was reason to wonder whether he could take three weeks off and return to form without a single rehab start. But Colon just keeps doing the same thing, defying all expectation and pitching like a man in his prime.

“The way he’s been pitching for us all year long,” Nick Swisher said. “It’s hard to think about anything else.”

Here’s Joe Girardi’s postgame press conference.

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• Derek Jeter is finished in Trenton. He went 1-for-2 with a walk and a run. He started one double play and had to make at least one impressive, spinning play. I have to assume he came through the game just fine. Haven’t heard any different.

• As always, check with my old friend Mike Ashmore for a ton of Jeter notes from down in Trenton.

• Speaking of shortstops, you know all about Eduardo Nunez’s 7-for-8 the past two days. It turns out, his only out was caught by an old friend of his. Nunez has known Mets second baseman Justin Turner for a few years now, and in the sixth inning, Turner made a terrific play to rob Nunez on a line drive headed for the gap. “He told me, you can’t be 7-for-7,” Nunez said. “He’s my friend.”

• Biggest out of today’s game had to be Dillon Gee’s fifth-inning ground ball to third base. The Mets had loaded the bases, but Colon got the Mets starting pitcher to ground to Alex Rodriguez for an inning-ending double play. It was a scoreless game at the time. “That was very big for me and for the team,” Colon said. “Because the next inning, that’s when we started scoring runs.”

• Speaking of the Yankees offense, Colon got a bunt down and also went down swinging in his two plate appearances. “I enjoyed the bunt,” Colon said. “When I struck I started laughing a lot, but that’s what I always do. I enjoy the game.”

• Girardi said he had some advance notice that Colon might be this good. “They said he was really sharp on Monday,” Girardi said. “His velocity was good and the movement was good. He’s kind of surprised us all year long in a sense. We weren’t sure what we were going ot get out of him in spring training, and he just continued to pitch well and he did today.”

• A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are still scheduled to start the Cleveland series. “They’re still the probables,” Girardi said.

• By the way, Girardi said he’s not positive he’ll have an announcement about Phil Hughes tomorrow. That seems a little crazy since he’s on turn to start Monday, but that’s what Girardi said.

• For the second day in a row, the Yankees and Mets drew the largest ever crowd at Citi Field. They had 42,042 today. They had 42,020 last night.

• The Yankees are now 24-4 in day games. That’s an .857 winning percentage. They’re also on track for exactly 100 wins with a 50-31 record midway through the season.

• Nick Swisher’s eight-game hitting streak ended.

• Two more scoreless innings from Cory Wade. The Yankees really seem to have found something there. Russell Martin caught Wade when he had a 0.925 WHIP out of the Dodgers bullpen in 2008. “He looks like he’s even sharper now,” Martin said.

• Sergio Mitre made his season debut with the Yankees and gave up two runs in the ninth.

• Dominant pitching performances for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre tonight, as well. D.J. Mitchell pitched seven shutout innings in the first game of a double header, then George Kontos spot-started the second game and went four scoreless with no walks and five strikeouts. Keep an eye on both of them. Those would be legitimate long relief options if Mitre continues to struggle.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 335 Comments →

Looking for upgrades: The pitching staff06.27.11

Two weeks from the all-star break and a little more than a month before the trade deadline, the Yankees are at a point where they can — sort of — figure out what they need to add for a second-half push toward the playoffs. Making this picture a little less clear is the status of their injured players who could provide a significant boost if/when they get healthy.

On the pitching staff, the preseason concern has become a surprising strength, and the preseason strength has become a surprising concern. These are three areas where the Yankees might look to upgrade their pitching staff in the second half.

Starting pitcher

The Yankees rotation has been better than anyone could have expected, and that’s despite injuries to Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon. The Yankees, though, will surely kick the tires on alternatives, if only to add depth and peace of mind.

Trade market: Hit-and-miss.
A starting pitcher will be traded before the deadline, history tells us that much. The question is whether an addition would be an upgrade over the Yankees in-house options. If Hughes and Colon come back and pitch well – and both Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova continue to pitch well enough – then the need for a starter will be minimal (though the want might still exist). If Hughes or Colon suffers a setback, Garcia or Nova regresses, or A.J. Burnett falls into last year’s habits, then the Yankees will need someone. Carlos Zambrano and Brett Myers seem to be available targets, but are they worth the headache? The Twins have been disappointing and could shed starting pitchers at the deadline, but are they more reliable than what the Yankees already have?

In-house: The kids.
Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos are still in Double-A and both are pitching well (though still working on some control issues). Not so long ago, the Yankees had Hughes and Alan Horne dominating in Double-A as highly regarded prospects, but the Yankees left them there, and there’s not much reason to expect the Yankees to change course and suddenly rush Betances or Banuelos without at least a brief stop in Triple-A. More likely options might be Carlos Silva, Hector Noesi or someone from the David Phelps-Adam Warren-D.J. Mitchell trio in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Warren is probably at the top of that pecking order with Phelps is currently on the DL.

Setup reliever

Joba Chamberlain is lost for the year, and Rafael Soriano is almost certainly lost until after the all-star break. Dave Robertson has been terrific in the eighth inning, but the Yankees are mixing-and-matching in the sixth and seventh, still searching for one-inning relievers to complete that bridge to Mariano Rivera.

Trade market: They’re all relievers. Last year, the Yankees took a chance on Kerry Wood, and that move completely changed the bullpen. At the time of the trade, though, Wood was coming off injury and had ugly numbers with Cleveland. He came to the Yankees as a complete wild card and became a dominant setup man. The Yankees could go looking for something similar, but relievers are an unreliable group. Based on what Wood was doing at this time last year, he would not have looked like an especially attractive target. There will be risk in anyone the Yankees go after, though some big names seem to be on the market, including Padres closer Heath Bell.

In-house: Untested. The Yankees have had success plugging minor league starters into bullpen roles, and that’s occasionally worked as a stepping stone to the big league rotation. Right now, they seem to be trying something similar with Noesi.* They also might have found something in Cory Wade, though his innings have been limited. Andrew Brackman has moved to the Triple-A bullpen, but the results have not been encouraging. The Yankees have looked at Kevin Whelan and they’ve run through a series of long-relievers, but so far Noesi has been the call-up standout and Luis Ayala has been better than expected. George Kontos still seems to be pitching himself toward a call-up in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Left-handed reliever

The Yankees top two left-handed relievers should be Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte, but those two proven veterans have yet to pitch this season because of injuries. In their place, Boone Logan has been erratic, unable to repeat last year’s second-half success.

Trade market: Still relievers. The same problem that applies to the setup trade market applies to the lefty trade market: These guys tend to be unpredictable. The Yankees could take their chances on a veteran, with hopes that he doesn’t fall into either the Logan Trap of ineffectiveness or the Feliciaino/Marte Trap of arm problems. The Phillies just released J.C. Romero, who actually had solid numbers against lefties this season but passed through waivers without a claim. Logan has struggled all season, and the Yankees haven’t traded for a replacement yet, which might say something about the market.

In-house: Minor league veterans. The Yankees have signed some lefties for the Triple-A pitching staff, and those might be legitimate options. Randy Flores has pitched well out of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen, holding lefties to a .233 average with nine strikeouts, seven hits and one walk. Greg Smith has pitched well out of the rotation, but that’s only 14.2 innings and he has almost zero bullpen experience. If he could pitch in relief, Smith could give the Yankees a second lefty who doubles as a long man. It’s also worth noting that Whelan has had tremendous success against left-handers, but he’s currently on the DL and his first stint in New York was so short, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees trusting him with the bizarre role of right-handed lefty specialist.

* In my mind, this is why it makes sense to have Noesi playing a bullpen role while Brian Gordon gets a few spot starts. Noesi’s role could be a long-term thing. The Yankees have a very real need in the late innings, and if Noesi adapts to the role, he could be a significant boost the rest of the way. The current rotation opening is a no-doubt-about-it part-time job. Gordon is going to get one or two more starts before Hughes is ready, and obviously they’re going to skip him when they can. He had great numbers this year, so the Yankees are riding the hot hand for a while. They’re hoping for more than a short-term contribution from Noesi.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 90 Comments →

Minor league notes: Whelan setting himself apart in Scranton06.06.11

Kevin Whelan opened this season as a rather forgettable part of a potentially memorable Triple-A pitching staff. Legitimate prospects filled the rotation, and the bullpen was dotted with returned Rule 5 picks and veterans with big league experience.

Then there was Whelan, the last remaining piece of the 2006 Gary Sheffield trade. He was a fallen prospect, a guy who always walked too many batters and finally reached a new low with a 6.02 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last season.

Whelan’s been a completely different pitcher this year. As Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s closer, he’s cut down on the walks significantly. He has a 1.73 ERA, 17 saves, and he’s allowed just 17 hits and six walks through 26 innings. He’s struck out 28, and his 0.88 WHIP is the lowest on the team.

“It is the command, which translates to confidence,” pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras said in an email.

Contraras was the second person I talked to who mentioned confidence when explaining Whelan’s sudden improvement. He’s always had a good fastball and a big splitfinger — and he’s had some real success from time to time — but it seems that things are just now coming together. If the Yankees find an opening for a one-inning guy, Whelan would surely be the front-runner for the job. It’s worth noting that he’s been especially good against left-handers, holding them to a .178 batting average with 19 strikeouts and only two walks.

It’s also worth noting that Whelan’s not on the 40-man, and the Yankees have found more openings for multi-inning relievers than short relievers this season. Jonathan Albaladejo had even better numbers as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s closer last season — and he actually was on the 40-man — but Albaladejo barely got a look at the Major League level. So Whelan might not be looking for apartments in the city, but he’s surely put himself on the map. It’s impossible to ignore a guy who’s always had the potential and is just now finding the consistent results.

• Gary Sanchez is back on the Charleston active roster. He returned Saturday after being sent to extended spring training for what appears to be some combination of a bad back and a bad attitude, probably more of one than the other. He had a hit and drew a walk in his first game back.

• Greg Golson has been activated from the Triple-A disabled list, a move came one day after Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s most productive outfielder, Justin Maxwell, went on the disabled list with a jammed shoulder. Maxwell actually has a higher slugging percentage than Jorge Vazquez and homered in three games in a row just before the injury. For the season he’s hitting .260/.358/.588 and might have hit his way into a big league role had Andruw Jones not started hitting lately.

• Speaking of banged-up Triple-A players who might or might not be playing their way into a call-up: Carlos Silva was scratched from a start on Sunday because of tightness in his shoulder. Doesn’t seem too serious. Manager Dave Miley told Donnie Collins, “We’re just pushing him back.”

• If there’s no spot for Whelan as a short reliever in New York, the Yankees certainly have options for long relief out of Triple-A. George Kontos and Buddy Carlyle are still pitching well in long relief for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Kontos is holding right-handers to a .143 average with 24 strikeouts and four walks. Out of the rotation, tonight’s starter D.J. Mitchell has a 2.78 ERA and pitched seven scoreless in his most recent outing.

• After hitting .218/.292/.287 in April, Kevin Russo hit .316/.384/.408 in May. Brandon Laird made a similar turnaround, from .184/.213/.289 in April to .307/.343/.406 in May. Jesus Montero went the other way, from .365/.360/.473 to .269/.333/.413.

Strange stuff in Double-A Trenton where hitting coach Julius Matos was ejected last week, then got into some sort of argument with manager Tony Franklin and has since been removed from his role. Popular roving hitting instructor James Rowson has taken over the job for now. It’s unclear whether Matos will return in any capacity.

• Austin Romine is the only Trenton regular hitting better than .277, and he’s missed a few games with a stiff neck and back after a home plate collision. Romine has certainly been the high point of the Double-A lineup. Melky Mesa is back to being an all-or-nothing hitter, Bradley Suttle is hitting for good power but a .233 average and Corban Joseph has been good but not great.

• I talked about him a little bit in today’s chat: Trenton reliever Tim Norton is starting to get some attention. Injuries have always been the biggest knock on the guy. This year he’s healthy and putting up incredible numbers (44 strikeouts in 29 innings, for example). One scout told Bill Madden that Norton is, “better than (Joba) Chamberlain right now.”

• Manny Banuelos has a 2.12 ERA and Dellin Betances has a 1.99, so those two are doing just fine despite higher-than-you’d-like walk totals. Craig Heyer, a guy the Yankees sent to the Fall League this offseason, has been awfully good since stepping into the rotation to fill in for some injuries.

• Tampa third baseman Rob Lyerly made the Florida State League all-star team, but as expected, the High-A roster is lowest of the four affiliates in terms of prospect buzz. Starters Brett Marshall and Jairo Heredia, though, are starting to do some things. In Heredia’s past three starts he’s allowed one earned run through 21 innings. He’s walked two and struck out 22. He’s another of those “if-things-go-right” prospects.

• J.R. Murphy remains the best all-around hitter in Low-A Charleston, but first baseman Kyle Roller leads the team with a .563 slugging percentage and corner outfielder Ramon Flores leads with a .407 on-base percentage.

• Slade Heathcott in April: .370/.453/.630. — Slade Heathcott in May: .216/.283/.289.

• The amateur draft begins tonight. The Yankees don’t have a pick until the supplemental first round — No. 51 overall — but they’ll almost certainly be part of the story with pick No. 1. The Pirates are reportedly planning to take Gerrit Cole, the former Yankees first-round pick who ultimately signed with UCLA rather than join the Yankees minor league system.

Headshots of Whelan, Sanchez, Golson, Romine and Norton

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 320 Comments →

Off day minor league notes: Risks behind the plate05.26.11

I didn’t see or hear about last night’s Buster Posey injury until I was several thousand feet above the fly-over states of middle America. After sleeping for a little while and reading for a little while, I turned on the little satellite TV screen in front of me to catch up on the news of the day. Then I flipped briefly to SportsCenter.

Posey is probably out for the year with a broken bone and possibly some ligament damage. It’s a bad situation, and an unfortunate situation, but we can’t pretend it’s a new situation. The Posey injury doesn’t necessarily change anything for Jesus Montero or the other elite catching prospects in the Yankees organization.

It’s not as if the Yankees turned on a television at the same time I did and suddenly realized that being a catcher is dangerous.

If injury concerns lead the Yankees to eventually move Montero or Austin Romine or Gary Sanchez to a different position, it would be perfectly justifiable, but it would not be a move to be taken lightly and with a sigh of relief. Part of what makes these catching prospects so valuable is their ability to play behind the plate, lending a premium bat to a position that often has minimal offensive impact.

Risk comes with the position, but so does reward. That was true before and after Posey was rocked at home plate last night.

• Speaking of catching prospects, Gary Sanchez is playing in extended spring training after opening the year in Low-A Charleston. Mark Newman told Josh Norris that Sanchez is down there because of a back injury. He seemed to be getting things turned around before landing on the Charleston disabled list. Sanchez was hitting .314/.455/.657 in his last 10 games before going on the DL.

• Speaking of behind the plate in Charleston, J.R. Murphy’s breakout season continues with the Low-A affiliate. He’s played some third base and designated hitter, but Murphy continues to get most of his time behind the plate and he just keeps hitting. He’s up to .318/.358/.497, a huge leap from last season.

• While we’re behind the plate: Jesus Montero is hitting .260/.337/.377 this month. I know a lot of the fan base is anxious to get this kid into the big league lineup — and I understand why — but player development is a very real thing, and Montero’s still just 21 years old. Consistency might be the next — and final — part of his development.

• Jorge Vazquez is still hitting home runs at a stunning rate, but the thing that catches my attention is that he has seven walks in his past 10 games (he had four in all of April). Either he’s becoming a little more selective, or teams are completely pitching around him. By the way, his home run total is up to 17. That’s insane, especially in a pitchers’ league.

• Vazquez’s teammate, Justin Maxwell, is second in the International League with 13 home runs.

• Speaking of Triple-A hitters, a few guys who struggled early have started to hit in the past month: Brandon Laird (.293/.341/.373 in May), Kevin Russo (.288/.367/.404 in May), Ramiro Pena (.310/.356/.310 in May).

• D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren and David Phelps are still pitching well out of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation — well enough that they’d have to be involved in any call-up conversation — but if the Yankees want a new long man, they might also need to look at George Kontos. Lost in the Rule 5 draft this winter — just like Lance Pendleton — Kontos has a 2.22 ERA and a .209 opponents batting average this season, and he’s been better this month than last month. If the Yankees are looking for a one-inning option, Kevin Whelan keeps getting it done in that Triple-A closer’s role.

• Veteran left-hander Randy Flores has yet to allow a hit in four appearances since joining the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen.

• Two Double-A starters you might have heard about: Dellin Betances has a 1.30 ERA with 39 strikeouts through seven starts, and Manny Banuelos has a 1.96 ERA with 34 strikeouts through eight starts. Both have had some walk issues from time to time, but my gut reaction is to blame their youth. On the whole, their numbers are awfully impressive.

• No overwhelming home runs numbers or anything like that, but the Yankees regular Class-A third basemen in are both playing pretty well. In High-A Tampa, Rob Lyerly is hitting .326/.368/.481, and in Low-A Charleston, Rob Segedin is hitting .288/.384/.445. Each has three homers, and between them they have 21 doubles and six triples.

• Talked to Alan Horne earlier today. He’s pitched in extended spring training twice in the past week and he’s pretty encouraged. His fastball’s been good, but he’s still looking to build some arm strength.

• Surprise numbers of the month: Utility man Kelvin Castro who’s hitting .462 with five triples and more walks than strikeouts in 12 games since joining the Tampa infield. Last season he hit .224 with five triples all year. He also struck out more than three times as often as he walked.

• A blast from the recent past: Zach McAllister is starting for Triple-A Columbus tonight, attempting to become the minor league’s first eight-game winner. Traded away in last year’s Austin Kearns deal, McAllister is thriving in his second attempt at Triple-A. He has a 2.48 ERA and seems to be getting better as the season progresses. He had a 5.09 ERA with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before last year’s trade.

Associated Press photo of Posey, headshots of Sanchez, Murphy, Kontos and Whelan

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 423 Comments →

A few short minor league notes05.04.11

A few quick minor league notes this late morning. Don’t forget, we’re doing a chat at 2:30 this afternoon.

• Two injuries to players on the 40-man roster: Greg Golson is on the Triple-A disabled list with a hamstring injury, and Steve Garrison could be headed for the Double-A disabled list after groin pull.

Two other Triple-A injuries that seem fairly minor: Chris Dickerson has missed three straight games with a neck injury. He would have missed a fourth if not for a rain out last night. Ramiro Pena was out of last night’s lineup with a sore foot.

• Three non-40-man pitchers to keep an eye on: George Kontos (two runs in his past 15.1 innings as Scranton’s long man), Kevin Whelan (much improved control to go with only two hits allowed in past 10.2 innings as Scranton’s closer) and Andy Sisco (still no earned runs with four hits allowed through 10.1 innings as Scranton’s bullpen lefty).

• The Associated Press reports that the Yankees have signed Brad Halsey to a minor league deal and sent him to extended spring.

• He’s still a long, long way from the big leagues, but Slade Heathcott is hitting .351/.436/.574 through 94 at-bats in Charleston. Have to think he’ll be in Tampa around mid-season or so, maybe sooner if he keeps this up. JR Murphy is also really hitting in Charleston (.316/.340/.490) but Gary Sanchez is not (.200/.238/.293).

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 71 Comments →

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