It was almost in passing on Wednesday that Ivan Nova mentioned one thing that didn’t show up in the box score from his previous rehab start in Tampa.
“I was throwing changeups like I’m a changeup person,” Nova said. “I threw like 15, and I don’t remember the last time I threw 15 changeups in 72 pitches or something like that.”
That’s basically 20 percent changeups from a pitcher who’s typically thrown more like 3 or 4 percent changeups in his career.
“I feel like I need to get that pitch back,” Nova said. “I once had it. I was throwing my changeup (in the past), and if I feel the good grip and I feel it’s a good at-bats (to use it) and I have that confidence, why not start throwing it now? It’s not something crazy. I feel like I’m going to see some spots where I can throw it, (but) not because I want to pitch different or anything like that.”
When Nova arrived in 2010, he threw a little more than 10 percent changeups in those first 10 big league games. In his last four seasons, though, he’s never thrown more than 4.4 percent changeups in a season. He’s thrown fewer than 4 percent changeups the past three years. His use of the pitch has occasionally jumped from start to start, but it’s never been a real go-to weaspon.
And Nova said he’s not expecting it to be necessarily a go-to pitch this year, simply a more reliable alternative when he doesn’t want to throw his fastball or his curveball. He noticed in his early bullpens this spring that the changeup was better than it had been in recent years, and he’s carried that through his rehab.
“I remember Dellin Betances told me one time, my changeup is going to be better,” Nova said. “I asked him why, like, I’m not doing anything different. He said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’re changeup will be back.’ It happened like that. The changeup came back, and (there’s confidence) any time I feel like I need to throw a changeup. It’s not like my catcher calls for a changeup, and I say no. It’s not like that I was checking, checking, checking to go back to the changeup. Just, if he puts a changeup down, I throw a changeup.”
One curious thing about Nova and his changeup: his best stretches in the big leagues have not necessarily coincided with heavy use of that pitch. He had a terrific second half in 2011, and his changeup use actually declined during those months. Terrific month of June in 2012, and he cut back on his changeup use that month as well. His best full season was 2013, and he threw a lower percentage of changeups that season than any other.
Why, then, is Nova excited about the improvement of his changeup at time when he’s surely more concerned about his fastball and his breaking ball?
“When I have those (good) stretches, my fastball was working fine, working down in the zone,” he said. “Good velocity. Sinker, good movement. Curveball was there. Sometimes in those moments, (though), I have to go two sinkers or two curveballs because I don’t have the confidence to throw the changeup even in the good moments. You can put it two different ways: What would happen if I have that chanegeup every game? Do you think it would be better moments, or you think it would be a bad moment?”
Nova’s betting on better moments. It’s not that he feels forced to use the changeup more often, just feels more confident using it when the time is right.
“I hear a lot of people say, I don’t follow (scouting) reports, I just go with what I have that day,” Nova said. “Well, I follow my reports all the time, and when I have good games, when I feel good, I follow what I feel, too. … You know that changeup’s going to be good against, say, a left-handed batter (who’s) not too good against a changeup. If you know that, and you’re feeling good, and you’re feeling that pitch, why not?”
Associated Press photos
Obviously the draft is tonight’s main event for the Yankees, but before they make their first pick, Ivan Nova will make his first rehab start. Nova and Gregorio Petit are each supposed to play for High-A Tampa tonight, which means the Yankees are getting a little closer to having another starting pitcher in the mix.
“If (tonight) goes fine he’ll go to Scranton, weather permitting, and at that point we’ll evaluate,” Brian Cashman said last week. “We did build him up to 75 pitches in extended spring so we can keep him on the clock if we feel it’s necessary, or we can pull him if we need him.”
Do the Yankees need him?
CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi have been the weak links in the rotation, but even those two have pitched alright lately. And frankly, there seems to be little chance either one would be pulled from the rotation to make room for Nova. Clearly Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka — health permitting — aren’t going anywhere.
That leaves Adam Warren, who’s been outstanding. Warren could be the right-handed reliever the Yankees are looking for, but so far he’s been too good as a starter to switch back into the pen. Will Nova’s return change that? If Warren pitches well in his next start to two, would the Yankees consider putting Nova in the bullpen instead?
“I feel good about where I’m at right now,” Warren said. “And I hate to look too far in the future or what may happen, but for me, I completely consider myself a starter.”
Maybe a six-man rotation?
Not likely. While the Yankees could use Nova as a sixth starter for one turn to give everyone an extra day of rest, Joe Girardi’s made it clear he has no plans of carrying six starters full time. If Nova’s coming back to pitch in the rotation, it will mean someone else being pushed out of the mix.
“There’s two ways that I think a six-man rotation could work,” Girardi said. “You go to a 13-man pitching staff, so now you’re at 12 position players, which makes it physically a real grind on your position players, and if you’re a National League team, it makes it really difficult. Or all your guys in the bullpen are two and three-inning guys, and when you make a change, you have to live with it. It just becomes difficult if your bullpen is only six guys, and let’s say you have a seventh and eighth-inning and ninth-inning guy, well, if you’re not tied or ahead, you’ve only got three guys that you can use. I think that’s where the difficulty is. Now, if they add a person to the roster, I think it’s more than feasible. But I think you have to do that.”
Since it’s a bit doubtful Major League Baseball will give the Yankees an extra player, a six-man rotation seems out of the question, which adds some intrigue to Nova’s road to the majors.
By the way, if you’re following tonight’s Tampa Yankees game: Eight of their players were named Florida State League all-stars today: RHP Andury Acevedo, RHP Jonathan Holder, RHP Angel Rincon, C Kyle Higashioka, 3B Miguel Andujar, 1B Mike Ford, SS Tyler Wade and OF Danny Oh.
Associated Press photo
Yesterday afternoon, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman stepped onto the field to watch a little bit of batting practice. While he was there, he talked to the media for a while. Nothing particularly new came out of it, but the GM did hit on a number of topics that really matter to this team right now, so here are a few highlights:
On the recovery of Jacoby Ellsbury
“We had a timetable. I don’t think we talked about it too much publicly. He was going to be in one of those lineman-looking braces for three weeks. He’s been doing running and stuff in the brace, I think, with some low-level resistance. Obviously doing a lot of strength work. He’s been working his tail off to make sure his quads and his hammys and everything else are not falling behind. … My update through yesterday is he’s busting his tail and doing a lot of functional stuff, but he’s got to have that brace on for three weeks total and he’s just past week two.”
On the decision to have Michael Pineda skip a start
“We’ve just been talking through it. Tanaka obviously got a time out because of the injury he had, so with the off days that we’ve had, it was: all right, let’s try to make a decision here at least on this front end. There’s other avenues to do it if you got a full complement (and) everybody’s healthy. You can always play with a six-man rotation if Nova’s back and everybody’s in line. We’re just trying to find ways to manage it properly so everybody keeps that full tank of gas and doesn’t have fatigue set in too easily, because once fatigue sets in, injuries can happen.”
On the idea of six starter when Ivan Nova is healthy
“It just depends on time of year, how things are functioning, who’s experiencing what. There’s no strict plan as much as (trying to) find ways at times to give people blows is basically what we’re going to try to do. But how we’re going to do it, we’re not sure just yet. … (Nova)’s going to have one (rehab start) in the Florida State League. If that goes fine, he’ll go to Scranton, weather permitting, and at that point we’ll evaluate. I guess it’s possible (he could be back this month). We did build him up to 75 pitches in extended spring so we can keep him on the clock if we feel it’s necessary, or we can pull him if we need him.”
On the dependability of Alex Rodriguez as an everyday player
“It was unpredictable what we were going to get. I could throw out there about the DH spot, it’s not as demanding and we all know that, but I didn’t have any expectations, let alone playing every day as a DH or being productive. He’s been very, very impressive and obviously helpful.”
On lingering foot concerns with Brian McCann
“I’m just thankful every test was negative. (The wrong orthotic) is more likely than not what was causing the issues. We’ll just swap it out and we’ll be able to go on from there and forget that it happened.”
On lingering elbow concerns with Masahiro Tanaka
“I can only speak for myself; I don’t think about it any more. I just think about if he is going to perform. In his last start, given how it was in his two rehab starts, I just wanted him to be productive. I knew he was around an 85-pitch count, so I didn’t know if we were going to be deep in the pen or not. My God, he was tremendous. I wasn’t worried about health. If something is going to happen, it’s going to happen.”
Associated Press photos
When Brian McCann talked about his sore right foot on Wednesday, the concern was obvious in the tone of his voice. His answers were short. His delivery cautious. He’d been unable to stay in a crouch that afternoon, and it takes a lot for McCann to admit he can’t play.
So when he slipped into that MRI machine yesterday, he was worried. Today, he’s relieved.
No plantar fasciitis. No Lisfranc injury. The arch of McCann’s foot is like a set of bad eyes, and it’s prescription has changed. McCann was given a new set of orthotics. He caught a bullpen session today just to test them out and declared himself ready to play.
“I had the same old (orthotics) for the last three years,” he said. “And the arch on my foot has changed. I needed to get new ones. Once it got inflamed, it was harder to calm down. … I think this will take care of it.”
Losing McCann would have been a significant blow to both the lineup and the pitching staff, but the Yankees are hopeful they’ve made it through this scare while only losing McCann for eight innings.
Joe Girardi posted a late lineup today because he wanted to make sure McCann could catch with no problem. After catching a pen, McCann said he was good to go.
“It only flared up when I caught,” McCann said. “Walking around it didn’t flare up, but once I got in my squat and moved around (it hurt). That’s what we’ve been waiting for today. Went out there and didn’t flare up.”
• Jacoby Ellsbury has started going light baseball activities. He did a set of 10 40-yard sprints at about 50-percent effort. He also took dry swings in the cage and played catch. “He is obviously getting better,” Girardi said. “I don’t have a date when he’ll be a player for me, but it’s better than when we left because he wasn’t doing anything like that.”
• Carlos Beltran’s foot is still sore after that foul ball on Tuesday. The expectation is that he’ll be available to pinch hit, but he’s out of the lineup for a second game in a row. “The concern that you have there, besides it being really sore, is that he favors that and hurts something else,” Girardi asid. “We’ll shoot for tomorrow.”
• Brendan Ryan’s rehab assignment has been shifted to Double-A Trenton.
• Ivan Nova will begin a rehab assignment with High-A Tampa on Monday. He will be scheduled for 80-85 pitches. He could be a big league option soon after that. “Right now we have him scheduled for at least two more (including Monday),” Girardi said. “Then we’ll go from there to see where he’s at.”
• No plans to immediate add a right-handed reliever, but the Yankees will almost certainly do that at some point (I guess it could happen when Nova comes back). “As of right now, it is what it is,” Girardi aid. “If I was a betting man, I wouldn’t predict that we would have that many left-handers in there the rest of the season. But right now, it is what it is.”
• Forgot to mention this in the previous post about limiting Michael Pineda’s innings: Girardi said the Yankees don’t have a specific number of innings they’d like Pineda to pitch, they just know that well over 200 is too many. “I have not been given a number,” Giradri aid. “We have not talked a number as an organization. But we know that 220 is out of the question, in our mind, for the regular season.”
• While he’s out of the rotation, there’s some chance Pineda could be available in an extra-inning situation either Sunday, Tuesday or Wednesday. The Yankees won’t plan to use him that day, but if they got into a crazy game, Girardi wouldn’t rule it out. “I think you’d have to say that that’s a possibility if he hadn’t thrown a side that day,” Girardi aid. “He’ll still continue to do his sides, but as we know there’s much less intensity there and you want to keep him as sharp as you can.”
Associated Press photos
Had spring training gone as planned, Adam Warren might never have stepped into the Yankees’ rotation in the first place. Two months into the season, though, Warren’s proven too valuable to play any other role.
When Masahiro Tanaka comes off the disabled list on Wednesday, it will be veteran Chris Capuano who’s taken out of the rotation and moved into the bullpen. Warren, who thrived as a reliever last season, will continue working as a starting pitcher.
“I’ve really gotten back into the starter mode,” Warren said. “I’ve enjoyed pitching as a starter, and I wanted to stay that way. I’m excited about it, and that’s what I want to do right now.”
Having been developed as a starter all through college and the minor leagues, Warren spent the past two years in the Yankees’ bullpen, first as a long man and then as trusted setup man. He came into spring training as a kind of just-in-case rotation option, and broke camp as a starter largely because Capuano opened the season on the disabled list. Warren got off to a so-so start, but he’s thrived his past four times out. Since May 13, Warren has a 2.70 ERA while pitching into the seventh inning each time.
“Obviously I think he could be really effective in the bullpen,” manager Joe Girardi said. “But his starts are important too. We decided to keep him there.”
Putting Warren in the bullpen would have been tempting because the Yankees have lacked a dependable right-handed reliever beyond Dellin Betances. With a return to last year’s performance, Warren could have solidified the seventh inning, which has been a weak spot for the Yankees. Instead, the Yankees will put Capuano into the bullpen, where the team already has two long relievers (Esmil Rogers and Chasen Shreve) and four lefties (Shreve, Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson and Jacob Lindgren). Girardi said Capuano will be available for many roles, either for multiple innings or for short relief or for left-on-left matchups.
“With Masa coming off the DL on Wednesday, and (Ivan) Nova not far behind, I figured it was a numbers game,” Capuano said. “Going to try to be ready to do my job in the bullpen.”
Indeed, the Yankees might face a similar decision in a few weeks. Nova has been working his way back from Tommy John surgery and is scheduled for one last extended spring training start before beginning an official rehab assignment.
Assuming Nova’s ready by the end of the month, Warren might have to continue proving himself as a starter between now and then.
“I’m only worried about my next start,” Warren said.
• Benched the past two days, Stephen Drew is back in the lineup at second base. “It’s tough, but we signed him to be our second baseman,” Girardi said. “He’s worked really hard the last couple days to see if he could work on a couple little things here or there. I want to get him back out there.”
• So Drew’s been working on mechanics? “It’s always a little bit (mechanical) when you’re struggling,” Girardi said. “It’s working on your path to the baseball and he’s worked really hard the last two days. I want to see it.”
• Has to become a confidence issue at some point, right? “No. I think he’s done a pretty good job of keeping upbeat and having confidence in what he can do,” Girardi said. “He knows he can hit. He’s probably been as unlucky as any hitter that we have. Hopefully that changes.”
• The Mariners will apparently bring up Mike Montgomery to make his major league debut as tomorrow’s starter. That means, Jose Pirela will return to the lineup tomorrow. “I think we’re facing a lefty tomorrow, so I’ll sit one of my left handers and Pirela will be back out there,” Girardi said.
• The Yankees will almost certainly shuffle their rotation because of all the off days coming up. Girardi indicated that they will likely not simply stay on rotation.
• Girardi on the Mariners’ lineup: “Nelson Cruz has had as good a season as anyone up until this point. He’s hit the ball out of the ballpark, and not in the most friendly ballpark in the world for home run hitters. We know how dangerous he is. We saw how important he was to the Baltimore lineup last year. The big thing with Nellie is you have to keep people off base. Robbie Cano is a guy that can hit any pitch, and he can hit it hard and drive the baseball. That’s a tough order, keeping him off in front of Nellie, but I think it’s important.”
• Girardi on today’s pitching matchup: “You look at Felix, he’s as good as it gets when it comes to being an ace of a staff, understanding what his job is and getting deep into games. It’s something that I’m sure Michael has paid close attention to and is trying to learn. He developed a changeup, probably because he saw what Felix did with his changeup and how effective it was. It wasn’t your typical changeup that had a 10-12 mile per hour difference, but it was fairly close it had sink and was an effective pitch.”
Associated Press photos
It could be a matter of days before Ivan Nova is ready to begin a legitimate rehab assignment.
After throwing 47 pitches in an extended spring training start on Monday, Nova will get stretched out a little bit more this weekend before the Yankees settle on what exactly he’ll do next.
“They were really pleased with how he did,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I think he’s got one more down there, on Saturday, and we’ll go from there.”
When Nova does official begin a rehab assignment, it won’t necessarily take a step back to a pitch count resembling the start of spring training. Girardi said these extended-spring starts were designed to get him stretched out so that he could throw more pitches once he got into real games.
“He won’t have to go back to like 15 or 20 (pitches),” Girardi said. “This just allows us, in a sense, to build him up with more starts. When you’re coming off what he is, you want to make sure the command is there, so he should be able to give you a couple starts with a substantial amount of pitches. Whereas if you just did the 30 days (of a rehab assignment), you’d get one at 90.”
A few more injury updates:
He’s making a rehab start tonight with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Scheduled for three innings or 45 pitches, it seems Tanaka will need at least two more minor league starts before the Yankees would consider him stretched out enough to rejoin the big league rotation.
“It’s a decision that we’ll make after each start when we feel that he’s ready to go,” Girardi said. “I’m not going to put a number on it.”
So far, the Yankees have said only that Ellsbury has a sprained ligament on the outside of his right knee. They haven’t given a grade or any other clue about the severity. Even Ellsbury himself claims not to know for sure. Ellsbury will meet with Dr. Chris Ahmad on Friday, at which point the team will presumably provide at least a few more details.
“This is not doom and gloom,” Girardi said. “It’s just hard to predict. We want him to see our doctors. This is a guy who’s running all over the place. He’ll be ready when he’s ready and hopefully it won’t be too long.”
Hit by a pitch to the hand way back on May 5, Petit still hasn’t even started hitting. He was diagnosed with a bone bruise and no break, but there’s still pain more than two weeks later.
“Hand’s still sore,” Girardi said. “Sometimes you get hit on those bones, and they don’t break, but that bone bruise, they’re painful.”
Friday will be two weeks since Martin last pitched. He’s been on the disabled list with right elbow tendonitis, but he’s been playing catch and is close to doing something more substantial. He’d become a fairly trusted reliever before the injury, so he could help solidify those middle innings.
“I think he’s supposed to throw maybe a bullpen at the end of the week,” Girardi said. “Saturday or Sunday.”
Having injured his calf in spring training, Ryan has now been through two setbacks, most recently for some level of heat exhaustion. The plan is for him to begin playing extended spring training games this week (he was actually supposed to start playing yesterday, but Girardi wasn’t sure whether that happened). At this point, it seems he’ll need a rather lengthy rehab. It’s been a long time since those spring training at-bats.
“He’s got to get some at-bats,” Girardi said. “He hasn’t had consistent at-bats, so he’s got to get some at-bats.”
Associated Press photo
Chris Capuano is rotation depth that could come off the disabled list within the next week or so. Masahiro Tanaka is a rotation ace who could be available around the end of the month. Somewhere between those two — more than just depth, but not really a No. 1 — is Ivan Nova, the sometimes dominant, often inconsistent Yankees starter who’s working his way back from Tommy John surgery and is expected to become a rotation option sometime next month.
“The one thing is, you can’t rush him and hurt him,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Or (activate him when) he’s not ready to be here and you’re asking him to compete at a high level, which is unfair to him, and it’s unfair to all the guys, in a sense. I think he’s on a pretty normal progression. It’s been just over 12 months, so I think he’s doing pretty good.”
Yesterday was the Yankees big league staff got its first good look at Nova since he was last seen throwing off a mound in spring training. He technically pitched three innings of an extended spring training game, but pitching coach Larry Rothschild said he got six outs in the first inning.
“So I don’t know what that counts for,” Rothschild said.
Figuring out exact innings will come. For now, the important details are that the Nova threw 33 pitches, and the Yankees were impressed by his command. Rothschild said Nova showed a good curveball, and Girardi said the fastball velocity got into the mid 90s.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” Girardi said. “The first couple of guys hit the ball in the air, then he got a ton of ground balls after that, which is what we see from Ivan when he’s on. I thought he threw some good curveballs. Weren’t a whole lot of left-handers in the lineup, so he didn’t get to throw as many changeups, but I think he hit 95. It was good.”
The Yankees haven’t put an exact time table on Nova — at least not publicly — but he’s clearly a part of their plans for this season, and they know he could be a significant boost whenever he’s ready. But they’re planning to take their time with him, and right now they have that luxury.
Pitchers often say they don’t feel 100 percent until 18 months to two years after Tommy John, so reaching the one-year mark and getting back into game situations doesn’t necessarily mean Nova’s back to his old self. Even his old self was sometimes unpredictable with bursts of brilliance but also extended stretches of disappointment. The Yankees want to have Nova close to full-strength before they start reserving a spot for him in the rotation.
“It’s just building up the stamina now and making sure you get through all the paces,” Rothschild said. “We’re not going to rush it. It’s not going to be a next day thing. It’s going to be taking him through the progressions he needs and trying to get him ready where he’s not only as far as conditioning and stamina ready, he’s ready pitch-wise and can get through games. … We’ll see where he gets to in the next few and try to figure it out.”
So far, the pitching staff has made up for the absence of Nova, Capuano and Tanaka. Michael Pineda has emerged as an ace, the other starters have held their own, and the bullpen has picked up some of the rotation’s slack (especially in terms of innings). The Yankees have made it work, but Capuano could be ready soon, Tanaka is clearly getting closer, and Nova keeps inching his way toward the big league radar.
“I’m sure he’s ready to be done with rehabbing at this point,” Girardi said. “I’m sure, when you’ve been rehabbing for a year, it’s got to seem like forever. I’m sure he’s getting anxious.”
Associated Press photo
At this time yesterday, Masahiro Tanaka has still not told the Yankees about his sore wrist. He hadn’t gone for the MRI that revealed a strained forearm, and he hadn’t received the diagnosis that spark renewed questions about his elbow and ability to avoid Tommy John surgery.
“When he came up and said his wrist hurt, I was like, wow,” Joe Girardi said. “Cause the starts were good, the bullpen session was good, and I wasn’t prepared for that. So that’s why I used the word a little shocked when I heard because everything had went great.”
Michael Pineda was actually supposed to throw a bullpen yesterday and Girardi stopped him in the early afternoon, explaining he might have to pitch today instead. And, of course, that’s exactly what happened.
After those first four starts this season, things were actually encouraging with Tanaka. He’d pitched especially well in the past two starts, and he’d complained of no soreness in his elbow or anywhere else. Now that we know the newest injuries, though, it’s hard to think of Tanaka in any other context. Sure, he was pitching well, but the Yankees have known for a long time that Tanaka’s capable of pitching well. But that’s only when he’s healthy enough to actually be on the mound.
“Is there concern? Of course there is,” Girardi said. “Anytime you have to shut a pitcher down, there’s concern. With what happened last year, I can’t tell you if they’re related or not, but you’re going to think about it. You’re going to think about a lot of different scenarios. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed and hope it’s not much, but we’ll deal with it either way.”
Initially, when Tanaka was only complaining about a little wrist soreness, Girardi was thinking it might be a two-week issue.
“My recommendation was kind of a DL there and he would come back as soon as those 15 days were up because you could back-date it,” Girardi said. “And we were already 5 or 6 days. So with the little bit of a strain (as well), it’s definitely DL.”
That’s the only thing that’s certain for now. Tanaka is definitely on the disabled list. How long he’ll stay there and how soon he’ll be back on it remains anyone’s guess.
• Would Girardi like to see Alex Rodriguez get No. 660 out of the way before this weekend’s series at Fenway? “It just might crowd our clubhouse a little bit more if he doesn’t,” Girardi said. “But it doesn’t matter either way. I’d prefer that he does it with two or three guys on today and gets it over with.”
• Even with another starter added to the disabled list, Girardi said he’d still consider using a spot starter during this next long stretch of games. Wonder if Bryan Mitchell might come up for a start in the next week or so.
• The Yankees have gotten eight scoreless innings out of their bullpen the past two days, but Girardi said the pen is still rested enough to handle today’s game. They’d like to get distance out of Michael Pineda, but it’s not a dire situation. “I think that’s important,” Girardi said. “But our bullpen’s OK. It helps that we have a day off tomorrow, I think that’s important. The only guy that I’d probably stay away from is Esmil.”
• Will the late change of plans impact Pineda today? “It shouldn’t be a factor,” Girardi said. “It probably won’t hurt him at all.”
• Around 10:30 this morning, Gregorio Petit walked into the Yankees’ clubhouse carrying the same bag he took out of the clubhouse yesterday. Teammates were laughing and offering hugs. A bizarre welcome back moment for a guy who barely left.
• Just a day off for Brett Gardner and Brian McCann against a left-handed starter.
• Because these seem a little more relevant now, here’s a quick update on Ivan Nova and Chris Capuano: Each one last pitched on Monday. Nova threw a simulated game, and Capuano pitched in extended spring training. Neither is ready to come off the disabled list just yet, obviously. “They did well,” Girardi said. “I’m not sure if the next step, because it was a shorter outing, if it’s Friday or Saturday.”
Associated Press photos
Just a few days ago, Joe Girardi was talking about not making too much of a few at-bats. He was determined to give his veteran hitters time to right the ship. There would be no significant changes based on strong starts or slow starts.
In the past two days, though, we’ve seen some lineup tweaks involving Carlos Beltran. Last night, Beltran returned from illness to find himself dropped to fifth in the order so that Alex Rodriguez could remain in the No. 3 spot. Today, Beltran is on the bench so that red-hot Chris Young can get another start against a lefty (and so that two left-handed hitting outfielders can stay in the lineup).
Girardi made it clear that Beltran will play again tomorrow, but today he basically had a choice of playing Young ahead of Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner, and he chose to sit the switch-hitter Beltran.
“Just the way Chris has been playing and Gardy and Ells, too,” Girardi said. “Carlos will be back in there tomorrow. Just the way I went with it today.”
Two things at play here: Rodriguez and Young have basically been must-play guys, especially against left-handed pitchers, and Beltran has struggled to a .171/.222/.268 start to the season. Girardi has expressed confidence that Beltran will turn it around — and sitting him today is certainly not an indication that Beltran’s going to be a regular bench player going forward — but at this point, Ellsbury, Gardner and Young have been the Yankees three best outfielders.
Young, in particular, has been a potent source of power, kind of building on his strong September of a year ago.
“It’s been great,” Young said. “I love it here. This team received me well. The clubhouse is amazing. The coaching staff is amazing. I’ve gotten an opportunity here, so I’m really grateful for that.”
Girardi made a point of saying this isn’t a right-field platoon in which Beltran will always sit against lefties, but at this point, Young’s made it awfully hard to keep him out of the lineup.
“I think that’s what he’s done,” Girardi said. “He’s pushed himself into that position, and that’s why I chose to go the way I did today.”
A few quick updates from extended spring training:
• Jose Pirela went 1-for-3 while playing third base in an extended spring game yesterday. He was hit by a pitch in his first at-bat but stayed in the game. He will play seven innings at second base tomorrow.
• Ivan Nova threw two innings, 35 pitches, of live batting practice.
• Chris Capuano will throw two innings in an extended spring game tomorrow.
• Brendan Ryan took ground balls and went through batting practice.
• The Yankees defense was awful when the season started, but lately it’s been a definite strength. “I just think they were too good not to turn around,” Girardi said. “I just think what we saw is not something we ever expected and just kind of got off to a slow start defensively. It was hard to put your finger on it.”
• Meanwhile, the Yankees offense has been extremely home run heavy. They’ve hit a lot of homers, but they don’t have a single player batting .300 and only three everyday guys have an on-base percentage higher than .317. “It is kind of strange,” Girardi said. “We’ve produced a lot of our runs by the home run, and we knew we had power in our lineup. I don’t think it will always be like that. We scored five in Tampa the other day without hitting a home run. I’m not so sure we’ve done that too often this year. That’s the kind of club we are. We have some speed at the top obviously, but you look at 3 through 7, 3 through 8, they have the ability to hit a lot of home runs.”
• The Yankees face another lefty tomorrow (not just any lefty, David Price). Girardi said he expects Didi Gregorius to play that game (presumably with Stephen Drew on the bench), and he expects Beltran back in the lineup with either Gardner or Ellsbury on the bench.
• Chasen Shreve is back, but he’s back against a lineup that has a bunch of right-handed hitters. Essentially, it sounds like he’ll be the long man these next three days, leaving Esmil Rogers available for shorter outings in right-on-right situations. “The one thing about Chasen is he gives you multiple innings more than a Branden (Pinder) does,” Girardi said. “Against a lineup that has a lot of right-handers, it allows you to use Esmil a little bit differently.”
• Talked to Shreve for a little bit this afternoon. He said that the morning after the 19-inning game — when Shreve pitched 3.1 scoreless innings — Andrew Miller actually said something to him about the Yankees definitely needing to call up a fresh reliever for the next game. Shreve said he completely agreed, but it never once occurred to him that he’d be the one sent down. After he was told, Shreve said, he instantly realized that he was the most logical option. Funny, it takes most players a little bit of time before they’re able to put those sort of pieces together. Shreve was smiling about it today. Totally gets why it happened, but he’s obviously happy to be back.
• Girardi on last night’s anti-media rant by Reds manager Bryan Price: “We live in a day that strategy is very important to us, and people (in the media) are so good at what they do now that it’s hard to keep something like (not having a player) under wraps. For me, I try to understand that. And I understand that the media business is very competitive, but we don’t like to give out our strategy. That’s part of it. I’m sure if he had a chance to do it over again, he might have did it a little different. Sometimes we get upset and we say things that we wish we had said a little bit differently.”
Associated Press photos
Wearing a new padded wrist guard, Brett Gardner hit inside when he got to Tropicana Field earlier today. That went well enough that he was given permission to take full batting practice with the team during the usual pregame workout.
Doesn’t sound likely that he could hit his way into the lineup, but Gardner said he’s basically ready to play.
“If I don’t get a chance to play today, hopefully tomorrow,” he said. “I hit in the cage and it felt pretty good.”
Even after yesterday’s MRI showed nothing more serious than a bone bruise, the Yankees still decided to give Gardner one more day off. That’s pretty standard around here, where the Yankees seem to favor a cautionary approach to all injuries.
“My inclination is to give him one more day,” Girardi said. “But I want to see BP first. He did take some swings off the tee and said he felt pretty good, but let’s just see what happens after BP.”
The wrist guard Gardner’s wearing is pretty small and it’s designed in a way that doesn’t restrict movement. He said he’ll be wearing it when he finally does get back in the lineup.
• Ivan Nova threw his second live batting practice of the week this morning at the minor league complex. “I’m getting closer,” Nova told The Associated Press. “Feels awesome.” Girardi said Nova’s schedule calls for him to begin pitching in actual minor league rehab games around May 1. Pretty much the schedule that’s been expected for several months now.
• Chris Capuano’s second live batting practice is scheduled for Sunday. He actually has a locker setup in the clubhouse for this series at Tropicana Field.
• When Capuano threw live batting practice earlier this week, Jose Pirela was one of the hitters he faced. Pirela is basically going through every drill and is scheduled to play an extended spring training game on Monday. He’s been working his way back from a concussion since late spring training. When he’s ready, will he go to Triple-A or join the big league bench? “I don’t know,” Girardi said. “Let’s just get him healthy first. Make sure he’s only seeing one of everything.”
• Girardi said Brendan Ryan “might” come down to Tampa next week to start going through some workouts on his way back from that spring calf injury. When Giradri said “might,” I took it to mean Ryan’s definitely coming down barring any sort of setback.
• Given the way Alex Rodriguez has hit — and given the way guys like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann have hit — why isn’t Alex Rodriguez hitting higher than sixth? “I don’t think you can make too much of nine games,” Girardi said. “If you started moving your hitters according to every nine-game period you play, you’d be doing it all the time. We’re trying to have as much of a set lineup as you can. We don’t have Gardy in there, so I’ve used the same lineup two days in a row. I liked the way the guys swung the bats the other night, so we’ll just keep it the same.”
• The Yankees still don’t have a defined closer, but Girardi’s been using Andrew Miller in those situations, and it certainly sounds like that might be the case again here in Tampa. “We haven’t named it,” Girardi said. “Have I used him as the closer the last couple times? Yeah. We’ll let it play out a little but and see how this works out. Obviously in this situation, you would think about against Tampa — because they have so many right-handed hitters in the lineup — that you’d use Dellin more for four- or five-outs more than you would Miller.”
• Girardi said the Yankees are still actively discussing the idea of a spot starter at some point during this heavy stretch of games without many off days. He specifically mentioned Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell as candidates to come up and start at some point to give everyone an extra day off. He said that if/when they do it could depend on weather. If they get rained out in Detroit next week, then the sixth-starter call-up could be pushed back. “It’s something that’s on the back of our minds,” Girardi said. “And we’ve kind of prepared ourselves for it.”
Associated Press photos