The Yankees are home again. They won’t be for long long — just four games before they’re right back on the road for another long trip — but they’re home with a record good enough for first place in the American League East. For the most part, the Yankees are playing well. Just last weekend they won a series at Fenway, but they’re also coming off a series loss in Toronto where there were plenty of reminders that this is a team with flaws and concerns. Here are five of them:
The problem: He was a staff ace for many years, but Sabathia’s now 0-5 with a 5.45 ERA. The Yankees haven’t given him much run support, and some outings have been perfectly solid and winable, but six starts means he’s roughly a fifth of the way into his season and the numbers aren’t pretty. Is he going to get much better than this?
The circumstances: With one more year plus a vesting option left on his contract, Sabathia isn’t a player easily dismissed. He’s also an unquestioned leader in the clubhouse, where players and coaches alike seem to believe him and support him even through his struggles.
The alternative: After another strong start yesterday, Bryan Mitchell now has a 2.59 ERA through six starts in Triple-A. He’s the most immediate rotation alternative should the Yankees decide to insert someone else, but Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova are progressing from their injuries and Masahiro Tanaka could be back around the end of this month.
The problem: Although he’s fourth on the team in home runs, Drew still has just 13 hits and a batting average far closer to .150 than .200. And those numbers aren’t simply a one-month problem. Drew basically hit like this — but with less power — through almost all of last season.
The circumstances: Signed to a buy-low, one-year contract, Drew seems to be the Yankees best defensive second base option, and until Brendan Ryan is healthy, he’s their only proven backup shortstop. For the time being, the question with Drew isn’t so much whether he should stay on the roster, it’s whether he should stay in the starting lineup.
The alternative: Yesterday the Yankees activated Jose Pirela, and Pirela immediately delivered two hits including a hustle double. While scouts don’t exactly love his glove — and he’s never been a huge prospect — Pirela does seem to have some offensive potential and could hit his way into regular at-bats.
The problem: Maybe it’s because he’s hardly played, but the bottom line is that Jones has hit just .152/.176/.242 which is good for the lowest OPS on the roster by a large margin. His expected backup role has been hardly necessary with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez playing well.
The circumstances: Even if the Yankees found someone to put up better numbers, would that player get more at-bats than Jones is getting right now? He’s in the final year of his contract and the power potential exists. Is it worth putting a young player into such a limited role?
The alternative: Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores are playing well and hit from the left side, but Kyle Roller (.278/.414/.481 in Triple-A) stands out as a Jones-type who could occasionally DH and maybe play some limited first base when either Rodriguez or Teixiera needs a day off. At this point, adding a player who can handle the outfield seems unnecessary with both Pirela and Chris Young on the roster.
The problem: Even with a couple of two-hit games in Boston, Beltran is still hitting just .195/.237/.310 with 22 strikeouts. It feels like a continuation of last year’s brutal second half and a spring training that wasn’t exactly encouraging.
The circumstances: As recently as 2013, Beltran was still a very good hitter. Even in April of 2014 he hit for power before the elbow issue that eventually required surgery. He has this year and one more on his contract, so moving on isn’t as easy as it was with Alfonso Soriano last season.
The alternatives: In the short term, the Yankees have Young putting up good numbers, especially against lefties. The Yankees could basically push Beltran into a platoon with all right field starts against lefties going to Young. They could also consider either Heathcott or Flores as young options from the left side.
The problem: In a bullpen full of guys with terrific numbers, Carpenter a 5.23 ERA that’s the second-worst on the team behind Sabathia. Carpenter’s pitched 11 times this season, rarely in high-leverage situations, and he’s twice allowed three earned runs.
The circumstances: Really, Carpenter hasn’t been all that bad, and I’m including him here only because he’s the guy with numbers that don’t look great in the pen. Other than those two rough outings, he’s been good. The Yankees, though, have a lot of good young relievers in Triple-A, and they have three starting pitchers looking to come off the disabled list. Something’s going to have to give eventually.
The alternatives: Despite the high ERA, right now it’s pretty hard to imagine Carpenter’s job is remotely on the line at the moment. Girardi hasn’t trusted him in big spots, though, and last year’s top draft pick Jacob Lindgren just made back-to-back appearances the past two days (so did Nick Rumbelow), and Jose Ramirez went back-to-back a week ago. Could be that the Yankees are preparing those young guys for a big league role in the not-so-distant future.
Associated Press photo
Late this morning, about two hours before today’s Grapefruit League finale, Joe Girardi was asked what’s surprised him most this spring. Girardi paused for several seconds, then gave three answers:
1. “Really pleased with what Alex did.”
That was Girardi’s first response, a one-sentence answer that basically speaks for itself. Alex Rodriguez was perhaps the least predictable piece of the roster coming into camp, but he’s thrived in all aspects. He’s played a passable version of first base and third base, he’s hit .286/.400/.524, and he’s handled inevitable off-the-field questions without digging himself into a new hole.
“I’ve said all along, I thought Alex was going to help us,” Girardi said. “But until you get into (you don’t know). I mean, it’s two years, really, since he played. I wasn’t 100-percent sure. If I was a betting man, I would have bet on him playing well, but there’s still that, you’ve got to see it after two years of not playing and being 39 and a half.”
2. “Pleased with our infield and them working together.”
This was the second sentence of Girardi’s answer, a fairly broad response that involves four players. Third baseman Chase Headley has been arguably the best everyday position player in camp, second baseman Stephen Drew has begun to hit in the last two weeks or so, first baseman Mark Teixeira has looked healthy and stronger than he did late last season, and shortstop Didi Gregorius has been perhaps the team’s most encouraging new addition.
“The way he moves (has been impressive),” Girardi said. “Arm strength. You can watch it go across the diamond, but you don’t realize it’s just that little flick and it’s gone. Relay throws. He’s the whole package. When you watch him play defense, he’s the whole package. And I’m excited to watch him play all year.”
3. “And I was really impressed with our kids.”
The Yankees’ farm system — particularly it’s lack of upper-level success stories — has been a problem in recent years, but the organization seems to be getting stronger. Not only with the addition of young talent, but also with the development of on-the-verge prospects. Greg Bird, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino impressed early in camp, while Jacob Lindgren, Rob Refsnyder and Slade Heathcott stuck around long enough to stay on the radar until the very end. That’s to say nothing of Mason Williams’ improvement, Cito Culver’s defense and Nick Rumbelow’s emergence.
“The kids played a lot in spring training,” Girardi said. “Their talent level. The way they hold each other accountable. The way they push each other. It’s really neat to see.”
Associated Press photo
This morning I wrote about some of my thoughts and impressions heading into this final week of Yankees camp, but my opinions carry no weight around here. Brian Cashman’s opinions do, though. Here are some of the general manager’s thoughts with Opening Day coming up quickly.
On Dellin Betances having a rough spring
By letting Dave Robertson go to Chicago, the Yankees sent a clear message that they believe Betances can repeat last year’s success. Maybe not to that level — he could have a fine career and still have last season standout as his high point — but certainly the Yankees are banking on Betances being able to play a key role and get big outs. Problem is, he’s really struggled this spring with bad results and an underwhelming fastball.
“The Betances ‘Where has his velocity gone?’ story is not accurate,” Cashman said. “He’s actually averaging a mile (per hour) higher at this time this spring than last spring. If it’s apples to apples, then he’s right where he was last year. Obviously his performance in the spring is different than the arm strength, but the arm strength is not the issue. Just want to make sure everybody knows that.”
So what does the performance mean? Maybe nothing. Certainly it doesn’t mean enough that the Yankees are going to take Betances out of the mix in the late innings.
“You just want to make sure it doesn’t affect the confidence,” Cashman said. “I’ve been able to at least confirm for myself that he’s very confident, which is good. Spring Training is Spring Training and sample sizes are small. I thought he was much better (in a minor league game on Saturday).”
On whether Didi Gregorius needs a platoon partner
When the Yankees went shopping for a new shortstop, they found a marketplace that offered no perfect solutions. There were flawed free agents and expensive trade targets, and the most viable in-house option was all-glove, no-bat Brendan Ryan. Eventually, the Yankees settled on Gregorius, another glove-first shortstop, but one with both youth and offensive upside.
With Ryan still in the picture as a right-handed alternative, Gregorius has thrived this spring. He’s been outstanding in the field, and he’s been plenty productive at the plate. He’s even hit lefties in the past couple of weeks, adding some confidence that the Yankees might not have to use Ryan as a platoon partner.
“It’ll be more of a Joe decision right now,” Cashman said. “I’d just (say), it’s something we could consider, but Ryan’s also here for a reason. We have two left-handers in the middle infield in Drew and Didi, and we have Ryan as an alternative, so I trust that Joe — like he does all the time — he’ll dissect the matchups and try to put the best team on the field to win. If that means Ryan’s in there ahead of Didi on any given day, so be it. (Gregorius) has shown me a lot this spring, which I’m happy with. He’s an exciting personality, and really, clearly, we hope that it plays well for us.”
On the bounce-back potential of Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Stephen Drew
I suppose you could lump Brian McCann into this group, but at least McCann hit for decent power and had an impact behind the plate last season. The Yankees seem to have more offensive uncertainty from this trio of Teixeira, Beltran and Drew, all of whom dangerously underperformed last season. Teixeira fell apart in the second half, Beltran wasn’t the same after an elbow injury, and Drew had an unthinkably bad year at the plate.
Even so, the Yankees are clearly planning to use each one of them as a lineup regular this season.
“There’s no reason to believe, for instance, Carlos Beltran’s not going to hit all of a sudden,” Cashman said. “And I have seen a lot of Stephen Drew in the last week to 10 days, and it’s encouraging. And then Tex, I haven’t had any worries about Tex coming back, or even Beltran. It’s more like, just stay healthy and we’ll be fine. Drew’s really, out of those three, the only question mark, what is he going to be? Those questions are fair to ask, and it doesn’t matter what gets said, only he‘ll answer them over time. But he’s looked really good at the plate.”
On Alex Rodriguez’s return to the team
A wild card in every way, Rodriguez has returned from a year-long suspension and actually done a good job of settling into the clubhouse while also performing well on the field.
“He’s handled himself both on the field and in the clubhouse and in his interviews with you guys, extremely well,” Cashman said. “It’s been about baseball, and he’s done really well on that level too.”
Rodriguez has been one of the Yankees very best hitters this spring. Not sure anyone would have predicted that a month ago.
“I think I consistently told you guys, I don’t know what to expect,” Cashman said. “so in fairness, I can’t even say it surprises me because I didn’t know what to expect. It was like, let’s just let whatever’s going to be, be. Then we can talk about what’s happening rather than waste your time wrapping your mind around what it is or what it’s going to be or how it’s going to look when you have no idea, it’s just a guessing game. Camp’s gone really well for him.”
On choosing a backup catcher and final bullpen jobs
Assuming minor injuries to Gregorius, Teixeira and Jacoby Ellsbury don’t cause problems on Opening Day, the Yankees seem to have very few roster decisions to make between now and the end of camp. The most wide-open spots seem to be at backup catcher and for the final two spots in the bullpen.
“Well, we’re a week away from making (those decisions),” Cashman said. “So, if you define close as, a week, then I would say yeah, I think we’re close (to making a decision).”
It’s worth noting that yesterday the Yankees made one of their most significant cuts in sending Jacob Lindgren to minor league camp. As recently as Sunday morning Cashman talked about Lindgren as if he had a real shot of breaking camp on the roster. Now he’s clearly being looked at as a mid-season call-up at best.
“We’ve kept him this long for a reason because he’s continued to open people’s eyes,” Cashman said. “I’m not going to tell you what’s going to happen yet, but there’s a reason he was pitching in a game (Saturday) this late and hadn’t been assigned out yet. Some other guys I can’t say that about, but in his case, I can.”
Associated Press photos
Today’s cuts in Yankees camp:
· Optioned RHP Bryan Mitchell and OF Ramon Flores to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
· Reassigned RHP Kyle Davies, C Francisco Arcia, INF Cole Figueroa, INF Jonathan Galvez, OF Slade Heathcott, C Kyle Higashioka, LHP Jacob Lindgren and RHP Nick Rumbelow to minor league camp.
· Unconditionally released RHP Scott Baker.
“We’d like to re-sign Baker,” Brian Cashman said. “We told him we’d like to re-sign him and put him in Triple-A, but obviously he’s going to evaluate the marketplace. I thought he had a good camp. Obviously he took a run at putting himself in the conversation for, at worst, the long man situation that we’re still playing through, whether we take one or two long men. We’ve got more things to work out, but we had to make a call because we were contractually obligated to him.”
Associated Press photo
In the past four days, the Yankees have sent seven pitchers to minor league camp. As of yesterday, they’ve now gotten every non-rehab pitcher into a spring training game. They have Esmil Rogers starting tonight, Adam Warren starting tomorrow, and Bryan Mitchell scheduled for at least one more start this spring.
“The competition’s on now, in a sense,” Joe Girardi said. “These guys are competing for jobs. Even if they felt it before, this is when we’re really going to start playing attention.”
Now’s the time to start ironing out the pitching staff. Assuming health — a big assumption, but best we can do so far — the Yankees seem to have 10 pitchers locked into one role or another.
That leaves the Yankees with two spots to fill. Could be a starter and a reliever. Could be a pair of relievers. Could prioritize the need for a long man. Could lean toward adding another lefty.
“I think a lot of these guys have thrown pretty well,” Girardi said. “You look at the amount of runs we’ve given up in spring training, we haven’t given up too many. Is it a clear-cut? No, but we still have two and a half weeks to go, and I think that’s the important thing.”
Here are the options still in big league camp (I’m not counting either Ivan Nova or Vicente Campos, each of whom is in camp but working back from Tommy John surgery):
All five of these could be long relievers in the bullpen, could be fifth starters in the rotation, or could be spot starters when the Yankees want to give everyone else an extra day of rest. The one who might not be totally flexible is Mitchell, not because he can’t pitch out of the pen, but because he’s young enough with a high-enough ceiling that the Yankees might prefer to keep him working as a starter no matter what. He’s the only one of this group who seems in line to get another start this spring, but the smart money seems to be on either Warren or Rogers getting that open rotation spot. Could certainly be room for another long man in the pen, though, and one of these could take that job.
Right-handed relievers (7)
Jose Ramirez, Chris Martin, Jared Burton, Danny Burawa, Andrew Bailey, Nick Rumbelow, Wilking Rodriguez
The Yankees have loaded up on hard-throwing right handers, including one (Branden Pinder) who’s already been sent down to minor league camp. Burton and Bailey are the veterans of this group, though it’s hard to know whether Bailey has time to prove he’s ready for Opening Day. Rumbelow and Rodriguez are non-40-man players, though Rodriguez did pitch in the big leagues a little bit last season. Ramirez and Martin each also pitched in the big leagues last season, and Burawa was added to the 40-man this winter. Really, each of these guys has pitched pretty well so far. Rumbelow and Martin have a lot of strikeouts, and at various points Girardi has specifically said he’s been impressed by those two and Ramirez.
Left-handed relievers (2)
Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren
The Yankees brought six left-handed relievers into camp. Two are basically guaranteed spots in the bullpen (Miller and Wilson) and two have already been sent to minor league camp (James Pazos and Tyler Webb), which leaves two guys still fighting for spots on the roster. Might not be an overwhelming need for three left-handers in the bullpen, but none of the Yankees’ lefties have to be true left-on-left specialists, and so far both Shreve and Lindgren have looked sharp in big league camp. Shreve is on the 40-man roster and got some big league experience last season, which might give him a leg up on Lindgren, who was drafted just last season.
Associated Press photos
Yesterday, Reggie Jackson compared Aaron Judge’s raw power to that of Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey. The day before, Alex Rodriguez called Judge and Greg Bird two of the best young hitters he’d seen in years. All spring, guys like Luis Severino, Jacob Lindgren and Rob Refsnyder have generated significant attention despite having a half-season of Triple-A experience among them.
“That’s what you do in the game, for better or for worse,” Brian Cashman said. “People go to the dream aspect.”
While the big league Yankees seem to have captured anything but the imagination this spring — far more doomsday scenarios than best-case scenarios floating out there — the young Yankees have stolen the show early this spring. At least, in theory they have. Counting my days with the minor league system, I’ve covered nine spring training, and it’s hard to remember a Yankees’ spring with this much prospect hype. Maybe the year of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, but this spring is different because many of the players in question are not even on the 40-man roster, much less on the verge of making the Opening Day roster.
Judge probably gets the most attention, and he has just one year of professional experience.
“I don’t think it’s hurtful,” Cashman said. “Listen, we all project what someone could be on a maximum case. Whether people want to throw out Giancarlo Stanton or Dave Winfield or McCovey, it doesn’t matter at all. You’re dreaming on the player’s abilities. Some players, you can dream bigger on than others. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big on a guy, especially a guy like that, that’s that big. It’s not hurtful.”
Seems to help that the Yankees like the mental makeup of their young players. Judge and Refsnyder have lockers right next to one another, and both have been soft spoken all spring. Girardi has raved about Severino’s early spring composure. Bird tends to sit quietly at his corner locker, doing as much observing as talking.
“I’ve discovered that there’s nothing I can do to prevent (growing expectations), regardless,” Cashman said. “I’ve gotten trained over time that whatever will be, will be. … Our young guys — the B-Bombers, I’ll call them — have been great. They’re in tremendous shape, they’re hungry, you can see they play with passion. The performance has been high-end this spring as well. Those are the stories you really want. You want your young guys to step up. It shows your fan base that, hey, there’s some good things on the come.”
Associated Press photo
Stephen Drew made all the plays he was supposed to make today, but he also went 0-for-3 at the plate. It was kind of a take-the-good-with-the-bad kind of day for a guy who’s suddenly having to prove himself on both offense and defense.
“These guys brought me over here to fill that role (at second base),” Drew said. “And playing in the league for as long as I have and understanding the game, it’s definitely big. And it’s still early. With these at-bats, it’s huge for me, whereas last year I was going into a season where guys were four months (ahead). It’s not an easy task. It’s not an excuse, but at the same time, it’s something that really I don’t think anybody has done quite like that. Knowing that, and knowing that feeling, it’s definitely a big key to be here in spring (training) right now.”
Yes, Drew knows there’s a big league job waiting for him. But it would be hard for anyone to not notice the way Jose Pirela is hitting so far this spring, and Rob Refsnyder gets more attention in the clubhouse than some of the veterans. Drew is coming off the worst offensive season of his career, and now he’s trying to learn a new position. Will he really break camp as the Opening Day second baseman? Probably. The Yankees have basically committed to that much, the question is whether he can play well enough to keep the job going forward.
“I mean, if (anyone) was to struggle, we’d probably make a change,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s the nature of our game, but we didn’t sign him to struggle. We signed him to play at a very high level, and we expect that he will.”
How does Drew go about learning second base and getting his numbers back on track with the rest of his career? Well, it starts right here, with games like today. If he stays healthy, this will be Drew’s first full spring training since 2011. He played no spring training games in 2012 because of a broken ankle, he missed most of the 2013 spring with a concussion, and he didn’t sign last year until May. He was in the big leagues roughly two weeks later.
“I was in good shape (last spring),” Drew said. “And like I keep telling you guys, the biggest thing is you haven’t seen live pitching, Major League pitching, along with that (time off). Last year was definitely a challenge. Really, you’ve got to slow the game down. I was rushing the game, trying to speed it up, trying to play catch up. To be here now is definitely a big moment for me.”
Drew has just 11 at-bats this spring, but he also has just one hit. He made an error on his first opportunity of the exhibition schedule. Anyone who follows this game knows not to make much of early spring training results, but it’s hard not to analyze everything Drew’s doing given his situation. For those who hated the signing in the first place, every 0-for-3 and every defensive mistake seems like proof that Drew’s contract was a mistake.
The Yankees, though, see a good defensive player, who’s athletic and experienced enough to learn a new position, and who’s 2013 — when he had a .777 OPS — is far more indicative of the kind of hitter he’s been through most of his career. They see a potential bargain where others see a sure bust.
“We expect him to be a productive hitter, to get back to the form that he was at before last year,” Girardi said. “I think he got behind, and I think it was difficult for him to catch up when you miss spring training. When you slowly progress into playing and then you have a rushed spring training in a sense. He wasn’t there very long. Maybe he had 15, 16 at-bats or whatever he had. It’s just hard to catch up. I think you get behind, and then you start off slow and you try to make things up. It just makes things worse a lot of time. We feel that he’ll get back to the form that he was at.”
• Despite going three scoreless innings, Chase Whitley wasn’t all happy with his start today. He walked three guys, got into jams in the first and second innings, and threw only 24 of 46 pitches for strikes. Good work to get out of trouble with a lot of ground balls, but Whitley said he’s clearly still in early spring mode. “Overall pleased with the result,” he said. “But the process has to get a little bit better.”
• Girardi seemed to like the fact Whitley had to handle some adversity and make big pitches. “He got some big ground balls when he needed them,” Girardi said. “He got in some long counts and got some baserunners, but he did a good job with runners in scoring position. You want to see that.”
• The Yankees lost 3-1 with all of the Orioles runs coming against Branden Pinder and Chasen Shreve, two 40-man guys who seem to be fighting for that open spot in the bullpen. Pinder was knocked around early in the fifth inning — four straight hits, two runs — but also got some big outs to limit the damage. Shreve gave up a solo home run to a switch hitter.
• Both Jacob Lindgren and Esmil Rogers pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts.
• A sure sign that it’s absurdly early: Chase Headley came into this game hitting .100 for the spring. He went 3-for-3 and in one day raised his average to .308. He had hits from each side of the plate. “It’s tough to figure out what you’re trying to do early,” Headley said. “You really want to see pitches, track the ball good out of the pitchers’ hands. I didn’t feel very good doing that, wasn’t seeing them like I wanted to, so I figured today I’d be a little bit more aggressive, try to take it a little more like regular-season at-bats. I think that put my rhythm and timing in better spots. It was good. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but you want to get hits.”
• Yet another start for Didi Gregorius against a left-handed starting pitcher. Girardi seems happy about that, but he said it’s strictly coincidence. The lineups are generally set before the Yankees know who they’re facing in spring training. “I want to see him (against lefties),” Girardi said. “Obviously a lot of times you can get pegged early on in your career; I’ve seen it happen to a lot of players. We have a lot of confidence in Didi and we want him to get at-bats.”
• Aaron Judge made a nice diving catch in right field today. Headley almost made a terrific diving stop on a Machado double. He dived toward the foul line, but the ball hit off the tip of his glove. “I was mad at myself that I didn’t catch it,” Headley said. Would have been a sick catch.
• Big-time injury in the American League East as Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman is likely to miss all year with a torn ACL. “I feel like it’s becoming the NFL; there’s one big injury every day,” Girardi said. “It’s frustrating when you lose your players, guys that you count on. No one is going to feel sorry for you and you have to just move on, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”
• Speaking of AL East injuries, the Yankees saw Manny Machado back in the Orioles lineup today. He went 3-for-3, and Girardi said the situation reminded him of a Yankees prospect. “Two knee surgeries, and having to fight back; it’s frustrating as a player,” Girardi said. “For him, he’s really young, but you know your time is limited. And that’s the last place you want to spend it is rehabbing on the DL. I look at a young kid that we have. He’s not as accomplished as Manny, but what Slade (Heathcott) has gone through, the knee surgeries. It’s frustrating. It delays your progress as a player.”
• Gary Sanchez hit a pretty long home run for the Yankees only run of the day. … Pirela went 1-for-2 with a walk and a stolen base. He’s hitting .462 (Refsnyder went hitless but is hitting .455). … Aside from Pirela, Sanchez and Headley, the only Yankees hit belonged to Mark Teixeira.
• For today’s final word, here’s Girardi’s response to a joking question about whether he’s ready for the big game against Boston tomorrow. “Huh? Oh yeah. I was thinking, big Boston game, what’s he talking about? Do you guys (in the media) have a game or something?” Rivalry games just don’t carry the same weight down here in spring training.
Associated Press photos
Luis Severino and Aaron Judge surely spark some optimism for the future, but if you were looking for immediate impact in the present, the big names from today’s Yankees spring opener were Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.
“I think we can do some damage as long as we both stay healthy and do our jobs,” Gardner said. “Get on base and take some attention from the hitter and (put it) on us from the pitcher and the catcher; get over into scoring position and give those guys in the middle of the lineup some RBI opportunities.”
That’s the idea, and the Yankees might actually be able to put it into action this season. When Ellsbury signed last winter, there was some immediate thought about the impact he and Gardner might have together as speed-oriented hitters and defenders. They played well side-by-side in the outfield, but they rarely hit together in the lineup. It seems inevitable that they’ll do that this year.
They didn’t do much today — a combined 0-for-6 — but last season, Gardner and Ellsbury ranked first and second in OPS among Yankees everyday players. They combined for 60 steals and each hit more home runs than any Yankee other than Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann. They are, perhaps, the most reliable pieces of this season’s projected lineup.
“If I play a full season this year and hit six (home runs), or if I hit 20, it really doesn’t matter to me,” Gardner said. “I still have to get on base. I don’t have to drive myself in. I just have to get on base and put myself into scoring position and those guys in the middle will drive me in if they’re healthy. … Get on base a little more (than last year), run a little more, and just use my speed to my advantage. Just taking things pitch by pitch, try and keep things simple. I kind of felt like I fell off a little bit towards the end of the season, the last month of last year. Right now I feel great. Just stay strong, try to stay healthy all season.”
For Ellsbury, hitting ahead of Gardner means he should have plenty of chances to run. Gardner’s a patient hitter, and Ellsbury can be an aggressive runner.
“I tend to go early in the count just to give a hitter a better opportunity before he’s down in the count or whatnot,” Ellsbury said. “But yeah, if I don’t go early, it just gives me opportunities to take a base. Brett does a good job with the bat and controlling the bat. Maybe he just advances me from second to third with no outs, something like that. … If I feel I can go, I’m going to take off unless they give me the red light and want the guy to hit if they’re so focused on the hitter seeing a pitch. I feel if I get my jump, I’m going to make it more often than not.”
• Pretty solid first outing for Adam Warren, who allowed just one hit — a weak single — through two scoreless innings. “I wanted to get ahead of hitters,” Warren said. “Didn’t really do that great today, but also wanted to establish fastball in to a lot of guys, which I did well today. Just have to keep working and improving. Getting ahead of guys for me is a the name of the game, so I want to do that a little bit better, but overall felt good.”
• Warren said he feels like he’s competing for a rotation spot and not simply serving as rotation insurance in case someone gets hurt. “Who knows where I’ll end up,” he said. “But right now my mind is being a starter and see where that leads.”
• Joe Girardi’s impression of Warren’s start: “A lot of quality strikes today. Good counts.”
• Every prospect reliever seemed to really thrive today except Jacob Lindgren. I was doing interviews in the Yankees clubhouse while Lindgren was pitching, so I actually missed most of his outing. He went two-thirds of an inning, gave up two hits and allowed two runs, which were unearned because of a Rob Refsnyder throwing error. Branden Pinder wound up finishing off that inning with a strikeout.
• Refsnyder wasn’t the only young second baseman with a throwing error. Jose Pirela also threw a ball away trying to make a tough turn on a double play.
• Aaron Judge on seeing his game-tying home run go over the fence. “I thought he robbed it, so I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to turn around or keep going. So I just kept going, and no one stopped me.”
• Luis Severino said he believes he could be pitching in New York at some point this season, but he quickly shot down the idea that he’s trying to make a big impression this spring to make that happen. “No,” he said, flatly. “The same I do last year, I’ve got do this year the same.”
• Some of the pace of play rules were used today. The field had two red clocks counting down two minutes and 25 seconds for a pitcher to get ready at the start of an inning. I honestly didn’t even notice it at first. “It was a little strange,” Warren said. “I didn’t think about it the first inning. I went out there for the second inning, I noticed it at like a minute, 50 (seconds) when I first got out there. I’m like, ‘Crap, that’s not long at all.’ Then all of a sudden I look back after my last pitch, it’s at 50 seconds still, so it only took me a minute. After you’ve already gone out there, and you’re already a little bit loose, it didn’t affect me. I think you just have to get used to knowing the time’s ticking down to kind of know how long it takes you.”
• Garrett Jones singled in his first at-bat with the Yankees. Chris Young also had a single today. Of the guys really fighting for a roster spot, Pirela was the only other one who had a hit. Both Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy went 0-for-2. Jake Cave, Slade Heathcott, Greg Bird, Kyle Roller, Mason Williams, Jonathan Galvez, Nick Noonan, and of course Judge all had at least one hit today.
• Girardi said everyone came through today’s game healthy. No new injuries to report.
• Final word goes to Girardi: “You want to learn as much as you can about these (young) guys because we haven’t seen them a lot. See what their abilities are, what some of their strengths are. I think we’ve said all along, there’s some really good position players that are coming. They’re getting closer and closer, and at some point – you hope that you don’t have injuries, but at some point you know that it usually happens and these kids get a call-up and a chance to do something.”
Associated Press photos
This became a surprisingly busy morning with two bits of late-breaking news:
1. Yoan Moncada has signed with the Red Sox.
2. Alex Rodriguez is reporting to Yankees camp earlier than expected.
Brian Cashman would not confirm Rodriguez’s arrival, suggesting he was either holding back information or that he really has not communicated with his highest-paid player.
“I’ve had two people in the media tell me they think he’s coming today to the minor league camp,” Cashman said. “We’re trying to confirm if that’s the case. Not aware of that. Trying to figure that out if that’s the case.”
However, Cashman did have something to say about the Yankees’ pursuit of Moncada, the 19-year-old Cuban phenom who worked out extensive in front of Yankees scouts and decision makers. He reportedly went to the Red Sox for a $31.5 million signing bonus (total of $63 million with taxes for the Yankees). According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees offered $25 million and were willing to go as high as $27 million (total of $54 million). So, essentially, Moncada signed for $13 million more than the Yankees initial offer.
“We made our final and best (offer) yesterday,” Cashman said. “I don’t think anybody disagrees with the ability. I would doubt there’s any disagreement on the scouting assessment of the player. It just comes down to how much money you were willing to commit. We put our best foot forward yesterday, it was a significant offer, but it fell short of where he’s rumored to have signed.”
Clearly the Yankees baseball operations department like Moncada, but so did every other baseball operations department in the game. This was never a matter of talent evaluation. It was always going to come down to which team was willing to pay the most money for a teenager with limited experience, considerable risk and extreme upside.
Last summer, the Yankees took on a strategy of extreme spending on the international market and had already blown way past their international allotment. So why not go all out and give Moncada whatever it took?
“If we were going to go all out, there would have been more,” Cashman said. “We went to where we were comfortable going, and it was an uncomfortable number to put forth. But it still fell short. We’re proud of the players that we did sign and the work we’ve done on the international side, but we’re continuing to look at what’s available out there, and we were involved in the Moncada efforts until the very end. Yesterday they said they were going to make a decision and wanted your best offer. We presented that. It just didn’t work.”
• I’m still over at Steinbrenner Field, but apparently there’s a massive group of media camped out across the street waiting for Rodriguez’s arrival at the minor league complex. Joe Girardi said earlier this spring that he expected Rodriguez to report on Wednesday with the rest of the position players. Mark Feinsand is reporting that Rodriguez was planning to begin a workout at the complex around 11 a.m. but will instead get his physical today.
• Andrew Bailey had an early report time this morning. Yesterday, the early report guys threw live batting practice. Today, Bailey started early because he’s not facing hitters. Every other guy throwing today will throw live batting practice. Total of eight pitchers facing hitters this afternoon.
• As for Bailey, he had pitching coach Larry Rothschild standing at the plate as a mock hitter for his bullpen session. Rothschild and Joe Girardi called balls and strikes for the session. This was Miller’s first bullpen since camp opened, but he was throwing pens leading into camp (happened to throw his previous bullpen the Friday before the first workout). “Long ways to go,” Miller said, “but I’ll take it for where I am on February 23. All in all, nothing really to write about, but I’m sure you guys will find a way.”
• By the way, Miller said once again that he really doesn’t care what his role is. He’s happy to be the closer. Happy to be anything else.
• As expected, Carlos Beltran is back in camp after taking the day off on Sunday.
• Random clubhouse conversation of the morning: After pitching out of the stretch almost all of last year, Adam Warren is working as a starter again, and so he’s back to working out of the windup. Said it’s taking a while to get his timing back, but he feels more comfortable having a windup as a starter. I mentioned that he had such success out of the stretch last year, why go back? Warren said he realizes it makes no real sense, but it’s just more comfortable for him to have a windup as a starter, and feeling comfortable and confident is a big part of having success. So he’s going back to the windup as long as he’s a rotation candidate.
• A lot of pitchers scheduled for early work tomorrow, including Ivan Nova. Others listed for early report times tomorrow: Tyler Webb, Jose Campos, Chris Capuano, David Carpenter, Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell.
• The first two workouts, Brian McCann was assigned to catch new relievers who are definitely going to be in the big league bullpen. Seems fairly significant that today he’s been assigned to catch Jacob Lindgren.
• Plenty of live batting practice today. Beltran is not going to hit against the live pitching (he’ll just take normal batting practice today). Instead, the pitchers will basically face a collection of catchers.
12:25: Luis Severino (with John Ryan Murphy catching)
12:35: Jacob Lindgren (with Brian McCann catching)
12:45: Nick Rumbelow (with Austin Romine catching)
12:55: Diego Morena (with Eddy Rodriguez catching)
12:25: Jose Ramirez (with Gary Sanchez catching)
12:35: Branden Pinder (with Francisco Arcia catching)
12:45: Nick Goody (with Kyle Higashioka catching)
12:55: Jamez Pazos (with Trent Garrison catching)
John Ryan Murphy
Associated Press photos
Late in this morning’s live batting practice session, pitching coach Larry Rothschild gave specific instruction to catcher Gary Sanchez. Up in the zone. That was the target. New starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi was on the mound, and this session was about a clear checklist of goals.
“We worked on some different things, (including) elevating certain pitches,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Larry does a great job of giving them a plan of what each guy is supposed to work on that day whether it’s pitching inside or bouncing a breaking ball on top of home plate. That’s good, because it’s not just going out there throwing pitches. You have a plan, and I think that’s important for pitchers.”
While some guys are trying to build up arm strength right now, the Yankees have little reason to worry about Eovaldi’s ability to generate velocity. He can throw a four-seam fastball with the best of them, but his low strikeout numbers show plenty of room for improvement. So, among other things, Eovaldi was working this morning on getting his fastball up in the zone. He was also working with a slightly tweaked grip on his split-finger, a pitch he just started using last season, and one he’s planning to use a little more often this year.
Even though he’s no longer a prospect — not with three-plus years in the big leagues; not with a rotation job locked up — Eovaldi is barely a week removed from his 25th birthday, so he’s still a work in progress.
“You’re not talking about a guy that’s 30,” Girardi said. “He’s learning on the job and developing as time goes on. I think it’s just part of his game. I think learning how to pitch with his fastball, moving it around more, is still something he’s capable of doing that will help him. I don’t necessarily think one pitch is going to change everything, but obviously (the split) can help.”
Eovaldi talked this morning about recognizing his past limitations. He knows he needs to improve his offspeed stuff. He knows the split could be a key pitch. He wants to improve his strikeout numbers, without necessarily over-extending his pitch count. He needs to be more consistent, and he thinks his workload and health were the most significant positives from last season.
The fact he’s already facing hitters seems to be a pretty clear indication that the Yankees have already put in a lot of time working with him.
“He looked good,” Girardi said. “He threw a batting practice session, worked on some things, worked on some different ideas with his split. I was very encouraged by it. Arm strength is good. It’s still very early in camp, but it was positive.”
• Today was Masahiro Tanaka’s second bullpen since he arrived in Tampa. He threw 35 pitches and said his elbow felt “absolutely good.” He felt like he was throwing harder, and he added more breaking balls into the mix. Up next is at least one more bullpen — maybe more — before he faces live hitters.
• Girardi on Tanaka’s bullpen: “I thought he was good. He threw 35 pitches, threw everything and had no issues. That was encouraging.”
• This morning’s live batting practice was the first time Girardi had ever seen Eovaldi pitch in person.
• Apparently Carlos Beltran has been able to work quite a bit recently, so he was given today off. “He’ll be back tomorrow,” Girardi said. “He’s worked pretty hard the last few days.”
• The only non-catching position player I saw in the clubhouse today was Didi Gregorius, who was around for the second day in a row getting his locker situated. “I’m anxious to see him in games and to get him going just to learn more and more about him,” Girardi said. “It’s one thing to see him on tape, but you want to see him in person. That’s always important for me because I think you get a much better feel for how a guy is doing.”
• Smaller group of bullpens today than yesterday, but among those who got on the mound were two new lefties, Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson. “We’ve got a couple of lefties we can go to, when you start thinking about it,” Girardi said. “There’s some quality left handers here. I think it really gives you options as a manager. And I like that.”
• Among those lefties getting a look will be last year’s top draft pick, Jacob Lindgren. “I’m curious to see him,” Girardi said. “Because a lot of times you don’t see those guys a whole lot. There’s a bunch of young players that, you know, strike your curiosity here.”
• For the first time, I’ll take today’s final word, offering a huge congratulations to Chase Whitley on the birth of his son, Clete Coleman. It’s the first child for Whitley and his wife, who’s with him down here in Tampa and gave birth earlier today. You might remember the spring of 2012 when David Phelps’ wife had their first child, and Phelps soon made his first Opening Day roster as a long man. Wonder if the same could happen for Whitley, especially given the Yankees consideration of a sixth starter from time to time (maybe Whitley as a long man who can get a start here and there).
Associated Press photo