State of the organization: Center field • 10.14.14
Up next in our position-by-position look at the Yankees organization is a position that has a long-term solution already in place at the major-league level. It’s also a position with quite a bit of depth — and a good amount of both disappointment and production — within the minor league system. The Yankees have a lot of young center fielders who might or might not work out, but right now there’s not really a place to put them even if they do emerge as immediate big league options.
Signed through 2020
The Yankees lineup didn’t have much in 2013, but one thing it did have was a speedy, left-handed, leadoff-hitting center fielder. And so, of course, when the Yankees got into the offseason and needed to find a high-end position player, they gave seven years and more than $150 million to a speedy, left-handed, leadoff-hitting center fielder. For the most part, Ellsbury lived up to expectation in his first season with the Yankees. He had a 113 OPS+ in 2013, then a 111 in 2014. He had 246 total bases in 2013, 241 in 2014. Home runs were up, stolen bases were slightly down, but ultimately this was a reasonable and productive year for Ellsbury. Whether the contract will still be reasonable and productive at the end of the decade remains to be seen, but for the time being, the Yankees seem to have gotten the player they expected. And having Ellsbury in center field has allowed the Yankees to move Brett Gardner back into left field, giving them a ton of outfield range and a double-dose of speed near the top of the order.
On the verge
I’m using Richardson’s name here mostly to make a point about the uncertainty of all the organization’s upper-level center fielders. The Yankees have a lot of center fielders who could push themselves onto the big league roster early next season — Can Slade Heathcott get healthy? Mason Williams has the defense, what about the bat? Will Jake Cave keep moving up? Is Taylor Dugas for real? Are Adonis Garcia and Ramon Flores good enough in center? — but this September, when the Yankees wanted a speedy center field type to bring up in September, they called on the veteran Richardson. Even with a lot of center field talent in Double-A and Triple-A, Richardson was the choice. Ideally, one of the true center field prospects will push for that sort of call-up next year. Williams is Rule 5 eligible this offseason. Heathcott and Flores are already on the 40-man. Cave and Dugas had great 2014 seasons. Both Garcia and Flores are intriguing hitters who primarily play in the corners but have center field experience. With both Ellsbury and Gardner on the big league roster, the Yankees have ready-made depth in center field, so the development of a center fielder isn’t overwhelmingly important. But the Yankees have a lot of upper-level talent at the position, and they’ll surely need some of that talent to play some sort of role going forward.
Two things are at play here. The first is all about Cave himself. The 21-year-old missed all of 2012 with a knee injury, but he made a strong showing with Low-A Charleston in 2013, and he did so well with High-A Tampa this season that he forced a mid-July promotion to Double-A Trenton. When he got there, Cave’s power numbers actually spiked. He finished the year with a .294/.351/.414 slash line between the two levels. He can run, but he hasn’t stolen a ton of bases. He has some power, but it mostly plays out in a lot of doubles. He’s noted for a strong arm in the outfield. Good as Cave has been these past two years, though, some of his move to the top of the organizational pecking order at center field is because of the decline of both Williams and Heathcott. Williams hit just .223/.290/.304, which was another a step backwards after a disappointing 2013. His speed, defense and upside might be enough for a 40-man spot this winter, but Williams’ prospect stock is falling fast. Heathcott, on the other hand, remains one of the highest-potential players in the organization, but he had yet another surgery this season. He simply missed too much time and remains too injury prone to still consider him the top center field prospect in the system.
Deeper in the system
The Yankees top five draft picks this year were all pitchers. The first position player they selected was Payton, a University of Texas center fielder who made a strong first impression by hitting .320/.418/.497 between Low-A and High-A. Just like almost all of the other center fielders in the system, Payton is a left-handed hitter, and most scouting reports suggest a fourth-outfielder upside. He seems to be one of those guys who does a lot of things pretty well but no one thing extremely well (could say that about a lot of the Yankees other center field prospects as well). Have to assume Payton will head back to Tampa next season, looking to basically follow Cave’s footsteps with a mid-season bump to Double-A. Also coming up from the lower levels, Dustin Fowler hit for some power in Charleston this year, but Leonardo Molina is the name to watch. He’s just 17 years old and put up bad numbers in rookie ball, but the Yankees see considerable potential. Needs time to develop.
Getting things right
It’s not unusual or surprising to see a lot of left-handed center fielders in the organization. Most high school teams tend to stick their best players at shortstop, but if that best player is left-handed, center field seems to be the best alternative. And it seems the Yankees organization is seeing the trickle-down impact. Ellsbury, Gardner, Cave, Dugas, Flores, Heathcott, Williams and Payton are all left-handed hitters. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a redundant thing. With Ellsbury and Gardner locked into multi-year contracts, the Yankees most immediate opening for a young center fielder is in fourth outfielder role, and it would be convenient to have that fourth outfielder bat right-handed (if only to balance the two guys already in place). At some point the Yankees might have to trade away some of this center field depth to find a player who’s not so repetitive within their own system. Problem is, Heathcott and Williams have lost considerable trade value, and guys like Flores and Dugas (and probably even Cave) aren’t likely to headline a particularly significant deal.
Associated Press photo
Kind of weird to watch a game that was most notable for the guy who wasn’t playing.
Derek Jeter had warned Joe Girardi even before last night’s game that he probably wouldn’t want to play tonight. In some ways, the overwhelming circumstances of Thursday night surely caught Jeter off guard, but in other ways, his entire season was building to that moment. He knew it was going to be draining, but perhaps didn’t realize it was going to be so overwhelming. Even when it was over, Jeter said he slept only a couple of hours last night.
Had he ever before asked to sit out? Jeter acted as if he couldn’t believe the question was being asked.
“Me?” he said. “Never. Yeah, today, I couldn’t play today. First time.”
Jeter’s desire to be in the lineup is notorious. Two years ago, he kept playing through an ankle injury until his ankle finally snapped. This year, even at 40, he’s been mildly frustrated by the occasional days off that he’s received through the course of the year. Jeter likes to play, and he said he still wants to DH on Saturday and Sunday. He just didn’t want to play tonight.
“I can’t tell you (what it will be like) on Sunday,” Jeter said. “But I can’t imagine it (will be as emotional as Thursday), because that’s pretty much as good as it gets, I think, for me. Like I said, I’m playing here because I have respect for this rivalry, for Boston, and the fans. If it was anywhere else, I don’t know if I’d play.”
Jeter said he literally doesn’t remember taking his uniform off last night. It was the last time he ever took off a white pinstriped uniform, and you’d think that would be a memorable experience, but Jeter said he didn’t think about it.
“I was just happy, you know what I mean?” Jeter said. “Everything happened so quickly in terms of the swing of the emotions. Taking off the uniform, I don’t even remember it.”
If his desire to play is notorious, so is the fact the pays little attention to baseball beyond those games he is playing. But Jeter said he’d actually like to host a private screening to re-watch Thursday’s game with friends and family. Why that game?
“Because a lot of it I don’t even remember,” Jeter said. “I mean, I was doing things last night, like I told you, I almost told Joe, ‘Get me out of here.’ I was giving signs to (second baseman Stephen) Drew on who to cover second base on a steal, and there’s no runner on first, you know what I’m saying? There were a lot of things going on. I’d like to see how it went because I think I missed a lot of it.”
Ultimately, there’s still a chance Jeter will back out of playing this weekend. After all, when the Yankees left for Houston at the end of last season, everyone seemed certain Mariano Rivera was going to want to play at least one inning in center field. Rivera changed his mind, and there’s still a chance Jeter will as well. It just doesn’t seem very likely.
“I really think Jeet will go back out there,” Girardi said. “If he didn’t, I don’t have a problem with that, and I completely understand it. I’m not so sure what I would do if I was him in that situation. But he loves to compete, and I just have a feeling he’ll go back out.”
Jeter seems pretty sure about that as well. But this one night, for the first time in his career, he preferred to sit and watch.
“I don’t know if I could play tonight if I wanted to play tonight,” Jeter said.
• Small bit of news coming out of the clubhouse: Girardi said Jacoby Ellsbury won’t play this series. “He’s done,” Girardi said. “He’s done. I am not going to use him. I would think it would be silly for him to re-injure himself at this point in the season and have to deal with it in the offseason. So, let’s send him home a healthy player, and we don’t have to worry about it over the offseason.”
• Dave Robertson was smiling tonight. Even though last night ended on a high note, he was obviously frustrated by last night’s blown save. He joked that he considered blowing tonight’s save just so the Yankees could let Jeter be the hero again. “I definitely thought they should have pinch-hit him after I gave up the run,” Robertson said.
• In all seriousness, Robertson now has 39 saves with two days to reach 40. That’s pretty good for a guy who came into this season answering big questions about whether he’d be able to handle the role in the wake of Mariano Rivera’s retirement. “Forty is just a number to me,” Robertson said. “The biggest thing for me personally, if I was 35-for-35, that’s what I would want to be. I don’t want to be the guy who lets people down. I know I’ve got five blown saves. It happens. Those are the games I want back. I don’t really care about the number that I get to. It’s just more the games that I help our team win.”
• If Robertson had given the Yankees an opportunity to use Jeter again, this crowd wouldn’t have had a problem with that. There were Derek Jeter chants often tonight. :There’s a substantial number of Yankees fans here,” Girardi said. “There always is, but also, I’ve got to believe there’s some Boston people chanting that too. … And I understand people want to see him, but he’s been through a lot. He’s been through a lot this year. It’s extremely emotional. He’s given everything he’s had inside of him for 20 years, and I respect whatever he does.”
• In the later innings, the crowd was booing the other Yankees hitters, always wanting Jeter to pinch hit. “I kind of felt bad for Austin (Romine) going up to the plate,” Chris Capuano said. “He was getting booed just because the fans wanted Jeter in that spot. He had such a special night last night. I think everyone can understand him wanting to take a day.”
• Speaking of Capuano, another strong start from him. This was the third time since joining the Yankees that Capuano made a start without allowing an earned run. It was his fourth start without a walk. He matched a season-high with 6.2 innings. “I feel like I learned a lot,” Capuano said. “I just got to soak in Derek’s last couple of months, and last night was amazing. It was among the best two months I’ve had in the big leagues, that much fun.”
• When he was pulled from the game, Capuano shook Girardi’s hand. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be here,” Capuano said. “I just wanted to thank Joe for that. Just a great opportunity to pitch.”
• Girardi on Capuano: “I think every player wants to finish strong. I think that’s a feeling that you want to have going home. … I thought he did a really good job for us. And I thought tonight he was excellent again.”
• Did Girardi consider pinch hitting Jeter at any point? “As I’ve said, I’m going to leave it up to him,” Girardi said. “He felt that he just needed a day today. He didn’t sleep much last night. We got in late. He was up early today. That’s what happens when you get older, you kind of get set on the time you wake up in the morning and it’s hard to change.”
• Still plan to have him DH the next two games? “Whatever he tells me. I’m sticking to that,” Girardi said. “Whatever he tells me he wants to do, that’s what we’re going to do.”
• Francisco Cervelli went 2-for-3. Since being recalled from the 60-day disabled list on August 25, he’s hit .306 with 10 doubles and two homers.
• New outfielder Eury Perez singled in his first at-bat of the season for his third career hit. He also stole a base, his fifth career steal.
• Final word to Robertson: “There’s a lot of Yankees fans in the seats tonight, and I know that the Red Sox fans respect (Jeter). They’ve enjoyed seeing the rivalry. It’ll be fun to watch him tomorrow when he plays.”
Associated Press photos
Bud Selig is at Yankee Stadium today, and he’s going to address the media in just a few minutes so I need to head back down to the press conference room in just a few minutes. A few quick pregame notes before I head downstairs.
• Mark Teixeira had his latest cortisone injection on Sunday, and he’s back in the lineup tonight. “I’ve gone through all the basic tests, and it seems to have taken,” Teixeira said. “Unless something crazy happens during BP, I should be fine.”
• Teixeira said he usually takes a full month off when the offseason starts. This year, he’s planning to take maybe a week before beginning regular offseason workouts. “Get right back into strengthening,” he said. “My upper body strengthening really didn’t start full time until January (last offseason). Like I’ve told you guys a number of times, I definitely need to get stronger, my whole upper body, but definitely the wrist. … We’re past the rehab point. We need to get into the strengthening point. The strength will help the inflammation stay out of there. Hopefully the little things in my legs that happened this year, I just need to get stronger from top to bottom, but especially the wrist.”
• No baseball activities for either Carlos Beltran or Jacoby Ellsbury today, though Ellsbury will do some light exercises just to see how he responds. Girardi acknowledged that the way he treats those two going forward will likely depend on whether the Yankees stay in the mathematical playoff race. “That’s probably fair to say,” Girardi said. “My guess is, we wouldn’t push it (if the team were eliminated).”
• Is Derek Jeter going to play all three games in Boston this weekend? “My plan is to play him,” Girardi said. “Obviously if things happen and we are eliminated, then obviously I’ll talk to him on a daily basis. My plan is to play him, but I’m going to talk to him and see what he physically needs and what he mentally wants. … My guess is, he’s going to want to play every day.”
• New outfielder Eury Perez is here today. Not in the lineup, but he was in the clubhouse and on the lineup sheet. I assume he’s available off the bench.
• If Masahiro Tanaka is starting Saturday and Michael Pineda is starting Sunday, it seems this will likely be Brandon McCarthy’s final start unless the Yankees advance to a wild card game. He’s been a terrific second-half addition heading into free agency. “For the most part, he has brought out the same stuff almost every game and has gotten deep into games,” Girardi said. “And his sinker has been outstanding. He’s gotten a ton of ground balls. There’s a lot of times when you’ll see guys when they don’t have their A stuff and they have to battle through it, but his stuff has been consistent for the whole time that we’ve had him, for the most part.”
Associated Press photo
Pregame notes: “I need to get stronger” • 09.17.14
These are Mark Teixeira’s numbers this season.
First half: .241/.341/.464 with 17 home runs in 73 games
Second half: .179/.283/.298 with four home runs in 42 games
“I need to get stronger,” he said. “This second half has been brutal. I just hit a wall. I need to get a lot stronger, so this offseason is going to be important for that because I’m definitely not where I want to be physically.”
Teixiera doesn’t blame the second-half slide on his lingering wrist soreness. Not exactly, anyway. He looks back to an offseason spent rehabbing instead of working out. He couldn’t lift the way he normally does. Couldn’t go through baseball drills the way he’s used to. And while he opened the season with a strong month of April — .862 OPS that month — his numbers have steadily decreased each month after that, with his slugging percentage in particularly showing a steady and significant decline.
“I didn’t have a normal offseason,” he said. “That’s tough, but it is what it is. I had to rehab all offseason, but the wrist is structurally sound, and from all indications it shouldn’t be a problem next year.”
After sitting out last night because of lingering wrist soreness, Teixeira is back in the Yankees lineup lineup tonight. He’s had two cortisone shots this year, and doctors won’t let him get another, but Teixeira said that every examination has shown his wrist to be structurally undamaged. It’s just sore from time to time.
“That’s what was expected all year,” Teixeira said. “I was fully expecting to have some bumps. This season, I can’t really be that disappointed with the wrist. When it’s flared up, we’ve dealt with it. Take a few days off here and there, get a shot here and there when you need it. But it’s structurally sound. That’s the most important thing. If it gets sore every now and then, you deal with it.”
• Determining whether Teixeira can become a productive hitter again seems like a far bigger issue in the big picture, but here and now, there’s still no issue generating more pregame buzz than last night’s hit-by-pitch and ensuing anger on both sides. “I know I’ve told our guys just go out and play,” Joe Girardi said. “I told Brandon McCarthy, just go out and pitch. What’s happened, happened. We move on. And that’s what happens in the game of baseball. It can be a takeout slide, It can be a lot of different things. Then the day turns, and it’s a different day.”
• Maybe that’s true, but Chase Headley was clearly frustrated with Joe Maddon’s postgame comments from last night. Maddon said that Headley had been “grazed” in New York on Thursday. That’s a pretty poor word choice after a guy took a mid-90s fastball to the chin. Headley said he understands that sometimes a phrase comes out wrong in an interview. “I’m just going to hope that that’s what happened,” Headley said. “That it was a poor choice of words, because that certainly wasn’t the case. I was pretty lucky, the way that it turned out, but I don’t think that it’s fair to be minimized or kind of downplayed in how this all went. … If Evan Longoria got hit like that, or Ben Zobrist or one of their guys, he wouldn’t use that term.”
• Headley said a teammate sent him the comments last night. “I can tell you what the doctor said and what I went through,” Headley said. “I think that speaks for itself. … (The doctor) said it was a miracle that my jaw didn’t shatter. That’s his term.”
• For whatever it’s worth, Headley looked alright when he rejoined the Yankees on Friday, but he’s looked progressively worse since then. There’s now bruising all over his chin and neck due to all the internal damage. Girardi said that blood is starting to collect in Headley’s chest. It’s not a great situation, even if he’s playing through it. “I don’t think Joe understood how hard he got hit,” Girardi said. “I think maybe he misunderstood because of Chase’s toughness, how hard he actually got hit.”
• Remember back in April when Cesar Cabral pitched here at Tropicana Field, faced six batters and hit three of them? That was pretty ugly, too. As Dan Barbarisi pointed out on Twitter today, in the past five years, the Rays have actually been hit by pitches more times than the Yankees in their head-to-head games. That includes this season, when the Yankees have been hit seven times and the Rays have been hit eight times. Girardi, though, stressed that it’s not the number of hit-by-pitches, it’s the location that has him most upset. He feels the Rays have hit the Yankees too high.
• Carlos Beltran is still away from the team. “He’s still attending his family matter,” Girardi said. “I told him to take care of it. When we have you, we have you.”
• Jacoby Ellsbury is getting another turn at DH to rest his ankle. “This guy’s been playing with an ankle sprain for a month or three weeks or two weeks, whatever it’s been,” Girardi said. “On the turf it’s probably even rougher, so I figured I’d give him a DH day.”
Associated Press photos
Pregame notes: Baseball mourns Frank Torre • 09.13.14
Joe Torre’s brother has passed away.
Frank Torre was 82, and his health problems were well documented during Joe’s stint as Yankees manager. Frank was not healthy enough to travel to Yankee Stadium for Joe’s number retirement earlier this season. For whatever it’s worth, I have a sister who I’m incredibly close to, and I always enjoyed hearing Joe talk about his brother. In the best of situations, a sibling relationship can be extremely powerful. Our thoughts are obviously with Joe and the Torre family.
Here’s a statement from baseball commissioner Bud Selig:
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of Frank Torre, a close friend for nearly 60 years and a man who marked the start of a great baseball family. Before my career in baseball began, Frank and I formed a friendship that endured for decades, and I was touched to speak with him yesterday. Some of the fondest memories of my life involve Frank’s Milwaukee Braves teams from 1956-1960, and his great play in the 1957 Fall Classic was one of the keys to bringing the World Series Championship to my hometown. Frank’s longtime support of the Baseball Assistance Team, which helps the members of the baseball family who are in need, was an illustration of how much he cared about our game and the people who are a part of it.
“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Frank’s children and grandchildren, to Joe and Ali Torre, to Frank’s sisters and to his many friends and admirers throughout our game.”
• Chase Headley is going to work out today. If that goes well, he’ll take batting practice tomorrow. Joe Girardi said the earliest he would consider putting Headley back in the lineup would be Monday. “We’ll see where we’re at (after he hits on Sunday),” Girardi said.
• Second straight game for Jacoby Ellsbury at DH. “(He’s) just played a lot,” Girardi said. “We haven’t had any problems with his ankle, but he is coming off an ankle sprain and didn’t sit out very long, so I figured I would just DH him again today.”
• All’s well with Masahiro Tanaka. Still on track to pitch in that instructs game on Monday.
• For a while there, Shane Greene was routinely pitching to Francisco Cervelli. But Cervelli is still not back in the lineup after suffering those headaches earlier in the month. “He is getting closer, yes,” Girardi said. “He has been doing a lot of things, catching in the bullpen, and has reported no issues. He is closer.” Girardi said that, because of the nature of the problem — Girardi is sympathetic to migraine sufferers; worth noting there’s also a concussion history in play — he’s trying to be extra cautious with Cervelli.
• This late in the season, is Girardi planning to simply play Derek Jeter every day through the end of his career? “No, I know I can’t do that,” Girardi said. “It’s 20 games in a row or 20 days in a row physically, it would be silly to do that, so I’m going to have to give him a day here and there.”
• There is still hope that Carlos Beltran will be able to play again this season. “Each day he’ll try to do more and I’ll have a better idea what he can do,” Girardi said. “He took swings yesterday. I have not talked to him today, but I would think he would try to take more today if he felt OK when he came in. We want him back as soon as we can get him, but he’s got to feel OK.”
• Quiet clubhouse this morning, but to be honest, I’d expect it to be that way regardless of what happened yesterday. A day game after a doubleheader — which came after a late night of travel — isn’t exactly a recipe for a lively bunch of ballplayers. Of course, being swept in that doubleheader and falling in farther from contention isn’t likely boost the team’s spirits either. “I don’t think you have any choice but to keep fighting,” Girardi said. “Other teams are having their issues, as I said yesterday. Why not? You run off a streak and all of a sudden you’re back in it. Yesterday was physically a hard day, and it was mentally a hard day, but the team has bounced back before and I expect them to do it.”
Associated Press photo
Plenty of confusion tonight about the fifth-inning play at the plate that essentially cost the Yankees their best chance to tie the game. But the reality is — and everyone seemed to agree — that baseball’s evolving rule about blocking the plate never should have come into play because Stephen Drew never should have been waved home in the first place.
“To begin with, just a bad send,” third-base coach Rob Thomson said. “Just an error on my judgment. I take full responsibility for it. We’re all accountable around here. It just wasn’t a good decision. Nobody out, the middle of the lineup coming to the plate, I’ve got to stop him right there. I thought the outfielder was going a little bit further to the line. He came up and squared up (to throw) pretty quick. I should’ve stopped him. … From my perspective, the ruling doesn’t really come into play. It’s just a matter of whether I think that guy is going to be able to score or not, and (the rule) shouldn’t come into play, especially with nobody out.”
Or, to put it another way:
“You can’t make the first out at home,” Joe Giradi said. “It’s a quick decision he has to make. It’s a bang-bang decision — and it’s not an easy job — but you have the bases loaded and nobody out (if he doesn’t send the runner).”
The confusion came because Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan clearly blocked the plate without the ball, but the league actually sent a memo earlier today saying that catchers can stand in front of the plate if they have the ball in plenty of time (basically making sure runners aren’t safe on a technicality, which is the best Drew could have hoped for). With or without the memo, it seems Drew would have been allowed to run over the catcher, but runners are basically conditioned to slide at this point.
“They still want them to slide,” Girardi said. “It really hasn’t changed a whole lot. They talk about they want the guys to slide. And the guys know that if the guy’s blocking the plate, they can run them over. They are so used to sliding now, in a sense, it’s going back and forth.”
That’s what Drew said. He basically had no lane and wasn’t sure what he was allowed to do, so he slid. But it all comes back to the decision to send the runner.
“If I had to do it again I’d probably do it the other way (and run him over) because of the outcome,” Drew said. “… At the time I thought it was be a little closer than it was when Tomper sent me there. At that point, it was already too late.”
• I’ll probably write more about this in the morning, but my impression of Girardi and everyone else was that this was the most resigned the Yankees have seemed all season. This really felt like the blow that knocked out what little hope remains for a playoff push. “It leaves us in a pretty big hole,” Girardi said. “Basically we have to win every day. That’s the bottom line: we have to win every day.”
• Girardi pointed out that immediately after Drew was thrown out at the plate, Derek Jeter still had a chance to drive in the tying run and he instead lined into double play. Sending Drew was a bad decision. Jeter’s ball was pretty bad luck.
• Girardi also called it bad luck that Ichiro Suzuki was doubled up at second base in the seventh inning. Ichiro had singled and stolen second base and he had a great jump trying to steal third, but Drew flied to right and Ichiro couldn’t get back in time.
• Chris Young drove in two of the Yankees three runs tonight. He got his first Yankees hit in his first Yankees start. It was his first hit and first start since August 5 with the Mets. It was his first RBI July 30 and first multi-RBI game since July 13.
• The other Yankees run came on Jacoby Ellsbury’s 15th home run. This is the second time in his career that he’s hit at least 15 homers in a season. Ellsbury is hitting .361 with 12 runs, three triples, five homers and 15 RBI in his past 19 games.
• Brutal game for Hiroki Kuroda, who’d been pitching extremely well before tonight’s debacle. “I had a great start in the first inning,” Kuroda said. “But I feel like they changed their approach in the second inning on, and I wasn’t able to re-adjust instantly. … I guess I should have changed my approach on my first pitches, which I didn’t do.”
• Kuroda struck out the game’s first three batters, but beginning with a leadoff homer in the second, he allowed four runs on nine hits without pitching through the fourth inning. It was the first time this season that he lasted fewer than four innings. “I just didn’t think he located his fastball very well and his split didn’t have quite the bite it had all of his other starts that we’ve been seeing when he’s been on a roll,” Girardi said.
• This was Kuroda’s shortest outing since May 22 of last year, and it was the most hits he’d ever allowed in a start of 3.1 innings or less. He was one hit shy of a season-high in hits allowed.
• The Yankees bullpen was exceptional. Seven relievers combined for 5.2 scoreless innings with just two hits, two walks and six strikeouts. The bullpen has pitched 20.2 scoreless inning in their past six games.
• Derek Jeter went 0-for-4 while playing in his 2,730th career game. He is now tied with Mel Ott for the eight-most games ever played among players who played their whole career with one team. According to Elias, Jeter also tied Ott for the most games ever played for a New York MLB team.
• We’ll give the final word to Mark Teixeira: “I mean, we want to win, obviously. That’s a tough game. We made a little run there, but you have to get to these guys before their eighth- and ninth-inning relievers. They’re two of the best in baseball. We had some chances in the middle innings but just couldn’t get over the hump. … We have to win a lot of games. We’ve said it before; we have very little margin for error. We have to try to win every night.”
Associated Press photos
Before CC Sabathia hurt his knee, before Michael Pineda went down with a shoulder injury, and long before Masahiro Tanaka tore his elbow ligament, Hiroki Kuroda finished the month of April with a 5.28 ERA. He was 39 years old, he’d been brutal down the stretch last year, and it was worth wondering whether Kuroda had finally run out of steam. For a moment, he was actually one of the Yankees more significant rotation concerns.
Since his second May start, thought, Kuroda’s had a 3.43 ERA. At a time when the Yankees rotation has desperately needed some sort of stability, Kuroda’s been basically the exact same source of consistency that he was the past two years.
“Some of the other years he’s been here, his April has been a little bit inconsistent,” manager Joe Girardi said. “So I felt like maybe he’s going through the (typical) April. He didn’t have his arm strength, didn’t have a slider. There was a little bit of a concern about that, but you saw it come around in May which put that all to rest.”
This rotation has been a stunning source of strength for the Yankees, and much of the credit has gone to the replacement starters. The Yankees have been kept afloat by the arrival of Shane Greene, the trade for Brandon McCarthy, the return of Pineda, the scrap-heap addition of Chris Capuano, the short-term boost of Chase Whitley, and the injury-shortened improvement of David Phelps.
In all of that, Kuroda has been overshadowed, but he led the way in tonight’s win to snap this three-game losing streak. He’s won his last three decisions, and he’s gone at least six innings with no more than two runs in each of his past four starts. Kuroda faded down the stretch the past two seasons, but this year he seems to be at his best near the end.
Kuroda said he’s been throwing fewer pitches between starts all year, and he skipped a bullpen heading into this start. He’s just trying to stay strong and avoid that familiar slide.
“Especially last year, I didn’t have a good month of September,” he said. “So I just wanted to change that, and I just wanted to contribute to my team. … I don’t know exactly what’s working, to be honest with you, but because I have to do my everyday workout to get my work in, and because I cannot skip a rotation turn or start, I just want to make sure I stay active.”
Kuroda has pitched into the sixth inning in 13 of his past 14 starts, and the last time he allowed more than four runs — earned or unearned — was way back on April 25.
“He just had another start that he’s had all year long,” Brian McCann said. “I feel like he’s been so consistent day in and day out, pitch after pitch. He just keeps making them.”
Standing at his locker postgame, Martin Prado sounded frustrated but at least a little bit optimistic. He considered the MRI largely precautionary, and he said a day of nothing but treatment seems to have done at least some good for his strained left hamstring.
“I think we made a little progress today,” he said. “We’ll see how I respond tomorrow. We did everything we could today to make some progress. … Tomorrow we’re going to, I heard, we’re going to do some activities. Hit and do everything normal to see how I react.”
Seems unlikely that Prado will play tomorrow, but he seems to think this should be — or at least could be — a fairly short-term issue.
“I know that I’ll probably miss just one or two days and not the rest of the season, so I was trying to be smart about it,” he said. “I don’t feel it walking. I feel, actually, normal. But when you’re playing, it’s not like I’m going to say I’m going to play 50 percent. I have to go 100 percent or I can’t play. We’ll see tomorrow. I’ll try to do everything I can to get back in the game.”
• We’ll get into all the good things the offense did in a bit, but first: the first-inning rundown debacle. “Gardy did not get a good jump and he has to stop,” Girardi said. “Jeet had third base easy. Gardy has to stop there, and running into two outs — I wasn’t real happy about it, but we made up for it and that mistake didn’t cost us dearly, fortunately.”
• If you missed the play, it was a double steal, and the Red Sox threw to second instead of third. Because of his bad jump, Gardner stop short of the bag, tried to get into a rundown to let Jeter score, but Jeter never broke for home, ventured too far off third base, and the Red Sox ultimately threw over to get him out. They then fired to second, and Gardner was out as well. Just brutal.
• Before the game, Kevin Long actually talked about the fact the Yankees have run themselves into too many outs this season. “How many times have you seen it happen this year where we’ve run ourselves out of an inning or we do something like that?” Long said. “It’s happened 8-to-10 times. That’s a lot.” When it happened again, Girardi addressed the Yankees base running issues. “Sometimes it’s overaggressiveness,” Girardi said. “You look at the one we did last night, it’s not picking up the runner in front of you. It’s not like these guys aren’t experienced, and they know what they need to do. Sometimes it’s just a matter of playing too hard and trying too hard (that causes the team) to make mistakes.”
• On the offensive bright side: Brian McCann. He has homered in a career-high three straight home games. He matched his career-high with four hits, something he’s now done 11 times (last time was July 6 of last year). “I was covering both sides of the plate, working counts and swinging at strikes,” he said.
• McCann’s now hit 17 home runs this season, and 15 of them have come at Yankee Stadium. Two other players in franchise history have hit 15 of their first 17 Yankees home runs in home games: Joe Sewell in 1931-32 and Oscar Gamble in 1976. That’s according to Elias. Oddly enough, I did not know that off the top of my head.
• Jacoby Ellsbury had a triple and a sacrifice fly and is now hitting .415 with two doubles, two triples and four home runs in his past 14 games.
• Dellin Betances struck out two batters in a scoreless eighth inning. He now has 122 strikeouts in 81 innings this season and has a good chance to be the Yankees season leader in strikeouts while pitching the entire season out of the bullpen. He’s tied Goose Gossage for the second-most reliever strikeouts in a season (Gossage did it in 134.1 innings in 1978). The record is 130 set by Mariano Rivera in 107.2 innings 1996.
• Also a bunch of strikeouts tonight for Kuroda, who tied a season-high with eight strikeouts. He also did that in May against the Angels. This was his fourth career start of at least seven innings with at least eight strikeouts and no walks. He did that once in 2008, once in 2009, and twice this year.
• Both Kuroda and Girardi had kind words for McCann’s ability to work with Kuroda through these strong outings. “He has a great idea what the pitchers stuff is and how it equates to getting each hitter out,” Girardi said. “Sometimes you can say, ‘Well, (the batter) is not a good changeup hitter.’ Well if you don’t have a changeup, that becomes an issue, so you have too find another way to get hitters out and I think Brian is very good at knowing what he needs to do with Hiro and the type of stuff he has and figuring out how to get outs.”
• Because Detroit lost, the Yankees gained a game and now trail by four games for the second wild card. “It’s impossible not to watch (the scoreboard),” Girardi said. “It’s human nature. You watch it all year long. We’re baseball people, that’s what we do. There’s always that curiosity, but obviously you know what’s going on.”
• Final word goes to McCann: “It’s big. At this point, our mindset here is to just win as many games as we can. We’ve got one month to turn it on and we plan on doing that.”
Associated Press photos
Joe Girardi made a change at the top of the order today, just not the change so many have been suggesting. Jacoby Ellsbury is back in the leadoff spot, Brett Gardner is batting third for the first time, and Derek Jeter is still right in between them as the No. 2 hitter.
“For the first four months of the year, he was probably one of our most consistent hitters,” Girardi said. “One of the three most consistent hitters in our club. I consider us kind of to be in playoff mode right now, for us, because we obviously need to win games. Throughout his career, he’s been clutch in the playoffs, and we’re leaving him there. He’s a hot topic always just because of who he is, but there’s other issues that we have in our club that we have to get better at as well.”
Is there pressure to keep Jeter in that spot for his final month?
“No, not necessarily,” Girardi said. “… If I had eight other guys hitting .300, it probably wouldn’t be difficult (to move him down). When you look up and down at our numbers, we’ve had a number of guys that have had tough years. Years that we wouldn’t have projected. So (if) I move him, who am I going to put there? That’s my question. Who you going to move there that’s been more consistent during the course of the season. We haven’t hit collectively as a team, and to single him out is not fair. … (Rank) 13 out of 15 in runs scored. That’s not all Derek’s fault. That’s collectively we haven’t hit.”
Of course, it’s hard to know how much of Girardi’s persistence with Jeter is because of external pressure — because of who Jeter is and what his final season means — and how much is because of the disappointing hitters around him. The Yankees really haven’t had many consistent alternatives. Martin Prado is hot right now, but his first few weeks with the team were underwhelming. Gardner is coming off a bad month. Mark Teixeira is coming off a terrible month.
“(Jeter) could hit .600 and if the other guys don’t produce around him and through the lineup, then it’s not going to matter what he hits,” Girardi said. “So, as I said, it’s going to have to be a collection of all these guys that can swing the bat extremely well. And if one guy’s not, the other guy picks him up. That’s the bottom line.”
• Masahiro Tanaka has been examined by Dr. Chris Ahmad, who diagnosed him with nothing more than arm fatigue. “Every manual test that they did came out really well,” Girardi said. “They just said he had some arm fatigue. He’s scheduled to throw a bullpen sometime this week and hopefully he’s ready to do it.” Tanaka played catch today and apparently had no issues.
• For those confused by the move: Putting Tanaka on the 60-day doesn’t really mean much. Those moves are always retroactive, and he’s missed close to 60 days already. He could still come back this season.
• David Phelps threw a 25-pitch bullpen this afternoon (fastballs and changeups), and he’s scheduled for a 35-pitch bullpen on Friday (all of his pitches). Phelps said he expects to throw a simulated game on Sunday, and that might be the final step toward getting him off the disabled list and into the bullpen. “I know that we’ve been going kind of conservative with it just to make sure everything comes back,” Phelps said. “All of the steps have been good along the way, so it shouldn’t be too long.”
• Of the Yankees eight September call-ups, five are relievers. Two of those — Whitley and Mitchell — are basically long men. “Obviously pitching is always important this time of year,” Girardi said. “It gives you more options, with a doubleheader coming up eventually here.”
• Why John Ryan Murphy but not Austin Romine? “The organization made the decision to go with (Murphy),” Girardi said. “Obviously I don’t get to see either one of them play a lot. So they went with Murphy.”
• Not much of a surprise that Chris Young got a call-up. I have to imagine that was a condition of any contract he was looking to sign after being released. “(He’s) been pretty productive in his career off left-handers,” Girardi said.
• If there’s a surprise among the call-ups, it’s certainly Antoan Richardson. “Speed off the bench,” Girardi said. Richardson played with Atlanta a little bit in 2011. He was 26-for-27 stealing bases with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he also had a .380 on-base percentage. Kind of a custom-made September call-up, just wasn’t sure the Yankees would actually make the move to get him on the 40-man.
• Zoilo Almonte was designated for assignment after leading Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in home runs and RBI this season. After Almonte struggled in New York last season, Girardi just never seemed to have much faith in his ability to hit big league right-handers the way he did in Triple-A. His splits are so extreme that, despite being a switch hitter, he’s likely a platoon player at best. Last year might have been his opportunity to show something, but he hit .236/.274/.302 (vRHP .250/.296/.342).
• Why Gardner batting third? “He’s probably been as good against right-handers as anyone in our lineup,” Girardi said. “I left Jake in the one hole. My concern in switching the guys when they both were going well was that they’re both going well, why move them. So I put Jake in the one hole when Gardy got hurt and he did extremely well. I’ll leave him there and just put Gardy third.”
• On Ellsbury’s health: “I saw him run on Sunday, which, I was really encouraged,” Girardi said. “He said he felt better yesterday and felt better today and that’s why I have him in center. In saying that, I told him, look, if you feel that it’s an issue out there you’ve got to let me know. If you feel you need to DH a day, you have to let me know.”
Associated Press photos
Bad timing for red-hot Ellsbury • 08.30.14
Jacoby Ellsbury hurt his left ankle sliding into home plate late last night. No doubt that’s why Joe Girardi waited so long before posting a lineup for this afternoon: had to find out whether Ellsbury could play. Could make a case that giving Ellsbury a day off at this point in the season isn’t the worst thing in the world — he’s played a lot and could probably use a day — but the timing is not ideal. Consider…
1. In his last 11 games since August 19, Ellsbury is batting .455 (20-for-44) with eight runs, one double, one triple, four home runs, 11 RBI and six stolen bases.
2. Ellsbury has been successful in each of his last 13 stolen base attempts since July 18 and has 37 stolen bases this season, which is second in the A.L. and fifth in the Major.
3. After struggling on the road much of the season, Ellsbury’s been tremendous this road trip. In these past five games Ellsbury’s hit .500/.478/1.136 with four home runs. For the year he’s hit just .253/.303/.413 on the road.
4. In 11 career at-bats against Toronto starter Drew Hutchison, Ellsbury has hit .455/.417/.455 with five hits and no strikeouts.
Associated Press photo
The Yankees made David Price throw 28 pitches in the first inning. In the second inning, their first two hitters singled. Price pitched out of each jam, but already the Yankees offense was showing some signs of life, and that was before the nine-hit third inning.
“It’s fun, but you don’t see that very often,” Derek Jeter said. “We had some good at-bats. We were lucky we found some holes. That’s why you play the games. Price is as good as anyone in baseball, so we were fortunate. But we needed it.”
They did need it, and that’s the real significant of what happened that inning. It’s not only that the Yankees batted around — nine straight hits, straight through the order — against one of the best pitchers in baseball, it’s that they did it one night after seeing their five-game winning streak come to an end.
This team has repeatedly crumbled just when it’s seemed things are finally going their way, so to regain momentum right away felt significant.
Their past three wins came in games started by Chris Sale, James Shields and Price.
“It’s important,” Joe Girardi said. “We’re talking about winning series, but the other thing is who we’re playing. This is one of the teams in front of us. It’s the last time we see them and the only chance to make up ground that we can rely on ourselves, so we need to win.”
Players said they didn’t realize what exactly had happened after Francisco Cervelli got that RBI single that chased Price from the game. The Yankees obviously realized they were having a good inning, but Jacoby Ellsbury said he didn’t realize everyone had gotten a hit until Kevin Long told him.
“I realized there was no outs when I was on second base,” Brett Gardner said. “But I didn’t realize we had already hit around the order a full time.”
It just kind of happened. There were a few hard-hit balls. A few grounders that found a hole. One infield single when the shortstop simply had no play.
“It’s tough to get that many hits, even if the guys hit the balls on the screws,” Ellsbury said. “… It builds confidence, you know? You want to be the next guy up, just keep the line moving. Even though we only scored that inning, I thought we still hit some balls hard and still had great ABs the rest of the game.”
Said Gardner: “It’s surprising to get three or four hits against him over the first couple of innings, to be honest, as good as he is. We just had some things go our way. Some balls fall. Some guys swinging the bats well. It was a big inning for us.”
• For obvious reasons, Shane Greene was pretty thoroughly overshadowed by the lineup’s one big inning, but the Yankees rookie starter delivered yet another gem of a pitching performance. Two runs on five hits with eight strikeouts through seven innings. The Yankes have won each of Greene’s past five starts, and they’re 5-0 when he starts on the road. “I got to give the credit to Cervy,” Greene said. “I’ve been following his lead for the most part. He knows these guys a lot better than me, so I just listen. Every once in a while I’ll shake him off, maybe two or three times in a game, but other than that, it’s all him.”
• This was Greene’s second strong start against this dangerous Detroit lineup. The big difference this time: Miguel Cabrera was in the lineup (he had the day off last time Greene faced the Tigers). Cabrera had one double against Greene, but Greene got him the other two times they squared off. “I live for that,” Greene said. “I live for those moments.”
• Greene’s key pitch is almost always his sinker, but tonight his slider was tremendous. “I hope it’s good for me every time,” Greene said. “But Cervy will let me know if it’s not or if it is. Just stay with him, you know. Probably by the second I could tell I had a good slider.”
• Why go to Dellin Betances in the ninth inning? “He’s had about three days off,” Girardi said. “And I was well aware of who was the tying run and the winning run, too. I didn’t want to get a couple guys on and then have to get Robby in, so I just felt I would go to Dellin. He was up and hot, so I thought I’d go to him.” — Had the Tigers put together a ninth inning like the Yankees third inning, the tying run was Miguel Cabrera and the go-ahead run was Victor Martinez.
• Because Seattle lost, the Yankees pulled within 2.5 games of the second wild card. They also gained a game in the division. “I didn’t look at (the out-of-town scoreboard),” Ellsbury said. “I know if we play well and we do what we’re supposed to do, it’s going to take care of itself. Obviously I’ll check tonight.”
• What’s Greene thinking as the Yankees offense has that big third inning? “Sometimes you think, hurry up, I want to get back out there,” Greene said. “But it’s nice when a team can go out there and put up runs like that. … When you put up that amount of runs it’s more of just, I need a quick inning, don’t give them any chances, don’t back down. Something like that.”
• Gardner said his ankle felt pretty good. “I was happy with the way it felt,” he said. “Obviously there’s still a little discomfort, but I felt pretty close to full-speed so I was happy with it.”
• Ellsbury leads the Majors with 28 games with two-or-more hits and two-or-more stolen bases since 2008. He had two of both tonight.
• The Yankees are 8-0 this season when Jeter has two or more RBI.
• A few third-inning facts: The Yankees were two shy of the Major League record for consecutive hits in an inning. … The last American League team to have nine straight hits in an inning was Detroit in 1996 (the Cardinals did it last year). … Nine hits was a single-season high for the Yankees. So was right runs. … This was the second-shortest outing of Price’s career and eight earned runs matched his career high.
• Rock solid pregame ceremony by the Tigers, who included Jeter’s family — his nephew stole the show by tipping his cap — his high school coach, former teammates Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain, Tigers greats Al Kaline and Willie Horton, and various kids from Jeter’s foundation in Kalamazoo. “I thought it was very nice that they involved my family and our leadership program from Kalamazoo,” Jeter said. “We appreciate it a lot. It was a class act by a class organization to include them. Our foundation means a lot to us, and for them to include them, it meant a lot to us.”
• Final word to Jeter on how badly the Yankees needed to keep last night’s loss from becoming a losing streak: “We don’t think like that,” Jeter said. “We think we have to win a game. We had to win today, now regardless of what happened today, we need to win tomorrow. That’s the approach you have to have. You can’t think about winning streaks and losing streaks; we just have to play well.”
Associated Press photos