Even after the Stephen Drew grand slam, the bullpen meltdown, the Nathan Eovaldi strikeouts, the Didi Gregorius mistakes, the two pitching call-ups, the second A-Rod home run, another weird CC Sabathia start, and another series loss for the Yankees, this one random thing stands out to me about these past three days in Baltimore:
John Ryan Murphy really caught a great game on Monday night.
I would never pretend to be a talent evaluator or professional scout or anything like that. I can’t, on my own, tell you every little thing Murphy did well. But I know he blocked a ton of balls in the dirt, threw out two runners at second base – including Adam Jones in a big spot – and coaxed the Yankees pitching staff through a tough Orioles lineup. I know he also went 1-for-3 with a walk. It was the kind of game that, when it was over, you just knew Murphy had been excellent, and that his best work had come on defense.
“I would say… I would say, no,” Murphy said after a brief hesitation. “It was probably in there, I just hadn’t learned it yet. I’ve gotten better every year, significantly, in my opinion. At this point it’s having all the knowledge and learning how to apply it immediately in the games. I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job of it.”
Before the Yankees chose Murphy over Austin Romine to be their backup catcher out of spring training, Joe Girardi stressed that defense would be a key part of their decision. Several years ago, that would have been bad news for Murphy, who came into the Yankees’ system as a hitter who’d caught in high school. The bat was his calling card, and he was no sure thing he’d stay behind the plate. The Yankees even dabbled with him at third base in the low minors.
“Definitely in the last couple of years it’s been first and foremost in my head to prove that I belong behind the plate,” Murphy said. “Coming up out of high school I was certainly just a guy could hit that didn’t really know how to catch. I give all that credit to (minor league catching instructor) Julio Mosquera, and now Tony (Pena) and Joe (Girardi) and (Gary) Tuck. There’s just so much catching depth in this organization that it would have been impossible for me not to learn coming up through the system. All of that plays into the player that I am now.”
Pena has worked extensively with Murphy in the past, putting him through brutal drills over and over again in big league camp. Especially in the years before Tuck joined the staff, tutoring young catchers was a big part of Pena’s role in spring training.
“(Murphy)’s just rising and rising,” Pena said. “He’s getting better and better. Baseball, everything you do is about confidence. The more he plays, he still feels more confident. Also, confidence and (being) comfortable. We’re going to see a lot from him because this kid has worked, he asks questions, and he likes to learn. I just like to see him do what he does.”
Even though his performance on Monday was thoroughly overshadowed by Drew’s pinch-hit game winner, it was still a key part of that win. Girardi acknowledged as much postgame. Murphy said he was most proud of throwing out Jones, but not because Jones is an MVP-caliber player. Murphy was proud because of the situation. One-run game in the eighth inning, that throw might have been just as important as the Drew grand slam.
“I’m certainly encouraged every time I have a good game,” Murphy said. “Especially playing as much as I’m playing right now, it’s important for me to have an impact when I do play, at least in my opinion. It’s always encouraging when I have a game like that.”
Encouraging not only to Murphy, but certainly to the Yankees as well.
“He has the ability to be a great defensive catcher,” Pena said. “Nothing that he will do will surprise me.”
Associated Press photos
With the lineup already posted on the door that leads to the batting cage, Alex Rodriguez came walking through the clubhouse this afternoon and suddenly stopped in his tracks. Someone had just mentioned that he was hitting second. The words initially seemed to pass without Rodriguez hearing them, then he froze and looked back.
“You’re kidding me,” he said.
He walked to the door. Looked at the lineup. Walked away. Came back. Looked again and kind of whispered, “wow” before going to hit in the cage.
“I didn’t tell him,” Joe Girardi said with a little laugh. “But we’re taking Gardy out, and against a left-hander I decided to move (Rodriguez) up. I like the way he’s swinging the bat, so we moved him up today.”
For a guy with Rodriguez’s resume, a turn in the No. 2 hole in early April surely doesn’t rate as any sort of real accomplishment. But for a guy who’s almost 40 and coming off a year-long suspension, hitting second seems pretty telling. Can’t imagine Rodriguez — even with Brett Gardner out of the lineup, even with a lefty on the mound — would be hitting second if he hadn’t shown the Yankees quite a bit in spring training.
Six weeks ago, the Yankees had no idea what to expect from him. Now he’s as dependable as anyone at the top of the order.
“Joe and I have a long history,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been through a lot together, we won a championship together, so I think there’s a lot of trust on both sides. Whether you’re hitting second or seventh, third or fourth, the goal doesn’t change. You have to help the team win.”
Asked if he’s surprised by the way Rodriguez has looked at the plate, Girardi said that after spring training, he’s come to expect it. Rodriguez has shown a good eye since exhibition games started, and he’s done a good job of making contact and occasionally driving mistake pitches.
“Naturally, any time you hit at the top of the order, you should have better pitches to hit because they want to stay out of the meat of the order,” Rodriguez said. “It doesn’t matter where they’re hitting me; I think they’re always going to honor the power at some point.”
So today he’s in the No. 2 spot. Tomorrow, who knows?
“Anything that Skip wants me to do, I’m ready to do,” Rodriguez said. “… It’s all about trust. You have to regain the trust every day. Every day is an opportunity to prove yourself and help the team win.”
• Stephen Drew, Brian McCann and Brett Gardner all have the day off because of the lefty starting for Toronto. No one is hurt. It’s just a chance to give guys a day off, and so three lefties are on the bench. Girardi said he plans to play Drew and sit Didi Gregorius tomorrow. Seems safe to assume McCann will be back in the lineup tomorrow as well, and I would expect the same for Gardner.
• Usually Girardi likes to pair his backup catcher with one particularly pitcher, but he said the decision to starter John Ryan Murphy today had more to do with the opposing starter and less to do with the Yankees starter. Doesn’t sound like Murphy and Sabathia will be paired together regularly, it just worked out that way this time around. “I think I’ll try to rotate it based on when Mac needs a day,” Girardi said.
• Speaking of today’s Yankees starter, it’s CC Sabathia’s return. “It means a lot to him, I know it does,” Girardi said. “But it also means a lot to us. It’s important that we have him in our rotation. I look back on last year, I didn’t realize how few starts he actually made. It’s really great to have him back, and we’ve just got to keep him in the rotation. I think that’s the important thing.”
• First two games of the season, the first pitcher out of the bullpen has been Chris Martin, and Martin’s been impressive. Two innings, no base runners, three strikeouts. “We’ve liked what we’ve seen obviously his last outing,” Girardi said. “But his last few outings of spring training (were also encouraging). His breaking ball has improved, which I think is really going to help him during the course of this season. He had the cutter, but he’s added a little bit bigger breaking ball which gives a different look. So I feel good about our guys in the bullpen, and I brought him in a close game hoping he would keep it there. I think our parts are somewhat interchangeable down there, and you just have to keep the guys fresh.”
• Rodriguez has moved up in the order, but when’s he going to play the field? “I have no idea,” he said. “I already took my ground balls this afternoon. Did the same thing yesterday early. I’m ready when my number is called.”
• Minor league seasons get started tonight. Bryan Mitchell has the start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Associated Press photos
I’m not with the team in D.C. today, but as you can see from the Twitter feed on the right side of the blog, multiple beat reporters are saying the Yankees have chosen John Ryan Murphy to be their backup catcher.
That means Austin Romine, who’s out of options, is being designated for assignment. The Yankees have a few days to try to trade him, otherwise they’ll have to take their chances on passing him through waivers.
UPDATE: From the AP, here’s what Joe Girardi had to say about the decision:
“I said this was going to be a really tough decision,” Girardi said. “Austin was prepared. Worked extremely hard this winter to earn the job. And he had a tough camp. It’s hard, because he’s been with us a long time and there’s feelings for the kid and you want to see him do well, but it’s just the nature of the game.”
Romine told reporters after the game that he’s “just kind of in limbo.” Being designated for assignment simply takes him off the roster. The Yankees still have time to work on a trade. Romine just didn’t hit much this spring, while Murphy started to get his bat going later in camp.
In the very back of the Yankees’ clubhouse, along the wall that separates the showers from the batting cage door, John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine have sat side-by-side all spring knowing eventually there will be room for only one of them. And now that the Yankees are about to break camp, that time is fast approaching.
With a minor trade and wave of roster cuts, the Yankees have settled just about every aspect of their roster except the backup catcher. Barring a trade or a late waiver claim, the team is set except for that inevitable choice between Romine and Murphy, two guys in their 20s, developed by the organization, and finally given a real chance to make the team out of camp.
“We kind of talk about it,” Murphy said. “It’s no secret. We know what’s going on, and we’re both trying to play our best, and we’re both trying to make the team. Inevitably, one of us is going to and one of us isn’t.”
With Opening Day a little more than 72 hours away, the Yankees have made every other in-camp decision. They’ve set their rotation, picked their relievers, and found a new utility infielder. They could still make a trade or put in a late waiver claim — and this time of year usually sparks a flurry of minor activity — but barring an addition, all that’s left is that inevitable decision between Murphy and Romine.
Joe Girardi said the Yankees might not make that decision until Saturday night, and he’s dreading it. Girardi likes working with catchers, and he’s known these particular catchers for a long time. He doesn’t want to tell either one he hasn’t made the team.
“There’s a mutual respect there,” Romine said. “I like looking across the pitch and seeing a guy who’s busting his butt as hard as I am. I don’t want to say it’s a good thing – he is competition – but at the same time, it’s nice to know someone else is busting their butt; the guy you’re going up against. … However it turns out, I wish him nothing but the best, I’m sure he feels the same upon me. We’re just here trying to play.”
General manager Brian Cashman today wouldn’t comment on any trade talk regarding Romine, who’s out of options and has not hit as well as Murphy this spring. In the past, Cashman has said that the fact Romine’s out of options could factor into the final decision, suggesting the Yankees could elect to carry Romine strictly because they have the option of sending Murphy to Triple-A, but that remains to be seen.
Here’s Cashman explaining some of the other decisions made in the past 24 hours or so:
Gregorio Petit set as utility infielder
This seemed obvious from the moment the Yankees traded for Petit last night. He’s a right-handed hitter, he has big league experience, he hit pretty well this spring — and last season — and he can play all over the infield. Petit was acquired to replace Brendan Ryan on the roster.
“We brought him in here with that in mind,” Cashman said. “He’s right-handed versus, for instance, (Nick) Noonan. We didn’t want (Rob) Refsnyder to sit the bench.”
Ultimately, the in-house candidate who best fit as a Ryan replacement is Jose Pirela, but at this point there’s a solid chance he’ll open the season on the disabled list because of that concussion suffered almost two weeks ago. Without Pirela, it was Refsnyder who seemed to have the best shot, but the Yankees didn’t like the idea of him playing a part-time, platoon role at this stage of his career. They’d rather send Refsnyder to Triple-A to get the defensive reps he needs. Refsnyder’s hit a ton this spring, but he’s also made a team-high six errors.
“I think he had a tremendous camp,” Cashman said. “But at the same time — we were talking to him earlier today — (he has) maybe 240 games at second so far. He just needs to finish off some more defense. If we needed to use him, we’d be comfortable enough, but at the same time, you guys saw in camp he’s got some work to do on the defensive side. We want him to be finished off and ready to go whenever we need him. But at some point, if injuries hit and we have to have him in that role or situation, I’m not saying you won’t see that down the line. But we’d prefer not to do that right now.”
Esmil Rogers set as only long reliever
Yesterday, Joe Girardi really seemed to hint that the Yankees were going to carry a second long reliever. He acknowledged that the team has some workload concerns in the rotation, and said that rainy weather in early April could make it important to carry another multi-inning pitcher in the bullpen. This morning, though, the Yankees made the opposite decision in optioning Chase Whitley to Triple-A.
“We’re going with one long man and that’s Rogers,” Cashman said. “So that was really, basically, it came down to that. (Whitley) will get stretched out and start in Scranton for us and be one of the names vying for an opportunity when and if something presents itself.”
Whitley pitched extremely well this spring, but the Yankees seem to be prioritizing rotation depth ahead of bullpen innings. A bunch of off days early in the season seem to make that a little easier. The idea of using a sixth starter at some point also suggests Whitley could have another opportunity before the end of April.
“It just makes the most sense to get him down there and continue to get stretched out and be ready when and if we need him at some point,” Cashman said. “Obviously he has to pitch well to put himself in that position still, so the competition continues. We have a lot of flexibility with the bullpen, a lot of these guys have options, so it’s going to be something that we can recycle during the season which gives us a lot more flexibility. Chase did everything he needed to. Those are not easy conversations. He’s a Major League pitcher right now on his way to Scranton.”
Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin set in the pen (for now)
The Yankees have decided to keep Andrew Bailey in Tampa, assigned to the Class-A roster, out of spring training. Bailey will stay down here where it’s warm to go through those final steps back from shoulder surgery. He’s pitched well this spring, but he hasn’t pitched much, and he hasn’t gone back to back. He’ll change that in Tampa, which could make him a big league option fairly soon. Bailey said he’s totally on board with the plan.
“Man, he looks good,” Cashman said. “He really does. I love the fact that he also knows his body too, and he agrees that the prudent thing is to finish it off properly to make sure that he responds well, that he’s recovering great from everything and improving on that and feeling better and better. So he’s all in, and he agrees that staying here (is best). We’ll have (Greg) Pavlick watching him every game and working through the back to back situation. If he stays like this and he gets through all that, he can help us.”
With Whitley and Bailey gone, the Yankees have essentially chosen Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin to fill the final two spots in the bullpen. With Martin, in particular, Cashman said the Yankees couldn’t ignore the fact he has 16 strikeouts and only one walk. They also like that he gets ground balls. Shreve has 12 strikeouts with three walks and also gets more ground ball outs than fly outs.
“We always have flexibility if we so choose,” Cashman said. “But obviously these (moves) were all designed where Shreve and Martin would be in the bullpen for the start of the season. But it’s only Thursday, and the season doesn’t start until Monday, and I’m open-minded about things that might present themselves over time. And we can adjust. As of right now, we know those guys are in good position.”
Associated Press photos
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
Austin Romine’s never come to spring training as a favorite. He’s competed for a job many times, had a chance to open plenty of eyes, but there’s always been someone ahead of him on the projected depth chart whether it was Chris Stewart or Francisco Cervelli or — this year — John Ryan Murphy.
How do we know Murphy was ahead of Romine coming into this spring? Because the Yankees left no doubt last season. Romine got a long look in 2013, but it was Murphy who got the extended opportunity in 2014. Romine got a couple cups of coffee last year, that’s it. He didn’t even get a September call-up when the roster first expanded.
“Last year was tough at the beginning,” Romine said. “It was tough to be, I don’t want to say forgotten. Not forgotten. Just, it’s a business. Stuff happens. Moves get made. You can’t blame people for that. It was tough in the beginning, but once I kind of settled in an figured out, I still have to play good baseball wherever I am. That’s basically what I told myself every day. It was rough for a little while, but I kind of got over it. I got my head down and I started working again.”
This spring, Romine came into camp recognizing it for what it is. It’s another opportunity, perhaps his last in this organization. Murphy might be the favorite, but Romine spent his winter at an intense training facility in California. He said he threw up after the first eight workouts. He ultimately lost 10 pounds, came to camp lean and strong.
He showed up to prove himself. He gets the start behind the plate today, which is another opportunity to do that.
“Everybody says they’re in the best shape ever when they come into spring training,” Romine said. “But I literally was. I wanted to be able to go into the office when they call me — if I’m going up or going down — and know that I gave it everything I had, because they deserve it. They’ve given me a lot, and I want to be the backup catcher to give back to them. They’ve put me in a position to be where I am in my life, so I feel like I owe it to them to give it everything I have.”
Neither Romine nor Murphy has had a particularly good spring at the plate. Murphy’s gotten going a little bit lately, but he still has just a .492 OPS. Romine has a .477. Romine is out of options. Murphy is not. Brian Cashman has said that’s a factor that could play into the decision of who wins the job. In a way, that gives Romine an advantage, if he can only show he’s worth another opportunity.
“I came in here with a plan,” Romine said. “And I’ve put myself in a good position to achieve that plan. I just keep my head down, and I keep working, and I get down what I need to get done. Hopefully I make this team. … I have no idea, no idea (what’s going to happen). Murph doesn’t either. No one does. We just keep playing. They’ll figure it out. That’s their job, so we just keep playing.”
• A reminder that CC Sabathia is pitching in a minor league game today while Scott Baker starts the big league game against Baltimore. Bryan Mitchell, who was originally scheduled to start against the Orioles, said he’s also going to pitch at the minor league complex.
• Tomorrow’s travel squad includes Esmil Rogers, who’s clearly making the trip to pitch out of the bullpen. That seems to be yet another sign that Adam Warren has won the fifth-starter job.
• It will be interesting to see how the long relief role plays out. Obviously Rogers is stretched out and could be one long man, but given the rotation concerns, the Yankees surely want another guy who’s capable of multiple innings. Baker and Chase Whitley are — in my opinion — the top candidates for that job ahead of Mitchell, who makes more sense as Triple-A rotation depth. While Baker is getting a chance to start today, Whitley is on the travel squad for tomorrow, obviously scheduled to pitch an inning or two of relief.
• Ivan Nova has now thrown four bullpens that have included breaking balls. He said his arm still feels great. He’s happy and encouraged by the way his Tommy John rehab has gone. All positive so far.
• Masahiro Tanaka and Adam Warren each threw a side today.
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Justin Wilson, Andrew Bailey, Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller (with Nick Rumbelow, Danny Burawa, Diego Moreno and Tyler Webb listed as available just in case)
• Tomorrow’s travel squad to Kissimmee:
Pitchers: Danny Burawa, Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Lindgren, Jose Ramirez, Esmil Rogers, Nick Rumbelow, Chasen Shreve, Chase Whitley
Catchers: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, John Ryan Murphy, Eddy Rodriguez, Austin Romine
Infielders: Stephen Drew, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Alex Rodriguez, Brendan Ryan
Outfielders: Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott
From minor league camp: RHP Cesar Vargas, RHP Nick Goody, LHP Fred Lewis, INF Dan Fiorito, OF Ben Gamel, OF Aaron Judge, OF Michael O’Neill
Associated Press photos
Yesterday, Brian Cashman declared Adam Warren the “Secretariat” of the fifth-starter competition. Today, Warren struck out five and allowed one run in 3.1 innings. Are the Yankees really going to bump him back into the bullpen tomorrow? While Joe Girardi said the team still wants to have some discussions, it seems clear Warren has realistically locked up the open rotation job.
“He threw well again,” Girardi said. “Not easy conditions to pitch in today either, so I thought he threw the ball, mixed everything in again, and that’s what he’s done all spring.”
At this point, the bigger question seems to be whether Warren can carry his bullpen success into the rotation. Specifically, just how good can he be as a regular starter? Over on FanGraphs, there’s a post called: Who Might Adam Warren Be? It’s an analysis of his raw stuff — a 94-mph fastball that generates weak popups, an effective changeup that he throws for strikes, a groundball inducing curveball — leading to a series of comparisons in search of just how good Warren might be if given a long look in the rotation.
The name that pops up most often is overwhelmingly optimistic: Dodgers No. 2 starter Zack Greinke.
They’ve both got straight, rising fastballs complemented by good sinkers. Greinke’s slider is better than his change, and Warren’s change is better than his slider, but the ratio between the two pitches is similar. Neither curve is great, but Warren’s gets so many ground balls that it might shorten the distance between their respective abilities to command their arsenals.
That’s a pretty giant comparison to throw out there. Warren pitched well out of the bullpen last season, and he was a pretty highly regarded prospect in the minors. Could he pitch well enough in the first month or so to keep a rotation job even after Chris Capuano is healthy? What about when Ivan Nova is healthy? If the Greinke comparison seems a bit too much, some of the other names mentioned in the FanGraphs piece range from the uninspiring (Erasmo Ramirez, Kevin Correia) to the impressive (Matt Cain, Homer Bailey).
“I feel like pitching is pitching,” Warren said. “I’ve proved I can pitch at this level. I just got to go out there and learn from some of the guys who have started and learned the mindset of being aggressive, attacking always, getting early outs. But I feel like I’ve got the stuff. It’s just going out there and executing pitches.”
John Ryan Murphy said he really doesn’t call a game much differently if Warren’s pitching as a starter vs. as a reliever. In either role Warren’s used all four of his pitches, and Murphy said all four are quality pitches that can be thrown for strikes and used to get outs.
“I think you just try to keep the foot on the pedal as long as possible,” Warren said. “The biggest thing for me — and I didn’t do a very good job today — that I want to focus on is getting outs early in the count, just be efficient with my pitches. My pitch count got a little high today and I didn’t have my best stuff, but being able to attack the zone is the biggest thing. Just try to go out with my best stuff from pitch one and see how far I can go with it.”
For now, it seems that approach has carried him into the starting rotation.
• There was a giant birthday cake in the Yankees clubhouse today (it was actually a bunch of cupcakes arranged to look like one big cake). Ramon Flores, Rob Refsnyder and Brendan Ryan all celebrated their birthdays today.
• Girardi said Jacoby Ellsbury came through today’s light baseball activity with no problem. Assuming he shows up feeling good tomorrow he’ll do more tee and toss and increase to taking a few rounds of batting practice inside. Girardi said he’s expecting Ellsbury to play a minor league game on Tuesday. Whether he gets in another Grapefruit League game will basically depend on how he’s feeling (when he was hurt late last spring, the Yankees kept Ellsbury in minor league games at the end of camp so that they could back-date any possibly DL stint; they seem less concerned this time around).
• Jose Pirela continues to have some concussion symptoms, so he won’t be playing any time soon. “Yesterday he rode the bike and was fine,” Girardi said. “Today he rode the bike and got dizzy. He’ll see a neurologist again. That’s the hardest thing to predict with a concussion; even though he looked great, he got dizzy today. We’ll back off a little bit, talk to the neurologist and try it again fairly soon.”
• The Yankees unconditionally released RHP Jared Burton from his minor league contract. Burton is a big league veteran and he was pitching well before he got hurt. If he wasn’t going to break camp with the big league team, though, the Yankees overwhelming bullpen depth probably didn’t leave much room for him.
• Austin Romine was supposed to catch this game, but he got some sort of stomach bug and had to be scratched. His competition for the backup catcher job, Murphy, played instead and went 1-for-2, raising his spring batting average to .219. “I think it’s going to come down to the last couple days,” Girardi said of the decision between Romine and Murphy.
• Girardi still expects to get Alex Rodriguez in a game at first base. “It’s coming up,” he said. “I didn’t have a chance to talk to him, but I have it on the board.”
• The plan is for Masahiro Tanaka to make Tuesday’s road trip to Fort Myers to pitch against the Twins. That keeps him lined up for Opening Day.
• As for today’s game, after Warren left the game, the Yankees relievers had a tough time. Jose Ramirez gave up two runs, so did Chris Martin, and Danny Burawa allowed one run. Tyler Webb finished the day with a scoreless eighth, but it still wasn’t a great day for the pen. Worth noting, of course, that of those relievers, Martin’s the only one actually still in big league camp. He struck out three but also allowed a home run to Desmond Jennings.
• Here’s Girardi on choosing his final relievers: “I think you’re going to look at the last 10 days. They’ve all had their ups and downs. That’s the interesting part of it. We’re going to make a decision over the next 10 days and it’s probably going to be the guys that we feel are going to give us the best chance to help us, but maybe have pitched the best the last 10 days.”
• While Girardi said he thinks Andrew Bailey has pitched well this spring, he’s still not sure whether Bailey will have a real chance to break camp with the team. “The fact that he hasn’t went back-to-back — and I don’t know if he’ll go back-to-back in spring training — might make it difficult,” Girardi said. “It’s something that we have to talk about next week, where we feel he’s at and how ready he is. But he’s throwing the ball pretty good.”
• Another nice game for Slade Heathcott, who had a double, a walk and pushed his spring batting average to .320. “He’s played great,” Girardi said. “The biggest thing we’ve said about this kid is we’ve got to keep him healthy. There are a lot of tools there offensively, defensively, running the bases. It’s just, he hasn’t had a lot of at-bats, but there’s a lot of talent.”
• Two-hit day for Didi Gregorius. He had a double and pushed his spring batting average up to .308. He’s definitely been a standout this spring. … After his walkoff homer a couple of nights ago, Flores had a two-hit day. He and Refsnyder each doubled on their birthday. Ryan went 0-for-3 with a walk. … One reason Refsnyder seems not ready for the big leagues: he made his fifth error today. … Jake Cave had an RBI single but was also caught stealing in the ninth.
• Girardi said “it’s possible” he’ll be ready to name a fifth starter tomorrow. We basically know who it’s going to be, but it would be nice to have the Yankees waste no time making it official.
• Let’s give the final word to Warren: “I came into the spring and wanted to pitch well. Wherever I ended up, I wanted it to be because I pitched well and not because I didn’t pitch well. I feel like I’ve gone out there and proven myself. It all comes back to, I just want to get ready for the season. I was a little more comfortable this year just being around the guys, early on working on some things and then ramping it up these last two outings and really go out there and compete. It’s been a fun spring for me. ”
Associated Press photos
Right before today’s game, general manager Brian Cashman discussed some of the decisions the Yankees have to make in the next week and a half:
Choosing a fifth starter
The Yankees came into camp with Chris Capuano as a rotation favorite, but his injury has opened the door to a true competition. While Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell and Scott Baker are a part of that conversation, the decision really seems to have come down to Esmil Rogers and Adam Warren. And right now, Warren is the front runner.
“I think there’s a predictable favorite,” Cashman said. “I guess that’s as far as I can go on that one. Right now, if we had to make a decision today, I think we all know what that decision would be. There’s a Secretariat right now in this race for me that’s got a number of lengths ahead of the field.”
Although he initially seemed hesitant to name a name, Cashman later acknowledged “it would obviously have to be Warren” who’s leading the race. That can change quickly, Cashman said, but it certainly seems that a solid start tomorrow would lock Warren into a rotation job.
Picking a backup catcher
John Ryan Murphy was behind the plate today. Austin Romine will be behind the plate tomorrow. Neither is having a particularly good spring, and the Yankees seem to be giving each one an equal opportunity.
“Don’t have a read yet,” Cashman said. “It’ll take more time.”
For now, the Yankees have sent Gary Sanchez to Double-A. If it stays that way, the Yankees will have a Triple-A spot open just in case. Murphy still has an option remaining. Romine does not.
“It’ll factor in,” Cashman said.
Rounding out the bullpen
The Yankees seem to have 10 pitchers set. They know their top four starters, they know four relievers, and they have two guys — Warren and Rogers — who will almost certainly have jobs in one role or another. That leaves two openings in the bullpen, and there are still plenty of options in camp: there are still 23 pitchers on the spring training roster.
Cashman made clear that this isn’t necessary a permanent decision. The Yankees are quite deep with hard-throwing right-handers, multiple lefties, and a handful of long-relief options.
“The clock is ticking,” Cashman said. “I don’t think it’s a lot of work, (but) I think we have to pick people, and whoever we pick at the end of this, it doesn’t mean that they’ll be guys throughout the process. We’ve had a number of guys that I think are quality and I think are Major League caliber, some of which have gone down with injuries. We’ll obviously finalize it here at some point, but that doesn’t mean we’re married to anybody as we move it through April, May and June.”
Naming a closer
With both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller appearing to be obvious candidates for the job, Joe Girardi has said he might not name a full-time closer this spring. The managers seems to believe he has more than one guy who can handle the ninth inning, and he’s willing to use them as the situation dictates.
Cashman seems fine with that approach. Basically, it doesn’t seem to be a problem, so there doesn’t seem to be a rush to solve it.
“I haven’t focused on it,” Cashman said. “I just want as many quality arms and choices for our manager as we can possibly have, and go from there. Again, we don’t have to name anything right now, or today, so I’ve got other issues I’m thinking about. It’s not one I’m thinking about right now or my manager’s thinking about right now. Backup catcher and the remaining spots in the pen.”
How to use Alex Rodriguez
Cashman said time and time again — from the early offseason to the start of spring training — that he had no idea what to expect from a 39-year-old coming back from a year-long suspension. Cashman expected A-Rod to be on the team, just didn’t know what exactly he’d be able to do.
Now the Yankees have actually seen Rodriguez perform, and while the results might not have been overwhelming, they’ve been encouraging. They’ve been enough for the Yankees to imagine having Rodriguez in their everyday lineup.
“I think he’s certainly taken a run at the full-time DH situation, for me,” Cashman said. “We’ll talk about all these things, but the way he’s looked so far down here, I would say he’s definitely pushing himself in the mix for full-time DH consideration. … I’m not looking at performance and statistics as much as just how he’s been swinging the bat. He’s got a lot of life in his body. If he continues to show athleticism, that means he’s going to impact the baseball. That will be good for us.”
Associated Press photo
Around 9:30 this morning, Chris Martin walked across the Yankees clubhouse, wrapped his long arms around Jose Pirela’s shoulders, and offered an apology that was nearly three years in the making. Pirela smiled and slapped Martin on the arm. All was forgiven a long time ago.
Three days ago, Pirela crashed into an outfield wall, hit his head on the warning track, and suffered the second concussion of his career. His first concussion came on April 11, 2012 when he was playing second base and batting seventh in a Double-A game against Portland. It was the fifth inning when he was hit flush in the head by a fastball. Pirela still remembers that it was registered at 97 mph.
Pirela, and the pitcher who hit him, Martin.
“I remember it clearly,” Martin said. “As soon as it hit him, he hit the ground. I was just like man, I hope he’s OK. Obviously he got up and walked off. I had no idea he had a concussion. I didn’t know who it was. I thought I actually hit Abe Almonte. I didn’t know it was him.”
Pirela missed a little more than a month recovering from that head injury. He said he experienced constant headaches and he kept vomiting, two symptoms he hasn’t had this time around.
“The only thing I have is a little bit of soreness in my neck and my entire back,” Pirela said.
Martin throws hard — that’s what carried him all the way to the big leagues last season — and he said he’s only ever hit one player in the head. He was surprised to learn this morning that the player he hit, the image he remembers so well, is currently playing with him in Yankees camp.
“Obviously you never want to hit a guy,” Martin said. “Sometimes you hit a guy – hit him in the butt, in the leg – it’s going to sting a little bit and they take first base. You never want to break a bone, never want to put them out. In the head, that could be a career. Obviously it’s a rough thing, but you have to throw in to be successful. You have to do it. I mean, not in the head, but you have to be able to throw in on their hands. That’s their hole. You feel bad when you do it, but it’s only happened once to me, and hopefully that’s the only one. I’m sure they it’s vice versa. If they hit one back at us, I’m sure they feel bad too. It’s just a game and things happen.”
• This will be the first time John Ryan Murphy has ever caught Masahiro Tanaka in a game. Murphy’s caught him in bullpens, but even though his extended time in the big leagues last season — and through last spring training — Murphy never caught him in a game.
• What does it mean for the backup catcher competition that Murphy is getting a turn with Tanaka? I honestly have no idea. You could make the case that this is a clear indication the Yankees are getting Murphy ready to catch their ace, but you could also make the case that the Yankees will generally keep Brian McCann paired with Tanaka, and it’s more telling that Austin Romine caught Nathan Eovaldi’s minor league game yesterday (Romine’s going on the road to catch Adam Warren tomorrow). It really does seem that the Yankees are keeping each backup catcher possibility on the table.
• Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are each scheduled to pitch today. It will be the first time going back-to-back for each of them.
• Yesterday Chase Whitley thought he was going to pitch in a minor league game this afternoon. Today he said he expects to stay here and pitch in today’s big league game. Yesterday, Joe Girardi said he expects guys like Betances and Miller to face only one or two batters, so there might be plenty of innings leftover for Whitley to get stretched out a little bit.
• Just a thought, but I also wonder if keeping Whitley in today’s big league game is a sign the Yankees plan to keep him as a long man. If he’s going to break camp in that role, there’s really no need to have him start a minor league game and get stretched out behind three innings or so. Just a thought, not sure it really means much.
• Andrew Bailey is also scheduled to pitch today. It will be his third spring outing. The Yankees have said they’re not sure when he’ll go back to back, which they want him to do before they really consider him for a spot in the big league bullpen.
• Brendan Ryan is playing shortstop off the bench today. He’s also scheduled to make tomorrow’s road trip. He’s making that trip with Didi Gregorius, but Stephen Drew isn’t going. Makes me wonder if tomorrow’s going to be Ryan’s first chance to play second alongside Gregorius, something he’s likely to do during the season.
• For those asking: While the Yankees have officially optioned Jose Ramirez and Danny Burawa to Triple-A, each has actually remained in big league camp. As far as I know, neither has spent a day at the minor league complex since being sent down. Might be some technical reason the Yankees needed to option them already even if they wanted to keep them around.
• Today’s bullpen sessions: Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Bryan Mitchell, Kyle Davies, Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren
• Today’s second string: C Eddy Rodriguez, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Brendan Ryan, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Ben Gamel, CF Slade Heathcott, RF Ramon Flores
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Chase Whitley, Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, David Carpenter, Andrew Bailey (with Nick Rumbelow, Jacob Lindgren, Alex Smith, Chris Smith and Nick Goody available just in case)
• Tomorrow’s travel squad:
Pitchers: Danny Burawa, Chris Martin, Jose Ramirez, Nick Rumbelow, Adam Warren, Tyler Webb (up from minor league camp)
Catchers: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, Eddy Rodriguez, Austin Romine
Infielders: Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Didi Gregorius, Garrett Jones, Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Brendan Ryan
Outfielders: Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott, Chris Young
• For those curious, the rest of the Trenton lineup on the day Pirela was hit in the head: Abe Almonte, Ronnier Mustelier, Dan Brewer, Cody Johnson, Melky Mesa, Gustavo Molina, Addison Maruszak and Walter Ibarra. Shaeffer Hall was the Thunder starting pitcher.
Associated Press photos
Five days before the Yankees’ first spring workout, we’ll keep counting down the key decisions to make in spring training. We’ve already looked at picking a backup catcher, setting a lineup, figuring out Triple-A depth, rounding out the bullpen and choosing a fifth starter. Today we’ll look at a decision that’s a combination of individual evaluation and full roster analysis.
What’s the best way to setup the Yankees bench?
The bench is all about role players. It’s about having backups at every position, about having some speed and defense in the late innings, and about using match-up hitters when necessary. It’s not about simply choosing which young catcher should play once a week; it’s about truly maximizing every spot on a 25-man roster.
Assuming a pretty standard roster construction — 12 pitchers, 13 position players — the Yankees have four bench spots to work with. Here are the projected reserves, their projected roles, and a few alternative ways of approaching each spot.
1. Chris Young
Role: Right-handed fourth outfielder
Similar option: Tyler Austin
Alternative approach: Right-handed utility man
Clearly the Yankees re-signed Young to be on the Opening Day roster. He brings right-handed balance to the outfield, and a bounce-back season would make him a real bargain. Ramon Flores would standout as a homegrown alternative, but he’s a lefty, which limits his value in an outfield that already has two lefties in Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner (and could have another in Garrett Jones). If being a right-handed hitter is a key aspect of this role, the alternative way of approaching it might involve thinking beyond the outfield. Both Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder have outfield experience, meaning they could bring Young’s right-handed balance, but also provide some infield utility. Young has decent speed and potential for impact at-bats against lefties, which will probably be tough to pass up.
2. Garrett Jones
Role: Left-handed outfield and first base depth
Similar option: Ramon Flores
Alternative approach: Prioritize either the bat or the glove
A secondary piece of the Nathan Eovaldi trade, Jones has left-handed power that makes him a solid match-up hitter against certain right-handed pitchers. He also brings value because of his ability to backup a first base, right field and designated hitter, three spots where the Yankees have significant age, health and production concerns. Flores also hits left-handed and has some first base experience, but he doesn’t bring nearly the same amount of power. Austin could be a right-handed version of the same thing. To use this roster spot differently would be to prioritize one or the other: either the bat or the glove. Either give the spot to a true utility guy (someone like Pirela who adds more defensive flexibility than Jones) or give the spot to a pure hitter (someone like Kyle Roller, who barely plays a passable version of first base, but just might bring more offensive upside). Either of those alternatives seems unlikely. Jones has just enough flexibility and just enough platoon power to actually fit the roster pretty well.
3. Brendan Ryan
Role: Backup shortstop/infielder
Similar option: Nick Noonan
Alternative approach: Let Stephen Drew back up at shortstop
If Drew is strictly a second baseman, then Ryan stands out as the only experienced option as a backup shortstop. Minor league free agent Noonan is probably next in line — seems likely to play shortstop in Triple-A — largely because guys like Refsnyder and Pirela aren’t really shortstops (Pirela’s done it in the past, but not well enough to stick at the position). Thing is, the Yankees don’t have to think of Drew strictly as a second baseman. Even if Drew is playing second base regularly, he also serve as the No. 2 option at short (kind of like Brett Gardner plays left field, but is still the No. 2 option in center). By treating Drew as the backup shortstop, the Yankees could open Ryan’s roster spot for someone who’s a lesser defender but a better hitter. In that case, either Refsnyder or Pirela could be a strong fit. It’s worth noting that losing Ryan would cut into the Yankees shortstop depth should either Drew or Didi Gregorius get hurt. Basically, the Yankees would be an injury away from having either Noonan or Cito Culver on the big league roster.
4. John Ryan Murphy
Role: Backup catcher
Similar option: Austin Romine
Alternate approach: Catcher as designated hitter
Every team needs a backup catcher, so there’s really no way to approach this roster spot with any sort of radical change. One way or another, the Yankees need two catchers. The only way to look at it differently would be to use the backup catcher as a regular designated hitter. If, for example, Alex Rodriguez looks lost at the plate and Murphy looks like one of the best right-handed bats in spring training, perhaps the Yankees could regularly put both Murphy and Brian McCann in the lineup. It would essentially open a spot on the bench for Rodriguez or someone else, while also opening the possibility of losing the DH if the starting catcher can’t finish a game. Seems unlikely as an everyday approach. More likely, the Yankees will simply choose a backup catcher and use him as such.
Associated Press photo