This three-game series in Baltimore exposed plenty of still unanswered questions about the Yankees’ bullpen, but Joe Girardi has insisted he still has at least three relievers he can count on to hold a late lead. Finally given a late lead this afternoon, Girardi went to the best available, and they delivered.
Four outs from Chasen Shreve (in essentially his debut as the go-to middle innings reliever). Six outs from Justin Wilson (in his setup debut, and also his finest outing of the season). Then three outs from Dellin Betances (in his first save since Andrew Miller went on the disabled list).
Still to be determined whether the Yankees have any other relievers worth Girardi’s confidence, but those three delivered 4.1 hitless innings that let the Yankees avoid a series sweep.
“I’ve said all along, these guys get righties and lefties out,” Girardi said. “I don’t worry that I’m bringing in two left handers to face right handers. I don’t worry about that with these two guys. It was just nice to have them rested. We had to ask them for a few more outs than you want to on a daily basis, but it worked.”
Friday night saw Jacob Lindgren and Esmil Rogers struggle so badly that they weren’t on the roster the next day. Saturday night, it was second-chance relievers Chris Martin and Sergio Santos who fell flat, turning a tied game into a lopsided loss. Whether anyone can emerge from the group of Martin, Santos, Jose Ramirez and Chris Capuano is anyone’s guess, but the Yankees do like what they’ve seen out of Shreve, Wilson and Betances.
“I just want to try to go out every time and throw strikes and hit my spots,” Shreve said. “Try to ignore the situation, kind of. The more pressure you put on yourself, the worse you’re going to pitch. I try to just focus on the glove and hit my spots.”
Betances feels like a relatively safe bet as the replacement closer, and Wilson’s had some previous experience and success with the Pirates — “Today was one of those days where it didn’t matter who was hitting (against Wilson),” John Ryan Murphy said. “You weren’t going to hit him today.” — so the biggest surprise is Shreve, who felt like a secondary piece of the David Carpenter trade and might now fill the role Carpenter couldn’t handle the first two months of the season.
“His fastball’s not going to overpower you,” Murphy said. “But mixing that with the slider and then the splitter, it plays up a bit and gets in on guys. That splitter’s got a lot of depth, and hitters have a pretty tough time picking it up if they haven’t seen it.”
Because the Yankees finally got the big bases-loaded hit they didn’t have in the first two games, this was their most winable game of the series, and the bullpen locked it down. This team is going to miss Andrew Miller, but for at least one day, the other guys had it under control.
“The only difference is that I’m shaking hands at the last out,” Betances said. “But I’m trying to stay the same. The job that Shreve and Wilson did is motivation to go out there and get it done.”
• When he came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth inning, Murphy had a total of three RBI this season. He nearly doubled that number with his sharp two-run double past defensive wizard Manny Machado. “I guess anytime you hit the ball that way you expect it to be caught,” Murphy said. “It was a tough play for him diving down the line. I hit it hard.”
• Murphy had a three-hit game, the second of his career. Girardi also praised the work he did behind the plate. Just a really nice game from the young backup catcher. “No question every time I play I want to win,” Murphy said. “Whether I go 0-for-4 or 4-for-4. But obviously getting some hits, the way I’ve been swinging it, was great. I just want to help the team win, and it was a great team win today.”
• Shreve has not allowed a run in his past eight appearances. He got his second win of the season today, and he’s held opponents to a .097 batting average during this eight-game scoreless stretch. “I thought maybe my arm was, not hanging, but a little worn down from that 19-inning game,” Shreve said. “And it’s finally coming back. My velo’s been down from last year, so it’s finally getting back up, and I think that’s helped.”
• Why leave Shreve in to face one batter in the seventh? “I was going to ask him to give me one more hitter,” Girardi said. “I was hoping he would get one more out and I would only have to ask four from Willy, but it didn’t quite work out that way.”
• And why pull Warren after a strikeout in the fifth when he was one out away from getting through five and being the pitcher of record? “It was a hot day,” Girardi said. “He threw 93 pitches in less than five innings. If he had breezed through a bunch of innings and maybe was in the sixth or seventh inning, it’s a different story. I was just looking at his slider and some of his pitches, he had gotten behind in some counts and I just thought it was time. You want to leave him in, but…”
• Here’s Warren on his start: “The competitor in you wants to finish that and get deeper in the game. It worked out for us. I want to win ballgames. I’m not concerned with having wins under my name or whatnot, as long as we win as a team. It worked out, so no problem with it at all.”
• Pivotal play for Warren came in the first inning when he got a sure double play ball, but because it was a hit-and-run, Stephen Drew was going to cover second and the ball got through for a single. If the Yankees turn two there, Warren’s out of the first inning without two runs scoring and having thrown almost half of the 29 pitches he needed that inning. “I fell into a little bad luck with the hit and run,” Warren said. “I feel like that would’ve been a ground ball to second. Just trying to make pitches, trying to get into a rhythm. I didn’t make good enough pitches in the first. I’m just trying to get back to making quality pitches and getting into that kind of rhythm.”
• Is Warren going to the bullpen when Ivan Nova gets back? “That decision won’t be made for a while,” Girardi said.
• Girardi’s comment certainly suggests Nova won’t be coming back this week, but Girardi said he still has to talk to Brian Cashman before settling on a decision about Nova’s next outing. “To be honest, I really haven’t thought about it,” Warren said. “It’s just one of those things that I can’t control. I just want to go out there and pitch, wherever it may be. I just don’t want to think about stuff I can’t control.”
• Big at-bat in the game was Wilson getting pinch hitter Delmon Young in the seventh. It was the first batter Wilson faced, and Young was at the plate as a home run threat that would have been the tying run. “I wanted to go right after him,” Wilson said. “Felt like from watching the game from the bullpen, the strike zone today was a little tight at times. For me, strikes is a key, so I wanted to go right after him. Luckily he swung through it.”
• Alex Rodriguez took an 0-for-4 today and said he’s fine with knowing he won’t be in the lineup the next two days in Miami. “Just like Washington, like I’ve said all along, whatever Joe wants,” Rodriguez said. “Whether we’re going to Marlins Stadium, Yankee Stadium or any place on the road, that’s cool.” Rodriguez also wouldn’t comment on a potential grievance about that $6-million home run milestone payment.
• Final word goes to Girardi: “You don’t want to get swept; it’s a division opponent. We did not play well the first two days, but we played much better today. We didn’t give them extra outs and we won the game.”
Associated Press photos
Heading into Masahiro Tanaka’s first big league start in more than a month, Joe Girardi said he would look for two things: command and sharpness of pitches.
Well, Tanaka walked no one and got through the seventh inning on 78 pitches. He struck out nine and got only one two outs on true fly balls into the outfield. As a bonus, his velocity regularly reached into the mid-90s, topping out at 96 mph for the first time this season.
“We’ll take him anytime we can get him,” Andrew Miller said. “I know he’s been battling a little forearm or elbow stuff, or whatever, but when he’s been on the mound he’s been incredible. We want him out there as often as possible, and we want him for the long haul. To have a guy on a pitch count go out and give us seven innings is really, really impressive. He’s the star of the game, for sure.”
Tanaka’s first pitch was a 92-mph fastball, and it was clobbered well over the fence but foul. Tanaka went on to strike out the leadoff hitter on three pitches, which was a sign of things to come. Two more strikeouts in the second inning. Two more in the third. A strikeout to end the fourth, another to end the fifth, and another to end the seventh. All three hits Tanaka allowed came in the third inning when the Mariners scored their only run. After that, he retired the final 13 batters he faced.
“I would have to agree, I think it was the best outing I’ve had this year so far,” Tanaka said. “… It was a good outing, but it’s just one outing. I can’t be too high about that. Right now, maybe I’ll celebrate today, but starting tomorrow I’ll look forward to my next outing and work on my stuff.”
Obviously health will be a lingering concern for a player with a known elbow issue, but this was pretty substantial proof that Tanaka can be plenty effective as long as the elbow doesn’t blow out completely. His offspeed pitches were effective, and Tanaka’s four-seamer was so good that he was willing to throw it up in the zone to finish off hitters. Tanaka had been trying to work mostly down in the zone with two-seamers early in the season, but he said that two starts before going on the DL he starting thinking more about going up in the zone to get outs. He did that effectively today.
“I’m not so sure I expected (that velocity) the first time out,” Girardi said. “Velocity has been a huge topic for him. We talked about his average velocity has been there. In April, a lot of times you don’t see guys’ (full) velocity. You just don’t. Part of it has to do with that stinky weather that we play in, but I was a little surprised.”
Tanaka’s explanation for finally reaching the mid 90s: “I think maybe (because) we’re a little bit deeper in the season. Warming up a little, maybe that has to do with it.”
Maybe a few weeks off helped him. Maybe he simply needed to build up arm strength after a relatively light spring training. Maybe this was simply a really good day. Whatever it was, the Yankees got their ace back this afternoon, and he looked as good as ever.
“If we’re going to go where we want to go this year,” Mark Teixeira said. “We need guys like Tanaka to be healthy and be in our starting rotation. Hopefully that’s what we’re going to have the rest of the year.”
• Andrew Miller had to work for his 17th save. He came in with a runner on, then a hit a batter, walked a guy on four pitches and fell behind 3-0. Miller came back to get a strikeout and a ground ball to get out of that eighth-inning jam before pitching a scoreless ninth. “He’s got a toughness to him,” Girardi said. “In that situation, it’s a tough situation. Bases loaded, 3-0 on a hitter, and to be able to get out of it, it just shows you that he has a lot of ability and believes in himself.”
• Miller on his outing: “I wasn’t missing by a lot. But I was missing consistently in one spot. And that’s kind of a tough thing, because you’re trying to come up with a fix and things keep going in the same direction. I was able to slow things down, and get back in the zone eventually. He chased a 3-2 slider, which is a pitch I throw a lot of times, but with the bases loaded there, if he lays off of that, it might be a different story. But fortunately that happened and got out of it.”
• Girardi said he didn’t want to use Dellin Betances after back-to-back outings. He wound up going to Chris Capuano to start the eighth inning. It was Capuano’s first relief appearance of the year, and it came in a two-run game. Says a lot about the state of the Yankees’ pen beyond Betances and Miller. “They had lefties coming up, and you force their hand to make a change, and Cap’s done it in the bullpen before,” Giradri said, explaining the decision to use Capuano in that spot.
• Any thought of just sending Tanaka out for the eighth? He was at 78 pitches and could have gone up to 85. “No, just because we had talked about 80-85 pitches, but we were expecting that in six innings,” Girardi said. “The extra up-down situation, we thought it was enough. Believe me, I would have loved to.”
• This was the seventh time in his career that Tanaka struck out at least nine batters. First time he’d done it this season.
• This was the first time in Tanaka’s career that he pitched in a major league game to anyone other than Brian McCann. “We were basically on the same page for the most part,” John Ryan Murphy said. “There was a handful of pitches that he shook off, like any other pitcher. … It’s a little uncomfortable going in the second inning, because I didn’t do all the pregame scouting reports and that stuff with him and Larry, but as soon as I knew I was going in I talked to him and (translator) Shingo. We got on the same page, simple as that.”
• Second game in a row that Garrett Jones hit a game-winning home run. He’s homered in back-to-back games. Before this, he’d homered once all year. “Just relaxing,” he said. “Going in there just letting it go, being loose, and try to contribute. I’ve been feeling good at the plate and just trying to stay relaxed, let it fly. Got some pitches to hit and put a good swing. When I’m in there, just trying to make the most of it.”
Another home run for Mark Teixeira, who’s already at 16 homers and 41 RBI. This was his 19th career home run at Safeco Field, the most ever hit here by an opposing player. “Every day is different,” Teixeira said. “It really is. You get a couple of good pitches to hit, hit right-handed, hit left-handed, tomorrow is a day off and then Friday is a new day. I feel good physically.”
• For the second time in less than a week since joining the big league team, Ramon Flores threw out a runner at the plate.
• Final word goes to Murphy on Tanaka: “He was incredible. Everything was for strikes. He threw all of his pitches. The thing that he does so well is on both sides of the plate, the ball can go sideways both ways and go straight down. Everything was working today. Makes it really hard on the other hitters. It showed today.”
Associated Press photos
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