The Yankees have one stolen base since the All-Star break. Care to guess who stole it?
Here’s a hint: He’s hit five home runs since his daring race to second base.
It was Mark Teixeira. On July 24, in the eighth-inning of a lopsided loss, Teixiera stole second against the Twins. But that was it. No second-half stolen bases for Jacoby Ellsbury. None for Brett Gardner. Not even one of those occasional steals for Didi Gregorius or Chris Young, or a heads up stolen base for Chase Headley or Stephen Drew.
Since June 1, the Yankees have just 15 stolen base attempts.
“I think that whenever your guys can get the extra base, we want them to get the extra base,” Joe Girardi said. “However, not at the expense of being thrown out or taking a chance, so it has to be a pretty good calculated risk that you’re going to get to second base, or to third if you’re trying to steal third. So what our guys have done is, they’ve been wise, and if they feel that there’s a chance they’re going to get thrown out, in a sense, they’re probably not going to be as aggressive as maybe early in the season.”
The Yankees had the seventh-most steals in baseball for the month of April, and they were middle-of-the-pack with 14 stolen bases in May. But they’ve basically stopped running since then.
Ellsbury had 14 stolen bases before he went on the disabled list in the middle of May, but he’s attempted to steal only once since returning in early July. He was thrown out in that one attempt.
Gardner had 15 stolen bases through June 12 — and had been caught stealing only three times — but he hasn’t even attempted a stolen base since then.
“We still have the green light most of the time,” Gardner said. “To be honest, I feel like I haven’t really been doing a good job getting on base the last couple of weeks, but I think before that, when (Ellsbury) was out, I was a little more timid, trying to stay smart out there playing every day without him out of the lineup. It’s not a case of us not wanting to run. We still want to be aggressive, it’s still a part of our game. The thing is, with Alex and Tex swinging the bat so well behind us, you’re essentially in scoring position when you’re on first. So, that may have a little more to do with it; we haven’t been hard-pressed to manufacture runs in that way.”
Ellsbury has a .243 on-base percentage since coming off the disabled list. He had a .412 before getting hurt, so obviously his opportunities to run have dwindled significantly. Gardner, though, has a .383 on-base percentage since his last stolen base. He’s been to first base plenty of times and has simply elected not to run.
Granted, Gardner’s long had a reputation for being hesitant to break for second, but even by his standards, this seems extreme.
“People are paying a lot more attention to our base runners now,” Girardi said. “Overall, if you look around the league, I think pitchers are paying more attention to it. They’re quicker to home. We’re not just going to run into outs.”
Not sure pitchers have ever stopped paying attention to Ellsbury and Gardner. More emphasis on shutting down the running game could very well play a role in this — and Gardner pointed out that he’s gone for second a few times only to have the hitter swing and make contact — but the Yankees’ halted running game seems to be a clear shift in offensive philosophy.
“I think it’s an understanding that we all have about our offense as we got a better idea of what we have,” Girardi said. “Going into the season, a lot of times early in the year, the ball doesn’t carry as well, and we didn’t play at home as much, and those sort of things; I think it’s harder for a catcher to throw when it’s colder. So you take some more risks, but now knowing what we have in this offense, I think our guys have been pretty smart. … It’s not like we’ve had a hard time scoring runs, so I’m pleased with the offense and the way we’re doing it.”
• If need be, Brian McCann can catch tonight. For now, it seems the Yankees still have no intention to bring up a catcher and will just play John Ryan Murphy behind the plate. “(McCann) feels better today,” Girardi said. “So he’s really day-to-day. We don’t anticipate it will be too long. As of right now, the way he felt today, we were encouraged by (it). We’ll look at tomorrow or the next day (to get him back in the lineup).”
• Speaking of Murphy, his season slash line is up to .297/.336/.406 and he’s hit .355/.385/.452 since the beginning of June. He seems to be growing more comfortable in this part-time role. “I think there’s been a little more consistent playing time just because of all the lefties we’ve seen, too,” Girardi said. “He’s getting some more at-bats than some day games after night games. He’s learning how to do the role and understand the role that you don’t play every day and the more at-bats probably the better.”
• After his impressive debut last night, Luis Severino’s second big league start is scheduled for Tuesday. That’s the series opener in Cleveland.
• That Cleveland series is the start of another long stretch of consecutive games. Girardi said the Yankees could use a sixth starter at some point during that stretch. “We’ll look at how our starters are doing and then really make a decision,” he said. “Is there a chance we’ll insert a guy once in there, yes, absolutely.”
• Any concern that, given his numbers, Ellsbury isn’t healthy? “He’s physically fine,” Girardi said. “He got banged up when he ran into the wall a couple times. I thought he was starting to swing the bat better and then you run into a knuckleballer, and that’s always hard to figure out and I know we’re going to see one (more on Friday). I was encouraged with what I saw in Chicago, some of the things I saw in Chicago and Tuesday night here as well, so I think he’s on the right track.”
• Not nearly as hot today as it was last week in Texas. Girardi said he’s not worried about any sort of heat or dehydration issues resurfacing for CC Sabathia. “I’ve checked with him a couple times during the course of the weekend and yesterday and he feels he’s at full strength,” Girardi said. “He would know physically better than anyone. He threw his bullpen and felt fine so I feel pretty good about it.”
Associated Press photos
Thirteen years ago, the sun was shining in Chicago when Mark Prior made his Major League debut. He went six innings, struck out 10 and got his first Major League win less than a year after he was drafted. Prior’s catcher that day was Joe Girardi.
“As I look back, that’s probably the most anticipation of a young player that I was around,” Girardi said.
Today is Luis Severino’s turn.
“This is what I would tell him (as a catcher),” Girardi siad. “You know yourself better than I do, so you throw what you feel is the right pitch at the right time. If I really feel that it’s the wrong pitch, I’ll come out. Don’t doubt yourself. Throw everything with conviction, and we’ll go from there.”
As a manager, what will Girardi say?
“Go have fun; just do what you do, basically,” Girardi said. “When a young guy comes up for the first time, you just want to see him compete. Just compete. Give us the best you’ve got, and it’s difficult because there’s a lot of emotions that go into it. There’s a lot of anxiety that goes into it. Get through the first inning, then we’ll see if we can get you on a roll.”
Severino walked into the Yankees’ clubhouse around 3:30 this afternoon. It was a quiet entrance and a few teammates came by to say hello. There were no trumpets. No confetti fell from the ceiling. His locker looked the same as any other minor league call-up this season.
But this one’s different. We all know that.
Severino’s cleared for roughly 100 pitches, and it’s time to find out what the kid can do. After that, it’ll be time to find out what he can do again.
“In games like this, you think about trying to get them out on a good note if you can,” Girardi said. “Those sort of situations so they can build off it. A guy who’s been through it, if he goes through a tough situation, you don’t really worry, cause there’s a lot of success on the other side, and he knows how to rebound from those, but you try to get (Severino) out on a good note.”
• Garrett Jones is back. He said he never talked to other teams. When the Yankees contacted him — presumably after the Dustin Ackley injury — to say they were going to try to bring him back, he was onboard immediately. Never wanted to leave in the first place and had no hard feelings about the DFA.
• What did the Yankees say when he was designated? “There was a guy they had an eye on, and Ack is a great player,” Jones said. “He was somebody that I think they had their eye on for a long time to where they wanted to bring him into the organization. It was my turn, my time. I guess I was that guy. Everybody was healthy at the positions I played. It just turned out it was my card to be pulled.”
• Obviously Jones is right back in his limited role. He’s returned for a game against a right-handed pitcher, but he’s not playing tonight.
• Not surprised the Yankees chose to option Caleb Cotham and Nick Rumbelow to make room for Jones and Severino. Rumbelow has pitched well when given a chance, but Branden Pinder’s fastball sat at 97 mph and topped out at 98 last night. No first-timer has gotten into more Yankees games than Pinder this season. He’s pitched 13 times with a 1.02 WHIP, nine strikeouts and two walks. A lot of low-leverage situations, but Pinder’s done the job several times now, so he gets to stick around in that rotating bullpen spot.
• Without McCann, it’s John Ryan Murphy catching Severino’s debut. “I don’t know if there’s a ton of challenges here because I think Murph does a really good job and has an understanding of the league and what he needs to do and follows the game plans well,” Girardi said. “He and Mac work very closely together, and they talk about situations and really pull for one another. In a sense, it might be easier for a young pitcher to shake off a young catcher and feel like, this is what I want to throw. I’m a little bit nervous shaking off a guy that has five Silver Sluggers, five All-Star Games and been an established catcher. I don’t really think there’s any downside to it.”
• McCann on missing the chance to catch Severino’s debut: “I was definitely looking forward to catching him,” McCann said. “But at the same time, Murphy’s one of the best that I’ve been around, to catch. He’s caught him before, and we’re all excited for his debut.”
Associated Press photos
From Adam Czech of The Associated Press:
MINNEAPOLIS — Alex Rodriguez gave himself an early 40th birthday present.
Three of them, actually.
Rodriguez hit three home runs in a game for the fifth time in his career and keyed a ninth-inning rally against All-Star closer Glen Perkins, sending the New York Yankees over the Minnesota Twins 8-5 Saturday night.
“Some people say that life starts at 40. I’ll sign up for that right now,” said A-Rod, who hits the mark Monday.
The Yankees trailed 5-0 early. Rodriguez connected on Perkins’ first pitch for a tying homer, and John Ryan Murphy later launched a three-run shot.
“Got to be one of my best feelings since I’ve been in the major leagues,” Murphy said. “There’s no greater feeling than knowing you just won the game for your team.”
Rodriguez bear-hugged Murphy in the dugout and picked him up. By then, the slugger had already showed his strength.
Rodriguez hit 452-foot solo homer in the fourth and a 422-foot drive that made it 5-3 in the seventh. His 424-foot homer in the ninth cleared the center field wall.
He clapped as he trotted around first base after each homer while fans at sold-out Target Field booed. The last time Rodriguez hit three home runs in a game was Aug. 14, 2010, at Kansas City. He didn’t play last season while sitting out a drug suspension.
“I’m healthy, I’m happy, I’m appreciating everything the game has to offer,” he said.
Rodriguez has 23 homers this season and 677 in his career. He is now 6 for 10 lifetime against Perkins with two home runs.
Perkins (0-2) didn’t blow a save chance before the All-Star break, but is 1 for 3 since. He had allowed just six runs all season before the Yankees tagged him for four.
“I saved however many to start the season and I said I’m going to blow games. I’m not going to be able to go out there and hit every spot like I have,” Perkins said. “It’s magnified. But I miss spots, everybody misses spots and I’ll learn from that.”
Adam Warren (6-5) pitched 2 1-3 innings in relief of CC Sabathia. Andrew Miller worked the ninth for his 23rd save.
“Maybe our best win of the year,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Girardi’s decision to move Rodriguez to DH has helped rejuvenate the star.
“He’s been a guy that’s been productive all year,” Girardi said. “He’s been impressive.”
Torii Hunter hit his 208th career home run with the Twins, passing his mentor Kirby Puckett for sixth in team history and giving Minnesota a 5-0 lead in the third.
Aaron Hicks also homered to give the Twins a 2-0 lead off Sabathia in the first.
Chase Headley’s sacrifice fly cut Minnesota’s lead to 5-4 in a three-run seventh.
Sabathia was pulled after walking Brian Dozier to load the bases in the sixth.
Warren struck out Hicks on a check swing to end the threat, prompting Twins manager Paul Molitor to protest from the dugout and get ejected by plate umpire Jeff Nelson.
“He thought he saw enough to call the swing and I just voiced my opinion that I thought it was too close for him to make that call,” Molitor said. “That’s why they have the appeal process and it kind of spiraled down from there.”
Associated Press photos
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