As the Yankees head on the road to finish off this stretch of 20 games in a row — there are still seven games left, four in Houston and three in Los Angeles — their roster is in state of constant upheaval. Trying to make up for injuries, disappointing performances and one newborn baby, the team has cycled through a series of relief pitchers and a handful of bench players. The roster has seemed to change daily, and there’s most certainly going to be another change at some point today.
After yesterday’s game, the Yankees sent relievers Branden Pinder and Diego Moreno back to Triple-A. We already know one of those open roster spots will go to Stephen Drew, who’s coming back from the paternity list, but the other could be used for either a pitcher or a position player.
Here’s. look at some of the roster issues heading into this surprisingly important series against the much-better-than-expected Astros:
For the time being, the Yankees have just three bench players
Because of the unexpected Brendan Ryan injury, coupled with the Drew paternity leave, the Yankees actually played yesterday’s game with only two bench players. Safe to assume that will be remedied to some extent with Drew’s return this afternoon. Drew could have stayed on the paternity list until Friday, but he was back in the clubhouse yesterday and is expected to be in Houston tonight. With Drew, the Yankees will basically have a bench of Jose Pirela (the backup infielder), John Ryan Murphy (the backup catcher), and Garrett Jones (the backup outfielder/first baseman and possible left-field platoon with Chris Young). But there’s still an open roster spot, and it’s unclear whether the Yankees prefer to fill it with a position player or a pitcher. Normally, it would be a position player without a doubt, but the Yankees are in a bit of an unusual position following the return of Ivan Nova.
The Yankees are currently carrying six starters
Because they want to give all of their starters an extra day off, the Yankees are technically carrying a six-man rotation. Nova came off the disabled list yesterday, and the other five starters will pitch on five days of rest their next turn through the rotation. Extra rest makes obvious sense for a group of starters loaded with health and workload concerns, but it requires a sacrifice somewhere. To make a six-man rotation work, the Yankees will have to carry either a short bench or a short bullpen. Given the way they’ve handled the bullpen up to this point, it’s hard to imagine they’ll go with just six relievers. Then again, Girardi earlier in the week shot down the idea that he was definitely planning to carry a short bench, so maybe they feel covered in the bullpen with Chris Capuano and Bryan Mitchell able to go long. Whichever way they go — short bullpen or short bench — it should last only a few days until they’re ready to move someone — probably Adam Warren — out of the rotation and into the bullpen.
Even if they wanted a full bench, who would they call up?
Because the Yankees didn’t take advantage of the Ryan injury to let them immediately recall Ramon Flores, there’s really not an obvious option to fill a fourth bench spot right now. Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams are still hurt, and there’s really little point in carrying both Gregorio Petit and Pirela. The only other available position players currently on the full 40-man roster are Gary Sanchez (a Double-A catcher) and Tyler Austin (a right-handed outfielder who wouldn’t really have much of a role). Since it seems unlikely the Yankees are ready to give Rob Refsnyder the everyday job at second, it could be that they’ll simply wait for Jacoby Ellsbury to come off the disabled list before carrying the usual number of position players. That said, there’s not exactly an obvious pitching call-up on the horizon either.
Distance and durability concerns continue to impact bullpen decisions
Because the Yankees have not gotten consistent distance from their starting pitchers, there’s been a trickle-down effect on the bullpen, which has basically caused all of the up-and-down player movement we’ve seen lately. In the past 12 days, the Yankees have called up and/or activated nine different pitchers (Sergio Santos, Jose Ramirez, Jose De Paula, Mitchell, Pinder, Danny Burawa, Moreno, Nick Rumbelow and Nova). Mitchell was actually called up, optioned and called up again in that span. The long list of moves, though, hasn’t solved the key issues of getting more distance out of the starters and finding bullpen stability for the middle innings. Maybe Nova in the rotation, Warren (or someone else) in the bullpen and Andrew Miller (eventually) off the disabled list will finally fix those problems. For now, they linger, and they’re shaping an ever-changing roster.
It’s hard to tell who’s “next” on the list of impact call-ups
Because Refsnyder hasn’t hit enough to force the Yankees’ hand, and because Drew keeps hitting for good power in those rare moments when he gets a hit at all, it doesn’t seem that the Yankees are considering a change at second base. Their next impact additions to the outfield (Ellsbury) and bullpen (Miller) are more likely to come from the disabled list than the minor league system. So who will be the next young player to make his big league debut? The Yankees have had 10 players debut this season — most in the majors — but No. 11 might have to wait a while unless the Yankees have a trick up their sleeves today. Top prospects Luis Severino and Aaron Judge have each moved up to Triple-A and could be on the radar at some point, but an immediate call-up seems unlikely. Who else could be on the radar? Ben Gamel? Tyler Webb? Jaron Long? There’s not a no-doubt, next-in-line choice.
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Postgame notes: “He’s never lost that fire” • 06.07.15
Just when it seemed CC Sabathia might succumb to yet another not-what-he-used-to-be disappointment, the fiery old ace reemerged. He got some strikeouts, got out of some trouble, limited the damage and finally erupted during a confrontation with home plate umpire Dan Bellino about a pitch that ultimately didn’t matter very much.
“He’s never lost that fire, that competitive spirit,” Brett Gardner said. “That’s one of the things that’s made him so successful, I think. Not necessarily yelling at umpires, but the way he approaches the game and his drive, and the way that he wants to win, bottom line.”
The Yankees said they didn’t have a record of career ejections, and Elias doesn’t keep track either, but this was believed to be Sabathia’s first ejection since 2006. And it was sparked by — of all things — the pitch immediately before an inning-ending double play. It was the sixth inning, the Yankees had pulled ahead by three runs, and Sabathia was pitching with one out, two one and a 1-1 count to Kole Calhoun. His slider looked like a strike to the Yankees, but it looked low to Bellino. He called a ball, Sabathia got a double play on the next pitch, and Sabathia complained on his way off the mound.
Crew chief Tom Hallion declined to give details except to say Sabathia was arguing balls and strikes. The whole thing seemed calm until the ejection, at which point Joe Girardi came running out of the dugout and Sabathia got in Bellino’s face. John Ryan Murphy tried to hold him back, which was somewhat absurd.
“He’s a lot bigger than I am,” Murphy said, not exactly breaking news to anyone.
Sabathia was at 87 pitches and had settled in nicely after back-to-back home runs in the first inning. Girardi said he was planning to send Sabathia back out for the seventh. If this were four or five years ago, with that pitch count, pitching into the eighth or ninth surely would not have been out of the question. Sabathia allowed just three hits, all singles, after those two home runs. His biggest pitch might have been his last one.
“That’s been a spot where I’ve kind of struggled with runners on,” Sabathia said. “And to get that double play is huge.”
It was huge, and it’s huge that Sabathia’s won three of his past five starts after winning none of his first six starts. This might not have been vintage Sabathia, but it was a strong and fiery start that let the Yankees finish off their second straight series sweep.
It was a good start. Just happened to end with Sabathia flipping out.
“Just wanted to get my money’s worth, I guess,” Sabathia said.
• In his career, C.J. Wilson has allowed 93 home runs to right-handed hitters. He’s allowed just 18 to left-handed hitters, including today’s go-ahead homer by Brett Gardner. “He just fell behind 2-0,” Gardner said. “I felt like I was going to get a good pitch to hit. I think the catcher setup away, but he missed with a fastball in, and I beat him to the spot. I was ready for it. Just took a good swing, got a good result, and it was a good result today.”
• Gardner has now hit 45 home runs in his career, and the Yankees are 33-11 when he’s gone deep.
• With Brendan Ryan nearly ready to come off the disabled list, Jose Pirela is making a final push to stay on the roster. He doubled and hit his first major league home run today. “It was awesome,” Murphy said. “I told him after his first at-bat, when he went off the wall, he had no power. He proved me wrong.”
• Not so long ago, Pirela had the worst numbers on the team. Now his .268 batting average is the third-highest on the active roster. He has five hits in his past five games. “I’ve been working very hard,” Pirela said through a translator. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity because I haven’t been playing that much. But now that I have the opportunity, I’m really excited that I could contribute and I hope that God allows that I can continue contributing to the team.”
• By the way, Pirela said he wanted a translator because there were so many reporters around him (maybe 20 or so). When he’s talked one-on-one or to a small group, I’ve never had trouble speaking to him in English. Not particularly unusual for a young guy to want a translator in a situation like that. Has to be intimidating in any language, especially a second language.
• With his fifth-inning strikeout of Johnny Giavotella, Sabathia reached 2,500 career strikeouts. “(It means) that I’m old,” Sabathia said. “That I’ve been around for a long time. I always say, when I retire I can look back and say that’s a big deal. But right now, I’m just in the middle of the season, and trying to help this team win some games.”
• Pretty good inside-the-game stuff from Murphy: “The first inning I thought they were on his two-seamer more than the other teams have been,” Murphy said. “… If they’re on that early, then you just have to go to the four-seam inside to the righties to almost setup that comebacker, which also opened up the two-seam down and away to righties a lot better today.”
• Two bad pitches in the first inning gave the Angels their early lead. First Mike Trout went deep, then Albert Pujols did the same. It was the fourth time those two had gone back-to-back in their four years as teammates. “The one to Pujols was a mistake,” Sabathia said. “But the one to Trout was just Mike Trout. Two seamer down, and he put a good swing on it.”
• By the way, Sabathia said he’d looked at video of the ball that he thought was a strike. His postgame analysis: “It was a strike.” Sabathia said he hadn’t watched video of his epic shouting match. Probably more fun to watch than the pitch, right?
• Sabathia got his first Yankee Stadium win since September 20, 2013. Between home wins he went 0-6 with a 9.42 ERA in the Bronx. The Yankees have now won a season-high sixth straight home games, their longest home winning streak since 2013.
• Final word goes to Gardner: “It’s early June, but I feel good about the way we’ve been playing the last week or two. It’s a game of ups and downs, and you want to be as consistent as possible, but it’s easier said than done. Definitely the last week or so we’ve been playing good baseball, and enjoy the off day tomorrow and then play well next week.”
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For the better part of two months, Joe Girardi has stuck with Stephen Drew even as his batting average kept getting worse and worse. But today is the second day in a row with Drew on the bench, and while Girardi won’t name Jose Pirela the new second baseman, he did acknowledge that Drew’s might benefit from some time out of the lineup.
“I told Stephen, continue to work,” Girardi said. “He’s trying to work on some things offensively. I’ve always said, whenever you play it’s an opportunity to open someone’s eyes. Pedey, I thought swung the bat pretty good last night. I’m going to run him back out there. Stephen has played a lot and been a little banged up at times. I’ll give him another day and we’ll go from there.”
I’m reminded of 2010 when the Yankees shut down Curtis Granderson for a few days to tweak his mechanics and try to get himself sorted out. Granderson came back from the down time like a new hitter, but he wasn’t hitting .157 like Drew is.
“I’ve said all along, it just seems like when he hits the ball hard, he doesn’t get rewarded for it,” Girardi said. “I think every hitter could go look and say, during the course of 150 at-bats, if six of those swings would have kind of went my way and I wouldn’t have lined out, then you’re not talking about it. But when that doesn’t happen, then you have to talk about it. He’s working hard in the cage, and I still think this guy’s too good of a player not to hit. We’ve seen him hit a grand slam. We’ve seen him hit three-run homers. We’ve seen him hit the ball out of the ballpark. We’ve seen him impact the baseball.”
I don’t think of Drew as a guy who’s hitting the ball hard and simply running into bad luck, but there does seem to be at least some bad luck involved. His batting average on balls in play is .164, which is absurdly low. Against righties — the guys he’s definitely supposed to hit — Drew’s BABIP is an almost comical .105. FanGraphs says Drew’s line drive percentage is definitely lower than in his best years (roughly 15 percent this year, more like 20 percent when Drew was in Arizona), and it seems those missing line drives have become fly ball outs and popups. Balls classified as “soft contact” are slightly up and “hard contact” is significantly down.
The numbers suggest some luck has played a part in Drew’s struggles, but can luck really account for the worst batting average in the big leagues? Can it really explain a full year of hitting like this?
“I bet you could go find in his stats where he has 10 hard outs,” Girardi said. “People will talk about batted balls in play, what happens. He has not really had a whole lot of luck. … To me, eventually it’s got to even out.”
• Chris Martin has been activated, but he’s also been optioned to Triple-A. Why not put him on the big league roster? “We want to get him back on a roll, then we’ll go from there,” Girardi said. “At the end (before the injury) it was a little bit of a struggle for him. We’ll see if we can get him back on a roll, and then if we need him, we’ll call him.”
• Four of Martin’s first five appearances this season were pretty overwhelming, but he hadn’t been nearly as good leading into his disabled list stint. Opponents were hitting .294 in his past 10 outings.
• Also of note regarding Martin: “We’re going to a place where there’s a lot of left-handers we’re going to see,” Girardi said. “So we’re going to keep the left-handers.”
• Brendan Ryan has started a rehab assignment with High-A Tampa. “Obviously he’s got to get some at-bats because he really hasn’t had a spring training,” Girardi said. “I’m not sure what day he’s eligible to come off, but he’s going to need some at-bats, be able to play a couple days in row, lengthy games, because you never know when you’ll be pressed into action, for three or four days.”
• Girardi wasn’t asked about it, but it seems safe to assume red-hot Brian McCann has a day off because it’s a day game after a night game, and this is what usually happens with catchers. Murphy also caught Warren’s gem against the Royals last week (McCann had caught his two strong starts before that).
• Girardi on Warren: “He’s pitched really well the last couple of weeks, and I think he’s learning how to get quicker outs. His stuff has been sharper, and I think he’s been stronger. When you’re in the bullpen, you don’t necessarily have to think about, I only want to throw 14 pitches this inning on an average so I can get deep in games. I’ve got three outs to get, and if I need 27, 28 pitches, it doesn’t matter; I’ve got three outs to get. I think he’s improved on that, and I think you’ll continue to see improvements.”
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Another day of throwing a baseball with no incident for Masahiro Tanaka doesn’t seem particularly newsworthy, expect when you consider that this is Tanaka that we’re talking about.
After throwing 50 pitches from 60 feet on Thursday, Tanaka threw 25 from 60 feet and another 25 from 90 on Friday. He spoke to the media after and said he’s “definitely going in the right direction,” and he seemed fairly unconcerned about any long-term effects from this forearm strain. He also reiterated that he doesn’t think that this relatively minor injury has anything to do with the elbow that caused problems for him last season.
“Everybody has their own opinion, but personally, I don’t think it had anything to do with it,” he said through his interpreter. “I don’t think it has anything to do with my elbow.”
Of course, there has been rampant speculation about Tanaka eventually — some might say inevitably — needing Tommy John surgery, but he isn’t buying it. He’s repeatedly said that there is no discomfort in the elbow. He said he’s “gradually” increased the intensity in these throwing sessions the last two days and feels nothing in the forearm, either.
He also denied that the injury was caused by the way that he’s throwing the splitter, or because of pitching on four days’ rest instead of the five that he was accustomed to in Japan.
The only thing that he agreed with is that the process has been somewhat frustrating.
“Just to be honest with you, I did get injured from time-to-time in Japan,” Tanaka said. “But my absolute goal is to try to not get injured throughout the season and be apart of that rotation. With that said, I’m a little disappointed.”
• While the rotation has held up well in the absence of Tanaka, the bullpen continues to be the strength of the team. Andrew Miller, who may not have the official closer title but is pitching as well as any reliever in baseball, is looking like a very smart investment. He’s up to 12 saves. “I think he’s approached it just like any other inning that he’s pitched,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s done an unbelievable job for us. He’s really kind of kept his pitch count down in most instances when we use him multiple days in a row. He’s a strikeout guy who can hold runners on when they do get on. He’s really done a great job. Every time that we saw him, we saw him good, so I’m not surprised that we’re seeing what we’re seeing.”
• Girardi has been criticized for over-managing and not trusting his gut often enough, but he’s generally praised for the way that he handles his bullpen. It has to be nice having the type of weapons that he has down there this season, and that surely makes his job easier. But he does deserve some credit for putting guys in spots where they can be successful and rarely overusing them. “I kind of have in my mind some rules that I follow, depending on how much they’ve worked – multiple innings, days in a row, three out of four, how many pitches, quick turnaround – and I’ve been consistent with those ever since I’ve been here,” he said. “I usually let them know when they’re down so that they’re not over-preparing and maybe playing more catch than they should be, that sort of thing. The goal is, for me, it’s more than a one year term. It’s a long-term thing. We want these guys to be effective for a long time, and I’ve kind of stayed true to that.”
• Many of you are probably happy to see Jose Pirela in there at second base today. He’s become popular among the fan base, in large part due to the struggles of Stephen Drew. But Girardi said this is just a day off for Drew. He’ll be back in there tomorrow. “I think his last day off was Saturday in Fenway, so it’s a day off of him,” Girardi said. “Then (Gregorio Petit) will probably play second tomorrow against the lefty and maybe we’ll give Didi(Gregorius) a day off.”
• We discussed plenty about A-Rod last night, so it wasn’t a huge focus during Girardi’s presser today. But he was asked about if he thinks the next milestone in his path — he’s 38 away from 3,000 hits — will be more acceptable in the baseball world because it’s not a power statistic. I guess the idea is that steroids are more beneficial when it comes to home runs and that sort of thing, but I can’t imagine anyone suddenly overlooking his past PED issues for his hit total and not his home run total. “Obviously, it’s a ton of hits,” Girardi said. “You have to have a lot of longevity to come up with 3,000 hits. You know, this is going to be debated for years to come, I’m sure. But my job as the manager is to get the most of the players. My job is not to decide if something is a milestone or an accomplishment – that’s for baseball people to do and historians. My hope is that he gets it fairly quickly and the hits keep coming, and the home runs keep coming.”
• Girardi followed that question up by asking how far away Rodriguez is from 3,000. When he was told 38, he said, “You can see how closely I’m following.” Yankees director of media relations Jason Zillo suggested that A-Rod get to 3,000 tonight. That would probably take about 100 innings, so for my sake, I hope not.
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The Yankees are home again. They won’t be for long long — just four games before they’re right back on the road for another long trip — but they’re home with a record good enough for first place in the American League East. For the most part, the Yankees are playing well. Just last weekend they won a series at Fenway, but they’re also coming off a series loss in Toronto where there were plenty of reminders that this is a team with flaws and concerns. Here are five of them:
The problem: He was a staff ace for many years, but Sabathia’s now 0-5 with a 5.45 ERA. The Yankees haven’t given him much run support, and some outings have been perfectly solid and winable, but six starts means he’s roughly a fifth of the way into his season and the numbers aren’t pretty. Is he going to get much better than this?
The circumstances: With one more year plus a vesting option left on his contract, Sabathia isn’t a player easily dismissed. He’s also an unquestioned leader in the clubhouse, where players and coaches alike seem to believe him and support him even through his struggles.
The alternative: After another strong start yesterday, Bryan Mitchell now has a 2.59 ERA through six starts in Triple-A. He’s the most immediate rotation alternative should the Yankees decide to insert someone else, but Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova are progressing from their injuries and Masahiro Tanaka could be back around the end of this month.
The problem: Although he’s fourth on the team in home runs, Drew still has just 13 hits and a batting average far closer to .150 than .200. And those numbers aren’t simply a one-month problem. Drew basically hit like this — but with less power — through almost all of last season.
The circumstances: Signed to a buy-low, one-year contract, Drew seems to be the Yankees best defensive second base option, and until Brendan Ryan is healthy, he’s their only proven backup shortstop. For the time being, the question with Drew isn’t so much whether he should stay on the roster, it’s whether he should stay in the starting lineup.
The alternative: Yesterday the Yankees activated Jose Pirela, and Pirela immediately delivered two hits including a hustle double. While scouts don’t exactly love his glove — and he’s never been a huge prospect — Pirela does seem to have some offensive potential and could hit his way into regular at-bats.
The problem: Maybe it’s because he’s hardly played, but the bottom line is that Jones has hit just .152/.176/.242 which is good for the lowest OPS on the roster by a large margin. His expected backup role has been hardly necessary with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez playing well.
The circumstances: Even if the Yankees found someone to put up better numbers, would that player get more at-bats than Jones is getting right now? He’s in the final year of his contract and the power potential exists. Is it worth putting a young player into such a limited role?
The alternative: Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores are playing well and hit from the left side, but Kyle Roller (.278/.414/.481 in Triple-A) stands out as a Jones-type who could occasionally DH and maybe play some limited first base when either Rodriguez or Teixiera needs a day off. At this point, adding a player who can handle the outfield seems unnecessary with both Pirela and Chris Young on the roster.
The problem: Even with a couple of two-hit games in Boston, Beltran is still hitting just .195/.237/.310 with 22 strikeouts. It feels like a continuation of last year’s brutal second half and a spring training that wasn’t exactly encouraging.
The circumstances: As recently as 2013, Beltran was still a very good hitter. Even in April of 2014 he hit for power before the elbow issue that eventually required surgery. He has this year and one more on his contract, so moving on isn’t as easy as it was with Alfonso Soriano last season.
The alternatives: In the short term, the Yankees have Young putting up good numbers, especially against lefties. The Yankees could basically push Beltran into a platoon with all right field starts against lefties going to Young. They could also consider either Heathcott or Flores as young options from the left side.
The problem: In a bullpen full of guys with terrific numbers, Carpenter a 5.23 ERA that’s the second-worst on the team behind Sabathia. Carpenter’s pitched 11 times this season, rarely in high-leverage situations, and he’s twice allowed three earned runs.
The circumstances: Really, Carpenter hasn’t been all that bad, and I’m including him here only because he’s the guy with numbers that don’t look great in the pen. Other than those two rough outings, he’s been good. The Yankees, though, have a lot of good young relievers in Triple-A, and they have three starting pitchers looking to come off the disabled list. Something’s going to have to give eventually.
The alternatives: Despite the high ERA, right now it’s pretty hard to imagine Carpenter’s job is remotely on the line at the moment. Girardi hasn’t trusted him in big spots, though, and last year’s top draft pick Jacob Lindgren just made back-to-back appearances the past two days (so did Nick Rumbelow), and Jose Ramirez went back-to-back a week ago. Could be that the Yankees are preparing those young guys for a big league role in the not-so-distant future.
Associated Press photo
Weird to see a player show up without being added to the active roster, but that’s exactly what’s happened with Jose Pirela. He’s still technically on the disabled list — so he can be with the team — but his rehab assignment has ended, and the Yankees plan to activate him tomorrow.
“It’s kind of strange,” Joe Girardi said. “But we felt that we’ll fly him in today, have him hit, get him on the turf and feel what it’s like.”
Makes perfect sense that the Yankees want Pirela active for tomorrow’s game against a lefty, but it does seem a bit odd that he’s not playing tonight considering the Yankees are having Gregorio Petit start at third base. Pirela’s played that position, and in theory could have played there tonight. Maybe the Yankees want to keep Pirela at second base? Maybe someone other than Petit is coming off the roster tomorrow? Maybe the team wants to make sure certain players get through today healthy before making a decision.
“Let us get through today and then we’ll go from there,” Girardi said. “I know you guys are trying to figure out what the move is, but we’ll make it tomorrow. Something could change it today. That’s why you don’t do it.”
Pirela’s been terrific in his past few games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but Girardi indicated that he still expects Stephen Drew to get regular playing time despite his .149 batting average.
“I still think he’s hit the ball better than the numbers indicate,” Girardi said. “He hasn’t had a lot of luck, and he’s had some really big hits for us. I know he’s a better hitter than what the average shows. I know that.”
So is there a chance for Pirela to become more than just a right-handed platoon player?
“I’ll go day-by-day,” Girardi said. “Until he’s reinstated, until we start seeing what we have, I don’t think it does us a lot of good to speculate.”
• Last night’s lineup and late-inning defense make a little more sense now. Turns out, Mark Teixeira has been dealing with a lat issue that made him available only in an extreme situation last night. “We talked about possibly giving him Sunday off (as well),” Girardi said. “I said, ‘If you need more than one day you’ve got to let me know.’ He came in today and said he was fine.”
• Girardi said he was going to let Teixeira pinch hit last night if it were a one-run game, or presumably if Teixeira could have come to the plate as the tying run, but the team didn’t put anyone on base in the ninth. “He’s been able to manage it,” Girardi said. “You try to get him a day off to see if you can get it to calm down and get it healed. He’s been getting treatment for the last few days, and hopefully it’s gone, it’s behind us, but we’ll see.”
• Healthy day off for Chase Headley, Girardi said. “He’s almost played every game,” Girardi said. “We felt he needed a day today.”
• Why not let Alex Rodriguez play third? “I really didn’t want to do it just because of the turf and I’d like to keep him at DH as much as possible,” Girardi said.
• Dellin Betances is not available today. He’s pitched three of the past four, and Girardi doesn’t want guys to pitch four of five. He didn’t completely rule it out, but it’s pretty clear using Betances would be a kind of last resort at best.
• Girardi said he’s pretty sure Chris Capuano is making a rehab appearance with Double-A Trenton on Thursday. Capuano will pitch somewhere that day. Girardi thinks it will be Trenton.
• Jared Burton is off the disabled list. He was assigned to High-A Tampa today. Seems likely to end up with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre eventually.
• Chris Young will play tomorrow against the lefty, Girardi said. The Yankees have been encouraged by Carlos Beltran’s at-bats lately.
Associated Press photos
Four hits for Jose Pirela this afternoon with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He had three hits on Saturday, and three more hits on Friday. If you’re scoring at home, that’s 10 hits in the past three days. And they weren’t all soft hits either. Three doubles today. A home run yesterday.
“I would say he’s probably ready to go,” manager Joe Girardi acknowledged. “We wanted to get him a few more at-bats when we had that luxury of calling Petit back, and now we’ve got to make a decision of what we want to do.”
Gregorio Petit has actually played pretty well lately as the Yankees’ right-handed middle infielder, but it’s hard to ignore the potential offensive impact of Pirela who almost certainly would have made the team out of spring training had he not been out with a concussion as the team broke camp.
Now, Girardi said, the team is considering the possibility of ending Pirela’s rehab assignment, and a move to the big league roster isn’t out of the question.
“We’ve talked about it,” Girardi said. “We’ll continue to evaluate and see what we’re going to do.”
As of Wednesday, Pirela didn’t have many at-bats and wasn’t hitting much when the Yankees put Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list and recalled Petit just one day after optioning him to Triple-A. Now it’s a different story. Pirela got red-hot this weekend, he hit well in spring training, and he showed last year that he belongs on the big league radar as an offensive utility guy who just might be able to spark something at the plate.
Would be interesting to see if Pirela could come up and do, basically, what Chris Young has done. While Young doesn’t play every day, he’s gotten more playing time than expected because he’s hit so well. He’s out of the lineup today, but there have been plenty of times he’s played ahead of struggling Carlos Beltran. Could Pirela do the same to either Stephen Drew or Didi Gregorios?
• One other note on that right-handed infield job: Brendan Ryan felt some sort of pull in his hamstring while running yesterday so his rehab has been shut down. He’ll be reevaluated in a week. He seemed to be getting closer to replacing Petit, and I wonder if his setback might make the Yankees more likely to make a move with Pirela.
• Little surprise that Beltran is back int he lineup against a right-handed pitcher tonight. The Yankees have said several times they’re going to keep giving Beltran regular chances to get his bat going. “Let’s go back to the other day,” Girardi said. “He had two hits and he hit the ball hard. His two hits, he swung at good pitches. When he made the out, it was probably a ball just a little bit off the plate. So a lot of it has to do with pitch selection, which is the case a lot of times with hitters when they’re struggling. Sometimes it can be a little bit mechanical. I think it was probably part of that, early on, but I think that’s probably corrected. And now I think it will probably come down to pitch selection.”
• Chris Capuano went four innings without an earned run with High-A Tampa yesterday. Girardi said all went well with Ivan Nova and Jared Burton in an intrasquad game as well. “Everything was good,” he said. “I would imagine that their next step is five days away from yesterday and continue to build them up.”
• Speaking of which, the Yankees plan to stay on rotation this next week, but they might add a sixth starter for the next turn through. Girardi said he doesn’t expect Capuano to be available by then, so this could be — my own speculation — an opportunity for Bryan Mitchell. “I don’t think we’ll use it this time through,” Girardi said. “The next time, we have not discussed it, but there will be some discussion.”
• Girardi said he thinks the bullpen has performed about as well as a bullpen can possibly perform in the past two weeks or so. It is interesting, though, to see David Carpenter not getting many high-leverage situations so far this season. He’s been almost the next-to-last guy in the pen ahead of only Chasen Shreve. “His time is going to come,” Girardi said. “We know that. The other guys have pitched so well, we’ve kind of went with it. That can go in phases. His time is going o come.”
• More than three outs from Andrew Miller tonight? “I’ll see,” Girardi said. “I’ll talk to him. It’s not something you want to do a lot, but if I felt the situation called for it, and he felt OK, I might consider it.”
Associated Press photos
Mid-summer 1994, Alex Rodriguez was right here at Fenway Park for his Major League debut. He was an 18-year-old kid, barely a year removed from being the top overall draft pick out of high school. He’d played a half season of minor league ball. He remembers his mother, brother and sister being in the crowd. He also remembers this:
“How nervous I was,” he said. “I was a month (removed) from my high school prom.”
Now Rodriguez is back. It would be absurd to try to capture in a few sentences all that’s happened between then and now, but Rodriguez’s go-to quote about his early season at-bats seems appropriate: “Some good. Some bad.”
Unlike 21 years ago, Rodriguez isn’t in the lineup tonight. Joe Girardi has loaded the Yankees lineup with left-handed hitters to take advantage of Red Sox starter Justin Masterson’s weakness against lefties, and so it seems Rodriguez’s hunt for milestone home run No. 660 will have to wait for either another day or a late-inning pinch hit opportunity.
“I wanted to do it Wednesday at home,” Rodriguez said. “It would have been nice to do it at home in front of our home fans. But now I’m on the road and the goal doesn’t change. It’s still to win games and to win series.”
Out of spring training, Rodriguez homered four times in his first 31 at-bats. That outburst put him two away from tying Willie Mays for fourth on baseball’s all-time list. Since he got that close, he’s hit one homer in his past 37 at-bats. Since he pulled within one of the milestone on Sunday, he’s gone 1-for-12, including that brutal four-strikeout game on Wednesday.
Rodriguez didn’t specifically say he was pressing on Wednesday, but he acknowledges a past difficulty with approaching milestones. It took him 28 at-bats to finally hit home run No. 500, and 46 at-bats to finally reach 600.
“Some of the pitches that he’s swung at and the ones that he’s missed a little bit, maybe (he’s been) trying to get it out of the way,” Girardi said. “As much as I want to tell him to relax, it’s something he’s going to have to do to get it out of the way. … I think it’s probably part of most players when they get to the level of accomplishments these guys have reached. We saw it weigh really hard on Derek (Jeter trying to reach 3,000 hits). That was one that I didn’t think that would be. I just think it’s difficult.”
Seems safe to assume Rodriguez will be back in the lineup tomorrow afternoon for his next shot at tying Mays, who Rodriguez has called a hero; his father’s favorite player. Does it bother him that many will see his 660th home run as something far less impressive than Mays’ 660th?
“The only thing I can control is what I do from here on out and how I conduct myself both on and off the field,” he said. “I can’t really decide for other people what to think. … You know I have regrets, and I’m trying to do the best to finish my career on a high note.”
• Chris Capuano will start a rehab assignment with High-A Tampa tomorrow. He’s scheduled for four innings or 60 pitches. Sounds like he could need as little as three minor league starts before becoming a big league option. “Everything that he’s doing is going in the right direction,” Girardi said. “You think about 60, 75, 90 and then you go from there.”
• Ivan Nova will pitch one inning in an intrasquad game tomorrow. Jared Burton will pitch in the same game.
• Now that Jose Pirela’s rehab has been moved up to Triple-A, he’s clearly getting much closer to being a big league option — and the Yankees were ready to call him up on Wednesday before Tanaka got hurt — but Girardi said, at this point, the team still hasn’t decided whether Pirela will come to the big leagues or stay in Triple-A after his rehab is finished. “It’s something that we have discussed about what we might possibly do with him or not do with him,” Girardi said. “But obviously I think at-bats are important. He was out a month, maybe? Almost a month? You’ve got to get him some at-bats and some real game situations playing different positions.”
• Brendan Ryan got some DH at-bats today in extended spring training. He’s obviously inching closer to a rehab assignment of his own.
• Stacking the lineup with lefties means a rare start for Garrett Jones, who’s played in fewer games than Gregorio Petit at this point. “When we envisioned him, we envisioned him DHing some and maybe playing a little first and a little outfield,” Girardi said. “With Alex swinging the bat so well in April, Chris Young swinging the bat so well in April, it’s just been tough for Garrett.”
• Speaking of that lineup of all left-handed hitters (counting the switch hitters), Girardi said that was a decision 100-percent connected to Red Sox starter Justin Masterson. In his career, Masterson has held right-handed hitters to a .220 average and .606 OPS. Lefties have hit .287 with a .794 OPS.
• CC Sabathia is going for his first win of the year. He’s taken the loss in all four of his starts. “I think there’s frustration there because I think he’s pitched well enough three of the four games to win,” Girardi said. “He loses an extremely tough on in Detroit. We haven’t scored a lot of runs in his games. Hopefully we can do that tonight and give him some run support and get him a win.”
• By the way, the Yankees mustache thing is still going strong. John Ryan Murphy and Gregorio Petit are among the more impressive stache-growers of the bunch. Poor Dellin Betances and Adam Warren, not so much.
Associated Press photos
A few rehab and injury updates from Brian Cashman:
After finally pitching in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, Bailey was taken off the High-A Tampa roster and reassigned to extended spring training. The move was made because of a shoulder issue, and an MRI revealed a strain. Bailey has been shut down for now, and Cashman said he didn’t have a clear timetable for when Bailey will be back on the mound. Bailey has an opt-out in his contract, but obviously that won’t be an issue if he’s hurt. I suppose the good news is that bullpen help is the least of the Yankees’ worries right now.
After one game with High-A Tampa and three games with Double-A Trenton, Pirela’s rehab assignment will move to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre today. Pirela played both second and third with Trenton, and I can’t help thinking he might focus on third base with Scranton since Rob Refsnyder is at second and the Yankees don’t have a clear go-to option at third should Chase Headley get hurt. Cashman said it has yet to be determined what the Yankees will do with Pirela when his rehab ends, whether he goes to New York or gets optioned to Triple-A. So far he’s 1-for-14 in these early minor league games.
The Yankees have a rehab schedule set for Capuano, though Cashman wouldn’t give details of when it starts or when it’s expected to finish (wants to avoid questions if the schedule has to be slightly tweaked along the way). For now, the bigger point is that Capuano is very close to pitching in rehab games. He last pitched in an extended spring training game on Monday. He’s getting closer to becoming a big league option following that spring training quadriceps injury. I suppose Capuano could be an alternative should Chase Whitley struggle in his return to the rotation. No rehab assignment plan in place for Ivan Nova, Cashman said.
I’m guessing this could be a factor in the Pirela decision: Ryan has been playing in extended spring training games, so he also seems close to a rehab assignment, which could put him in line to replace Gregorio Petit as the right-handed middle infielder fairly soon.
Remember him? The veteran reliever who spent the past few years with the Twins got hurt in spring training, wound up released and then re-signed a minor league deal. He’s been pitching in extended spring training, and Cashman said Burton could be assigned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pretty soon. The Yankees liked the way Burton pitched early in spring training, but he wound up going down with a lat injury. He’s further depth for a bullpen that already looks awfully deep.
Before batting practice this afternoon, Didi Gregorius was on the field going through some drills at shortstop. His instructor: Alex Rodriguez.
“It’s just a veteran player looking to lend a helping hand in situations,” Girardi said. “Didi is still a young player. We know that there are going to be some things that he goes through that sometimes might be the first or second time. He’s not a seasoned veteran out there. Alex’s experience playing short and his experience playing here in New York can help Didi.”
We hear often that Rodriguez is a great teacher of the game. Players speak highly of the way Rodriguez talks hitting around the cage, and clubhouse interviews that get in-depth about the game can be legitimately insightful rather than cliche.
“He’s making a lot of transitions,” Rodriguez said. “New York is one. The Yankees, things are different here for sure. The one thing about playing shortstop that I tried to convey to him was positioning, cadence and also that internal clock that a shortstop needs. You only get that with preparation and experience.”
Rodriguez said the Yankees’ coaching staff asked him to spend some pregame time with Gregorius on the field, and so today’s session was set up a few days ago.
“It was just more game situation (drills),” infield coach Joe Espada said. “I think kind of working on his game clock, knowing runners, outs, when to charge a ball and when to stay back on a ball. The situations that we have been working on throughout Spring Training and throughout the season. I wanted Alex to be out here to kind of give him some of that insight that, as a coach, I probably can’t give that view.”
Said Rodriguez: “The abilities are off the charts. I said that in spring training. We saw that in Spring Training. He’s got the things you can’t teach; incredible range, great arm strength. People forget, he’s only been playing shortstop for eight years. The more he comes out, the more he gets experience, the better he’s going to be.”
Obviously Gregorius and Rodriguez are off to basically opposite starts. Rodriguez has been a surprise in the best ways; Gregorius has been a disappointment in almost every facet. But Rodriguez was quick to remind everyone that it’s been only three weeks.
“It’s a process,” Rodriguez said. “Didi is going to be a fine shortstop here for a long time. I told him, sometime around June 15 or June 1st, he’s going to look at all of us and say, ‘I feel much more comfortable.’ It just takes a little bit.”
• Originally, Girardi said he expected to play Rodriguez all six games this home stand. Girardi said that plan changed last night when he decided to have Rodriguez play third base to give Chase Headley a day off. After a day in the field — and with a night game tomorrow — Girardi decided to give Rodriguez tonight off. No injury. He’s available if the Yankees need him.
• Does the decision to option Gregorio Petit indicate Jose Pirela is close to being ready to join the big league team? “It could,” Girardi said. That’s about as close to confirmation as we’re going to get. Seems pretty clear the Yankees are planning to activate Pirela to take Chase Whitley’s roster spot and replace Petit tomorrow.
• For the time being, the Yankees are taking a calculated risk by playing a game without a backup middle infielder. “I feel like I can put (Headley) at second base if I needed to,” Girardi said. “Realistically, I could put Al there, I’m sure. I think he would say, ‘Yeah, I’ll go out there and try it.’ We’ve been there before the last couple years, so there’s not a situation that I’m too worried about. If it happens, we’ll handle it.”
• Whitley pitched very well this spring and seemed to have a bullpen job locked up, but the Yankees preferred to have him stretched out for a spot start just like this one. “I’m sure he’s very excited,” Girardi said. “It was difficult to send him down because he meant a lot to us last year and pitched well in spring training. He understood why we did what we did. That doesn’t necessarily mean that as a player you want it to happen or you like it, but he went down there with the right attitude.”
• Worth noting that the Yankees preferred to have Whitley make a spot start today rather than last week against Detroit. Not sure this was a factor in the decision, but Whitley gets a much easier lineup this way. “He’s faced a number of teams in the big leagues now and understands how he got those hitters out,” Girardi said.
• The current situation in Baltimore hits home for Mark Teixeira who’s from roughly 30 minutes outside of downtown. His uncle is a priest at a downtown church that’s being protected by the National Guard. “People start attacking churches, it’s a good thing the National Guard’s there, because that’s the bottom of the bottom,” Teixeira said. “… Any time there’s a crisis, people step up. Good people always trump bad.”
• Because of the unrest in Baltimore, tomorrow’s game between the Orioles and White Sox has been moved up to 2:05 p.m. and will be played without fans allowed in the stadium. This weekend’s Orioles series against the Rays has been moved to Tampa Bay. Asked what it would be like to play a baseball game in a totally empty stadium, Teixeira deadpanned: “Did you ever go to a Rangers-Rays game between 2003 and 2005?”
• A quick bit of minor league news: Infield prospect Angel Aguilar has been added to the Charleston roster. I believe he opened the season in extended spring. Not a massive prospect, but good enough that it’s significant to get him into real games at the full-season level.
Associated Press photos