Some notes and updates from the Arizona Fall League and various winter ball performances:
• Briefly mentioned this yesterday, but I’ll still start with it today: Bryan Mitchell is currently pitching in the Puerto Rican Winter League. As a guy who got his first extended look in the big leagues this season, Mitchell isn’t a typical winter ball player, but he makes sense as a guy who could use a few more innings after spending time in the big league bullpen and missing time with a couple of short-term injuries (the concussion in the minors; the line drive to the face in the majors). Mitchell made his first Puerto Rican start on Friday and went 3.2 innings with three strikeouts, one walk and two earned runs on four hits. Numbers don’t there probably won’t mean much. He’s definitely a guy who benefits just from getting on the mound a little bit.
• After playing nothing but first base in his first seven Arizona Fall League games, Tyler Austin has played the outfield corners his past three games. He’s also moved up to the cleanup spot for the past two games. He’s hitless in his past three games, including 0-for-3 with a walk this afternoon.
• Still leading the Arizona Fall League in home runs and RBI, Gary Sanchez came into today’s action hitting .365/.382/.808 with six homers and 17 RBI in 12 games. He’s had multiple hits in more than half of his games, and he’s homered in nearly half of them. He took a turn at designated hitter today and went 0-for-4.
• Speaking of corner outfielders, Jose Pirela continues to get all of his time in left field this winter. Taking his familiar spot in the Zulia lineup down in Venezuela, Pirela is hitting an absurd .475/.563/.700 through his first 40 at-bats. He’s the team’s regular No. 3 hitter. It’s not unusual to see Pirela put up big numbers in Venezuela, but it’s unusual to see him confined to the outfield. He usually moves around a lot. Interestingly, the guy getting most of the third base playing time for Zulia is former Yankees infielder David Adams, who’s hitting .307/.402/.533 (perhaps that’s one way to keep these numbers in perspective).
• On Sunday night, Ben Gamel hit his third winter ball home run. Through 56 at-bats in Venezuela, Gamel is hitting .268/.348/.500 while playing all three outfield positions and stealing a couple of bases. The Yankees have a little less than two weeks before they have to decide whether to protect Gamel from the Rule 5 draft.
• Two more hitless innings in the Arizona Fall League for young hard-throwing Domingo Acevedo on Monday. He’s gotten in four games in Arizona. Three of them were scoreless outings, five innings total. The other was a three-run appearance across an inning and a third. All told, he’s struck out five and walked one. He’s incredibly inexperienced compared to the hitters around him.
• Through three Fall League starts, Ian Clarkin‘s pitching lines are starting to look familiar. He’s gone four innings each time (well, 4.1 once), and he’s walked three in every start. He’s allowed three runs in two of his three starts (one run in other), he’s struck out two in two of his three starts (had four strikeouts last time out), and he’s allowed four hits in two of his three starts (seven hits in the other). His 5.11 ERA and 1.95 WHIP aren’t good, but this is a really young kid just getting some work in after a lost season.
• Picking up his third straight win last week, Jaron Long continues to thrive in his first taste of winter ball. He’s made four starts, and allowed four runs in one of them. In his other three: 16.2 innings, 15 hits, 1 run, 3 walks, 9 strikeouts. All told he has a 1.90 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP.
• Upper-level left-handed reliever Tyler Webb is trying to stay relevant with a bunch of other upper-level lefties in the Yankees’ system. He’s pitched well in the Fall League with four strikeouts, no walks and a 0.83 WHIP. Lefties are just 1-for-10 with two strikeouts against him. The only runs he’s allowed in Arizona came on a three-run homer in a two-inning appearance.
• Also in the Arizona Fall League: Still playing primarily second base, with two games at shortstop, Tyler Wade is hitting .194/.235/.258 through 31 at-bats. He’s struck out once in his past seven games, but he hasn’t hit much against a bunch of pitchers who are older than him. … Speaking of young guys in Arizona, Dustin Fowler is hitting .227/.261/.227 through 22 at-bats as a travel squad player. He’s split his time between left field and center field. He’s 4-for-4 stealing bases and has a couple of two-hit games. … Pitcher Chaz Hebert was just named to the Fall Stars Game. He has a 1.29 ERA with a 1.29 WHIP through seven innings, all of them in long relief. He’s basically been a piggyback starter behind Clarkin.
• Other position players: In Puerto Rico, Cito Culver has gotten a little bit of playing time, playing strictly third base so far. He has just six at-bats. … He was taken off the roster earlier this winter, but Rico Noel is up to his old tricks in Mexico. He’s hitting just .138, but he’s 5-for-6 stealing bases. He’s walked four times. … Not sure why, but Ali Castillo hasn’t played a game in Venezuela since October 15. He was a lineup regular last winter.
• Other pitchers: After a decent year in Double-A, Cesar Vargas has pitched to a 1.08 ERA with 12 strikeouts and no walks through 8.1 innings in Mexico. He’s allowed 11 hits, one of which was a homer. … Getting a few save opportunities in Venezuela, former high-end relief prospect Mark Montgomery has a 1.65 WHIP with five walks through 6.2 innings. He’s 4-for-4 in save opportunities, but he’s allowed quite a few base runners. Just hasn’t been the same in recent years. Had a shoulder issue which might explain it. … Off-the-radar young pitcher Luis Niebla continues to pitch well as a starter in Mexico. Through four starts he’s 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 0.92 WHIP.
Associated Press photo
So you want Rob Refsnyder to play second base? I can understand that.
Stephen Drew’s hit a bunch of home runs, but he really hasn’t provided many hits in between. Brendan Ryan’s made flashy plays at three different positions, but he really hasn’t hit in five years. Dustin Ackley’s numbers in Seattle suggest he’s more bust than an impact trade addition.
Refsnyder might not be a perfect player, but neither are the older guys in front of him, and at least Refsnyder might benefit from the experience of playing everyday while possibly providing some offensive upside.
You want the Yankees to play the risk-reward kid rather than the disappointing veterans. I get that, and there’s a case to be made for it.
Where the argument loses me is when it blatantly ignores facts and connects dots that don’t exist. The Yankees are trying to punish Refsnyder! They’ve given up on the kid! They’re paying no attention to current performance! They never give young guys a chance!
When those are the arguments in favor of Refsnyder, the conversation dissolves into screaming nonsense instead of reasonable debate. I understand why people want Refsnyder to play, but I don’t think it’s hard to understand why the Yankees are sticking with Drew and Ryan.
Generally speaking, it seems two things have to happen for a young player to get regular at bats:
1. An existing player has to play his way out of a role, either through poor performance, injury, or by reaching the end of his contract.
2. A young player has to play his way into a role, either by forcing the issue with his own performance or by being the best option when a team is forced to find an alternative.
I’m not sure either of those has happened with the Yankees’ second base situation. It’s reached a point that a reasonable observer might prefer rolling the dice on someone newer and younger, but but I don’t think it’s reach the point that making a change is the only viable decision. The Yankees are choosing to stick with the proven defensive players (whose offensive troubles have been perhaps blown out of proportion), and they’re choosing not to give down-the-stretch at-bats to young players (who really haven’t proven themselves this year).
I like Refsnyder. I like him quite a bit, actually. I like his attitude, I like his approach, and I think he has a legitimate chance to be an everyday big league second baseman. He’s a nice player with a good head on his shoulders, but I don’t think the Yankees are being stubborn or short-sighted in keep him on the bench this month.
A few common arguments that don’t work for me:
Well, Greg Bird is playing first base every day. The Yankees called up Luis Severino rather than dealing him for a veteran starter at the trade deadline. When Jacoby Ellsbury was hurt in May, the Yankees cycled through three different young replacements without ever adding an established outfielder. They gave Jose Pirela a long look in the first half. Their bullpen has been overloaded with young guys. When they did make a minor move at the deadline it was for a 27-year-old to replace a 34-year-old.
Go back to the offseason, even then the Yankees traded for a younger shortstop, traded for a younger starting pitcher, and opened the door for a younger backup catcher. When they’ve seen viable opportunities to use young guys, they’ve gone that direction.
Even Refsnyder, when he got red hot just before the All-Star break, was brought up to get some big league at-bats against lefties.
Problem is, when Refsnyder went back to Triple-A, he went cold. He hit just .229/.296/.379 in the second half. Drew’s second half numbers in the big leagues are better than that. Refsnyder’s Triple-A season slash line of .271/.359/.402 isn’t bad, but it doesn’t suggest he’s about to be an impact player in the big leagues, especially not for guy with only a few years at second base, whose bat is going to have to be his carrying tool.
This is Refsnyder’s third full year of pro ball and he’s playing a position he didn’t play in college. To suggest he’s not a finished product is not the same thing as saying he’s never going to make it.
As for Pirela, his Triple-A numbers were outrageous again — .325.390/.433 while playing, basically, anywhere — but it’s hard to ignore the fact he struggled significantly in a part-time big league role earlier this season. There’s certainly a reason the Yankees have kept Pirela around, but his .561 big league OPS is lower than Ryan’s. Again, Pirela has not exactly forced the issue and made a strong case that he’s the better option.
The key words here are “platoon” at-bats and “clearly” better options. This a a limited role, and the alternatives have not played it particularly well.
There are two things a player in this role is supposed to do: play strong defense and hit at least a little bit against left-handed pitchers. Well, Pirela and Refsnyder are notoriously bat-first infielders, and neither one is going to play ahead of Ryan on the strength of his defense. Question is, can they out-hit Ryan enough to be worth the defensive downgrade.
So far, these are their numbers against lefties this season:
Ryan: .286/.333/.500 (in the Majors)
Pirela: .270/.361/.365 (in Triple-A)
Refsnyder: .224/.349/.360 (in Triple-A)
Pirela has hit lefties in the big leagues this season, and we’ve seen him get a little bit of playing time, but it’s not as if Ryan has dropped the ball. Especially at a position where the Yankees are prioritizing defense, Ryan’s offensive performance has been a bonus more than a problem.
Again, if you want to argue that Ryan has a history of not hitting and you’d rather roll the dice with the young guys, fine. There’s something to be said for that. But in a strict platoon role, Ryan’s done the job. He hasn’t played his way out of it, and the two young guys haven’t necessarily played their way in.
This has become a popular way to dismiss Joe Girardi’s decision to keep Drew in the lineup despite his absurdly low batting average with occasional power. It’s easy to suggest Girardi’s preference for veterans means Drew has gotten a longer leash than any other team would have provided.
But that argument ignores the fact Drew’s been a decent hitter — especially for a second baseman — the past three and a half months.
Here is the OPS of a few notable second basemen since June 1:
DJ LeMahieu: .750
Brandon Phillips: .749
Stephen Drew: .743
Jason Kipnis: .729
Dee Gordon: .727
Brian Dozier: .723
Brock Holt: .708
Maybe Yankees fans were spoiled by Robinson Cano, but second base is not a position where teams typically find a lot of reliable offense. The list above includes five guys who made the All-Star team this year, but Drew has been roughly just as productive or more productive since the end of May. In the past three and a half months, only eight everyday second basemen have had a higher OPS than Drew.
As for Girardi being the only manager who would stick with Drew, it’s worth noting that nearly every contending team has at least one position with a Drew-type hitter getting more than 400 plate appearances this season. Drew has hit .202/.273/.383 for the year and .232/.304/.439 since June 1. Meanwhile…
In Houston, the Astros have stuck with Chris Carter (.183/.297/.374) and Luis Valbuena (.206/.295/.405). The Blue Jays have Kevin Pillar (.263/.297/.372) in center field, Ryan Goins (.241/.314/.344) at second base, and they actually made a trade for utility infielder Cliff Pennington (.210/.298/.265) who’s stepped into the lineup since Troy Tulowitzki got hurt. He’s basically their Brendan Ryan-type player on the bench.
The Royals have given Omar Infante (.217/.230/.306) more at-bats at second base than the Yankees have given Drew, and although the Royals more or less replaced Infante with Ben Zobrist, they’ve stuck with Alex Rios (.259/.291/.357) as their regular right field. The Dodgers have kept Jimmy Rollins (.220/.279/.355) at shortstop and only started playing Corey Seager when Rollins was hurt. The Cubs stuck with Starlin Castro (.253/.283/.339) at shortstop through early August, and have since then continued to play him regularly at second. The Rangers have Elvis Andrus (.258/.307/.353) at shortstop, the Twins have Kurt Suzuki (.240/.294/.319) behind the plate, and the Cardinals have given more than 400 plate appearances to Mark Reynolds (.231/.315/.396), who’s been a negative WAR player.
None of this is to say playing Drew is the “right” choice, only to point out that he’s not a unique choice. Veteran players under contract, players who can hit home runs, and players who can play defense get opportunities anywhere.
Come on, now. You know better. I have no idea how many times I’ve seen this question the past few weeks, but it never makes any sense. We’ve all seen September call-ups before. We know how this works.
Without an injury or some other factor creating an opportunity, September call-ups rarely play a key role down the stretch. It’s not an indication of the Yankees’ long-term hopes or expectations. There just aren’t enough at-bats to go around for a 39-man active roster. September call-ups are all about depth, making it a little easier double switch late in games and rest some players late in the season. Slade Heathcott showed this week that a September call-up can have an impact without necessarily getting a lot of playing time.
The question isn’t, why bring them up? The question is, why not?
Occasionally there are exceptions. Jesus Montero, in 2011, got fairly regular playing time as the Yankees’ designated hitter in September. But that’s not particularly common. Even Derek Jeter in 1995 got just one at-bat in the month of September. Didn’t mean the Yankees had given up on him or didn’t believe in him. He was a September call-up, and those guys just don’t play much.
If you’d like to see the young guys play a little more, I get that. It makes sense to want to see the young guys, especially when one of them is a prospect like Refsnyder who we’ve heard so much about the past three years.
But the debate goes off the rails when it ignores the reality of the situation.
I would be very curious to see what Refsnyder could do. At the bottom of the order, with no pressure to carry the offense, and with plenty of late-inning defensive options available, I’d be interested to seeing him get a shot. But that’s my own bias toward young players coming through. I might be underestimating Refsnyder’s defensive shortcomings, and in no way to think he would really jump-start the offense from the No. 9 hole. I would just like to see him play because I’m curious.
But to say the Yankees are ridiculous for sticking with Drew and Ryan — to say there’s no logic in that decision — is just wrong.
Associated Press photos
Asked yesterday why Rob Refsnyder hasn’t gotten more playing time this month, Joe Girardi leaned on the familiarity and experience of Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan.
“I’m going with the guys that have gotten us here,” Girardi said.
Asked about Refsnyder again today, Girardi cited a specific aspect of his inexperience.
“He spent the whole year in Triple-A,” Girardi said. “He doesn’t know the pitching staffs up here.”
Ultimately, it seems that Refsnyder’s disappointing second half in Triple-A and Jose Pirela’s underwhelming first half in the big leagues didn’t show enough offensively to convince the Yankees that they’re worth risking a defensive downgrade at second base.
After his four-game big league audition in July, Refsnyder returned to Triple-A and hit just .229/.296/.379 in the second half of the season. After having the exact same number of strikeouts as walks in the first half, his strikeout-to-walk ratio jumped to 29-to-12 after the All-Star break. None of that’s to say Refsnyder won’t hit, but he hasn’t forced the issue.
Pirela, on the other hand, had this right-handed utility job early in the year and hit just .212/.232/.303. He went down to Triple-A and raked as an everyday guy, but right now, Pirela and Ryan have played in the exact same number of big league games this season, and Ryan has the higher batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage to say nothing of his more trusted glove.
In the past two and a half weeks, Ryan has hit .286/.333/.429. It’s only 15 plate appearances, so the sample size is tiny, but he hasn’t been such a zero with the bat that the Yankees absolutely have to replace him. For the year he’s hit .286/.333/.500 against lefties. That’s his job, and in the bigger picture, he’s actually done it pretty well.
Ryan hasn’t hit his way out of this role, and neither Pirela nor Refsnyder has necessarily hit his way in.
• Lately, center field has generated as many lineup questions as second base. Jacoby Ellsbury has hit just .208/.250/.325 since the All-Star break. He’s been especially bad in the month of September, hitting just .114/.152/.114, yet the Yankees are sticking with him in the leadoff spot. “He’s got too much of a history of being one of the better leadoff hitters in the game,” Girardi said. “He had a tremendous start, he went through the injury, he’s had his ups and downs, and to me he’s due to turn and have an up. These guys need to get it done.”
• Against a pitcher who struggles against right-handers, it’s worth noting that the Yankees’ only right-handed outfield alternatives are Chris Young (who’s hit just .185/.241/.346 against righties), Pirela (who’s been mostly an infielder in the majors) and Rico Noel (who’s here strictly to run).
• The Rays have scored the fewest runs in the American League, but that doesn’t necessarily this a great matchup for Yankees’ starter CC Sabathia. The Rays have actually hit lefties pretty well. They have a league-worst .694 OPS against righties, but they’re fifth in the A.L. with a .760 OPS against lefties (better than the Astros, Royals or Rangers).
• Top four hitters in tonight’s Rays lineup with their slash lines against lefties: Brandon Guyer (.267/.374/.422), Mikie Mahtook (.268/.375/.585), Evan Longoria (.352/.414/.568) and Logan Forsythe (.299/.373/.625).
• Girardi said yesterday that he would use Adam Warren as a reliever tonight if necessary, but the hope is to stay away from him and keep him lined up to start on Monday. Warren said it’s unusual but not really a problem to not know for certain whether he’s starting tomorrow. Said he’s familiar with each routine and able to bounce back and forth.
• Mark Teixeira is the Yankees’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, which recognizes the player who “best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement.” Each team nominates one player and a single winner will be announced during the World Series. Teixeira has been heavily involved with the Harlem RBI program as well as various scholarship programs. Former Yankees Curtis Granderson and David Robertson were also nominated.
Associated Press photos
“Beat up” seems to be Joe Girardi’s go-to phrase for a player who’s not necessarily hurt but not necessarily playing at 100 percent either. It’s not that there’s a specific injury that’s causing problems, but there might be a series of injuries that are starting to add up.
Right now, it’s Brett Gardner who carries the “beat up” label.
“Sometimes it’s legs; sometimes it’s an arm,” Girardi said. “Physically, they’re just beat up. Sometimes it’s shoulders. They’re just… it’s a long year. Playing every day and playing hard, the way these guys play; they’re diving all over the place. They’re not physically 100 percent. But as I’ve said all along, all teams go through this and you have to fight through it.”
Whenever he’s been asked how he’s feeling, Gardner’s said he’s fine. He hasn’t been walking around the clubhouse with ice wraps or anything like that. He doesn’t seem to be hobbling on the field, hasn’t necessarily shown signs of an injury, but his numbers suggest something’s not quite right.
Gardner was one of the Yankees’ best players in the first half of the season. He went to the All-Star Game for the first time and was especially good while filling in for Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the order. Immediately after the All-Star break, he was still good, getting on base a lot.
Since July 29, though, Gardner’s hit .186/.274/.256. Since August 19, his slash line is down to .169/.250/.292. He had a three-walk game in Cleveland on August 23, but he’s walked just three times since then. In his past five games he has five strikeouts, three hits and one walk.
“It’s just the time of year guys go through,” Girardi said. “At times you’re going to struggle, and at times you’re going to do well. Sometimes you’re going to line out. You think about the ball he hit down the first-base line, and then he hit another ball hard (yesterday) and it was caught, and it can become frustrating, but he’s just a little beat up.”
Of course, Girardi wasn’t specific in his “beat up” analysis. Certainly he’s right that players are often feeling less than 100 percent this time of year, and it makes sense that Gardner would be among them.
“There’s head-first dives diving back into first, diving after line drives, that sort of thing,” Girardi said. “Guys can just get kind of beat up. Sometimes it can be just one dive, you know, that hurts you a little bit and takes time to recover. It’s probably a little bit of everything for him, just because of the way he plays.”
• Chris Capuano has rejoined the Yankees. In the past week and a half, he’s pitched for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre twice. His pitching line in those starts: 9.2 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 K. He’s back to be an emergency long man.
• To make room for Capuano on the 40-man roster, Jacob Lindgren was shifted to the 60-day disabled list. He’d been on the minor league DL, so Lindgren technically had to be called up first and then added to the 60-day. He’ll get basically another month of big league time while on the DL. Lindgren had surgery to clear up an elbow bone spur.
• Since roster’s expanded, the Yankees have faced three left-handed starters. In those games they’ve used Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan and now Jose Pirela at second base. Still waiting for Rob Refsnyder’s first at-bat since rejoining the team. Why Pirela today? “He’s had some success off Chen,” Girardi said. “Swinging the bat well at Triple-A, so going to run him out there.”
• Worth noting that after the All-Star break, Refsnyder hit .229/.296/.379 in Triple-A. In the same span Pirela hit .342/.414/.424. Neither one is considered a particularly good defensive player, but it’s Pirela who’s hit recently.
• Alex Rodriguez has responded well to getting a few days off this season, and Girardi said he won’t stop resting A-Rod down the stretch. There’s one more National League series coming up against the Mets, so those should be three days off. But Girardi said he will likely give Rodriguez at least one more day eventually. “I still think you need to give him a day off from time to time,” Girardi said. “I think it’s beneficial for him, and I think he becomes more productive.”
• Even though Toronto is only a game and a half ahead in the division, the lead seems much more significant because the Blue Jays have played so overwhelmingly well. “I don’t necessarily think that’s our perception in that room,” Girardi said. “We know that we have seven games with them. We know that you can’t overlook these three games with the Baltimore Orioles before you get to that series over the weekend. Our perception is – and it hasn’t changed from Day 1 — just go out and win, and things will take care of themselves. Go out and win series and things will take care of themselves. I think that’s what we think about.”
Associated Press photos
During batting practice this morning, Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela gathered at the second base position with infield coach Joe Espada. Taking turns, one ground ball at a time, the two young infielders went through standard defensive drills preparing for opportunities at second base.
Of course, the Yankees have now faced two left-handed starters since rosters expanded, and so far neither one has been in the lineup.
“I think we’ll use (the September call-ups) more as we get into this stretch of 30 out of 31 days,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We just had a day off. We had six days and then a day off, but as we get into this, you’ll probably see more guys start playing.”
On Wednesday, against a young left-handed starter with reverse splits, the Yankees stuck with Stephen Drew at second base. Today, against Rays lefty Matt Moore, the Yankees are going with Brendan Ryan.
Refsnyder and Pirela seem to have greater offensive potential. Ryan is the more accomplished defensive option.
“I debated long and hard about what to do today,” Girardi said. “But we decided to go with Brendan. Brendan has been here and our extra infielder, in a sense, all year even though he’s been hurt. Those other two will probably get in the mix, but I decided to go with Brendan today.”
• Against a lefty, one day after he was pulled because he was throwing up, it’s little surprise Jacoby Ellsbury is not in the lineup. “He feels better today than he did,” Girardi said. “But with him throwing up last night and dehydration, I figured I’d give him today. He’ll be available to me unless he takes a turn and gets sick again. Right now he’s better.”
• Yet again the Yankees are sticking with Greg Bird at first base even against a lefty. Bird has hit left-handers since coming up to the big leagues. Clearly he’s the everyday guy while Mark Teixeira is still hurt. Might sit occasionally against lefties, but he’s not strictly a platoon option. He’s the starter.
• One day after his simulated game, the plan remains to have CC Sabathia start on Wednesday. Girardi said there’s no thought of easing him back in with a bullpen appearance. “If he feels good, our plan is for him to start on Wednesday,” Girardi said. “Coming out of the bullpen right now would not be something that he would be used to, and the amount of time it takes to warm up (would be new), so right now our plan is to go on Wednesday with him depending on how he feels the next couple of days.”
• What if Sabathia can’t make that start on Wednesday? “We would probably stay on rotation, then,” Girardi said.
• Nathan Eovaldi gets the start tonight. He’s been outstanding ever since that ugly start in Miami. Clearly the emergence of his splitfinger has been key, but Girardi said it’s more than that. “I just think his confidence has grown during this stretch where he’s pitched really, really well,” Girardi said. “I think his curveball has become more consistent. I think the location of his fastball has become more consistent. The key pitch for him is his split. In his last start, his split was up and he got hit a little bit. We’ve got to get it back down again today.”
Associated Press photos
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