CC Sabathia pitched just 10 innings this spring, Masahiro Tanaka made just four starts, and Carlos Beltran got just 37 at-bats, only four more than Jacoby Ellsbury who was hurt for more than two weeks.
Recognizing the age and injury concerns up and down their roster, the Yankees went with an intentionally lighter workload for several key players this spring. Sabathia and Tanaka progressed slowly and will be on slightly limited pitch counts when they make their first regular season starts. Beltran got quite a few at-bats at the minor league complex, but he didn’t play a ton in actual Grapefruit League games. Alex Rodriguez played the field sparingly, including just two games at first base, a position he’d never before played in his career.
But the additional rest went beyond those obviously diminished statistics.
“I opted to give them more complete days off this spring than just not playing,” Joe Girardi said. “It was something I thought would help refresh them more. You play a night game and you’re not playing the next day, and (if) you come in and work out, you’re not into the first two or three rounds of BP because maybe you’re a little bit tired. Then you’re frustrated because you don’t like your BP, so you go and take 150 swings. It kind of defeats the whole purpose.
“So there were times I chose to say, ‘I don’t want you coming in tomorrow. Stay home and relax.’ I think it helped; I do. I think it breaks up the monotony of spring training, too, for veteran guys.”
Despite a long list of obvious injury concerns, the only projected big leaguers set to open the season on the disabled list are Chris Capuano (an older player, but not one with a lingering health issue) and Brendan Ryan (a little used utility man who’s still not sure how he strained his calf muscle on a relatively routine play). The only other significant sprint injury was Jose Pirela’s concussion, which happened because of a collision in the outfield, not because of workload or lack of rest.
So far, Tanaka’s elbow seems fine. So does Beltran’s. Rodriguez has complained of no problems with his hips, Sabathia says his surgically repaired knee feels fine, and Mark Teixeira suffered no significant injuries throughout spring training (a month-long healthy streak possibly unmatched all of last season). Most of the injuries that did pop up — Teixeira’s bruised knee, Jacoby Ellsbury’s strained oblique, Didi Gregorius’s sprained wrist — cleared up well before breaking camp.
Injuries can popup when players and coaches least expect them, but the Yankees have done what they can to keep guys healthy this spring, and it seems to have worked so far. If it means Tanaka and Sabathia are slightly limited in their first starts, it’s still a long way from the worst-case scenario.
“(Sabathia) makes one more start in the season and he’s where everybody else is,” Girardi said. “I don’t really consider him that far behind. We chose to do this because we had guys coming off injuries and we said we were going to take it slow. If their pitch count is a little bit less the first start, so be it. We’ll deal with that.”
Associated Press photo
Think back to the beginning of March.
Despite a lot of offseason talk about Rob Refsnyder getting a real opportunity this spring, he was getting no significant time with the big league regulars, and it seemed clear the Yankees weren’t considering him an go-to option for the major-league roster. As recently as today’s fifth inning, Refsnyder still seemed to have no realistic chance of opening in the big leagues.
By the end of the sixth inning, he was perhaps a favorite break camp with the team.
Utility infielder Brendan Ryan strained his right calf muscle during an awkward play in the sixth inning, leaving the Yankees searching for a last-minute replacement only five days before Opening Day. One week removed from his 24th birthday, Refsnyder has been one of the Yankees’ best hitters this spring, and just enough dominoes might have fallen to land him a spot in New York.
“The young man, I think, has continually improved,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s a name that I’m sure is going to fly around a lot today.”
It was less than two weeks ago that Ryan returned from a back injury, and the Yankees made it clear they fully expected him to be on their roster despite the shortened spring training. The Yankees liked his defense, liked the fact he hits right-handed, and liked the fact he could play both shortstop and second base. He was going to make the team.
If not Ryan, the best alternative would have been Jose Pirela, another right-handed utility man who had the highest batting average in camp before suffering a concussion last Sunday. Now Pirela’s gone more than a week without baseball activities and Girardi called him a “long shot” to be ready for Opening Day.
That means the only Refsnyder alternative in big league camp is Nick Noonan, who has some big league time but also hits left-handed, making him a less-than-ideal backup to lefties Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew. Even if the Yankees were to bring someone up from minor league camp, Cole Figueroa — the other Triple-A middle infielder — also hits lefty.
“Things can happen quick,” Girardi said. “I think a lot of clubs hold their breath this time of year that you leave camp the way you are. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you’ve got to deal with it. … Didi and Drew are healthy, so we’re going to have to look at probably more of a second baseman in a sense. You could look at a second baseman more than a shortstop because you have two shortstops.”
Assuming Drew can slide back to shortstop without any problem — he has yet to take a single ground ball there this spring — the Yankees don’t need someone who has Ryan’s versatility. Instead, hitting from Ryan’s side of the plate might be more important. Refsnyder has impressed with a .333/.447/.538 slash line and the most doubles in camp, but he’s also shown room to grow with his team-high six errors. That’s twice as many as anyone else in camp.
“I think that my game reps haven’t reflected how well I’ve fielded in practice,” Refsnyder said. “Some of the errors I’ve made have been tempo plays, getting into the rhythm of the game again. … I wish I could have played better on all sides of the ball. But I’m happy with where my work is right now. Hopefully it translates in the game a little bit more, in the season, to be honest.”
It’s a curious situation. Refsnyder fits the profile of what the Yankees want and need, but they clearly want him to improve defensively, and it’s worth wondering whether they would be OK with one of their top prospects getting sporadic playing time off the big league bench. Carrying Refsnyder is certainly not what the Yankees had in mind, but it might be what they decide to do.
“Shoot, coming into camp, I was 23,” Refsnyder said. “I’m 24 now, and I’m playing with some of the best players in the entire world. Some of the best guys. It’s definitely not discouraging. Every day you can learn and get better from all these guys. They’ve been awesome to younger guys like myself who started this camp. I’ve learned a lot. Some things I can really continue on for the rest of my career hopefully. This has been a great opportunity for me.”
• Really strong outing by Chase Whitley today. He allowed a run on three hits in the second innings, but that was the extent of the damage. He finished with four innings, one run, no walks and six strikeouts. That might have locked up a spot in the Yankees bullpen. “I wanted to have a good spring and I was able to accomplish that,” Whitley said. “The results matched up today with how I felt, so that was pretty good.”
• If the Yankees carry Whitley, it would be as a second long man. Girardi said today that he considers Esmil Rogers locked into a roster spot. Rogers pitched 1.1 innings with an unearned run today. He struck out three and walked one.
• Another bullpen candidate, Chasen Shreve, allowed one hit and one unearned run in two-thirds of an inning. He struck out one. Most damaging to his case might be the fact he allowed a hard double to left-handed hitter James Loney. Presumably, Shreve would have to handle lefties to play much of a role in New York.
• Andrew Bailey delivered another scoreless inning with one hit and one walk. He has yet to allow an earned run this spring, but he’s also thrown just five innings.
• Why Adam Warren as fifth starter? “Consistency,” Girardi said. “Four-pitch mix. He throws strikes. His ability to get lefthanders and righthanders out, holds runners, does the little things, fields his position. He just does a lot of things right.”
• Gregorius is definitely playing tomorrow. “Unless something happens overnight,” Girardi said. “He felt good in BP. He’s scheduled and circled in on the trip. He’s going.” Gregorius said he’s perfectly unconcerned about the wrist after taking BP and going through fielding drills today. He’s fine.
• Alex Rodriguez is playing first base again tomorrow. He’ll play in the home game.
• Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira came through today’s game with no problems.
• Here’s Girardi on Refsnyder’s defense: “It’s a guy that was a right fielder. I think it’s improved over the spring. I’ve seen him on the back field every day and it’s improved. I think he’ll continue to get better. There’s no shortage of work ethic in this young man. He’s young. That’s the bottom line, he’s young. But depending on what we do, do I think we have a number of candidates that can handle it? Yes, I do. It’s just picking which one we think is the right one.”
• Would Pirela have been the favorite had he stayed healthy? “Yeah, I think he would’ve had a good shot at it,” Girardi said. Amazing how that weird decision to play Pirela in center field in Port St. Lucie — under what circumstances would Pirela play center this season? — might have impacted things.
• No surprise, but Girardi said he plans to stay on rotation at least through the early part of the season. Even after off days, the Yankees won’t skip Warren or any other starter. They’ll use off days for extra rest and occasionally insert sixth starters for even more rest when necessary.
• Chris Capuano is playing catch — not in a chair, standing up — but there’s still no time table for his return. “That’s hard to say,” Girardi said. “Obviously he’s playing catch, but it’s not the freedom you would have if you didn’t have a leg injury.”
• Final word goes to Girardi: “Those guys (Gregorius, Ellsbury, Teixeira), in my mind, I was pretty convinced we’d have them back. Now, it’s different now with Brendan. I think it’s a long shot. What happens, your depth is tested. We’ve got to talk about it. You understand going in that these things can happen and you’ve got to deal with it. I think that’s why they try to go out and acquire as many good players as they can.”
Associated Press photos
Just a few quick health updates from spring training:
• Didi Gregorius might not play in tomorrow’s game after all. This was his third day resting a sprained left wrist, but he still has some swelling. “I feel like he’s ready to go,” Joe Girardi said. “And obviously we’d like him to play before we leave, but he still had a little bit so I don’t know if he’ll be a player tomorrow yet.”
• Mark Teixeira is expected to be in the big league lineup tomorrow. He was hit by a pitch in the knee on Sunday, but he suffered only a bruise and is expected to play as scheduled. He was supposed to have Monday and Tuesday off anyway.
• Jacoby Ellsbury is also penciled into tomorrow’s big league lineup. Ellsbury got five at-bats in a minor league game this afternoon, playing for the first time since straining his oblique. Girardi said he’s planning to have Ellsbury in the lineup tomorrow.
• Not exactly an injury update, but after getting to 76 pitches today, Masahiro Tanaka will be limited to 90 pitches on Opening Day. Tanaka said he feels some sense of relief having gotten through this spring healthy.
Got to Fort Myers just in time to talk to Joe Girardi and get some quick pregame notes posted. No huge news coming out of batting practice today but there was a slight change of plans.
John Ryan Murphy was supposed to make this trip, but he’s staying behind at the minor league complex to catch Adam Warren, who’s starting a minor league game.
Speaking of which, Girardi said he’s still not ready to name a fifth starter. He said there’s one guy he still needs to talk to before making anything public.
That said, I imagine you should feel free to read into the fact Warren’s getting a start today. That puts him on schedule — in theory — to make another start on Sunday on four-days rest and then pitch the fifth game of the regular season on five-days rest.
• Carlos Beltran is also playing at the minor league complex today. Girardi wasn’t sure if he was DHing or playing right field. Said they wanted Beltran to get at-bats without having to make the long road trip.
• Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled for 75 pitches.
• Girardi seemed to downplay the possibility of Andrew Bailey making the team out of spring training. He said there’s no way the Yankees could carry him if he hasn’t pitch back-to-back days, and the team is not going to rush him to make that happen. Of the four guys vying for the final two bullpen spots, Bailey seems like the long shot. Chase Whitley, Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve are also in the mix, and each is on the 40-man.
• Speaking of which, Whitley is starting tomorrow’s game against the Rays. Clearly keeping him stretched out in case they decide to carry him as a second long man.
• Brendan Ryan is getting a turn at third base today. Girardi said he just wants to see it and give Ryan a chance to play the position down here. Girardi said that, for now, he’s leaning toward playing Alex Rodriguez — not Ryan — at third base on days Chase Headley needs a break. Obviously Ryan could be a defensive replacement at the position, though.
• Mark Teixeira remains on track to play tomorrow. He was hit by a pitch in the knee on Sunday. Seems fine.
• Didi Gregorius had some swelling in his sprained wrist on Monday. He still might play tomorrow, but Girardi said they want to make sure the swelling is gone before they get him back in a game. Still seems to be a very low level of concern.
• Today’s second string: C Eddy Rodriguez, 1B Greg Bird, 2B none, SS none, 3B Eric Jagielo, LF Taylor Dugas, CF Mason Williams, RF none
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Chris Martin, Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder, Cesar Vargas, Nick Goody
• Today’s starting lineup:
Brett Gardner LF
Brendan Ryan 3B
Chris Young CF
Garrett Jones 1B
Austin Romine C
Rob Refsnyder 2B
Ramon Flores RF
Nick Noonan SS
Eric Jagielo DH
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
Don’t worry, this hotel desk is made of wood, and I knocked on it before publishing this post…
The Yankees have a roster overloaded with injury concerns, but with a week to go in spring training, they don’t necessarily have a roster overloaded with actual injuries. Their most significant injury of the spring cost them their fifth starter. Otherwise, they’ve dealt mostly with minor bumps and bruises at the major league level.
“There’s nothing major,” Brian Cashman said yesterday. “You’ve got the little stuff. Well, I guess (Jose) Pirela’s concussion, he could be a disabled list situation if it doesn’t resolve. But again, that’s a timing thing. That’s an unpredictable time frame.”
Here’s a quick injury report on where the Yankees stand on the medical front.
Torn elbow ligament
He’s made every scheduled start this spring and reported no problems with his elbow. His offspeed pitches have looked sharp, and there’s little indication he’s holding back. His next start is tomorrow as a final tune-up for Opening Day.
Offseason knee surgery
Just like Tanaka, he’s made every scheduled start. The Yankees kept him on a slow-and-steady schedule early in spring, but now he’s been let loose, and despite rough statistics, his raw stuff has been pretty encouraging. His velocity is up, but consistency remains an issue.
Repeat shoulder issues
After missing much of the past three years with shoulder issues, Pineda has shown no signs of injury or weakness this spring. In fact, he just might be their most reliable high-end starter.
Grade 2 quad strain
The only issue currently expected to impact the Opening Day roster: Capuano came into camp as the heavy favorite for the fifth-starter role, but he’ll likely miss at least a month of the regular season after hurting himself while covering first base.
Tommy John Surgery
A little less than a year removed from surgery, Nova has been throwing full bullpens — including breaking balls — for about two weeks now. He’s still expected back sometime around the first of June.
Got into games later than most pitchers, but he’s pitched well since returning to the field. Bailey missed the past year and a half, but he’s said he feels strong again this spring. Question is whether he has time to go back-to-back and prove he’s capable of breaking camp with the big league team.
Tommy John surgery
On roughly the same schedule as Nova, Campos has also been throwing bullpens and continues his rehab in big league camp until his inevitable reassignment to the minor league complex.
Released and re-signed, Burton came into camp on a minor league deal and got off to a strong start before hurting himself early in camp. The big league veteran began playing catch again this weekend and could become an option during the season.
Hasn’t played since March 15, but after a weekend of batting practice and other drills, Ellsbury is scheduled to get in a minor league game tomorrow. Fully expected to be healthy in time for Opening Day. Could even play in another Grapefruit League game or two.
Hit by a pitch at the minor league complex on Sunday, Teixeira was scheduled to have tomorrow off anyway. He’ll basically rest for two days before being expected back in the lineup on Wednesday.
Offseason elbow surgery
Held back very slightly at the beginning of spring training, Beltran has since been on a fairly normal schedule getting most of his time in right field with only a handful of DH days. No sign the elbow is holding him back at all.
Looked bad when Gregorius landed on his glove hand while trying to make a diving play on Saturday, but X-rays and an MRI came back negative. He’s now had two days off, and he’s scheduled to have another day off on Tuesday. Expected back in the lineup Wednesday.
Arrived in spring training with an injury and didn’t get into a game until March 20. Ryan has since played in seven games, and he’ll play again on Tuesday. He’s seen time at both second and short and is expected to break camp as the Yankees’ backup middle infielder.
Slammed into the outfield wall while playing center field last Sunday. Hasn’t played since, and even regular baseball drills have been put on hold while he tries to move past all symptoms. Was having a great spring, but seemed unlikely to make the team even before the injury.
Repeat knee issues
Had knee surgery yet again last season, but Heathcott arrived in big league camp talking about renewed health and confidence, all of which showed in a strong spring during which he seemed to be running well without pain. Sent to minor league camp yesterday.
Associated Press photos
This morning I wrote about some of my thoughts and impressions heading into this final week of Yankees camp, but my opinions carry no weight around here. Brian Cashman’s opinions do, though. Here are some of the general manager’s thoughts with Opening Day coming up quickly.
On Dellin Betances having a rough spring
By letting Dave Robertson go to Chicago, the Yankees sent a clear message that they believe Betances can repeat last year’s success. Maybe not to that level — he could have a fine career and still have last season standout as his high point — but certainly the Yankees are banking on Betances being able to play a key role and get big outs. Problem is, he’s really struggled this spring with bad results and an underwhelming fastball.
“The Betances ‘Where has his velocity gone?’ story is not accurate,” Cashman said. “He’s actually averaging a mile (per hour) higher at this time this spring than last spring. If it’s apples to apples, then he’s right where he was last year. Obviously his performance in the spring is different than the arm strength, but the arm strength is not the issue. Just want to make sure everybody knows that.”
So what does the performance mean? Maybe nothing. Certainly it doesn’t mean enough that the Yankees are going to take Betances out of the mix in the late innings.
“You just want to make sure it doesn’t affect the confidence,” Cashman said. “I’ve been able to at least confirm for myself that he’s very confident, which is good. Spring Training is Spring Training and sample sizes are small. I thought he was much better (in a minor league game on Saturday).”
On whether Didi Gregorius needs a platoon partner
When the Yankees went shopping for a new shortstop, they found a marketplace that offered no perfect solutions. There were flawed free agents and expensive trade targets, and the most viable in-house option was all-glove, no-bat Brendan Ryan. Eventually, the Yankees settled on Gregorius, another glove-first shortstop, but one with both youth and offensive upside.
With Ryan still in the picture as a right-handed alternative, Gregorius has thrived this spring. He’s been outstanding in the field, and he’s been plenty productive at the plate. He’s even hit lefties in the past couple of weeks, adding some confidence that the Yankees might not have to use Ryan as a platoon partner.
“It’ll be more of a Joe decision right now,” Cashman said. “I’d just (say), it’s something we could consider, but Ryan’s also here for a reason. We have two left-handers in the middle infield in Drew and Didi, and we have Ryan as an alternative, so I trust that Joe — like he does all the time — he’ll dissect the matchups and try to put the best team on the field to win. If that means Ryan’s in there ahead of Didi on any given day, so be it. (Gregorius) has shown me a lot this spring, which I’m happy with. He’s an exciting personality, and really, clearly, we hope that it plays well for us.”
On the bounce-back potential of Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Stephen Drew
I suppose you could lump Brian McCann into this group, but at least McCann hit for decent power and had an impact behind the plate last season. The Yankees seem to have more offensive uncertainty from this trio of Teixeira, Beltran and Drew, all of whom dangerously underperformed last season. Teixeira fell apart in the second half, Beltran wasn’t the same after an elbow injury, and Drew had an unthinkably bad year at the plate.
Even so, the Yankees are clearly planning to use each one of them as a lineup regular this season.
“There’s no reason to believe, for instance, Carlos Beltran’s not going to hit all of a sudden,” Cashman said. “And I have seen a lot of Stephen Drew in the last week to 10 days, and it’s encouraging. And then Tex, I haven’t had any worries about Tex coming back, or even Beltran. It’s more like, just stay healthy and we’ll be fine. Drew’s really, out of those three, the only question mark, what is he going to be? Those questions are fair to ask, and it doesn’t matter what gets said, only he‘ll answer them over time. But he’s looked really good at the plate.”
On Alex Rodriguez’s return to the team
A wild card in every way, Rodriguez has returned from a year-long suspension and actually done a good job of settling into the clubhouse while also performing well on the field.
“He’s handled himself both on the field and in the clubhouse and in his interviews with you guys, extremely well,” Cashman said. “It’s been about baseball, and he’s done really well on that level too.”
Rodriguez has been one of the Yankees very best hitters this spring. Not sure anyone would have predicted that a month ago.
“I think I consistently told you guys, I don’t know what to expect,” Cashman said. “so in fairness, I can’t even say it surprises me because I didn’t know what to expect. It was like, let’s just let whatever’s going to be, be. Then we can talk about what’s happening rather than waste your time wrapping your mind around what it is or what it’s going to be or how it’s going to look when you have no idea, it’s just a guessing game. Camp’s gone really well for him.”
On choosing a backup catcher and final bullpen jobs
Assuming minor injuries to Gregorius, Teixeira and Jacoby Ellsbury don’t cause problems on Opening Day, the Yankees seem to have very few roster decisions to make between now and the end of camp. The most wide-open spots seem to be at backup catcher and for the final two spots in the bullpen.
“Well, we’re a week away from making (those decisions),” Cashman said. “So, if you define close as, a week, then I would say yeah, I think we’re close (to making a decision).”
It’s worth noting that yesterday the Yankees made one of their most significant cuts in sending Jacob Lindgren to minor league camp. As recently as Sunday morning Cashman talked about Lindgren as if he had a real shot of breaking camp on the roster. Now he’s clearly being looked at as a mid-season call-up at best.
“We’ve kept him this long for a reason because he’s continued to open people’s eyes,” Cashman said. “I’m not going to tell you what’s going to happen yet, but there’s a reason he was pitching in a game (Saturday) this late and hadn’t been assigned out yet. Some other guys I can’t say that about, but in his case, I can.”
Associated Press photos
First, a reminder that we’re doing a chat today at noon. This is an off day in Yankees camp. For me, that means a day to sit in a hotel room and write a whole lot of season preview stuff for the newspaper. For the Yankees, it means a day to catch their breath before one last burst of exhibition games and decision making. Heading into this final week, here are a few thoughts and impressions from Tampa:
• I actually think CC Sabathia looks pretty good. His numbers are awful, but I’m buying it when he says he’s encouraged. He’s clearly stronger than he was last year, and I think it’s good that he’s talking about his changeup a lot. He’s going to have to pitch smart and keep hitters off balance, and I think he’s able to do that. Scouts keep telling me what a “pitcher” he is; that Sabathia knows what he’s doing out there even with diminished stuff. The numbers are awful, but this is one of those situations in which I’m not sure spring training numbers mean much. He’s going to give up some home runs now — that’s just the way it goes — but I think he’ll be better than he was the past two seasons. Not a Cy Young candidate, but I think he’ll be a good No. 3 starter as long as he stays healthy.
• The middle of the order does not look very good. At this point, I think that’s a bigger problem than the rotation. Even if the lineup stays healthy, I’m still not sure what the heart of the order can provide. Carlos Beltran hasn’t looked great, Brian McCann has been so-so, and Mark Teixeira hasn’t hit for much power (though I do think Teixeira seems to be in much better shape than last spring, so maybe he can stay on the field and avoid a second-half decline). I just haven’t seen a lot that suggests the lineup is much better than it was last season. Veteran guys like that might be able to turn it on once they’re in real games, I just don’t think they’ve shown it down here.
• Whether Alex Rodriguez has a successful season might depend on your definition of success. If he carries his spring training slash line through the season he’ll be an MVP candidate, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. More likely, I think he’ll get on base at a decent clip, pounce on some bad pitches to hit home runs now and then, and generally provide what you’d expect from a No. 6-7 hitter. That’s honestly better than I was expecting. He’s not running well, but I think he’s running well enough. He’s not a good defender, but he’ll field balls that are hit right to him. He’s better than I thought he would be.
• As a side note to the Rodriguez situation: He’s also handled all of the off-the-field stuff pretty well. Believe it or not, he actually makes some small talk and jokes with reporters in the clubhouse. Teammates seem to like him. Opposing players don’t seem to completely hate him. He’s heard his share of boos, but he’s heard plenty of cheers as well. I’m telling you, from every angle, this situation has been much better and easier than I expected. The Yankees seem to feel the same way. Both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi said yesterday that they’re happy with the way Rodriguez has settled back into the clubhouse.
• I have no idea what the Yankees are going to do about those final two spots in the bullpen. I think Chase Whitley is a favorite for one of those spots, if only because I think they’ll want another long man other than Esmil Rogers (and all the other long relief candidates have been sent away). What I can’t figure out is who the favorites might be for that last spot in the pen. I do think it’s worth noting that Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve are on the 40-man and have options, and I think that final bullpen spot might be very flexible early in the season. For that reason — because the 12th reliever might have to go up and down to Triple-A a few times — I’m not surprised the Yankees steered away from Jacob Lindgren. He’s looked great, but I imagine that once he’s on the big league roster, the Yankees want him to stay there. Why not carry Martin or Shreve out of camp, send him down for a sixth starter in late April, and then think about adding either Lindgren or Andrew Bailey?
• Backup catcher might be more wide-open than I expected when camp opened. Last season showed the Yankees clearly prefer John Ryan Murphy, but don’t think they’ve completely given up on Austin Romine. Ideally, I think — and this is just a gut feeling — the Yankees would prefer to trade Romine before the season starts, but I think they’d like to get real value for him. If they can’t, maybe he gets one month to prove himself one way or the other in the big leagues. If he can’t do it, Murphy comes up to take his place. That said, if the Yankees choose to DFA Romine in favor of Murphy, that wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. I really think it could go either way. If I had to guess right now, I think I’d still pick Murphy.
• Slade Heathcott has looked so good this spring, I wonder if the Yankees might get aggressive and send him straight to Triple-A to play center field every day. That would free Jake Cave, Mason Williams and Aaron Judge to play the outfield every day in Trenton (and Williams had a good enough spring that I think he’s worth everyday at-bats as well). Put Heathcott in the Triple-A outfield with Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin and see what happens. This isn’t a typical development year for Heathcott. The Yankees really need to find out by the end of the season whether he’s a high-end asset again.
• At this point, I’m assuming Jose Pirela will end up in Triple-A, but where does he play regularly? Obviously he’ll have to bounce around a little bit — some time in the outfield corners, some time at second base — but it might make sense to see what he can do as a regular third baseman. If Chase Headley gets hurt, Rodriguez isn’t good enough in the field to play third every day, so the Yankees might want to get Pirela prepared just in case he has to play that role at some point. But he really can’t play any one spot every single day. He’s going to have to maintain some flexibility because the Yankees might want his bat at some point even without an injury at third.
• Sure, Sabathia says his knee feels fine and Masahiro Tanaka is pitching like his elbow is healthy, but the biggest reason to be optimistic about the Yankees’ rotation might be Michael Pineda. That guy looks fantastic. He’s still throwing hard, still throwing a ton of strikes, and his offspeed stuff is more effective than when the Yankees first acquired him. It’s amazing that, after missing much of three years with shoulder problems, Pineda just might be the most reliable piece of the Yankees rotation. I think Nathan Eovaldi could be pretty good, but Pineda could be great.
• Speaking of the rotation, what happens if everyone stays healthy and Adam Warren has a 3.00 ERA at the end of May. Would he move right back into the bullpen to make room for Chris Capuano? What about Ivan Nova? Granted, this is a pretty extreme hypothetical — it involves Warren having an all-star caliber first two months, and involves a rotation full of injury concerns staying healthy — but I really think Warren’s a nice pitcher who could thrive. Maybe not to the tune of 3.00, but what about a 3.20 or a even a 3.50? Would you take that out of the rotation in favor of a guy one year removed from Tommy John?
• Relief pitchers are notoriously inconsistent from year to year. Only a very few are able to truly get the job done season after season. For that reason, I think the Dellin Betances struggles should raise some red flags. Not white flags of surrender, but red flags of concern. He just hasn’t looked great, and it’s not just the fact he’s not throwing 98 mph. Some of that added velocity could very easily come with regular-season adrenalin. Right now, he’s also missing spots and looking fairly hitable. I think that should be a bit of a concern. The Yankees have banked on the idea of having a standout bullpen. What if they don’t?
Associated Press photos
Alex Rodriguez is going to play first base on Sunday, and that’s attention-grabbing for obvious reasons. For one thing, it’s Rodriguez, and anything he does seems to generate attention. For another thing, it’s a veteran player learning a new position, and would spark at least some curiosity for even a role player. It’s also noteworthy because the Yankees have been talking about the possibility for months now.
But if you want to really know what this means for the Yankees, consider the fact we’re entering the final week of spring training, and Rodriguez is just now getting a few innings at the position. When camp opened, it seemed to be a bit of a priority that he get some time at first. Now it’s clearly a secondary concern at best.
“You feel pretty good that you got two healthy first basemen,” Girardi said. “So Alex would be kind of the third guy.”
Mark Teixeira is the starter, and Garrett Jones is the go-to backup. Rodriguez is learning first base strictly to fill the void should one of those two get hurt. Essentially, the Yankees would rather play him at first than either Chase Headley or Brian McCann, each of whom had to play the position a few times last season.”
“I’m thinking of first base to give Joe as many options as he could possibly have,” Rodriguez said. “I know he likes to give guys rest. I know he likes matchups. I just want to be an asset to Joe all year. And (Brian Cashman).”
Rodriguez said one of the clubhouse guys has been using his new first baseman’s mitt to play catch, helping get it worn in. Rodriguez has been using his regular infield glove for all of his first base drills, but he said he’ll use the real first base glove when he’s playing the position.
“He’s done some extra work (at first),” Girardi said. “He’ll do some tomorrow, again. We did cut off some relays with the shift the other day, and we had him at first doing it. We’ll go over the bunt defenses again before we leave. Those are the things that are going to be a little tricky. That’s the bottom line if he goes over there. Obviously, I’d probably put Garrett Jones there first, but if something were to happen to one of them, just trying to prepare ourselves.”
It comes down to this: The Yankees had no backup first baseman last season. They’re trying to vaguely have two of them this year. But if either Jones or Rodriguez is seeing a ton of time at first base this season, it won’t be a good thing. Success or failure at first base still largely hinges on Teixeira, who’s so far looked fairly strong and healthy throughout spring training. He had a hit and an RBI today, bringing his spring slash line to .279/.326/.419.
“Discipline, good at bats, letting it go when he swings,” Girardi said. “Everything that we kind of expect from Tex. It’s like we have Tex back, which is great. I feel that we’re going to get a real productive guy.”
Associated Press photo
It’s always easy to dismiss the first spring training start of a 34-year-old big league veteran. For a guy like this, early to mid March is all about getting ready. The results don’t matter. It’s all part of a familiar process. Why, then, was CC Sabathia so nervous tonight?
“I didn’t (expect it),” Sabathia said. “But I was, I mean, really nervous. More so than normal. That was kind of weird, but I think it’s just be being back out here and wanting to be with my teammates and just being my first game.”
Sabathia said it had nothing to with worrying about his health. It was all about pitching under the lights for the first time since May. There was a solid crowd at Steinbrenner Field, the Blue Jays brought a legitimate lineup, and Sabathia delivered an encouraging but predictably uneven two innings. He struck out two with a fastball that sat 90-92 and touched 93 mph (on a scout’s gun). At times he looked sharp. He also gave up two runs on four hits and was sometimes hit hard.
“Solid, and definitely way ahead of what I was expecting,” a scout in attendance said. “The guy can still pitch.”
To Sabathia’s credit, he thoroughly dismissed his velocity, which was much better than we’ve seen early in previous spring trainings. Sabathia’s spent the past few years saying diminished velocity doesn’t matter, and he wasn’t about to say that increased velocity tonight was going to be a difference maker.
“I think it’s a good sign for you guys so you can stop asking me,” Sabathia said. “I don’t really care.”
What he does care about is throwing strikes, and Sabathia said he was happy with his location. He threw 31 pitches, 22 of them for strikes. He’s also focused on making his changeup a weapon again. In recent years, his slider/cutter has become his top secondary pitch. He’d like to use the changeup that way this season.
“Changeup has got to be up there for me, just because it’s a big pitch for me,” he said. “I want to be able to throw it in any count, at any time. When I got here, that’s how it was, and I want to get back to that.”
Sabathia said he wants to focus on his changeup in the bullpen before his next start. Tonight he got one strikeout on a cutter, and he got the other on a two-seam fastball.
“That’s the Andy pitch,” Sabathia said. “I think if you look at the way I pitch right now, past five years, a lot reflects what me and Andy (Pettitte) have talked about: moving the ball in and out, throwing my two-seamer in to righties. He’s had a huge influence on me.”
• Gary Sanchez was optioned to Double-A Trenton before today’s game. After the game, Domingo German was optioned to High-A Tampa and RHP Branden Pinder to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. First basemen Greg Bird and Kyle Roller were also reassigned to minor league camp (because Bird and Roller aren’t on the 40-man, they don’t have to be assigned to a specific minor league roster; assignments right now don’t necessarily mean specific players will open the season at those specific levels).
• In the Yankees clubhouse postgame, there was a lot of positive reaction to seeing Sabathia on the mound again and the way he looked after so much time off. “I think (the fact he’s healthy) is the biggest thing,” Joe Girardi said. “And that’s what we need to continue to see because we said all along that we thought he was throwing the ball better this spring than he has the last couple of years, and I think a lot of it’s because he’s healthier. He has some issues taken care of, and now we’ve just got to keep him that way.”
• Alex Rodriguez on Sabathia: “I haven’t been around much the last two years, so it’s hard to think about how these guys feel and what they’re doing. But I know CC’s always a big part of what we do, and he’s part of our DNA. And I thought the ball exploded out of his hand today just from third base.”
• Girardi said he wasn’t sure whether Sabathia was getting an extra day of rest, but he was pretty sure Sabathia would be starting one of those long road trip games coming up, either Sunday against the Mets or Monday against the Nationals.
• Girardi wasn’t positive, but said he was pretty sure Esmil Rogers would start on Thursday. So it’s Masahiro Tanaka tomorrow, then Rogers the next day, but the rotation is unannounced beyond that.
• Sabathia said he’s not worried about whether he gets the ball on Opening Day. He’s done it 11 times in his career and said he’s more focused on making sure he’s available in September (and for Game 1 of a playoff series). Said it won’t bother him if the Yankees go with Tanaka (or anyone else) on Opening Day this season.
• As for the knee, Sabathia said he wasn’t worried about it at all tonight, and he’s not worried about how well it will hold up as he builds innings. “We’ve got a pretty good routine,” he said. “After I come off the mound, stuff we do. In the training room the days in between. I’m pretty confident in our routine and what I’ve been doing to keep my knee healthy.”
• Rodriguez made one solid play at third base, but he also had a ball shoot past him to start the second inning. From up here, it looked playable. Not easy, but playable. Rodriguez seemed not to make much of it. “I saw it perfectly,” he said. “Just a rocket by me. Not even close to me.”
• Another positive outing for Chris Martin. The tall right hander who seems to have a shot at a spot in the big league bullpen went two innings with one hit and three strikeouts. He walked none.
• Dellin Betances actually got hit pretty hard on a third-inning triple. He allowed one run on two hits and a walk. It was Sabathia, though, who took the loss in a 4-2 game. Only saw a little bit of Domingo German’s spring debut. Saw a hard hit. Saw a good curveball for a strike.
• What do you know, another hit for Jose Pirela, this one his second triple of the spring. … Chris Young went 2-for-3 to raise his spring average to .263. … Carlos Beltran and Tyler Austin each doubled. … Mark Teixeira had his first home run of the spring. … Stephen Drew had his third hit of the spring.
• Final word goes to Rodriguez: “It’s so great to have (Sabathia) out there. I thought he looked really well, really good. Threw the ball really well. He’s going to be such a big key to what we do this year, and Tex as well. So great to see Tex and CC both contribute and look so good.”
Associated Press photos
The video above is a little bit of footage from Alex Rodriguez’s introduction to first base. It came during pitchers’ fielding practice this afternoon, and as you might guess, the drills were really designed for pitchers, not for a novice first baseman. Rodriguez basically just covered the bag a few times and scooped some slow grounders. You’ll be able to tell from the video above that this was not a thrown-into-the-fire situation. Rodriguez really didn’t do much.
And when the workout was over, as Rodriguez stood in the clubhouse talking about his determination to learn the position, he realized he’d actually lost his brand new first baseman’s mitt.
Perhaps the transition will be harder than anyone realized.
“As we go through these drills, I think it’s important that he go over there and tries to get a better understanding of what the position entails, and the spots he’s supposed to be at,” Joe Girardi said. “… It’s one of the few places that you hold the runner on, in a sense, and then you have to sprint and change the way you’re shaped for a ground ball, so your setup is different. All your responsibilities on cuts and relays. It’s just different. And you’re looking, in a sense, the opposite way.”
Of course, it’s worth wondering if this “learning first base” situation is more smoke than fire, getting a lot of attention strictly because it’s A-Rod and not because it actually matters to the Yankees. If Mark Teixeira is healthy, he’ll surely play first base almost every day. And Teixeira is weakest from the left side, so when he gets a day off, might make more sense to let experienced left-handed hitter Garrett Jones play the position, not inexperienced right-handed hitter Rodriguez.
Girardi, though, dismissed the idea that this is an insignificant experiment.
“I think we’ve seen over the last two years, there’s a lot of times you don’t think someone would ever play a position, and then things change,” Girardi said. “I think you definitely think about playing him on days when you’re giving Mark a day off. Maybe Garrett’s playing right field, maybe your DH is moving around a little bit, maybe you’re DHing Carlos (Beltran) a day. There’s a lot of things you can do.”
Ultimately, Rodriguez’s ability to play first base will be more valuable if he’s hitting well enough that an extra position keeps him in the lineup more often. Even Girardi has acknowledged that hitting is, by far, the most important aspect of his return to the team. So is there some chance that learning a new position is adding an unnecessary wrinkle to this already uncertain process?
“I do whatever they tell me,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just happy to get some playing time. … It’s too quick to tell (how it’s going). I’m anxious to learn, though.”
• The Yankees have their first injury of the spring. Brendan Ryan is expected to miss about five days of baseball activity because of a mild strain in the middle of his back. He hurt himself lifting weights before reporting to Tampa. Specifically, he was hurt doing biceps curls. “It’s an eyewash exercise anyway,” Ryan said. “… I don’t know what I’m doing in (the weight room) in the first place, you know? What am I going to go from hitting two homers to four?”
• CC Sabathia threw a bullpen today and has been wearing a protective brace on his surgically repaired right knee. “The fact that he’s wearing a brace or not wearing a brace doesn’t concern me anymore,” Girardi said. “If they feel that he’ll stay healthier wearing the brace, then I would tell him, wear the brace.”
• Because of that knee issue, the Yankees are moving slowly with Sabathia. “We’re taking it slow with him, knowing that we don’t really think that he’s behind and he’s got plenty of time,” Girardi said. “We’re not rushing it because of his knee, and we want to take it step by step.”
• Along those lines, Girardi said he will wait until tomorrow to announce the starting pitchers for those early exhibition games. Marly Rivera of ESPN Deportes reported that Adam Warren is “probably” going to start Tuesday’s opener.
• Before Tuesday’s spring opener, the Yankees are scheduled for an intrasquad game on Sunday. Girardi said he expects Monday to be a fairly light day leading into the Grapefruit League games.
• For whatever it’s worth, I was told today that Teixeira and Carlos Beltran have made a strong impression from the way they reported to camp. Apparently their early workouts have been impressive, and both are in great shape. Three other names singled out as having reported to camp in especially good shape: Austin Romine, Mason Williams and Cito Culver.
• Also heard a lot of good things about Luis Severino’s sim game today. “Young kid with a great arm,” Giradi said. “Good slider, good changeup. It’s something to get excited about.”
• And Nathan Eovaldi’s two-inning simulated game: “Really good stuff,” Girardi said. “Powerful arm. I think he has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do. He has pretty good command. He threw some good splits today. Athletic. So I think he’ll do a good job in those parts of the game where you have to be an athlete. I liked what I’ve seen and we like where he’s at right now.”
• One personal observation: When Aaron Judge takes batting practice, he doesn’t hit the towering fly balls you might expect from a power hitter his size. It’s all line drives — hard line drives — up the middle and toward the gaps. He didn’t hit very many out today. One that did go out probably never got higher than the top of the scoreboard. Just a line drive that he clobbered. You know who from Judge’s group might have hit the most homers? Ramon Flores.
• Hideki Matsui was the batting practice pitcher for the group of Williams, Romine, Slade Heathcott and John Ryan Murphy.
• Noticed today that Cole Figueroa (who was at second yesterday) got some time at shortstop during defensive drills. Jonathan Galvez (who was at third) got some time at second, and Nick Noonan (who was at short) got some time at third. A lot of utility types who seem destined for Triple-A but could follow the Solarte/Wheeler path to New York.
• A source of annoyance this afternoon: writing a blog post that would have been posted hours ago, if only I’d hit the “public” button instead of the “save draft” button. I guess it’s spring training for everyone.
• Final word goes to Girardi on Rodriguez learning first base: “I think he’s trying to learn. I think he was paying attention and trying to learn. He’s never taken balls over there, he’s never seen what a bunt defense looks like from over there, and that’s going to take some time.”
Associated Press photos