Felix Hernandez is one of the great pitchers of this generation. He’s dominant. He’s consistent. In his career, he’s held Major League hitters to less than a .240 batting average.
Mark Teixeira has hit .303 with six home runs against him.
How does anyone explain that?
“Felix is really good,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “But so is Mark. I mean, Mark is a really good player.”
The first two months of this season have been a reminder of that.
While much of the attention has been focused on Alex Rodriguez’s return, Stephen Drew’s struggles, Masahiro Tanaka’s injuries, and the overwhelming dominance of Dellin Betances, Teixeira has somewhat quietly become an elite run producer again. Here we are, on the morning of June 2, and Teixeira already has 15 home runs. He’s hitting just .241, but that’s come with a .358 on-base percentage and more walks than strikeouts. His 39 RBIs are tied for fourth-most in baseball, and the most in the American League.
“I’m just very thankful,” Teixeira said. “I’m very thankful for the health and I just hope that continues. The first two months have been so far, so good. I want to continue it.”
If Teixeira can maintain this .566 slugging percenage, it would be the second-highest of his career, even higher than his standout 2009 season when he finished second in MVP voting. Almost exactly two years removed from season-ending wrist surgery, Teixeira’s been able to stay on the field for the second-most plate appearances on the roster. He hasn’t had the nagging issues that hounded him last season.
“He’s been tremendous,” Chase Headley said. “He’s getting on base, he’s driving in runs and he has hit a lot of home runs for us. He’s been great. He’s been huge in the middle of our lineup and obviously with him and (Rodriguez) swinging the bat the way they are and (Brian McCann) coming around, I think we’ve got a pretty good middle of the lineup going now.”
For the past month or so, the Yankees have been able to add Carlos Beltran to that middle-of-the-order list. From A-Rod to Teixiera to McCann to Beltran, the Yankees have some run producers experiencing at bit of a resurgence.
Now the trick with all of them is to keep it going.
“Nothing really surprises me, good or bad, in baseball,” Teixeira said. “There are some weird stats out there this early. It’s still early. Fifty games into the season, you see some weird stats. For me, if I stay healthy, I know what the numbers are going to look like at the end of the year.”
Associated Press photo
Early on, this game was more of the same. Just the familiar Yankees looking hopeless against a good starting pitcher. The game was scoreless, but after three innings, it was hard to have much confidence that the Yankees were against going to win, much less win in an impressive manner.
But they chipped away in the fourth inning, loaded the bases in the fifth, and then Mark Teixeira delivered the big blow with a grand slam. Just like that, the team that just lost three of four in Oakland, was on its way to a fairly lopsided win against Felix Hernandez.
“It felt big,” Teixeira said. “The way Michael was pitching, we didn’t know how many we needed. Any time you can score seven runs off Felix Hernandez, you take it. It doesn’t happen very much. That was a good team effort today. We just played really good ball.”
And when the Yankees play really good ball, they actually look like a really good team.
The Yankees have scored in double digits four times this season. Those were games started by David Price, Clay Buchholz, Alex Colome and Jeremy Guthrie — not all superstars, but certainly not all no-name bums. Those games were two of the worst of Price’s and Guthrie’s careers, and it’s still Colome’s only loss of the season. The Yankees have also beaten Jacob deGrom this year, they’ve scored six runs against Gio Gonzalez, and they’ve been the only team to do any sort of real damage against Chris Young.
They’ve also looked thoroughly hopeless against Erasmo Ramirez.
“It’s hard to figure out,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s just, it’s a long season. Things don’t make sense a lot of times. For whatever reason, I don’t really know, but it happens.”
The Yankees looked hopeless again in the first three innings against Hernandez. He needed just six pitches to get through the first inning, nine to get through the second, and six more to get through the third. Then, all of a sudden, Hernandez allowed five base runners on 31 pitches in the fourth. And the fifth inning was even worse.
“I think when you’re facing a guy like that, you really have to grind (at-bats) out,” Chase Headley said. “I thought we had a lot of good at-bats that preceded the big blow. The stuff looked good. I thought the ball was moving. Honestly, I thought we just did a good job of laying off some tough pitches. That was the difference.”
As they’ve done several times this season, the Yankees looked like a really impressive team in those fourth and fifth innings. They showed patience and power at the plate, Michael Pineda was pitching well — five strikeouts in his half of those innings — and they built a big league against one of the game’s truly elite pitchers.
This was, in so many ways, the Yankees at their best. The previous four games were, at times, the Yankees at their worst.
“It only takes a couple of good at-bats and fortunes change,” Headley said.
• Asked which was more impressive, the offensive outburst against Hernandez or the first six innings from Pineda, Girardi debated for a while before saying the offense was perhaps a little more impressive tonight. But Pineda really was very, very good. The seventh inning got away from him, but through six innings Pineda kept the Mariners scoreless with ninth strikeouts. “Tonight, everything is working good,” Pineda siad. “I had really good power today, and my changeup was working well, my slider too. … I’m trying to attack the hitters, and pitch my game.”
• Girardi said he was actually a little bit worried about Pineda coming into this game. Although it’s been more than three years since the trade, this was actually Pineda’s first time pitching back in Seattle as a member of the Yankees. “I think he handled it pretty well,” Girardi said. “I always worry about those type of things when guys come back to face their old team for the first time, but I think he handled it really well.”
• Pineda on pitching back at Safeco Field: “I’m very excited today for this game, I’m very happy to be here again and pitching in Safeco field. I’m happy tonight. … It’s good, you know? I had really good focus today, and tried to do the best on the mound.”
• Any extra meaning to beating Hernandez, who had been kind of a mentor in Seattle? “It’s a great game for me today,” Pineda said. “My first year in the majors, I stayed around Felix and learned a lot from him. Tonight, pitching versus him, it’s a really good game.”
• There’s a retractable roof here in Seattle, but it was open for a little bit of rain just as Hernandez started having some trouble. He seemed to be having some trouble with the mound, but Hernandez said that wasn’t the cause of his struggles. “I was just kicking dirt out of my cleats,” Hernandez said. “But it’s not that. It was just one of those days. It was on me.”
• Strong outing by Justin Wilson to strand two runners and get the Yankees out of the seventh without further damage. The Mariners could have pulled back into the game at that point, but Wilson shut them down. “He’s got a great arm,” Girardi said. “We’ve kind of put him in our seventh inning slot a little bit, and he did a really good job today the way he came in and he gets the strikeout and then the double play. I mean, that’s huge. And he’s facing right-handed hitters. It doesn’t matter for Willy. We don’t look at Willy as a left-handed specialist. We look at both, and again he did the job.”
• The grand slam was the ninth of Teixeira’s career. It was also his sixth career home run against Hernandez. Teixeira is a career .303 hitters with four doubles, 13 RBI and nine walks in 66 career at-bats against Hernandez. “I think it’s a lot of luck,” Teixeira said. “He’s a great pitcher. I’ve faced him so much, there’s very few guys that for 10-plus years you face on a regular basis. He’s one of them. I’ve just gotten a couple good pitches to hit.”
• Last Yankees player to hit a grand slam in Seattle was Bernie Williams on May 16, 2005 against J.J. Putz.
• Teixeira’s six home runs against Hernandez are his second-most against any pitcher. He’s hit seven off Bruce Chen. No hitter has more career home runs against Hernandez. Current Mariners right fielder Nelson Cruz has gone deep on King Felix five times.
• Brett Gardner had a hit, a walk and two runs scored. Since 2013, Gardner has a hit in 11 of 14 games against the Mariners hitting .321 with seven runs, five walks and six stolen bases in those games. During that stretch he’s hit .393 with four doubles in eight games at Safeco Field.
• Several Yankees said basically the same thing about Hernandez: “His stuff moves so much, I think that’s what got him into trouble a little bit. His stuff was moving so much, it was tough to control and he walked a few guys. Give our hitters credit; they didn’t swing at the bad pitches when he threw them. We made the adjustments. It’s not because he didn’t have his stuff tonight; it was just moving so much.”
• Final word goes to Headley: “It’s great. If (Hernandez) is not the best in the game, he’s right there with the best in the game. When you’re playing a guy like him, you”ve just got to go out there and really try to grind, and scratch a couple of runs across. You feel pretty good and then obviously we got the big blow. Those things don’t happen very often with that type of pitcher. It’s a good win for us coming off a couple of tough games in Oakland.”
Associated Press photos
This is the second year of Major League Baseball’s rule about blocking the plate, and while it seems to have done a good job of protecting catchers, it’s still causing confusion for almost everyone else.
Last night, it was Mark Teixeira who came charging down the third-base line, saw a catcher in his path, and decided to take the safe route. He slid toward the outside of the plate and was tagged out.
“Two years ago, absolutely I would have run the catcher over,” Teixeira said. “I’ve run over plenty of catchers in my career. If you slide into a guy who is blocking the plate, you can break your ankle and ruin your career, so the only way to protect yourself and try to be safe is to lower your shoulder. That’s been taken away, so the only thing you can do is try to jump around him.”
In the past, Teixeira actually had run over that very catcher. It was Bobby Wilson behind the plate for the Rays. That’s the same guy Teixeira sent to the hospital five years ago.
“I don’t think anyone has been run over since the rule,” Teixeira said. “That’s why we have the rule. We have the rule so no catchers get run over. That’s the way it is. It takes away our options as runners. If you run a guy over and you’re not supposed to, they’re going to send the Wells Report after you or something. You can’t do it. You cannot run a guy over anymore, and that’s fine. We’ve got to protect catchers. I understand. But that’s the way it is.”
No one seems overly upset about it. There was a little more outrage early last season, but at this point it seems accepted that players simply have to slide as if there’s always some sort of “lane” to the plate. The Yankees challenged the rule last night just because it was the tying run and seemed worth a shot.
“I think there’s probably more confusion on the base runner’s part than the catchers part,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Catchers just continue to do what they’ve always done.”
In the case of last night’s play, Wilson set up just inside the third-base line. As the throw came from center field he adjusted and let momentum carry him into Teixeira’s path. Teixeira slid feet-first and slapped the plate, but he had clearly been tagged before he got there.
“(The rule) is very vague,” Teixeira said. “Did he have the ball? Did the throw take him? Whatever. I had to go around him. … It’s not even in our minds now to run guys over. Can’t do it. Can’t do it.”
Associated Press photo
Only two active pitchers have more career wins than CC Sabathia. He’s won playoff games and season openers. He’s won shutouts and blowouts. He’s won near no-hitters, and he’s won sloppy starts when the offense bailed him out. Sabathia’s won more than 200 times, and until this season, he never had to wait long for his next one.
“He’s one of the best pitchers of our era,” Brian McCann said. “I don’t know if he even thinks about it. He goes out there and competes hard. I’m glad to get him a win tonight, for sure.”
Career win No. 209 doesn’t change Sabathia’s resume very much. It does move him from 101st into a tie for 97th all-time — into the top 100 is pretty good — but this win isn’t a nice round number to be celebrated. It was a long time coming, though, and Sabathia might have gotten there weeks ago had the Yankees scored more than four runs in any of his previous starts. The lineup scored 11 runs tonight, after scoring 13 runs combined in the previous six games Sabathia pitched.
“Our boys did what they needed to do with CC,” manager Joe Girardi said. “They got him a lead, and allowed him just to go to work.”
Yes, he allowed those two home runs in the seventh inning. And, yes, the first inning got off to a brutal start with the back-to-back walks and the hard-hit double. But from the end of the first inning through the start of the seventh, Sabathia was as good as he’s been all season. After those first two batters, he didn’t walk anyone else. He struck out nine, and said the key was locating his fastball, especially inside to righties. The Rays were laying off his changeup, so he had to find other ways to get outs, and he did that.
“The walks were just me being erratic early,” Sabathia said. “I came out with my fastball. I felt pretty good, my body felt good, so I had to ease into the game and tell myself to let the ball go.”
“It was bothering me more that we hadn’t won games I’d started, or tried to keep us in games, or keep us close to win games,” Sabathia said. “That’s my biggest concern is always just trying to help the team. I think wins will come, and it was good to get this one.”
When it was all over, Sabathia’s line wasn’t overwhelming — three earned runs, an ERA still above 5.00, even Sabathia said he came out of the game kicking himself for those late runs more than celebrating the first win — but the end result was positive, and there was a long stretch in there when Sabathia looked awfully sharp and tough to hit.
The lineup did the heavy lifting, but Sabathia did his part to earn the win and end the drought.
“It was bothering me more that we hadn’t won games I’d started, or tried to keep us in games, or keep us close to win games,” he said. “That’s my biggest concern is always just trying to help the team. I think wins will come, and it was good to get this one.”
• Might have noticed Alex Rodriguez favoring his left leg a little bit after stealing second base in the ninth inning. He said his left hamstring was a little tight, but both Rodriguez and Girardi said they expect him to be back in the lineup tomorrow. It’s basically the same tightness he was dealing with a few days ago. “Just a little sore on that last run,” Rodriguez said.
• By the way, I called that a steal, but the official scorer actually changed it to defensive indifference.
• Five home runs was the most for the Yankees in a single game since May 17, 2014. It also matches the most homers hit by any team in a single game this season. This was the third time the Yankees scored at least 11 runs this season, and the fifth time they had at least 14 hits.
• Carlos Beltran has homered in back-to-back games — his first two home runs of the season — making this the eighth time this season a Yankees player has gone deep in consecutive games. No other team has done that more than seven time this season.
• With Beltran hitting second, the Yankees top four hitters each had a home run today and combined to go 9-for-19 with seven RBI. “I just think our guys were looking for a ball in their zone,” Girardi said. “They got it, and they hit it.”
• Specifically, Girardi seemed really impressed by Mark Teixeira’s ninth-inning home run. It kept the Yankees from getting Andrew Miller warmed up, and it went to the opposite field, which Giradri took as a good sign. “That’s big,” Girardi said. “That just tells me he’s really healthy when he’s able to do that, and he’s hit a couple of home runs like that this year. Those are important runs. You don’t have to get Miller up again tonight, and that’s nice.”
• Another moment Girardi pointed out — and one that clearly stood out as an early turning point — was Didi Gregorius making the strong relay throw in the first inning to get Steven Souza out at the plate. Without that relay throw (and without Gardner doing a good job getting to the ball quickly to start the play) the Rays would have already scored two runs, had just one out and had solid hitters coming to the plate with a runner in scoring position. Gregorius said he thought all along he had a shot at getting the out. “I saw that he went all the way back to second because he thought Gardy caught it,” Gregorius said. “So, yeah. I was peeking.”
• Weirder play by Gregorius to end the game after a hard-hit fly ball hit one of the catwalks and fell into play. It was a live ball that it seemed Gardner was going to catch in the corner. Instead, Gregorius caught it in shallow left field. “I was running to the left field corner to catch it and the ball disappeared,” Gardner said. “Before it hit (the catwalk), I thought there was a good chance that it was going to hit it. I was going to catch it, it was just a matter of if it hit the catwalk or not. I completely lost it for two or three seconds, and then I saw it falling down. I don’t know why, but Didi was standing right there underneath it, looking for it, like he knew it was going to happen. Great heads up play on his part.”
• McCann on Sabathia: “His two-seamer and four-seamer were really working tonight. He had the hitters off-balance and he mixed in some great changeups and threw some great back-door sliders. Once he settled down after the first, he had some really good movement in the zone.”
• Sabathia tied Vida Blue for the 25th-most wins all-time by a left-handed pitcher. This was his 92nd win as a Yankee, moving him into a tie with Tommy John for 20th on the franchise’s all-time list.
• Headley had four RBI for the first time since September 9, 2012. He hit his 10th Yankees home run, but only his second Yankees home run on the road. … This was Gardner’s second home run with at least two runners on base this season. He had just one of those last year, which was a grand slam. … Teixeira tied his career-high with four hits, something he hadn’t done since 2012.
• After the game, Rodriguez was outside the Yankees clubhouse meeting and signing items for the couple who caught his home run ball tonight. “They wanted to give me the ball back,” he said. “They wanted a little trade and they wanted to meet me, so it was my pleasure to meet them.”
• Final word goes to Headley: “It was great. (Sabathia)’s pitched a lot better than his record shows, and anytime you have some run support it makes a pitcher’s job a lot easier, so we were happy to finally put some runs on the board for him. Now hopefully we got that first win out of the way, he can get rolling. … He’s awesome. He’s as big a leader as we have on this team. He loves to have a good time. He’s a competitor. We love him in here, so it was great to finally see him get that first win.”
Associated Press photos
On the day Masahiro Tanaka went on the disabled list, Joe Girardi said he didn’t want any of his starting pitchers to try to fill those shoes. Girardi simply wanted his pitchers to be the best versions of themselves.
Fact is, on any given night, the best version of Pineda just might be the best Yankees starting pitcher even when Tanaka’s healthy. If the title of ace is up for grabs, Pineda made a strong case with tonight’s performance.
“He’s doing the job, and that’s the bottom line,” Girardi said. “It’s what we saw last year from him. He’s been as good as anyone we’ve got.”
Honestly, Pineda could have been better. Not because he didn’t pitch a complete game, but because he didn’t have his complete arsenal in the early innings. It took Pineda a while to find his slider, which accounts for some of those early base runners and hard-hit balls out of the gate. It was only after he found the slider and finished off his three-pitch mix that Pineda was truly dominant in the later innings.
“He’s a big-time pitcher,” Jacoby Ellsbury said. “If you don’t have one of your pitches, it’s a game of adjustments, not only from the offense’s side, but from a pitcher’s side. If you can go in there knowing one pitch isn’t working for you and find a way to get outs, that’s very impressive.”
With the slider, Pineda breezed through his final 10 batters. He didn’t seem to be slowing down. Instead, he seemed to be finding his stride. Girardi said he didn’t want to push Pineda past 101 pitches — he still remembers those shoulder problems of the past three seasons — but Girardi recalled the old saying that hitters have to get to a starting pitcher early or they won’t get to him at all. Once Pineda had his slider working, the Blue Jays had no chance.
“He pounds the zone with three pitches, and he knows exactly where they’re going,” Brian McCann said. “So you can throw the 3-1 slider. You can do a lot more to pound the zone. It’s impressive to have the command he has, with the stuff he has. … You can go wherever you want. You can attack hitters’ weaknesses. It’s not, because he can’t find the zone you have to call a fastball. You don’t have to. You see how the game goes, but it’s a lot easier to call a game when a guy knows where it’s going.”
Pineda said he’s not worried about the label of staff ace, but his ERA is down to 2.97 and he’s been the winning pitcher in four of his six starts. He’s pitched into the eighth inning twice and through the eighth inning once. Tonight he shutdown the highest-scoring offense in baseball.
“He’s a top of the rotation starter,” McCann said. “We’re not big on saying this guy’s an ace, that guy’s an ace. We’ve got five guys who compete every single night, and we’re glad he’s at the top of our rotation.”
• Chase Headley didn’t come in for ninth-inning defense because his back was bothering him after last night’s diving play at third base. Headley said it’s no big deal and isn’t the same as the back issue that lingered with him in San Diego. Girardi said he expects Headley to play tomorrow. “Just sore,” Headley said.
• Gregorio Petit had a fluoroscope done on his hand after tonight’s game. That early test came back negative — it’s sort of like an X-ray — and Girardi said the team might do more tests tomorrow. Petit was hit by a pitch in the ninth inning and had to leave the game. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Girardi said. “If we have to X-ray it, we’ll X-ray it.”
• Worth noting that Petit’s injury could make the move simple for activating Jose Pirela tomorrow. “We’ll wait and see what we’ve got tomorrow (before announcing a move),” Girardi said.
• Jacoby Ellsbury had three hits tonight and now has 18 hits in his past 35 at-bats. “It’s hard to imagine you could be hotter than he is,” Girardi said. “He’s been unbelievable at the top of the order.”
• Ellsbury on his absurd hot streak: “You just go out there each and every day, try to put quality at-bats together and get on base for guys to drive me in. It obviously gives you a lot of confidence going each at-bat, each game. Just trying to keep it going as long as possible.”
• After missing yesterday with a sore lat, Mark Teixeira returned tonight to make some nice plays in the field and hit his team-leading 10th home run of the season. “You deal with bumps and bruises all year,” Teixeira said. “Yesterday, Joe thought it was a good day for me to take off and let it rest. It feels a little better today.”
• Tonight’s home run moved Teixeira into a tie with Carlos Beltran for the fourth-most home runs by a switch hitter. Both have 373. “It’s great to be able to play with a guy like Carlos,” Teixeira said. “I’ve played with Carlos, Chipper Jones and Lance Berkman, three of the best switch-hitters of our generation. It’s been a lot of fun playing with those guys. Hopefully we’ll be battling on that list for the next couple years.”
• This game seemed well in hand with a 6-0 lead in the ninth, but David Carpenter’s brutal night forced the Yankees to bring Andrew Miller in for a one-out save. Miller needed just nine pitches for his 11th save of the season. “It’s not what you want to do, but we had to,” Girardi said. “And we won the game, and that’s the most important thing.”
• Carpenter hasn’t been used very much this season, and he certainly hasn’t been used in many high-leverage situations. Tonight he was hit hard and hit often allowing three runs while getting just two outs. He gave up one home run and just missed two others. “Just missed location,” Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line. He’s a guy that relies on location even though he throws hard. You still have to locate, and he missed location.”
• Girardi had the bullpen up at the end of the seventh, but he said that was precautionary. “Just in case (Pineda) got into a long inning and some long at-bats,” Girardi said. “You don’t want to put him out there too long. We’ve talked about Michael, you know. Michael came off a serious shoulder injury and has not thrown 200 innings, so we’re going to watch him a little bit.”
• We’ll give the final word to McCann about Pineda: “I felt like he was tough from the first pitch. He creates such tough angles for hitters, that it’s hard to square him up. And it’s hard to do it consecutive at-bats. That’s why he doesn’t give up big innings. That’s why he pitches deep into ballgames. He’s just got really good stuff and knows what he’s doing.”
Associated Press photos
Weird to see a player show up without being added to the active roster, but that’s exactly what’s happened with Jose Pirela. He’s still technically on the disabled list — so he can be with the team — but his rehab assignment has ended, and the Yankees plan to activate him tomorrow.
“It’s kind of strange,” Joe Girardi said. “But we felt that we’ll fly him in today, have him hit, get him on the turf and feel what it’s like.”
Makes perfect sense that the Yankees want Pirela active for tomorrow’s game against a lefty, but it does seem a bit odd that he’s not playing tonight considering the Yankees are having Gregorio Petit start at third base. Pirela’s played that position, and in theory could have played there tonight. Maybe the Yankees want to keep Pirela at second base? Maybe someone other than Petit is coming off the roster tomorrow? Maybe the team wants to make sure certain players get through today healthy before making a decision.
“Let us get through today and then we’ll go from there,” Girardi said. “I know you guys are trying to figure out what the move is, but we’ll make it tomorrow. Something could change it today. That’s why you don’t do it.”
Pirela’s been terrific in his past few games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but Girardi indicated that he still expects Stephen Drew to get regular playing time despite his .149 batting average.
“I still think he’s hit the ball better than the numbers indicate,” Girardi said. “He hasn’t had a lot of luck, and he’s had some really big hits for us. I know he’s a better hitter than what the average shows. I know that.”
So is there a chance for Pirela to become more than just a right-handed platoon player?
“I’ll go day-by-day,” Girardi said. “Until he’s reinstated, until we start seeing what we have, I don’t think it does us a lot of good to speculate.”
• Last night’s lineup and late-inning defense make a little more sense now. Turns out, Mark Teixeira has been dealing with a lat issue that made him available only in an extreme situation last night. “We talked about possibly giving him Sunday off (as well),” Girardi said. “I said, ‘If you need more than one day you’ve got to let me know.’ He came in today and said he was fine.”
• Girardi said he was going to let Teixeira pinch hit last night if it were a one-run game, or presumably if Teixeira could have come to the plate as the tying run, but the team didn’t put anyone on base in the ninth. “He’s been able to manage it,” Girardi said. “You try to get him a day off to see if you can get it to calm down and get it healed. He’s been getting treatment for the last few days, and hopefully it’s gone, it’s behind us, but we’ll see.”
• Healthy day off for Chase Headley, Girardi said. “He’s almost played every game,” Girardi said. “We felt he needed a day today.”
• Why not let Alex Rodriguez play third? “I really didn’t want to do it just because of the turf and I’d like to keep him at DH as much as possible,” Girardi said.
• Dellin Betances is not available today. He’s pitched three of the past four, and Girardi doesn’t want guys to pitch four of five. He didn’t completely rule it out, but it’s pretty clear using Betances would be a kind of last resort at best.
• Girardi said he’s pretty sure Chris Capuano is making a rehab appearance with Double-A Trenton on Thursday. Capuano will pitch somewhere that day. Girardi thinks it will be Trenton.
• Jared Burton is off the disabled list. He was assigned to High-A Tampa today. Seems likely to end up with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre eventually.
• Chris Young will play tomorrow against the lefty, Girardi said. The Yankees have been encouraged by Carlos Beltran’s at-bats lately.
Associated Press photos
Less than 24 hours after last night’s pinch-hit, game-winning, milestone home run, Alex Rodriguez is back in his usual spot in the Yankees’ lineup, batting third as the starting designated hitter. Now the race to No. 661 begins.
“I don’t know if it’ll mean more (than 660),” Rodriguez said. “This whole thing has been kind of like a dream. … I’m just here to play baseball. Anytime you’re sandwiched between Willie Mays and Babe Ruth it’s special. But I’m really just enjoying playing baseball, as much as I have in a long time.”
Rodriguez said yesterday afternoon that he’d been hoping to tie Mays at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, but honestly, if he’d done it at home, the whole thing would have been wrapped up in whatever the Yankees did or did not do to acknowledge the milestone. On the road, at Fenway, off the bench, to break a tie and win a game — No. 660 was all about an in-the-moment situation when Rodriguez got aggressive and delivered a win.
“My guess is, (the pressure) is off, in a sense,” Joe Girardi said. “And he won’t be answering questions, ‘When is he going to hit it?’ which is nice. The next (milestone) is pretty far away, so he should be able to get down to normal business now.”
The next A-Rod milestone isn’t necessarily a home run. He’s 44 hits away from 3,000.
“That’s probably another one we’ll have to worry about a little bit,” Girardi said. “But we still have a little time before we get there. At least we can not worry about that quite yet.”
• That’s the same wrist that required surgery back in 2013 and that seemed to occasionally bother Teixeira last season, but Girardi said he wasn’t worried about any sort of connection causing extra problems. “I think the weakness is gone,” Girardi said. “If it would have happened last year, I think I would have been more concerned than this year.”
• On that same pitch, the ball hit off Teixeira and wound up breaking a knuckle in catcher Ryan Hanigan’s hand. He was put on the disabled list today. Brutal. “That’s pretty strange,” Girardi said. “I’ve seen balls ricochet and hit catchers, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen somebody break his hand like that. It seems that Hanigan is going to have to have surgery, and that’s pretty serious stuff and extremely unfortunate. That’s a strange play. You see ricochets a lot, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one that bad.”
• With Hanigan out, the Red Sox have called up highly touted catching prospect Blake Swihart, a switch-hitter who’s in the lineup this afternoon. The kid’s being thrown right into the fire.
• Esmil Rogers has been terrific in a long relief role this season, and last night, Girardi decided to use him in short relief in the seventh inning. It was a bit of a risk, but it paid off when Rogers delivered a scoreless seventh and actually picked up his first win. “I think he gives us the ability to use him that way just because of the stuff that he has,” Girardi said. “I felt that, when I brought him in yesterday, depending on how the inning was going to go, that I would use him for up to five hitters probably and then go to Wilson after that. But sometimes you have to be careful in close games in those situations, because he was my long guy yesterday. I rolled the dice a little bit, and it worked.”
• Nathan Eovaldi is making his fifth start of the year. He’s been pretty solid, but he’s also pitched more than 5.1 innings only once. “We saw him do it in Detroit,” Girardi said. “Some of it depends on how good his breaking ball is on those certain days. He’s a work in progress. I’ve said it a number of times. He’s 25 years old. He’s still a young starting pitcher that has good stuff and is still developing his skill as a starting pitcher. We’re pretty encouraged by what we’ve seen so far from him, so I think he’ll get better as the year goes on.”
Associated Press photos
Before batting practice this afternoon, Didi Gregorius was on the field going through some drills at shortstop. His instructor: Alex Rodriguez.
“It’s just a veteran player looking to lend a helping hand in situations,” Girardi said. “Didi is still a young player. We know that there are going to be some things that he goes through that sometimes might be the first or second time. He’s not a seasoned veteran out there. Alex’s experience playing short and his experience playing here in New York can help Didi.”
We hear often that Rodriguez is a great teacher of the game. Players speak highly of the way Rodriguez talks hitting around the cage, and clubhouse interviews that get in-depth about the game can be legitimately insightful rather than cliche.
“He’s making a lot of transitions,” Rodriguez said. “New York is one. The Yankees, things are different here for sure. The one thing about playing shortstop that I tried to convey to him was positioning, cadence and also that internal clock that a shortstop needs. You only get that with preparation and experience.”
Rodriguez said the Yankees’ coaching staff asked him to spend some pregame time with Gregorius on the field, and so today’s session was set up a few days ago.
“It was just more game situation (drills),” infield coach Joe Espada said. “I think kind of working on his game clock, knowing runners, outs, when to charge a ball and when to stay back on a ball. The situations that we have been working on throughout Spring Training and throughout the season. I wanted Alex to be out here to kind of give him some of that insight that, as a coach, I probably can’t give that view.”
Said Rodriguez: “The abilities are off the charts. I said that in spring training. We saw that in Spring Training. He’s got the things you can’t teach; incredible range, great arm strength. People forget, he’s only been playing shortstop for eight years. The more he comes out, the more he gets experience, the better he’s going to be.”
Obviously Gregorius and Rodriguez are off to basically opposite starts. Rodriguez has been a surprise in the best ways; Gregorius has been a disappointment in almost every facet. But Rodriguez was quick to remind everyone that it’s been only three weeks.
“It’s a process,” Rodriguez said. “Didi is going to be a fine shortstop here for a long time. I told him, sometime around June 15 or June 1st, he’s going to look at all of us and say, ‘I feel much more comfortable.’ It just takes a little bit.”
• Originally, Girardi said he expected to play Rodriguez all six games this home stand. Girardi said that plan changed last night when he decided to have Rodriguez play third base to give Chase Headley a day off. After a day in the field — and with a night game tomorrow — Girardi decided to give Rodriguez tonight off. No injury. He’s available if the Yankees need him.
• Does the decision to option Gregorio Petit indicate Jose Pirela is close to being ready to join the big league team? “It could,” Girardi said. That’s about as close to confirmation as we’re going to get. Seems pretty clear the Yankees are planning to activate Pirela to take Chase Whitley’s roster spot and replace Petit tomorrow.
• For the time being, the Yankees are taking a calculated risk by playing a game without a backup middle infielder. “I feel like I can put (Headley) at second base if I needed to,” Girardi said. “Realistically, I could put Al there, I’m sure. I think he would say, ‘Yeah, I’ll go out there and try it.’ We’ve been there before the last couple years, so there’s not a situation that I’m too worried about. If it happens, we’ll handle it.”
• Whitley pitched very well this spring and seemed to have a bullpen job locked up, but the Yankees preferred to have him stretched out for a spot start just like this one. “I’m sure he’s very excited,” Girardi said. “It was difficult to send him down because he meant a lot to us last year and pitched well in spring training. He understood why we did what we did. That doesn’t necessarily mean that as a player you want it to happen or you like it, but he went down there with the right attitude.”
• Worth noting that the Yankees preferred to have Whitley make a spot start today rather than last week against Detroit. Not sure this was a factor in the decision, but Whitley gets a much easier lineup this way. “He’s faced a number of teams in the big leagues now and understands how he got those hitters out,” Girardi said.
• The current situation in Baltimore hits home for Mark Teixeira who’s from roughly 30 minutes outside of downtown. His uncle is a priest at a downtown church that’s being protected by the National Guard. “People start attacking churches, it’s a good thing the National Guard’s there, because that’s the bottom of the bottom,” Teixeira said. “… Any time there’s a crisis, people step up. Good people always trump bad.”
• Because of the unrest in Baltimore, tomorrow’s game between the Orioles and White Sox has been moved up to 2:05 p.m. and will be played without fans allowed in the stadium. This weekend’s Orioles series against the Rays has been moved to Tampa Bay. Asked what it would be like to play a baseball game in a totally empty stadium, Teixeira deadpanned: “Did you ever go to a Rangers-Rays game between 2003 and 2005?”
• A quick bit of minor league news: Infield prospect Angel Aguilar has been added to the Charleston roster. I believe he opened the season in extended spring. Not a massive prospect, but good enough that it’s significant to get him into real games at the full-season level.
Associated Press photos
One by one, we’ve counted the Alex Rodriguez home runs. His first homer back from suspension. The one he hit in Baltimore. Two in one game against the Rays. And last night, the one that put him one away from Willie Mays. Every A-Rod home run is big news, and that certainly the next time he goes deep.
All of which has let Mark Teixeira hit his home runs in relative silence, quietly leading the Yankees, one away from the Major League lead.
“There’s been some games that he’s single-handley won for us,” Joe Girardi said. “His average is starting to climb now as it’s started to get a little bit warmer. His run production is so important to us, and I’ve been able to pencil him in there basically every day in the same spot and not move him around.”
Even with the .242 batting average — which was below .200 just a few days ago — Teixeira still ranks fifth in the American League with a 1.044 OPS. He’s drawn enough walks to keep his on-base percentage high (more walks than strikeouts), and he’s hit with such power that his doubles and home runs have made it easy to overlook the fact he has just three singles (and two of those singles came in one game).
While Rodriguez was the Yankees’ obvious wild card coming into spring training, Teixeira was also a bit of an unknown. His numbers have declined ever since that standout Yankees debut back in 2009. His 2013 season was lost to wrist surgery, and last year started fairly strong before falling apart through a series of nagging injuries and what Teixeira has described as a lack of strength and endurance. Having rehabbed the winter before, Teixeira simply wasn’t powerful enough to be an offensive force all last season.
“A winter is somewhat of a rehab of your whole body,” Girardi said. “When you spend it on one area, sometimes you can’t do as much in another area that you want to, and that sometimes hurts players.”
Teixeira is a notoriously slow starter, but he’s been a driving force this April, and he was just named the American League Player of the Week after hitting five home runs in his past seven games. He has eight total, and while they haven’t gotten nearly the attention of the guy hitting ahead of him, it seems little coincidence Teixeira’s power surge has come during a good week for the Yankees as a whole.
“What I’ve noticed is he’s healthy,” Girardi said. “That’s been the biggest change for me, not having to come in to see where he’s at physically every day. I haven’t had to do that, and it’s showed up on the field, the way he’s responded. He’s been the Mark we’ve been used to seeing before he started having nagging injuries and obviously the serious one a couple of years ago.”
• Just a day off for Chase Headley, who Girardi felt could use a day. That leaves third base for Rodriguez. “The last time he played third, he played well,” Girardi said. “In spring training, he played third well. He’s going to catch it and he’s going to throw it. He’s going to make the right decision with the baseball. I know his range is not what it was at 25, but no one’s range is what it was 15 years ago, so that’s the reality of it.”
• Obviously still a lot of talk about Rodriguez and the upcoming 660th home run. While the Yankees front office might not want to declare it a marketable milestone, there’s little arguing it’s a milestone. And Rodriguez’s teammates seem genuinely happy about that. “I think our players are happy for him,” Girardi said. “They’re having fun. Those guys are having fun in there. And Alex is a big part of that.”
• Speaking of those guys, Carlos Beltran is back in the lineup, but he’s hitting sixth and getting a turn at designated hitter. Chris Young has been taking some of his at-bats recently, but Girardi remains committed to giving Beltran time to get going offensively. Right now, he has the lowest OPS on the team at .494. “I think you don’t lose perspective that so many players — personaly, I went through it and I was never close to the hitter Carlos was — there are months that are tough,” Girardi said. “The important thing is that you continue to send him out there and understand that he’s going to turn it around and be a big part of our offense.”
• What does Girardi see from an older player that makes him think he won’t turn it around? “I think you don’t see them hit balls hard,” Girardi said. “We’ve seen Carlos hit some balls hard, so obviously you know it’s still in there.”
• At this point, even Girardi laughs at the fact he hasn’t named a closer. It’s clearly Andrew Miller, but Girardi said he feels no need to make that official. Any real reason to not assign the title? “No, not really,” Girardi said. “Just gives me more flexibility.”
• Speaking of the bullpen, Girardi said he feels the pen is still in pretty good shape even after pitching a lot of inning yesterday.
• Girardi said he’s “95 percent sure” Chase Whitley will start tomorrow. The Yankees deliberately kept Whitley and Bryan Mitchell separated in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation so that one of them would be available basically any time the team needed a spot starter. “We wanted to set it up that way,” Girardi said. “And we made him aware of that (out of spring training).”
Associated Press photos
This afternoon, Masahiro Tanaka will start on normal rest for the first time this season. But in terms of evaluation, that’s not the only factor in play.
“I think you’re going to look at command today,” Joe Girardi said. “I don’t know if you’re going to know if it’s because of the cold or if it’s because it’s on the fifth day. I think that’s going to be hard to predict. We saw command issues yesterday in two guys that really have good command. That’s what I’ll look for.”
Girardi said he’s heard a projected game-time temperature of 43 degrees. I doubt it will be snowing like it was in last night’s first inning, when both David Price and Adam Warren had a hard time. Girardi said there’s no heightened concern about Tanaka’s health in these conditions. The concern is more about simply holding and releasing the baseball.
“I don’t worry so much about his elbow as I worry about his grip on the baseball when it’s this cold,” Girardi said. “I think it can be very slippery on days like today, and I think around game time it’s going to be 43 (degrees), so we’ll just have to see how it goes. … You just try to keep your hands warm and rub up the baseball as much as you can to try to get some heat in the ball. That’s the best idea I have.”
It’s not just the breaking pitches. Girardi said a fastball can also be harder to control in these conditions. It’s just not a great day for baseball, but it’s late April, so there’s a game to be played.
“I have been in games that have been colded out, but it’s been below 30 degrees,” Girardi said. “You’re going to have to go through a few a year. It’s tough conditions, and sometimes you can avoid them some years, and sometimes you can’t. You have to play the games. The only way to avoid it would be not to start the season until May, and we know that’s not going to happen.”
• Little bit strange to see a catcher handle a day game after a night game, but Girardi said he planned coming into this series to have Brian McCann behind the plate this afternoon. “He’s playing extremely well,” Girardi said. “We talked about it, how we were going to do this week, and he feels good so I’m going to run him back out there.”
• No injury concerns with Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, just giving them a day off in this long stretch. He wasn’t planning to play either one 13 days in a row. “I just felt this was probably the best day to do it,” Girardi said.
• By sitting Rodriguez today, Girardi said he thinks he can play all six games of the upcoming home stand before getting a rest on the next scheduled off day.
• Bench coach Rob Thomson will coach third base again today. Joe Espada’s wife had a baby girl yesterday, so he’s away from the team.
• Brutal news for a nice guy: Joe Nathan needs Tommy John surgery. “He’s been really good, on really good teams,” Girardi said. “The thing you can say about Joe Nathan is that he was really tested, because he was on a ton of playoff teams and had a ton of success. It’s unfortunate what he’s going through and I don’t think any player really wants to go out that way. I’m not sure what he’ll do, being 40 years old, I’m sure there’s a lot of thought that maybe it’s his last pitch. Maybe he’ll try to come back, and god bless him if he does. But Joe Nathan’s a winner, and he’s used to winning, and it’s got to be extremely frustrating.”
• If the Yankees win today, they’ll wrap up a tremendous week on the road against Tampa Bay and Detroit. If they hadn’t blown a game in Baltimore, it would be an awfully success trip regardless of today’s result. “It would be a tremendous road trip to go 7-3 in these three cities that we went to,” Girardi said. “Good baseball teams, so obviously it would be a tremendous road trip.”
Associated Press photos