Just an observation: Joe Girardi no longer seems upset or disappointed when he hears questions about whether the Yankees offense is ever going to get any better this season. Girardi still strongly backs his team, shows nothing but confidence in them, but it’s as if every answer comes with an unspoken line: “But I can understand why you’re asking.”
Most of today’s pregame press conference was all about whether the Yankees really are good enough to make a playoff run in these final five weeks or so.
Does Girardi ever think that his team just might not be good enough?
“No, I don’t, because I know how hard it is to play this game,” he said. “Obviously we’re judged on the results. I look at the effort. And I know the results are very important because, if the effort is not there, there is no chance of having results. The effort is there everyday. I talked about it yesterday. We (had) seven or eight guys hitting early trying to figure this out and get going, so I will be optimistic as long as they continue to prepare correctly and they work hard.”
To which Michael Kay made this point: If they’re prepared, and they’re focused, and they’re approaching everything the right way, is there a chance they just aren’t good enough?
“I don’t believe that,” Girardi said.
So what do you do?
“You keep running guys out there and believe it’s going to change,” Girardi said. “Eventually it’s going to be right and it’s going to be consistent over a long period.”
At this point, the Yankees are far enough behind teams that they’re going to need some help along the way. They can’t simply sweep three games against Detroit next week and climb into the wild card lead. It’s not a comfortable position, but the Yankees — Girardi included — seem well aware that they put themselves in this spot.
“It becomes a concern when you get down to the last three, four weeks of the season,” Girardi said. “But it’s a concern now. But my bigger concern is us, not the other teams. Because if we don’t win, it doesn’t matter what the other teams do in front of us. My focus is still our club, and if we play really good baseball down the stretch, we have a shot.”
• Zelous Wheeler is up and Chase Whitley has been optioned to Triple-A. Without Carlos Beltran for a few days, the Yankees were going to be down to a two-man bench, so they added Whitley who can play some infield and outfield. The Yankees also face a left-handed pitcher today, and lefties on Friday and Sunday. So a right-handed bat is a solid fit. “With Carlos being an uncertainty for a day or two, we felt that we could use the extra bat,” Girardi said.
• The Yankees had been carrying eight relievers since the trade deadline, so this basically puts their roster back to the typical alignment. Whitley will likely go down until September, and then return when rosters expand. I don’t think he’ll even burn an option. Pretty sure a player has to stay down for 20 days to burn one.
• Beltran said yesterday that he hopes to play on Friday. Girardi made that sound like a real long shot. “I think you’ll start to have a pretty good idea by Saturday where we’re headed with this, if we can get him back fairly quickly,” Girardi said.
• Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to face hitters on Saturday. Should be a live batting practice session (or perhaps a sim game, which is more or less the same thing). “Our plan is that it will probably be here, but we’ve got figure out who to face,” Girardi said.
• The plan for David Phelps? “Until he starts throwing bullpens, I’m not ready to put a timetable out,” Girardi said. “Obviously we felt we could get him back much quicker (making him a reliever). You don’t need to build him up nearly as much. Right now I believe he’s going to play catch again today. I’ve got to talk to Stevie to see when the first time he has him off a mound and then you’ll have a better idea.”
Associated Press photos
Here’s the way Joe Girardi explained the Carlos Beltran situation:
Apparently Beltran’s elbow bothers him from time to time when he swings. Nothing extreme, just enough to feel that there’s something not quite right — which everyone knows to be the case — and then it goes away. He’s felt it before and stayed in games without much concern. Last night it happened again, but this time Beltran was still feeling something the morning after.
“He said it grabbed a little bit last night on one of the swings,” Girardi said. “He went through the rest of the game, but today he woke up and he felt it. Obviously that’s a little worse than it’s been at any other point during when he’s been playing and playing pretty well. I’m not really sure what it means. Hopefully it’s just a day or two.”
Beltran was originally at designated hitter, Derek Jeter at shortstop, Stephen Drew at second base and Martin Prado in right field. When Beltran was scratched, the lineup shuffled to the one you’ve already seen.
Is there concern that Beltran playing the field is what caused this lingering discomfort?
“No, because he’s felt it on swings, not in the outfield,” Girardi said. “He didn’t really have a lot of action in the outfield, so he didn’t really have to make any throws or anything like that. It seems to be more from a swing than from throwing.”
Girardi said it’s too early to know what this means for the future of using Beltran in the outfield. It seems too early to say even what it means for the immediate future of using him in the lineup. Dr. Chris Ahmad will check the elbow tonight.
“He’ll see the doctor and we’ll find out what’s going on,” Girardi said. “I’m sure it’s much of the same of what he had going on before, but for whatever reason it was a little worse today in a sense that he still felt it whereas other times he didn’t.”
• Masahiro Tanaka threw a 35-pitch bullpen today, and it included breaking balls. Using one-word English answers in the beginning of a group interview at his locker, Tanaka said that the bullpen was “good” and “better” than last time.
• This was the first time since the injury that Tanaka threw something other than fastballs off a mound. He threw his breaking balls, including five splitters. “I felt (the offspeed stuff) was a little bit rusty,” Tanaka said. “I’ll have to brush that up a little bit.”
• No official word on what’s next for Tanaka. The next step would be live batting practice, but Tanaka might throw another bullpen before he faces hitters. “I don’t really have a realistic timeframe because I don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves,” Girardi said. “But the next step would be throwing BP, then a simulated game, then obviously a rehab game. The fact that he felt good today was encouraging. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow; obviously that’s really important. But he was able to throw his curveball, his slider and his split; I watched it and he looked pretty good.”
• Tanaka said he was not worried about the elbow during the bullpen, and he feels pretty confident that the health problems are behind him. “Absolutely,” he said. “I feel that I’ve gotten the health; the elbow is fine now. I’m more looking towards playing in a game now. But that said, even that said, I think I do have to be cautious about the elbow.”
• Seems weird, but apparently there’s no plan to have Tanaka have another MRI. As long as he feels good, he will apparently keep pitching. “With this type of injury, it’s either going to work or it’s not going to work,” Girardi said. “It’s not something like you’re waiting for the inflammation to go away or something like that. It’s either going to work or it’s not going to work.”
• Still no exact plan for David Phelps. “No, we have not (made a decision),” Girardi said. “Cash, Stevie and myself are going to sit down with the doctor and figure out what is the best plan for him to get him back, or what needs to be done next.” Yankees are apparently still deciding whether it’s best to bring Phelps back as a starter (which will take more time) or as a reliever (which could happen quite a bit sooner).
• Any concern about Stephen Drew’s offensive numbers since the trade deadline? “He’s got, what, eight or nine RBIs since he’s been here in the games that he’s played?” Girardi said. “His average maybe is not (good), but he’s had some production for us.” Someone get this quote to Brian Kenny!
Associated Press photos
David Phelps played catch yesterday. He also got a precautionary MRI and will meet with team physician Dr. Chris Ahmad later tonight. Phelps said he’s been told he could be back in roughly three weeks, but that time table really depends on how the Yankees choose to use him down the stretch.
Is it worth waiting to get him back in the rotation, or is it better to move more quickly and put him in the bullpen?
“You hate to say anything because my fear is that it will change tomorrow,” Joe Girardi said. “Right now our starters are throwing well, and our relievers have really been pretty good too. I think what you look at is, let’s see what the doctors says today. And then if we feel that we need him as a starter, how long does that take in the doctor and Stevie (Donohue)’s eyes? And how long would it take to get him back as a reliever. Then you go from there.”
Phelps was pitching awfully well before that start in Boston that sent him to the disabled list. He had a 3.29 ERA in nine starts before the Boston game, and even that ERA would have been below 3.00 if not for one bad inning in Texas. A few bad games, and one rough stretch, have inflated Phelps’ season numbers, but he was emerging as one of the Yankees most reliable starters before he got hurt.
He’s missed just two weeks, which doesn’t seem like a huge problem — and the injury seems more focused at the bottom of his triceps, not necessarily in the usual elbow ligament — but the Yankees are a cautious bunch, and so it’s not likely Phelps will be rushed back under any circumstances.
“It’s been well over a week since I felt anything, which is good news,” Phelps said. “What we’re doing is working. We have to wait and see what (Dr. Ahmad) says, and then hopefully move forward. … They’ve talked three weeks potentially. It all depends. We want to make sure everything goes smooth just so we don’t have a setback at this point in the season. I think it might be a little bit more careful than trying to rush things. I don’t think it should take that long. It’s only been two weeks. Hopefully it will go faster than that.”
Seems like a guy who should be able to help in one role or another.
“How we use him probably depends on how long it takes him to get back,” Girardi said. “Obviously we feel it’s important he sees the doctor today and we go from there. He’s hasn’t been off that long to where if he’s a start obviously it will take longer. If he’s a bullpen guy it doesn’t take as long.”
• Random note on Derek Jeter: The scoring has been changed on the hit that originally moved him into a tie with Honus Wagner on the all-time hits list. That hit is now an error, which means Jeter did not tie Wagner on August 8, he actually tied him on August 9 and passed him on August 11. The Yankees actually kept each ball (apparently just in case that August 8 hit was changed to an error) so Jeter has the new milestone baseballs, just in case you were worried. “If it was the last hit I ever got, then it would be a story,” Jeter said. “This one? We got the ball, so (it’s not a big deal).”
• Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to throw another bullpen tomorrow.
• Speaking of Jeter, he’s back at shortstop and Stephen Drew is on the bench. Drew hasn’t hit much since coming to the Yankees, and the team seems happy with Martin Prado’s ability to play second base, so tonight Prado and Ichiro Suzuki are in the lineup. Girardi said the lineup could change quite a bit from night to night. “It’s something that I’ll look at, and with Carlos (Beltran) able to play the outfield, I think it helps us,” Girardi said. “It’s also important, too, that we give Carlos his DH days as well. Prado gives us a lot of flexibility. He played a very good second base the other day and we’ll play him there today.”
• By the way, Girardi didn’t rule out the idea of DHing either Francisco Cervelli or Brian McCann from time to time. Cervelli has been a pretty productive hitter this season. “We’ve talked about that,” Girardi said. “We have. You run the risk that, if sometimes one gets nicked up during the game, then you’ve got to move him. It’s something that – is there a possibility you’ll see us do that? Yes.”
• Adam Warren has not looked sharp in his most recent outings — he has a 9.82 ERA and .621 opponents slugging percentage his past nine times out — but the Yankees haven’t used him in a week. Girardi said it just kind of happened that way, but there certainly seemed to be times when Shawn Kelley was coming into situations that Warren might have pitched if he weren’t struggling. “The situation just didn’t dictate (bringing him in),” Girardi said. “I don’t think the days off hurt him. And I think he should feel pretty strong and rested now, which is a good thing for us.”
• Tiger Woods is here today. So that’s something.
• Six games at home against teams with losing records. This should be an opportunity to pad the Yankees record. “You have to win series,” Girardi said. “You have to win games. It gets to the point where there’s not a lot of room for error. These are very important games.”
Associated Press photos
Here’s what Derek Jeter said last night about being a designated hitter:
“I don’t DH much. You go in the cage between at-bats. That’s about it. It’s not something that I do a lot of. To be honest with you, I’m not sure how people do it. I just run out of things to do. Fortunately, I think (Saturday) might be my second time this year. I don’t do it that often.”
Well, now Jeter’s the DH for a second day in a row, and with Carlos Beltran cleared to play the outfield — and with two awfully good defensive shortstops on the roster — there’s a chance Jeter will see even more DH days down the stretch.
“I don’t know,” Joe Girardi said. “I’ve talked about, now that we’ve got Carlos in the outfield, we could rotate the DH a little bit more. I’ll still DH Carlos plenty, but felt it was a chance to give Jeet a week where he could catch up.”
When the Yankees kick off next week’s home stand, Jeter’s past six days will have included three days off plus two days at designated hitter. That’s a pretty good amount of rest for a 40-year-old shortstop, and while Girardi wouldn’t commit to just how often Jeter will DH in the future — he said he’ll rotate the DH days, and that Beltran will stick get quite a few of them — the roster does seem pretty well designed for Jeter to get at least occasional days — if not regular days — out of the infield.
“Not thinking too much of it,” Girardi said. “Figure it’s a chance to do it (these two days). Turf can be rough on people. We’re going to get into another long stretch, so I chose to do it that way.”
• One day after his 25-pitch bullpen, Masahiro Tanaka played catch today and seems perfectly fine. “He felt good,” Girardi said. “He played catch today, so he’s scheduled for another bullpen next week. I’m not sure what day. Next bullpen he’ll start to spin some stuff.”
• By the way, saying Tanaka is going to “spin some stuff” doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll start throwing splitters next week. “I’m not sure if he’ll throw a split,” Girardi said. “They talked about him spinning some curveballs. I’m not sure exactly if he’s going to throw a slider or what else he’s going to throw. We want him to spin some on some flat ground before he does it off a mound.”
• As expected, Brian McCann is off the disabled list and back at catcher. He missed slightly more than a week because of a concussion. Seems fine now. “It makes (the lineup) deeper, and obviously it’s a guy that has power,” Girardi said. “It’s really good to be able to put him back there because, any time someone goes through something like he went through, we’re always concerned. But he feels good and he’s back in there.”
• Austin Romine has been optioned back to Triple-A.
• Did having Beltran limited to DH keep Girardi from resting key players the past few months? “It worked out,” Girardi said. “Thinking of guys I might have DHed a little bit — I might have given Gardy one DH day in there, and Ellsbury one DH day in there, but not a whole lot.”
• Girardi said he would “absolutely” play Martin Prado in right field again.
• Hiroki Kuroda didn’t get through the fifth inning his last time out. “He didn’t really have a very good split that day, I didn’t think,” Girardi said. “That’s an important pitch for him.”
Associated Press photos
Pregame notes: “I just feel like it’s time” • 08.16.14
Carlos Beltran last played right field on May 11. It was one day later, on May 12, that Beltran felt sudden pain in his right elbow, which led to the discovery of a bone spur, which led to the Yankees decision to keep him out of the field for several months.
But he’s been playing catch for a while now, and the tightness that had developed in his forearm has subsided, and so the Yankees feel ready to get him back into right field. Beltran prefers playing out there, he feels confident that he’s healthy, and getting Beltran in the field opens the DH spot for other regulars to get a bit of a rest from time to time.
“I just feel like it’s time,” Beltran said. “Right now I’ve been throwing and I don’t feel nothing. It’s good.”
There’s some risk here — Beltran has been a productive hitter since the All-Star break, and a setback would be a real blow to an offense that can’t afford to lose much — but Beltran said he’s convinced his elbow is up to making throws, and Joe Girardi said he doesn’t feel much need to pay extra attention to Beltran on defense.
“I feel that he’s healthy, and that it shouldn’t be an issue,” Girardi said. “They can test him (on the bases). His arm’s fine. He’s thrown. This an aggressive club anyway, so I don’t think they’re going to play any different.”
The Yankees have several long stretches late in the season, and the DH spot will surely be used to give players a half day off from time to time. Girardi wouldn’t commit to whether he considers Beltran to be the everyday right fielder or still a regular DH going forward. Surely he’ll get at least some DH days.
“Just wait to see how it goes,” Girardi said. “Let’s go day by day. I don’t want to make a decision too quickly here. Let’s just go day by day.”
Beltran is hitting .299 with five home runs and 17 RBI since the All-Star break. It seems little coincidence that his improved production has come as he’s grown more confident that the elbow and forearm are healthy.
“I guess in the back of my mind sometimes I get caught up a little bit protecting it,” Beltran said. “Especially, I don’t know, (when) it’s kind of sore a little bit, my forearm. But at the end of the day, I just have to come and prepare myself and try to do the best I can. Once the game starts, I try not to think about it, but during batting practice and cage work and things like that I try to be smart and try not to do much.”
• Brian McCann has not been activated. There’s no medical concern, the Yankees just want him to go through at least one more day of baseball drills. “I just felt that he was kind of lethargic (during drills yesterday),” Girardi said. “I think what happens is that when you are used to doing something every day for five, six months, and then you’re not able to do anything for five days, we’ve got to make sure because I don’t want to put him in there too soon and you get the foul tip and lose him for a long period of time.”
• It’s possible McCann will come off the disabled list tomorrow, but Girardi said that’s not a sure thing. Could wait until Tuesday.
• Worth noting that the Yankees wanted to play a bunch of right-handers against Drew Smyly anyway, and Francisco Cervelli has been catching Shane Greene regularly. Even so, Girardi said the determining factor on McCann had much more to do with wanting to get him more swings and work on the field. “It was more our feeling that he wasn’t quite ready to go,” Girardi said.
• Going right-handed is part of the reason today is Beltran’s return to right field. Putting him out there lets the Yankees sit both Stephen Drew and Ichiro Suzuki. “Try to get as many right-handed hitters in there against Smyly as possible,” Girardi said. “He’s been very tough against left-handers this year – and the last couple of years – and it’s one way of doing it.”
• After today’s bullpen, Masahiro Tanaka will stay with the Yankees when they leave Tampa. He’s not going to stay behind to do work at the complex. No word yet on when exactly he’ll throw his next bullpen, but he’s expected to throw some real breaking balls at that point. “We’ll see how he is tomorrow and then design the next few days,” Larry Rothschild said. “I don’t like to get ahead in the schedule with the rehabs. We have an idea of what he’ll do, but first we’ll see how he comes in.”
• What was Rothschild watching for in the bullpen today? “More facial expressions to see if he’s trying to hide something, which I don’t think he’s going to, but you never know,” Rothschild said. “You watch his delivery to make sure he’s not forcing anything. The most important part early in this is that he stays smooth and finishes his pitches so we don’t tweak anything. He’s had some time off, so it’s not only going to be the elbow. You have to watch everything.”
• Everyone involved indicates the Yankees are planning to bring Tanaka back this season regardless of where they are in the standings. Even if they’re out of it by the time Tanaka’s ready to pitch again, it’s still likely he’ll come off the disabled list to make a few starts. “I think it’s important that we know that he’s healthy,” Girardi said. “And I think the only way you’re going to find out is if you get him in games.”
• Tanaka on the possibility of coming back to a team that’s no longer in the race: “I think it’s important for the team to fight until the end of the season, so for me, if it would be possible, I’d like to contribute until the end of the season.”
• By the way, David Phelps is scheduled to be re-examined on Monday, which will be two weeks since his upper elbow/lower triceps issue. It’s entirely possible he’ll start playing catch that day as well.
• As Mark Newman said in this morning’s blog post, indications are that Andrew Bailey is not going to pitch at all for the Yankees this season. Girardi said Bailey’s had a few setbacks in his recovery from shoulder surgery, and he doesn’t expect to see him this season. Maybe next season.
• Girardi responding to last night’s Kevin Long comment about morale being low: “You’re always going to look down when you don’t score runs,” Girardi said. “That’s the nature of the game. Guys are frustrated. I’ve said that guys are frustrated because they know that they’re capable of doing more. We want to play in October, and when you lose, you should be frustrated. You shouldn’t just blow it off. Every day is a new day, and things can change very quickly in a clubhouse. You can get on a roll, and that’s what we need to do.”
Associated Press photos
Masahiro Tanaka did more long toss today. He also went through a round of pitcher’s fielding practice. The next step is actually throwing off a mound.
The plan is for Tanaka to throw a 25-pitch bullpen tomorrow. It will be, without a doubt, his most significant step yet in this attempt to rehab his way back from a partially torn elbow ligament.
“If I can’t throw the way I want to throw on the mound or in the bullpen, then there’s no way I’ll be able to throw that in a game,” Tanaka said. “So definitely, the bullpen will be important.”
Tomorrow’s bullpen is scheduled for all fastballs. Tanaka still hasn’t tried to throw any type of breaking ball.
“I’ve said all along I think you need to see him in competition,” manager Joe Girardi said. “That’s when the intensity gets turned up and it’s not controlled. You can somewhat control a bullpen, you can somewhat control live batting practice, but once you get in a game it’s a little bit harder.”
Tanaka said he continues to feel no pain through these early stages of his throwing program. He sounds optimistic, and the Yankees seem hopeful, but there are still a lot of steps along the way.
“I sure hope (he’ll be back this year),” Girardi said. “That’s why we’re going through it. Obviously you’ve got to find out if it’s the proper thing to do and if his arm going to hold up. You’d hate to shut him down the whole year and then go through it next year. Everything has been positive so far. He said he feels good, but you really don’t ever know.”
• Brian McCann came jogging into the clubhouse, then said he only had time to grab his hat before heading onto the field for batting practice. He said nothing about how he’s feeling, but he certainly didn’t seem like a guy suffering any concussion symptoms and the Yankees still expect to have him off the disabled list tomorrow.
• If you’re curious about the details, Girardi said McCann actually took a concussion test earlier today, and his performance will be evaluated elsewhere so that the league can clear him (or not clear him) for tomorrow’s game. The Yankees think he’s gotten past the problem, but he has to pass that test to be allowed back in the lineup.
• In McCann’s place, Francisco Cervelli has been awfully good. “I’m not surprised, though,” Girardi said. “We saw it last year and we’ve seen it from this kid before. The big thing is keeping him healthy and that he’s a player for us.”
• Despite some recent bumps in the road, Girardi said he’s not overly worried about bullpen workload. “No, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of resting them when we’ve needed to rest them,” Girardi said. “It’s a long year and you go through ups and downs. Very few bullpens are ever perfect; I haven’t found one yet, and I’ve been on some teams with some pretty good bullpens. It’s just part of it.”
• A lot of attention focused on Shawn Kelley saying on Wednesday that the Yankees best bet for making the playoffs was the second wild card. “Well, he also said our goal is still to win the division too,” Girardi said. “Obviously you’re closer in the Wild Card than you are in the division, but we still have plenty of games left with Baltimore. Our goal will be to win the division and we’ll continue to fight for that, but at the very least, you want to make the playoffs.”
• Apparently Joe Maddon has declared this to be an “American Legion” game for the Rays, meaning they’re basically a show-and-go team with no plans of taking batting practice or going through many of the usual pregame routines. They’ll just get to the park and play a big league game.
• Maybe everyone is just as tired as I am today, but this felt like an incredibly slow pregame session both in the clubhouse and with Girardi. The Little League World Series was on in the clubhouse, and there just wasn’t much happening in there. Girardi talked a lot more about the fact the Yankees need to build a long stretch of success, which wasn’t much more than simply stating the obvious.
• By the way, you know what would be helpful for the Yankees starting this weekend? If they actually started hitting some home runs.
Associated Press photos
Usually on a day like this I’d do a random thoughts blog post. Today, it’s not so much thoughts but questions that are on my mind. No answers just yet, but these questions are going to determine much of what happens to the Yankees down the stretch.
Can Michael Pineda’s shoulder hold up this time?
It’s not only the setbacks this season, it’s the fact he had such a significant shoulder injury in the first place. That’s why Pineda’s health remains a concern even after last night’s encouraging start in Baltimore. Pineda looked good in his return to the rotation — hard to ask for more under the circumstances — but one game really isn’t nearly enough to tell us whether he’s going to be a great, good, average or lousy pitcher in the final month and a half. Last night was basically enough to show that he could be an impact arm if he stays healthy. Staying healthy is, of course, the key. It has huge ramifications for this year and beyond.
What happens when Masahiro Tanaka gets on a mound?
He seemed to say all of the right things after throwing what I guess qualifies as an extremely light flat ground bullpen. He’s been able to play catch, do some long toss, and now he’s been able to throw a few fastballs in the outfield. All of the steps have been positive so far, and Tanaka says the elbow pain has vanished, but let’s see what happens when he gets on a mound and dials it up with fastballs, splitters and sliders. The Yankees are hoping to avoid Tommy John surgery for both the short term and the long term, and while the early returns are positive, Tanaka’s not through the woods just yet.
Will Carlos Beltran’s return to right field be a worthwhile idea?
He was awesome in early April, then his bat diminished, then he was hurt, then he came back as only a whisper of what he used to be. But lately, Beltran has been a true impact hitter, one of the best in the Yankees lineup. He’s been terrific since the All-Star break, and the Yankees can hardly afford to lose a guy who’s actually providing offensive production and consistency. Yet, they want to get Beltran back in right field. It makes sense as a way to open the DH spot to rest other lineup regulars — and perhaps open at bats for some sort of raw bat that might clear trade waivers this month — but that’s only a worthwhile move if Beltran is able to play right field without getting hurt again.
Is the bullpen running out of steam?
Aside from that hiccup in Texas and one pitch last night, Dellin Betances still looks great. And Dave Robertson has remained perfectly reliable in the ninth inning. But one of the strengths of this bullpen has been its depth, and Adam Warren’s numbers have not been especially good lately. Chase Whitley, who looked awesome when he first showed up, has thrown a ton of innings by his standards and could be worn down. There’s no longer a proven left-hander. Shawn Kelley has been inconsistent. Could be that Esmil Rogers can provide a boost if some of the go-to guys need it, but the bullpen is starting to feel a little shaky beyond the two big guys at the end.
How much difference can three guys make?
Before the trade deadline, the Yankees completely rebuilt the bottom third of their lineup. Brian Roberts was released, Kelly Johnson and Yangervis Solare were shipped away, and Ichiro Suzuki was relegated to the bench. They were replaced by Chase Headley, Stephen Drew and Martin Prado, three pretty good hitters having pretty bad years. Headley and Drew have significantly upgraded the infield defense, but the Yankees need those three to hit, and their offensive impact has been pretty minimal so far.
When will Mark Teixeira break down again?
I suppose it’s not quite a given that Teixeira is going to get hurt again, but it seems entirely possible if not likely that he’s going to have some sort of nagging problem pop up again. This guy has already spent time on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, gotten injections in his wrist and his back, had his knee drained, gotten stitches for his pinky, and been taken out of the lineup because of fatigue and light-headedness (two separate issues). The way the roster is structured right now, a Teixeira injury would mean additional at-bats for either Francisco Cervelli, Ichiro Suzuki or Brendan Ryan. Those are hardly offensive replacements for what Teixeira brings to the lineup.
Who is the true left-handed specialist?
The Yankees saw an opportunity to get out of an uninspiring contract, and so they let Matt Thornton slip away on waivers earlier this month. Thornton had been alright — not a single extra-base hit to a left-handed hitter — but he seems infinitely replaceable. Problem is, the Yankees haven’t really replaced him yet. They’ve tried Rich Hill and David Huff in key at-bats against lefties, but those two are hardly typical left-handed specialists. Eventually the Yankees are surely going to try one of their in-house young lefties in the role. Will it be Tyler Webb, Jacob Lindgren or maybe even Manny Banuelos? And more importantly, will they be up to the challenge?
Which teams are fading and which are charging?
The Red Sox and Rays have pretty much thrown in the towel, and the Angels and A’s seem to be locked into playoff spots — they’re simply fighting for which one wins the West and which is the top wild card — but that still leaves plenty of other playoff contenders for the Yankees to keep an eye on. The Orioles and Blue Jays are obviously ahead of the Yankees in the division, and the second wild-card race also includes Detroit, Kansas City, Seattle and Cleveland. That’s seven teams in the mix for one of the two playoff spots that could let the Yankees move on.
Associated Press photos
This is a big day for the Yankees rotation.
At least, it might be a big day for the Yankees rotation.
Not only is Michael Pineda making his first big league start in more than three months, but even before tonight’s first pitch, Masahiro Tanaka went into the outfield and threw 10 flat-ground fastballs. That’s a pretty small step, but it’s the most significant step yet in his return from a partially torn elbow ligament.
“Pain’s gone,” is the phrase Wally Matthews heard.
At this stage, it’s basically impossible for Tanaka to do anything that proves he’s in the clear and will definitely return to the Yankees rotation without needing Tommy John surgery. For now, the best the Yankees can hope for is that he doesn’t suffer a setback. And so far he hasn’t. We’re squarely into no news is good news territory, and right now it seems that Tanaka has no real news to report.
He’s a Major League pitcher who’s playing catch and throwing a few pitches off flat ground. As long as it goes well, none of this is a particularly big deal. It’s all just a series of steps in the right direction. It becomes a big deal when he either progresses to game action or suffers some sort of setback that shuts down the whole process.
• Although the Yankees originally announced a rotation that had Chris Capuano starting on Sunday, Hiroki Kuroda told reporters in Baltimore that he’s actually taking the ball that day. The Yankees seem to be clearly — and understandably — trying to give Kuroda a little bit of a rest in hopes of avoiding a late-season crash like they’ve seen in recent years.
• Joe Girardi told reporters that he expects Brian McCann to come off the disabled list on Saturday. McCann has been on the seven-day concussion DL.
• Pineda returns to the rotation tonight. He hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since April 23, the day he was ejected for using pine tar. Most pitches he threw during his minor league rehab assignment was 72 on Friday, so there’s basically no chance he’ll be cleared for anything particularly close to 100 pitches tonight.
• To open a roster spot for Pineda, Chris Leroux has been designated for assignment. What is this, three big league call-ups for Leroux this season? He’s been one of several guys shuttling back and forth to give the Yankees a long man when they need it. And the Yankees have needed it quite a bit because they’ve struggled to get much distance out of their starting pitchers.
• The Orioles have put third baseman Manny Machado on the disabled list with a knee injury. He hurt himself during Monday’s game against the Yankees. Chris Davis is back at third base for Baltimore.
• Speaking of Baltimore, from our friend Marly Rivera, here’s Orioles manager Buck Showalter on whether Pineda will be using pine tar tonight: “I’m hoping he’s got a little (pine tar) in the right place, YOU try gripping the ball in some of this weather.” It’s been said over and over again, but the problem with Pineda in Boston wasn’t so much that he was using pine tar, it was the fact he was being so blatant about it after the Red Sox had already looked the other way once.
• Clubhouse good guy Shawn Kelley did the Ice Bucket Challenge today and challenged Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Felix Hernandez to do the same. Dan Barbarisi pointed out yesterday that Kelley lost his grandfather to ALS, so it’s pretty cool that he’s jumping into the recent trend.
• At the owner’s meeting to discuss the next commissioner, Hal Steinbrenner told Michael O’Keeffe that he expects to have Alex Rodriguez back in the Yankees lineup next season. That’s settled. I’m sure we won’t hear another word about it.
Associated Press photo
Mark Teixeira tested his cut lefty pinky earlier today, and by “tested” I mean that he gripped a bat and took a few dry swings.
“Pretty painful,” Teixeira said. “But I’m going to go out, run around, stretch, hopefully some blood flow will help, get it warm. During the day, as the day goes on, hopefully it just keeps getting a little better.”
Despite the early pain just gripping a bat, Teixeira said he’s going to take some tee and toss in the indoor cage, but there are no plans for him to immediately take batting practice. There’s really no telling when he’ll be back in the lineup. Could be soon. Could be several days.
“I’d love to play as soon as possible,” he said. “But I have no idea. I’ve never done this before. I have no idea how long it’s going to take.”
The cut is to his left pinky, and Teixeira said he’s assuming he’ll have an easier time batting left-handed. He’s also assuming he’ll be alright in the field, but he hasn’t tried to put on a glove. Joe Girardi said he’s considering Teixeira day-to-day and will follow guidance from the trainers in deciding whether Teixeira will be available to pinch hit before he’s available to start.
“There’s a big cut and then there’s the bruising and then the joints probably sprained a little bit too,” Teixeira said. “It’s just sore. I’m not sure if it’ll get worse, but it definitely needs to get better.”
• Masahiro Tanaka played catch again this afternoon. He made 25 throws at 60 feet and 25 throws at 90 feet. He will throw at 90 feet again tomorrow, then take a day off. He needs to get up to 120 feet before the Yankees will let him throw a flat-ground bullpen. “He said he felt good,” Girardi said.
• Michael Pineda is make a rehab start tonight with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Girardi said he might get an update or two during the game, but he’s really planning to wait until it’s over before finding out how Pineda looked. “Chances are it will be flashed on our TV screen in the video room and someone will give me a report,” Girardi said. “But for the most part I’ll check in after.”
• Bryan Mitchell is back. This is his third call-up, but he has yet to get in a game. Girardi said he’s just up to give the Yankees some bullpen innings if necessary. The Yankees are happy with the way Mitchell was pitching in Triple-A, where he had a 2.88 ERA through five starts (four of which were very good).
• Although Esmil Rogers was stretched out as a starter in Triple-A and has been stretched out beyond 100 pitches this season, Girardi said he doesn’t expect to get that many pitches out of Rogers tonight. “Obviously he pitched Sunday and went 45 pitches,” Girardi said. “And then he pitched Tuesday which would be a normal side day. But he threw in the game, and I think you expend a little bit more than if you do your normal side. He’s been built up to 100 pitches, but I wouldn’t think we’d get that many. It’s basically going to be watch and see.”
• The Yankees are carrying two left-handed relievers, but neither is a typical left-on-left specialist (Rich Hill and David Huff have been primarily long men and spot starters). Eventually, it seems the Yankees would like to bring up a young reliever to try to be a left-on-left replacement for Matt Thornton, but that hasn’t happened yet and might not happen right away. “Obviously we hope one of them moves quickly here and could be an option for us,” Girardi said. “As of today, we don’t feel that, but we like what we see.”
Associated Press photos
Yankees pregame: Tanaka still in play • 08.04.14
Masahiro Tanaka tested his right elbow for the first time since his platelet-rich plasma injection three weeks ago. He threw 25 times at 60 feet in the outfield. And the elbow passed its first test.
So how does he feel?
“Good,” Tanaka said in English.
“I thought it went all well,” he added in Japanese.
Tanaka said he felt “relieved.” The hope is he can be a starter again for the Yankees for the final month.
But Joe Girardi wasn’t ecstatic because this was only the first step, just a light catch. Tanaka is scheduled to play catch again tomorrow.
“It’s a positive day, but there’s still a long way to go,” Girardi said.
Obviously mound throwing will be the real test of whether the ulnar collateral ligament will hold up.
Girardi needs a starter for Friday night against the Indians now that David Phelps has gone on the DL with elbow tendinitis. Michael Pineda threw 58 pitches for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Sunday, plus another five in the bullpen. Pineda said he was feeling good and in a normal routine now. Could Pineda be a possibility for Friday?
While Girardi didn’t rule it out, he made it sound unlikely. He would like Pineda built up to at least 90 pitches, which would take another two rehab starts. Girardi did say that he thought the start would likely be taken by someone on the staff now.
Brett Gardner was named the AL player of the week after batting .478 with five homers and seven RBI in six games.
“It’s been fun, and if he wants to do it this week, that’ll be great, too,” Girardi said.