First, the basics of what’s going on with Masahiro Tanaka:
He’s going on the disabled list tomorrow, and the Yankees will keep Chase Whitley in the rotation. Michael Pineda will start tomorrow’s game on regular rest, and it sounds likely Gregorio Petit will be activated just one day after being optioned (the Yankees can do that since it’s a reaction to a player going on the disabled list). Now, onto the bigger questions.
What exactly happened to Tanaka’s forearm?
The short answer is, it seems no one is entirely sure. Tanaka said he felt fine after Thursday’s start in Detroit, and Brian Cashman said there were actually rave reviews about Tanaka’s bullpen on Sunday. Cashman said there was some early speculation — before the MRI results came in — that maybe some of the torque from that bullpen caused Tanaka to aggravate something in his wrist, but the tests actually came back negative in the wrist. The forearm issue that was discovered is incredibly mild and Tanaka never complained about it.
“He has the wrist complaint, but that led us to run into something else,” Cashman said. “So when you package it all together, we’re taking the safe conservative route. He has no complaint of his elbow, none, and he physically tests out fine with the elbow. I think he was surprised about the very small (strain) — and I stress small, I can’t even call it a Grade 1 — the very small signal in the forearm muscles. The combination of the tendinitis in the wrist — he throws that split finger — with the signal on the forearm muscle, Dr. Ahmad recommended the disabled list.”
Tanaka dismissed the idea that pitching on normal rest caused the issue, and Cashman repeatedly stressed that there’s been no physical change in the elbow, though it’s impossible for anyone to rule out the idea that this issue might be somehow related to the lingering elbow issue in one way or another.
What does this mean for Tanaka’s elbow?
In the short term, nothing. I guess it means the elbow is going to get some unexpected rest, but ultimately the Yankees don’t seem to be approaching this as an elbow issue, and certainly not as an issue that changes their approach to Tanaka. They’re shutting him down to make sure this issue doesn’t spread to the elbow ligament.
“We want to make sure that we protect, obviously, the elbow because obviously the forearm protects the elbow,” Cashman said. “We want to make sure that this doesn’t lead to the more horrific problems that we’re trying to avoid.”
Tanaka said he doesn’t consider this to be an elbow issue. His wrist hurt, and he found out his forearm was slightly injured. That’s the immediate medical reality. The bigger medical reality is that the elbow is an issue that will linger over everything. The Yankees have treated Tanaka differently because of the elbow, and now they’re taking a typically cautious approach in an effort to further protect the elbow. This is nothing new, and Cashman said he still has no regrets about the way the Yankees have handled Tanaka’s health.
“Absolutely no regret because we’re following the medical directives,” Cashman said. “I can’t remember any time we’ve ever gone against doctors’ orders. Why would we? They’re the experts. We follow what they prescribe.”
What will the Yankees change going forward?
It seems, not much. Cashman said the team would have reacted the same way should any pitcher get this diagnosis at this point in the season. They’re typically conservative, and they follow their doctors’ advice, and so Tanaka is being shut down for seven to 10 days before beginning the slow return.
“Nothing really big came out from the MRI or anything,” Tanaka said. “So I feel that I can come back strong.”
Joe Girardi has said since spring training, and he said again today, that the Yankees won’t ask Tanaka to stop throwing his split-finger because the split-finger is a big part of what makes Tanaka effective. It’s just a cost of doing business. He’d been throwing splits since early spring, and there was no issue until today, and even today’s issue seems relatively minor and so far seems to come with no additional damage to the elbow. Pitchers get hurt, and so far, this pitcher’s been hurt quite a bit in his year-plus with the Yankees. There’s surely some relief that this isn’t an elbow issue, but it’s still an issue.
“The fact that I’m talking to you right now, I don’t feel like is a good thing,” Cashman said. “It’s good that the elbow is fine as of right now, and there’s no change there. Listen, I wanted him to make his next start (before discovering the injury), but we’re going to do the right course of action to make sure when he’s on that mound he’s able to be the best he can possibly be. Could he pitch? He can take the ball. Should he pitch? We’ll have to wait until he’s 100 percent.”
• After Chase Whitley pitched a 1-2-3 first inning, I tweeted that there was basically no circumstance in which Whitley would not be optioned tomorrow morning. Even if he pitched a complete game, I joked, he would still be sent down. Then this happened. “Right now he’s in our rotation,” Girardi said. “He will be here tomorrow.”
• Whitley nearly made the Yankees out of spring training, and tonight he finally got here and allowed one run through five innings. He pitched out of jams, struck out five, walked one and seems to made the most of this opportunity. “It feels good to be able to go out tonight and do my job,” Whitley said. “I’m not trying to look ahead to anything else, just pitch when and where they tell me to pitch.”
• Whitley was spot starting, and both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were unavailable after pitching the past two nights, and the pitching staff still allowed just two runs with 12 strikeouts. “To do what they did tonight, they’re pitching in roles that they’re not accustomed to, and they’re all thriving,” Brian McCann said.
• Chris Martin got the first save of his big league career. He’s been a really nice find early in the season. “I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t (feel different in the ninth),” Martin said. “It was a little nerve racking, but I settled down there for the first hitter.”
• Interesting that Girardi went with Martin instead of David Carpenter in the ninth. Girardi said he was saving Carpenter for just in case the Rays came back to tie the game and force extra innings. With Miller, Betances and Justin Miller having each pitched back-to-back games, Carpenter would have been the last line of defense.
• Esmil Rogers went 2.2 scoreless innings with five strikeouts and one hit. He struck out half the batters he faced. He’s really been terrific in that long relief role. “A tremendous outing out of Esmil Rogers,” Giradi said. “Comes in with a runner on third and one out and gets two outs; strikes out the first guy, Beckham, then gets a ground out and gets us to the ninth inning. And then Martin does a really good job as well.”
• Three consecutive 10-strikeout games for the Yankees pitching staff. They have 11 games of 10 or more strikeouts this season, the most in the big leagues.
• Another big night at the plate for McCann who had two doubles and three RBI. Last night he had the big home run. “I feel good,” he said. “I’ve been feeling good all season long, to be honest with you. Hits are starting to fall and I’m finding the barrel.”
• Jacoby Ellsbury had his team-high eighth multi-hit game of the season. Since April 22 he’s hitting .429 with six runs and four stolen bases in six games.
• Ellsbury stole two bases tonight. Brett Gardner stole one. Those two are each hitting over .300 at the top of the order.
• Jose Pirela continued his Double-A rehab assignment and went 0-for-3 as Trenton’s starting second baseman. He was pulled for a defensive replacement in the bottom of the sixth, which I would assume is because the original plan was to have Pirela activated for tomorrow’s game in New York. Instead, Cashman said he’s expecting to bring back Petit.
• Final word goes to Girardi on Tanaka: “I was shocked because he said it was his wrist, and we had heard nothing in the five days that had led up to this. He threw his bullpen as scheduled he was ready to go tomorrow, so I was like, wow, it’s not what I expected. … We’re hoping that he gets the time off and he’s completely healthy. That’s what we’re hoping. It’s different than what he dealt with last year. He didn’t say nothing until today and he said that it was sore, he didn’t say it was bad. I was shocked when I heard it. It is what it is and you’ve got to deal with it.”
Associated Press photos
Here’s video of Masahiro Tanaka explaining when exactly he began feeling pain in his right wrist. Tanaka said he does not believe the injury is related to his elbow and does not believe it was caused by pitching on normal rest last time out.
Pitching matchups vs. Rays • 04.27.15
RHP Adam Warren (1-1, 5.40)
RHP Nate Karns (1-1, 5.32)
7:05 p.m., YES Network
RHP Chase Whitley (2-0, 2.12 in Triple-A)
RHP Jake Odorizzi (2-1, 1.65)
7:05 p.m., YES Network and MLB Network
RHP Masahiro Tanaka (2-1, 3.22)
LHP Drew Smyly (0-0, 3.86)
1:05 p.m., YES Network and MLB Network
Associated Press photo
Postgame notes: “I was planning on going” • 04.23.15
From his spot at third base, Jacoby Ellsbury wasn’t sure what just happened. He knew something looked wrong about Anibal Sanchez’s throw to the plate, but he couldn’t analyze the particulars. He was concentrating on something else.
“I was planning on going if he had continued to roll through his motion,” Ellsbury said. “I haven’t looked at the replay, but I think they said maybe because he stepped off in the middle of his motion. Something just didn’t look quite right, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure.”
It was a balk, an awkward one at that as Sanchez started his delivery and then seemed to notice Ellsbury farther off third base than usual.
“When you’re in those shifts, sometimes it’s not what a pitcher’s used to seeing, a guy so far down the line,” Joe Girardi said. “You have to prepare for it.”
“You can’t really say, ‘I’m going to go,’ because if you don’t get a big-enough lead (it won’t work),” Ellsbury said. “In the past, I didn’t know until I went that I was going to go. It’s not predetermined. There are a lot of variables. … I was getting ready to go. I initially took off, then he stepped off and I stopped. I was like, ‘Whoa!’”
There was no call initially, but third-base coach Rob Thomson and hitter Chase Headley immediately signaled for some sort of call – “I was like, ‘You can’t do that!’” Headley said — and Girardi said the Yankees were screaming from the bench.
“(Sanchez) started his delivery and then stepped off the rubber to throw home,” umpire Gerry Davis explained. “I took a couple seconds to process what I saw. I wanted to be sure he had started his delivery before I made the call.”
It was a balk that brought in the Yankees’ tying run, a run they needed to finish off a wildly successful week in Tampa Bay and Detroit. And while the balk itself scored that run, it was Ellsbury who set up the situation with his speed and ability to get one base. The Yankees had only three hits today, but Ellsbury was on base three times and turned two of those opportunities into runs. He got into scoring position once with a stolen base and once with a hustle double.
“That’s what he can do,” Girardi said. “He creates and puts a lot of pressure on the defense. He’s going to take advantage of the extra base when he can. He did it today, and it paid off a lot.”
• Five days after his seven shutout innings against Tampa Bay, Masahiro Tanaka was terrific again this afternoon. And this time he did it against one of the best lineups in the American League. “I’m really satisfied with the way I was pitching today,” Tanaka said. “To put it in perspective, I’m as satisfied as I was pitching against Tampa.”
• What made Tanaka good today? “Location,” Brian McCann said. “That’s it. I feel like when he’s hitting the mitt, he’s really hard to hit. He had everything going. He had the cutter going, the sinker in, he had the split obviously – I feel like it’s always there. He got a lot of early count outs, which I think is a big deal for him to pitch deep into ballgames.”
• It was really cold today, and last night we saw what cold can do to a pitcher, but Tanaka was sharp. “Actually, I spent my high school years in a really cold area,” Tanaka said. “So as I was pitching I was remembering about those days.
• The Yankees had three hits today. Ellsbury obviously had one of them. Petit, believe it or not, had one of them. And Chris Young, of course, had one of them. Young is hitting .357. He struck out twice, so this clearly wasn’t one of his better games, but he still did what most guys couldn’t.
• Good defensive game by Headley at third, and a nice play by Gregorio Petit to get a force out on a low throw from Headley to second. “When you get late in the game, you know every run’s a premium,” Headley said. “Obviously I was able to stop it and Gregorio made an unbelievable pick. I threw it straight into the ground. I thought we were going to have a chance to turn the double play, and Cespedes really got down the line, so I hurried the throw and he picked us up over there.”
•Why did Dellin Betances go with nothing but breaking balls in that key at-bat in the seventh? “In that situation, first and third with two outs, I’m trying to go with the best pitch I can throw right there,” Betances said. “I rely on my breaking ball to get big outs. I’m going off McCann, whatever he calls.”
• Girardi said there was no thought of leaving Betances in to face the middle of the Tigers’ lineup in the ninth. “I just think we were able to do it last year, but we had to give him two days off, three days off,” Girardi said. “I’d like to have him available as much as possible, and with all the other strong arms we have down there, I feel we can do that.”
• Another strong save by Andrew Miller, who sent down the heart of the order, starting with a strikeout against Miguel Cabrera. And Cabrera didn’t look good in that at-bat either. “I hate to say overmatched,” Headley said. “But you don’t see him take a lot of bad swings and swing at bad pitches. He’s the best for a reason. That just shows what Andrew’s capable of.”
• Is this the best bullpen Girardi’s ever had? “We have as much power as I’ve ever had in this bullpen,” Girardi said. “And it has a chance to be really special. I’m trying to think of the bullpens that I’ve been a part of. As a player I was with some pretty good ones here, and as a manager, but we have as much power as we’ve ever had.”
• Final word goes to Girardi answering the question, were the Yankees as bad as they looked the first week? “I didn’t think so,” Girardi said. “Did we play bad? Yeah. I mean, we played very poorly, and I said that I think this team is much better than what we played. And (the team) came out on this road trip and showed that we can play baseball, and we can win different types of games. We won one-run games. We had a couple of big offensive explosions on certain days. So we won a lot of different types of games. But we weren’t too good the first week.”
Associated Press photos
Game 16: Yankees at Tigers • 04.23.15
RHP Masahiro Tanaka (2-1, 3.94)
Tanaka vs. Tigers
Anthony Gose CF
Ian Kinsler 2B
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Victor Martinez DH
J.D. Martinez RF
Yoenis Cespedes LF
Alex Avila C
Nick Castellanos 3B
Hernan Perez SS
RHP Anibal Sanchez
Sanchez vs. Yankees
TIME/TV: 1:08 p.m., YES Network and MLB Network
WEATHER: Cold. It’s just cold.
UMPIRES: HP Phil Cuzzi, 1B Tony Randazzo, 2B Will Little, 3B Gerry Davis
YOUNG GUN: Among players with 40 or more plate appearances this season, Chris Young leads the American League in slugging (.816) and OPS (1.258) and is third in the Majors in OPS behind Adrian Gonzalez and Joey Votto. He?leads the Yankees in batting average, total bases, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS.
FIRST TIMERS: Only two Tigers have ever faced Masahiro Tanaka. Yoenis Cespedes is 3-for-5 and Anthony Gose is 0-for-3.
BAT OFF THE BENCH: Mark Teixeira has recorded an RBI in five straight games, 10 of his last 12, and 10 of his 14 games played this season. He is the only Major Leaguer with an RBI in at least 10 games this season. Since 1993, the only other Yankees hitter with at least one RBI in 10 or more of the club’s first 15 games was Alex Rodriguez (13 games) in 2007.
ON THIS DATE: On April 23, 1903, the New York Highlanders got the first win in franchise history with a 7-2 victory at Washington. Harry Howell was the winning pitcher.
UPDATE, 1:30 p.m.: Sac fly gives the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the first.
UPDATE, 2:00 p.m.: Best-case scenario, Gardner thought there was a chance of a bad throw to first and was trying to avoid a possible tag at the bag. Worst case scenario, he still believes sliding head-first is the quickest way to reach first base. Either way, the Yankees left two stranded in the third and it’s still a 1-0 Tigers lead.
UPDATE, 2:13 p.m.: Yankee scored too many runs last night. Didn’t save any for today.
UPDATE, 2:54 p.m.: Well, the Yankees are on the board with a two-out balk in the sixth inning. It was strange even by balk standards, but the Yankees capitalize to tie the game at 1.
UPDATE, 3:17 p.m.: I assume Girardi’s thinking the Tigers would walk either Teixeira or Rodriguez if one of them pinch hit against Gorzelanny.
UPDATE, 3:18 p.m.: Yankees catch a break with Drew drawing a walk. They get to hit Teixeira for Gregorius with two on and two outs here in the seventh.
UPDATE, 3:22 p.m.: Teixeira flies to deep right field to leave the two runners stranded. Yankees still have just one hit (a Chris Young single). Tigers have just two hits.
UPDATE, 3:30 p.m.: Another really good start for Tanaka. He had retired 18 of 19 before allowing a one-out double here in the seventh. Now a walk has chased him from the game and Justin Wilson is coming in from the bullpen. Still tied at 1.
UPDATE, 3:44 p.m.: Wilson and Betances got the Yankees out of the seventh, now Ellsbury has started the eighth with a double and the yankees are in business.
UPDATE, 3:49 p.m.: Yankees cash in with a sac bunt and an RBI grounder to first. Tigers might have been able to turn two on the ground ball, but it was hit hard and Cabrera couldn’t make the initial play. It’s a 2-1 game with Betances heading back to the mound.
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
Two days ago, Joe Girardi said that if Carlos Beltran had been healthy enough to play, he would have been hitting third. Today, Beltran is healthy enough to play, and he’s hitting fifth. Alex Rodriguez, for the third game in a row, is the Yankees No. 3 hitter.
“I think it was hard to ignore what Alex was doing,” Girardi said. “… It’s just watching his at-bats, as you continue to watch his at-bats. He’s taking his walks, and he’s being patient. He’s doing just a lot of things right, and that’s why I moved him up.”
Until now, any time Beltran’s been in the lineup, the Yankees have stuck with him as their third hitter. But he’s hit .184/.238/.289 for the third-lowest OPS on the team behind Didi Gregorius and Gregorio Petit. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is hitting .316/.447/.711 and leading the Yankees in nearly every key offensive category.
“If he was 25 it’d be impressive what he’s done,” Girardi said. “When you look at the home runs, the RBI, the average. At any age, that’s impressive. But when you start looking at a guy who’s 39 and a half and had two hips surgeries, and who missed a couple years, basically — it’s not easy.”
Rodriguez has made it look easy. Beltran has not. At 37 years old, coming off an injury, a down season and an offseason surgery, Beltran struggled through spring training and got off to a bad start this season. He had a hit in three straight games — with two of those hits being doubles — but then he got sick in Tampa Bay and sat out the past two games.
“Just (a matter of) getting comfortable at the beginning of a season, I think,” Girardi said. “You see a lot of really good hitters start off slow. You just kind of ride through it. You know eventually it’s going to change and they’re going to get back to where they’re supposed to. It’s unfortunate he got sick. I thought he was swinging the bat better.”
• The Yankees will stay on rotation this week, meaning Masahiro Tanaka will make his next start in Thursday’s series finale against the Tigers. It will be the first time this year Tanaka’s made a start on four days rest. He got an extra day for each of his past three starts, but he threw just 85 pitches last time out. “He’s going to have to pitch on his normal rest eventually,” Girardi said. “So we just felt that because of the amount of pitches that he threw and how he looked, it’s probably a good thing to do.”
• Tanaka threw so few pitches on Saturday mostly because of a long half inning on the bench, during which he had to throw a little extra just to stay warm. Girardi said he didn’t intentionally pull Tanaka early to set up this next start, it just worked in in such a way that this made sense as a good time to give Tanaka his first every-fifth-day start.
• As you probably expect, Girardi said it’s still possible — and, I’d guess, likely — that the Yankees will use a sixth start the next turn through the rotation so that Tanaka’s fifth start is back on five-days rest.
• The Yankees won’t have to face Shane Greene this week, which is good news for them considering he’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball since the Yankees traded him away this offseason. “I felt like I got dumped,” Greene said. “I looked at myself in the mirror, put a chip on my shoulder and went from there.”
• Greene’s made just three starts, but he’s also 3-0 with a league-high 23 innings pitched and a 0.39 ERA. The Yankees let him go to acquire Didi Gregorius, who’s disappointed so far. “Any time you let a young starting pitcher go, I think it’s difficult,” Girardi said. “But to get an everyday shortstop, those don’t just fall out of trees. To get something, you have to give up something.”
• Despite underwhelming numbers, the Yankees have been happy with the way CC Sabathia has pitched this season. “The amount of ground balls that he’s getting, the amount of strikeouts that he’s getting,” Girardi said. “They have not centered him up a whole lot during the course of his first two starts. I think it’s really important against a lineup like this because they have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark.”
Associated Press photos
This weekend, the Yankees finally saw Masahiro Tanaka deliver a dominant start reminiscent of last season. Now the question is, when should they send him back to the mound to try it again.
In a stretch of 13 consecutive games without an off day, the Yankees are considering a sixth starter to give their rotation an extra day of rest this turn. So far this season, scheduled off days have let Tanaka make each of his first three starts with five days of rest instead of four. By inserting a sixth starter, Tanaka could stay on that schedule for his fourth start as well.
“It’s (being considered) for all of our pitchers,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I don’t want all the focus to be on Tanaka. We have CC (Sabathia), who’s put in a lot of innings, and Michael (Pineda), who’s had a serious arm injury. It’s kind of just to see how the guys are going and how they get through their starts. You have to measure it as a group.”
Since spring training, the Yankees have limited Tanaka’s workload as a precaution in the wake of last year’s slightly torn elbow ligament, and they have Triple-A starter Chase Whitley – who last pitched on Friday – lined up as a candidate to start sometime this week. In theory, Whitley could start in Adam Warren’s place on Wednesday or in Tanaka’s place on Thursday.
The other obvious spot start candidate would be Bryan Mitchell, but he pitched yesterday, taking him out of the mix for this Detroit series.
Of course, the Yankees could simply let Tanaka pitch on his fifth day like most major league starters do. Girardi has said Tanaka will pitch on a every-fifth-day schedule at some point, and this might be a good time to do it considering he threw just 85 pitches last time out. Pineda, who would also be pitching on five-days rest, threw only 92 pitches yesterday.
For now, there’s not rush to make a decision because there’s heavy rain the forecast for today’s Tigers series opener, and a rainout could change things significantly.
“I want to kind of see what happens,” Girardi said. “I think (Monday) looks like the tricky day for us. … You don’t want a rainout because there you’re looking at a split doubleheader, and that’s rough on your players, especially when you still have a lot of days in a row.”
Associated Press photo
First Sunday day game of the year, and I’d kind of forgotten what the clubhouse is like on days like this. Quiet. Not many guys hanging around. Lineup posted late. Not a whole lot to talk about. It was only a few hours ago that we were last year, so not much has changed since last night.
The important thing is whether the Yankees situation will change by the time they board tonight’s flight to Detroit.
After Friday’s comeback and Saturday’s blowout, the Yankees have a chance to sweep this series. They already have their first series win of the season, and with a win today they would improve to .500 for the first time since the third game of the season.
“Within our division, I think it’s really important, and to try to get on a roll here,” Joe Girardi said. “We have a lot of games in the next 30 days. That’s important as well. To get back to .500 would be good.”
The Yankees have Michael Pineda and his surprisingly high 5.11 ERA heading to the mound. If he could follow Masahiro Tanaka’s lead and finally deliver his first gem of the season, that would be helpful. It would also be helpful if the Yankees offense could continue some of the promising signs it’s shown these past few days.
“It’s been really good,” Girardi said. “Even the last week, I think we’ve swung the bats better. We put a tough inning on Odorizzi in the sixth inning and finally broke through there and exploded in the seventh (last night). It was nice to see.”
• The Yankees still have not decided when Masahiro Tanaka will make his next start. There’s a chance he’ll pitch Thursday on four days rest, and there’s a chance the Yankees will insert a sixth starter sometime next week to keep Tanaka — and everyone else — on an every-six-days schedule. The Yankees don’t want to make a decision right away because there’s a solid chance they’ll be rained out tomorrow.
• Carlos Beltran is still sick. “He feels weak,” Girardi said. “I’m really hoping I get him back tomorrow.”
• Girardi said that, if Beltran were playing, he could have considered leaving Alex Rodriguez on the bench for a day game after a night game, but as it is, the Yankees feel good about putting A-Rod back in the No. 3 hole. “His at-bats are good,” Girardi said. “So there’s nothing that tells me he’s physically tired. If I see something, I’ll make an adjustment.”
• There’s a chance Rodriguez will play the field one of these upcoming four games in Detroit, but Girardi said he doesn’t have a game picked out or anything. It might happen. Might not.
• This is Pineda’s third start of the season. He’s trying to get back to the form he showed in spring training when he was the Yankees’ best pitcher. “We all feel good when Michael is on the mound,” Girardi said. “He works quickly, he gets quick outs, he has pitched extremely well. He’s got outstanding stuff and hopefully he gets deep into the game today.”
• Anything else, Joe? “I have no earth-shattering news,” he said
Associated Press photos
Masahiro Tanaka’s first big league complete game shutout came on May 14 of last season. It was at Citi Field, and Chris Young was one of Tanaka’s eight strikeouts that day.
“You never know what you’re going to get when you’re at the plate,” Young explained tonight. “There’s really no way to have a legit approach against him. You can get anything in any count, and that makes him really tough.”
Manager Joe Girardi’s most common critique through Tanaka’s first two starts this season was that Tanaka had yet to pitch a game with all of his weapons. Couldn’t locate his fastball quite right. Didn’t quite have his breaking balls working. It’s the total package that makes Tanaka so effective, and he had not shown his full arsenal until tonight.
Seven innings. Two hits. No walks. Eight strikeouts. All on just 85 pitches, a start that surely would have gone longer had the Yankees not spent so much time scoring runs in the seventh that Tanaka had to throw to stay loose on the bench.
“I thought he had all his pitches tonight, which was the big difference,” Girardi said. “He located his fastball. He elevated it as well. He used his curveball, his slider and his split really effectively, and that’s the difference. When you have all your weapons you usually are going to go deeper into the game.”
Tanaka cruised tonight. At one point he struck out seven of 10 batters. He retired 15 in a row. He clearly had enough to go at least eight innings tonight, maybe even the full nine if the Yankees wanted to push his pitch count above 100. His fastball, according to the stadium gun, regularly hit 92 mph and topped out at 94. He got swings and misses with his split, but seemed just as capable of finishing off at-bats with his slider.
“He was better,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “The command of the fastball was better. I thought he had a better downhill plane on it, and threw some fastballs down and away to the spot to right handers very well. That means that he’s getting through pitches pretty well. I think it’s a real good step in the right direction.”
Brian McCann singled out Tanaka’s slider for having better tilt. Tanaka himself said he was most pleased with his fastball, and said the difference came down to better mechanics.
“He did whatever he wanted tonight with the baseball,” McCann said. “He (had) sink and cut. He put his curveball in there for a strike whenever he wanted to. … I feel like this is what he’s been doing since he got over here. I mean, I really do. There’s no questions in here about it. The guys that are in this clubhouse, that watch him prepare on a daily basis, that see him go about his business, (all believe) he’s ready to go.”
That’s what the Yankees have been saying since the end of spring training. But saying it is one thing. Seeing it is another.
Tonight they saw it.
“I think it’s really important for him to see when I have my stuff, I’m going to pitch extremely well,” Girardi said. “And that’s what he did tonight. … In life, you need to have some success or you get frustrated with yourself. I hadn’t noticed any (lack of confidence). His confidence has been fine. He’s been the same person to me, but we all want to have success.”
• Rothschild said the Yankees still haven’t decided whether Tanaka will take his next turn on five days or six days rest. Girardi said the Yankees definitely plan to have Tanaka pitch on five days rest at some point, they just aren’t sure whether it will happen this turn. “We’ll see how he comes in tomorrow,” Rothschild said. “And then we have to decide to go the fifth day or the sixth day.”
• Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira were each pulled from the game in the late innings, but both were strictly because the game was so lopsided and it was worth getting them off their feet a little earlier. No new injuries, Girardi said.
• Huge game for McCann who became the first Yankees player to have a triple this season. He’s currently the team leader in that category. I know because McCann asked a bunch of writers to look it up and make sure no other Yankee had a triple so far. Kept bragging — as a joke — about his blinding speed. McCann has four triples in his career. “When you’ve got speed, you don’t have stop signs,” he said.
• McCann is now 8-for-13 with two home runs, a double, a triple and six RBI in his career against Rays starter Jake Odorizzi. The rest of the Yankees had two singles against Odorizzi tonight. McCann went 3-for-3 against him. “With some people, the numbers stack up,” McCann said. “Sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight I was able to get some pitches up in the zone and not miss it.”
• As a result of his big night, McCann’s batting average jumped from .179 to .250. “I’ve been feeling good at the plate since Opening Day,” he said. “It’s early in the season. A couple of hits fall here and there and it’s a different story. I’ve been feeling good at the plate.”
• Aside from McCann’s triple, the other big hit of the night was Chris Young’s grand slam off Grant Balfour. A grand slam is great,” Young said. “But it’s not what’s in your mind when you’re at the plate, especially the way my at-bat started tonight. I had a couple of bad swings on sliders in the dirt, so I was just trying to grind, battle, try to work a walk, a base hit. He happened to leave one up on me.”
• Young’s was the Yankees’ second grand slam of the season following Stephen Drew’s, which came earlier in the week in Baltimore. It was Young’s third career grand slam. Young, Drew and Mark Teixeira are now tied for the second-most home runs on the team with three apiece.
• After the game, the Rays designated Balfour for assignment. Rough night.
• Brett Gardner made his first start since being hit by a pitch on Monday. He reached base three times and stole a base twice. He has three stolen bases this season, all in the past two days. This was Gardner’s first multi-steal game since May 30 of last year.
• Branden Pinder struck out the first batter he faced in the ninth for his first career strikeout. Pinder said yesterday that he had a lot of family flying to Tampa for this series, so I assume that explains the people going nuts in the stands after that strikeout. It was a rough inning from there — he walked two and had the bases loaded before finally ending it — but Pinder got through it without the Yankees having to bring in Chris Martin, who was getting loose.
• By the way, Pinder was called for a balk in the ninth inning. I didn’t see anything, and Girardi said he had no idea what happened to cause the balk call. “We’re still trying to figure it out,” Girardi said.
• Final word goes to Young: “The biggest thing for all of us today collectively, we were able to make the adjustment off chasing too many pitches and kind of take our walks and put ourselves in a position to have a big inning. I think the biggest thing for us was the walks. Granted, Mac had the big hit, I had a hit as well in a big situation, but the walks kind of put you in that situation. Sooner or later, it’ll catch up to you.”
Associated Press photos