The lingering uncertainty of Tanaka • 09.10.14
Ever since the doctors recommended an injection-and-rehab protocol for Masahiro Tanaka’s slightly torn elbow ligament, the Yankees have remained optimistic about getting him back into the rotation without surgery.
And now that he’s basically one rehab outing away from being activated, it’s starting to feel more and more likely that he’ll actually pitch again this season.
The hope is that a return this season, with a game or two at full-intensity, will be a reliable indication that Tanaka’s elbow has healed enough to step back into the rotation full-time next season. But this is fairly uncertain territory even in the best-case scenario.
“I think that’s always something you have to think about a little bit,” Joe Girardi said. “Once a guy has had an issue one time, could it be that it comes about again? Yeah, I think you have to worry about that. If he pitched in a big league game or two and felt good, you wouldn’t do surgery on a guy that felt good, that’s the bottom line. Our hope is that we get through this and that he’s a pitcher for us next year. That doesn’t mean that something couldn’t arise down the road, but that could happen to any of our pitchers.”
True. Sports Illustrated just ran an interesting article on the surge of Tommy John cases this season, and it included this sentence: “We can’t say whether baseball is in the midst of a true Tommy John epidemic or if we’re just better at diagnosing an injury that, silently, was just as prevalent in previous generations.” Right now, we don’t know simply that Tanaka has an elbow issue. We know specifically that there is (or at least, was) a small tear in his UCL. If you’re looking for a warning sign, that’s about as clear cut as it gets.
So the Yankees will have to manage Tanaka’s workload again next season.
“Carefully,” Girardi said. “I think you just have to see how he’s doing. The plan is you’re going to go to him every five days, but you have a built in off-day usually. Any time you can give him the extra day, obviously we’ll give him the extra day if he gets through this. It makes it difficult to start skipping people all the time; it’s difficult. It messes up your roster a lot of time. But if we have to, we will.”
If Tanaka finishes his rehab program and pitches in a couple of games at the end of the season, that might be the most reassurance the Yankees receive before heading into a winter that’s full of enough unknowns as it is.
“I think he wants to feel that he can go home and have a normal offseason,” Girardi said. “And he can be healthy and come back.”
Associated Press photo
There’s a chance Masahiro Tanaka has just one more hurdle to clear before rejoining the Yankees rotation.
Tanaka pitched a three-inning, 45-pitch simulated game this afternoon and declared his arm stronger and healthier than it was two weeks ago in Detroit. He’ll next throw a typical between-starts bullpen before pitching either another simulated game with the Yankees or possibly an instructional league game in Tampa (presumably on Sunday).
After that, a big league start is a legitimate option.
“I think that’s possible to look at, yeah,” Joe Girardi said.
Last time Tanaka threw a simulated game – August 28 at Comerica Park – he complained the next day about soreness and fatigue. That’s when Tanaka’s throwing program was temporarily suspended, creating real doubt about whether he would return this season. Today there seems to be far more hope than doubt.
“Definitely I was throwing stronger, harder than in Detroit,” Tanaka said. “Not overly worried (that it will be sore tomorrow). A bit concerned just because of what happened in Detroit, but when I was throwing, it was completely sort of different. A different feel than what I was feeling in Detroit versus today, so I think I’ll be OK tomorrow.”
Throughout this process, Tanaka has always sounded like a guy who knew his stuff wasn’t quite ready for the big leagues. But today, his tone was different.
“I do (feel ready),” he said. “But I’d probably build up a little bit more pitches before actually going into a competitive game.”
Girardi said he thought Tanaka was better in every way compared to the Detroit sim game. He said the velocity was better, command was better, and the offspeed pitches were sharper. Tanaka faced Chris Young, Antoan Richardson, Zelous Wheeler and Austin Romine.
“Really good,” Young said. “I’m not really sure how the (velocity) is supposed to look or anything like that, but I know his split-finger was just as good as ever and his breaking ball was just as good as I’ve ever seen it. I had the opportunity to face him earlier this year (with the Mets) so I knew what I was getting myself into standing in the box. He looked amazing. He didn’t give up a hit, and we’re all out there trying, for sure. We’re not just standing in. We’re trying to have competitive at-bats and give him as much of a real game situation that you can. He was locked in and made some great pitches.”
• When Brett Gardner had an abdominal issue in Cleveland earlier this year, he missed just one game. This time, he’s missed three games already. “He has an abdominal strain,” Girardi said. “We’re not sure exactly when we’ll get him back. He does feel better. He’ll see the doctor again tonight and then we’ll try to make some decisions on when he’ll start doing some baseball activities. … I’m not sure when we’ll get him back. It is a concern of mine. We’ll continue to talk to the doctors, measure how he feels and how he’s improving and go from there.”
• Gardner’s been perhaps the Yankees most consistent hitter this season. Their hottest hitter of late has been Martin Prado, and Prado’s also out of the lineup. His hamstring is still bothering him. “There’s concern about him playing on that, where he could really make it worse in his hamstring to where it becomes a serious issue,” Girardi said. “It’s still bothering him. Even though I told him to guard it — and he did a good job — there’s concern.”
• Girardi said there was no real setback from Prado playing the previous two games, it just hasn’t gotten better. “It’s the same,” Girardi said. “But there’s concern.”
• David Phelps will throw a side on Wednesday and it seems entirely possible — if not likely — that he’ll be activated for Friday’s double header. “Everything feels great,” Phelps said. Although he could be activated Friday (that’s purely my own speculation based on the timing of his side), Phelps said he’s not expecting to start one of those games.
• I only saw him for a moment as he was walking through the clubhouse, but Francisco Cervelli is definitely back with the Yankees. I never saw him in the clubhouse during those games when he was shutdown with the recurring headaches. The fact he was around today would seem to be a good sign.
• Although he’s gotten into three games and taken one at-bat, this will be Young’s first start since coming to the Yankees. “Not too many people know I’m over here yet,” Young said. “A few people still think I’m with the Mets. I don’t think the word’s gotten around town yet. Tonight I could change that.”
Associated Press photos
Pregame notes: “I think the fatigue is done” • 09.06.14
After a 34-pitch bullpen, Masahiro Tanaka declared his arm soreness to be a thing of the past.
“I feel that it’s way stronger than it was, so way better,” Tanaka said. “I think the fatigue is done.”
For many obvious reasons, that’s reassuring news for the Yankees who absolutely want to get Tanaka into a game this season to make sure his injection-and-rehab protocol has solved his torn ligament issue. The Yankees have made it clear that — even if they’re eliminated from the playoffs — they plan to get Tanaka into a game this season.
And they’re so confident that they have enough time to make that happen, that Joe Girardi largely dismissed the idea of creating games for Tanaka to pitch in October.
“I guess that would be possible,” Girardi said. “But our belief is that he’ll be in games with us. … You have to get him in games to resolve the situation. That’s the bottom line because you can’t wait until next spring to resolve it. So it needs to resolve, and we’ll do everything we can to get him in games before we leave.”
Tanaka sounds similarly confident. After having his throwing program temporarily shut down last weekend because of arm fatigue, he seems back on track. Girardi said the team will meet with the training staff to decide whether the next step is live batting practice or another simulated game.
“Not worried (about how the arm will feel tomorrow),” Tanaka said. “One, because it was a bullpen today, and two, that I really do feel that I’m getting stronger, so I’m really not worried about it.”
• As reported last night by Sweeny Murti, the Yankees have recalled catcher Austin Romine to give them some additional depth. They need it because Francisco Cervelli is dealing with migraines and won’t be available today. “From the neurologist standpoint, it wasn’t concussion related,” Girardi said. “I’m a migraine sufferer. They’re no fun. Sometimes they come in clusters where you’ll get them a couple days in a row and that’s even worse most of the time I can take my medicine and I’m ok. There’s been a couple times where I’ve had to go to the hospital to get rid of them but hopefully it’s just something he’s going through it and he’ll get through it.”
• Martin Prado is in the lineup, and all indications are that he’ll play today. But the lineup was set before batting practice. “If I have to change it, I’ll change it,” Girardi said. So far, that doesn’t seem necessary.
• Royals starter Danny Duffy has been very good this year, and he’s been especially good against lefties who are hitting just .129/.205/.155 against him. Jacoby Ellsbury is the only lefty in the Yankees lineup today.
• The Yankees have announced that tomorrow’s first pitch has been pushed back to 1:35 p.m. to allow time for the Derek Jeter pregame ceremony. Jeter’s family, several former teammates, and other unannounced “special guests” will take part. “I don’t know anything,” Jeter said. “I haven’t been told. I don’t even know what time I have to be here tomorrow. I don’t know a thing. I don’t know if that’s by design, but no one’s told me anything. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to something that I assume would be pretty special.”
• Have to assume Dave Winfield will be here, right? That’s Jeter’s childhood idol. Another popular guess in the press box has been Michael Jordan and maybe other great non-baseball athletes to show Jeter’s overall impact and appeal.
• Does having a ceremony like this affect Jeter’s approach in the middle of such a desperate push toward the playoffs? “It doesn’t because my mindset is one day at a time,” Jeter said. “I’m thinking about today. I’m not thinking about tomorrow.”
Associated Press photos
Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to throw a bullpen on Saturday. It will be his first time on a mound since last Thursday’s simulated game, which ultimately ended with a sore arm and a temporary shutdown of his throwing program.
“Lets just take that and see how it goes,” Joe Girardi said. “When he gets through that, I guess I’ll decide what’s next.”
It would seem possible that another sim game would be next, but Girardi either wouldn’t say or couldn’t say. This much is clear, though, the Yankees plan to keep rehabbing Tanaka until they’re either certain he can pitch or certain he needs surgery. They’re not going to simply stop and have him rest with the idea of giving the elbow ligament more time to heal.
If the injection-and-rehab protocol has worked, the ligament should be healed already. The Yankees feel Tanaka needs to pitch to make sure that’s the case.
Even if Tanaka’s not ready to pitch in a game until after the Yankees season, the team will create some sort of scenario so that he sees some kind of game action.
“He will pitch somewhere,” Girardi said. “He has to throw. You can’t wait until next spring (to find out whether he’s healthy enough to pitch).”
• Martin Prado did some running today, but it was only a light jog at roughly 50-percent effort. The plan is to have him hit inside as well. “Hopefully we get him back tomorrow or the next day,” Girardi said.
• Prado said that he felt no pain in his hamstring while he was running, but he also cautioned that this was nothing close to game speed. “No, I didn’t feel anything,” he said. “But the game speed is different. You’re not going to go 50 percent. I don’t like to go 50 percent. If I’m not 100 (percent), I’m not going to go.”
• Although neither Girardi nor Prado ruled out the idea of having him in the lineup tomorrow, it really sounds like Prado is more inclined to be cautious above all else. If that means giving it an extra day, it seems that’s what he’d rather do. “I’m doing everything I can, and they’re doing everything they can, to make me feel as close to 100 percent (as possible),” Prado said. “I just say I don’t want to be the hero and go there and get hurt and not play until the end of the season. I’d rather lose a couple of days and make sure my leg is OK to play the 20 or 25 games we have left.”
• One day after Tanaka throws his Saturday bullpen, David Phelps is expected to throw a Sunday simulated game. It seems at least possible that could be his final step toward returning from that upper-elbow/lower-triceps injury. “I think you have to see how he throws and how sharp he is,” Girardi said. “See if he needs another one, or if he’s capable of being activated.”
• Before the sim game, Phelps is supposed to throw another bullpen tomorrow. Phelps said this afternoon that it’s a credit to the current starters that the Yankees feel no need to get him stretched out for a return to the rotation. Because the current starters have been so steady, Phelps can get back a little quicker and slide into the bullpen.
• Speaking of those starters: Tonight is another start by Chris Capuano, who’s been awfully good in the fifth-starter role. “He’s in a role that he’s used too,” Girardi said. “I think for him he’s been a starter for a good portion of his career and he just seems to be throwing the baseball where he wants, with the stuff that he wants to use. He obviously has a real good idea of who he is and understands what he needs to do and has been making pitches.”
• Capuano has a 4.01 ERA in seven starts with the Yankees, and he has lasted at least six innings in six of those seven starts. This will be his third career start against the Red Sox, and he’s taken the loss the past two times he faced them. Capuano opened this season in the Red Sox bullpen.
Associated Press photos
It was exactly one week ago that the Yankees had nine straight hits during a eight-run inning against David Price. Two days before that, they’d gotten to James Shields during a four-run inning in Kansas City. The day before that, they’d taken advantage of some White Sox mistakes to score four unearned runs in one key inning against Chris Sale.
One week ago, it seemed the Yankees offense was finally showing some life. Now it seems that those big innings were simply an exception to the rule, and certainly not a sign of things to come.
“Could be,” Joe Girardi said. “You hope not, but it could be.”
When the Yankees beat Price, they’d scored at least seven runs in three of four games. They haven’t had another seven-run game since then. In fact, they’ll start this game having scored a total of seven runs in their past three games.
“I haven’t noticed anything different about our approach,” Girardi said. “We had some big innings. Real big innings. That was the difference. We had a chance to have a big inning last night and it got kind of messed up. That has been the biggest difference.”
Focusing on the big innings of late last month is just the latest variation on a familiar theme of searching for ways to explain the Yankees offensive struggles. It’s possible to go up and down the lineup searching for individual problems — there are plenty of those, from Derek Jeter in the No. 2 spot to Mark Teixiera in the regular cleanup role, to the lack of production from the cut-loose veterans Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts and Alfonso Soriano — but at some point, covering this offense began to feel like banging your head against the wall. It’s just the same thing over and over again, and it’s rarely good or productive.
“We lost a ton of our rotation and I think people thought that we would just disappear when that happened, when you lose as much as we lost,” Girardi said. “But you know, guys stepped up and found a way. We thought that our offense would pick it up, and we would have a shot. And we still do have a shot. But I think maybe the more surprising thing has been how well the starters have done and how we’ve continued to struggle offensively.”
• Girardi indicated that Martin Prado will be completely shut down today, and it’s unlikely he’ll play tomorrow. The hamstring strain has been described as very mild, but it’s too early to know exactly how much time he’ll miss. “We’ll see tomorrow, but right now he’s down,” Girardi said. “Our hope is it won’t be too long. We’ll have to see.”
• The injury apparently occurred during on Prado’s third at-bat last night, after he hit that ball past Will Middlebrooks. When he made the turn (at first base), I think, is when he said he felt it,” Girardi said.
• Ivan Nova made 25 extremely light throws this afternoon. He’s been playing catch for about two weeks and said he’s encouraged by the way his elbow feels. He said it’s tight, but that’s not unusual. Nova said he actually feels better than he was expecting.
• For whatever reason, Girardi’s still not announcing a date that Masahiro Tanaka will throw a bullpen. It’s supposed to be this week, though. “I don’t have the exact date when he’s going to do it,” Girardi said. “He does feel better. Our doctor said he basically just had arm fatigue, and that’s not abnormal for a pitcher. He does feel better. He played long toss the other day and felt good, so hopefully it’s pretty soon.”
• Does bullpen usage change at all in September? “I still think I have to watch how I use them, the (number of) innings I use them, the multiple innings that I use them,” Girardi said. “Robby is not a guy that I would be concerned about, if he didn’t throw too many pitches, throwing three days in a row because he’s done it. But I think I still have to pay attention to it.”
• Here’s a shot in the dark, just to see if it leads anywhere: Is there something we’re missing with some of these hitters? Are some of these guys hurt and we just don’t know about it? “I think guys are banged up, but I think it’s normal this time of year,” Girardi said. “I don’t think anyone would use that as an excuse. You’ve played 130-or-so games. You’re going to be banged up. So I wouldn’t use that as an excuse.”
Associated Press photos
Joe Girardi made a change at the top of the order today, just not the change so many have been suggesting. Jacoby Ellsbury is back in the leadoff spot, Brett Gardner is batting third for the first time, and Derek Jeter is still right in between them as the No. 2 hitter.
“For the first four months of the year, he was probably one of our most consistent hitters,” Girardi said. “One of the three most consistent hitters in our club. I consider us kind of to be in playoff mode right now, for us, because we obviously need to win games. Throughout his career, he’s been clutch in the playoffs, and we’re leaving him there. He’s a hot topic always just because of who he is, but there’s other issues that we have in our club that we have to get better at as well.”
Is there pressure to keep Jeter in that spot for his final month?
“No, not necessarily,” Girardi said. “… If I had eight other guys hitting .300, it probably wouldn’t be difficult (to move him down). When you look up and down at our numbers, we’ve had a number of guys that have had tough years. Years that we wouldn’t have projected. So (if) I move him, who am I going to put there? That’s my question. Who you going to move there that’s been more consistent during the course of the season. We haven’t hit collectively as a team, and to single him out is not fair. … (Rank) 13 out of 15 in runs scored. That’s not all Derek’s fault. That’s collectively we haven’t hit.”
Of course, it’s hard to know how much of Girardi’s persistence with Jeter is because of external pressure — because of who Jeter is and what his final season means — and how much is because of the disappointing hitters around him. The Yankees really haven’t had many consistent alternatives. Martin Prado is hot right now, but his first few weeks with the team were underwhelming. Gardner is coming off a bad month. Mark Teixeira is coming off a terrible month.
“(Jeter) could hit .600 and if the other guys don’t produce around him and through the lineup, then it’s not going to matter what he hits,” Girardi said. “So, as I said, it’s going to have to be a collection of all these guys that can swing the bat extremely well. And if one guy’s not, the other guy picks him up. That’s the bottom line.”
• Masahiro Tanaka has been examined by Dr. Chris Ahmad, who diagnosed him with nothing more than arm fatigue. “Every manual test that they did came out really well,” Girardi said. “They just said he had some arm fatigue. He’s scheduled to throw a bullpen sometime this week and hopefully he’s ready to do it.” Tanaka played catch today and apparently had no issues.
• For those confused by the move: Putting Tanaka on the 60-day doesn’t really mean much. Those moves are always retroactive, and he’s missed close to 60 days already. He could still come back this season.
• David Phelps threw a 25-pitch bullpen this afternoon (fastballs and changeups), and he’s scheduled for a 35-pitch bullpen on Friday (all of his pitches). Phelps said he expects to throw a simulated game on Sunday, and that might be the final step toward getting him off the disabled list and into the bullpen. “I know that we’ve been going kind of conservative with it just to make sure everything comes back,” Phelps said. “All of the steps have been good along the way, so it shouldn’t be too long.”
• Of the Yankees eight September call-ups, five are relievers. Two of those — Whitley and Mitchell — are basically long men. “Obviously pitching is always important this time of year,” Girardi said. “It gives you more options, with a doubleheader coming up eventually here.”
• Why John Ryan Murphy but not Austin Romine? “The organization made the decision to go with (Murphy),” Girardi said. “Obviously I don’t get to see either one of them play a lot. So they went with Murphy.”
• Not much of a surprise that Chris Young got a call-up. I have to imagine that was a condition of any contract he was looking to sign after being released. “(He’s) been pretty productive in his career off left-handers,” Girardi said.
• If there’s a surprise among the call-ups, it’s certainly Antoan Richardson. “Speed off the bench,” Girardi said. Richardson played with Atlanta a little bit in 2011. He was 26-for-27 stealing bases with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he also had a .380 on-base percentage. Kind of a custom-made September call-up, just wasn’t sure the Yankees would actually make the move to get him on the 40-man.
• Zoilo Almonte was designated for assignment after leading Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in home runs and RBI this season. After Almonte struggled in New York last season, Girardi just never seemed to have much faith in his ability to hit big league right-handers the way he did in Triple-A. His splits are so extreme that, despite being a switch hitter, he’s likely a platoon player at best. Last year might have been his opportunity to show something, but he hit .236/.274/.302 (vRHP .250/.296/.342).
• Why Gardner batting third? “He’s probably been as good against right-handers as anyone in our lineup,” Girardi said. “I left Jake in the one hole. My concern in switching the guys when they both were going well was that they’re both going well, why move them. So I put Jake in the one hole when Gardy got hurt and he did extremely well. I’ll leave him there and just put Gardy third.”
• On Ellsbury’s health: “I saw him run on Sunday, which, I was really encouraged,” Girardi said. “He said he felt better yesterday and felt better today and that’s why I have him in center. In saying that, I told him, look, if you feel that it’s an issue out there you’ve got to let me know. If you feel you need to DH a day, you have to let me know.”
Associated Press photos
Not saying this was inevitable, but it’s certainly hard to be stunned by the news coming out of Toronto today.
After yesterday’s 49-pitch simulated game, Masahiro Tanaka is experiencing some “general soreness” in his right arm and will fly back to New York. The Yankees said there is no doctor’s appointment scheduled, and Tanaka said he’s going back to New York to do some strengthening exercises in hopes of still returning this season. He said there’s no real pain, mostly just soreness in the forearm and, really, throughout the arm.
So what to make of all this? Here are a few things:
1. We might know the full truth already. Tanaka took three weeks off, he’s been trying to build arm strength all over again, and it would make perfect sense that his arm might feel a bit tired and sore because of the throwing program. Yesterday was the most strenuous step so far, so it’s not shocking he might be a little more sore than usual.
2. That said, it’s still kind of weird that he’s going back to New York. I’m sure the facilities at Yankee Stadium are better than the facilities at Rogers Centre, but it’s still a pretty significant red flag. If he’s sore — and if he’s not going to see a doctor — why not stay with the Yankees training staff in Toronto? Could be that Tanaka really does feel more comfortable in New York, it just seems unusual to have a player leave the team when there are supposedly no tests planned.
3. To the Yankees credit, they’ve always acknowledged that this is an uncertain road for Tanaka. At the advice of multiple orthopedic specialists, he’s trying to rehab a mild tear of his elbow ligament. We all know — and the Yankees have admitted — that this is not a foolproof plan. It’s either going to work and Tanaka will avoid surgery (for now), or it’s not going to work and Tanaka will have cost himself a few months on the back end. Again, today’s setback might have nothing to do with the elbow ligament, but it raises some suspicions because everyone — including the Yankees — is already a little uncertain about whether this protocol is actually going to work.
4. If this really is “general soreness” without any specific problem within the elbow, then it shouldn’t significantly change the rehab protocol, correct? General soreness should be an expected and accepted part of the process when a player is re-building arm strength. I would think that general soreness only delays the return, it doesn’t stop it completely. What would stop the return completely would surely be an issue within the elbow itself. Just because the Yankees are saying Tanaka doesn’t have an elbow issue today, doesn’t mean he won’t have one tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next day.
5. The late-season and potential playoff implications go without saying. One significant upside to the Yankees sneaking into the playoffs was the idea that they would have a legitimate ace to headline their rotation — and possibly to start a wild card game — should they qualify. With Tanaka’s return more uncertain than ever, those best-case scenarios aren’t so shiny.
Associated Press photo
Masahiro Tanaka threw 49 pitches spread across three simulated innings this morning. His control wasn’t great, but Tanaka said he felt none of the pain he was experiencing last month when he landed on the disabled list.
“I’m looking more at health than anything else and making sure he’s not staying away from things,” Joe Girardi said. “He did not, so I was pleased. … It’s one thing to do a game like this and (another thing) to get in a real game. I understand that’s going to be a little bit different, but I didn’t see him favoring anything, and that’s a good sign.”
The only hitter Tanaka faced was Brendan Ryan, who even took several at-bats — and two swings — left-handed to give Tanaka various looks.
“It feels like the velocity is there,” Ryan said. “Some of them are a little bit up or whatever, but that speaks to just being off for a little while. I don’t expect him to be pinpoint or anything like that. Just nice to see him throwing without any pain, from what we understand. He threw some really good sliders. That I didn’t quite expect. … He could go out there and get outs right now just on stuff alone.”
Girardi said he’s not entirely sure what’s next for Tanaka, but barring a setback he’ll throw some sort of game — either a sim game or a rehab game or some sort of intrasquad game — early next week, either on four days or five days rest. The Yankees haven’t had a gun on Tanaka, so it’s hard to say whether he’s throwing with as much strength as the Yankees would expect when he’s 100 percent healthy. At some point, they’ll check his velocity, but Girardi said that’s not a focus or a concern at this point. Tanaka will have to throw at least two more “games” before being activated.
Does he expect to be just as good as before when he returns?
“Can’t really say until I actually step on a mound in a game,” Tanaka said. “But right now all I’m trying to do is get myself back to the best shape possible. … I think that being cautious is better than being more excited.”
• Francisco Cervelli is out of the lineup but said he feels fine after taking last night’s foul tip. If you saw the video, you know it wasn’t a particularly comfortable situation for Cervelli. And he said the video didn’t lie. That foul ball got him pretty good.
• Carlos Beltran returns to the DH role after back-to-back games in right field. “I have not seen him today, but I asked him last night how he felt and he said he felt fine,” Girardi said.
• Apparently there was some talk that the Yankees might bring Tanaka back as a reliever in an effort to get him back sooner. Girardi said there’s no chance of that. “No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I think we consider him a starter, and he’ll be a starter.”
• Why was Ryan batting left-handed? Turns out, both he and Stephen Drew mess around with switch hitting in the cage. Ryan said Drew has a pretty decent right-handed swing, so Ryan’s been countering with his left-handed swing. He took two hacks today left-handed. One was a swing and miss. The other was a hit, or as Ryan called it, an “Ichiro knock.”
• Highlight of the morning: Third-base coach Rob Thomson was wearing a t-shirt that said NO RE59ECT, a direct reference to the Derek Jeter RE2PECT logo. Hilarious.
Associated Press photos
Assuming the rain goes away, tonight will be Derek Jeter’s eighth start at designated hitter this season. He’s still a long way from his single-season career high — 25 DH games in in 2012 — but it seems significant that four of those turns at designated hitter have come in his past nine games.
Now that Carlos Beltran is available to play some right field, it’s clear that Joe Girardi is taking advantage of the opportunity to get Jeter a half day off now and then. Perhaps it’s strictly a rest issue. Perhaps it has a lot to do with Stephen Drew’s glove.
“I’m in the mode that I’m just taking it day by day,” Girardi said. “But with Carlos being able to go into the outfield once in a while, it gives me more flexibility to do this. … We’ve had some long stretches. We have a lot of lefties coming up the next five days after today where he’s going to play (probably at shortstop), so try to give him a little blow when I can. And I thought today was probably a good day. Two plane flights in two days, and as I said, we have day games after night games, so we’re going to need him in there a lot.”
Obviously Jeter prefers playing the field, but he said he understands the DH days, and he seems to embrace them — even when he’s had so many these past couple of weeks.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve done it,” Jeter said. “What, three or four times this year? I think a couple of years ago, in 2012, I may have done it 20 or 30-something times. Because of injuries, Carlos had to DH, so I haven’t really thought about it. My job is to come here, and when I’m in the lineup, play. I like to play every day. I like to play shortstop every day. Everyone is aware of that. But I get it. I understand it. We’ve had a long stretch here. I think we only have a couple of more days off, and then we have another long stretch at the end of the year. So, I don’t know what his plans are. My job is to play.’
Late last season, we saw Girardi use Mariano Rivera a little more heavily, making sure to get every last bit out of the retiring closer. Would he do the same with the retiring shortstop, running him out there with very little rest down the stretch?
“I don’t think I can play him much more than I’ve played him,” Girardi said. “He’s played in all but about 10 games maybe, maybe a few more than that, but there was a time when he missed three because his leg was bothering him. But when you get in these long stretches, these 13-game stretches, I’ve usually given him on day off. And that might be all he gets in this.”
• Brett Gardner was hoping to run today, which he sees as the final test for his sore ankle. If he can run today, he thinks he should be available in some capacity tonight. Gardner didn’t run at all the past two days. “Hopefully that goes well and I’ll be available to play tonight,” he said.
• Here’s Girardi on his approach to the Gardner injury: “My concern was: he said he felt better but he needed to run,” Girardi said. “Gardy’s pretty tough, and Gardy’s played through a lot, which made me believe that it’s probably not 100 percent, which it might not be for a while. This extra day will probably do us some good. My concern is that he favors it, or that he gets out there and he can’t run, and then I’ve got to make a change. It can just really mess things up.”
• Not much concern about Mark Teixeira’s hamstring. “I think you’re always going to watch it a little bit,” Girardi said. “I think the day off probably helped, and we just tell him to play smart. I mean, he did play smart the couple of days that he had it, so he’s just going to have to continue to do that.”
• Masahiro Tanaka threw today, and as long as he still feels fine tomorrow, he’ll remain on track to throw a simulated game on Thursday.
• Initial Arizona Fall League rosters were announced this afternoon. The Yankees are sending RF Aaron Judge, 3B Eric Jagielo, OF/IF Tyler Austin and 1B Greg Bird. They’re also sending pitchers Caleb Cotham, Branden Pinder and Alex Smith. There remains a TBA spot on the roster listed as a Yankees catcher. Pretty interesting group of position players. I actually thought Ramon Flores might go, but I guess not. Jagielo seemed like a near lock in my mind after missing so much time. Bird and Austin make a lot of sense too.
• On the current Yankees momentum: “I think they feel pretty good about themselves,” Girardi said. “But the thing about baseball is you’ve got to go do it every day. It starts with your starting pitcher that night, and I don’t know how you could for any more (than) what Brandon McCarthy has done, but we need him to continue to pitch like this.”
• On the importance of three games against a team that’s also in the mix for the second wild card: “You’ve got to win the series. It’s extremely important. We know they’re a very good team, and we’re facing a good pitcher tonight who didn’t give up too many runs against us the last time. But Brandon pitched really well. You’ve got to win games.”
Associated Press photos
The video above is from this morning’s live batting practice — felt more like a sim game — when Masahiro Tanaka threw 35 pitches to Brendan Ryan and Zelous Wheeler. He threw 20 pitches announcing what’s coming, then sat for a while, then threw another 15. He was mixing all of his pitches, including splitfingers that Wheeler said looked exactly like what he saw when facing Tanaka during spring training.
“I thought it was a good progression,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “As long as he’s healthy, his stuff’s in the right direction, being able to throw 35 pitches and do full warmups and everything. We’ll see how he comes in tomorrow, but he feels good afterwards so that’s a good sign.”
Seems telling that when Tanaka talked about the session, he made no real mention of his elbow. He talked all about his stuff — whether he was hitting his spots, how he felt about his breaking balls. It’s pretty clear that Tanaka feels healthy, and at this point he’s simply getting ready to pitch in a game again.
“I’m not saving anything when I throw each pitch,” he said.
Tanaka said he wasn’t hitting his spots quite like he’s used to, and his offspeed stuff was a bit rusty, but he feels healthy. He said he’ll pay attention to his elbow, and he’ll naturally think about it, but he’s letting his pitches go without holding back.
“I thought (his strength and stamina) was good for the time off he’s had,” Rothschild said. “Overall I thought it was pretty good. It wasn’t where it was before he got hurt, but I didn’t expect it to be. This is another step in the progression so we’ll just keep going with it.”
The Yankees have not announced a timetable for Tanaka’s return, and they’re even vague on what the next step would be.
“He’s going to have to make some rehab starts (eventually),” Joe Girardi said. “I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to be able to do it as we build him up because you’re going to run out of minor league season, but we’ll be creative enough to do whatever we have to do to get him ready.”
• Carlos Beltran is back in the lineup after missing three days because of a cortisone shot in his sore elbow. Beltran hit tee and toss yesterday, and Girardi said the results were so encouraging he considered pinch hitting Beltran last night. So the team feels pretty secure in thinking he’ll be able to play today.
• Three straight left-handed hitters at the top of the lineup? “Gardy is a guy who really works the count and Jake’s on and has a chance to do some things,” Girardi said. “They sent their left-handed reliever out, so I don’t have to worry about stacking lefties today.”
• Derek Jeter out of the lineup for a day game after a night game. “Just a day off,” Girardi said.
• What’s next for Tanaka? “We’ll talk about it, what we think the next step is,” Girardi said. “If it’s more of a BP session, another BP session or treat it more like a simulated game. Big thing is we’ll see how he feels tomorrow and then we’ll make a decision.”
• Any chance of asking Tanaka to throw fewer splitfingers when he comes back in an effort to save the elbow? “He’s got to pitch the way he’s going to pitch,” Girardi said. “if you’re going to really try to change everything, you’re not going to get the same guy. Let’s just see what we have as we move forward.”
• The number 6 is painted into foul territory as the Yankees prepare to honor Joe Torre with a pregame ceremony. “Joe’s demeanor was always the same during the course of a game, during good times, bad times,” Girardi said. “That’s my personality normally, but I saw the importance of it from Joe, that your mood doesn’t change as long as the effort is good every day. I’ve often talked about Joe’s ability to make people believe that everything was going to be OK all the time, no matter what we were going through and we went through a lot in the years that he was here, on and off the field and those are the things I tried to take the most from Joe.”
Associated Press photo