First a quick reminder that we’re having a chat today at noon. Stop by if you can. For now, here’s a quick look back at last night.
Hard to say what the expectations should have been, but it’s safe to say the Yankees’ opener was a disappointment by any reasonable standard. And most of that disappointment fell on Masahiro Tanaka’s shoulders.
Long term, Tanaka’s ceiling is as high as anyone on the roster. Short term, his all-or-nothing risk is also sky hit. Whether it’s because his elbow blows out or because he’s too cautious in trying to protect it, there’s a very real possibility Tanaka simply won’t come close to his potential impact.
“The team put me in that (Opening Day) situation,” Tanaka said. “And just the fact that I couldn’t pull through and sort of meet that expectation, yes, I’m a little bit upset.”
The Yankees, meanwhile, seem to be growing upset by all of the questions about Tanaka’s velocity and slightly altered approach. They understand why the questions are being asked, but they keep preaching patience. They say they’re optimistic that — in the grand scheme of things — there’s still overwhelming good news regarding their young ace.
“It’s more important that we take him through the paces and give him every opportunity to be healthy this year than to rush him and have him full bore and throw full out the first start,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “It’s just the way it is, and it’s the smartest thing to do. Like I said, I really don’t look at him any differently than any of our other pitchers right now. Guys get hurt all the time, it could happen anytime, but right now other than the performance you saw (yesterday) there’s really not a lot of signs of (anything being wrong). He is building arm strength. I know that’s been talked about ad nauseum, and I think we’ll continue on that path. I’m confident that he’s going to pitch well for us this year as long as nothing happens.”
As long as nothing happens.
That part’s crucial, and it’s why there are so many questions after one bad inning of one disappointing start. Asked yesterday whether he has faith in his health, his fastball and his ability to repeat last year’s success, Tanaka seem to take the question as more of an indictment.
“You’re probably saying that because of today’s results,” Tanaka said. “But I don’t look at today’s results as all bad at all. If I’m able to make a little bit of adjustments, then I should be able to get back into the form that I want to.”
But can he be the same pitcher if he’s clearly staying away from his four-seam fastball? Doesn’t he need that fastball to set up his other pitches and consistently command the strike zone?
“If he keeps (his two-seamer) down in the zone and elevates it when he needs to, I think he’ll be fine,” catcher Brian McCann said. “… It comes down to location. It comes down to pitching down in the zone, and off that, he has one of the best splits that you’re going to see. The slider is going to be there.”
Said Rothschild: “He’s really good at throwing (offspeed pitches) for strikes. He did it last year all year. He pitched off the breaking ball and the split last year but was also really good at locating fastballs. (Yesterday) when he warmed up, he located his fastball as well as I’d seen him at any time in any game. It’s going to be there. It’s just, I think, you sit down and get up, sit down and get up and it’s a different atmosphere (in the regular season). I’m not going to make excuses. He’s capable of pitching better than (he did on Opening Day) and he will. I think you’ll see it as long as he stays healthy, and I believe right now he is healthy.”
Problem is, right now we have only a one-start sample size, and yesterday was not a day to spark optimism. Quite the opposite. One bad inning for a pitcher with a bad elbow — one bad game for a team with a lot of uncertainty — only stirred familiar doubts and common concerns. The Yankees need Tanaka, and he just wasn’t good enough yesterday.
But it’s one game, the Yankees say. Give it time.
And they’re trusting Tanaka has time to give.
“You know, to me, this guy can pitch,” Rothschild said. “He’s pitched games where he doesn’t have to throw 94, 95. He’s pitched a lot of games like that. If you go back to last year, there were a lot of games. But the command of it is going to be the most important thing, and (yesterday), in the one inning he kind of lost the command, both with the breaking ball — he missed down with a bunch of breaking balls — and then missed location with fastballs. It ended up hurting him. I think he’ll get the stuff back that you’ve seen in the past, whether the fastball is a mile or two slower, I don’t know. But I think he’ll be OK.”
Associated Press photos
This was a game all about Masahiro Tanaka. Big picture, small picture, however you want to look at it, this was Tanaka’s game. It was his rocky third inning that put the Yankees in an immediate hole, and it was his lackluster outing that made the Yankees seem even less reliable than they were coming out of spring training.
In many ways, Tanaka is a snapshot of the team as a whole — clearly talented, but perhaps too damaged in one way or another — and so it’s impossible to ignore him on a day like today.
But even with Tanaka under that sort of microscope, no one drew a bigger Yankee Stadium reaction than Alex Rodriguez. His ovation during pregame introductions was certainly the biggest, and it came with more cheers than boos. In the batters box, he had a hit and a walk as the only Yankees player to reach base more than once.
“I have to admit, it definitely felt good, that’s for sure,” Rodriguez said. “I have a lot of love for the city of New York, especially our fans. But let’s make it clear, the fans don’t owe me anything. (One thing) I’ve said all along in spring training is that part of feeling like a rookie is that I have to earn their cheers and earn their respect.”
He actually earned them today. On a day the Yankees had just three hits, Rodriguez was perhaps their best offensive weapon outside of Brett Gardner, whose home run accounted for the only Yankees run.
“I thought he performed well, and I thought he was received well,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I thought our fans were behind him and want to see him, in a sense, make a comeback.”
The fact Opening Day centered on a pitcher with a slightly torn elbow ligament and a hitter who hasn’t played in more than a year probably says a lot about the state of the Yankees. They’re a team loaded with uncertainty, and that uncertainty of course came front and center today. They walk a fine line. Today they didn’t hit very much, and for one inning, their No. 1 starter pitched poorly. That was enough for a lopsided loss.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t get a win,” Rodriguez said. “But I like this team a lot. This team showed a lot in spring training, I think it has a lot of potential.”
Is Rodriguez a part of that potential? Can he be an impact player for an offense that could use a real boost?
“I think overall my expectations are different now,” Rodriguez said. “I just want to contribute and help the team win. … It means the world to me (to be back). I don’t think I ever took it for granted, but I can guarantee you that I won’t take this year for granted.”
• The offensive low point was surely in the eighth inning when the Yankees were down by five and had two runners on for cleanup hitter Mark Teixeira. That’s when — of all times — Didi Gregorius tried to steal third, getting thrown out easily to end the inning and destroy any chance for a rally. “I’m just going to chalk it up as someone trying to do too much,” Girardi said. “And in a game like this, you’re looking for a three-run homer there. (Gregorius’s) run doesn’t mean a whole lot. The guy behind you has to get a hit, in a sense. It’s probably a real good learning experience that it happened in game one here and hopefully it never happens again.”
• Gregorius explaining his decision to run: “They were shifting a little bit so I decided to try and take third but it was a bad mistake. … It was a bad mistake by me, I’ll admit it. I’ll admit that it was my mistake and it won’t happen again.”
• Also on Gregorius: He was on base because he’d been hit by a pitch in the elbow. The early indications are that he’ll be fine. “Hopefully he’s OK and hopefully the day off helps,” Girardi said. “He said he was OK. I think you have to wait to see how he feels on Wednesday, because sometimes there can be swelling after the game and you have to deal with it. He did not say that we needed to take him out, which was a good sign, but you never know in those situations.”
• From a low point to a high point: The Yankees’ bullpen pitched five innings with just one run. No one was better than Chris Martin, who struck out — in order — Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson in the fifth inning. That was quite the Yankees debut. “Some new guys who haven’t pitched in Yankee Stadium, I thought they fared pretty well,” Girardi said.
• The Yankees actually had Esmil Rogers getting loose as early as the third inning, but when Girardi went to the bullpen, he elected to use a bunch of relievers rather than lean on his only true long man. He wound up getting four first-time Yankee pitchers in the game. “I could have went to Esmil earlier,” Girardi said. “But I just thought I’d kind of spread it out to the bullpen. (Rogers) ended up getting in anyway. He’s our true long guy in a sense, but I thought to get all those guys in there.”
• Brett Gardner’s home run was the 100th Opening Day home run in franchise history. The last Yankee to homer on Opening Day was Raul Ibanez in 2012 at Tampa Bay. Today was Gardner’s first Opening Day home run.
• Players making their Yankees debut today: Gregorius, Martin, Chasen Shreve, Justin Wilson, David Carpenter. Chase Headley and Stephen Drew were with the team on Opening Day for the first time. Martin, Shreve and Carptenter combined to retire 12 of 13 batters from the fifth through eighth innings.
• Martin is the second Yankees pitcher since 1914 to strike out every batter faced in his team debut. The first to do so was Edwar Ramirez — with that ridiculous changeup — back in 2007.
• Good news: The Yankees’ pitchers tied a franchise Opening Day record with 12 strikeouts. Tanaka had half of them.
• Bad news: The Yankees hitters had just three hits, their fewest on Opening Day since also having just three in 1984.
• This was the Yankees’ fourth consecutive Opening Day loss, their longest losing streak since also losing four in a row from 1982 to 1985.
• Final word goes to Girardi on Tanaka’s arm strength: “I think all of our guys still need to (build arm strength). We saw 93, 94 in (Tanaka’s) first game in spring training. I think it’s something that all of our guys still build upon. It’s just getting into a long season. It’s a long season for these guys, and we want them for the long term. We felt this spot is the best spot for him considering the extra days and all of that. He pitched really well for us and we thought he would handle today well. It just didn’t work out.”
Associated Press photos
Masahiro Tanaka looked great through his first two innings, and he struck out three in the fourth inning, but this is a season of walking a fine line for the Yankees. And so, of course it was that third inning that made all the difference.
Was it a lack of velocity? Was he throwing too many offspeed pitches? Was the Yankees No. 1 starter pitching scared on Opening Day?
“If you look at the first two innings, I don’t think anyone would have said, ‘OK, he’s lacking confidence,’” Joe Girardi said. “I just think he got into a bad spot that third inning and he had a hard time getting out of it. … As we know this is a dangerous club if you’re pitching from behind. The first two innings he was ahead in the count and looked really good. Then he got behind and made mistakes.”
After watching Tanaka in spring training and hearing him explain his approach heading into the season, there was nothing particularly shocking about the way Tanaka handled today’s start. He threw a ton of offspeed pitches, his fastball seemed to max out at 93 mph — which was his average four-seam velocity last season — but mostly sat around 89-91. He had some impressive strikeouts against breaking balls, but the first big hit of the day was a two-run single off a 93 mph fastball.
Why did he throw so few fastballs today?
“Because they were being hit,” he said.
And why were they being hit?
“I think, in theory, batters wait on those fastballs; batters are waiting to hit that fastball,” Tanaka said. “For today’s game, I think I put myself (in situations) — as far as the count goes — to have them typically look to get to that fastball.”
As much as the Yankees are clearly sick of questions about Tanaka’s velocity and offspeed-heavy approach, it’s impossible to ignore those factors in a situation like this. Tanaka was a superstar in the first half of last season, then he got hurt, and now he’s pitching in a slightly different way. It’s true that he’s always been a guy who leaned heavily on offspeed pitches, and the numbers support Tanaka’s theory that his four-seam fastball was hit pretty hard last season, but it’s just eye-opening to see a pitcher of his caliber — who throws a ton of strikes — get knocked around for an inning and acknowledge that the problems had to do with falling behind and having a hit-able fastball.
“Physically, he seems to be fine,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “I’ve watched him between starts all spring, play catch in between, and he’s building arm strength still. We went slow early in the spring, knowing that it’s going to be a work in progress, really. I think he’s holding his own right now. This isn’t the results that you anticipate or want, but I think you have to be reasonable the way you look at things. He is building arm strength and will continue to. There were positives with the split today, it was really good, and I think you’ll see him — as he stays healthy, you’ll see him pitch the way he has in the past.”
Associated Press photo
Game 1: Yankees vs. Blue Jays • 04.06.15
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Brett Gardner LF
Carlos Beltran RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Brian McCann C
Chase Headley 3B
Alex Rodriguez DH
Stephen Drew 2B
Didi Gregorius SS
RHP Masahiro Tanaka (13-5, 2.77 in 2014)
Tanaka vs Blue Jays
BLUE JAYS (0-0)
Jose Reyes SS
Russell Martin C
Jose Bautista RF
Edwin Encarnacion 1B
Josh Donaldson 3B
Dioner Navarro DH
Dalton Pompey CF
Kevin Pillar LF
Devon Travis 2B
RHP Drew Hutchison (11-13, 4.60 in 2014)
Hutchison vs. Yankees
TIME/TV: 1:05 p.m., YES Network
WEATHER: Couldn’t ask for much better in New York on Opening Day. Slightly chilly, but not remotely cold. Feels great here at the park.
UMPIRES: HP Fieldin Culbreth, 1B Jim Reynolds, 2B Manny Gonzalez, 3B Paul Schrieber
YOUTH MOVEMENT: According to Elias Sports Bureau, the average age of the Yankees’ Opening Day roster is 30 years and 33 days, the younger for the franchise since 1996.
NEW FACES: The Yankees have only 10 healthy players returning from last year’s Opening Day roster: Dellin Betances, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Adam Warren, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. They have only six players — Gardner, Pineda, Sabathia, Teixeira, Warren and Alex Rodriguez — who were also on the Opening Day roster in 2013.
GOOD AT THE START: When they open at home, the Yankees have had a lot of Opening Day success in recent years. They are 15-2 in home openers since 1998 and 20-3 since 1992.
ON THIS DATE: It was on April 6, 1973 that Ron Blomberg because baseball’s first ever designated hitter during a Yankees game at Fenway Park. Batting in the top of the first, Blomberg drew a bases-loaded walk against Luis Tiant.
UPDATE, 1:15 p.m.: Tanaka gets a strikeout to start the game — looked like a split in the dirt, got Reyes swinging — the fans in the right-field bleachers included Alex Rodriguez in the roll call, despite Rodriguez being on the bench as the DH. Rodriguez tipped his cap.
UPDATE, 1:25 p.m.: Here comes Tanaka for his second inning of work. Each side went down in order in the first inning — Tanaka struck out two; Gardner missed a home run by just a foot or two — so it’s still scoreless heading into the second.
UPDATE, 1:37 p.m.: Scoreless top of the second for Tanaka, who allowed his first hit on an infield single.
UPDATE, 1:51 p.m.: Headley’s throwing error allowed one run to score — can’t imagine Tanaka helped the situation by going after the ball — but the bigger damage comes on a two-run single by Martin. According to YES, it came on a 93 mph fastball from Tanaka. That’s the same as Tanaka’s average fastball velocity last season.
UPDATE, 1:58 p.m.: Rough, rough, rough third inning for Tanaka. Five runs on a walk, an error, two singles and a home run.
UPDATE, 2:45 p.m.: Chris Martin’s Yankees debut, he just struck out Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson.
UPDATE, 3:03 p.m.: Not as impressive as Martin’s debut, but Chasen Shreve just finished off a 1-2-3 sixth inning in his first ever appearance with the Yankees.
UPDATE, 3:04 p.m.: Brutal spring training for Gardner, but he just went yard in his third at-bat of the regular season. It’s now 5-1 in the sixth.
UPDATE, 3:13 p.m.: Devon Travis has his first major league hit. It’s a solo homer off Shreve. It’s now a 6-1 Blue Jays lead.
UPDATE, 3:49 p.m.: Down five with two on and the clean-up hitter at the plate, and Didi gets thrown out at third base to end the inning. That’s … not great.
I suppose this is true for every team in baseball, but it seems especially true for these Yankees as they prepare to start a season loaded with uncertainty.
“There’s a lot of things that have to go right for you to be where you want to be at the end of October,” Joe Girardi said. “But I feel there’s a lot of great pieces here. I feel there’s a lot of guys that are going to have really good years, and it’s our job to keep them on the field every day. But I like what we’ve assembled.”
A lot that has to go right, indeed. The entire heart of the Yankees’ lineup is coming back from disappointing seasons. They have no defined closer. Alex Rodriguez is nearly 40 and hasn’t played in more than a year.
Then there’s today’s starting pitcher.
On a team full of unpredictability, there is perhaps no all-or-nothing situation quite like Masahiro Tanaka.
Still trying to avoid Tommy John surgery, Tanaka made it through spring training healthy, but he’s raised a lot of eyebrows with his admission that he’s not planning to throw as hard this season. Tanaka says that’s all about preferring his two-seam fastball ahead of his four-seam fastball, but when a guy’s playing through an injury, any situation like this is sure to raise red flags.
Not white flags of surrender, but red flags of caution and curiosity.
“There’s so much talk about it,” Girardi said. “But until guys get out there, it’s speculation. He’s not exactly sure what he’s going to have every day when he goes out there. That’s just the nature of being a pitcher. You feel you’re always going to have your best stuff when you warm up, but some days it’s just not quite the same. For me, I’m just going to watch and see what happens.”
• Tanaka might be the most important piece of the Yankees’ roster, but Rodriguez will surely generate the most attention. He’s back from a year-long suspension, playing designated hitter and batting seventh. It’s certainly a different situation than what we remember from most of his career. “I think you’re going to get production from him,” Girardi said. “I don’t want to make a prediction on homers & RBIs, but I think you’re going to have good at-bats. You’re going to see him get on base and you’re going to see him hit some homers. I think the thing, as we get into this, that I have to pay close attention is when I feel I need to give him a day off, that sort of thing.”
• As expected, the Yankees are opening the season without a true closer. Girardi said again today that he’ll pick who pitches the ninth inning depending on matchups. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are the go-to options, but which one gets the ninth will depend on lefties and righties in the Blue Jays’ lineup. “They know who their guys are in the lineup and who we expect them to get out,” Girardi said. “If we’re in this part of the lineup, this is who you got. Their well aware of what we’re doing, I’ve explained it to them. They’re fine with it. So, we’re going to go with it and see how it works.”
• I suppose it’s worth noting that the Blue Jays do not have any pure left-handed hitters in their starting lineup. Instead, they have three switch hitters and a bunch of righties.
• As previously reported by Dan Barbarisi, CC Sabathia has moved into Derek Jeter’s old locker in the Yankees clubhouse. Brian McCann has moved into the locker most recently used by Mariano Rivera and Dave Robertson. Dellin Betances has moved into Sabathia’s old locker. Rodriguez has the same locker he had before last season (the locker Chris Young used briefly last year).
• The Blue Jays have former Yankees catcher Russell Martin batting second today. They also have former Yankees catching prospect Dioner Navarro at DH batting sixth. In between is one of the most dangerous middle of the orders in baseball: Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson.
• Today’s pregame schedule:
12:43-12:53 p.m. - Baseline introductions
12:53:30 p.m. - Unfurling of giant American flag by West Point Cadets
12:54 p.m. - Presentation of Colors: West Point Cadet Color Guard
12:55 p.m. - National Anthems: United States Military Academy Band
1:05 p.m. - Umpires and Managers to Home Plate
1:08 p.m. - Yankees take the field; ceremonial first pitch thrown by Joe Torre
1:10 p.m. - First Pitch
Associated Press photos
CC Sabathia pitched just 10 innings this spring, Masahiro Tanaka made just four starts, and Carlos Beltran got just 37 at-bats, only four more than Jacoby Ellsbury who was hurt for more than two weeks.
Recognizing the age and injury concerns up and down their roster, the Yankees went with an intentionally lighter workload for several key players this spring. Sabathia and Tanaka progressed slowly and will be on slightly limited pitch counts when they make their first regular season starts. Beltran got quite a few at-bats at the minor league complex, but he didn’t play a ton in actual Grapefruit League games. Alex Rodriguez played the field sparingly, including just two games at first base, a position he’d never before played in his career.
But the additional rest went beyond those obviously diminished statistics.
“I opted to give them more complete days off this spring than just not playing,” Joe Girardi said. “It was something I thought would help refresh them more. You play a night game and you’re not playing the next day, and (if) you come in and work out, you’re not into the first two or three rounds of BP because maybe you’re a little bit tired. Then you’re frustrated because you don’t like your BP, so you go and take 150 swings. It kind of defeats the whole purpose.
“So there were times I chose to say, ‘I don’t want you coming in tomorrow. Stay home and relax.’ I think it helped; I do. I think it breaks up the monotony of spring training, too, for veteran guys.”
Despite a long list of obvious injury concerns, the only projected big leaguers set to open the season on the disabled list are Chris Capuano (an older player, but not one with a lingering health issue) and Brendan Ryan (a little used utility man who’s still not sure how he strained his calf muscle on a relatively routine play). The only other significant sprint injury was Jose Pirela’s concussion, which happened because of a collision in the outfield, not because of workload or lack of rest.
So far, Tanaka’s elbow seems fine. So does Beltran’s. Rodriguez has complained of no problems with his hips, Sabathia says his surgically repaired knee feels fine, and Mark Teixeira suffered no significant injuries throughout spring training (a month-long healthy streak possibly unmatched all of last season). Most of the injuries that did pop up — Teixeira’s bruised knee, Jacoby Ellsbury’s strained oblique, Didi Gregorius’s sprained wrist — cleared up well before breaking camp.
Injuries can popup when players and coaches least expect them, but the Yankees have done what they can to keep guys healthy this spring, and it seems to have worked so far. If it means Tanaka and Sabathia are slightly limited in their first starts, it’s still a long way from the worst-case scenario.
“(Sabathia) makes one more start in the season and he’s where everybody else is,” Girardi said. “I don’t really consider him that far behind. We chose to do this because we had guys coming off injuries and we said we were going to take it slow. If their pitch count is a little bit less the first start, so be it. We’ll deal with that.”
Associated Press photo
How did Masahiro Tanaka find out that Pedro Martinez is predicting doom and gloom for him this season? Through Japanese television, of course. Martinez went on Sirius/XM radio yesterday and said he doesn’t expect Tanaka to stay healthy all year. In fact, Martinez doesn’t think Tanaka is healthy right now. It was a big enough deal that Japanese media picked up the story overseas.
“First, I feel kind of honored because a pitcher of that stature is talking about me,” Tanaka said. “I was a little bit surprised by that and kind of feel honored by that. But I understand that everybody has their opinion about certain things, about the way I pitch. But for me, I know where I’m at, and I feel good. So I think that’s the most important. I feel good.”
Tanaka said, essentially, that he respectfully disagrees with Martinez’s assessment that Tanaka has been hesitant to fully test his elbow this spring.
“Tanaka is not healthy right now because I believe Tanaka is hesitant to let it go,” Martinez said on Sirius/XM’s Mad Dog Radio. “Tanaka is hanging all those breaking balls that he is throwing. The only pitch he is committing to is the split finger, and his problems are actually in a place where you don’t need to put any more stress, which is the elbow. And he’s hesitant. He’s hesitating to throw his fastball, and he’s hanging every breaking ball he’s throwing out there. Plus his velocity is not there yet.”
Tanaka insists the velocity is down because he’s focused on two-seam fastballs, not four-seam fastballs. He said he still feels capable and willing to jump into the mid-90s when necessary, but he hasn’t felt the need or desire to show it this spring.
“If I wanted to, I could,” Tanaka said.
As for breaking balls hanging up in the zone, Tanaka speculated that it’s a small and unimpressive sample that Martinez is looking at.
“I think Pedro was looking at specifically the last game that I was pitching,” Tanaka said. “And obviously, as you guys know too, my stuff wasn’t the sharpest that day. The games prior to that, I felt my breaking balls were there. In the bullpen, I’ve been throwing them pretty well, so I’m not really worried about that either. Also, I was being able to get some swings for misses too, so I’m pretty confident where I am with my breaking balls.”
At the moment, the Yankees seem unconcerned about the situation, mostly because there’s little they can do about it. Tanaka says he feels great, says he’s not holding back, and the Yankees are committed to giving him the ball on Opening Day. If he can stay healthy, Tanaka could be one of the best pitchers in the American League. If his elbow blows out, he would surely be finished for the season.
“Whatever’s going to be is going to be,” Brian Cashman said. “But right now he feels great, he feels healthy and he’s had a productive spring.”
Associated Press photo
No one in the Yankees clubhouse — not the manager, not the catcher, not the pitcher himself — had particularly good things to say about Masahiro Tanaka’s final spring training start on Tuesday, yet everyone involved seemed to think it an overwhelming success.
Never mind the seven hits, the three runs or the consistent hard contract. On the final day of March, Tanaka threw 76 pitches and finished his spring on track to start Opening Day.
“He got through all the hurdles,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I didn’t really ever feel we needed to give him an extra day or be cautious. He never reported any trouble with his arm or feeling stiff after a start more than normal. So I felt that was all good stuff.”
Even after today’s rough start, Tanaka finished his spring with a 3.07 ERA. He walked one batter in 14.2 innings. Today he yet again focused on two-seamers, threw only a few four-seam fastballs — “Enough to know there were four-seams involved,” Austin Romine said — and got some good results with his slider, which helped make up for an inconsistent splitter. It wasn’t a good way to end the spring, but there was no indication that Tanaka was hurt or worried.
“I feel good that I was able to come through camp healthy right now,” he said. “I think I’m a bit relieved. … As far as going into the season, I’m pretty confident of where I am, how strong I am. Yeah, I feel good going into the season.”
From electing not to undergo Tommy John surgery last season to progressing slowly this spring, Tanaka has taken a conservative approach to managing his elbow. He threw fewer innings than he did last spring, and he’ll be limited to roughly 90 pitches on Opening Day, but he’s made every start, completed every bullpen, and complained of no pain or discomfort.
Under the circumstances, Tanaka’s spring has gone about as well as the Yankees could have hoped.
“I felt pretty decent about him going into the offseason,” Girardi said. “But I think you feel a little bit better now just watching him go through his starts and getting built up. But you never know about pitchers today. … There’s a lot of guys that have slight (tears) and they pitch for a while. For whatever reason, some guys go right away and some guys pitch.”
The Yankees are banking on Tanaka being one of the guys who pitch.
• Jacoby Ellsbury told reporters in Tampa that the came through today’s minor league game just fine. He had two hits, also apparently made a decent play in left center. “It’s not a controlled environment,” Ellsbury said. “It’s not like you’re hitting off a tee. You’re seeing different things, swings and misses, check swings, stuff like that. This is the best test for it, game action. Until you get out there and actually do some explosive stuff, you really don’t know, but it was great.”
• Not such a strong day for Adam Warren. I don’t have his pitching line, but he acknowledged that the results weren’t great in his minor league outing. “The results weren’t the best,” he said. “Just trying to get ready for the season. It’s tough out here to get the adrenaline going, so you try to lock it in, work on some things. That’s really what I try to focus on, getting ready for the season. … Throwing changeups for strikes is one thing I was working on. The more I kept throwing it, the better it got, so I felt like I improved there.”
• Warren said he still hasn’t been told whether he’s the fifth starter, but today he was stretched out to more than 80 pitches. He’s also on scheduled to start the fifth game of the season on an extra day of rest. That rotation spot seems like a done deal.
• Girardi indicated that he’s still confident Didi Gregorius will be ready for Opening Day, but when he said “obviously we’d like him to play before we leave,” Girardi seemed to be acknowledging that Gregorius might not play in another game before breaking camp. If that’s the case, have to wonder if the Yankees might retroactive a DL stint and consider carrying either Nick Noonan or Rob Refsnyder to start the season.
• Austin Romine went 0-for-3 and cut his batting average down to .143. He’s still in the mix for the backup catcher job, but at this point, John Ryan Murphy is hitting 73 points higher. “I’m just playing,” Romine said. “I’m playing to make this team. I’m also playing for other teams out there. I would like nothing more than to make it on this team, that’s my goal. It’s out of my hands. I just play. I try not to worry about that stuff. It’s hard sometimes, but I try not to worry about it.”
• It’s worth noting that the Yankees constantly stress to young players that they should remember other teams are watching, so Romine bringing up “playing for other teams out there” is not unusual, and not even against what the Yankees preach to their young guys. It’s just the reality of the situation. Romine knows he’s out of options and knows his best opportunity might come elsewhere. “I’m kind of eager to see what happens,” he said. “… I haven’t packed at all. I’ve cleaned some stuff. I knew the situation this year, so I came a little light, but I’m ready to go wherever.”
• Still in the mix for a spot in the bullpen, big right-hander Chris Martin was terrific this afternoon. He retired all six batters he faced, striking out three of them. “Threw good today,” Girardi said. “Really good. Good downhill angle, good breaking ball. Really good.”
• Sent to minor league camp on Sunday, Ramon Flores forgot his jersey for this trip and had to wear someone else’s. No matter, he made a nice catch in right field and went 2-for-4 with the Yankees’ only RBI in a 3-1 loss. … Brett Gardner was also on base twice with a single and a walk (he was also picked off at first). … Danny Burawa pitched a scoreless inning immediately after Branden Pinder retired the only two batters he faced.
• Pretty typical spring training day for Rob Refsnyder. He singled, walked and committed a throwing error. It was his sixth error of the spring, and it came after he made a nice diving play. He made the stop, then botched the throw. The guy has definitely hit though. He has a .342 average this spring.
• Final word goes to Girardi, one more time talking about Tanaka: “I think he’s ready to go. The fact of him being the first starter gives him more days (off), six days, than any of the other starters. We wanted to make sure that he was ready, and the fact that he can only go 90 instead of 100 is not a big deal.”
Associated Press photos
Just a few quick health updates from spring training:
• Didi Gregorius might not play in tomorrow’s game after all. This was his third day resting a sprained left wrist, but he still has some swelling. “I feel like he’s ready to go,” Joe Girardi said. “And obviously we’d like him to play before we leave, but he still had a little bit so I don’t know if he’ll be a player tomorrow yet.”
• Mark Teixeira is expected to be in the big league lineup tomorrow. He was hit by a pitch in the knee on Sunday, but he suffered only a bruise and is expected to play as scheduled. He was supposed to have Monday and Tuesday off anyway.
• Jacoby Ellsbury is also penciled into tomorrow’s big league lineup. Ellsbury got five at-bats in a minor league game this afternoon, playing for the first time since straining his oblique. Girardi said he’s planning to have Ellsbury in the lineup tomorrow.
• Not exactly an injury update, but after getting to 76 pitches today, Masahiro Tanaka will be limited to 90 pitches on Opening Day. Tanaka said he feels some sense of relief having gotten through this spring healthy.
Spring Game 29: Yankees at Twins • 03.31.15
Brett Gardner LF
Brendan Ryan 3B
Chris Young CF
Garrett Jones 1B
Austin Romine C
Rob Refsnyder 2B
Ramon Flores RF
Nick Noonan SS
Eric Jagielo DH
RHP Masahiro Tanaka (13-5, 2.77 in 2014)
Jordan Schafer CF
Eduardo Escobar SS
Chris Herrmann RF
Kennys Vargas 1B
Eduardo Nunez 3B
Adam Brett Walker DH
Shane Robinson LF
Eric Fryer C
Doug Bernier 2B
LHP Tommy Milone (6-4, 4.19 in 2014)
TIME/TV: 1:05 p.m., not on TV or radio
WEATHER: Just a beautiful day. Really gorgeous. I can’t wait to get home, but this weather has been outstanding.
UMPIRES: HP Marvin Hudson, 1B Fieldin Culbreth, 2B Brian O’Nora, 3B Doug Vines
TODAY’S SECOND STRING: C Eddy Rodriguez, 1B Greg Bird, 2B none, SS none, 3B Eric Jagielo, LF Taylor Dugas, CF Mason Williams, RF none
TODAY’S SCHEDULED RELIEVERS: Chris Martin, Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder, Cesar Vargas, Nick Goody
FINAL WEEK: The Yankees are into their final week of spring training, which means they’re getting closer to some final decisions. Austin Romine is catching here and John Ryan Murphy is catching in Tampa, each one still trying to win a job on the bench. … Chris Martin is pitching today, and Chase Whitley has a start tomorrow, each one competing with Andrew Bailey and Chasen Shreve for the final two bullpen spots. … Brendan Ryan is getting his first turn at third base, a position he might play a little bit (but not often) in the season. … Rob Refsnyder gets a start at second base. He’s been terrific with the bat, but he’s struggled in the field.
UPDATE, 1:16 p.m.: Really nice diving stop by Refsnyder going to his left. He popped up to throw quickly and sent the throw sailing wide toward the Yankees dugout. That’s another E-4 and the Twins’ leadoff hitter is on to start the bottom of the first.
UPDATE, 1:31 p.m.: Another hit for Refsnyder. Of course, it comes in a game when he made another error. I honestly believe he’s going to be an everyday second baseman at some point — and maybe a really good one — but this spring has painted a pretty clear picture of why the Yankees aren’t sure he’s ready just yet.
UPDATE, 1:57 p.m.: Double and a single off Tanaka in the third inning. It’s now a 1-0 Twins lead. On the single, Gardner nearly threw out the runner at the plate, but his throw was up the third base line a little bit.
UPDATE, 2:14 p.m.: RBI single by Flores ties the game at 1. Flores, by the way, is not wearing his usual number. He apparently forgot his uniform and had to wear someone else’s.
UPDATE, 2:37 p.m.: Tanaka allowed a solo homer and a one-out single in the fifth, and now his day is finished. He went 4.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 1 K. He pitched around errors in both the first and second innings, but he allowed one run the next three frames.