The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News

Cashman on Tanaka’s elbow: “It’s not in my control”03.12.15

Masahiro Tanaka

This is a big day for the Yankees’ rotation, but the team has to hope five days from now is an even bigger day. And five days after that is even bigger still. Getting this rotation through the season is going to be a process, especially for CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, each of whom is pitching today.

“We’re certainly hoping for big things from those guys,” Brian Cashman said. “But we need big things from a lot of guys.”

The most important piece of this fragile puzzle just might be Tanaka, who’s scheduled for two innings in his exhibition debut tonight. Sabathia has a simulated game around 2:30, but Tanaka will be pitching in a real game — as real as they get in spring training, anyway — which should be a fresh test for his elbow.

“It’s not in my control whether Tanaka stays healthy for 10 more years or 10 more days,” Cashman said. “It’s not something, quite honestly, I’m going to worry about. If it declares itself in an adverse way, we’ll just have to deal with it and do whatever the next course of action is, which would be a surgery if he has a problem, you’d think. But he’s been great. Everything has been as good as we could expect for all those guys thus far. (Tonight) will be another step in the process, and yes, you’ll find out if it looks good, feels good.

“You still swing by the trainer’s room the next day (to ask), ‘How did he report himself,’ all that stuff. But I do that anyway, to be honest.”

If both Sabathia and Tanaka were to stay on an every-five-days schedule, they would each be perfectly lined up to pitch on Opening Day. Obviously only one of them can take the ball that day — right now, I’m assuming they’re still the logical candidates — so the next turn or two might give us an idea of which one is actually going to start the opener.

It’s worth noting that there’s a day off after Opening Day, so whoever starts that day can take a free extra day of rest before his second start (because of another off day, the fifth starter will also get a free extra day between starts one and two). Who needs that first extra day of rest more, Sabathia or Tanaka? I honestly don’t know the answer.

Just a heads up that I’m taking these next few days off. I’ve done the full seven weeks the past few years, but it really leaves you fried at the end, and I actually need to be home for a few days. I’ll see you all when the exhibition schedule resumes after the weekend.

Associated Press photo

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A few thoughts after two weeks with the full squad03.12.15

The Yankees have a night game — their first of the spring — so we have a few hours to kill today. Let’s start with a few random observations and thoughts as we enter the middle of March:

Adam Warren, Brian McCann• So who’s the fifth starter now, what does that mean for the rest of the pitching staff, and what does that mean for the Yankees idea of using six starters a few times in April and May? It really seems those questions could be answered any number of ways by the time Opening Day roles around. My feeling is that Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers are the heavy favorites for the rotation opening, which further opens the possibility of either Chase Whitley or Bryan Mitchell taking a long-relief role. I also wonder if the Yankees might carry a guy like Scott Baker as their long man, sending Whitley and Mitchell to Triple-A to stay stretched out for a call-up to make a spot start here and there. If I have to guess right now, I’ll say it’s Warren in the rotation, Rogers in the bullpen, with Whitley and Jose Ramirez breaking camp as the 11th and 12th pitchers on the staff. But that’s a true shot in the dark.

• Honestly, Alex Rodriguez looks better than I expected. I don’t think he looks great, but he seems to still have a solid eye at the plate, and I think he can at least make the routine plays at third base. The Yankees might be able to get away with starting him there every 10 games or so, knowing they’ll have to bring Chase Headley or Brendan Ryan (or Jose Pirela) in to play some late-inning defense. Saying that Rodriguez looks better than I thought isn’t to say I think he’s going to be a middle-of-the-order slugger, only that I think there’s at least some reason to hope he can be a useful hitter near the bottom of the order (maybe a little higher against lefties). Most surprising thing about A-Rod this spring: fans seem to be mostly on his side. Certainly not completely on his side, but definitely more cheers than boos.

• Weird thing about covering Masahiro Tanaka’s spring is that each good day seems like a tease. The best the Yankees can say is, well, his elbow hasn’t blown out yet. That’s it. Maybe optimism grows each time he goes out there, but a successful bullpen, batting practice or exhibition game doesn’t eliminate the possibility of his elbow blowing out the very next time he pitches. I think the Yankees should feel encouraged at this point, but I’m not sure they’ll ever feel secure. I do think they made the right call in trying to rehab — I honestly think we rarely hear about the success stories when pitchers approach it that way — but even if Tanaka makes 30 starts this year, those are going to be 30 uneasy outings.

CC Sabathia• Tanaka is the best pitcher on this team, but it’s hard to be in the Yankees clubhouse and not see CC Sabathia as the clear ace. Pitchers still look to him for advice. They look to him for leadership. And the big man provides. I have no clue whether he can be a great big league pitcher again. I don’t even know if he can be a solid No. 3. But I don’t think his role in the clubhouse has changed from what it was three years ago. Even veteran guys will gather around near his locker to talk to him about anything and everything.

• When camp opened, I thought Rob Refsnyder would get some chance to compete for a roster spot. I didn’t think he’d win one, but I thought he’d get some significant attention beyond that of his other inevitable Triple-A teammates. Instead, Refsnyder doesn’t seem to be getting any more of a look than Jonathan Galvez or Nick Noonan. Refsnyder might jump into the picture if Stephen Drew gets hurt, but it really seems — they haven’t said this, just seems obvious — that the Yankees have no intention of sending Refsnyder anywhere but the minor leagues, probably to work on his defense.

Ryan Howard, Jose Pirela• Three ways I see for Jose Pirela to make the roster. 1. Brendan Ryan’s back doesn’t get better and the Yankees choose Pirela as a right-handed platoon infielder, sliding Drew to shortstop on days Didi Gregorius needs a break. 2. Chris Young gets hurt, and Pirela is the right-handed fourth outfielder. 3. Alex Rodriguez absolutely can’t play third base, leaving Ryan as the only backup at second, short and third. If that’s the case, the Yankees could decide they need a bigger bat and settle on Pirela instead (again, using Drew at shortstop on days Gregorius sits). Even in that third situation, though — with A-Rod relegated to DH only — I still tend to think Ryan would actually keep the bench job ahead of Pirela, at least coming out of camp. The Yankees seem to want to make sure they have enough shortstop depth to open the season, and losing Ryan really makes that position thin.

• I think Nathan Eovaldi is going to be good, but I also think the closest thing to a sure thing in the Yankees rotation is Michael Pineda, and that’s just crazy after what that guy’s been through these past three years.

• Slade Heathcott looks good so far. Incredibly small sample size, but he’s hit pretty well and has played a pretty good center field when he’s been out there. Heathcott is always in insane shape, and he’s clearly convinced the knee problems are behind him. He lost considerable prospect status and a spot on the 40-man roster for good reason — he simply has to stay healthy — but there’s still a lot of talent there.

Masahiro Tanaka, Eddy Rodriguez• Backup catcher? I still think it’ll be John Ryan Murphy, even though he’s not doing much at the plate. If that’s the case and the Yankees have to put Austin Romine on waivers, I honestly hope he’s claimed so that he can get another shot somewhere else. Romine seems to do things the right way, and he’s just been buried in this organization.

• One thing making me think the Yankees are preparing themselves for the possibility of losing Romine is that Eddy Rodriguez seems to be catching quite a few bullpens with big league pitchers. He caught Masahiro Tanaka’s sim game the other day. He’s caught CC Sabathia. I wonder if the Yankees are trying to get Rodriguez a little familiarity with the big league staff just in case they lose Romine and need another catcher during the year. There’s no guarantee Gary Sanchez will deserve a call-up — and the Yankees might not want Sanchez to be a backup at this stage of his development — so Rodriguez could be that just-in-case veteran waiting in Triple-A. If so, it would make some sense to let him get a little familiar with the guys on the big league staff.

• Carlos Beltran looks healthy, but he’s done nothing at the plate so far. Everyone should know not to make anything of these early at-bats for a veteran guy like Beltran, but it’s hard to apply that logic when he’s coming off such a bad year and the Yankees are counting on him so heavily. I make nothing of Jacoby Ellsbury’s slow start, nothing of Didi Gregeoius’s slow start, and I guess I make nothing of Beltran’s slow start, but I can’t help noticing it.

• Four players who I absolutely do not expect to make the big league roster under any circumstances: Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Luis Severino and Heathcott. Yes, they’re high-end talents, but I just don’t think the Yankees are seriously considering them as big leaguers out of camp. In the second half? Maybe. Especially for Severino. But out of spring training is way too ambitious. I think Refsnyder and Jacob Lindgren could make it under some circumstances — probably Lindgren easier than Refsnyder — but I just don’t see any of the most hyped prospects actually being on the big league radar for April. They’re getting attention because they’re talented, not because they’re about to make the team.

Associated Press photos

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Wednesday afternoon notes: “Haven’t hit a ball like that in a long time”03.11.15

Alex Rodriguez

Eight Yankees have hit a home run this spring. Only one of them is expected to actually break camp with the big league team.

“Some of the guys were saying that it looked like I didn’t even swing,” Alex Rodriguez said. “That’s always a good sign for me. It looked like a little pepper swing and the ball jumped pretty good, so that’s a good sign.”

Who had A-Rod in the first big league Yankee to homer pool? If you did, congrats, because today he got an 88-mph, 3-1 pitch from right-handed Red Sox pitcher Brandon Workman and sent it over the wall in left-center field. It was Rodriguez’s first home run since September 20, 2013. He said he had no idea when he hit it whether it would carry over the wall.

“I haven’t hit a ball like that in a long time,” Rodriguez said. “So I don’t know what’s a home run and what’s not. … It feels good. Look, I’m happy that I can contribute. It’s early March. Let’s see what happens. You have to do that in New York where it counts. It’s certainly a good start.”

Both Rodriguez and Joe Girardi seemed most impressed by the fact Rodriguez was in a 3-1 count. He’s shown a pretty good eye this spring, and good counts usually lead to easier pitches.

“He’s getting in good counts to hit,” Girardi said. “He drove a breaking ball the other day pretty well to right center that was down in the zone, which is not necessarily easy to do. I don’t see him chasing pitches, which I think is key for him.”

Said Rodriguez: “Laying off the 1-1 slider, the 2-1 fastball, gets you to a 3-1 count. I think that’s going to be the key for our offense this year, to really stay disciplined.”

Did Rodriguez ever doubt he’d hit another home run at some point?

“You always have doubt,” he said. “Look, I haven’t played in a long time. You guys have been writing it. It’s a tough game. What I’m trying to do, not a lot of people have been able to have this comeback. I’m working hard every day trying to make the team and contribute.”

Eric Cooper, Steve Donohue, Chris Capuano, Joe Girardi• The Yankees announced that Chris Capuano’s right quad strain in a Grade 2. That’s definitely going to keep him off the Opening Day roster. “I think it happened right before he got (to first base),” Girardi said. “I thought it was a calf the way he pulled up, but obviously it’s an upper quad.”

• This was Rodriguez’s second game at third base. He had to make another play and another long throw, but he still hasn’t really tested his range. It’s pretty clear he’s not expecting to cover a ton of ground. “I forgot how far that throw is,” Rodriguez said, laughing. “The game is really hard, but I’m having a lot of fun playing it and I’m working hard at it. I want to be able to play a respectable enough third base where Joe feels comfortable enough where I can give him an option here and there to give those guys a blow.”

• The plan is for Rodriguez to DH tomorrow.

• Speaking of tomorrow, Girardi said Tanaka is scheduled for two innings in his spring debut. “We’re pretty happy with where he’s at,” Girardi said. “But we need to build him up now. It was good that he started two games last year because I think there would have been even bigger of a deal tomorrow. The first game he started, I sat on the edge of my seat a little bit. I feel pretty good about where he’s at.”

• Before Tanaka’s debut, CC Sabathia is scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. simulated game. “We’ve been really pleased with where he’s at,” Girardi said. “He’s throwing the ball well. We get through the simulated game and then we’ll probably get him in a game.”

• Andrew Miller allowed a solo homer to lead off the second inning today. It was hit by young first baseman Travis Shaw. “Don’t want to face young kids early on in spring,” Girardi said. “They let it fly.”

• That sentence might be reassuring for Miller, but it goes both ways. Right now the Yankees have some hitting putting up huge numbers, but they’re also young kids. Girardi said he keeps that in mind when evaluating what the prospects are doing so far. “They joke about when Major League pitchers go down to throw minor league games in spring training, they try to set these kids up,” Girardi said. “No chance. They’re hacking. That’s what happens.”

Jose Pirela, Daniel Nava• Speaking of young guys who are putting up big numbers, Slade Heathcott hit a ninth-inning home run today and is batting .625 so far this spring. … Also read hot is Jose Pirela, who went 2-for-2 and raised his early spring average to .533. … Bryan Mitchell was knocked around for four runs on seven hits in two innings today. Tyler Webb allowed two runs on three hits in one inning, and Chris Martin allowed three runs — one earned — also on three hits in one inning.

• Rob Refsnyder made his third error of the spring. That’s not at all helped his case for a spot on the Yankees roster (not that it seemed he was getting a real look anyway). … Brendan Ryan did a pretty light workout. He’s scheduled to take dry swings tomorrow. … After missing two days with a stiff neck, Nick Noonan is expected back tomorrow.

• Luis Severino played light catch today. “We’ll slow him down a just little because he’s been sick,” Girardi said.

• Low-level minor league pitcher Brayan Alcantara has received a 72-game suspension after testing positive for metabolites of Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance in violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

• Final word goes to Rodriguez about (sort of) getting to be a part of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry again. “It’s like nothing in sports, Red Sox-Yankees. I have so much respect for that organization over there. It’s just great. Even saying hello to the umpires, saying hello to double-five over there, (Brian) Butterfield, he’s a good friend. Just being back in the game and the great reception I’ve been getting from the fans, it’s been a pleasant surprise.”

Associated Press photos

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Monday morning notes: With lineup regulars, A-Rod hitting seventh03.09.15

Joe Girardi

I doubt Joe Girardi will admit it, but today’s lineup has to be the frontrunner for Opening Day.

The Yankees have left no doubt these nine are the favorites at each position. Even if there’s a vague competition at second base, the Yankees are prioritizing Stephen Drew by letting him regularly play alongside Didi Gregorius. Something could change between now and then, but for right now, these are the starting position players.

And if these are the starting position players, why not put them in the order Girardi’s considering for Opening Day?

Lessons learned from today’s batting order: Stephen Drew batting ahead of Gregorius, Alex Rodriguez in the No. 7 spot behind Chase Headley, and Mark Teixeira in the cleanup spot after hitting fifth on Opening Day last season.

I do wonder if things might be different if the Yankees see a lefty on Opening Day.

Masahiro Tanaka• Masahiro Tanaka threw another bullpen this morning and came back into the clubhouse laughing before heading for a workout. He has yet again managed to throw a bunch of pitches without his elbow falling apart.

• Two random Tanaka moments from the clubhouse: Because Tanaka’s locker is really close to a row of young position players, a bunch of prospect hitters actually seem to have gotten to know Tanaka a little bit this spring. This morning, Jake Cave came over to Tanaka’s translator strictly to say that he likes Tanaka’s shoes (Tanaka loved that). Mason Williams also engaged Tanaka in a random round of Rock-Paper-Scissors, and it was clearly not the first time they’d done that. Seems to be a running thing between the two of them. Tanaka threw paper and lost. Mason gloated. A lot. Tanaka, again, loved it. He’s definitely more one of the guys than you might expect.

• Andrew Bailey will throw a simulated game tomorrow. He’s already thrown live batting practice, but I have to think a sim game will the final step toward getting him in a real game. Despite Brian Cashman’s previous statements about Bailey being an extreme longshot, Bailey continues to say that he feels great. He’s throwing all of his pitches and sounds encouraged by the results. Needs to get in games, though.

• Mostly a quiet morning in the clubhouse today. There weren’t even very many pitchers in the room through much of the morning. Now everyone is here and the morning workout has started. Typical stuff, fielding drills first and then batting practice.

De PaulaBaker• Morning bullpen sessions:

Group 1
Masahiro Tanaka (to Juan Graterol)
Chris Capuano (to Gary Sanchez)
Scott Baker (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Kyle Davies (to Kyle Higashioka)

Group 2
Jose De Paula (to Trent Garrison)
Domingo German (to Roman Rodriguez)
Tyler Webb (to Juan Graterol)

• Bailey will pitch his simulated game early tomorrow. CC Sabathia, Adam Warren, Luis Severino, Wilking Rodriguez, Jose Campos and Ivan Nova are also scheduled for early work tomorrow, though they’ll presumably throw regular bullpens.

RomineCulverToday’s second string: C Austin Romine, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cito Culver, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Ramon Flores, CF Slade Heathcott, RF Tyler Austin, DH Jake Cave

Today’s scheduled relievers: Nathan Eovaldi, David Carpenter, Justin Wilson, Chris Martin, Diego Moreno (with Nick Rumbelow, Danny Burawa and Nick Goody on standby just in case)

• Tomorrow’s travel squad to Sarasota:

Pitchers: Danny Burawa, Nick Goody, Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, Jose Ramirez, Esmil Rogers, Nick Rumbelow, Chasen Shreve, Chase Whitley
Catchers: Trent Garrison, John Ryan Murphy, Eddy Rodriguez, Gary Sanchez
Infielders: Cito Culver, Stephen Drew, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones, Nick Noonan, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder, Kyle Roller, Mark Teixeira
Outfielders: Jake Cave, Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott, Aaron Judge, Mason Williams, Chris Young
From minor league camp: None listed so far

Associated Press photos

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Sunday postgame notes: Closer competition? “Both of them can do it”03.08.15

Dellin Betances

The fourth inning started with a foul popup lost in the sun. No matter. Andrew Miller simply retired the next three batters, one of them on a strikeout. The fifth inning started with a double to right field. No problem. Dellin Betances simply retired the next three batters, two of them on strikeouts.

Change those innings to the eighth and the ninth, and today might have been our first preview of the Yankees restructured back of the bullpen with Miller forming the bridge (and pitching an inning with two lefties due up), and Betances closing the door (getting familiar swings and misses on his big breaking ball).

Miller“The fact that both of us pitched on the same day or he came after me, I don’t think is anything to read into,” Miller said. “But maybe there is.”

Both Miller and Betances said they’re ignoring any sort of “competition” aspect to this spring. Each one has a roster spot locked up, each one is going to be trusted with key outs, and each one seems indifferent to the exact role. Maybe they’re just saying that, but these are also two guys who not so long ago seemed more like failed prospects than future closers.

“I just want to help the team win, whatever role I’m going to be in,” Betances said. “… I think it’s an advantage for the team. Joe Girardi has more options. Obviously if he wants to go to a lefty or a righty, he has that option. We have a bunch of great guys down there that we acquired. It’s going to be fun. I’m excited to see all of us pitching in spring and getting ready for the season.”

Said Miller: “I don’t think either of us are treating it (as a competition). I’ve got my own problems. I’m trying to figure out where the ball is going and make sure I’m sharp. That stuff (about specific roles) always takes care of itself. It’s the least of my concerns. I want to go out and pitch well, and if I pitch well, I’ll be happy. Wherever that is, it’s fine with me.”

While Girardi has said he’d like to have defined roles in the bullpen, he seems in no rush to make exact judgments. My own speculation: There is something to read into today’s bullpen usage. Betances seems to be on the closer routine — getting into games a little later than everyone else — and why not pitch Miller first if that’s not the way Girardi’s leaning? Ultimately, I’m not sure it matters.

“I don’t really think we’re going to have any doubts that both of them can do it,” Girardi said. “So I don’t really know if there’s anything that we need to see. I think we have to see how the bullpen in our mind shapes up and what, as an organization, we decide to do. I’m not really too worried about their stuff.”

Adam Warren, Brian McCann• Adam Warren looked pretty sharp through three innings. He said he wanted to focus on working ahead of guys, so he fired a first-pitch fastball against the leadoff hitter, and saw it leave the park for a home run. That was the only damage done. He allowed three more hits but stranded every base runner. “I felt much better this outing than I did the one before,” Warren said. “I feel like I’m pounding the zone, throwing strikes, which is good for me early on. I think everything was sharper today, just have to get a little bit more consistent, but I’m happy with where I’m at right now.”

• Upcoming Yankees starters:

Monday: Michael Pineda
Tuesday: Chase Whitley
Wednesday: Chris Capuano
Thursday: Masahiro Tanaka
Friday: Adam Warren

• I assume Esmil Rogers will pitch in relief of Whitley on Tuesday. When those two last pitched, the roles were reversed. Rogers had the start and Whitley pitched in relief.

• Plan is to have Alex Rodriguez DH and Carlos Beltran play right field tomorrow. It will be the first time either has played in back-to-back games this spring.

• Although Brendan Ryan expressed some concern this morning about his ability to get ready for Opening Day, Girardi said he’s not worried yet. “No, not yet,” he said. “There’s still a lot of time.” Girardi said the plan is for Ryan to begin doing baseball drills again on Wednesday.

• If Ryan’s not able to break camp, Jose Pirela seems like a ready alternative. He had two more hits today, and the Yankees could use him as a right-handed platoon at second base (with Stephen Drew handling shortstop on days Didi Gregorius needs off). “Whether someone is hurt or not, that isn’t something that I consider,” Pirela said. “No one wants a teammate to ever be hurt, especially starting the season. I have to focus on myself, competing with myself. … I’m very thankful to the Yankees for this opportunity. They’ve given me plenty of opportunities. I just want to continue doing my job and I just hope to keep getting a chance to show what I can do.”

Chris Young, Jose Lobaton• Hard not to be impressed by Luis Severino, who was consistently hitting 96, 97 mph with his fastball today. He struck out three in 1.1 innings. “He challenges people,” Giradri said. “He’s not overwhelmed by the situation. I know he walked a guy today, but he kept throwing strike after strike, and put a tough at-bat on him. I really liked his approach. I mean, obviously you can see the stuff is there. It’s easy to get excited about that, but the approach is really good too.”

• They don’t fit on the radar nearly as well as the other guys who pitched today, but James Pazos, Wilking Rodriguez and Jared Burton combined for 2.2 hitless innings. Pazos walked a guy and let an inherited runner score, but ultimately those three pitched well. Rodriguez got the win, Burton the save.

• The Yankees had nine hits, only two for extra bases. Rodriguez had his bloop double, and Pirela had a legitimately hard-hit double. … Aaron Judge was charged with an error. … Pirela was the only Yankees player with more than one hit. Rodriguez, Judge, Brett Gardner, Brian McCann, Kyle Roller, Nick Noonan and Cole Figueroa had a hit apiece.

• Freshly signed to a minor league deal, former top Brewers prospect Mat Gamel — who’s brother, Ben, is in the Yankees’ system — completed his physical today and worked out at the minor league complex.

• Final word to Girardi on the way Rodriguez is moving so far this spring: “Pretty much like we expected. We understand he’s not 25 years old. I thought his approach on that ground ball was good. Threw it well. We’ll get him out there more, but my main focus is that at-bats, and if we put him out there too much, I think it lessens his at-bats. And I want to see where he’s at there. … I think his pitch selection has been pretty good, pitches he’s swung at. Got a couple of walks in there, and that’s what you want to see. You want guys to see a lot of pitches this time of year.”

Associated Press photos

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Postgame notes: Young players shine early in Yankees camp03.07.15

Tyler Wade, Aaron Judge

Tyler Wade just turned 20 in November. He’s too far from the major league radar to have gotten a real invitation to big league camp, but the Yankees keep bringing him up from the minor league complex day after day to play a little middle infield in the late innings.

The guy already has more spring training hits than Alex Rodriguez, Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner.

With the Yankees trailing by one in the ninth inning this afternoon, it was Wade who started the game-winning rally with a leadoff single to right. Jonathan Galvez and Jake Cave added singles of their own. Nick Noonan walked in the tying run, Rob Refsnyder put the Yankees in front with a two-run single, and Greg Bird put the game out of reach with a home run.

Ramon Flores, Joe Girardi“Really (exciting) to see that our system has a lot of good players,” Joe Girardi said. “And a lot of kids are going to contribute along the way here is what we’re going to see at some point. That’s what you need. We need to continue to have young players come up and contribute, and a lot of it’s been in the bullpen the last couple of years, but it looks like you’re getting some real position players who are coming up too.”

To be fair, a lot of minor league players began hitting at the minor league complex long before the big league hitters arrived. In the late innings, minor league hitters are usually facing minor league pitchers, and it seems that minor leaguers — eager to open eyes — go all out early in camp, while big league hitters take their time and try to fine tune specifics without really trying to get early results.

That said, the Yankees have hit a total of five home runs so far this spring, and each one was hit by a minor leaguer (Bird, Cave, Ramon Flores, Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge). Eight players have more than two hits, and only one of them — Garrett Jones — seems to have a spot on the big league roster. Wade already has two hits, and he’s not even officially here.

“It’s pretty fun to watch young players contribute and what they’re capable of doing,” Girardi said. “… You watch their at-bats. You watch the pitches that they’re swinging at. If they’re over-swinging. Their approach. How the ball comes off the bat. You saw a lot of good things.”

Masahiro Tanaka• After this morning’s simulated game, Masahiro Tanaka said once again that he feels ready to pitch in a real game. He seems to really feel that the elbow is a non-issue at this point. “It’s obviously really good and I really don’t think about it at all,” he said. “I think all of the pitches I threw today, I’m pretty satisfied with.”

• While Tanaka’s split gets a lot of understandable attention, Tanaka said that’s not the pitch that tells him his elbow is fine. “I do look at the split, how it moves and all that,” he said. “But I actually look at my fastball the most when I’m pitching. The fastballs are coming off my hand pretty good right now.”

• Although Girardi wouldn’t give an exact date, he said Tanaka’s next outing will in fact be a real game.

• Speaking of pitchers in a real game, Scott Baker said he felt better than the numbers indicate. He was disappointed with some of the pitches he made early in counts, and the Astros came out swinging, which caused problems. But he got better later in the inning. “They jumped on Baker pretty quick,” Girardi said. “He made some adjustments as the inning went along and got his split going and got some outs with that. His first outing, I don’t make too much of that.”

• Asked a broad question about today’s pitching, Girardi singled out Nick Rumbelow and Jose De Paula — who was making his spring debut — as guys who pitched well. Rumbelow was charged with a run, but only after he went out for a second inning of work (when he didn’t end up recording an out). His first inning was clean with a strikeout.

Greg Bird• Shortstop Didi Gregorius got another start against a left-handed pitcher, and the Yankees seem to like that. They want him to see lefties in hopes of improving his numbers against them. “To be honest, it’s the only way you’re going to get better,” Gregorius said. “Not getting better if you’re not doing work. For me, facing all these lefties means I’ll stay in there and get more comfortable against lefties.”

• Gregorius said he’s already made a minor mechanical change. “Just trying to stay a little bit taller and a little bit closer (with the hands) too,” he said. “I tend to fly open. I’m going to try not to do that and stay on the ball more and drive the ball the other way.”

• Jose Pirela struck out during that go-ahead, six-run ninth inning, but Girardi was quick to point out that he really helped get the rally going with an RBI double in the eighth. That’s what pulled the Yankees within a run (after Cave had homered earlier in the inning).

• Girardi on the fact it’s taking CC Sabathia a long time to get into games this spring: “We’re taking it slow. We just think it’s a good idea to do it. He’s probably going to throw a couple of innings tomorrow. It’s like starting in a game but you can control it more, that’s all.”

• We’ll give the final word to Gregorius, talking about the Yankees infield defense. “It looks really good, I’m not going to lie. Defensively we look really good. Offense is getting there. It’s Spring Training, so we’re getting there. It’s really good guys we’re playing with. … Today (Headley) cut one of my ground balls off. That means he plays hard. Trying to catch everything. The whole infield is like that and it’s great.”

Associated Press photos (that’s Wade and Judge at the top, Flores in the middle, Bird at the bottom)

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Based on experience, Baker agrees with Tanaka’s plan to avoid surgery03.07.15

Scott Baker, Jason Castro

At this point, veteran starter Scott Baker is simply fighting to stay relevant. He was once a rotation mainstay in Minnesota, but his Yankees debut was largely ignored this afternoon in Kissimmee. There were literally more reporters watching Masahiro Tanaka throw a simulated game than watching Baker pitch in a real game.

And that’s with good reason, which Baker understands far too well.

For years, Baker pitched with a damaged elbow ligament. Those were the best years of his career. Now that he’s trying to pitch his way back from Tommy John surgery, Baker has a hardened and experienced opinion on the decision Tanaka and the Yankees made last summer.

Masahiro Tanaka“There’s just no way to say surgery should be your first option,” he said.

Three years removed from his own Tommy John surgery, Baker shakes his head at those who say the Yankees made a mistake in having Tanaka rehab last year’s slightly torn elbow ligament. He’s baffled by those who say Tanaka should have gotten surgery out of the way as if it’s a no-risk, all-upside procedure.

“I think the reason people can say that is because of the success of the surgery,” Baker said. “As far as sports injuries, aside from the ACL, it’s probably the most successful (surgery) as far as guys getting back to their previous level. So I think that allows (the argument), but does it justify it? No.”

Baker strained his elbow ligament in college, but he put off surgery long enough to be a second-round draft pick and pitch seven big league seasons before finally needing Tommy John in 2012. He won 63 games and earned some $16 million before his elbow simply couldn’t take it anymore.

“It was just like a piece of spaghetti, basically useless,” Baker said. “… I was pretty fortunate to get 10 years out of bum ligament.”

Surgery came in April of 2012 when Baker was 30 and coming off a 3.34 ERA the previous season. Three years later, he’s made just 11 more big league starts. He’s in Yankees camp on a minor league contract, and he allowed three runs in his only inning of work against the Astros today.

“The amount of work that you’re going to put into the rehab (after surgery), why don’t you just do the rehab to begin with,” Baker said. “And put the work in to have a preventative or proactive approach to making sure the ligament doesn’t fail in the first place?”

That’s essentially the route the Yankees chose last July when three top orthopedic specialist suggested a rehab protocol instead of an immediate operation. The decision sparked outrage in some corners, with much of that frustration built on the idea that the surgery is inevitable in the short-term and successful in the long-term. Baker stands as proof that neither is always the case.

“What concerns me is not necessarily hearing it inside professional baseball,” Baker said. “But hearing it outside of professional baseball with high school kids (wanting the surgery) and things of that nature. It’s just, I don’t know that anybody’s technically hit the nail on the head as far as figuring out what exactly we can do. You hear a lot of theories, but to say that it’s a good thing or to get it out of the way is beyond me.”

Associated Press photos

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Saturday morning notes: Tanaka “exactly where you want him” after sim game03.07.15

Taboola Home/Section Front Player

Masahiro Tanaka threw a two-inning simulated game this morning and seems on track — though the Yankees won’t say for certain — to make his spring training debut next week.

“He’s exactly where you want him to be at this point in spring training,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said.

Facing Cole Figueroa and Gary Sanchez, the only really hard-hit ball Tanaka allowed came when he told catcher Eddy Rodriguez that he wanted to work toward the outside part of the plate. Knowing an outside fastball was coming, Sanchez lined a sure single up the middle. Otherwise, the contact was pretty soft. Figueroa, who’s shown a great eye in the minors, struck out looking and seem to know he’d taken strike three.

“It’s good to see him get out there and be able to go through all his pitches and have a good day of work and feel good after,” Rothschild said. “If things progress the way they are, I’m very confident he’ll be ready (by Opening Day).”

Despite the looming risk of that torn elbow ligament, Rothschild said he’s not looking for any signs of Tanaka holding back.

“Not based on what I’ve seen up until this point, not at all,” Rothschild said. “I think you look for the best, and then if you have to adjust, you adjust off that. … It’s his first sim game, so it was a good day of work.”

Up top is some video of Tanaka’s simulated outing.

Dellin Betances, Larry Rothschild• Dellin Betances is scheduled to make his spring training debut tomorrow.

• Rothschild would not announce exact dates for Tanaka, Michael Pineda or CC Sabathia to get into games for the first time. Pineda threw a side today, which makes me wonder if he’s going to start Tuesday’s game (the rotation lines up for Esmil Rogers to start that day, and Rogers also threw a pen today). Rothschild, though, said he wasn’t ready to set the rotation beyond Adam Warren pitching tomorrow.

• On whether Tanaka’s next game will be a real game (which seemed inevitable): “We’ll see how he is tomorrow and the next couple of days, and then judge it based on that.”

• Talked to Bryan Mitchell a little bit this morning about the new “cutter” he threw last night. Both a scout and Joe Girardi referred to it as a cutter, but Mitchell said he’s thinking of it as a slider. He’s thrown a cutter in the past, but adjusted the grip to make it more like a slider. Said he feels more consistent with it this way.

• Also, a scout noted that Mitchell’s curveball seemed a little tighter and easier to control yesterday. Mitchell said he’s made no changes to the curveball. “I’ve just gotten more consistent with it,” he said.

• Looks like the big league guys who aren’t on the trip actually have the day off. Didn’t see any of them in the clubhouse this morning, and there was no full position player workout on th daily schedule. Suggests Alex Rodriguez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner, Chris Young and Garrett Jones have the day off.

PinedaWhitleyToday’s morning bullpens in Tampa:
Michael Pineda (to Roman Rodriguez)
Esmil Rogers (to Gary Sanchez)
Chase Whitley (to Juan Graterol)

Today’s second string: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Jose Pirela, LF Jonathan Galvez, CF Jake Cave, RF Aaron Judge

Today’s scheduled relievers: Jose De Paula, Danny Burawa, Tyler Webb, Nick Rumbelow, Kyle Davies (Taylor Garrison, Zach Nuding, Wilking Rodriguez, Caleb Cotham also on the trip)

Associated Press photo

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Friday morning notes: Rodriguez getting close to playing the field03.06.15

Alex Rodriguez

As expected, Carlos Beltran will play right field and Alex Rodriguez will DH in the second game of today’s split-squad doubleheader.

Joe Girardi said he could have played Rodriguez at third — A-Rod has said he’s ready to play the field — but playing him at DH makes it easier to assure he gets three at-bats. He will play the field soon.

“I debated doing it today, but I thought, you know what, my focus is to get him at-bats,” Girardi said. “So it’s probably better just to do it this way.”

It’s funny, there’s all this attention on Rodriguez, and it’s often labeled as a distraction or a circus. Well, the circus part is over. At this point, the stories are all about a 39-year-old former superstar trying to be a viable baseball player again, and that doesn’t feel circus-like at all. As for being a distraction, the opposite might be true.

In his own weird way, Rodriguez has made it easier for everyone else to focus on the task at hand.

“I’m sure it makes it a lot easier on the guys,” Girardi said. “A lot of people think it’s a distraction. It makes it easier on 90 percent of the people that go. It made it easier on me one day. Alex hitting at the minor-league facility and there were four people in here asking me questions.”

Masahiro Tanaka• Masahiro Tanaka has another sim game tomorrow, then his next outing will be in a real game. By getting stretched out to two innings in a sim game, Tanaka will likely go three innings for his first game appearance. Girardi said this sim games are basically just an easier, safer way to get Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia stretched out a little bit early in camp.

• Called up from minor league camp for the day, bullpen prospect Mark Montgomery said he sees a noticeable difference in the way he’s been pitching this spring. He said his shoulder always felt fine last season, but tests showed his range of motion was limited, which suggested there was still some tightness in there. Montgomery said that finally went away in November, and he’s been facing hitters this spring with better results. Said he’s getting swings and misses again; feels like he’s able to throw his fastball by guys like he used to. Needs to reestablish himself, but sounds confident and optimistic.

• Heard from a scout this morning who said yesterday’s Tyler Austin home run didn’t get much help from the wind. It was a monster shot, but the scout said that’s because Austin crushed the ball, not because Mother Nature got ahold of it.

• Jaron Long, former hitting coach Kevin Long’s son, is up from minor league camp and scheduled to pitch in today’s game in Clearwater. Jaron has been around the clubhouse for years, but Girardi’s never seen him pitch in person. “I’m anxious to see it,” Girardi said.

• Justin Wilson and Andrew Bailey are each throwing live batting practice today. They’ll be facing Mason Williams and Rob Refsnyder.

• No lineup posted for tonight’s home game, but minor leaguers Tyson Blaser, Tyler Wade, Dante Bichette and Ben Gamel are coming up from the minor league complex for it.

• Just an FYI for anyone making the trip to Clearwater today: The Yankees are stretching and taking batting practice here in Tampa. The bus to Clearwater doesn’t even leave until 11 a.m., so the Yankees won’t be doing much on the field pregame. There obviously will be a separate stretch and batting practice before the night game.

Williams (2)RollerToday’s bullpens: Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Miller, Ivan Nova, Jose Campos and Wilking Rodriguez.

Second string in Clearwater: C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Kyle Roller, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Eric Jagielo, LF Michael O’Neill, CF Mason Williams, RF Taylor Dugas

• Scheduled relievers in Clearwater: Nick Goody, Jaron Long, Matt Tracy and Mark Montgomery (with James Pazos, Caleb Cotham and Branden Pinder making the trip just in case).

• Tomorrow’s travel squad to Kissimmee:

Pitchers: Scott Baker, Danny Burawa, Kyle Davies, Jose De Paula, James Pazos, Wilking Rodriguez, Nick Rumbelow, Tyler Webb
Catchers: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine
Infielders: Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Stephen Drew, Jonathan Galvez, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Nick Noonan, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder, Kyle Roller, Mark Teixeira
Outfielders: Tyler Austin, Jake Cave, Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott, Aaron Judge, Mason Williams
From minor league camp: RHP Taylor Garrison, RHP Zach Nuding

Associated Press photos

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Wednesday notes: Stephen Drew determined to stick at second base03.04.15

Joe Girardi

When the first batter of the game hit a ground ball to second base, the former shortstop charged it, scooped it, and botched it. It was an error on Stephen Drew’s first play of the spring, which was not the best way to win over a fan base that’s already skeptical at best. For a while, Drew’s name was actually trending on Twitter, and not in a good way.

“For me, I’ve got to trust my talent,” Drew said. “I know it’s there, it’s just more or less, now at second, just learning that. I want to get the best I can at that, and then taking everything in at second that I can (learn). Then hitting, I know it’s there, now I just have to get in that rhythm. I haven’t had a normal spring training in three years. So if I can get in a routine finally, I think it will pay off.”

After hitting just .162/.237/.299 last season, Drew accepted a one-year deal and a position change because, he said, he liked the organization and saw this as an opportunity to win. He basically dismissed the idea of getting some reps at shortstop this spring, saying he needs to focus on learning second base. Clearly, the way he sees it, that’s his position now.

Didi Gregorius, Domonic Brown, Stepehn Drew“That route (on the first-inning error), you just need to come around a little more,” Drew said. “Then I can square up to the ball, set the feet and then throw. It’s definitely the angles over there still are going to be the ones that I’m going to work through the whole spring training to get really used to that before the season starts.”

The Yankees have two young second base alternatives in Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder, but the early spring indications suggest Drew would have to fall flat for either alternative to take the job. Joe Girardi has said he wants to keep Drew and Didi Gregorius playing together, a clear indication that he sees those two as his double play combination. If Drew’s not going to play much — if any — shortstop this spring, that would seem to rule out putting him into a utility role to back up Gregorius at short, which is surely good news for Brendan Ryan sticking with the team, making it harder to find a spot for Pirela or Refsnyder even on the bench.

A broken ankle, a concussion, and a contract issue have kept Drew from having a normal spring the past three years. Now he sees this spring as an opportunity to truly prepare, to learn a new position, and to prove he can be the same hitter who had such a productive 2013 season in Boston. He clearly sees himself, not as a utility man or as shortstop insurance, but as the Yankees regular second baseman. All he has to do is simply learn to play the position.

“It’s still that ticking process in my mind, especially in spring training,” Drew said. “(There are) little things I’m running through to get more comfortable. I know I did it last year just on a whim, but to be able to not be thinking during a game. Just be able to do it like I do at short, where everything comes natural.”

Nathan Eovaldi• Pretty good first start for Nathan Eovaldi, who showed the velocity we’ve heard so much about — his fastball got into the upper 90s at times — and had some success with the developing split finger he’s been working on. Eovaldi allowed one run on two hits through two innings, and his one strike out came on a splitter. “I think I threw four or five splits today,” Eovaldi said. “Mixed in some first-pitch curveballs; tried to go up on (Ryan) Howard. Everything is good. I moved the ball inside, outside.”

• Elevating his fastball against Howard was another checklist item for Eovaldi, who said earlier this spring that he wanted to work on pitching up in the zone more often. His attempt today was too high, but Eovaldi said he sees the high fastball as a weapon to change eye levels and set up low strikes.

• A scout in attendance on Eovaldi: “Looks like he’s ahead of last year’s pace. Looks a little smoother in his delivery. I think that Rothschild could really help him. … Definitely can get better from this point on.”

• Strong Yankees debut by Andrew Miller, who had a runner at third base but left him stranded thanks to a pair of strikeouts and a ground ball. “I’m really happy with the way I was throwing the ball,” Miller said. “I’m not too concerned with things right now. It could have been absolutely horrendous and there’s nothing to worry about. It’s just, going out there and getting it going. I’m happy with it in general. I felt my breaking ball was really good, so it’s always nice to come back and realize it’s still there after the offseason.”

• Girardi on Miller: “It was nice. We saw him throw some breaking balls behind in the count. He can’t be a comfortable at-bat for a lot of guys, that’s the bottom line. So it was nice to see.”

Masahiro Tanaka• After another problem-free bullpen, Masahiro Tanaka said he feels ready to pitch in a game. “Gradually am able to build up so far,” he said. “Whenever they want me to go, I think I’m ready.” Tanaka said he’s talked to Larry Rothschild about when he will make his spring debut, but Tanaka didn’t want to divulge the date. Girardi said Tanaka will pitch a simulated game before getting in a real game.

• Does getting into a game feel more significant this spring because of the elbow situation? “I’m really not looking at that as something significant,” Tanaka said. If that’s true, he might be the only one.

• Brendan Ryan sounds encouraged about the progress of his back injury, but the Yankees still had him take today off because he complained of soreness after yesterday’s workout. “We’ll go day-by-day again,” Girardi said.

• Alex Rodriguez on when he could play the field: “Whenever Joe wants. I had some good work in the back field with Jody (Reed) today, both at third and at first. That felt pretty good.” Girardi said he’ll put Rodriguez in the field whenever Rodriguez says he’s ready, but it’s also easier to get him more at-bats when he’s a DH.

Really nice play by Cito Culver late in the game. Had to go in the hole and made a really strong throw to first base. “Quite a play,” Girardi said. “That’s when you wish you could run in and watch the replay or it was on the (video) board, you know?”

• By the numbers: Culver had one of the five Yankees hits. Rodriguez, Francisco Arcia, Mason Williams and Cole Figueroa had the others. Williams and Arcia doubled. … Gary Sanchez had the Yankees only RBI on a sac fly. … Scoreless inning apiece for Tyler Webb, Danny Burawa and Wilking Rodriguez. … The three Phillies runs came off Eovaldi, James Pazos and Kyle Davies, who pitched two innings.

• We’ll give the final word to Didi Gregorius, on playing his first game with the Yankees. “It was amazing. The fans are here to support our team, so it was really good. It was a real great feeling for me to wear the pinstripes and go out there for the first time. … I think (the fans) have their eyes on everybody, because it’s a team. It’s not one player. I’m not pitching. I’m not doing all those positions. They’ve got their eyes on everybody that’s on the team.”

Associated Press photos

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