Ten teams advanced to the postseason this year. The Yankees were the only one without a starting pitcher ranked top 30 in ERA.
Of baseball’s top 18 pitchers in ERA, only four — Sonny Gray, Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner and Shelby Miller — played for a team that didn’t advance. Gray was the only starter ranked top 10 who didn’t start a postseason game.
Pitching is the key to the kingdom. That’s the phrase Brian Cashman likes, and it seems to ring true this year. But what exactly does it mean? Does it mean truly elite pitching — a dominant No. 1 and No. 2 — is what makes a rotation great, or does it mean a deep rotation full of impact starters — without necessarily having a can’t-miss ace — is what makes a rotation stand out?
“That’s why we thought if we could get to postseason,” Mets manager Terry Collins said on Sunday, “we could match up with a lot of teams, everybody, because we have depth. Everybody’s got real good (pitching) — this is big league pitching, everybody’s got them — but we’ve got some talented guys.”
- The Pirates have Gerrit Cole. And he lost the wild card game.
- The Astros have Dallas Keuchel, traded for Scott Kazmir, and were the lowest seed to advance in the American League. They were knocked out of the playoffs even with Keuchel winning each of his postseason starts.
- The Rangers thought they were going to have Yu Darvish, lost him to Tommy John, traded for Cole Hamels, and lost in the division series.
- The Cardinals thought they were going to have Adam Wainwright, lost him in spring training, and still managed to win the most games in baseball without a starter most would peg as a dependable ace. John Lackey pitched like an ace, though, and still the Cardinals were eliminated when they won only one of Lackey’s two starts in the division series.
- The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, arguably the best one-two punch in the game. They were knocked out in a five-game series with Kershaw and Greinke starting four of those games.
- If the Dodgers don’t have the best one-two punch, it might be the Cubs with Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. Of course, the Cubs are down 2-0 in the NLCS, with both Arrieta and Lester taking a loss.
- The Blue Jays made the biggest pitching acquisition of the season by trading for David Price, but they’re also behind in the League Championship Series. Price has mostly struggled in the postseason.
The two teams in the best position right now are the Royals, whose ace is the largely unpredictable Johnny Cueto, and the Mets, whose entire postseason rotation is young and still establishing itself.
“They don’t have the credentials that Kershaw and Greinke, and Lester and Arrieta have,” Collins said. “But they’re going to be good pitchers. They’re going to be really, really good, and we’re really proud of as fast as they’ve come and the way they’ve handled themselves this summer. But they’re going to (be good). We think we can stack up with anybody.”
What the Yankees’ rotation has right now is depth.
Counting Adam Warren, they’re returning no fewer than seven pitchers who could fit in the big league rotation. Three of them — Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino and Michael Pineda — have at times pitched like high-end, top-of-the-rotation starters. Another, Nathan Eovaldi, has a huge fastball and pitched to a 3.43 ERA in his last 14 starts this season (that’s a top-30 ERA if it holds up for a full year). CC Sabathia used to be a Cy Young winner, and bounced back in a big way late in the year. Warren has looked like at least a capable middle-of-the-rotation starter.
So what does the Yankees’ rotation need this year?
Two years ago, they invested heavily in Tanaka. Last winter, they traded for Eovaldi. This season, they called up Severino. Can they afford to invest in Price (and should they)? Is it worth putting Aaron Judge and others on the trade market for the best starting pitcher available? Should they make a smaller investment in another mid-rotation arm, or do they have enough depth and enough high-end potential as it is?
“Looking at Tanaka, I think he’s a top-of-the-line rotation pitcher,” Joe Girardi said. “Is he a 1? Is he a 2? I don’t know. But I think Sevy has a chance to be a top-line rotation (pitcher), and I think to me, the most important thing is that during the course of the season, we have five starters that can compete every day and give you a chance to win. That’s the most important thing. Really, to be safe, you better have six or seven.”
Associated Press photos
Game 126: Yankees vs. Astros • 08.26.15
RHP Michael Pineda (9-7, 3.97)
Pineda vs. Astros
Jose Altuve 2B
Marwin Gonzalez SS
Jed Lowrie 3B
Colby Rasmus RF
Evan Gattis DH
Carlos Gomez CF
Luis Valbuena 1B
Jake Marisnick LF
Jason Castro C
RHP Collin McHugh (13-7, 3.96)
McHugh vs. Yankees
TIME/TV: 1:05 p.m., YES Network and MLB Network
WEATHER: Clear skies. Temperatures in the high 70s. Nice way to finish off the home stand.
UMPIRES: HP Sam Holbrook, 1B Tripp Gibson, 2B Gabe Morales, 3B Eric Cooper
NOT A GOOD FIRST EXPERIENCE: None of the active Yankees has more than three career at-bats against Collin McHugh, but those three at-bats apiece have not gone well. The current Yankees roster — including Dustin Ackley — has a career slash line of .053/.143/.053 against the Houston starter. The only Yankees who have a hit against him are Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez.
HOT AS ‘ELL: Not a good time for Jacoby Ellsbury to miss time with an injury. He has recorded multiple hits in eight of his last 13 games (12 starts) since August 13. In that time, he’s batting .364 with seven runs, two doubles, a home run a triple, two walks and three stolen bases. His 20 hits in that span are tied for the third-most in the Majors.
ALSO ON A HOT STREAK: Carlos Beltran extended his hitting streak to nine games with a fourth-inning double on Tuesday. He?has three of the Yankees’ 10 hitting streaks of at least nine games this season, including a team season-high 15-game hitting streak in May and a 10-game streak earlier this month.
UPDATE, 1:22 p.m.: Single and stolen base for Jose Altuve, but Pineda gets through the first inning without allowing a run.
UPDATE, 1:34 p.m.: First pitch of the second inning is a home run by Evan Gattis. It’s a 1-0 Astros lead.
UPDATE, 1:56 p.m.: Pineda’s allowed one run and two hits through three innings. Yankees have three hits but no runs through two.
UPDATE, 2:27 p.m.: One run has scored and the Astros’ lead is up to 2-0 with the bases loaded in the fifth. Chasen Shreve is getting loose.
UPDATE, 2:34 p.m.: Two runs have now scored and Shreve is in the game. Pineda looked good for a while, but the game got away from him in the fifth.
UPDATE, 2:40 p.m.: Not good for the Yankees. Shreve has allowed a single and walk, letting one run score while loading the bases for Rasmus. Now Pinder is getting loose.
UPDATE, 2:58 p.m.: Here’s Pinder to start the sixth. Yankees have four hits and no runs. At a real risk of scoring just one run this series. Amazing how completely this offense can disappear at times.
UPDATE, 3:20 p.m.: Leadoff walk, but the Yankees can’t take advantage. Still down 5-0 heading into the seventh.
UPDATE, 3:37 p.m.: Two-run homer by Gregorius has the Yankees on the board in the seventh inning. It’s 5-2. The Yankees just scored as many runs on one swing as they’d scored in the previous two games combined.
UPDATE, 3:52 p.m.: Second homer of the day for Evan Gattis. It’s now 6-2 Houston.
The Yankees’ rotation returns to full strength today. In fact, this is probably the strongest the rotation has been all year.
With Michael Pineda ready to come off the disabled list, the Yankees have their five best starting pitchers in place. Had Ivan Nova not crumbled in the first inning last night, all five would have an ERA of 4.00 or lower. Luis Severino is up from the minor leagues, Nathan Eovaldi is on a roll, and now Pineda joins Masahiro Tanaka as the team’s dominant-on-their-best-days headliners.
“We are fighting for the division right now,” Pineda said. “So it’s very exciting to go back to the mound, and I’m very happy for that. … Everybody has responsibility here, and we’re here for playing and winning the game, you know?”
As measured by ERA and WHIP, the Yankees have had a middle-of-the-pack rotation this season. Those team numbers, of course, have been dragged down by CC Sabathia’s rough season, a bad spot start by Bryan Mitchell, and a couple of particularly brutal starts by Eovaldi and Chris Capuano. They’ve also been dragged down by Tanaka and Pineda being not as good as last season. Occasionally they’ve been outstanding. Occasionally they’ve been perfectly hitable.
For the Yankees rotation to be as good as it can be, they need the outstanding version of those two.
“Michael’s pitched pretty well for us this year,” Joe Girardi said. “(Today) you watch the sharpness of his slider. His key is always his slider for me, and you watch the sharpness of his slider. If it’s sharp, you know that he has a chance to have a really good day.”
Pineda acknowledged his slider wasn’t particularly sharp in his first rehab start, but he said it was better last time out. He expects it to be there this afternoon.
“For me, right now, I really want to start pitching good,” Pineda said. “Go back to pitching my good game and continue to help the team.”
Associated Press photo
Every time there’s a game as long as last night’s, a roster seems to have at least one tough-luck casualty. Often it’s a long reliever who pitched too many innings to be useful for a few days. This time, for the Yankees, it was a little-used bench player who simply didn’t have a role important enough to keep around.
For the second time in two weeks, Garrett Jones has been designated for assignment. He had been previously DFA on July 31 and almost immediately re-signed, but he had not played a single inning or gotten a single at-bat since returning to the team.
“If we’re not in a game like yesterday, it probably doesn’t happen,” Joe Girardi said. “If we’re not in a game like yesterday, or we’re in a 16-inning game and you have plenty of pitching today, maybe he even plays today. But we felt that we needed to get some more pitching here and make sure that we’re covered for the next few days, and it was really difficult.”
Essentially, the Yankees have decided Bryan Mitchell is too valuable to yo-yo back and forth from Triple-A. Girardi acknowledged that Mitchell could make a spot start in a few days, so the Yankees didn’t want to lose him for the next week and a half (and optioning Mitchell would have required that the Yankees still make an additional 40-man move to add Chris Capuano).
So, it was Jones who as ultimately cut. Out of spring training, it seemed he could play a fairly vital role as a backup to Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran, but those three have been mostly healthy and generally productive. They each rank top four among lineup regulars in OPS.
Jones became a marginalized player, which ultimately made him expendable (again).
“I wasn’t able to get the at-bats I thought I was going to be able to get,” Jones said. “I was very happy to be a part of this team and organization, but career-wise and baseball-wise, from my standpoint, the at-bats weren’t there and playing time wasn’t there. But it’s understandable, of course.”
Last time he was designated for assignment, Jones jumped at the chance to rejoin the Yankees a few days later. This time, he sounded less convinced that the Yankees are still his best fit. He’s wildly popular in the clubhouse and clearly likes playing here, but it’s also clear that the Yankees don’t have many at-bats to give him.
“Two times in a row, it’s a little different feeling than last time,” Jones said. “I just have to weigh the options and see. There could still be an opportunity here to help the team win. I enjoy being here, I like the guys and I enjoy the clubhouse and the coaching staff and everybody. That aspect of it is tough to leave, but in the scheme of things, I have to think of my career and the chance to play and what’s best for that.”
• Really thought Girardi would frame the decision to bench Jacoby Ellsbury tonight as a reaction to him playing center field for 16 innings yesterday, but Girardi made it clear that this is a reaction to Ellsbury’s offensive struggles. “He’s OK,” Girardi said. “He’s just been struggling and I thought I would just give him a day and let him do some work to see if we can get him back on track. He’s had a rough go of us lately, and we really need to get him going, so I thought maybe just give him a day, let him do some work and see if they can iron things out.”
• Convinced Ellsbury is healthy? “Oh, he’s healthy,” Girardi said. “Are guys a bit banged up this time of year? Yeah. But physically, he’s OK. He tells us he’s OK, and there’s not a lot of treatment.”
• Larry Rothschild went through the clubhouse today and told Justin Wilson, Adam Warren and Mitchell that they’re down for tonight’s game. Girardi said he think he could get an inning out of Chasen Shreve. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are each available.
• Girardi said he doesn’t expect to have Mitchell available again until Saturday.
• Here’s Girardi on the importance of Mitchell: “We’ve talked about that he could possibly be the guy if we have to inject (a sixth starter), but Mitchell is a guy that gives you some distance out of the bullpen. … And I think Mitchell is important because he can do what he did last night, and if he hadn’t pitched a few days earlier and given three innings, he could have went more. I just feel with what our starters give, we really need some guys to give multiple innings (out of the bullpen), and he’s one of those guys.”
• Dustin Ackley is apparently feeling better, but he’s not a candidate to immediately fill the role vacated by Jones. “He’s just back at home rehabbing,” Girardi said. “I don’t think he’s doing any baseball activity yet. … It’s hard to predict (when he’ll be back) until he really starts doing baseball activity to see how he feels.”
• Michael Pineda remains on schedule to throw a full bullpen tomorrow.
• Girardi said that, right now, he considers Brendan Ryan to be his backup first baseman. Brian McCann has also played some first base late in games. At some point, Girardi said, the team is going to give someone else a start at first base. “I can’t play Tex 16 days in a row, I can tell you that,” Girardi said. “So, at some point, we’re going to have to figure that out.”
• CC Sabathia had perhaps his best start of the year last time out, now he’s pitching in Cleveland where he had some of the best years of his career. “I thought all his pitches were sharp (last time),” Girardi said. “I thought he mixed his pitches extremely well. I thought his fastball had more life to it. I thought his changeup was better. I thought his location was better. Obviously that was the key to his success.”
Associated Press photos
Michael Pineda threw 25 pitches off a mound yesterday, and it seems the Yankees are prepared to fast-track him back into the rotation as long as things continue to move smoothly. Pineda will throw a 35-pitch bullpen on Thursday, and if that goes well, he could begin a rehab assignment shortly after.
“So far, everything has (gone) according to plan,” manager Joe Girardi said. “You just have to see as you pick it up. The other days he just threw fastballs and changeups, but he did throw 25 pitches and he’ll throw probably all his pitches on Thursday, and then you go from there. You keep your fingers crossed that he feels good after that and you can get him on a rehab.”
Pineda went on the disabled list on July 30 because a flexor forearm strain. It was initially believed he would miss a full month (something similar to the amount of time Andrew Miller and Masahiro Tanaka missed with similar injuries). Basically, Pineda was expected to return in September, but Girardi said today that August could be a possibility.
“I think you have to see how he feels after the first (rehab start) is really what you have to look at,” Girardi said. “If he feels good, then you make a decision.”
Pineda estimated that he threw yesterday’s bullpen at 75-80 percent effort, but it was enough to tell him his forearm soreness is gone.
“I never throw 100 percent in the bullpen,” Pineda said. “But I can tell when the arm feels good, and when the arm feels something’s wrong, you know?”
Because Pineda went only a week without playing catch, it seems the Yankees do not feel that he’s gone back to square one and can take a relatively advanced course back into the rotation.
“If that all goes well (on Thursday),” Girardi said. “It’s possible we could step it up a little bit.”
• After an off day yesterday, Chase Headley is out of the lineup again tonight. Both he and Girardi said there’s no specific injury, but Headley acknowledged feeling “banged up” recently. “Just my legs in general,” he said. “I had a couple foul balls, a little wear-and-tear type stuff from the season. I played a bunch of days in a row, so (Giradri) said, ‘Two days in a row would probably be good for you.’ I’ll be available, and unless something crazy happens, I’ll be in there tomorrow.”
• No Yankees player has more starts at his specific position than Headley, who’s started 102 games at third base this year. Mark Teixeira has 99 starts at first base and Didi Gregorius has 98 at shortstop. “He played every day on that long road trip,” Girardi said. “He played every day during the home stand. So I thought it probably would be best to give him a couple of days.”
• This is only Brendan Ryan’s second third base start of the year.
• Brett Gardner said he had a pretty good sized lump on the back of his head yesterday after being hit by a home run ball that some fan threw back on the field. Gardner said he could tell from the reaction of the crowd that someone had thrown the ball back on the field — he said he always hopes the fans won’t do it — but he had no idea the ball was coming his way until it hit him in the back of the head. He said it had never happened before.
• Girardi on Alex Rodriguez hitting a rough patch: “At times, his at-bats are good,” Girardi said. “I think sometimes he gets out of his legs a little bit. You see some knuckleballers and those are always hard to predict, what’s going to happen after that. I’m hoping the day off helped him and that he comes back and swings the way he’s swung most of the year.”
• Second big league start for Luis Severino, and Girardi said he’s hoping for more distance this time. The stuff, though, was pretty impressive last time out. “I think there’s some life to his fastball,” Girardi said. “He’s got a pretty good slider — he’s got a couple different ones — and he’s got a changeup. What stood out to me was, he was able to make pitches in three-ball counts. You’re going to get in some three-ball counts and those are some important pitches that you’ve got to make because those are free baserunners, and that’s not what you want to do.”
Associated Press photos
A lot going on in the past few hours. Let’s just go topic-by-topic:
After throwing a routine bullpen on Tuesday, Pineda felt some discomfort in his right forearm. He pointed to the front side of his arm, up high, near the elbow. He told the Yankees about it that night, and yesterday he was sent for an MRI. The Yankees obviously feared an elbow issue, but found only a strain in his flexor muscle.
The Yankees plan to have Pineda go 7-10 days without throwing. After that, they’ll try to move toward getting him back this season. Joe Girardi said he’s confident Pineda will pitch again this season. There’s relief that the elbow ligament showed no damage.
“It shouldn’t take too many (rehab) starts because he is stretched out and it’s the middle of the season and his arm’s in shape,” Giradri said. “Just have to make sure he’s healthy before he goes back out.”
There are obviously unique properties to each injury, but it’s worth noting that both Masahiro Tanaka (about six weeks) and Andrew Miller (roughly a month) missed time with forearm injuries this season. Neither one was back quickly.
“I’m not worried,” Pineda said. “I feel a little sad today, because I want to pitch, I want to stay in the game. But I’m not worried about that. I’ll continue working and come back as soon as I can.”
Apparently there was a radio report earlier today that Ivan Nova is also hurt and might miss his next start, but it seems the only thing going on with Nova is that arm fatigue issue that he dealt with on Monday. He threw his bullpen today and remains on track to start on Sunday. The upcoming Yankees’ rotation looks like this:
Friday: Nathan Eovaldi
Sunday: Ivan Nova
Byran Mitchell is a candidate to start Saturday, but Girardi said he will consider Mitchell to be an available long man tonight and tomorrow. If Mitchell’s not needed in either of those games, he could get that Saturday start. If not Mitchell, Girardi did not rule out the idea of using Adam Warren.
Girardi did rule out Diego Moreno for Saturday. After throwing 5.1 innings on Tuesday, Moreno would be on three days rest for Saturday’s game, and Girardi said he would not consider Moreno to be a viable starting option that day.
So it looks like Mitchell and Warren are the top options to fill the open rotation spot in the short term, but the Yankees need a starter beyond Saturday. Is Luis Severino an option?
“Yeah, I mean, he’s obviously in the mix,” Girardi said. “He’s one of the starters down there (in Triple-A), and you’re going to have to talk about it.”
Finding a role for Dustin Ackley
Trading away some redundant prospects made a lot of sense for the Yankees. But trading them for a left-handed utility type who’s hit for a low average with a little bit of power, like a slightly more versatile but probably not as good defensively version of Stephen Drew? It’s kind of hard to figure out how exactly Ackley fits this roster.
“Just his versatility (is appealing) especially as we move forward here and you’re trying to spell guys,” Girardi said. “His versatility should help out in that situation. You get a guy that you can put at five different spots, that’s pretty good.”
More of a second baseman or an outfielder?
“In the last few years, he’s played mostly outfield,” Girardi said. “He’s played left, center and right, so it’s a position where we can move him around all over there. He has not played much second — I think he’s played one game this year — so obviously he would have to work there before we would feel comfortable putting him there.”
If he can’t immediately step in at second base, then it would seem he’s not here to replace Drew. If he’s primarily a left-handed outfielder, there’s really no spot for him except to play some right field when Carlos Beltran or Alex Rodriguez needs a day off (with Beltran at DH). Girardi more than once mentioned that Ackley can play five positions, which suggests the Yankees also consider him a first baseman. Could he replace Garrett Jones in that role?
One thing about Ackley being primarily an outfielder who can play first base: If that’s is primary role, couldn’t Flores have done that? I suppose that’s a question for another day. For now, Flores is gone, as is Ramirez. Those are two guys who have been in the big leagues this season, but also two guys are remarkably redundant in a system overloaded with left-handed outfielder and right-handed relievers.
“I think the development in our system has given us more depth and feels like we can do something, in a sense,” Girardi said.
While Flores was kind of always overshadowed, it actually seemed for a while that Ramirez might be emerging as a top young reliever in the system. He got a fairly long look last season and a couple of opportunities this year, but he never did much with those chances. At this point, he seems to have been surpassed by Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder and even Diego Moreno in terms of bullpen depth.
“You know, he had a few chances here,” Girardi said. “He never had consistent work. We’ve had a lot of guys that that stepped up and pitched pretty well up here that have been probably equal to him, and that’s probably made him movable, in a sense. You get another kid that comes up (Tuesday) and does a good job. Throws strikes, competes, so it made him movable.”
In that way, the Ackley trade was exactly the kind of deal Brian Cashman has pulled off quite a bit recently. Just hard to immediately figure out how and where Ackley fits.
• Girardi said there was no hesitation in giving today’s start to CC Sabathia. “You just kind of put everyone on their normal day,” he said. “And then as far as Saturday, we’ll figure it out when we get there. It kind of depends again on what we use and then we’ll go from there.”
• Adam Warren actually lived with Ackley for a year in college. I’ve had a lot of Ackley conversations with Warren over the years. On the record and off the record, Warren raves about the way Ackley works. “I think he’s extremely talented,” Warren said. “He’s a good guy, works hard. It’s just one of those things where you hope he can fit in with the club and I think he will. He’s super quiet. I think he plays hard and just going off what I know at Carolina playing with him, he’s super-talented and a gamer. I’m hoping to see him do that over here.”
• Nova said his agent actually called him today to ask if he was hurt because the agent had heard that somewhere. Nova said he was surprised by the phone call. Said he feels fine, just felt some to-be-expected fatigue on Monday. “I’m not hurt,” he said. “I don’t know where that came from. I’m going to throw everything normal, keep my routine. I’m going to throw my bullpen and get ready for my game.”
• Reaction to the Tigers making another huge trade, this time for David Price: “It’s part of the game,” Girardi said. “Sometimes teams can make a lot of moves and doesn’t always work the way they want, sometimes it does. As I said, I worry about the guys in that room, those are my guys to worry about and that’s what I do. I feel good about the way these guys have played and I still believe in them. And I believe we have the stuff in that room to get it done.”
• Vernon Wells lives down here in Arlington and was in the clubhouse pregame. He’s still a very popular former player. I know he’s not particularly popular within the fan base, but the players seem to like seeing him. Good guy.
Associated Press photos
Michael Pineda scratched with forearm issue • 07.30.15
Giving credit where it’s due, apparently Mike Francesa was the first to mention this on the radio earlier today.
Looks like the Yankees have their second rotation injury of the year, and it’s come just as the top starting pitchers have come off the trade market. Joel Sherman says it’s a Grade 1 forerm strain (or sprain) that’s going to keep Michael Pineda from making tonight’s start. He will ultimately land on the disabled list.
After some initial thought that Bryan Mitchell might make tonight’s start, Mark Feinsand confirmed that it will be CC Sabathia pitching tonight on normal rest because of Tuesday’s use of a spot starter.
Just before 3 p.m., the Yankees officially announced Pineda will go on the disabled list with a right flexor forearm muscle strain. They also officially announced Sabathia as tonight’s starter. No corresponding roster move was announced.
A Grade 1 forearm issue sounds similar to what Andrew Miller had earlier this season. Could also look to Masahiro Tanaka’s previous forearm issue as a guide for how long Pineda might be out. A full month or more doesn’t seem to be an unreasonable guess, but the Yankees have yet to make an official comment on the matter. Obviously Joe Girardi will address the media in a few hours.
Forearm issues always raise the concern about an eventual elbow issue, but that’s premature worst-case scenario speculation at the moment. For now, Pineda’s out of the mix in the short-term and likely won’t be back particularly soon.
Although David Price, Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir have already come off the trade market, there are still viable and potentially pretty good starting pitchers who seem to be available; guys like Tyson Ross, Mike Leake, Jeff Samardzija and Yovani Gallardo.
The Yankees also have immediate internal rotation options ranging from Triple-A starter Mitchell to big league reliever Adam Warren to top prospect Luis Severino.
Associated Press photo
Pitching matchups in Minnesota • 07.24.15
Weekend series in Minneapolis begins with a familiar face, then moves on to two guys with ERAs below 3.40.
RHP Michael Pineda (9-6, 3.77)
RHP Phil Hughes (8-6, 4.15)
8:10 p.m., YES Network
LHP CC Sabathia (4-8, 5.25)
LHP Tommy Milone (5-2, 3.38)
7:10 p.m., WPIX
RHP Nathan Eovaldi (9-2, 4.43)
RHP Kyle Gibson (8-7, 3.19)
2:10 p.m., YES Network
Associated Press photo
This was my plan: Write a blog post about the fact that questions loom over basically every piece of the Yankees’ pitching staff.
After including five pitchers in my previous MVP post, there was really no sense in writing a first-half Cy Young post, so I thought looking at the looming uncertainty would be a good way to address the pitching staff. I came up with four categories and then found a way for most of the key pitchers to fit in one group or another.
But Michael Pineda, who I just picked as the most valuable pitcher on the staff, seemed to fit in every category.
• Health concerns? Obviously. He looks good and strong this season, but anyone who’s gone through three seasons of shoulder issues is going to carry some lingering health questions for a while. Those don’t go away with a healthy half season.
• The potential to be even better? Absolutely. Pineda’s been very good this season, but his 3.64 ERA is basically a full run higher than his 2.63 FIP. If he can string together his occasionally elite starts, he could be a real difference maker in the second half.
• Durability and sustainability concerns? Yep. Pineda could get better in the second half, or you could wither under the weight of his largest single-season workload. Pineda’s on pace to throw more innings than he’s ever thrown in a year, and he’s already thrown more innings than in any of his past three seasons.
• The potential to take on a larger role? Sure. Right now, it’s hard to say who truly leads this rotation. Is Pineda the ace or is Masahiro Tanaka the ace? Which one should get the ball in Game 1 of a playoff series? Pineda has a chance in the second half to take hold of that title and make himself the unquestioned No. 1 starter.
As for the rest of the staff, I’ll put the other key guys into these categories:
Obviously health is a concern for any pitcher, but that concern is especially magnified with Tanaka. We already know his elbow ligament was damaged last season, and he’s already missed a month this year because of a forearm strain and some soreness in his wrist. He’s pitched well, but his health is going to be a concern for a while. I’ll also put Miller in this category only because he’s already had one arm issue this season, and I think there’s always some concern that one arm issue could be a part of something more significant. There’s no real evidence that’s the case with Miller, I just think health is always a concern with someone who’s already coming back from an injury.
Two-fifths of the rotation fall into this category of needing to improve in the second half. Sabathia is the poster child for this issue. He’s been excellent against lefties, and has done a better job providing innings than most of his teammates, but Sabathia’s been awful against right-handed hitters — shockingly bad, actually — and his tendency to let outings get away has been well documented. As for Eovaldi, he gives up a ton of hits, but a lot of that has been relatively soft contact — opponents actually have a higher slugging percentage against Pineda — and he’s done a decent job of limiting damage. Needs to pitch deeper into games, though, and if he could put away a few more batters, that’d be nice, too.
Hard to have many complaints about what these four have done this season. Now the trick is to keep it going through the second half of the season. At this point, Betances is building a track record of this kind of success, but he’s still set the bar awfully high. Nova’s been good since returning from Tommy John, but coming back from surgery could leave him prone to inconsistency (and he was pretty inconsistent even before the injury). Warren has already pitched more innings than in either of the past two seasons, and Wilson’s trying to avoid a regression back to last year’s numbers. There’s little saying these guys can’t keep this pace, but the Yankees need them to actually do it.
Shreve might have already answered this question by stepping into the seventh inning role while Miller was hurt. He broke camp as basically the last guy in the bullpen, but now he’s pitched so well that the Yankees are clearly going to trust him with big outs from time to time. Mitchell really hasn’t had much opportunity to prove himself one way or another, but his arm is good enough to be curious about what he might do. For Capuano, the question is whether he can prove he’s good enough to keep around while Mitchell, Shreve and Warren are capable of multiple innings. I’ve also included two prospects who haven’t been called up yet, because their potential emergence — Severino especially — could make a difference down the stretch. To some extent, you could put guys like Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder and (if he gets healthy again) Jacob Lindgren into this group as well.
Associated Press photo
Postgame notes: “We want to see him play” • 07.10.15
The Yankees have either lost patience with Stephen Drew, or simply stopped wasting time with Rob Refsnyder.
After finishing off tonight’s win in Boston, Joe Girardi confirmed that Refsnyder will be called up and in the lineup tomorrow. He’ll play second base these last two games before the break.
“We want to see him play,” Girardi said.
Reports on Refsnyder’s defense?
“That he’s improved,” Girardi said. “We’ve heard that he’s improved and that he’s making strides and we’re going to find out.”
Just a two-day trial because the Red Sox are pitching a couple of lefties?
“That’s not our thinking,” Girardi said. “We knew we were facing a couple of lefties and figured we would do it now.”
Girardi did not fully commit to Refsnyder remaining with the Yankees beyond the All-Star break, but it certainly seems that’s the intention. Asked if Refsnyder would stick around these two games, Girardi initially said “yeah” before backing off and saying he’s not thinking beyond this weekend. Whether he said it or not, it’s clear the Yankees believe Refsnyder can be a significant piece of the roster, and it’s hard to imagine they’d bring up such a touted prospect for just two days or to play a limited role.
“He played well in spring training,” Girardi said. “It’s a young man that’s been on our radar, and we’ll see how he does.”
Refsnyder’s been red-hot lately — hitting .412 with two home runs in his past 10 games — and Drew remains a .182 hitter with the lowest batting average of any lineup regular in the majors. He has hit 12 home runs, the Yankees like his defense, and he has the fourth-most walks on the team. He’s been productive occasionally, but he’s also made a lot of outs along the way.
After tonight’s game, Girardi let Drew know about the Refsnyder call-up so that he wouldn’t be blindsided by questions.
“Hopefully, we’re here to win,” Drew said. “Whatever’s going to help us win, that’s what we’re going to do. So hopefully, he’ll come up, and I know how it is when you first get called up. It’s going to be fun for him, and hopefully in his first at-bat or whatnot, he can get a hit and add that first one. I remember mine. It took me nine at-bats. So hopefully he’ll adjust soon. I think he’s good. I saw him in spring training, he’s a great player and a good hitter, so looking forward to him being here with us.”
• Refsnyder will be the story of the day on Saturday. Tonight it was Michael Pineda, who delivered 6.2 strong innings for his ninth win of the season. “I’m very happy tonight,” Pineda said. “The last three years, I don’t take a (All-Star) break because I have injury. Tonight, I’m very happy with my last start in the first half. I’ll take my break. I’m very happy.”
• In his past three starts, Pineda has a 1.25 ERA with 24 strikeouts and one walk. “Just his consistency (stands out),” Girardi said. “How deep he’s going into games for us. The effectiveness of his slider. He continues to pound the zone. He’s pitching.”
• The Yankees have won 11 of Pineda’s 17 starts this season.
• Why take Pineda out after a manageable 89 pitches? “Betts had hit a home run,” Girardi said. “The time he’d seen him before, he’d hit him hard before too. So I just thought his slider was getting a little flat, and I just said, I’m going to make a change.”
• As for using Andrew Miller in a non-save situation, Girardi said he wanted to use Miller twice this series, but also didn’t want to use him back-to-back games before the All-Star break. That meant ideally using him tonight and Sunday. “We’re trying to get (the rust) off,” Girardi said. “Our plan is to use him two days here. I don’t know if I’ll use him tomorrow, but coming in we had thought that we probably wouldn’t use him back-to-back until we got back from the break. And if one guy gets on, you’re probably not going to mess around anyway.”
• Alex Rodriguez gave the Yankees an early lead with his first-inning home run. It was his 17th of the year, and the 26th of his career at Fenway, the most of all active visiting players. He is a career .448 hitter against Clay Buchholz. “Sometimes numbers can be deceiving,” Girardi said. “I can’t say I felt all that well up there. The key with Clay is to get a good pitch to hit. He has a number of ways of getting you out. … I just got a good pitch to hit and hit it well.”
• Buchholz left in the fourth inning because of tightness in his elbow. It felt like a bit of luck for the Yankees, because Buchholz has been pitching well lately. “But you’re not really setup for that with all the lefties they’ve got down there (in the bullpen),” Girardi said. “With all the leftes we have in the lineup you’re thinking, boy, this might work out to their advantage in a sense. Not taking anything away from Buchholz, but you can’t make moves too early when you’ve only got three guys on your bench. We took advantage of a couple mistakes.”
• Brett Gardner has a seven-game road hitting streak and has a hit in 10 consecutive games against the Red Sox. … Jacoby Ellsbury has hit safely in all three games since coming off the disabled list. … Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have now combined to strike out 121 of 288 batters faced this season.
• A foul line drive by Didi Gregorius struck a fan — she looked to be a fairly young woman, maybe even a young girl — and it was a pretty scary moment, with fans using their shirts to stop the bleeding. She was hit in the head. “There’s nothing I could do about it,” Gregorius said. “So I finished my at-bat, handed them my bat and obviously they said thank you and everything. There’s nothing else I can do right there. It’s always a little worry; obviously those fans have got to pay attention because there’s no screen over there. Every ballpark has their own way.”
• Final word goes to Rodriguez: “This group has a good feel to it. It’s a hardworking group, and it competes hard every night. I think the key for us finishing the first half and continuing strong in the second half, is to stay hungry and humble.”
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