Today’s cuts in Yankees camp:
· Optioned RHP Bryan Mitchell and OF Ramon Flores to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
· Reassigned RHP Kyle Davies, C Francisco Arcia, INF Cole Figueroa, INF Jonathan Galvez, OF Slade Heathcott, C Kyle Higashioka, LHP Jacob Lindgren and RHP Nick Rumbelow to minor league camp.
· Unconditionally released RHP Scott Baker.
“We’d like to re-sign Baker,” Brian Cashman said. “We told him we’d like to re-sign him and put him in Triple-A, but obviously he’s going to evaluate the marketplace. I thought he had a good camp. Obviously he took a run at putting himself in the conversation for, at worst, the long man situation that we’re still playing through, whether we take one or two long men. We’ve got more things to work out, but we had to make a call because we were contractually obligated to him.”
Associated Press photo
Given the option of facing a divisional opponent or pitching in a minor league game, CC Sabathia chose the minor leagues. Then he went to the complex, gave up a long home run on his first pitch, and allowed a three-run home run two innings later.
While Sabathia insists he feels better than he’s felt in years, he’s already allowed five home runs in three spring outings and his official 11.57 ERA — which doesn’t count today’s four runs in five innings — is the highest on the team.
“I don’t give a (darn) what stock they put in it,” Sabathia said, using a word far more racy than darn. “It is what it is. I’ve had spring trainings where I’ve given up a lot of runs and went out and had a good season. I’ve had spring trainings like last year where I didn’t give up no runs, and I gave up five in the first game. Y’all can put stock in whatever you want. I’m not really worried about it.”
Sabathia is defiant that this spring has left him feeling confident. He’s said his surgically repaired right knee feels strong, and his velocity has been legitimately higher than in recent springs. He’s consistently reaching 92-93 mph with his fastball, and his offspeed pitches have been good if not consistent.
“You look at his stuff,” Joe Girardi said. “You try to evaluate his stuff and how you feel about that. What we’ve seen this year is much more positive than what we’ve seen the last (few years), you know, in velocity, the discrepancy between that and the change up and slider, so now to me it’s just ironing out and being more consistent.”
It’s not particularly unusual for a pitcher to not want to face a division team in spring training, but by passing on a start against the Orioles, Sabathia was left open to obvious questions about a five-inning, four-run start against minor leaguers. He walked two and struck out seven.
“Today was a day when we were trying to work on the changeup,” Sabathia said. “I get runners on first and second or whatever it was (and threw) a couple of changeups. Me and (catcher Brian McCann) wanted to work on it so I threw it again. The guy hits a homer. I probably won’t throw it like that in a game.”
McCann noted that he’s seen Sabathia get stronger from start to start. He said he really sees that added strength late in games. McCann said Sabathia’s stuff was basically the same in today’s fifth inning as it was in the first inning.
“The ball was coming out great,” McCann said. “I thought he threw the ball great. Two-seamer was running really good. Ambushed a couple of hits, but all in all, I thought the ball was coming out fantastic. … When you go over there, you’re not pitching to scouting reports. You get guys set up, and then you think you can get something in there, and they hit it. But all in all, I thought changeup was really good, fastball to both sides of the plate, and the slider was great today.”
Sabathia has one more spring start before he pitches the third game of the regular season.
“I was able to go out there five times and pitch five innings and feel great,” he said. “Like I said, I haven’t had any problems. I’m just looking forward to getting into the season and trying to help this team.”
• Alex Rodriguez raised his slash line to .306/.405/.583 and hit his team-leading third home run in a 10-2 loss to Baltimore. “Numbers mean nothing,” Rodriguez said. “But you definitely want to pass the eye test. That means moving around better, putting balls in play, and hitting balls in the mid-90s. Those are things I haven’t done in over a year and a half, so everything for me this year – this spring, at least – is a test.”
• While the numbers might not mean much in the grand scheme of things, they do seem to provide some hope that Rodriguez might have something left. It was one thing when he was drawing walks and getting into good counts early in spring training, but now he seems to be putting together good and productive at-bats even in the final week of exhibition games. “Overall, it’s just repetition,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve said it all along. Any time you can keep adding up at-bats, it’s a good thing.”
• While his first two spring home runs left plenty of doubt off the bat, today’s was clearly gone from the moment Rodriguez made contact. “That one felt good,” he said. “I was excited about that one.”
• Plan is still to have Rodriguez start at first base tomorrow.
• More good news on Jacoby Ellsbury, who came through today’s batting practice with no problems. He’s scheduled for more BP tomorrow and remains on track to play a minor league game on Tuesday.
• No real update on Jose Pirela. “I don’t know what he did today,” Giradi said. “He said he felt better. I didn’t ask him what he did today.”
• Sabathia is certainly not the only Yankees pitcher putting up numbers that aren’t exactly encouraging. Dellin Betances has now allowed a run in five straight outings. He had one walk, one strikeout and allowed a single today. “I’ve been leaving the ball up,” Betances said. “When I get ahead, I leave the ball up. Today, the contact wasn’t as hard. Obviously the first guy I fell behind 3-1 and he had a good swing, but after that, I felt like I threw some good pitches. I’ll be ready.”
• Betances said he’s been working on his leg kick with Larry Rothschild. Concerning that, after being so good last year, he’s having some mechanical issues this spring? “It’s not like I’m missing as bad as I once was (in the minor leagues),” He said. “I’m around the zone. I felt way better even before I came in. I felt like my direction was better, something I’ll try to work on more. As that gets better, I think I’ll be able to throw more strikes and put guys away.”
• Giradri said he was encouraged because Betances had a better breaking ball today. “It’s not what you want,” Girardi said. “But one thing you always talk about a lot is don’t judge people on spring training, right? Sometimes a different beast comes out Opening Day. If this was happening the first month, you’d say, OK, what’s going on? But, I thought he was better today, and I think when the season starts, he’ll be right.”
• Speaking of bullpen guys, Andrew Bailey had another scoreless inning today. Chasen Shreve also pitched a scoreless inning. Those were the pitching bright spots for sure. Otherwise, it was kind of a mess today. Jacob Lindgren allowed his first earned run of the spring. Chris Martin struck out two but let two inherited runners score on a double. Justin Wilson got three strikeouts, but those were hit runners that scored on Martin’s watch.
• Worst pitching line of the day belonged to Scott Baker, who seemed to pitch himself into the roster conversation with a strong outing against the Mets last weekend. This time he had a clean first inning before allowing five runs on five hits including a homer in the second inning. “Physically, I felt great,” Baker said. “First inning, I made some good pitches. Then in the second inning, they found a couple holes and then they got the big hit. Maybe out of the stretch a little bit I was kind of feeling for it, but overall, I felt good. The results don’t necessarily show how I felt.”
• Over at the miner league complex, Bryan Mitchell was hit by a Gary Sanchez throw to second base. He finished the outing and is apparently fine.
• Despite the fact Esmil Rogers is making tomorrow’s road trip to pitch out of the bullpen, Girardi still wouldn’t name a fifth starter today. “Actually we’re going to sit down and talk today about what we’re going to do,” Girardi said.
• Here’s Sabathia talking about Masahiro Tanaka being chosen for Opening Day: “I’m excited for him. I think it’ll be a good deal. I know he’s excited to get a chance to do that. I’m excited to get a chance to be able to enjoy Opening Day. It should be fun.”
• Final word goes to McCann, who’s predictably staying optimistic about underperforming pitchers: “Spring training is not (the regular season),” McCann said. “Adrenaline plays a huge factor in results. You run out of the bullpen with 50,000 people in the stands, if you’re throwing 94 (in spring training), you’re going to throw 97, 98. Adrenaline plays a huge factor in both sides, hitting and pitching. When the lights turn on, it’s a whole other ball game.”
Associated Press photos
Spring Game 27: Yankees vs. Orioles • 03.28.15
Brett Gardner LF
Chase Headley 3B
Carlos Beltran RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez DH
Chris Young CF
Stephen Drew 2B
Didi Gregorius SS
Austin Romine C
RHP Scott Baker (3-4, 5.47 in 2014)
Alejandro De Aza LF
Manny Machado 3B
Jimmy Paredes DH
Chris Davis 1B
Travis Snider RF
Evereth Cabrera CF
Steve Clevenger C
Ryan Flaherty SS
Jonathan Schoop 2B
RHP Tyler Wilson (14-9, 3.54 in minors in 2014)
TIME/TV: 1:05 p.m., YES Network and WFAN
WEATHER: A few clouds in the sky, but mostly just a nice and sunny day.
UMPIRES: HP Max Guyll, 1B Bob Davidson, 2B Eric Cooper, 3B D.J. Reyburn
TODAY’S SECOND STRING: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Francisco Arcia, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Ramon Flores, CF Slade Heathcott, RF Garrett Jones
TODAY’S SCHEDULED RELIEVERS: Justin Wilson, Andrew Bailey, Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller
ROSTER OPPORTUNITY: The Yankees clearly want to see Scott Baker. He was supposed to pitch yesterday, but when that game was rained out after five and a half innings, the Yankees decided to have Baker start today’s game instead. He’s getting the priority innings ahead of prospect Bryan Mitchell, which seems to be a strong indication that the Yankees are thinking of carrying Baker as a long man out of spring training.
UPDATE, 1:12 p.m.: Good, clean first inning for Baker.
UPDATE, 1:28 p.m.: Really looked like Didi Gregorius hurt himself diving for a single to left field. He landed awkwardly on his glove hand and seemed to hurt either his wrist or his thumb. Looked pretty bad at first, but after talking to the trainer, Gregorius played catch a little bit and stayed in the game. Would have been quite a blow.
UPDATE, 1:37 p.m.: Five-run second inning for the Orioles. Baker allowed four singles, and you could make the case that he wasn’t being hit hard until Alejandro De Aza just crushed a three-run homer to right.
UPDATE, 1:44 p.m.: Gregorius was on deck when the bottom of the second ended, and now he’s going back out to play shortstop in the top of the third. Looks like the Yankees dodged a bullet there.
UPDATE, 1:58 p.m.: One of the very few innings when Jacob Lindgren has really struggled this spring. He gave up two singles and a walk in the third, but he limited the damage to just a single sacrifice fly. It’s now 6-0 Orioles.
Austin Romine’s never come to spring training as a favorite. He’s competed for a job many times, had a chance to open plenty of eyes, but there’s always been someone ahead of him on the projected depth chart whether it was Chris Stewart or Francisco Cervelli or — this year — John Ryan Murphy.
How do we know Murphy was ahead of Romine coming into this spring? Because the Yankees left no doubt last season. Romine got a long look in 2013, but it was Murphy who got the extended opportunity in 2014. Romine got a couple cups of coffee last year, that’s it. He didn’t even get a September call-up when the roster first expanded.
“Last year was tough at the beginning,” Romine said. “It was tough to be, I don’t want to say forgotten. Not forgotten. Just, it’s a business. Stuff happens. Moves get made. You can’t blame people for that. It was tough in the beginning, but once I kind of settled in an figured out, I still have to play good baseball wherever I am. That’s basically what I told myself every day. It was rough for a little while, but I kind of got over it. I got my head down and I started working again.”
This spring, Romine came into camp recognizing it for what it is. It’s another opportunity, perhaps his last in this organization. Murphy might be the favorite, but Romine spent his winter at an intense training facility in California. He said he threw up after the first eight workouts. He ultimately lost 10 pounds, came to camp lean and strong.
He showed up to prove himself. He gets the start behind the plate today, which is another opportunity to do that.
“Everybody says they’re in the best shape ever when they come into spring training,” Romine said. “But I literally was. I wanted to be able to go into the office when they call me — if I’m going up or going down — and know that I gave it everything I had, because they deserve it. They’ve given me a lot, and I want to be the backup catcher to give back to them. They’ve put me in a position to be where I am in my life, so I feel like I owe it to them to give it everything I have.”
Neither Romine nor Murphy has had a particularly good spring at the plate. Murphy’s gotten going a little bit lately, but he still has just a .492 OPS. Romine has a .477. Romine is out of options. Murphy is not. Brian Cashman has said that’s a factor that could play into the decision of who wins the job. In a way, that gives Romine an advantage, if he can only show he’s worth another opportunity.
“I came in here with a plan,” Romine said. “And I’ve put myself in a good position to achieve that plan. I just keep my head down, and I keep working, and I get down what I need to get done. Hopefully I make this team. … I have no idea, no idea (what’s going to happen). Murph doesn’t either. No one does. We just keep playing. They’ll figure it out. That’s their job, so we just keep playing.”
• A reminder that CC Sabathia is pitching in a minor league game today while Scott Baker starts the big league game against Baltimore. Bryan Mitchell, who was originally scheduled to start against the Orioles, said he’s also going to pitch at the minor league complex.
• Tomorrow’s travel squad includes Esmil Rogers, who’s clearly making the trip to pitch out of the bullpen. That seems to be yet another sign that Adam Warren has won the fifth-starter job.
• It will be interesting to see how the long relief role plays out. Obviously Rogers is stretched out and could be one long man, but given the rotation concerns, the Yankees surely want another guy who’s capable of multiple innings. Baker and Chase Whitley are — in my opinion — the top candidates for that job ahead of Mitchell, who makes more sense as Triple-A rotation depth. While Baker is getting a chance to start today, Whitley is on the travel squad for tomorrow, obviously scheduled to pitch an inning or two of relief.
• Ivan Nova has now thrown four bullpens that have included breaking balls. He said his arm still feels great. He’s happy and encouraged by the way his Tommy John rehab has gone. All positive so far.
• Masahiro Tanaka and Adam Warren each threw a side today.
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Justin Wilson, Andrew Bailey, Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller (with Nick Rumbelow, Danny Burawa, Diego Moreno and Tyler Webb listed as available just in case)
• Tomorrow’s travel squad to Kissimmee:
Pitchers: Danny Burawa, Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Lindgren, Jose Ramirez, Esmil Rogers, Nick Rumbelow, Chasen Shreve, Chase Whitley
Catchers: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, John Ryan Murphy, Eddy Rodriguez, Austin Romine
Infielders: Stephen Drew, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Alex Rodriguez, Brendan Ryan
Outfielders: Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott
From minor league camp: RHP Cesar Vargas, RHP Nick Goody, LHP Fred Lewis, INF Dan Fiorito, OF Ben Gamel, OF Aaron Judge, OF Michael O’Neill
Associated Press photos
Scott Baker was scheduled to pitch multiple innings of long relief this afternoon, but the game was called in the sixth, and so the Yankees will instead have Baker start tomorrow’s game against Baltimore.
CC Sabathia will pitch in a minor league game tomorrow.
“We wanted (Baker) to go long,” Girardi said. “I called him in before that (last) inning and I said, ‘We’re going to wait, because we don’t want you to go just an inning or a half an inning and all of a sudden it starts pouring and they call the game.’ So he’ll start tomorrow.”
The original plan was to have Bryan Mitchell start tomorrow’s big league game. The Yankees don’t want Sabathia to do it because they’re facing the Orioles, and the Yankees would prefer to keep Sabathia out of a game against a division rival. Prioritizing Baker could be a sign that he’s still heavily in the mix for a long relief role.
After a rough spring debut, Baker pitched well against the Mets on Sunday (4.1 innings, one hit, no walks). It’s at least a little curious that the Yankees let Chase Whitley — another long relief candidate — pitch just one inning last time out but preferred to make sure Baker gets a multiple-inning appearance.
Would it make sense to carry Baker as a long man out of camp, while sending both Whitley and Mitchell to Triple-A to stay stretched out as rotation depth (making them potential candidates for spot starts whenever the Yankees want or need a sixth starter)? Opening a 40-man spot for Baker shouldn’t be tough, especially with Ivan Nova and possibly Chris Capuano being obvious 60-day disabled list candidates.
Associated Press photo
It’s worth remembering that last spring, CC Sabathia’s numbers were excellent. His fastball velocity was down, but so was his ERA. He made five official starts with a 1.29 ERA with a 0.76 WHIP. His 16 strikeouts were tied for the third-most in camp.
Then he opened the season, got knocked around for a month and a half, and wound up having knee surgery.
“I felt a lot better (today) than I did last spring when I didn’t give up many runs,” Sabathia said after today’s three-homer letdown. “So I’d rather get my (butt) kicked and feel like I did today than give up no runs and feel like I did last year.”
The Yankees keep saying the results don’t matter with Sabathia. At least not the results that end up in the box score. He faced 13 batters today, struck out four of them and gave up hits to five of them. Three of those hits were home runs. One was inside-the-park — and my guess is Jacoby Ellsbury might have caught it — but even that ball was hit awfully hard.
“Just fastballs that were up and they put good swings on them,” Sabathia said. “For me it’s just frustrating because I was throwing the ball so well leading up to this in bullpens and stuff, and to come out here and not have my delivery together is a little frustrating, but it is spring training. It’s March 22 and I’ll take this, file it, and just get ready for the next start.”
The gun here in Port St. Lucie had Sabathia’s fastball at 93-94 mph, and I’m told that, if anything, that gun tends to be slow. That’s encouraging for a guy who needs his strength. For Sabathia’s it’s not all about velocity, but throwing harder is a good sign that his strength is returning. He said that’s a product of a healthy knee, which lets him me more aggressive and direct to the plate.
“I think sometimes we forget that CC didn’t pitch much last year,” Joe Girardi said. “For him it’s just getting back to the consistency and getting him some work. CC’s always thrived on that. It seems the more you work him, the better he gets. He feels great. There’s a lot of life to his arm. I’m still encouraged. I don’t worry about the numbers. I told you I’m not going to because I think he needs to pitch.”
Today’s problem, Sabathia said, was mechanical. Bad mechanics led to pitches up in the zone, and pitches up in the zone were hit hard. When his mechanics were right, Sabathia was plenty effective. Both Sabathia and Girardi said it’s a matter of consistency. There were good pitches today, but also enough bad ones to cause a problem. Opening Day is two weeks away, and Sabathia said that’s enough time — whether he’s pitching Game 1 or not — to get ready for the regular season.
“I’ve still got hopefully two more starts down here, a couple more bullpens,” Sabathia said. “I’m kind of a slow starter anyway. The way I feel right now, I’m encouraged that I could kind of turn this thing around. … Definitely a lot more life than (the fastball had) the past couple of years. It’s just an extra pitch for me that I can use. I feel a lot better. It’s more about getting my command down and hitting my spots and just going from there.”
• Over in Tampa, Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-5 with two singles, two ground outs and a strikeout while playing five innings at third base for the Double-A team. Carlos Beltran started at DH for the Triple-A group and went 2-for-4 with a double, a walk and a strikeout. “Today was just a good day of work,” Rodriguez told reporters in Tampa. “Anytime you can see however many pitches I saw, probably 20, that’s a good day, a productive day.”
• Plan is for Rodriguez to DH and Beltran to play right field at the complex tomorrow. If it rains and the fields are wet, though, Beltran will probably DH as well, Girardi said.
• Speaking of guys getting at-bats, Brendan Ryan started at DH this afternoon. He’ll play again tomorrow, getting his second turn at shortstop.
• Don’t count Scott Baker out of the pitching staff competition just yet. Still vaguely in the mix to be the fifth starter or a long man, Baker delivered 4.1 scoreless innings this afternoon. He allowed just one hit, walked none and struck out two. “He threw really well,” Girardi said. “Down in the zone. Really, really good.”
• Baker’s now appeared in three games. He got clobbered the first time, but he’s been already since then. Still hasn’t walked anyone and said he said today’s results were mostly a matter of throwing better first pitches. There’s also the matter of healthy. Baker said he feels healthier than he has in years. “I feel really good,” he said. “I feel healthy.”
• When the Mets didn’t hold him on at first, Mark Teixeira actually stole a base today. “If you don’t pay attention, he’s a smart player,” Girardi said. “He’s done it before.”
• The Yankees had just three hits today, all singles: Teixeira, Nick Noonan (who’s quietly hitting .300) and John Ryan Murphy had the hits. … The Yankees lost 6-0. … Chasen Shreve allowed the final two Mets runs. He gave up three hits including a homer in the eighth inning.
• Before the game, Girardi talked about Sabathia’s willingness to make his season debut at any time. He said Sabathia’s been fine with the idea that he might not start Opening Day. We’ll make this our final word: “I think CC understands the big picture,” Girardi said. “The big picture is that he’s ready to go and he’s healthy. The last thing we want to do is rush anyone and put them in jeopardy for the season. He’s been really understanding, and he knows we’re just trying to do what’s in the best interest of him and the team.”
Associated Press photos
In the past four days, the Yankees have sent seven pitchers to minor league camp. As of yesterday, they’ve now gotten every non-rehab pitcher into a spring training game. They have Esmil Rogers starting tonight, Adam Warren starting tomorrow, and Bryan Mitchell scheduled for at least one more start this spring.
“The competition’s on now, in a sense,” Joe Girardi said. “These guys are competing for jobs. Even if they felt it before, this is when we’re really going to start playing attention.”
Now’s the time to start ironing out the pitching staff. Assuming health — a big assumption, but best we can do so far — the Yankees seem to have 10 pitchers locked into one role or another.
That leaves the Yankees with two spots to fill. Could be a starter and a reliever. Could be a pair of relievers. Could prioritize the need for a long man. Could lean toward adding another lefty.
“I think a lot of these guys have thrown pretty well,” Girardi said. “You look at the amount of runs we’ve given up in spring training, we haven’t given up too many. Is it a clear-cut? No, but we still have two and a half weeks to go, and I think that’s the important thing.”
Here are the options still in big league camp (I’m not counting either Ivan Nova or Vicente Campos, each of whom is in camp but working back from Tommy John surgery):
All five of these could be long relievers in the bullpen, could be fifth starters in the rotation, or could be spot starters when the Yankees want to give everyone else an extra day of rest. The one who might not be totally flexible is Mitchell, not because he can’t pitch out of the pen, but because he’s young enough with a high-enough ceiling that the Yankees might prefer to keep him working as a starter no matter what. He’s the only one of this group who seems in line to get another start this spring, but the smart money seems to be on either Warren or Rogers getting that open rotation spot. Could certainly be room for another long man in the pen, though, and one of these could take that job.
Right-handed relievers (7)
Jose Ramirez, Chris Martin, Jared Burton, Danny Burawa, Andrew Bailey, Nick Rumbelow, Wilking Rodriguez
The Yankees have loaded up on hard-throwing right handers, including one (Branden Pinder) who’s already been sent down to minor league camp. Burton and Bailey are the veterans of this group, though it’s hard to know whether Bailey has time to prove he’s ready for Opening Day. Rumbelow and Rodriguez are non-40-man players, though Rodriguez did pitch in the big leagues a little bit last season. Ramirez and Martin each also pitched in the big leagues last season, and Burawa was added to the 40-man this winter. Really, each of these guys has pitched pretty well so far. Rumbelow and Martin have a lot of strikeouts, and at various points Girardi has specifically said he’s been impressed by those two and Ramirez.
Left-handed relievers (2)
Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren
The Yankees brought six left-handed relievers into camp. Two are basically guaranteed spots in the bullpen (Miller and Wilson) and two have already been sent to minor league camp (James Pazos and Tyler Webb), which leaves two guys still fighting for spots on the roster. Might not be an overwhelming need for three left-handers in the bullpen, but none of the Yankees’ lefties have to be true left-on-left specialists, and so far both Shreve and Lindgren have looked sharp in big league camp. Shreve is on the 40-man roster and got some big league experience last season, which might give him a leg up on Lindgren, who was drafted just last season.
Associated Press photos
Joe Girardi said the Yankees don’t have a full prognosis for Chris Capuano just yet, but it’s pretty clear he won’t be ready for Opening Day.
“I’d be surprised if he’s not down for a while,” Girardi said.
That leaves the Yankees sorting through a bunch of options for the fifth starter spot. Capuano might not have had the job locked up heading into camp, but he seemed to be a heavy favorite. Now the job is wide-open with a series of relievers, prospects and minor league free agents fighting for the gig.
“We’ll look at everyone, that’s the bottom line,” Girardi asid. “Because we need to fill a spot now.”
Adam Warren has a start coming up on Friday and Esmil Rogers has one on Saturday. Earlier today, Brian Cashman sounded impressed by Rogers, and Girardi seems to feel the same way.
“He’s thrown the ball really well,” Girardi said. “Larry (Rothschild) worked with him long and hard last year during some bullpen sessions about changing a few things. I thought he pitched pretty well for us. He’s started in his career and he’s got a number of pitches he can go to. He’s been really good this spring. He’ll be one of the guys we’re really looking at.”
Here are eight guys who could fill that spot in the rotation (though some of them are candidates only in theory):
1. Adam Warren
In my mind, the current favorite of this group. After a breakout season as a late-inning reliever, Warren was told to prepare as a starter this spring, and he’s been stretched out for a situation just like this one. He started the spring opener, has yet to make a relief appearance, and is currently scheduled to make his third spring start on Friday. He’ll have three starts before anyone else on this list has two.
2. Esmil Rogers
Earlier this spring, Joe Girardi said he thinks of Rogers much the same way he used to think of David Phelps. And really, if Phelps were still here, he’d surely become a quick favorite for this rotation opening. Rogers’ numbers have never quite measured up to his raw stuff, but he pitched well as a starter this winter and the Yankees have him scheduled for a season spring start on Saturday.
3. Chase Whitley
In his very first press conference of the spring, Girardi mentioned Whitley unprompted as a candidate to be either a long reliever or a spot starter. He’s pitched five scoreless innings so far this spring, and while he got himself into significant trouble last time out, he also got out of jams with a series of ground balls. Put himself on the radar with a strong big league debut before fading late last season.
4. Bryan Mitchell
Looked excellent in a split-squad start earlier this spring, then was knocked around for four runs on seven hits through two innings this afternoon. Mitchell has great stuff — fastball gets up to 97, effective curveball, relatively new slider/cutter — but his minor league results have been inconsistent. Seems to have a big enough arm that he could impress and pitch his way into this job.
5. Luis Severino
There is surely a lot of desire to think of Severino as a favorite, I’m just not sure there’s much reason to do so. He’s looked great in his early spring outings, but he still has just six games of experience above Class-A ball. Perhaps he can dazzle the rest of the way and force the Yankees’ hand, but he seems more like a second-half possibility. Strep throat has knocked his spring schedule slightly off track.
6. Scott Baker
Strongest track record of anyone on this list, but it’s also been a long time since his last particularly good big league season. Baker was a mainstay in Minnesota before having extensive Tommy John surgery — had to repair the tendon as well — back in 2012. Had a rough spring debut on Saturday. Had a 1.19 WHIP (with a 5.47 ERA) in 25 appearances for Texas last season.
7. Kyle Davies
Like Baker, Davies is a big league veteran in camp on a minor league deal. Unlike Baker, Davies hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011 and the Yankees have not yet given him a start this spring. Seems far more likely to be a veteran presence in Triple-A, but have to mention him as an experienced candidate who’s played this sort of role before.
8. Jose De Paula
Like Davies in that he’s a candidate in theory only. Unlike Davies, De Paula’s candidacy has nothing to do with big league experience and everything to do with a spot on the 40-man roster. He’s never pitched in the big leagues, but the Yankees gave him a big league contract this winter. He pitched two scoreless inning in his only spring appearance so far, but that was a relief outing.
Associated Press photos
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.
“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.”
• 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.
• 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)
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.
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