Speaking to reporters at the Owners’ Meetings in Chicago on Wednesday, Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said the decision to hold onto top prospects at the trade deadline was his own preference. He simply was not willing to give them up for a short-term rental.
“I just wasn’t going to do it,” Steinbrenner said, according to ESPN New York. “I don’t think we kind of had the glaring need that you would address by giving up one of your Triple-A prospects, especially not for a loaner. For a guy you’re going to have three months or so. It’s just not something we were going to consider.”
While it’s widely reported the Yankees were willing to give their top lower-level prospect, Jorge Mateo, in a possible deal for Craig Kimbrel, general manager Brian Cashman has acknowledged that starting pitcher Luis Severino, right fielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird — all three of whom were in Triple-A at the trade deadline — were untouchable.
The Yankees did part with relatively redundant upper-level prospect Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez, but they ultimately did not trade other valuable Triple-A prospects including Rob Refsnyder, Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott and Nick Goody. Young and emerging big leaguers Bryan Mitchell, Chasen Shreve, Adam Warren and John Ryan Murphy also stayed put.
“I didn’t want to give those kids up,” Steinbrenner said. “We’ve been looking at them for two, three years now. They’ve progressed perfectly. And they’re all sitting there in Scranton. Any one of them could contribute now if need be, and we’ve already seen that on Severino the last two starts.”
According to Ken Davidoff at the New York Post, Steinbrenner also mentioned future payroll as a factor in the team’s deadline decisions.
“I have always felt, still feel, that you don’t have to be in that position [the top spender] to win world championships,” he said. “Now that we’ve got all this young talent that’s very close, some of whom are here, I think it’s going to make it easier to do things with the payroll in years to come.”
Associated Press photo
Luis Severino was supposed to make his 10th Triple-A start tonight, but someone finally found a way to slow his rise through the Yankees’ minor league system.
Severino’s away from the team for the birth of his child.
“Ecstatic about who he is and what he is and the level he’s at at the age he’s at,” Brian Cashman said. “It’s ridiculous.”
At 21 years old, Severino is roughly six years younger than the average Triple-A player. He’s a kid, and he has a 1.79 ERA and 0.95 WHIP since joining Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. His strikeouts are down and his walks are slightly up compared to his Double-A performance, but the Yankees are clearly happy with Severino’s progress to the highest level of the minor leagues. At 88.1 innings, he’s only 25 innings away from last year’s total, but Cashman said there’s no concern about Severino’s workload at this point.
“We’ve got a strong comfort level on how he’s been managed,” Cashman said. “I have no worries about his innings.”
While Cashman didn’t rule out the idea of using Severino in the big leagues this season, it seems he doesn’t feel the need to make that move at the moment.
“Even if I did,” Cashman said. “I’ve got (Adam) Warren who’s done great for us in that rotation, and I’ve got (Bryan) Mitchell who’s got more experience.”
“Same thing I’ve been doing,” he said. “My throwing problem, arm exercises, just trying to strengthen the arm and shoulder.”
Williams hurt himself while sliding back into first base during a big league game in mid-June. He’d previously survived a serious collision with the outfield wall in Baltimore, but got hurt making a fairly routine play on a pickoff. This is not the same shoulder that required surgery back in 2012. It was the left shoulder last time; it’s the right shoulder this time.
Recovery has already taken longer than expected, but Williams spent the All-Star break getting treatment at Yankee Stadium, and he said he’s felt a little more encouraged lately.
“I’d like to be playing, that’s basically it,” he said. “But I feel like I’m getting better.”
• Williams isn’t the only young center fielder on the disabled list. Slade Heathcott has been out since late May with a Grade 2 quadriceps strain. Heathcott is currently rehabbing in Tampa, and although the Yankees say he’s close to playing in games again, Cashman said he didn’t have an exact date for Heathcott’s return to a minor league lineup. “I know he’s doing well,” Cashman said. “But I don’t have a date I could tell you.” I assume Heathcott will ultimately be optioned back to Triple-A once he’s healthy. There’s not a lot of big league playing time currently available.
• Left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren is also in Tampa rehabbing his way back from surgery to clear up an elbow bone spur. Cashman said he expects Lindgren to pitch again this season, but Lindgren hasn’t even started a throwing program just yet. “It’s going really well,” Cashman said. “I think the throwing program is probably going to come soon.”
• After playing in the Futures Game last weekend, Aaron Judge returned to Triple-A to hit a home run on Thursday and go 2-for-4 on Friday. Since then, though, he’s missed two straight games. “Just dealing with some minor stuff,” Cashman said. “So it’s a day to day thing.”
• Top draft pick James Kaprielian has reported to the team complex in Tampa, but Cashman said his opening assignment is entirely up to new farm director Gary Denbo. “I haven’t asked Gary if he’s going to knock some rust out at the Gulf Coast League,” Cashman said. ‘
• With Severino unable to make tonight’s start, Double-A standout Eric Ruth has been promoted to start tonight’s game for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Cashman said he’s legitimately impressed and intrigued by Ruth’s breakout season — 1.89 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in Trenton — but this call up is more about “shuffling the deck” to fill Severino’s spot. Probably only a spot start before Ruth returns to Double-A.
• Still pitching out of the Double-A bullpen, veteran Andrew Bailey continues to put up good numbers while trying to work his way back from 2013 shoulder surgery. He’s allowed just two hits and four walks through 8.1 Double-A innings. He’s struck out eight and held opponents to a .074 average. He went 1.1 hitless innings last time out. Could he pitch his way into the big league mix? “Absolutely,” Cashman said. “We’ve got a lot of (bullpen) guys now.”
• Speaking of that upper-level bullpen depth, the Yankees have already seen a bunch of guys shuttled up and down to the big leagues, and Nick Goody was recently promoted from Double-A to Triple-A. Cashman, though, specifically mentioned two other relievers who should be on the radar. Wilking Rodriguez, Cashman said, belongs in that mix with some of the familiar names for a potential call-up. The 25-year-old was suspended to start the season, but he’s pitched well in four appearances since being activated. Cashman also mentioned Johnny Barbato, the Double-A reliever acquired for Shawn Kelley this offseason. He’s been excellent his past five outings.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees have used 17 rookies this season. They’ve called up an additional pair of rookies who never got in a game. They’ve had 11 players make their big league debut, which is the second-most in the Majors.
There has been a movement of youth in the Bronx, but there hasn’t necessarily been a youth movement.
Of those 17 rookies, only one could be considered a significant impact player this season, so choosing the Yankees first-half Rookie of the Year is easy. It’s Chasen Shreve and it’s not even close. Two and a half months from now, that might not be the case. If Rob Refsnyder is going to stick around and play regularly, he could ultimately have a bigger impact in a half season than a middle reliever has in a full season.
For now, the Yankees’ rookie class seems to fit into these categories.
No longer trying to be perfect with every pitch, Shreve began throwing at max effort last season and got himself to the big leagues. This year, he’s had staying power with a 0.98 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning. Shreve seemed to the third piece of an offseason trade that involved David Carpenter and Manny Banuelos, but it’s Shreve who’s had the biggest impact this season. He’s been excellent as both a long man and a go-to, late-inning reliever.
TO BE DETERMINED
Rob Refsnyder, Bryan Mitchell, Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder
Clearly Refsnyder’s ultimate impact is still a mystery. He looked good over the weekend, and word is he’s going to stick around beyond the break, but prospect status doesn’t make him a definite impact player. Like Refsnyder, Mitchell is also on the active roster for the time being. He’s finally getting a look in the bullpen, but he’s not getting many opportunities to prove himself one way or the other. I’ve included Rumbelow and Pinder in this group because each one pitched pretty well and lasted more than a game or two, but neither was trusted with a key role. They’re each back in Triple-A at the moment.
Take away an at-bats requirement, and the Yankees OPS leaderboard looks like this: Refsnyder, Heathcott, Rodriguez, Williams. That’s one through four, the only guys on the team with an OPS higher than all-star Mark Teixeira. Of course, the problem is that three of the four lasted fewer than 10 games. Heathcott was the first to get a call-up after the Jacoby Ellsbury injury, but he went down with a knee issue after six hits in six games. He’s now on the 60-day disabled list. Williams eventually filled that same replacement role, had four extra-base hits in eight games, and also landed on the 60-day.
Chris Martin, Jose Pirela, Jacob Lindgren, Ramon Flores, Jose Ramirez
To some extent, each of these guys had a real chance to stick and play a role. Martin broke camp with the team and initially pitched his way into some high leverage situations, but his performance dropped and he was replaced. Pirela seemed to be the favored right-handed platoon infielder, but he never hit in a part-time role and now seems to be on the outside looking in. The Yankees clearly wanted to give Lindgren a real look as a potential impact reliever, but he was too inconsistent and wound up optioned (and then hurt). Flores made a strong first impression, but he ultimately had a sub-.500 OPS and wasn’t even used when Carlos Beltren went on the disabled list. Ramirez is a harder one to figure out. He spent about a month on the roster last year, but the Yankees haven’t been especially keen on using him this season, and he hasn’t pitched well when given a chance.
SHORT-TERM FILL INS
Cole Figueroa, Jose De Paula, Diego Moreno, Danny Burawa, Matt Tracy
Upon arrival, no one on this list had the look of a long-term solution. Each one was called up to fill a specific need — Figueroa to play third base against a few right-handed pitchers; everyone else to provide fresh arms when the bullpen was depleted — and each was fairly quickly sent back to Triple-A. None of these five got into more than two games. They didn’t necessarily do a bad job, they just weren’t brought up with the intention of keeping them around. I suppose you could put reliever Joel De La Cruz and outfielder Taylor Dugas into this category as well. They were each called up but never actually played. Each one has since been taken off the 40-man roster.
Associated Press photo
On the day he was drafted, Yankees reliever Jacob Lindgren was home in Mississippi. His girlfriend got into town that morning, and so he showed her around. A family friend invited some people over, and so there was barbecuing and swimming.
“It was nice and hot out,” Lindgren said.
It was June 5 of last year, and Lindgren knew he might be a high-round pick. When his name was called, he was the top selection of a Yankees team that hadn’t had much success with top picks. He was a college reliever built to move quickly, joining an organization notorious for advancing even its top prospects slowly.
Less than a year later, Lindgren was in the big leagues, tangible evidence that this might be a new era for the Yankees on draft day.
“A lot of guys that got drafted behind you, they’re like, oh, why did this guy get drafted ahead of me? Stuff like that,” Lindgren said. “There’s always that. Obviously you’ve just got to play good and show them why they drafted you high.”
The Yankees, too, have something to prove.
After two decades of far more failure than success, the Yankees enter tonight’s first round of the draft with the 16th overall selection, their highest pick since 1993. They have three of the top 57 selections, and they have something of a hot streak going. Focused heavily on college players like Lindgren, Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo, the Yankees early picks the past two years have advanced quickly and shown significant promise.
Lindgren is already in the major league bullpen, Judge is considered the top hitting prospect in the system, and Jagielo has nine home runs in Double-A. Both Judge and Jagielo could be in Triple-A by the end of the summer, just two years after being drafted.
“I always heard (the Yankees) were slow moving their guys,” Lindgren said. “But I was going to do everything in my ability to make things happen.”
Lindgren pitched at four levels with 17.5 strikeouts per nine innings the year he was drafted. He pitched well in big league camp this spring, opened the season in Triple-A, and was called up on May 24, the first Yankees prospect since Deion Sanders in 1989 to reach the majors less than a year after being drafted.
It was a significant step for the Yankees, not only because they were willing to make the move, but because they had a top pick playing well enough to deserve the promotion.
With a few exceptions — Phil Hughes in 2004, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain in 2006 — the Yankees’ top picks have mostly fallen flat since the overwhelming success of Derek Jeter taken sixth overall in 1992.
The Yankees took a high schooler named C.J. Henry during the otherwise talent-rich first round of 2005. They took a shot on injured basketball player Andrew Brackman with their top pick of 2007. They took a signability risk with Gerrit Cole in 2008. They gambled on high school shortstop Cito Culver in 2010 and have watched him hit well below .200 this season. In the decade before that, they picked forgotten names like Shea Morenz, David Walling and David Parrish.
What draft success the Yankees have had in recent years has been largely confined to the middle rounds: Brett Gardner in the third round of 2005; Adam Warren in the fourth round of 2009; Dellin Betances in the eighth round of 2006, the same year they got former closer David Robertson as a 17th-round steal.
Draft classes, though, tend to be defined by their top picks, and so Lindgren stands out as a success story, both for the player and the organization.
He had been a 12th-round pick of the Cubs out of high school, but Lindgren said Chicago didn’t offer him the signing bonus he wanted until the day before classes started at Mississippi State. Lindgren was already moved in, living on campus and ready to start college. He decided to stay and take his chances that pro ball would be waiting for him.
“Early on, especially when you’re not getting the playing time you wanted, you’re like, man, what am I doing here?” Lindgren said. “But it worked out. It kind of taught me how you have to compete for any job you want. … There was a lot of hype and stuff (as a first-round pick), but I knew I had to come in and prove myself. I always tried to prove that I didn’t belong at each level and just tried to move up as fast as possible.”
It’s hard to move much faster than Lindgren has. He made his big league debut in the same year as the Yankees 2009 first-round pick, Slade Heathcott, whose development had been slowed by a series of injuries (he’s back on the disabled list now). The Yankees, though, seem to believe the arrival of Lindgren and Heathcott – plus the development of Judge, Jagielo, and former fifth rounders Rob Refsnyder and Greg Bird – are a sign that the team’s draft futility is turning around. They’ve especially struggled to find impact hitters, and suddenly the upper levels are crawling with both high-probability and high-ceiling bats.
“We do have an evolving system with some high-end position players,” general manager Brian Cashman said.
Tonight, the Yankees look to add to that stable of talent, trying to build off the recent success of their past two drafts, and trying to find someone capable of following Lindgren’s path to the big leagues.
“They probably just draft whoever’s the best available,” Lindgren said. “They’re just trying to bring good talent into the organization.”
Associated Press photos
As Joe Girardi sat in the dugout and made the announcement, there was cruelty in the predictability.
Just one week after finally getting his first major league start, his first major league at-bat, and his first major league hit, injury prone Yankees prospect Slade Heathcott is hurt again. He’s expected to miss roughly a month with a strained right quadriceps.
Last night, Heathcott had downplayed the injury, but his health history raised multiple red flags. Just when it seemed he was finally ready to capitalize on his tremendous potential, the former first-round pick’s career hit yet another road block.
“I can tell you it’s more than 15 days,” Girardi said.
Heathcott will officially go on the 15-day disabled list tomorrow. The initial diagnosis is a Grade 2 strain, and while the Yankees want Dr. Chris Ahmad to make a final diagnosis, it’s telling that the Yankees aren’t rushing Heathcott to New York for another set of tests. He’s going to stay with the team through the end of this road trip, because there’s no point in doing anything else.
“There’s really not much he could do besides treatment,” Girardi said. “So might as well have him do it here.”
Last night, Heathcott said the quad bothered him a few times this winter — when he was recovering from his second knee surgery — but he said it was always a minor issue, and he expected this one to be no different. Just a few days off, and right back in the lineup. Today’s MRI told a different story.
Heathcott has since admitted to feeling it while chasing after Prince Fielder’s second home run last Friday. It was Heathcott’s first ever big league game, so there’s surely little surprise he didn’t say much. He went on to play well, hitting .353/.353/.588 in his six games since replacing Jacoby Ellsbury on the roster.
“It kind of just tightened up on me,” Heathcott said. “I didn’t think much about it, figured it would just kind of go away. Like I said, it hasn’t gotten any worse, hasn’t really gotten any better. … And when I felt it in Spring Training, it was gone the next day. We did one day of treatment and it was gone. I think my body is still adjusting to the last surgery I had and it might just take a little more time.”
The Yankees took Heathcott with their first-round pick back in 2009, but he’s only once played more than 76 games in a season. Shoulder injuries, and most recently, a pair of knee surgeries derailed his progress through the minor leagues. His most recent surgery was last season, and he said that as recently as November he wasn’t sure he’d ever play again.
This spring, though, Heathcott played well, and he kept playing well in Triple-A. He was playing well up here until yet another setback.
“I was kind of surprised when I heard (the diagnosis),” Heathcott said. “Obviously there are no other words. It sucks, but I haven’t doubted the plan up until now, and I’m not going to start now. I’ll get better mentally, get better physically, and get back as fast as I can.”
• Masahiro Tanaka will come off the disabled list on Wednesday. He’ll start that series finale in Seattle, limited to 80-85 pitches. “I don’t have much expectations,” Tanaka said. “I just want to go out there and pitch the best way I can so that I can give a chance for the team to win that particular game.”
• Tanaka said command was his biggest problem in his final rehab start, but he doesn’t think another rehab outing would have helped. If he needed another one, he would have asked for one, Tanaka said. “Obviously just being able to get my body right with the wrist and forearm; getting that right was the best part of (the rehab process),” Tanaka said. “To be able to have the time to get it right.”
• Wednesday would be Chris Capuano’s next turn in the rotation, but Girardi said it’s not necessarily Capuano who will come out of the rotation. I would think Capuano will be available for multiple innings that night, but there are so many off days coming up that the Yankees really could tweak their rotation several ways. “A lot can happen between now and Wednesday,” Girardi said. “And I don’t want any of our players ever looking over their shoulders about spots. Everyone knew he was coming back, so it’s no surprise.”
• Ramon Flores couldn’t get here in time for tonight’s game — he was originally in the Triple-A lineup — so the Yankees will be short-handed tonight.
• When Flores arrives, it sounds like he will get most of his time in left field. Brett Gardner will start playing more center field, especially against right-handers. Chris Young has been pretty brutal lately — especially against righties — so Flores could get a legitimate chance to play.
• Brendan Ryan has been playing in extended spring training games, but there’s no timetable for his return from the disabled list. Gregorio Petit is taking batting practice, but he hasn’t started playing in games yet.
• Jacoby Ellsbury is doing pool work back in New York, but he’s still not doing baseball stuff.
Associated Press photos
We’ll get to the game in just a bit. First, here’s what’s going on with Slade Heathcott:
The quad tightness that knocked him out of tonight’s lineup was not new or unfamiliar. Heathcott said he’d been dealing with it off and on since the offseason. It’s never been a serious issue, and he doesn’t think it’s a serious issue now, but he might miss a few days because of it.
“It’s been very easily manageable,” Heathcott said. “Came in today just a little more tender, and we just decided that giving it a day or two here would be better than four weeks.”
Heathcott said the quad was mostly an offseason issue that hadn’t really popped up since the beginning of spring training, but Joe Girardi said it had been at least a mild issue during spring training, during the Triple-A season and for a few days since Heathcott got to the big leagues. Girardi even speculated that Heathcott’s first double in his first big league start might have sparked the latest flare up.
“He’s been battling this for five or six days, I think it is,” Girardi said. “I don’t know if he did it on his first double. It’s possible he did it then. I think he’s battled it in Triple-A a little bit, and battled it in spring training a little bit. Part of it could have to do with the surgeries he’s had on his knee. All the different things that you go through. We’ll see how he is tomorrow.”
The Yankees face nothing but right-handed starters the next three days, but Heathcott might have to miss a few of those games.
“It’s not where I want to be, but I can’t start doubting the plan now,” he said. “I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason, this has got to be the way it is, and just go from here. … Maybe just one of those things where I realize what I need to do, maintain it a little better.”
• Might have been a much different game had the Yankees been playing with a full bullpen, but Girardi said he did not have Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances or Justin Wilson available. If those guys were in the pen, it’s not a sure thing CC Sabathia would have gone out for the seventh inning, and it’s doubtful David Carpenter would have been called in with two on and none out. “It’s hard to say,” Girardi said. “(Sabathia) pitched pretty well up to that point. It could have been different.”
• Speaking of Sabathia, he was pitching a good game until that two-out, two-run homer in the sixth. Even in that inning he’d done a nice job to get two quick outs after a leadoff double. He had a chance to get out of the inning but threw a bad changeup that Brett Lawrie hit for a game-tying home run. “Just up and down the middle,” Sabathia said. “He put a good swing on it. I’d thrown him a couple of them. He saw them pretty good and put a good swing.”
• Girardi on Sabathia: “He had a changeup that cut. He gives up the leadoff double. Does a tremendous job of getting to where he wants to get with two outs and the guy still on third base. And the changeup cut. That’s the ball Lawrie hit out. Next guy gets a hit in the hole the following inning, then he walks the next guy, and I had to make a change. But he was, he was pitching really well, and it just kind of got away from him.”
• Before that sixth inning, Sabathia seemed to be heading toward his third strong start in his past four outings. “I felt like we did a good job of moving the ball in and out,” he said. “… Threw the ball well, like I said, now just got to tighten up on a couple of pitches and get the ball to the back of our bullpen which is the strength of our team.”
• Carpenter’s having a bad year, and he certainly knows it. “At this point right now, I know it’s not mechanical,” he said. “It’s (possibly) pitch selection. Could be that. Just hard to tell. I try to go in there and be aggressive with what I’ve got that day and try to get people out. It’s not so much whether it’s this pitch, that pitch, whatever. … I’m frustrated. I’m not happy about how I’m performing right now. I don’t like letting guys down. That’s the thing that upsets me the most, not so much about numbers or anything like that, just letting guys down. They went out there and busted their butt.”
• Nifty play by Alex Rodriguez to score a run in the fourth inning. His diving, tumbling move to avoid a tag at the plate resulted in a run that might have been key had the Yankees not let the game fall apart. “That was not pretty,” Rodriguez said. “That looked like Shaquille O’Neal coming out of a pick. … I was confident (I had touched the plate). When Joe asked me, I said, ‘I think so, but I’m not 100 percent.’ I thought I felt it with my fingers.”
• Brian McCann called Rodriguez “nimble” and Girardi said he was only hoping Rodriguez would “be safe and get back up.”
• Another milestone for Rodiguez as he tied Barry Bonds for second place on baseball’s all-time RBI list (of course, that list doesn’t count a whole bunch of Babe Ruth’s RBIs). “You say the same thing about Gehrig and Ruth, and Barry’s the same thing; he’s one of the greats,” Rodriguez said. “This is kind of special because he’s also a friend and I know him very well.”
• Big game for McCann who had three hits including his first road home run of the season. He’s reached base three times in three straight games, and he has three home runs and 10 RBI in his past six games. “Balls have been falling,” McCann said. “I feel like I’ve been swinging the bat well all year. Numbers – especially numbers today, I don’t think you can really judge a player off his average anymore, especially if you’re left-handed and don’t run well.”
• Carlos Beltran’s 15-game hitting streak ended.
• Final word goes to Rodriguez: “On any given day, you have to come ready to play every day because any team can beat anybody. We proved that last week; we beat one of the best teams in baseball in Kansas City and lost nine out of 10. It’s just important to come out every day mentally tough and play to win.”
Associated Press photos
Heathcott off and running with Yankees • 05.26.15
His first big league hit was a hustle double with a head-first slide into second base. His first big league homer was a two-run shot, the finishing touch on a 14-run outburst yesterday.
Slade Heathcott’s been in the big leagues less than a week, but already the Yankees are getting a good look at the tools they’ve heard so much about for such a long time.
“When I step across those lines, I just want it to be the same game I’ve played my entire life,” Heathcott said. “Obviously on a higher scale, and at a higher level — a lot more fans, a lot more energy — but I want to keep this the same game I’ve been playing. Don’t stress. Don’t try to do too much. That’s something I have to remind myself every AB, to make sure I’m playing the same game I’ve been playing.”
At this point, he seems to be the regular center fielder until Jacoby Ellsbury returns. Chris Young might get platoon starts against lefties, but Heathcott’s hit the ground running. He’s certainly done nothing to lose playing time.
“You want to see your young players come up and have success and feel like they’re contributing,” Girardi said. “Not put a ton of pressure on themselves and not looking over their shoulder and wondering if they’re going to play the next day, or that sort of thing.”
There’s an obvious confidence in the way Heathcott handles himself. But there’s also a fresh maturity.
Life has humbled the former first-round pick. He’s admitted as much. Staying on the field has been a struggle. He’s been hurt. He’s been disappointed. He’s been left behind.
After all that, playing at this level has been amount more than having a good time.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s been awesome being up here,” he said. “And it’s been an amazing blessing. But we’re here to win. Everyone in here is here to win. We want to play together; we want to play as a team. Just in my short time here I can tell the chemistry we have, and how much everyone in here wants to win. We play this game to win, not to go out and have fun.”
There must be something to that — something to the idea of balancing the fun with the work, and it’s surely something that comes with time and experience.
“I’ve known Slade for a while,” Brett Gardner said. “Since he got drafted. And he’s been through his share of injuries. He’s put a lot of work in in the training room the last couple of years to get back on the field, and he was a completely different person this year in spring training. Just from Day 1. On the field, off the field, just his attitude and work ethic. It’s been a lot of fun to see, and I’m very, very happy for him.”
Big league careers are not made in one week. A double, a home run and a nice slash line after a few games don’t make Heathcott a finished product. They don’t make him a success.
But yesterday the Yankees finally played a good game, and their rookie center fielder was right in the middle of it, doing his part and carrying his weight.
He certainly seemed to belong.
“Awesome, awesome,” Heathcott said. “Seeing guys hit the ball hard, I love seeing guys succeed. I love seeing teammates that are playing well, I love being up and having energy throughout the dugout. That’s part of the game and how I play.”
Associated Press photos
One good game can’t change two weeks of disappointment, but if the Yankees are going to end this recent spiral and get their season back on track, this was certainly a giant step in the right direction.
The Yankees actually looked like a good team, again. So good that Nathan Eovaldi shut down one of the highest-scoring lineups in baseball, and it was a secondary storyline at best.
Chase Headley made a nice leaping catch on a line drive, Brian McCann threw out a speedy base runner and Jacob Lindgren delivered a dominant debut. But five home runs — four of them before the team had made its fourth out — thoroughly stole the show. After two weeks of stumbling in every aspect of the game, the Yankees looked like they could hit, pitch and field.
“There was some urgency and a little irritability about how we were playing,” Headley said. “But there was no panic. Guys were (saying), ‘We’re going to come out of this and we’re going to be better for it. We’re going to come together over this.’ Hopefully this was a first step to that.”
Make no mistake, there was no one in the Yankees’ clubhouse claiming one win changes everything, but there was certainly a sense that the Yankees had finally played like they had during that hot streak that lasted from the middle of April through the early part of May.
And it all started with that eight-run first inning, their highest-scoring inning at home since 2013.
“We’ve been on the other side of that for the last week or so it seems like,” Brett Gardner said. “… We haven’t been swinging the bats particularly well the last couple of weeks. When we have given up big innings and gotten in a hole, it’s been tough for us to battle back. Today we were able to jump out in front and Nathan was pretty dominant from the get go.”
Eovaldi didn’t need much help today. The only Royals run came on a little bloop single in the fifth inning. Otherwise, he was thoroughly in control, and the Yankees tacked on after that first-inning outburst. It was their largest margin of victory in more than two years, and it came just when it seemed the team couldn’t get any worse.
“It was nice because we’ve been through some tough losses, we’ve been through some ugly losses,” manager Joe Girardi said. “To be able to get that type of lead was very nice. … Our game is probably as unpredictable as any game in professional sports, just because it really depends on one guy, in a sense: your starting pitcher that day. And you can have you ace going, and he may not have his stuff that day and he might get hammered and give up a lot of runs, so it’s really unpredictable. We’ve been on both sides. And we’ve played really well, and we’ve struggled. Probably like most of the teams in major league baseball right now. We’re over .500 again, we just beat a really good team, and you try to carry that over and carry a good streak again.”
• With first-inning home runs from Headley, Gardner and Brian McCann, the Yankees had their most home runs in an inning since hitting four in the second innings of an October 1, 2012 game against the Red Sox (Cano, Teixeira, Granderson and Martin went deep that time).
• Last time the Yankees scored at least 11 runs off a single pitcher — like they did against Jeremy Guthrie today — it was against Rick Reed on April 21, 2003. Reed also allowed exactly 11 runs (10 earned), but he did it in 4.1 innings. Guthrie’s runs came in an inning plus, jumping his early nearly two runs in the process.
• Gardner, Headley and Alex Rodriguez each reached base twice in the first inning. Gardner, Headley, Rodriguez, Garrett Jones and Slade Heathcott each had multi-hit games. Every home run came with at least one runner on base.
• Pretty aggressive approach by a lot of Yankees hitters today: “When we’re swinging the bats well, that’s what we do as a team,” Headley said. “We can’t go out and work counts. We’re going to be aggressive and hit the pitches we’re supposed to hit. When they make mistakes, you do your damage. When they make their pitches it’s a take. We got back to what we do well and obviously it was a relief for a lot of guys.”
• Slade Heathcott’s thought when he hit his first major league home run? “Is hit real?” he said. “… (Been dreaming about this) ever since I was about 6. It’s just surreal. It’s an awesome opportunity, and I’m just thankful for God, the Yankees, and everyone in my life that’s helped me to get to where I am, had patience to deal with me in the past, and watched me mature and be here now. It’s just been awesome.”
• Heathcott traded some signed baseballs and t-shirts to get the home run ball. “I’ll frame it and put it up in my son’s room, probably,” Heathcott said.
• It’s hard to focus on it after a game like this, but Eovaldi had perhaps his best start of the year against a really dangerous Royals lineup. He allowed one run through seven innings, and although he didn’t strikeout man guys — only four Ks — he did pitch deep into the game without getting his pitch count much above 100. “(Early run support) allows you to attack hitters a lot more,” he said. “You don’t have to be as perfect. Guys were swinging the bat well, playing good defense. It was a good win for us, get us back on track.”
• Eovaldi singled out his slider as the key pitch this afternoon, but Girardi thought it was more about his offspeed pitches in general. “I thought he used his curveball effectively, I thought he got some strikeouts with his split, I just thought he mixed his pitches really well today,” Girardi said. “You know, we’ve talked about Evo a lot, in a sense, when he has his offspeed, he can throw it for strikes, he’s really effective.”
• Terrific big league debut for Jacob Lindgren, who struck out two and got a double play while pitching two scoreless innings. He can miss bats, and he can get ground balls, each of which he did today. “I’d say after the double play ball, was able to lock it in there,” he said.
• This time last year, Lindgren was still pitching in college. He’s the first Yankees prospect since Deion Sanders in 1989 to make his big league debut less than a year after being drafted. “Maybe I should try and play football,” Lindgren said. He later said he’d been a smaller, faster cornerback when he was in high school. Probably picked the right sport.
• Headley has hit .561 with five home runs in seven career games on Memorial Day. He’s had at least one hit in each of those games. That’s according to Elias. Also from Elias: Gardner has a hit in each of his six Memorial Day games hitting .438 in those contests. The Yankees are now 32-11 in games when Gardner hits a home run.
• Interesting to think back to the first inning, which Gardner started with a double. Before the Headley home run that started the scoring, Gardner was very nearly picked off at second. “If I’m two or three tenths of a second slower getting back to the bag, I’m out,” Gardner said. “Maybe he takes the next pitch and before you know it, we’re out of the inning and it’s 0-0. You never know. I always hate to look back and say ‘what if’ because baseball is one of those games where, if something was a little bit different, maybe the same pitch wouldn’t have been made. You never know how it would have turned out, but yeah, it was a close play. I don’t want to say I was ready for it, but thank goodness he didn’t catch me off guard too much.”
• Final word goes to Headley: “We were due. Obviously it’s been a tough couple weeks for us, but you’re going to go through that during the course of a season. Considering how bad it’s gone recently, to be where we are? We’re pretty fortunate. We’re going to take the positive side of that and do what we can to keep playing hard.”
Associated Press photos
On the day he was removed from the 40-man roster this offseason, Slade Heathcott had bigger problems to worry about. He was rehabbing from a second knee surgery, and the early indications were not promising. Finding his way onto the roster was a challenge for another day. In that moment, Heathcott simply needed to find way to get on the field.
“End of November this past offseason, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play again, let alone be here,” Heathcott said, while standing directly in front of his first big league locker. “… My rehab still wasn’t coming around. November 26, I didn’t think I was ever going to play again. Got with a guy that I worked out with in Orlando, and three weeks later, I said, ‘I can’t believe it, but I can play in a game right now.’ And it just went forward from there. Now, I haven’t felt my knee since before spring training started. It’s been kind of crazy.”
Released and re-signed to a minor league deal, Heathcott entered spring training with a Double-A roster spot waiting for him. But he performed so well that the Yankees challenged him with a move up to Triple-A. In Triple-A, he played so well that last night he became the first true position player call-up of the season.
The Yankees could have gone with Ramon Flores — whose Triple-A numbers were just as good if not better — but they preferred Heathcott, suggesting they preferred someone who could excel in center field.
“They’re both playing well,” one team executive said this afternoon. “Heathcott’s skill set more closely matches (the) role/usage.”
While Heathcott’s not in the lineup tonight, manager Joe Girardi said he expects Heathcott to get some starts. He wouldn’t commit to a true center field platoon, but that seems likely given Chris Young’s struggles against right-handed pitching. Girardi said he wants to keep Brett Gardner in left field.
“I’ll use (Heathcott) for late innings for defense, and I could use him as a pinch runner,” Girardi said. “But he’s going to get some starts. I’m going to put him in the lineup and see how he does.”
After getting the call late last night — Heathcott was feeding his baby boy when the phone rang — Heathcott admitted he didn’t sleep a wink before catching a morning flight to Washington D.C. He said he tried to sleep on the plane, but he couldn’t. His wife and baby boy will be in the stadium tonight. Heathcott’s path from first-round draft pick to big league call-up has been a rocky one, filled with injuries and off-the-field issues, but at 24 years old and in his seventh season of pro ball, Heathcott says he’s matured in every way. He’s a smarter player on the field, and a better man off the field. He’s also healthy for the first time in a long time.
“Hopefully this can be the start of a lot of things,” he said. “It’s been a long road, but it definitely hasn’t been a boring one.”
• Girardi didn’t give any fresh insight into how long Jacoby Ellsbury will be on the disabled list. He said the Yankees will wait until Friday before setting any sort of timetable. “I think until you go through a few days of treatment and see how he responds to that, and he sees Dr. Ahmad,” Girardi said. “We’re just not ready to give you a timetable. It’s not something that requires surgery, so we’re not holding anything that’s doom and gloom. It’s just, you have to see how he responds over the next few days and what Ahmad thinks.”
• If Ellsbury weren’t a runner, Girardi said, a timetable would be a little easier to figure out. As it is, the Yankees have to make sure he’s ready to really run the bases and play center field.
• The injury is specifically located in the ligament on the outside of the right knee. Girardi said it’s an unusual injury given the circumstances. “I’ve never seen it done,” Girardi said. “But we’ve seen Manny Machado tear his ACL taking a swing. It just looked like Jake’s heel got caught in the ground. Sometimes a guy’s spike gets caught. But I’ve never seen it happen like that, with the outside.”
• For now, it seems Carlos Beltran might be the regular No. 2 hitter. “Right now that’s how I’m doing it,” Girardi said.
• Ivan Nova is scheduled to make another extended spring training start on Saturday. He threw 47 pitches last time out. Girardi indicated Nova could begin a true rehab assignment after this upcoming start.
• Brendan Ryan was supposed to play an extended spring training game today, but Girardi wasn’t sure whether that actually happened. … Gregorio Petit is still not swinging a bat. His hand still hurts. … Chris Martin is scheduled to throw a bullpen this weekend. He’s been playing catch.
Associated Press photos
Late this morning, about two hours before today’s Grapefruit League finale, Joe Girardi was asked what’s surprised him most this spring. Girardi paused for several seconds, then gave three answers:
1. “Really pleased with what Alex did.”
That was Girardi’s first response, a one-sentence answer that basically speaks for itself. Alex Rodriguez was perhaps the least predictable piece of the roster coming into camp, but he’s thrived in all aspects. He’s played a passable version of first base and third base, he’s hit .286/.400/.524, and he’s handled inevitable off-the-field questions without digging himself into a new hole.
“I’ve said all along, I thought Alex was going to help us,” Girardi said. “But until you get into (you don’t know). I mean, it’s two years, really, since he played. I wasn’t 100-percent sure. If I was a betting man, I would have bet on him playing well, but there’s still that, you’ve got to see it after two years of not playing and being 39 and a half.”
2. “Pleased with our infield and them working together.”
This was the second sentence of Girardi’s answer, a fairly broad response that involves four players. Third baseman Chase Headley has been arguably the best everyday position player in camp, second baseman Stephen Drew has begun to hit in the last two weeks or so, first baseman Mark Teixeira has looked healthy and stronger than he did late last season, and shortstop Didi Gregorius has been perhaps the team’s most encouraging new addition.
“The way he moves (has been impressive),” Girardi said. “Arm strength. You can watch it go across the diamond, but you don’t realize it’s just that little flick and it’s gone. Relay throws. He’s the whole package. When you watch him play defense, he’s the whole package. And I’m excited to watch him play all year.”
3. “And I was really impressed with our kids.”
The Yankees’ farm system — particularly it’s lack of upper-level success stories — has been a problem in recent years, but the organization seems to be getting stronger. Not only with the addition of young talent, but also with the development of on-the-verge prospects. Greg Bird, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino impressed early in camp, while Jacob Lindgren, Rob Refsnyder and Slade Heathcott stuck around long enough to stay on the radar until the very end. That’s to say nothing of Mason Williams’ improvement, Cito Culver’s defense and Nick Rumbelow’s emergence.
“The kids played a lot in spring training,” Girardi said. “Their talent level. The way they hold each other accountable. The way they push each other. It’s really neat to see.”
Associated Press photo