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
Last year’s top draft pick, Jacob Lindgren, allowed just one earned run in big league camp this spring. Utility man Jose Pirela almost certainly would have made the Opening Day roster had he not suffered a concussion. High-end second base prospect Rob Refsnyder led the team in doubles and on-base percentage.
Yet it was Slade Heathcott who today won the James P. Dawson Award as the top rookie in Yankees’ spring training. He was awarded for hitting .355/.459/.581 with three stolen bases and seven RBI in 31 at-bats (that’s before he walked in his only plate appearance today). He also played strong defense all over the outfield and impressed the Yankees with his attitude and work ethic.
Heathcott’s spring has been so good that, according to a source, the Yankees have decided to send him to Triple-A to open the season. That wasn’t the plan at the start of spring training, but Heathcott has played his way to a spot with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“I’m just having fun playing the game,” Heathcott said a few days ago. “It’s encouraging. I think confidence is a large part of this game. Everybody knows that. I think just finding a way to stay confident through the ups and downs, stay consistent, that’s a big deal. I just think it’s just playing healthy. I haven’t really felt that very much (in the past). A little bit in 2012, but besides that it’s just been battling through things. Now I’m just trying to grow as a hitter, starting to be a little bit more mature.”
After a second knee surgery limited him to just nine games last season, Heathcott was taken off the 40-man roster this offseason. He ultimately re-signed and clearly forced his way back onto the radar.
“Oh my God, yeah,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “Heathcott’s been very impressive. Very healthy, very athletic, very productive. There’s optimism.”
There’s rarely been any doubt about Heathcott’s talent, it’s his ability to stay on the field that’s largely derailed his growth and development. This spring, though, Heathcott looks and sounds like a different player. He not longer hoping to stay healthy, he’s fully believing that he is and will be healthy. He talks about growing up, about understanding the game, and about appreciating the opportunity. He grows just a little uncomfortable talking about his past injuries because he clearly doesn’t want to use them as an excuse.
It’s all about what happens next, not what’s happened before.
“Honestly, my knee never crosses my mind when I’m playing,” he said. “I’m to the point that I’ve trained hard enough and ran enough and done the training that I need to do to make sure that it will hold up. It very seldom crosses my mind. So it’s really just the confidence of getting back in the swing of things.”
Associated Press photo
For years, Joe Girardi has talked about the value of defined roles in the bullpen. Even this spring he’s talked about it. Relievers like to know when they’re getting in a game, and so it helps to have a true closer, setup man, long reliever, lefty specialist, etc.
But on this final day of camp, it seems the Yankees might be prepared to go into the season with more flexibility than definition in their pen. Girardi strongly indicated that he has no plan of naming a closer and will instead mix-and-match the final two innings, using Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances interchangeably depending on matchups.
“I really think that if you do it that way, and as long as you’re prepared, it has a chance to be advantageous to you,” Girardi said.
Girardi said the Yankees have not prioritized a closer decision, and now it seems they won’t make a decision at all. Instead, Girardi said he’s looking at Miller and Betances as his eighth- and ninth-inning relievers, but he’s open to using either one in either role. If there are lefties coming up in the eighth, then Miller will be the setup man and Betances the closer. If there are more lefties due up in the ninth, the roles will reverse.
“My thought has been more like with a power lefty who strikes out a lot of guys and a power righty, the lineups just might match up where one day he’s the eighth inning guy and then one day he’s the ninth inning guy a little bit better,” Giradri said. “… I think you start managing who you’re going to use (in the ninth) in about the sixth inning, because you try to prepare them.”
The flexibility goes beyond the ninth. The Yankees are currently planning to carry three lefties, but Girardi has said none is necessarily a true left-on-left specialist. They’ll all be used to get right-handers out as well. And while Esmil Rogers is the only real long man in the pen, today Girardi named him along with David Carpenter and Justin Wilson as options to will basically the seventh-inning role that Adam Warren had last season. Chasen Shreve was a starter through much of his minor league career, and Chris Martin has pitching multiple innings this spring, so one of those two might be available for long relief if necessary.
The Yankees see their bullpen as a strength, but they also see it as a evolving piece of the roster, which could change from day to day and game to game.
“I’ve talked to both (Miller and Betances)” Girardi said. “They’re concerned about winning more than (roles), in the sense of I’m this guy, I’m this guy. That’s the sense I’ve got from them. Now, could it iron itself out and you start to do it one way? Yes. But we talked a little bit about it yesterday. I’ll continue to talk about it with my coaches and Larry and his feelings about it as they get a feel, and Gary Tuck who’s in the bullpen, what do you think the importance of it is that we actually set a role? But as of right now, we haven’t felt that we have to.”
• CC Sabathia is cleared for 80-85 pitches today. This will be his final start before pitching the third game of the season. Sabathia has so far thrown only 4.2 innings this spring and will surely break camp with less than 10 innings of actually game experience, but Girardi said he’s satisfied that Sabathia’s gotten all the work he needs. After one regular season start, he’ll basically be as stretched out as any other starter, and the Yankees prioritized taking it slow ahead of giving him a ton of spring training work.
• Normal day off for Alex Rodriguez today. Carlos Beltran is also sitting out a second straight day because of flu-like symptoms. Girardi said he expects both to play tomorrow’s final exhibition game in Washington D.C.
• Still no catcher decision. Girardi said both John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine will make tomorrow’s trip to D.C. He expects to make a final decision after tomorrow’s game.
• Although they’re playing in a National League park, the Yankees will use a designated hitter tomorrow. Girardi said he expects to give all of his regulars a few at-bats. Sounds like the Opening Day lineup might be in there tomorrow.
• Talked to Slade Heathcott a little bit this morning. I didn’t realize this, but Heathcott said this should be the first year he’s ever broken camp with a team. Amazing how much injuries have slowed him down, but a source said yesterday that the team is planning to open Heathcott in Triple-A strictly because he’s played so well this spring. He finally feels fully healthy. “DL and injury are not in my vocab anymore,” Heathcott said.
• Just based on a few conversations these past few days, it seems a bunch of the upper-level minor league relievers are getting anxious to find out about Opening Day assignments. They all seem to recognize that there are way too many guys for the Triple-A bullpen, so some are going to naturally be forced back to Double-A. These guys have to get an apartment somewhere in the next few days, and right now it seems none of them has a clue where he’s going.
• The two Tommy John rehab guys, Ivan Nova and Vicente Campos, are each throwing bullpens today. Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled for long toss and some flat ground work.
• Today’s second string: C Austin Romine, 1B Jonathan Galvez, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Eric Jagielo, LF Ben Gamel, CF Slade Heathcott, RF Ramon Flores, DH Stephen Drew
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Chasen Shreve, Andrew Bailey, Branden Pinder, Cesar Vargas, Nick Goody
Associated Press photos
Don’t worry, this hotel desk is made of wood, and I knocked on it before publishing this post…
The Yankees have a roster overloaded with injury concerns, but with a week to go in spring training, they don’t necessarily have a roster overloaded with actual injuries. Their most significant injury of the spring cost them their fifth starter. Otherwise, they’ve dealt mostly with minor bumps and bruises at the major league level.
“There’s nothing major,” Brian Cashman said yesterday. “You’ve got the little stuff. Well, I guess (Jose) Pirela’s concussion, he could be a disabled list situation if it doesn’t resolve. But again, that’s a timing thing. That’s an unpredictable time frame.”
Here’s a quick injury report on where the Yankees stand on the medical front.
Torn elbow ligament
He’s made every scheduled start this spring and reported no problems with his elbow. His offspeed pitches have looked sharp, and there’s little indication he’s holding back. His next start is tomorrow as a final tune-up for Opening Day.
Offseason knee surgery
Just like Tanaka, he’s made every scheduled start. The Yankees kept him on a slow-and-steady schedule early in spring, but now he’s been let loose, and despite rough statistics, his raw stuff has been pretty encouraging. His velocity is up, but consistency remains an issue.
Repeat shoulder issues
After missing much of the past three years with shoulder issues, Pineda has shown no signs of injury or weakness this spring. In fact, he just might be their most reliable high-end starter.
Grade 2 quad strain
The only issue currently expected to impact the Opening Day roster: Capuano came into camp as the heavy favorite for the fifth-starter role, but he’ll likely miss at least a month of the regular season after hurting himself while covering first base.
Tommy John Surgery
A little less than a year removed from surgery, Nova has been throwing full bullpens — including breaking balls — for about two weeks now. He’s still expected back sometime around the first of June.
Got into games later than most pitchers, but he’s pitched well since returning to the field. Bailey missed the past year and a half, but he’s said he feels strong again this spring. Question is whether he has time to go back-to-back and prove he’s capable of breaking camp with the big league team.
Tommy John surgery
On roughly the same schedule as Nova, Campos has also been throwing bullpens and continues his rehab in big league camp until his inevitable reassignment to the minor league complex.
Released and re-signed, Burton came into camp on a minor league deal and got off to a strong start before hurting himself early in camp. The big league veteran began playing catch again this weekend and could become an option during the season.
Hasn’t played since March 15, but after a weekend of batting practice and other drills, Ellsbury is scheduled to get in a minor league game tomorrow. Fully expected to be healthy in time for Opening Day. Could even play in another Grapefruit League game or two.
Hit by a pitch at the minor league complex on Sunday, Teixeira was scheduled to have tomorrow off anyway. He’ll basically rest for two days before being expected back in the lineup on Wednesday.
Offseason elbow surgery
Held back very slightly at the beginning of spring training, Beltran has since been on a fairly normal schedule getting most of his time in right field with only a handful of DH days. No sign the elbow is holding him back at all.
Looked bad when Gregorius landed on his glove hand while trying to make a diving play on Saturday, but X-rays and an MRI came back negative. He’s now had two days off, and he’s scheduled to have another day off on Tuesday. Expected back in the lineup Wednesday.
Arrived in spring training with an injury and didn’t get into a game until March 20. Ryan has since played in seven games, and he’ll play again on Tuesday. He’s seen time at both second and short and is expected to break camp as the Yankees’ backup middle infielder.
Slammed into the outfield wall while playing center field last Sunday. Hasn’t played since, and even regular baseball drills have been put on hold while he tries to move past all symptoms. Was having a great spring, but seemed unlikely to make the team even before the injury.
Repeat knee issues
Had knee surgery yet again last season, but Heathcott arrived in big league camp talking about renewed health and confidence, all of which showed in a strong spring during which he seemed to be running well without pain. Sent to minor league camp yesterday.
Associated Press photos
First, a reminder that we’re doing a chat today at noon. This is an off day in Yankees camp. For me, that means a day to sit in a hotel room and write a whole lot of season preview stuff for the newspaper. For the Yankees, it means a day to catch their breath before one last burst of exhibition games and decision making. Heading into this final week, here are a few thoughts and impressions from Tampa:
• I actually think CC Sabathia looks pretty good. His numbers are awful, but I’m buying it when he says he’s encouraged. He’s clearly stronger than he was last year, and I think it’s good that he’s talking about his changeup a lot. He’s going to have to pitch smart and keep hitters off balance, and I think he’s able to do that. Scouts keep telling me what a “pitcher” he is; that Sabathia knows what he’s doing out there even with diminished stuff. The numbers are awful, but this is one of those situations in which I’m not sure spring training numbers mean much. He’s going to give up some home runs now — that’s just the way it goes — but I think he’ll be better than he was the past two seasons. Not a Cy Young candidate, but I think he’ll be a good No. 3 starter as long as he stays healthy.
• The middle of the order does not look very good. At this point, I think that’s a bigger problem than the rotation. Even if the lineup stays healthy, I’m still not sure what the heart of the order can provide. Carlos Beltran hasn’t looked great, Brian McCann has been so-so, and Mark Teixeira hasn’t hit for much power (though I do think Teixeira seems to be in much better shape than last spring, so maybe he can stay on the field and avoid a second-half decline). I just haven’t seen a lot that suggests the lineup is much better than it was last season. Veteran guys like that might be able to turn it on once they’re in real games, I just don’t think they’ve shown it down here.
• Whether Alex Rodriguez has a successful season might depend on your definition of success. If he carries his spring training slash line through the season he’ll be an MVP candidate, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. More likely, I think he’ll get on base at a decent clip, pounce on some bad pitches to hit home runs now and then, and generally provide what you’d expect from a No. 6-7 hitter. That’s honestly better than I was expecting. He’s not running well, but I think he’s running well enough. He’s not a good defender, but he’ll field balls that are hit right to him. He’s better than I thought he would be.
• As a side note to the Rodriguez situation: He’s also handled all of the off-the-field stuff pretty well. Believe it or not, he actually makes some small talk and jokes with reporters in the clubhouse. Teammates seem to like him. Opposing players don’t seem to completely hate him. He’s heard his share of boos, but he’s heard plenty of cheers as well. I’m telling you, from every angle, this situation has been much better and easier than I expected. The Yankees seem to feel the same way. Both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi said yesterday that they’re happy with the way Rodriguez has settled back into the clubhouse.
• I have no idea what the Yankees are going to do about those final two spots in the bullpen. I think Chase Whitley is a favorite for one of those spots, if only because I think they’ll want another long man other than Esmil Rogers (and all the other long relief candidates have been sent away). What I can’t figure out is who the favorites might be for that last spot in the pen. I do think it’s worth noting that Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve are on the 40-man and have options, and I think that final bullpen spot might be very flexible early in the season. For that reason — because the 12th reliever might have to go up and down to Triple-A a few times — I’m not surprised the Yankees steered away from Jacob Lindgren. He’s looked great, but I imagine that once he’s on the big league roster, the Yankees want him to stay there. Why not carry Martin or Shreve out of camp, send him down for a sixth starter in late April, and then think about adding either Lindgren or Andrew Bailey?
• Backup catcher might be more wide-open than I expected when camp opened. Last season showed the Yankees clearly prefer John Ryan Murphy, but don’t think they’ve completely given up on Austin Romine. Ideally, I think — and this is just a gut feeling — the Yankees would prefer to trade Romine before the season starts, but I think they’d like to get real value for him. If they can’t, maybe he gets one month to prove himself one way or the other in the big leagues. If he can’t do it, Murphy comes up to take his place. That said, if the Yankees choose to DFA Romine in favor of Murphy, that wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. I really think it could go either way. If I had to guess right now, I think I’d still pick Murphy.
• Slade Heathcott has looked so good this spring, I wonder if the Yankees might get aggressive and send him straight to Triple-A to play center field every day. That would free Jake Cave, Mason Williams and Aaron Judge to play the outfield every day in Trenton (and Williams had a good enough spring that I think he’s worth everyday at-bats as well). Put Heathcott in the Triple-A outfield with Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin and see what happens. This isn’t a typical development year for Heathcott. The Yankees really need to find out by the end of the season whether he’s a high-end asset again.
• At this point, I’m assuming Jose Pirela will end up in Triple-A, but where does he play regularly? Obviously he’ll have to bounce around a little bit — some time in the outfield corners, some time at second base — but it might make sense to see what he can do as a regular third baseman. If Chase Headley gets hurt, Rodriguez isn’t good enough in the field to play third every day, so the Yankees might want to get Pirela prepared just in case he has to play that role at some point. But he really can’t play any one spot every single day. He’s going to have to maintain some flexibility because the Yankees might want his bat at some point even without an injury at third.
• Sure, Sabathia says his knee feels fine and Masahiro Tanaka is pitching like his elbow is healthy, but the biggest reason to be optimistic about the Yankees’ rotation might be Michael Pineda. That guy looks fantastic. He’s still throwing hard, still throwing a ton of strikes, and his offspeed stuff is more effective than when the Yankees first acquired him. It’s amazing that, after missing much of three years with shoulder problems, Pineda just might be the most reliable piece of the Yankees rotation. I think Nathan Eovaldi could be pretty good, but Pineda could be great.
• Speaking of the rotation, what happens if everyone stays healthy and Adam Warren has a 3.00 ERA at the end of May. Would he move right back into the bullpen to make room for Chris Capuano? What about Ivan Nova? Granted, this is a pretty extreme hypothetical — it involves Warren having an all-star caliber first two months, and involves a rotation full of injury concerns staying healthy — but I really think Warren’s a nice pitcher who could thrive. Maybe not to the tune of 3.00, but what about a 3.20 or a even a 3.50? Would you take that out of the rotation in favor of a guy one year removed from Tommy John?
• Relief pitchers are notoriously inconsistent from year to year. Only a very few are able to truly get the job done season after season. For that reason, I think the Dellin Betances struggles should raise some red flags. Not white flags of surrender, but red flags of concern. He just hasn’t looked great, and it’s not just the fact he’s not throwing 98 mph. Some of that added velocity could very easily come with regular-season adrenalin. Right now, he’s also missing spots and looking fairly hitable. I think that should be a bit of a concern. The Yankees have banked on the idea of having a standout bullpen. What if they don’t?
Associated Press photos