For the first time in more than a year, Stephen Drew will wake up this morning as a better-than-.200 hitter in the Majors. He got there with a four-hit game yesterday, but the truth is, he’s been hitting well over .200 for quite a while now. Here’s Drew’s month-by-month slash line:
Those certainly aren’t overwhelming numbers, but they’re better than most teams have gotten out of their No. 9 hitter this season (no team in baseball has come even close to a .700 OPS out the No. 9 spot this year).
Granted, Drew’s solid three months came after a bad April and an even worse May. And those bad months came after a brutal 2014. There’s a good reason why many Yankees fans have pushed for a change at second base this season, but the calls for change seemed to escalate at the All-Star break and beyond. The Yankees got a glimpse of top second base prospect Rob Refsnyder, but decided to stick with Drew after that break. It was, in many corners, not a popular decision. I was among those who wasn’t sure it was the right choice.
Drew: .248/.315/.416 in New York
Refsndyer: .222/.292/.363 in AAA
No one can say for certain how Refsnyder would have hit had he stayed in New York and gotten a chance to play every day, but the numbers since the break don’t necessarily back the popular opinion that Refsnyder is clearly a better immediate option at second base. Long term is a different issue — clearly there’s youth and potential in Refsnyder’s favor — but Drew has not been the overwhelming drain on the Yankees’ lineup that he’s often made out to be.
Does waking up this morning as a .201 hitter make him feel any better about his season? Probably not much, but it’s been a long road for Drew to get back to that modest benchmark. Through his first eight big league seasons, Drew was a career .264 hitter. He hit .291 in 2008, dropped to .223 in 2012, and bounced back to .253 in 2013. In the offseason before 2014, Drew held out for a contract he liked and wound up not joining the Red Sox until early June. Since then, it’s been a struggle reaching the Mendoza Line.
Here’s Drew’s past 15 months, the path that took him from a late start in 2014 to finally finishing a day as a .200 hitter again:
June 19, 2014
After an 0-for-3 in Oakland, Drew’s season batting average dropped to .200. It would be more than a year before it would be that high again.
June 18 – June 28, 2014
Falling to .200 was actually part of an extended slump in which Drew went 1-for-32 in a span of nine games. His average at the end of play on June 28 was .125. That was the low point.
June 29 – July 22, 2014
A modest surge! In a span of 16 games, Drew hit .235/.350/.529 and raised his season batting average to .178. Nine days later, the Yankees traded for him.
July 31, 2014
Traded to the Yankees with a season slash line of .176/.255/.328 in Boston. The Yankees said they’d seen positive signs in his recent at-bats.
August 26 – September 7, 2014
A 10-game stretch during which Drew went 1-for-23 to drop his season batting average to .159, the lowest it had been since mid-July.
September 28, 2014
In his final game of last season, Drew went 0-for-4 to finish the season with a .162 batting average. He’d hit .176 with the Red Sox and .150 with the Yankees.
January 6, 2015
Drew re-signed with the Yankees on a one-year deal worth $5 million. Having acquired Didi Gregorius a month earlier, it was clear the Yankees planned to use Drew at second base.
March 3 – April 4, 2015
Getting his first full, healthy spring training since 2011, Drew hit .259/.310/.481 in the Grapefruit League. Of the projected big league regulars, only Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez had a higher spring slugging percentage for the Yankees.
April 13, 2015
Pinch hit grand slam in Baltimore. It was the second game in a row in which Drew had homered. His season batting average was .190.
April 27, 2015
Second two-hit game of the year raised Drew’s season average to .193. That would be his high-water mark until early August.
April 28 – May 30, 2015
In a span of 28 games, Drew went 13-for-96 with one home run. He hit .135 during that span, and at the end of it, his season batting average was down to .157.
June 1 – June 21, 2015
Immediately after his worst extended slump of the year — after the Yankees benched him for two games — Drew hit .267/.328/.617 in a stretch of 18 games during which he homered six times and had more walks than strikeouts.
August 2, 2015
A three-hit game in Chicago nearly got Drew over the hump. He finished the day hitting .199 for the year, the highest his batting average had been at the end of a day all season. It hasn’t been below .190 since.
August 19 – August 24, 2015
While much of the Yankees’ lineup went cold, Drew hit .353/.476/.353 through a six-game span that again brought his sason average up to .199.
August 30, 2015
Yesterday in Atlanta, Drew had his first four-hit game of the year. It included his 16th homer and let him with a .201/.274/.385 slash line for the season.
Associated Press photos
First a quick heads up that we’re going to do a chat tomorrow at noon. Swing by if you can. It might be our last chat before the trade deadline, and it’s certainly our first chat since the arrival and demotion of Rob Refsnyder. So come by tomorrow at noon, distract yourself at work or talk a little Yankees during your lunch break.
For now, a reminder of what Joe Girardi said yesterday regarding the decision to send Refsnyder back to Triple-A and keep Stephen Drew as the regular second baseman.
“We brought (Refsnyder) up to face the lefties to start,” Girardi said. “And you look at Stephen Drew and what he’s done in June, he had a pretty good month in June when you look at his OPS numbers. July, he hasn’t played a lot, the numbers are OK. Since that time that we gave him three or four days off in Oakland, he’s kind of turned it around a little bit. We just felt that, we’re in first place, and Stephen Drew has played a part in that, and we play a lot of games at this ballpark, and this ballpark is favorable to him, and we were going to stay with him for now.”
Is any of that a realistic and reasonable assessment of the situation? Let’s break it down to its individual points:
Basically, the original plan was an in-the-moment decision. The Yankees were facing lefties the last two games in Boston, so Refsnyder came up to play those games (kind of like Cole Figueroa came up to start a couple of games against righties). We’ve seen the Yankees make some marginal upgrades like this in the past. Seems odd to see them do it with such a high-profile prospect — and Refsnyder got a look beyond those vLHP at-bats because he stayed in against right-handed relievers and got one game against a right-handed start — but ultimately, there’s no arguing with Girardi’s comment because that’s exactly what the Yankees did. They used Refsnyder to get through a small stretch of games, then sent him down once the roster got crowded. Seemed he might get a bigger opportunity, but it was a pretty small cup of coffee.
2. “You look at Stephen Drew and what he’s done in June, he had a pretty good month in June when you look at his OPS numbers. July, he hasn’t played a lot, the numbers are OK.”
The battinga verage remained low, but Drew did hit .230/.310/.514 in the month of June. That’s an .823 OPS, which is undeniably great, especially for a middle infielder. That’s better than Brian McCann’s season OPS, and McCann was nearly an all-star. So, yes, in his own way — low batting average, terrific power — Drew had a terrific June. However, it’s worth noting that his terrific June was really built on three games, each of which was a two-homer game. Those were the only games in which he went deep in the month of June, and he finished the month with one hit in his last 14 at-bats. Since the start of July, Drew’s basically hit to his season slash line, so that’s not particularly impressive.
3. “Since that time that we gave him three or four days off in Oakland, he’s kind of turned it around a little bit.”
After a couple of 0-for-4s, the Yankees kept Drew out of the starting lineup for the last two games of that Oakland series at the end of May. At the time, he was hitting .158/.226/.303 and he’d homered one since the middle of April. Drew returned to the lineup for three games in Seattle, had three hits that series, and he’s hit .219/.303/.479 since the brief benching. That’s an OPS jump of .253 points, from .529 before the days off to .782 since the days off. That’s a pretty significant improvement, but it’s come without a spike in the batting average that gets so much attention and makes him so one-dimensional at the plate. Girardi said that Drew had turned it around “a little bit” since the days off, and that’s perfectly true. Still limited, but certainly better since those days off.
4. “We just felt that, we’re in first place, and Stephen Drew has played a part in that.”
This seems like the, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” approach, and there’s something to be said for that. Clearly the Yankees are capable of being in the division lead with Drew at second base. Does that make him the best option at the position? Not necessarily. The Yankees were also in first place with David Carpenter in the bullpen. They were in first place for much of the time that Adam Warren was in the rotation. Sometimes there are bigger picture things in play and teams always look to get better (the Yankees included). Drew has not sunk the Yankees’ season — and I think he has significant value as an insurance policy at shortstop — but being in first place with Drew isn’t necessarily a reason to keep him in the lineup.
5. “We play a lot of games at this ballpark, and this ballpark is favorable to him, and we were going to stay with him for now.”
The Yankees do play more games at home in the second half, and that short porch in right field does Drew’s left-handed power swing. He has played 40 games at home and 40 games on the road this season. He has the exact same number of walks and strikeouts at home as on the road. His batting average on balls in play is ugly either way. At home, he’s hit .207/.277/.463 with nine home runs. On the road, he’s hit .156/.234/.281 with three home runs. If the Yankees had carried Refsnyder and Drew, they could have played Refsnyder almost every day (against lefties and most righties) and picked some chances to start Drew at home to take advantage of Yankee Stadium. As it is, the Yankees do get to play Drew at home, but they also have to keep using him on the road unless they want to give Brendan Ryan more playing time against righties.
Associated Press photos
Carlos Beltran has been activated from the disabled list, and in a fairly surprising move, the Yankees have optioned Rob Refsnyder back to Triple-A.
The Yankees seemed committed to giving Refsnyder a long look at second base — he started each of the past four games and was almost always left in to hit against right-handers and play late-inning defense — but the Yankees have ultimately decided to carry the combination of Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan, apparently prioritizing depth and experience in the infield.
“I think a lot of times people are going to have discussions about it, try to gather as much information as you can, and make the best decision you feel at the time,” Joe Girardi said before the move was announced. “Sometimes as you look back, maybe you would have done it a little different, but I think the important thing is that you make the best decision at the time with the information that you have. Guys are very close here, and that’s probably what’s making this decision tough.”
This morning, I believed the two most likely moves were either optioning Branden Pinder and carrying a short bullpen for a few days, or simply cutting Ryan despite a contract that lasts through next season.
“Defensively he’s outstanding,” Girardi said. “He’s a bat against left-handed hitters that you could use. If you wanted to spell someone, he’s a natural shortstop, in a sense, that can play second and third and you could also put him at first too.”
The Yankees seemed happy with Refsnyder’s performance during his brief trial. His defense looked better than advertised — not an elite defender, but he made the routine plays and occasionally made a nice one — and his at-bats seemed fine despite going hitless in three of four games.
“It’s really hard to judge a guy on 12, 13 at-bats,” Girardi said. “I think his at-bats have been pretty good. He put some tough at-bats on Iwakuma yesterday, and he’s been very tough on right handers. He’s had some tough plays, and been able to make them. He’s a work in progress, no doubt about it. He’s made huge strides since we saw him in spring training at second base, and we think he’ll continue to make them.”
• Beltran said he felt good during his rehab assignment, but he never seemed particularly worried about it. He didn’t get any actual rehab at-bats against left-handed pitching, but he went through his normal workout and BP routine from the right side of the plate, and said he’s not worried about that being an issue.
• The expected impact of Beltran’s return? “It gives you another run producer,” Girardi said. “He’s had a good year for us, and hopefully he can pick up where he left off, and be another dangerous bat who drives in runs and hits the ball out of the ballpark.
• Girardi on playing Drew at second base: “Drew has faced Felix,” Girardi said. “Felix is pretty tough on everyone, and we’re going to put as many lefties as we can in the lineup.”
• After a setback earlier this month, Mason Williams is playing catch again. He played catch today and said he feels like his shoulder is getting better. He said he’s been playing catch for a few days now.
• Here’s Girardi on the new expectations for CC Sabathia: “I think two or three years ago, he was the guy that a lot of times gave the bullpen a day off. We don’t necessarily expect that any more. We’d love to have him get back to that form, but there’s a lot of innings there over his career. He’s worked very hard, and he’s been a big part of our success here. As I said, he’s the one guy that’s been through this (playoff) race thing a number of times in his career, and we need him to contribute and somewhat lead because he understands it.”
Associated Press photos
Joe Girardi has not officially named Rob Refsnyder his everyday second baseman — in fact, he’s said over and over again that it’s a day-to-day situation — but this morning, Girardi basically declared Stephen Drew to strictly a utility man who’s playing time will come on a pick-and-choose basis.
“He’s been as good as anyone I’ve ever been around in handling all of this this season,” Girardi said. “We talked about what he needed to do, the different spots that he played, and he talked about just trying to help this team win. He’s been great.”
Girardi said he’s told Drew to take ground balls all over the infield. While he might play some second, it certainly seems that Drew is first and foremost a bench player, not really a platoon player or a guy who could get anything close to everyday at-bats going forward.
“We want him to be able to play all three positions, second, short and third,” Girardi said. “We’ve asked our middle infielders to be able to do that if you want to give Headley a day off, if you want to give Didi a day off, obviously he’s going to play some second as well. Those sort of things. He’s prepared to go in anywhere.”
What about taking advantage of Yankee Stadium with Drew’s left-handed power?
“The days that I probably try to use him, I’ll try to take advantage of this ballpark, absolutely,” Girardi said.
• Bryan Mitchell has been optioned back to Triple-A so that he can get stretched out as a starter. Giradri said Mitchell could actually start tonight’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre game in Louisville. “I thought he did a good job (in the big leagues),” Girardi said. “And as I told him last night, it’s not that you did anything wrong; you actually did a lot of good things for us, but we need to stretch you out.”
• Without Mitchell, the Yankees Triple-A rotation was Luis Severino, Esmil Rogers, Kyle Davies and a pair of relievers trying to start for the first time (Diego Moreno and Danny Buraway). After a couple of starts in Triple-A, I have to think Mitchell would immediately be the top choice for a call-up for either long relief or a spot start.
• Branden Pinder is here to fill the open bullpen role.
• If they Yankees needed a spot starter right now, could either Adam Warren or Chris Capuano do the job, or have they been in the bullpen too long? “They could do it,” Girardi said. “But it comes down to a point where you probably couldn’t get a ton of distance out of them, and then you’re not going to have them for three or four days in your bullpen. … Would I feel comfortable throwing Adam 50 pitches? Probably. Capuano 50 pitches, maybe a little bit more? Probably, but not much more than that at this point. I think they’re able to build back up quicker now because they’re in shape.”
• After playing three rehab games with High-A Tampa, Carlos Beltran will fly back to New York today. “There’s a good chance he’ll be activated tomorrow,” Girardi said. No roster move announced, obviously, but the way Girardi talked about Drew pregame made me think Drew’s job is safe. That leaves either Brendan Ryan, Garrett Jones or a reliever as the most obvious choices to open a roster spot. I can’t imagine Ryan’s feeling very comfortable at this point.
• Can Girardi remember a player like Chris Young, who’s numbers are so drastically different against lefties than against righties? “There’s not one that’s really coming to mind,” Girardi said. “You look at his numbers against left handers this year, they’re off the chart. And his at-bats off of right handers have been pretty good. He just missed hitting a home run last night, but I understand there is a pretty big gap between them.”
Associated Press photos
Rob Refsnyder made his Major League debut on Saturday, got his first hit and first home run on Sunday, and there’s a chance he could be off the Yankees’ roster by Friday.
That’s not to say optioning Refsnyder is the right move or the wrong move, only that it seems to be an entirely possible move. In fact, before Refsnyder’s big performance on Sunday, I was convinced it was the most likely move.
“I think he played well,” Joe Girardi said after yesterday’s strong performance. “Obviously, we have four days off and I have a lot of time to think about things as we move forward, but he played well.”
By Friday, the Yankees expect to have Brendan Ryan off the disabled list. Ryan will easily replace Gregorio Petit as the utility infielder. That move is pretty obvious. Where it gets tricky is the return of Carlos Beltran. When Beltran is ready — either on Friday or sometime over the weekend — the Yankees will basically have five choices.
1. Option Rob Refsnyder
That would leave the Yankees with exactly their projected Opening Day position players (before Ryan was hurt in spring training). It would leave Stephen Drew as the regular second baseman, Ryan as the platoon middle infielder, and Chris Young and Garrett Jones as the go-to pinch hitters off the bench. It would leave Refsnyder getting everyday at-bats in Triple-A. It would mean maximizing the available infield depth.
2. Cut Stephen Drew
That would mean trusting Refsnyder to handle second base, and trusting Ryan to stay healthy enough to be the backup shortstop behind Didi Gregorius (with, I guess, Petit and Cole Figueroa becoming the third-string shortstop options should someone get hurt). It would mean giving up on a guy the Yankees have stood by so far, and giving up on a veteran Girardi clearly likes.
3. Cut Brendan Ryan
That would leave Refsnyder to play at least a platoon role, very similar to the way Jose Pirela was used earlier this season. It would also leave Drew as the backup shortstop and while still getting some playing time at second. Refsnyder would at least play against lefties, he’d probably get some starts against righties as well, and he might hit his way into everyday status. It would sacrifice some shortstop depth and leave the Yankees without a right-handed option at short.
4. Cut Garrett Jones
That would leave the Yankees with only four true outfielders and no true backup at first base. It would give the option of platooning at each middle infield position, preserve the depth at shortstop, and would leave a guy like Ramon Flores or Kyle Roller (or Aaron Judge or Greg Bird) only a phone call away if someone got hurt. This might be the least likely of the five proposed scenarios, but it’s worth mentioning because Jones’ role is so limited.
5. Carry six relievers
That would probably mean optioning little-used Bryan Mitchell to Triple-A. For at least a few days — with an off day Monday and with everyone well rested — the Yankees could carry a six-man bullpen and a five-man bench, giving them a longer look at Refsnyder without necessarily committing to the permanent loss of either Ryan or Drew. This would be a short-term solution, with a fresh reliever called up eventually.
So far, the Yankees have given no indication of what they plan to do. Both Girardi and Brian Cashman have said Refsnyder was called up to play against lefties this weekend, and that what’s next is to be determined. Refsnyder made a strong impression with the bat on Sunday, and it seems significant that he was left in to hit off a right-hander and play late-inning defense. He made some nice plays in the field and looked fully capable of handling the position.
If the Yankees do send Refsndyer down after the break, it could mean several things. Could mean they’re not sold on the idea of giving him everyday at-bats (still not ready to give up on Drew). Could mean they don’t like the idea of using him in a platoon role (and would rather use Ryan for that purpose). Could also mean that they’ve given up on Pirela (and simply preferred the combination of Figueroa and Refsnyder to get through those last five games before the break, with no plan of ever changing the everyday situation).
I would not be stunned to see the Yankees go with either Option 1 or Option 3. Option 5 would simply buy some time before the real decision is made, Option 4 feels more like a theory than a realistic scenario, and Option 2 would require a bold commitment to a young player with only two games of big league experience.
One way or another, the Refsnyder decision will be a curious one immediately after the break.
Associated Press photos
Postgame notes: “We want to see him play” • 07.10.15
The Yankees have either lost patience with Stephen Drew, or simply stopped wasting time with Rob Refsnyder.
After finishing off tonight’s win in Boston, Joe Girardi confirmed that Refsnyder will be called up and in the lineup tomorrow. He’ll play second base these last two games before the break.
“We want to see him play,” Girardi said.
Reports on Refsnyder’s defense?
“That he’s improved,” Girardi said. “We’ve heard that he’s improved and that he’s making strides and we’re going to find out.”
Just a two-day trial because the Red Sox are pitching a couple of lefties?
“That’s not our thinking,” Girardi said. “We knew we were facing a couple of lefties and figured we would do it now.”
Girardi did not fully commit to Refsnyder remaining with the Yankees beyond the All-Star break, but it certainly seems that’s the intention. Asked if Refsnyder would stick around these two games, Girardi initially said “yeah” before backing off and saying he’s not thinking beyond this weekend. Whether he said it or not, it’s clear the Yankees believe Refsnyder can be a significant piece of the roster, and it’s hard to imagine they’d bring up such a touted prospect for just two days or to play a limited role.
“He played well in spring training,” Girardi said. “It’s a young man that’s been on our radar, and we’ll see how he does.”
Refsnyder’s been red-hot lately — hitting .412 with two home runs in his past 10 games — and Drew remains a .182 hitter with the lowest batting average of any lineup regular in the majors. He has hit 12 home runs, the Yankees like his defense, and he has the fourth-most walks on the team. He’s been productive occasionally, but he’s also made a lot of outs along the way.
After tonight’s game, Girardi let Drew know about the Refsnyder call-up so that he wouldn’t be blindsided by questions.
“Hopefully, we’re here to win,” Drew said. “Whatever’s going to help us win, that’s what we’re going to do. So hopefully, he’ll come up, and I know how it is when you first get called up. It’s going to be fun for him, and hopefully in his first at-bat or whatnot, he can get a hit and add that first one. I remember mine. It took me nine at-bats. So hopefully he’ll adjust soon. I think he’s good. I saw him in spring training, he’s a great player and a good hitter, so looking forward to him being here with us.”
• Refsnyder will be the story of the day on Saturday. Tonight it was Michael Pineda, who delivered 6.2 strong innings for his ninth win of the season. “I’m very happy tonight,” Pineda said. “The last three years, I don’t take a (All-Star) break because I have injury. Tonight, I’m very happy with my last start in the first half. I’ll take my break. I’m very happy.”
• In his past three starts, Pineda has a 1.25 ERA with 24 strikeouts and one walk. “Just his consistency (stands out),” Girardi said. “How deep he’s going into games for us. The effectiveness of his slider. He continues to pound the zone. He’s pitching.”
• The Yankees have won 11 of Pineda’s 17 starts this season.
• Why take Pineda out after a manageable 89 pitches? “Betts had hit a home run,” Girardi said. “The time he’d seen him before, he’d hit him hard before too. So I just thought his slider was getting a little flat, and I just said, I’m going to make a change.”
• As for using Andrew Miller in a non-save situation, Girardi said he wanted to use Miller twice this series, but also didn’t want to use him back-to-back games before the All-Star break. That meant ideally using him tonight and Sunday. “We’re trying to get (the rust) off,” Girardi said. “Our plan is to use him two days here. I don’t know if I’ll use him tomorrow, but coming in we had thought that we probably wouldn’t use him back-to-back until we got back from the break. And if one guy gets on, you’re probably not going to mess around anyway.”
• Alex Rodriguez gave the Yankees an early lead with his first-inning home run. It was his 17th of the year, and the 26th of his career at Fenway, the most of all active visiting players. He is a career .448 hitter against Clay Buchholz. “Sometimes numbers can be deceiving,” Girardi said. “I can’t say I felt all that well up there. The key with Clay is to get a good pitch to hit. He has a number of ways of getting you out. … I just got a good pitch to hit and hit it well.”
• Buchholz left in the fourth inning because of tightness in his elbow. It felt like a bit of luck for the Yankees, because Buchholz has been pitching well lately. “But you’re not really setup for that with all the lefties they’ve got down there (in the bullpen),” Girardi said. “With all the leftes we have in the lineup you’re thinking, boy, this might work out to their advantage in a sense. Not taking anything away from Buchholz, but you can’t make moves too early when you’ve only got three guys on your bench. We took advantage of a couple mistakes.”
• Brett Gardner has a seven-game road hitting streak and has a hit in 10 consecutive games against the Red Sox. … Jacoby Ellsbury has hit safely in all three games since coming off the disabled list. … Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have now combined to strike out 121 of 288 batters faced this season.
• A foul line drive by Didi Gregorius struck a fan — she looked to be a fairly young woman, maybe even a young girl — and it was a pretty scary moment, with fans using their shirts to stop the bleeding. She was hit in the head. “There’s nothing I could do about it,” Gregorius said. “So I finished my at-bat, handed them my bat and obviously they said thank you and everything. There’s nothing else I can do right there. It’s always a little worry; obviously those fans have got to pay attention because there’s no screen over there. Every ballpark has their own way.”
• Final word goes to Rodriguez: “This group has a good feel to it. It’s a hardworking group, and it competes hard every night. I think the key for us finishing the first half and continuing strong in the second half, is to stay hungry and humble.”
Associated Press photos
After bouncing back from a rocky second inning and settling in for his first win in more than a month, CC Sabathia revealed a new reason for having this start pushed back three days.
Turns out, he was having his surgically repaired right knee drained of excess fluid.
“We knew that I had to get it drained,” Sabathia said. “And I had the off days coming up, so why not get these young horses out there and kind of let the old man get a couple of days off?”
Sabathia was originally supposed to pitch on Sunday, but the Yankees initially said his start was pushed back so he could work on some things in the bullpen. Sabathia said he had the knee drained after getting home from Anaheim. He said he couldn’t have pitched Sunday after the procedure. He also said this was the second time since spring training that the knee was drained.
“It was just part of our plan of what we were trying to do to stay healthy,” Sabathia said. “I got it drained between the last start and came out today and felt great.”
Ultimately, Sabathia said the extra time off and the drainage helped. He said he felt fresh, and the early problems — when every ball seemed to be a rocket — were the result of poor command and a minor adjustment. He wound up pitching pretty effectively through the middle innings.
“I think just commanding both sides of the plate (made the difference),” he said. “The changeups I was throwing earlier in the game were a little flat. Me and Larry talked about it a lot in-between innings. I just made a little adjustment and the pitch started working for us. It opened up that inside part of the plate and to get some strikes in there, get some early pop-ups, I think definitely helped us tonight. … Put this in the memory bank and kind of work off that.”
Even with the better results after those first two innings — and even though Sabathia said he still felt strong at 88 pitches — Joe Girardi pulled Sabathia in the middle of the sixth inning. There were right-handed hitters coming up, and Girardi clearly didn’t trust Sabathia to keep the A’s to just two runs much longer. Sabathia was predictably frustrated by the quick hook, but he was equally understanding.
“I haven’t proved it,” he said. “Hopefully we get later in the season and I start pitching better late in games and he’ll leave me out there.”
He felt some soreness after last night’s game. He thought it was near the top of the calf, but an MRI revealed inflammation behind the right knee. Headley expects to sit out tomorrow and hopes to play this weekend.
“I don’t anticipate it being anything too serious,” Headley said. “But might be a day or two before we can really get a handle on what it is.”
Headley said he didn’t get any sort of injection, just ice, rest and a compression wrap.
“They said it could be a Grade 1 strain (or) it could be more of a tendinitis type wear and tear, just overuse type thing,” Headley said. “So, with the pain that I feel, that’s more what I expect it to be.”
• This game belonged to Mark Teixeira. A game-tying home run. A second home run to provide a vital cushion. A snagged line drive for a pivotal double play. A leaning catch over the dugout railing. A diving play at the bag to end the eighth inning. And finally a scoop to end the game. “I enjoyed the win the most,” Teixeira said. “If you have a night like that and you lose, it doesn’t mean much. Hitting two home runs is always nice. It’s not easy to hit home runs, so getting two against a tough team is fun.”
• This was Teixeira’s 39th career multi-homer game, his 18th with the Yankees and his second of the season. “All-Star. Comeback Player of the Year. All that,” Sabathia said. “He’s been great for us. Not just the home runs, but how many runs he saves, errors he saves with his glove. It’s good to see him back and healthy and doing his thing.”
• A lot of good plays by Teixeira in this game. He said he thought diving into the bag was the best way to get the out that ended the eighth inning, mostly because he wasn’t sure he could make a safe throw to Dellin Betances covering the bag. “Because of the angle, I would have to be throwing across the runner to throw to him there,” Teixeira said. “I didn’t want to take the chance of Dellin not being able to see the ball or something; I wanted to make sure I got the out on my own.”
• Pretty good play by Teixeira to end the game as well. Gregorio Petit had made a throwing error on the previous play to put the tying run into scoring position, but Petit made a pretty tough play — with help from Teixeira — to preserve the win. “Give Greg a lot of credit,” Teixeira said. “He makes the error, then comes back and makes a really tough play. I just had to stretch a little bit for it, but it was big for us.”
• Last time a Yankees player had multiple home runs in a game was, of course, Stephen Drew. And, of course, Drew’s home run tonight proved absolutely crucial. “It’s a good feeling,” Drew said. “I’ve had good at-bats and no luck. So it’s a really good feeling. You never know how many runs you’re going to need in a game, and tonight we needed it.”
• Drew is still hitting just .179, but he has 12 home runs, the fourth-most on the team. “I mean, you look at stats and you look at how many line drives get caught and it’s pretty crazy,” Drew said. “So for me, I have to keep my head up and keep going because I’m having good ABs, So it’s very strange to say the least. … For me, I’ve swung at good pitches and put good swings on it, just no luck.”
• Andrew Miller on his return from the disabled list: “I actually felt really crisp and really good. He hit a pitch I wanted to throw, though it was clearly the wrong pitch. I feel like I executed pitches, it was just one of those days. Thankfully we got some extra tack-on runs from Stephen Drew and Tex had a great game. At the end of the day, the one thing about having the ninth inning is if you finish with a lead and win the game, it doesn’t matter.”
• Jacoby Ellsbury on his return from the disabled list: I was happy with how it went today. Definitely was pleased. Definitely will sleep good tonight knowing I got through the game. … I’m sure I’ll be a little sore tomorrow. But that’s pretty much the whole season. I don’t know why I’m so beat up, but mentally, prepared to be there tomorrow.”
• The Yankees showed a mid-game video of various player wearing bald caps and urging fans to vote for Brett Gardner for the All-Star Game. Brendan Ryan actually pretended to be Gardner in the video and was hilarious. “He did great,” Gardner said. “I didn’t see the video until out on the field during the game, so I’m not sure I caught the whole thing, but he’s a pretty good actor. He likes the camera. Definitely appreciate all the work they put in, and their standing up for me.”
• By the way, Alex Gordon left tonight’s Royals game with an injury, so Gardner could be named to the All-Star team as an injury replacement. I assume it would come down to him or Yoenis Cespedes. If Gordon can’t play, his replacement will be decided by manager Ned Yost and the league office.
• Final word to Teixeira: “That’s what the big-leagues is all about. If you play every single night, especially as a hitter, you’re going to fail more than you succeed. You can’t let one night carry into the next. You saw it with Dellin tonight, he came in and did a great job 1-2-3. I bounced back after getting pitched really tough yesterday and having a tough night personally, so that’s what you have to do.”
Associated Press photos
When American League players submitted their ballots for next week’s All-Star Game, no reliever got more votes than Yankees second-year standout Dellin Betances. But, I suppose, even the big and powerful guys like that can hang a breaking ball. This one was an 0-2 pitch, a prime opportunity to bury a pitch in the dirt and get Brett Lawrie swinging.
That’s what Betances tried to do.
“All the other guys I faced, I felt like I was doing better,” Betances said. “A better job getting ahead. There, I just left that pitch over the plate. Bad location. … Right down the middle. It didn’t do much. Really bad pitch.”
Lawrie crushed it. The only question was whether it would stay fair, and when it sailed just inside the left-field foul pole, Betances slammed his fist into his glove. Betances also allowed a home run in his previous outing. Those are the first two home runs he’s allowed all season, and it’s the first time Betances has ever allowed back-to-back homers in the big leagues. He’s allowed at least one run in three of his past seven outings after allowing an earned run only once before this stretch.
“The last two home runs he’s given up just backed up on him a little bit to the middle of the plate,” catcher Brian McCann said. “But he’s as good as they come.”
That was kind of the story of the night for the Yankees’ bullpen. Chasen Shreve allowed a first-pitch homer to Billy Butler in the sixth inning — the home run that tied the game — and Betances allowed the game-winner in the 10th. Otherwise, Shreve, Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, Betances and Chris Capuano retired every single batter they faced.
If there’s second guessing to be done, it probably centers on Girardi’s decision to go to the bullpen in the first place. Starter Nathan Eovaldi had thrown just 86 pitches when Girardi brought in Shreve to face Josh Reddick. Shreve got the lefty out, then gave up the home run on the first pitch he threw to the following right-hander. Shreve actually has better numbers against righties than against lefties this season.
“Reddick had hit (Eovaldi) pretty hard, and I had a fresh bullpen,” Girardi explained. “The way my bullpen’s been throwing, I thought I would go to Shreve, and then I knew I had Adam, and then continue to roll out the guys. … If I have a fresh bullpen in that situation — Reddick had an RBI single, hit a really hard line drive double play — with a fresh bullpen, I would do it again. Especially lefty on lefty in that situation.”
• Not the sort of thing I’d usually mention up high in the notes, but it seems worth pointing out that Rob Refsnyder tonight homered for the second night in a row. It was his fourth two-hit game in his past 10, and he’s made one error since June 9 (two errors since May 22). His season slash line is up to .286/.384/.409 with nearly as many walks (43) as strikeouts (44).
• I mention Refsnyder’s hot stretch because Stephen Drew took another 0-for-3 tonight (he did walk) and has just one hit in his past 23 at-bats since the end of the previous home stand. Granted, he did slug .514 during the month of June.
• Also from tonight’s Triple-A game: Luis Severino allowed just one run, but he also lasted just four innings on 85 pitches. … Wilking Rodriguez returned from suspension, pitched a scoreless inning and got a win. … One-day call-up Taylor Dugas had three hits.
• Betances said he doesn’t see any lingering problem in these recent outings. Bad pitches in bad situations. “No, man, I feel good,” he said. “I’m starting to get locked in. My last couple games, a couple of bad pitches. That’s about it.”
• Any concern about the way Betances might bounce back from allowing home runs in two straight outings for the first time? “I don’t even worry about it,” Girardi said.
• This felt like a pretty typical Eovaldi start. He wasn’t awful, and he got some outs when he needed them, but he kept putting guys on base. He allowed six singles and a walk through 5.1 innings. “I feel like I threw the ball pretty well tonight,” he said. “My split felt good tonight. I’ve just got to do a better job of going deeper into ballgames. I didn’t feel like I attacked the hitters as well as I should have, getting first pitch strikes. It’s just one of the little things I’ve got to do better of.”
• We’ve known for a while, and Eovaldi has known for a while, that attacking hitters can be an issue. “That’s just me,” he said. “First pitch strikes. That sets the tone of the at-bat. Just getting ahead 0-1, regardless of fastballs or offspeed pitches, you’ve just got to be able to work ahead in the counts.”
• Surprised to be pulled in the sixth? “I was surprised,” Eovaldi said. “But our bullpen has been outstanding this year. I understand the situation and stuff, it was a close ballgame and they had the heart of the lineup coming up there.”
• Opponents have now stolen a base in two of Eovaldi’s past three starts. Before this, he’d gone 33 starts without a stolen base. … Tonight was Eovaldi’s 100th big league game. … He has not allowed a home run in five straight starts, one shy of his career high.
• For the A’s, Sonny Gray looked rusty from his long layoff, then he settled in and pitched the way everyone expects. “He really settled down after the first inning,” Girardi said. “He started throwing strikes was the difference. And started getting ahead in the count.”
• A’s closer Tyler Clippard got out of trouble with a game-ending strikeout to pick up the save in his first appearance at the new Yankee Stadium. He hadn’t pitched here since the Yankees traded him away following the 2007 season.
• Final word goes to Betances: “It’s definitely tough when you’re ahead in the count. You have to be able to put guys away and I left that pitch over the plate. He obviously crushed it. Last time I was fortunate we won the game; today, we weren’t able to do that. Just a bad pitch.”
Associated Press photos
As the Yankees head on the road to finish off this stretch of 20 games in a row — there are still seven games left, four in Houston and three in Los Angeles — their roster is in state of constant upheaval. Trying to make up for injuries, disappointing performances and one newborn baby, the team has cycled through a series of relief pitchers and a handful of bench players. The roster has seemed to change daily, and there’s most certainly going to be another change at some point today.
After yesterday’s game, the Yankees sent relievers Branden Pinder and Diego Moreno back to Triple-A. We already know one of those open roster spots will go to Stephen Drew, who’s coming back from the paternity list, but the other could be used for either a pitcher or a position player.
Here’s. look at some of the roster issues heading into this surprisingly important series against the much-better-than-expected Astros:
For the time being, the Yankees have just three bench players
Because of the unexpected Brendan Ryan injury, coupled with the Drew paternity leave, the Yankees actually played yesterday’s game with only two bench players. Safe to assume that will be remedied to some extent with Drew’s return this afternoon. Drew could have stayed on the paternity list until Friday, but he was back in the clubhouse yesterday and is expected to be in Houston tonight. With Drew, the Yankees will basically have a bench of Jose Pirela (the backup infielder), John Ryan Murphy (the backup catcher), and Garrett Jones (the backup outfielder/first baseman and possible left-field platoon with Chris Young). But there’s still an open roster spot, and it’s unclear whether the Yankees prefer to fill it with a position player or a pitcher. Normally, it would be a position player without a doubt, but the Yankees are in a bit of an unusual position following the return of Ivan Nova.
The Yankees are currently carrying six starters
Because they want to give all of their starters an extra day off, the Yankees are technically carrying a six-man rotation. Nova came off the disabled list yesterday, and the other five starters will pitch on five days of rest their next turn through the rotation. Extra rest makes obvious sense for a group of starters loaded with health and workload concerns, but it requires a sacrifice somewhere. To make a six-man rotation work, the Yankees will have to carry either a short bench or a short bullpen. Given the way they’ve handled the bullpen up to this point, it’s hard to imagine they’ll go with just six relievers. Then again, Girardi earlier in the week shot down the idea that he was definitely planning to carry a short bench, so maybe they feel covered in the bullpen with Chris Capuano and Bryan Mitchell able to go long. Whichever way they go — short bullpen or short bench — it should last only a few days until they’re ready to move someone — probably Adam Warren — out of the rotation and into the bullpen.
Even if they wanted a full bench, who would they call up?
Because the Yankees didn’t take advantage of the Ryan injury to let them immediately recall Ramon Flores, there’s really not an obvious option to fill a fourth bench spot right now. Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams are still hurt, and there’s really little point in carrying both Gregorio Petit and Pirela. The only other available position players currently on the full 40-man roster are Gary Sanchez (a Double-A catcher) and Tyler Austin (a right-handed outfielder who wouldn’t really have much of a role). Since it seems unlikely the Yankees are ready to give Rob Refsnyder the everyday job at second, it could be that they’ll simply wait for Jacoby Ellsbury to come off the disabled list before carrying the usual number of position players. That said, there’s not exactly an obvious pitching call-up on the horizon either.
Distance and durability concerns continue to impact bullpen decisions
Because the Yankees have not gotten consistent distance from their starting pitchers, there’s been a trickle-down effect on the bullpen, which has basically caused all of the up-and-down player movement we’ve seen lately. In the past 12 days, the Yankees have called up and/or activated nine different pitchers (Sergio Santos, Jose Ramirez, Jose De Paula, Mitchell, Pinder, Danny Burawa, Moreno, Nick Rumbelow and Nova). Mitchell was actually called up, optioned and called up again in that span. The long list of moves, though, hasn’t solved the key issues of getting more distance out of the starters and finding bullpen stability for the middle innings. Maybe Nova in the rotation, Warren (or someone else) in the bullpen and Andrew Miller (eventually) off the disabled list will finally fix those problems. For now, they linger, and they’re shaping an ever-changing roster.
It’s hard to tell who’s “next” on the list of impact call-ups
Because Refsnyder hasn’t hit enough to force the Yankees’ hand, and because Drew keeps hitting for good power in those rare moments when he gets a hit at all, it doesn’t seem that the Yankees are considering a change at second base. Their next impact additions to the outfield (Ellsbury) and bullpen (Miller) are more likely to come from the disabled list than the minor league system. So who will be the next young player to make his big league debut? The Yankees have had 10 players debut this season — most in the majors — but No. 11 might have to wait a while unless the Yankees have a trick up their sleeves today. Top prospects Luis Severino and Aaron Judge have each moved up to Triple-A and could be on the radar at some point, but an immediate call-up seems unlikely. Who else could be on the radar? Ben Gamel? Tyler Webb? Jaron Long? There’s not a no-doubt, next-in-line choice.
Associated Press photos
Last week, Masahiro Tanaka returned from the disabled list and pitched seven innings on 78 pitches. Tonight, he went seven innings on 87 pitches. If he were a guy the Yankees were willing to let loose for 120 pitches, he might have had a complete game in back-to-back starts. Instead, he’ll settle for his four wins in his past five starts.
And this one came in a matchup against Max Scherzer.
“Obviously I knew who I was going up against today; a good pitcher,” Tanaka said. “Still, I’ve only had one year and a little bit here, so I have to build myself up to being a better pitcher here.”
Only a couple of partial seasons for Tanaka, but it seems Major League Baseball has learned to do whatever’s possible to avoid his splitter. Efficient pitch counts the past two games have a lot to do with Tanaka throwing a lot of strikes and having excellent stuff, but they might also have to do with opposing hitters swinging early to avoid those counts when Tanaka might break out his most devastating weapon.
“I think they probably have a game plan that they want to stay out of that count, and his splitter’s an outstanding pitch,” Joe Girardi said. “It’s kind of like Scherzer. If you’re right-handed, you don’t really want to see that slider, and if you’re left-handed you don’t want to see that changeup. That’s the kind of thing that you go through has hitters, so you look for the pitch that you can hit.”
According to Brooks Baseball, Tanaka threw 16 splits tonight, and 13 of them were strikes. Ten were strikes not put in play. By percentage, Tanaka has thrown fewer splits these past two starts than he’s thrown in most of his other starts, but that might not be an indication that the split isn’t effective. Only that it’s so effective, hitters are actively trying to avoid seeing it by swinging at other pitches earlier in the count.
“When he’s getting ahead early in the count with offspeed and he’s able to save that split for the second time around, he can throw any pitch in any count,” Brian McCann said. “… When he gets you to two strikes, there’s nothing a hitter can really do. You either sit on the split or you don’t.”
Two starts in a row now, Tanaka’s been excellent. Basically just as good as last season.
“Not really surprised,” Tanaka said. “I don’t have that sense of being surprised with my pitches.”
• Key play of the game had to be Ian Desmond’s decision to throw to third base in the seventh inning. Have to imagine he had a good chance of getting slow Alex Rodriguez out at first to end the inning, but third base was closer, and Desmond went that way. Looked like Ramon Flores made a nice heads up play running the bases — coming in at an angle that caused the throw to hit him on the backside — but Flores said that wasn’t the plan at all. “No, I was thinking the ball was going to go through,” he said. “So I was running at an angle, trying to make an angle to go home.”
• So Flores wasn’t trying to get in the way of a throw, he was trying to set himself up for a sprint home if the ball got past Desmond? At least I’m not the only one who thought he’d made the wide turn intentionally to get in the way. “I thought it’s an outstanding base-running play on his (end),” Girardi said. “You tell the guy to read the fielder that’s in front of you and try to get in the way of the throw like Reggie used to. But it’s just a heads up play, he sees it’s going to be a tough play, and that led to a big inning for us.”
• Good running play or not, Flores had another good game. He had three hits, including the one that set the stage for that pivotal four-run seventh. He also made another great play in left field with a diving catch. He’s been a nice player since he got here.
• Wound up not mattering, but the time it seemed Mark Teixeira’s bad read on a fly ball to center might be the biggest play of the game. It was a tied game at the time, and it really seemed Teixeira could have — or should have — scored from third, but he instead tagged up late and then didn’t break for home after Michael Taylor made a diving, sliding play. “It’s a tough read,” Girardi said. “I think what the thought was, he was going to catch it and not fall down. So he was going, in a sense, he was a little bit off the bag because he knew that he’s not going to throw on a tag-up if he catches it on his feet. So it’s a tough read.”
• But after the sliding play, shouldn’t Teixeira have gone home? “You think that he can make it,” Girardi said. “But he’s not 100 percent sure because the outfielder’s not that far out.”
• This was Stephen Drew’s second two-homer game in the past five days. He’s had just four multi-homer games in his career, and two of them have come within a week of one another during a horrific season at the plate. “His hits are extremely productive, is the bottom line,” Girardi said. “He’s had big hits for us.”
• Drew’s first home run was the 1,000th hit of his career. “It’s special,” Drew said. “Being able to play this game, and playing it for a long time, and being able to reach that milestone. It’s special. The Lord’s blessed me with being here as long as I have, and I’ll remember that when I’m done playing. It’s something you’re going to look back on and just be thankful for.”
• Why use Andrew Miller in a game like this? “If the next guy hits a three-run homer, you want to give him a little wiggle room,” Girardi said. “So I want to give him two hitters to get one out before the tying run comes up. And I’m just taking advantage of the off days, and we have not used him a lot in the last five or six days.”
• This seven-game winning streak is the Yankees’ longest since winning seven straight in September of 2012. The last time they wont eight or more was a 10-game winning streak in June of 2012. They’re a Major League best 11-3 in their past 14 games.
• The Yankees have homered in seven straight games and 15 of 17 overall. They have 76 home runs in 56 games and have hit 17 home runs in their past seven home games.
• Tanaka is only the fourth Major League pitcher to get at least 17 wins in his first 26 career games joining Boo Ferriss, Cal Eldred and Steve Rogers. His streak of four consecutive starts of at least six inings and no more than five hits or one run matches the longest such streak by a Yankees pitcher over the past 102 seasons. Last to do it was Orlando Hernandez in 1998.
• Final word goes to Girardi about Tanaka: “Just really consistent. I think he threw 85, 86 pitches. To be so efficient I thought was really important. I thought they were aggressive on him, and I thought he made really good pitches early in the count. … I don’t ever make too much of one outing. I think you try to put together 10 outings and make an evaluation. But obviously it’s great to see him follow it up, but I think his stuff today was as crisp as it was the other day.”
Associated Press photos