The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Examining the Yankees’ current roster issues heading to Houston06.25.15

Joe Girardi

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:

Adam WarrenFor 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.

John Ryan Murphy, Diego MorenoDistance 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

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Postgame notes: “There’s nothing a hitter can really do”06.09.15

Nationals Yankees Baseball

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.”

Nationals Yankees BaseballOnly 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.”

Nationals Yankees Baseball• 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.”

Nationals Yankees Baseball• 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

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A few random thoughts on the way home06.04.15

Mark Teixeira

I doubt there are very many baseball writers who list Oakland as their favorite road city, but I love it out there. My sister moved just outside of Oakland in my second year on the beat, and so last weekend will be one of my favorites of the year. Got to read a bunch of books to my nephew, and for the first time got to hold my little niece. For me, Oakland was the best part of the road trip, even if it was one of the low points of the season for the Yankees.

That dismal Athletics series gave way to a terrific Mariners series, though, and now the Yankees are starting this off day having won seven of their past 10 games overall. They looked pretty good again in Seattle. They pitched well, made some huge plays in the field and got huge hits — huge home runs, even — when they needed them.

Here are a few relatively random thoughts roughly a third of the way through the season.

Masahiro Tanaka• Masahiro Tanaka was incredible yesterday. At some point, he was making it look so easy that I think I failed to appreciate it until I looked at the box score at the end of the sixth inning. The guy is really, really good, torn elbow and all. With Michael Pineda outpitching King Felix on Monday, and Tanaka delivering his gem on Wednesday, the bookends of the Seattle series provided plenty of evidence that the Yankees need only make the playoffs to have some shot of making a run at a title. At their very best, Tanaka and Pineda are about as good as any 1-2 combination in the game. With no dominant team in the bullpen, why couldn’t a healthy Yankees roster get to the World Series? The trick, of course, is actually being healthy come October.

• As a whole, the Yankees have been wildly unpredictable this season, and that trend has carried over to several individual players. But there do seem to be five exceptions to that rule: Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have been healthy and steady pretty much all season. There have been a few hiccups here and there — those are inevitable — but for the most part, the Yankees have been able to count on those five. And those five might explain why there have been more good moments than bad. Three of the top four hitters in the lineup, and the last two-plus innings of a close game. Those five guys help the Yankees win a lot of games.

• In the past few weeks, Girardi really seemed to be giving David Carpenter every opportunity to get his season turned around. He was pitching a little more often than he did back in April, got into a couple of tied games. In retrospect, it seems like a kind of sink-or-swim test, and when Carpenter gave up that RBI double on Tuesday night, he’d officially sunk. If Carpenter had gotten that out, I wonder if he might have stuck around a little longer.

• Along those same lines, I wonder if Girardi is doing something similar with Stephen Drew. After a couple of days off to clear his head and tweak some things, I wonder if Drew gets another week or so of everyday at-bats to see if he can right the ship before Brendan Ryan is ready. If Drew can get something going, then he’ll stick around and Jose Pirela will be optioned. If Drew continues to fall flat, then maybe Pirela gets a real opportunity, Ryan becomes the backup middle infielder, and Drew follows Carpenter into DFA limbo. Right now, I’d say the smart money is on Drew staying and Pirela going, but then again, I didn’t expect the Yankees to actually DFA Carpenter, so what do I know?

• When the Yankees finally add a right-handed reliever to their bullpen — which has to be inevitable, right? — my guess would be Jose Ramirez. That’s as much a gut feeling as it is an educated guess. Ramirez just seems to have the right combination of big league experience, raw stuff and Triple-A numbers. He’s pitched well lately, could go two or three innings if necessary, and Girardi’s familiar with him. If I had to guess which reliever could be called up in the next couple of weeks, I’d pick Ramirez. Who goes down or gets DFA to make room for him, I don’t know.

Stephen Drew, Brett Gardner, Garrett Jones• Unless someone gets hurt, Garrett Jones is never going to play a huge role on this team. But he does have a role to play, and it really seems that he’s learning how to play it. The Yankees absolutely have to keep Rodriguez and Teixeira healthy and productive, so it will be helpful to pick and choose some opportunities to rest them. Jones should factor heavily into making that happen. If he can hit for power while getting only occasional at-bats — like he did the past two days in Seattle — he’ll help this team even in a limited role.

• When the Yankees were protecting players from the Rule 5 draft, I wasn’t sure Mason Williams was necessary (and if I’d known Slade Heathcott was going to play the way he did in March and April, I certainly would have thought Wililams was unnecessary). But beginning with a strong showing in big league camp, Williams has proven me wrong. I’ve always really liked the guy personally, and now he’s putting up numbers that make it a lot easier to believe in him professionally. Speed and defense have never been a question, but after finally putting up big Double-A numbers, Williams has jumped to Triple-A, taken over the leadoff spot and hit .315/.373/.444 with two stolen bases, six extra-base hits and more walks than strikeouts. It’s only a 13-game sample at the highest level of the minors, but it’s a tremendous sign for a guy who’s always had a world of talent and athleticism, just hadn’t put it all together against advanced competition.

• Am I crazy for starting to believe in Didi Gregorius? Sure, he fell down on Tuesday night, and he continues to occasionally make some bad choices in the field, but he’s also made some spectacular plays in the past week or so (that play up the middle yesterday was incredible). He’s also started to hit a little bit, with a few more line drives and eight hits in his past six games. He’s always going to be a bottom-of-the-order hitter, but he doesn’t have to always be a .220 hitter. And some of those overly aggressive mistakes might fade away with time. I always thought he was worth a shot, and lately he’s actually showing signs of earning his playing time.

• Speaking of which, Ryan’s first two Triple-A rehab games were played at second base and third base. I’m sure he’ll get a turn at shortstop eventually, but the Yankees seem to be prioritizing him as a backup at other positions. To me that suggests Gregorius is going to keep getting most of the shortstop at-bats without falling into a straight platoon when Ryan returns. If that were the plan, surely Ryan would be playing mostly shortstop in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. If Ryan is moving around, then Gregorius isn’t going to be losing a ton of playing time at short. Or maybe I’m reading way too much into two games of a rehab assignment.

• Teixeira is certainly putting up all-star numbers, but I’m not sure he’s going to be an all-star player. He deserves it, but first base is always a crowded position, and right now the American League has Miguel Cabrera, Eric Hosmer, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Abreu. Not that all of those guys are putting up Teixeira-level numbers, but they’ve been good and productive. Either Cabrera or Hosmer will be the starter, and both Pujols and Fielder will surely get support on the players’ ballots. I think Teixeira would be a fine all-star pick, but I won’t be at all surprised if he doesn’t make it. As good as Teixeira’s been in his career, he’s only been an all-star twice.

Associated Press photos

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Pregame notes: “That’s what I want to do right now”06.01.15

Adam Warren

Had spring training gone as planned, Adam Warren might never have stepped into the Yankees’ rotation in the first place. Two months into the season, though, Warren’s proven too valuable to play any other role.

When Masahiro Tanaka comes off the disabled list on Wednesday, it will be veteran Chris Capuano who’s taken out of the rotation and moved into the bullpen. Warren, who thrived as a reliever last season, will continue working as a starting pitcher.

“I’ve really gotten back into the starter mode,” Warren said. “I’ve enjoyed pitching as a starter, and I wanted to stay that way. I’m excited about it, and that’s what I want to do right now.”

CapuanoWarrenHaving been developed as a starter all through college and the minor leagues, Warren spent the past two years in the Yankees’ bullpen, first as a long man and then as trusted setup man. He came into spring training as a kind of just-in-case rotation option, and broke camp as a starter largely because Capuano opened the season on the disabled list. Warren got off to a so-so start, but he’s thrived his past four times out. Since May 13, Warren has a 2.70 ERA while pitching into the seventh inning each time.

“Obviously I think he could be really effective in the bullpen,” manager Joe Girardi said. “But his starts are important too. We decided to keep him there.”

Putting Warren in the bullpen would have been tempting because the Yankees have lacked a dependable right-handed reliever beyond Dellin Betances. With a return to last year’s performance, Warren could have solidified the seventh inning, which has been a weak spot for the Yankees. Instead, the Yankees will put Capuano into the bullpen, where the team already has two long relievers (Esmil Rogers and Chasen Shreve) and four lefties (Shreve, Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson and Jacob Lindgren). Girardi said Capuano will be available for many roles, either for multiple innings or for short relief or for left-on-left matchups.

“With Masa coming off the DL on Wednesday, and (Ivan) Nova not far behind, I figured it was a numbers game,” Capuano said. “Going to try to be ready to do my job in the bullpen.”

Indeed, the Yankees might face a similar decision in a few weeks. Nova has been working his way back from Tommy John surgery and is scheduled for one last extended spring training start before beginning an official rehab assignment.
Assuming Nova’s ready by the end of the month, Warren might have to continue proving himself as a starter between now and then.

“I’m only worried about my next start,” Warren said.

Stephen Drew• Who are the Yankees sending down to make room for Tanaka? “We’ll make that decision Wednesday,” Girardi said. “There’s a lot that can happen between now and Wednesday.”

• Benched the past two days, Stephen Drew is back in the lineup at second base. “It’s tough, but we signed him to be our second baseman,” Girardi said. “He’s worked really hard the last couple days to see if he could work on a couple little things here or there. I want to get him back out there.”

• So Drew’s been working on mechanics? “It’s always a little bit (mechanical) when you’re struggling,” Girardi said. “It’s working on your path to the baseball and he’s worked really hard the last two days. I want to see it.”

• Has to become a confidence issue at some point, right? “No. I think he’s done a pretty good job of keeping upbeat and having confidence in what he can do,” Girardi said. “He knows he can hit. He’s probably been as unlucky as any hitter that we have. Hopefully that changes.”

• The Mariners will apparently bring up Mike Montgomery to make his major league debut as tomorrow’s starter. That means, Jose Pirela will return to the lineup tomorrow. “I think we’re facing a lefty tomorrow, so I’ll sit one of my left handers and Pirela will be back out there,” Girardi said.

• The Yankees will almost certainly shuffle their rotation because of all the off days coming up. Girardi indicated that they will likely not simply stay on rotation.

Nova• Nova’s final extended spring training start will be Wednesday, Girardi said.

• Girardi on the Mariners’ lineup: “Nelson Cruz has had as good a season as anyone up until this point. He’s hit the ball out of the ballpark, and not in the most friendly ballpark in the world for home run hitters. We know how dangerous he is. We saw how important he was to the Baltimore lineup last year. The big thing with Nellie is you have to keep people off base. Robbie Cano is a guy that can hit any pitch, and he can hit it hard and drive the baseball. That’s a tough order, keeping him off in front of Nellie, but I think it’s important.”

• Girardi on today’s pitching matchup: “You look at Felix, he’s as good as it gets when it comes to being an ace of a staff, understanding what his job is and getting deep into games. It’s something that I’m sure Michael has paid close attention to and is trying to learn. He developed a changeup, probably because he saw what Felix did with his changeup and how effective it was. It wasn’t your typical changeup that had a 10-12 mile per hour difference, but it was fairly close it had sink and was an effective pitch.”

Associated Press photos

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Pregame notes: “Give him another day and we’ll go from there”05.31.15

CORRECTION Yankees Blue Jays

For the better part of two months, Joe Girardi has stuck with Stephen Drew even as his batting average kept getting worse and worse. But today is the second day in a row with Drew on the bench, and while Girardi won’t name Jose Pirela the new second baseman, he did acknowledge that Drew’s might benefit from some time out of the lineup.

“I told Stephen, continue to work,” Girardi said. “He’s trying to work on some things offensively. I’ve always said, whenever you play it’s an opportunity to open someone’s eyes. Pedey, I thought swung the bat pretty good last night. I’m going to run him back out there. Stephen has played a lot and been a little banged up at times. I’ll give him another day and we’ll go from there.”

I’m reminded of 2010 when the Yankees shut down Curtis Granderson for a few days to tweak his mechanics and try to get himself sorted out. Granderson came back from the down time like a new hitter, but he wasn’t hitting .157 like Drew is.

“I’ve said all along, it just seems like when he hits the ball hard, he doesn’t get rewarded for it,” Girardi said. “I think every hitter could go look and say, during the course of 150 at-bats, if six of those swings would have kind of went my way and I wouldn’t have lined out, then you’re not talking about it. But when that doesn’t happen, then you have to talk about it. He’s working hard in the cage, and I still think this guy’s too good of a player not to hit. We’ve seen him hit a grand slam. We’ve seen him hit three-run homers. We’ve seen him hit the ball out of the ballpark. We’ve seen him impact the baseball.”

I don’t think of Drew as a guy who’s hitting the ball hard and simply running into bad luck, but there does seem to be at least some bad luck involved. His batting average on balls in play is .164, which is absurdly low. Against righties — the guys he’s definitely supposed to hit — Drew’s BABIP is an almost comical .105. FanGraphs says Drew’s line drive percentage is definitely lower than in his best years (roughly 15 percent this year, more like 20 percent when Drew was in Arizona), and it seems those missing line drives have become fly ball outs and popups. Balls classified as “soft contact” are slightly up and “hard contact” is significantly down.

The numbers suggest some luck has played a part in Drew’s struggles, but can luck really account for the worst batting average in the big leagues? Can it really explain a full year of hitting like this?

“I bet you could go find in his stats where he has 10 hard outs,” Girardi said. “People will talk about batted balls in play, what happens. He has not really had a whole lot of luck. … To me, eventually it’s got to even out.”

Chris Martin• Chris Martin has been activated, but he’s also been optioned to Triple-A. Why not put him on the big league roster? “We want to get him back on a roll, then we’ll go from there,” Girardi said. “At the end (before the injury) it was a little bit of a struggle for him. We’ll see if we can get him back on a roll, and then if we need him, we’ll call him.”

• Four of Martin’s first five appearances this season were pretty overwhelming, but he hadn’t been nearly as good leading into his disabled list stint. Opponents were hitting .294 in his past 10 outings.

• Also of note regarding Martin: “We’re going to a place where there’s a lot of left-handers we’re going to see,” Girardi said. “So we’re going to keep the left-handers.”

• Brendan Ryan has started a rehab assignment with High-A Tampa. “Obviously he’s got to get some at-bats because he really hasn’t had a spring training,” Girardi said. “I’m not sure what day he’s eligible to come off, but he’s going to need some at-bats, be able to play a couple days in row, lengthy games, because you never know when you’ll be pressed into action, for three or four days.”

• Girardi wasn’t asked about it, but it seems safe to assume red-hot Brian McCann has a day off because it’s a day game after a night game, and this is what usually happens with catchers. Murphy also caught Warren’s gem against the Royals last week (McCann had caught his two strong starts before that).

• Girardi on Warren: “He’s pitched really well the last couple of weeks, and I think he’s learning how to get quicker outs. His stuff has been sharper, and I think he’s been stronger. When you’re in the bullpen, you don’t necessarily have to think about, I only want to throw 14 pitches this inning on an average so I can get deep in games. I’ve got three outs to get, and if I need 27, 28 pitches, it doesn’t matter; I’ve got three outs to get. I think he’s improved on that, and I think you’ll continue to see improvements.”

Associated Press photos

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What’s the deal with Stephen Drew?05.30.15

Stephen Drew

When Stephen Drew came to the plate in the ninth inning last night, Joe Girardi didn’t have many good options.

The best option was clearly Mark Teixeira, but using him in that spot could have been a waste. Even if Teixeira had gone deep in that spot, the Yankees still would have been down a run with struggling Chris Young coming to the plate. John Ryan Murphy could have pinch hit, but he’s the backup catcher and hasn’t hit much this season. Jose Pirela was also on the bench, but his numbers are actually worse than Drew’s.

So there wasn’t an ideal option in the bunch, but if you want to make the case that anything would’ve been better than Drew, I’m not sure I could argue.

At this point, Drew’s struggles speak for themselves and they are impossible to ignore.

So the question is, why is Girardi sticking with Drew as an everyday player? We might all disagree with Girardi’s logic from time to time, but he rarely makes a decision without some sort of logic behind it, and I’m sure there’s logic behind this one.

But I can only come up with only a few possibilities:

Stephen Drew1. He really believes Drew is going to start hitting
One thing Girardi has said time and time again about Drew’s offensive struggles is that Drew has hit better than the numbers suggest. Despite the evidence, Girardi might honestly believe with each at bat that Drew is the best option. “It just doesn’t seem that he gets the rewards that he should when he hits the ball hard,” Girardi said. “And that’s frustrating.”

2. He values Drew’s defense above all else
Second base is not traditionally a source of great offensive production. Obviously there are exceptions to that rule – Robinson Cano, of course – but it may be that Girardi believes he can live with a non-factor at the plate as long as Drew’s delivering solid production in the field. FanGraphs has Drew as a positive defensive player, and Baseball Reference lists him with a positive defensive WAR. Is that enough to make up for the bat? Most would probably say, no. Girardi might say, yes.

3. He simply doesn’t believe in Pirela
There was a time when Jose Pirela had basically fallen completely off the prospect map, but he hit his way back on it, and eventually hit his way to the big leagues. He kept hitting during that brief September call-up last season, and he kept hitting during spring training. But he hasn’t hit this year. Maybe that’s because of a lack of playing time – something Girardi said he’s definitely considered – but his numbers are brutal, and his defensive reputation has never been good. Maybe Girardi simply doesn’t believe Pirela is worth trying as a big league regular.

4. The Yankees don’t believe Refsnyder is ready
One of the top second base prospects in baseball is sitting in Triple-A, but the Yankees haven’t called him into action. He had another two-hit game last night, his batting average is up to .286 – after a not-so-good month of April – and he could be an offensive upgrade at the position, but it could be the Yankees don’t believe he’s ready. Refsnyder’s still relatively new to second base, and he’s made 11 errors already this season (the same number that’s caused a lot of negative attention on Chase Headley). Could be that the Yankees would rather see him develop some more in a minor league environment rather than ask him to save the day in the big leagues.

5. There’s a money issue
Despite last year’s horrible production, I actually kind of liked the Drew signing this offseason. I liked it, though, because one year, $5 million wasn’t the kind of contract that a team holds onto at all costs. I liked it because it was a buy low situation with the possibility that Drew could rebound. I liked it because it provided infield depth that the Yankees definitely lacked. And I liked it because the Yankees could easily walk away if it didn’t work out. Well, so far it hasn’t worked out, but the Yankees aren’t walking away. Is that because they don’t think 45 games is enough of a sample size to give up on a guy they gave such a contract in the first place?

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

Pregame notes: A-Rod takes high road after comments from Jorge Posada05.13.15

Jorge Posada doesn’t think Alex Rodriguez belongs in the Hall of Fame, and he seems unhappy that A-Rod beat him for the MVP award a dozen years ago.

“You know, the only thing that I can think is 2003,” Posada said during a interview with CBS This Morning. “You know, I was close to the MVP. Didn’t happen. Alex won the MVP and, you know, I think second was either Carlos Delgado or David Ortiz, I don’t remember. But, I was almost there. You know what could’ve happened if, you know, it’s tough. It’s really tough.”

All of this, of course, is because of Rodriguez’s use of performance enhancing drugs. Posada made his comments while promoting his new book.

“I think the guys that need to be in the Hall of Fame need to be a player that played with no controversy,” Posada said.

During the interview, Posada acknowledged he had never discussed any of this with Rodriguez, and in the Yankees’ clubhouse this afternoon, Rodriguez took the high road in responding to Posada’s criticism.

“I consider Jorgie a friend,” Rodriguez said. “… I have nothing bad to say about Jorgie. I have nothing but good things to say about Jorgie. He was a great player and a good teammate and we won a championship in ’09 together.”

For the most part, Rodriguez seems to have been embraced by many players throughout the league, and his current teammates seem to have accepted him with no problems.

“I’ve been so humbled by the response I’ve gotten, not only from my current teammates but from former teammates,” Rodriguez said. “The support that I’ve had is overwhelming and I just feel extremely grateful.”

Posada will be at Yankee Stadium later this season to have his number retired. Rodriguez said he will not find that inevitable encounter to be awkward.

“No, not at all,” he said. “Jorge is a friend. We’ll keep it simple. Keep it light.”

The video above is from this morning’s interview.

Stephen Drew• Stephen Drew said that, in his entire life, he has never played third base in a game. He took some ground balls at the position yesterday, and now he’s starting there in a big league game. “I kind of know my role,” Drew said. “Yeah, it’s something new, but at the same time just trust my hands and my feet and go from there. That’s all you can really do. I’m not going to go over there and start stressing that I haven’t played. It’s just more reaction and hopefully I can do my job there.”

• Joe Girardi said he no longer considers Rodriguez to be a true backup at either third base or first base. He might play the field occasionally, but the Yankees want him to be a full-time designated hitter. “I’m thinking we’ll play him a lot more if we can DH him,” Girardi said.

• Rodriguez said he’s on board with being a full-time DH going forward. “I’m totally on board with whatever Joe wants,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve said that from Day 1. Whatever Joe wants. I played third base in the ninth inning the other day and was pretty nervous about that. That was pretty alarming. Whatever Joe wants, I can do.”

• Jose Pirela actually has some third base experience, but the Yankees clearly don’t like him at the position. Asked why he’s using Drew at third ahead of Pirela, Girardi said only: “We just felt that Stephen will make the adjustment easier than Jose.”

• Rodriguez said his sore left hamstring feels better today. Obviously he’s been able to play through the issue. Doesn’t seem to be a huge issue, but Girardi said he was especially hesitant to use Rodriguez at third while the hamstring is even a mild issue.

• Chase Headley doesn’t have a specific injury, Girardi said, but he’s taken a beating lately with diving plays and such. “He’s just beat up,” Girardi said. “All the diving that he does. He just kind of physically could use a day, so we decided to do it today.”

• Masahiro Tanaka will throw another bullpen on Friday.

• The Yankees are still deciding whether to have Chris Capuano make another rehab start or activate him in a few days to rejoin the rotation. Two off days next week really takes some of the urgency away. The rotation is about to get extra rest regardless. “We just kind of touched on (discussing Capuano’s play) today,” Girardi said. “I talked to Cash. I talked to Larry some. Obviously we want to see how he feels physically and have a chance to talk to him. We’ve got to make a decision. It’s not urgent that we make it today or tomorrow, but we’ll probably have him throw a side tomorrow and have him be on line depending on what we do.”

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

Pregame notes: “Definitely going in the right direction”05.08.15

Masahiro Tanaka

Another day of throwing a baseball with no incident for Masahiro Tanaka doesn’t seem particularly newsworthy, expect when you consider that this is Tanaka that we’re talking about.

After throwing 50 pitches from 60 feet on Thursday, Tanaka threw 25 from 60 feet and another 25 from 90 on Friday. He spoke to the media after and said he’s “definitely going in the right direction,” and he seemed fairly unconcerned about any long-term effects from this forearm strain. He also reiterated that he doesn’t think that this relatively minor injury has anything to do with the elbow that caused problems for him last season.

“Everybody has their own opinion, but personally, I don’t think it had anything to do with it,” he said through his interpreter. “I don’t think it has anything to do with my elbow.”

Of course, there has been rampant speculation about Tanaka eventually — some might say inevitably — needing Tommy John surgery, but he isn’t buying it. He’s repeatedly said that there is no discomfort in the elbow. He said he’s “gradually” increased the intensity in these throwing sessions the last two days and feels nothing in the forearm, either.

He also denied that the injury was caused by the way that he’s throwing the splitter, or because of pitching on four days’ rest instead of the five that he was accustomed to in Japan.

The only thing that he agreed with is that the process has been somewhat frustrating.

“Just to be honest with you, I did get injured from time-to-time in Japan,” Tanaka said. “But my absolute goal is to try to not get injured throughout the season and be apart of that rotation. With that said, I’m a little disappointed.”

Andrew Miller• While the rotation has held up well in the absence of Tanaka, the bullpen continues to be the strength of the team. Andrew Miller, who may not have the official closer title but is pitching as well as any reliever in baseball, is looking like a very smart investment. He’s up to 12 saves. “I think he’s approached it just like any other inning that he’s pitched,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s done an unbelievable job for us. He’s really kind of kept his pitch count down in most instances when we use him multiple days in a row. He’s a strikeout guy who can hold runners on when they do get on. He’s really done a great job. Every time that we saw him, we saw him good, so I’m not surprised that we’re seeing what we’re seeing.”

• Girardi has been criticized for over-managing and not trusting his gut often enough, but he’s generally praised for the way that he handles his bullpen. It has to be nice having the type of weapons that he has down there this season, and that surely makes his job easier. But he does deserve some credit for putting guys in spots where they can be successful and rarely overusing them. “I kind of have in my mind some rules that I follow, depending on how much they’ve worked – multiple innings, days in a row, three out of four, how many pitches, quick turnaround – and I’ve been consistent with those ever since I’ve been here,” he said. “I usually let them know when they’re down so that they’re not over-preparing and maybe playing more catch than they should be, that sort of thing. The goal is, for me, it’s more than a one year term. It’s a long-term thing. We want these guys to be effective for a long time, and I’ve kind of stayed true to that.”

CORRECTION Yankees Blue Jays• Many of you are probably happy to see Jose Pirela in there at second base today. He’s become popular among the fan base, in large part due to the struggles of Stephen Drew. But Girardi said this is just a day off for Drew. He’ll be back in there tomorrow. “I think his last day off was Saturday in Fenway, so it’s a day off of him,” Girardi said. “Then (Gregorio Petit) will probably play second tomorrow against the lefty and maybe we’ll give Didi(Gregorius) a day off.”

We discussed plenty about A-Rod last night, so it wasn’t a huge focus during Girardi’s presser today. But he was asked about if he thinks the next milestone in his path — he’s 38 away from 3,000 hits — will be more acceptable in the baseball world because it’s not a power statistic. I guess the idea is that steroids are more beneficial when it comes to home runs and that sort of thing, but I can’t imagine anyone suddenly overlooking his past PED issues for his hit total and not his home run total. “Obviously, it’s a ton of hits,” Girardi said. “You have to have a lot of longevity to come up with 3,000 hits. You know, this is going to be debated for years to come, I’m sure. But my job as the manager is to get the most of the players. My job is not to decide if something is a milestone or an accomplishment – that’s for baseball people to do and historians. My hope is that he gets it fairly quickly and the hits keep coming, and the home runs keep coming.”

• Girardi followed that question up by asking how far away Rodriguez is from 3,000. When he was told 38, he said, “You can see how closely I’m following.” Yankees director of media relations Jason Zillo suggested that A-Rod get to 3,000 tonight. That would probably take about 100 innings, so for my sake, I hope not.

Associated Press photos

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Looking for signs of trouble after the Toronto series05.07.15

Yankees Blue Jays

The Yankees are home again. They won’t be for long long — just four games before they’re right back on the road for another long trip — but they’re home with a record good enough for first place in the American League East. For the most part, the Yankees are playing well. Just last weekend they won a series at Fenway, but they’re also coming off a series loss in Toronto where there were plenty of reminders that this is a team with flaws and concerns. Here are five of them:

SabathiaCC SABATHIA

The problem: He was a staff ace for many years, but Sabathia’s now 0-5 with a 5.45 ERA. The Yankees haven’t given him much run support, and some outings have been perfectly solid and winable, but six starts means he’s roughly a fifth of the way into his season and the numbers aren’t pretty. Is he going to get much better than this?
The circumstances: With one more year plus a vesting option left on his contract, Sabathia isn’t a player easily dismissed. He’s also an unquestioned leader in the clubhouse, where players and coaches alike seem to believe him and support him even through his struggles.
The alternative: After another strong start yesterday, Bryan Mitchell now has a 2.59 ERA through six starts in Triple-A. He’s the most immediate rotation alternative should the Yankees decide to insert someone else, but Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova are progressing from their injuries and Masahiro Tanaka could be back around the end of this month.

DrewSTEPHEN DREW

The problem: Although he’s fourth on the team in home runs, Drew still has just 13 hits and a batting average far closer to .150 than .200. And those numbers aren’t simply a one-month problem. Drew basically hit like this — but with less power — through almost all of last season.
The circumstances: Signed to a buy-low, one-year contract, Drew seems to be the Yankees best defensive second base option, and until Brendan Ryan is healthy, he’s their only proven backup shortstop. For the time being, the question with Drew isn’t so much whether he should stay on the roster, it’s whether he should stay in the starting lineup.
The alternative: Yesterday the Yankees activated Jose Pirela, and Pirela immediately delivered two hits including a hustle double. While scouts don’t exactly love his glove — and he’s never been a huge prospect — Pirela does seem to have some offensive potential and could hit his way into regular at-bats.

JonesGARRETT JONES

The problem:
Maybe it’s because he’s hardly played, but the bottom line is that Jones has hit just .152/.176/.242 which is good for the lowest OPS on the roster by a large margin. His expected backup role has been hardly necessary with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez playing well.
The circumstances: Even if the Yankees found someone to put up better numbers, would that player get more at-bats than Jones is getting right now? He’s in the final year of his contract and the power potential exists. Is it worth putting a young player into such a limited role?
The alternative: Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores are playing well and hit from the left side, but Kyle Roller (.278/.414/.481 in Triple-A) stands out as a Jones-type who could occasionally DH and maybe play some limited first base when either Rodriguez or Teixiera needs a day off. At this point, adding a player who can handle the outfield seems unnecessary with both Pirela and Chris Young on the roster.

BeltranCARLOS BELTRAN

The problem: Even with a couple of two-hit games in Boston, Beltran is still hitting just .195/.237/.310 with 22 strikeouts. It feels like a continuation of last year’s brutal second half and a spring training that wasn’t exactly encouraging.
The circumstances: As recently as 2013, Beltran was still a very good hitter. Even in April of 2014 he hit for power before the elbow issue that eventually required surgery. He has this year and one more on his contract, so moving on isn’t as easy as it was with Alfonso Soriano last season.
The alternatives: In the short term, the Yankees have Young putting up good numbers, especially against lefties. The Yankees could basically push Beltran into a platoon with all right field starts against lefties going to Young. They could also consider either Heathcott or Flores as young options from the left side.

CarpenterDAVID CARPENTER

The problem: In a bullpen full of guys with terrific numbers, Carpenter a 5.23 ERA that’s the second-worst on the team behind Sabathia. Carpenter’s pitched 11 times this season, rarely in high-leverage situations, and he’s twice allowed three earned runs.
The circumstances: Really, Carpenter hasn’t been all that bad, and I’m including him here only because he’s the guy with numbers that don’t look great in the pen. Other than those two rough outings, he’s been good. The Yankees, though, have a lot of good young relievers in Triple-A, and they have three starting pitchers looking to come off the disabled list. Something’s going to have to give eventually.
The alternatives: Despite the high ERA, right now it’s pretty hard to imagine Carpenter’s job is remotely on the line at the moment. Girardi hasn’t trusted him in big spots, though, and last year’s top draft pick Jacob Lindgren just made back-to-back appearances the past two days (so did Nick Rumbelow), and Jose Ramirez went back-to-back a week ago. Could be that the Yankees are preparing those young guys for a big league role in the not-so-distant future.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

Postgame notes: “That lets you know what his ceiling is”04.22.15

Nathan Eovaldi

This time the tweak was a small one, just a minor change to keep his hand a little closer to his body as he begins his delivery. That’s what Nathan Eovaldi worked on leading into this start. Nothing overwhelming, just relatively easy fix, he said, to make his mechanics a little easier to repeat.

It wasn’t the kind of thing that single-handedly accounts for one of the best starts of Eovaldi’s career against one of the best lineups in the American League. He’s been building toward this for a while.

“That lets you know what his ceiling is,” Chris Young said. “If you can do that against the Tigers, you can pretty much do it against anybody.”

When the Yankees traded for Eovaldi this offseason, they talked about his potential to get better. He’d been a solid middle-of-the-rotation type in Miami, but his huge fastball while approaching just his 25th birthday suggested Eovaldi could be even better. In spring training he went to work on his offspeed pitches, tried to improve a relatively new splitter and worked on using his fastball up in the zone. He was good in his exhibition starts.

As the season started, Eovaldi’s his first two starts this season were solid. They were perfectly winable. But it wasn’t until tonight that Eovaldi actually got his first Yankees win by striking out four, walking one and allowing just one run while pitching into the eighth inning. On the road. Facing this lineup. Against a team that won 11 of its first 13 games this season.

“I was really pleased,” Eovaldi said. “It’s a great lineup. My slider, I had good depth to it and was able to keep the ball on the ground for the most part, and make pitches when I needed to. … It could be any team, whoever’s hot really, and when you can perform and give your team a good chance to win, that’s big.”

Best start of his career? Eovaldi said he’s had others that were good. Said he pitched well against the Braves last year. He’s pitched through the eighth inning a few times. This might not be the best of the best, but it’s an indication of what the Yankees would like to see. It’s a hint of what Eovaldi’s capable of doing.

“He’s got good stuff, No. 1,” manager Joe Girardi said. “No. 2, he’s young. This is not a guy that’s 29, 30, that’s been pitching a long time in the big leagues. It takes starting pitchers time to develop, and they learn a lot about themselves, and they add pitches. He does a lot of things right. You think about the fielding tonight, a big double play there. He holds runners. And with the quality stuff he has, I think he has a chance to be really successful.”

Chris Young• Chris Young went 3-for-3, walked twice, hit his fourth home run and doubled just for good measure. He leads the Yankees in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. “It’s too early for me to start thinking about the season (as a whole), start thinking about stuff like that,” Young said. “It’s more just about having consistent at-bats, trying to come through when my card is pulled. I’m trying to keep it as simple as possible.”

• With David Price starting tomorrow, Girardi said he will definitely have Young back in the lineup for Game 3 of this series. At this point, it would be hard to bench him even against a right-hander. He’s been outstanding.

• Young is in a four-way tie for the team lead in home runs with Stephen Drew, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Like Young, Drew also hit his fourth homer tonight. Half of Drew’s hits have been homers. He’s hitting just .190, but he has the fourth-most RBI on the team.

• Three double plays last night. Four of them tonight. “The double plays have been really helpful, keeping them from scoring a ton of runs,” Girardi said. “We know how explosive they are. We’ve got some real timely ones.”

• Interesting that Drew was at second for last night’s double plays and at short for tonight’s (he was involved in three of them tonight). “He seems to be doing it pretty well, but it’s got to be a little different bouncing back and forth a little bit,” Girardi said. “But with the injury to Brendan, we’ve been kind of forced to do this.”

• Eovaldi is still throwing his splitter, he just hasn’t used it very much lately. He said he’s been getting too much side-to-side movement on it and not the good, downward break that he wants. Eovaldi threw two splits tonight. He got Miguel Cabrera to fly out with it in the first inning and Victor Martinez fouled one off later in the game.

Andrew Miller• Andrew Miller is five-for-five in save opportunities, but this one got a little dangerous with the bases loaded in the ninth. Miller walked the first two batters he faced, but it actually looked like he struck out each one. “I wasn’t missing by much,” Miller said. “I felt really good believe it not, despite the conditions. That’s probably the best the ball’s come out all year, and I think sometimes you just get a little too amped up. I didn’t feel I was missing my much.”

• First batter Miller faced was Nick Castellanos, and I’m pretty sure everyone in the building except first-base umpire Gerry Davis through Castellanos swung on a 1-2 fastball, but it was ruled a check swing. Next batter was Rajai Davis, and Brian McCann got crossed up on a 3-2 pitch that also looked pretty close to a strike, but it was called a ball to walk in a run. “If I don’t cross him up, I’m pretty sure that pitch that hits McCann in the knee is a strike,” Miller said. “I think everything that went wrong is pretty easily adjusted for the next time.”

• If you couldn’t tell, on that pitch that hit McCann, Miller thought the call was for a fastball, but McCann was expecting a slider. Can’t imagine 95 mph off the knee feels good, but McCann seemed fine postgame.

• Really nice eighth inning for Dellin Betances. MLB.com had his fastball up to 96 mph, which is a lot better than we were seeing in spring training. Girardi said that, after the insurance run in the top of the ninth, he never considered sending Betances out to start the bottom of the ninth.

• Final word to Girardi: “They’re tough. We’ve said it all along, they’ve got a very good lineup. But I thought our pitchers did a really great job tonight. I thought Evo was excellent. Used all his pitches. He has a half-an-hour inning where he sits down, comes out in the bottom of the seventh and I think it’s the hardest pitch he threw all night, to lead off that inning. I give him a lot of credit tonight because he sat a long time.”

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith Comments Off

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