The LoHud Yankees Blog

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


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

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Pregame notes: “I’m not afraid to move Alex up”04.18.15

Alex Rodriguez, Tony Pena

Joe Girardi made this much clear: If Carlos Beltran were in the lineup today, he would be hitting third, not Alex Rodriguez. It’s really not much different from the fourth game of the season when Beltran got his first day off and, after just three games, Rodriguez was the choice for the No. 3 spot.

“I’m not afraid to move Alex up,” Girardi said.

Of course, at this point such a move seems to carry more weight because Rodriguez has been by far the Yankees best and most productive hitter. He hit seventh on Opening Day, but he’s been that low in the order only once since then. He’s hit 2 through 5 as many times as he’s hit sixth or seventh.

More important than where he hits seems to be how often he’s played. Rodriguez has only been out of the lineup once this season, and even then he was used as a pinch hitter. He’s one of four Yankees who have played every game.

“I think I’ve been good at times, and sometimes I’ve been poor at recognizing pitches,” Rodriguez said. “Once I get past the 100 at-bat mark, I’m going to have a much better feel. But I’m just trying to grind and get better every day. … Let’s see if you can do this for six months. Anyone can do it for 10 games.”

Girardi said he never tries to ride a hot hand when setting his lineup. He looks for something more substantial than a hot streak. But with Rodriguez, there is something more substantial. Now that he’s been hitting like this for a 10 games, it’s easy to remember that he used to be one of the great hitters in baseball history.

“There’s a sense that he’s going to be productive all year, absolutely,” Girardi said.

How long it takes for that to lock him into a spot in the heart of the order remains anyone’s guess, but moving up to this spot in the lineup is nothing new. Girardi literally did it in the fourth game of the season. Now it’s a matter of finding out when he might stick in one of those spots.

“That’s always something that’s good to have is Joe’s trust,” Rodriguez said. “That’s something that I’m always working for. We have a lot of history here. Wherever he puts me, I’m ready to go.”

Yankees Rays Baseball• Beltran is sick. He has a cold/congestion thing that’s been going around the Yankees clubhouse. Apparently it wasn’t great yesterday, and it’s even worse today. “I don’t know (if he’ll play tomorrow),” Girardi said. “I don’t know how he’ll respond. This cold these guys have had, I think Tony Pena has probably had it the worst. It’s lasted a few days, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

• Rays starter Jake Odorizzi is a right-handed pitcher, but he has reverse splits so the Yankees tried to load up on right-handed hitters. That’s why Chris Young and Gregorio Petit are in the lineup.

• Still a good chance the Yankees will use a spot starter either this turn through the rotation or next turn through the rotation. Chase Whitley started in Triple-A yesterday, which would seem to leave him pretty well lined up for a spot start in Detroit that would keep all of the big league starter on an every-sixth-day routine. That said, it’s also supposed to rain in Detroit. Girardi said he’ll wait to see whether games are rained out before deciding for sure about when and where to use a spot starter.

• Chris Capuano is scheduled for a 45-pitch live batting practice session tomorrow. Girardi said the plan is to have Capuano stretched out as a starter during his rehab from that spring training quad injury.

• Stephen Drew said he had no idea he and his brother J.D. had become just the eighth set of siblings to each have 100 home runs in the big leagues. “That’s pretty neat,” Drew said. “I haven’t really looked into the stats much, like all the history stats unless it comes up like the big ones. Other than that, just it’s pretty special just to get that and have that is pretty unique. Playing this game, you never know if you’ll get even 50, so getting 100 is an accomplishment in itself.”

• Yankees announced today that LHP Matt Tracy was claimed off waivers by the Marlins. Also, RHP Joel De La Cruz was outrighted off the Major League roster and onto the roster of Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

• Rodriguez found it hilarious today that people on Twitter have been asking about the white stuff on his batting helmet. He through the writers were kidding him when it was brought up, then he couldn’t stop laughing at the idea that anyone would notice (it’s hard to miss, actually) or care about the state of his helmet. “It’s just rosin,” Rodriguez said, laughing. “Good stuff. The rosin bag. You actually get that on Twitter? I thought you were kidding. I can’t imagine.”

Associated Press photos

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Postgame notes: “Without Alex, we’re going to lose that ballgame”04.18.15

Yankees Rays Baseball

Alex Rodriguez hit the first home run so far, and he hit the second one so hard, that this was already his best night of the year even before the at-bat that actually won the game. To cap the night, Rodriguez put together a seven-pitch at-bat against Kevin Jepsen, a pitcher against whom he was 0-for-8 in his career. He gave Brett Gardner time to steal, fouled off a 3-2 pitch, then lifted a low curveball into center field.

His teammates were 2-for-26. Rodriguez was 3-for-4 with four RBI.

“Without Alex, we’re going to lose that ballgame,” Joe Girardi said.

Maybe that much went without saying, but it was worth saying anyway because 10 games into the season, the Yankees are being kept afloat by a guy who came into spring training with absolutely no one certain he could still play this game at a respectable level. Even Rodriguez is surprised it’s gone this well.

Alex Rodriguez, Joe Girardi“Yeah, I am,” he said. “I don’t think anyone knew what to expect, including myself. I’ve been working hard. Hopefully it keeps going.”

When Rodriguez homered in Baltimore earlier this week, he said it was the best he’d hit a ball in well over a year. Imagine, then, how good it felt to hit a ball 471 feet in the second inning (or 477 feet if you’re going by ESPN’s estimates). Whatever the number, the ball was crushed. And he followed that home run with a game-tying two-run shot that left the yard in in a hurry in the sixth. Another hard-hit ball, this one a line drive to left.

“It’s pretty impressive, you know, to take all the time off that he’s taken off,” Brett Gardner said. “He’s no spring chicken anymore, either. But the bat speed, his bat’s really, really quick through the zone. He’s taking good swings. It’s a lot of fun to see. … He’s not somebody I’d ever count out. I see how hard he works and how much he loves playing the game, and how good of a job he’s always done in preparing himself for the game. Being able to focus on hitting and not playing defense that often, he can go out there and use all the energy he’s got for those four or five at-bats. So far, he’s looked great and hopefully he can keep it up.”

I guess the takeaway from tonight’s game is … well, it’s everything about Rodriguez at the plate. The raw power. The ability to work an at-bat. The eye for balls and strikes. The steady production.

Tonight, the bullpen was really good, and Stephen Drew hit a home run, and Carlos Beltran got a much-needed hit, and Gardner stole his way into scoring position. But without Rodriguez, the Yankees would have lost this game, and there’s absolutely no doubt about that.

“More than anything, I’m just feeling very grateful to be back playing baseball,” Rodriguez said. “I’m very grateful to Hank and Hal for giving me the opportunity to put the uniform on again. It’s something I don’t take for granted, and it’s much appreciated. It just feels good to be playing baseball. I’m having fun out there.”

Andrew Miller, Brian McCann• Another save opportunity, and another great outing by Andrew Miller. The Yankees have done four games, and Miller’s saved three of them. He got the final out of the eighth inning, then allowed a soft hit to open the ninth before striking out the final three batters of the game. “Andrew’s done the job, that’s for sure,” Girardi said.

• Miller on his obvious but still undefined role: “This is what I signed up for. That’s what I told them all along. They asked me if I needed to be told I had a certain role or anything like that, and I told them no, and that was the truth. I’ve been telling you guys that all along and that’s really what it is. I think for me, I’m fortunate. I’ve got a nice contract that’s going to take care of me for a while. However they see fit to use me, they can go for it. I’ll do whatever they ask and give them everything I’ve got.”

• In a setup role, Dellin Betances also looked pretty good tonight. Certainly better than he’s looked most nights. he allowed one hit but also got a strikeout and walked no one. “I think he’s making progress each time he goes out,” Girardi said.

• Not such a good night for Adam Warren, who was actually doing pretty well before a crushing sequence of three hitters. After an infield single, Warren allowed a walk, a three-run homer and a solo homer. “I think the Jennings walk was big there,” Warren said. “Because you fall behind 2-0 to the next guy, feel like you have to throw a strike, (he) puts it over the wall, and things just kind of got away from me there. As a starter, you want to limit the big inning. I threw a lot of pitches, and that kind of hurt us. We had to go to the bullpen early, which you don’t want to do.”

• The biggest mistakes were with fastballs. Girardi said he thought Warren pitched alright without his good curveball or slider earlier in the game, but things unraveled quickly. The Yankees wound up using Esmil Rogers for 2.1 innings of hitless long relief. Rogers has been good in that role. “The bullpen was outstanding,” Girardi said. “After having a tough night the other night, they come back and give us five scoreless innings and do a really good job. As I said, they’re not going to be perfect, but they’re pretty good.”

Stephen Drew• Third home run in less than a week for Stephen Drew. That’s the same number of home runs he hit in two months with the Yankees last season. Tonight’s homer was No. 100 in his career. “He’s swung the bat I think a little bit better than his numbers indicate,” Girardi said. “We saw it come around the last couple of weeks of spring training, and we need that to continue because he’s a guy that can hit the ball out of the ballpark and hit some doubles and drive in some runs, and it was good to see.”

• Although Girardi wouldn’t commit to putting him in the lineup tomorrow, Girardi did say Gardner probably would have stayed in the game to hit had the game gone into extra innings. He came through three rounds of batting practice alright before today’s game. “I was prepared if my spot came up in the ninth to get a normal at-bat and get up there and swing the bat,” Gardner said.

• No surprise, but Girardi said he went Gardner in to pinch run with hopes of getting a stolen base in that spot. It finally happened on the 12th pitch after Gardner entered the game. “I wish I could have got there a little earlier, but Alex did his job,” Gardner said.

• One underrated play: Jacoby Ellsbury’s catch to end the eighth inning. “At first, my instinct was that that ball is in the gap and I’m going to have to pitch with a runner on base,” Miller said. “I got really excited. It didn’t look like he had too good of a jump on it, but Ells is a great defender. It’s no surprise. You welcome a guy like that behind me.”

• Girardi said he plans to have Rodriguez back at DH tomorrow. He would prefer not to play him in the field when the Yankees are on turf.

• Final word goes to Miller: “Everyone is going to remember those (Rodriguez) homers, and they were both incredibly well-struck, but that at-bat to give us the go-ahead run was incredible. He fought pitches off and stayed on a breaking ball. We shouldn’t be surprised that Alex knows how to hit. He’s a professional hitter, and he’s really good at that. We’re just glad he’s healthy and he’s on our side because right now he’s been a big part of our offense.”

Associated Press photos

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Postgame notes: “Turns out, Stephen Drew was the guy for that job”04.13.15

Stephen Drew, Caleb Joseph
Brett Gardner went to the plate twice after being hit by a pitch in the first inning, and each time he tried to bunt for a hit. He said Joe Girardi kept asking whether he was alright, and Gardner kept assuring him he could still play. Even so, Gardner could feel in the on-deck circle that he wasn’t quite 100 percent. He could swing, just couldn’t swing very well.

Drew“I kind of halfway lied to (Girardi) and told him I was good,” Gardner said.

In the seventh inning, though, Gardner could see his at-bat requiring something more than a bunt single. He told Girardi that he was still fine to play defense, but if his spot in the order came up with runners on base, Gardner might not be the best guy to take a good swing and drive them in.

“Turns out,” Gardner said. “Stephen Drew was the guy for that job.”

Drew’s second home run in as many days was a big one, a go-ahead grand slam with two outs in the seventh. It was the third grand slam of his career, his second ever pinch hit homer, and the first pinch hit grand slam against the Orioles since Jorge Posada in 2001.

“Joe gave me a heads up before, pretty much the inning before, kind of to let me know, hey, get loose,” Drew said. “I was ready. … Laid off some tough pitches, some close ones. Got a 3-1 count in a good situation. Tried not to do too much. Put a good swing on it, and it worked out for the best.”

That’s two wins in a row for the Yankees, and two pretty good wins at that. It’s also two pretty gratifying homers for a guy who couldn’t hit a lick last season. The Yankees have been happy with Drew’s at-bats since late in spring training, and he’s starting to get some regular-season results the past two days.

“It’s one of those things where I feel a little more comfortable trying not to do too much,” he said. “Trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I know what kind of player I am, and I’ve done it for a long time, so in regards to that, it definitely helped with the at-bats in spring training and taking it into the season.”

GardnerGardner was also hit by a pitch in the right wrist last week during the home stand. He said this one was only about a half inch away from the previous spot. It sounds doubtful that he’ll play tomorrow.

“Kind of wait and see,” Gardner said. “Just a day-to-day thing. I’m just glad that the x-rays look good. We’ve got a wrap on there for tonight, keep the swelling down and hopefully I feel good tomorrow.”

X-rays were negative, so there’s some good news on the wrist.

“The good thing is they’re negative,” Girardi said. “Will he play tomorrow? That’s a question. We just have to wait and see how he feels. He got hit in the right wrist and, yeah, I’m concerned about him. I’m glad it’s not broke. I don’t know what we’ll have the next few days.”

Michael Pineda• Nine strikeouts and no walks for Michael Pineda, who really seemed to pitch much better than five earned runs would suggest. “I feel pretty good,” Pineda said. “It’s a really good game. But it’s one pitch, you know? Jones, made adjustments. My fastball’s high, and he got a homer. I try to continue to hold the game, and make a pitch.”

• That one pitch was the fastball that Adam Jones hit for a two-run, go-ahead home run in the sixth. Pineda had struck out Chris Davis to nearly get out of the jam, but he tried to elevate a fastball against Jones, and Jones got plenty of it. “He’s really good hitter, you know?” Pineda said. “For me, I try to change the eye (level), and try to throw my fastball high, and he makes adjustments and he got it.”

• Speaking of good pitching performances, Andrew Miller got a five-out save. It was the third save of his career and his second save of the season. He said that this time he and Dellin Betances didn’t really have defined hitters to focus on. He didn’t exactly know he’d be the closer today, but he was ready for it. “I don’t think what we’re doing is traditional at all, so that’s not really surprising,” Miller said. “It’s just the way it worked out today. Dellin and I hadn’t really pitched the last couple days. I think both of us knew coming in that if this type of game was played, we would have to throw more than our usual 15-20 pitches, and we found a way.”

• Shaky outing for Dellin Betances as the setup man for Miller, but Betances got the huge out he needed when he struck out Davis to end the seventh. “I threw some good (breaking balls) to Davis,” Betances said. “Those are the way I need to throw it to all of them. I thought those breaking balls I threw to him were really good.”

• Girardi didn’t go into detail, but he indicated that using Betances to get out of the seventh and then using Miller for five outs was not exactly the way he drew it up. “I was trying to map it out,” Girardi said. “But it never goes strictly according to plan. I had to rework it a little bit. It worked out, and Andrew did a tremendous job to get the final five outs. He threw the ball very well.”

Didi Gregorius, Adam Jones• And since it’s pretty connected to the pitchers, this is a good time to mention John Ryan Murphy, who had a really great game behind the plate. the faced he went 1-for-3 and drew a walk to help set up the grand slam was just kind of icing on the cake. Just a really great game for him including two runners caught stealing. “Just a tremendous job,” Girardi said. “He threw the ball extremely well. Throwing out Adam Jones in that situation was a huge out. Blocked, I don’t know, 10, 15 balls tonight.”

• Girardi explaining the order and use of pinch hitters in the seventh: “I knew I was going to (use Drew in Gardner’s spot). The thing was, Drew had seen Matusz, so if he brought in Matusz for Ellsbury, I know Drew has seen him and I was more comfortable with that. And Garrett’s got more power, even though it didn’t turn out that way, I was looking for a three-run homer at that time (when Jones hit for Gregorio Petit earlier in the inning).”

• Was Gardner bunting in those middle plate appearances strictly because of his wrist? “Not necessarily,” he said. “It might have had a little something to do with it, but it wasn’t a case of, I wasn’t able to swing the bat.”

• Alex Rodriguez went 0-for-4, but he played a solid third base. He’s bounced around a lot the past few days, moving to different positions and different spots in the order. “Not strange,” Rodriguez said. “We have to whatever it takes to win. We have a good team. Joe needs me to move around a little bit, and that’s what I’m willing to do. Last week I took a lot of time early every day, bounced around between third base and first base. I’m excited to be playing every day.”

• With his solo home run tonight, Mark Teixeira tied Lance Berkman for the fifth-most home runs by a switch hitter. Teixeira has 366. Carlos Beltran is fourth on that list with 373. Mickey Mantle has the all-time record with 536.

• Final word goes to Girardi: “They’ve been resilient so far. We didn’t get off to the start that we wanted. We didn’t play very well the first five games of the season, and we’ve played much better the last two two. We’ve had big hits and capitalized on some mistakes the other clubs have made, and we’ve won two games in a row.”

Associated Press photos

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Drew’s grand slam carries Yankees to comeback win in Baltimore04.13.15

Mark Teixeira, Chris Young

Two outs. Bases loaded. Yankees down by two in the top of the seventh. Stephen Drew pinch hitting for Brett Gardner was, perhaps, not the sight you wanted to see coming out of the Yankees’ dugout. Drew, though, delivered the pinch hit grand slam that carried the Yankees to a 6-5 come-from-behind win against the Orioles tonight in Baltimore. Gardner, who’d been hit by a pitch in the first inning, went for X-rays on a stiff right wrist. In his place, Drew delivered his first career hit off Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter. He was 0-for-5 against him before the home run to center field. The grand slam was the Yankees’ third homer of the game — Chris Young and Mark Teixeira also went deep — and it came just a half inning after Adam Jones hit a two-run, go-ahead homer for the Orioles in the bottom of the sixth. Michael Pineda looked sharp most of the game, but he was still charged with five runs through 6.1 innings. He struck out nine and walked none. One of his runs came off Dellin Betances, who had another shaky outing but got a big strikeout against Chris Davis to end the seventh. Andrew Miller got the final five outs for his second save of the year.

Associated Press photo

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Postgame notes: “I’m a better person and a better pitcher”04.02.15

Michael Pineda

Twenty three strikeouts. One walk. Michael Pineda knew he’d been pretty good this spring, but he didn’t know those numbers until a reporter mentioned them in the clubhouse after today’s start at Steinbrenner Field.

“It’s good,” Pineda said, laughing. “I’m very happy for that. I’m not really paying attention, but thank you for telling me about it. I’m very happy because I’m feeling, in spring training today, it’s a really good number. I’m very happy. It’s what I try to do: throw a strike when I get on the mound and get an out.”

Pineda struck out six this afternoon. He walked none, allowed one run and finished spring training with a 1.42 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP. There’s been no indication that there’s any lingering problem in his shoulder. Instead, Pineda has looked fully healthy, and fully dominant.

“I think he really just picked up where he left off last year,” Joe Girardi said. “I really didn’t expect a whole lot different because of what we saw last year from him and how well he pitched, but it’s really nice to see it carry over. … I feel really good when he takes the mound. I do. You know he’s going to pound the zone and he’s going to give you every opportunity to win.”

Pineda’s not the only Yankees starter who pounded the zone. Nathan Eovaldi has 14 strikeouts and no walks this spring. Masahiro Tanaka has 13 strikeouts and one walk. Adam Warren: 11 strikeouts and one walk. CC Sabathia: six strikeouts and no walks.

That’s 67 strikeouts and three walks for the rotation.

“It’s good because if you don’t walk too much hitters, you don’t get in trouble,” Pineda said. “When you walk a lot of hitters, you get in trouble. So, it’s good. Throw strikes.”

Easier said than done, but the Yankees have thrived in that regard this spring. And Pineda seems to be leading that charge. If the shoulder issues really are behind him, Pineda just might be the Yankees’ most reliable starter. This spring he’s been their most dominant, looking like an even better version of the guy the Yankees first acquired more than three years ago.

“Every year I’m growing and growing, (becoming) a better person,” Pineda said. “So now I’m a better person and a better pitcher. I feel happy with that.”

John Ryan Murphy, Dellin Betances• Another rocky outing for Dellin Betances who walked two batters but got through his inning without a run. “I’m getting my work in,” Betances said with a laugh. “I’m throwing a lot of pitches, but health-wise I feel fine. I felt a little stronger today. I’ve just got to be able to get that first guy out right away. I can’t be walking the leadoff guy. I got myself into a little jam again but I was able to come out with no damage, I guess. That’s a positive note.”

• Betances said he’s convinced his command issues have been caused by a minor mechanical issue that he’s close to fixing. He said he’s drifting too much, and that’s hurt him. It’s led to walks and pitches up in the zone. He’s expecting to pitch again on Saturday, which should be his final tune-up before Opening Day.

• Still no word on who will be the closer. “That’s one discussion we have not talked a lot about,” Girardi said. “It’s probably something we’ll talk a lot about tomorrow.”

• Speaking of the bullpen, it now looks like the Yankees will carry three left-handed relievers. Obviously Andrew Miller will be used as something more than a lefty specialist, and Girardi said the same is true for both Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve. “Shreve was a starter for most of his career,” Girardi said. “And I trust Justin against both, too.”

• Carlos Beltran did not play today because he had flu-like symptoms. He probably won’t play tomorrow either. “You worry about the dehydration factor,” Girardi said. “My guess is, right now I do not have him penciled in (tomorrow). Everyone who’s had this, we’ve given them two days.”

• Girardi on the decision between Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy: “I think defense has to come first in that situation. Pitchers being comfortable, you want them to be able to work. So we have a tough decision.” The Yankees aren’t expecting to make that decision until Saturday night.

Alex Rodriguez• Pretty good day for Alex Rodriguez at first base. He had to make a couple of scoops and nearly started a double play on a sharp ground ball. “I didn’t realize how involved and alert you have to be on every play (at first base),” Rodriguez said. “Even on that base hit up the middle, I had to sprint to the mound for a cutoff man. Those are things that I’ve never really had to do. A couple times, you find yourself just kind of standing around not knowing what to do and then you kind of go. It’s not really natural.”

• Girardi was clearly happy with the way Rodriguez looked in the field today and said he would not hesitate to use him at first base during the season. Garrett Jones is still the go-to backup, but Girardi said he could also imagine putting Jones in right field and playing Rodriguez at first on days he wants to DH Carlos Beltran and rest Mark Teixeira.

• The first real challenge for Rodriguez came on first-inning a throw in the dirt from Stephen Drew, who was playing shortstop for the first time this spring. “It’s natural,” Drew said, joking that he was trying to make sure Rodriguez got his work in. “It’s just more or less getting throws over there, which I haven’t taken all spring because of Didi. He’s done a good job, and knock on wood, everybody’s healthy and we’re ready to go.”

• The Yankees got their first look at Gregorius Petit this afternoon. He played shortstop and got a couple of at-bats in the second half of today’s home game. “He’s a player that can play anywhere; second, short and third,” Girardi said. “He’s going to give you good at-bats, going to play hard. He can run a little bit. I’ve heard nothing but good things about him. He got caught in a position where there were a few guys over there that could do the same role that he could, so he became available. We’re happy to have him.”

• As planned, Didi Gregorius played shortstop in today’s road game. He seems past the wrist issue and should be ready for Opening Day. So when Gregorius takes a day off, will Drew or Petit play shortstop? “It’s probably something I need to talk about our scouts with, what’s the best scenario there,” Girardi said.

Robert Refsnyder• Girardi stressed that the Yankees are sending Rob Refsnyder to Triple-A because they expect him to be an everyday guy when he finally gets to the big leagues. “He’s pretty close,” Girardi said. “I think for him, it’s a guy that’s made a position change, really. There was talk about him yesterday, could he possibly be that guy? I think we felt it was more beneficial for him to play every day, finish his development, and when he comes he’s here for good and that he’s an everyday player. Because I think that’s how we envision him.”

• Speaking of guys sent down, a source told me today that the Yankees will have center fielder Slade Heathcott open the season in Triple-A. That wasn’t the plan coming into spring training, but Heathcott has played so well that the Yankees think Heathcott is ready to make the jump. For whatever it’s worth, I also heard that Gary Sanchez has looked very impressive in minor league camp. Apparently the feeling is that he’s taken a giant leap forward.

• Final word goes to Girardi on a day the Yankees very nearly finalized their roster: “There’s a lot of guys in this camp I’ve had to send down that you can’t really tell them they’ve done a lot wrong. And (that includes) even some of the younger kids we played. These guys did a lot of things right, and it is difficult. I still say, it’s the worst part of my job. It’s very difficult for me and I feel for them, because it’s a dream of theirs. Obviously we believe that a guy like Chase Whitley is going to help us at some point this year. We believe that. And you just have to remind him of that. And you just try to talk about where you were last year at this time, and how far you’ve come, and be prepared, because there’s a good chance we’re going to need you at some point.”

Associated Press photos

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Postgame notes: Refsnyder back in the big league mix04.01.15

Robert Refsnyder

Think back to the beginning of March.

Despite a lot of offseason talk about Rob Refsnyder getting a real opportunity this spring, he was getting no significant time with the big league regulars, and it seemed clear the Yankees weren’t considering him an go-to option for the major-league roster. As recently as today’s fifth inning, Refsnyder still seemed to have no realistic chance of opening in the big leagues.

By the end of the sixth inning, he was perhaps a favorite break camp with the team.

Utility infielder Brendan Ryan strained his right calf muscle during an awkward play in the sixth inning, leaving the Yankees searching for a last-minute replacement only five days before Opening Day. One week removed from his 24th birthday, Refsnyder has been one of the Yankees’ best hitters this spring, and just enough dominoes might have fallen to land him a spot in New York.

“The young man, I think, has continually improved,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s a name that I’m sure is going to fly around a lot today.”

Robert RefsnyderIt was less than two weeks ago that Ryan returned from a back injury, and the Yankees made it clear they fully expected him to be on their roster despite the shortened spring training. The Yankees liked his defense, liked the fact he hits right-handed, and liked the fact he could play both shortstop and second base. He was going to make the team.

If not Ryan, the best alternative would have been Jose Pirela, another right-handed utility man who had the highest batting average in camp before suffering a concussion last Sunday. Now Pirela’s gone more than a week without baseball activities and Girardi called him a “long shot” to be ready for Opening Day.

That means the only Refsnyder alternative in big league camp is Nick Noonan, who has some big league time but also hits left-handed, making him a less-than-ideal backup to lefties Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew. Even if the Yankees were to bring someone up from minor league camp, Cole Figueroa — the other Triple-A middle infielder — also hits lefty.

“Things can happen quick,” Girardi said. “I think a lot of clubs hold their breath this time of year that you leave camp the way you are. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you’ve got to deal with it. … Didi and Drew are healthy, so we’re going to have to look at probably more of a second baseman in a sense. You could look at a second baseman more than a shortstop because you have two shortstops.”

Assuming Drew can slide back to shortstop without any problem — he has yet to take a single ground ball there this spring — the Yankees don’t need someone who has Ryan’s versatility. Instead, hitting from Ryan’s side of the plate might be more important. Refsnyder has impressed with a .333/.447/.538 slash line and the most doubles in camp, but he’s also shown room to grow with his team-high six errors. That’s twice as many as anyone else in camp.

“I think that my game reps haven’t reflected how well I’ve fielded in practice,” Refsnyder said. “Some of the errors I’ve made have been tempo plays, getting into the rhythm of the game again. … I wish I could have played better on all sides of the ball. But I’m happy with where my work is right now. Hopefully it translates in the game a little bit more, in the season, to be honest.”

It’s a curious situation. Refsnyder fits the profile of what the Yankees want and need, but they clearly want him to improve defensively, and it’s worth wondering whether they would be OK with one of their top prospects getting sporadic playing time off the big league bench. Carrying Refsnyder is certainly not what the Yankees had in mind, but it might be what they decide to do.

“Shoot, coming into camp, I was 23,” Refsnyder said. “I’m 24 now, and I’m playing with some of the best players in the entire world. Some of the best guys. It’s definitely not discouraging. Every day you can learn and get better from all these guys. They’ve been awesome to younger guys like myself who started this camp. I’ve learned a lot. Some things I can really continue on for the rest of my career hopefully. This has been a great opportunity for me.”

Chase Whitley• Really strong outing by Chase Whitley today. He allowed a run on three hits in the second innings, but that was the extent of the damage. He finished with four innings, one run, no walks and six strikeouts. That might have locked up a spot in the Yankees bullpen. “I wanted to have a good spring and I was able to accomplish that,” Whitley said. “The results matched up today with how I felt, so that was pretty good.”

• If the Yankees carry Whitley, it would be as a second long man. Girardi said today that he considers Esmil Rogers locked into a roster spot. Rogers pitched 1.1 innings with an unearned run today. He struck out three and walked one.

• Another bullpen candidate, Chasen Shreve, allowed one hit and one unearned run in two-thirds of an inning. He struck out one. Most damaging to his case might be the fact he allowed a hard double to left-handed hitter James Loney. Presumably, Shreve would have to handle lefties to play much of a role in New York.

• Andrew Bailey delivered another scoreless inning with one hit and one walk. He has yet to allow an earned run this spring, but he’s also thrown just five innings.

• Why Adam Warren as fifth starter? “Consistency,” Girardi said. “Four-pitch mix. He throws strikes. His ability to get lefthanders and righthanders out, holds runners, does the little things, fields his position. He just does a lot of things right.”

• Gregorius is definitely playing tomorrow. “Unless something happens overnight,” Girardi said. “He felt good in BP. He’s scheduled and circled in on the trip. He’s going.” Gregorius said he’s perfectly unconcerned about the wrist after taking BP and going through fielding drills today. He’s fine.

• Alex Rodriguez is playing first base again tomorrow. He’ll play in the home game.

• Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira came through today’s game with no problems.

• Here’s Girardi on Refsnyder’s defense: “It’s a guy that was a right fielder. I think it’s improved over the spring. I’ve seen him on the back field every day and it’s improved. I think he’ll continue to get better. There’s no shortage of work ethic in this young man. He’s young. That’s the bottom line, he’s young. But depending on what we do, do I think we have a number of candidates that can handle it? Yes, I do. It’s just picking which one we think is the right one.”

Ryan Howard, Jose Pirela• Would Pirela have been the favorite had he stayed healthy? “Yeah, I think he would’ve had a good shot at it,” Girardi said. Amazing how that weird decision to play Pirela in center field in Port St. Lucie — under what circumstances would Pirela play center this season? — might have impacted things.

• No surprise, but Girardi said he plans to stay on rotation at least through the early part of the season. Even after off days, the Yankees won’t skip Warren or any other starter. They’ll use off days for extra rest and occasionally insert sixth starters for even more rest when necessary.

• Chris Capuano is playing catch — not in a chair, standing up — but there’s still no time table for his return. “That’s hard to say,” Girardi said. “Obviously he’s playing catch, but it’s not the freedom you would have if you didn’t have a leg injury.”

• Final word goes to Girardi: “Those guys (Gregorius, Ellsbury, Teixeira), in my mind, I was pretty convinced we’d have them back. Now, it’s different now with Brendan. I think it’s a long shot. What happens, your depth is tested. We’ve got to talk about it. You understand going in that these things can happen and you’ve got to deal with it. I think that’s why they try to go out and acquire as many good players as they can.”

Associated Press photos

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Cashman on Betances, Gregorius, Rodriguez and spring decisions03.30.15

This morning I wrote about some of my thoughts and impressions heading into this final week of Yankees camp, but my opinions carry no weight around here. Brian Cashman’s opinions do, though. Here are some of the general manager’s thoughts with Opening Day coming up quickly.

Dellin Betances, Larry RothschildOn Dellin Betances having a rough spring
By letting Dave Robertson go to Chicago, the Yankees sent a clear message that they believe Betances can repeat last year’s success. Maybe not to that level — he could have a fine career and still have last season standout as his high point — but certainly the Yankees are banking on Betances being able to play a key role and get big outs. Problem is, he’s really struggled this spring with bad results and an underwhelming fastball.

“The Betances ‘Where has his velocity gone?’ story is not accurate,” Cashman said. “He’s actually averaging a mile (per hour) higher at this time this spring than last spring. If it’s apples to apples, then he’s right where he was last year. Obviously his performance in the spring is different than the arm strength, but the arm strength is not the issue. Just want to make sure everybody knows that.”

So what does the performance mean? Maybe nothing. Certainly it doesn’t mean enough that the Yankees are going to take Betances out of the mix in the late innings.

“You just want to make sure it doesn’t affect the confidence,” Cashman said. “I’ve been able to at least confirm for myself that he’s very confident, which is good. Spring Training is Spring Training and sample sizes are small. I thought he was much better (in a minor league game on Saturday).”

Travis d'Arnaud, Didi GregoriusOn whether Didi Gregorius needs a platoon partner
When the Yankees went shopping for a new shortstop, they found a marketplace that offered no perfect solutions. There were flawed free agents and expensive trade targets, and the most viable in-house option was all-glove, no-bat Brendan Ryan. Eventually, the Yankees settled on Gregorius, another glove-first shortstop, but one with both youth and offensive upside.

With Ryan still in the picture as a right-handed alternative, Gregorius has thrived this spring. He’s been outstanding in the field, and he’s been plenty productive at the plate. He’s even hit lefties in the past couple of weeks, adding some confidence that the Yankees might not have to use Ryan as a platoon partner.

“It’ll be more of a Joe decision right now,” Cashman said. “I’d just (say), it’s something we could consider, but Ryan’s also here for a reason. We have two left-handers in the middle infield in Drew and Didi, and we have Ryan as an alternative, so I trust that Joe — like he does all the time — he’ll dissect the matchups and try to put the best team on the field to win. If that means Ryan’s in there ahead of Didi on any given day, so be it. (Gregorius) has shown me a lot this spring, which I’m happy with. He’s an exciting personality, and really, clearly, we hope that it plays well for us.”

Mark Teixeira, Brian McCannOn the bounce-back potential of Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Stephen Drew
I suppose you could lump Brian McCann into this group, but at least McCann hit for decent power and had an impact behind the plate last season. The Yankees seem to have more offensive uncertainty from this trio of Teixeira, Beltran and Drew, all of whom dangerously underperformed last season. Teixeira fell apart in the second half, Beltran wasn’t the same after an elbow injury, and Drew had an unthinkably bad year at the plate.

Even so, the Yankees are clearly planning to use each one of them as a lineup regular this season.

“There’s no reason to believe, for instance, Carlos Beltran’s not going to hit all of a sudden,” Cashman said. “And I have seen a lot of Stephen Drew in the last week to 10 days, and it’s encouraging. And then Tex, I haven’t had any worries about Tex coming back, or even Beltran. It’s more like, just stay healthy and we’ll be fine. Drew’s really, out of those three, the only question mark, what is he going to be? Those questions are fair to ask, and it doesn’t matter what gets said, only he‘ll answer them over time. But he’s looked really good at the plate.”

Alex RodriguezOn Alex Rodriguez’s return to the team
A wild card in every way, Rodriguez has returned from a year-long suspension and actually done a good job of settling into the clubhouse while also performing well on the field.

“He’s handled himself both on the field and in the clubhouse and in his interviews with you guys, extremely well,” Cashman said. “It’s been about baseball, and he’s done really well on that level too.”

Rodriguez has been one of the Yankees very best hitters this spring. Not sure anyone would have predicted that a month ago.

“I think I consistently told you guys, I don’t know what to expect,” Cashman said. “so in fairness, I can’t even say it surprises me because I didn’t know what to expect. It was like, let’s just let whatever’s going to be, be. Then we can talk about what’s happening rather than waste your time wrapping your mind around what it is or what it’s going to be or how it’s going to look when you have no idea, it’s just a guessing game. Camp’s gone really well for him.”

John Ryan MurphyOn choosing a backup catcher and final bullpen jobs
Assuming minor injuries to Gregorius, Teixeira and Jacoby Ellsbury don’t cause problems on Opening Day, the Yankees seem to have very few roster decisions to make between now and the end of camp. The most wide-open spots seem to be at backup catcher and for the final two spots in the bullpen.

“Well, we’re a week away from making (those decisions),” Cashman said. “So, if you define close as, a week, then I would say yeah, I think we’re close (to making a decision).”

It’s worth noting that yesterday the Yankees made one of their most significant cuts in sending Jacob Lindgren to minor league camp. As recently as Sunday morning Cashman talked about Lindgren as if he had a real shot of breaking camp on the roster. Now he’s clearly being looked at as a mid-season call-up at best.

“We’ve kept him this long for a reason because he’s continued to open people’s eyes,” Cashman said. “I’m not going to tell you what’s going to happen yet, but there’s a reason he was pitching in a game (Saturday) this late and hadn’t been assigned out yet. Some other guys I can’t say that about, but in his case, I can.”

Associated Press photos

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Refsnyder continues to hit; Cashman calls Drew “the smart play” at second03.29.15

Stephen Drew

Rob Refsnyder had two more hits today, his fourth and fifth doubles of the spring. He also drew a walk, stole a base and raised his spring training slash line to .343/.452/.571.

Refsnyder and Jose Pirela have been two of the best hitters in Yankees camp, but general manager Brian Cashman said today that what he’s seen this spring has only reinforced his decision to bring back Stephen Drew to play second base.

RefsnyderPirela“I know there’s a lot of dialog wrapped around Refsnyder and Pirela,” Cashman said. “But I think also that those guys have shown they still have work to do on the defensive side still. It doesn’t mean if we have to go there we wouldn’t be comfortable doing so. I also think they’ve shown they have some development still to go, despite the bats. The bats are impressive, but you’ve seen the defensive stuff they’ve shown us in short sample sizes as well. So, like anything else, you’d love to pluck a guy from the minor leagues when they’re on a roll in all aspects of the game so they can kind of hit the ground running at the big-league level. So right now I’m pretty comfortable that Drew signing was the smart play for us on the front end.”

Refsnyder’s already made five errors at second base. Pirela has two errors, and while he’s played all over the field, he’s never had a strong defensive reputation anywhere.

Drew, meanwhile, got off to a slow start this spring but has started to hit a little more lately. He had a three-hit game on Friday, a home run on Saturday, and he doubled today. He’s now batting .244/.306/.444.

“He’s looked really good at the plate,” Cashman said. “He’s looked so much better than last year the last week to 10 days. That’s encouraging. I know it’s got to be building his confidence and having memories of what he was prior to last year, because that’s certainly what’s playing around in my head. I feel much better about the situation right now.”

Associated Press photo

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Postgame notes: “I thought he was moving pretty good”03.27.15

Alex Rodriguez

This is what Joe Girardi said this morning about the way Alex Rodriguez has been running and moving in spring training:

“I think he’s run harder (lately). I think we’ve all seen that, and that that’s definitely improved. I still want to see him go from second to home and from first to third, we have not seen that, but that’s not his fault, that’s just what’s happened behind him.”

Alex RodriguezFast forward a few hours, and we’ve now seen Rodriguez do each of those things.

After a first-inning single, Rodriguez went first to third on a Stephen Drew double. He wasn’t exactly flying around the bases, but I did turn to George Kind sitting next to me and say something about Rodriguez running better than I expected. He’s definitely not fast, but it didn’t look like a challenge for him.

After a fifth-inning walk, Rodriguez took second on a single and then scored on a Chris Young double. Again, nothing flashy or fast about it, but he was capable of scoring on a ball he’s supposed to score on. If Rodriguez can be a capable runner at this stage, I think that’s all the Yankees can ask.

“If I can just keep making small strides every day, I’ll take that,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez revealed that earlier this spring, Girardi specifically told him he needed to be running better. Rodriguez said he’d been working on it, and he does seem smoother and less lumbering. Again, he’s not fast, but at least he’s not a total wreck. Today he also had to slam on the breaks after a late stop sign at third base, and Rodriguez said that too was no problem.

“Probably more (running) than he wanted to see,” Girardi said. “But I thought he was moving pretty good. I really did.”

Michael Pineda• Five scoreless innings from Michael Pineda today, and it’s not remotely a point of focus. That’s a sign of just how good he’s been this spring. Pineda allowed five hits, walked none and struck out five. He pitched every inning before the game was called because of rain. “I don’t want nothing to change because everything is working good,” Pineda said. “… I have everything I want, so just compete on the mound.”

• Girardi said Pineda didn’t have time to get quite as stretched out as the Yankees would have liked, but they think he got stretched out enough. He has one more start before the regular season. “We were trying to get him to 75 (pitches), but we just felt with the long delay, 68 was pretty good,” Girardi said. “I thought he looked really good.”

• No problems for Jacoby Ellsbury in today’s light hitting drills. Girardi said he expects Ellsbury to take full batting practice tomorrow. He remains on track to play in a minor league game on Tuesday.

• Big day for Stephen Drew. The Yankees second baseman went 3-for-3 and raised his spring batting average from .167 to .231. “He’s swung the bat better the last two weeks,” Girardi said. “And the one thing you want is you want a lineup that there’s pressure on the pitcher of the opposing team the entire time, and I feel that we have that type of lineup that we can do that where so much pressure doesn’t fall on a couple of guys. It’s nice to see everyone swinging.”

• It’s worth noting that Didi Gregorius has also hit pretty well lately, including some hits against lefties. Girardi wouldn’t give his exact lineup plan, but he said it’s entirely possible he’ll go with four straight lefties (Drew and Gregorius stacked at the bottom of the order; Ellsbury and Brett Gardner at the top). “It’s not out of the question because I don’t worry about our top two guys against lefties,” Girardi said. “Didi and Drew, Drew hit a tough lefty today, a guy throwing 96. And Didi’s been swinging the bat good. We’ll talk about it, but it very possibly could be that.”

• After going first to third in the first inning, Rodriguez tried to score on a fly ball to right field and was thrown out easily. He banged into the catcher but clearly didn’t try to knock the ball loose. He also didn’t try to slide. Jeff Francoeur made a really nice throw on the play. “I would have had the short end of that stick (if there had been a real collision),” Rodriguez said. Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp is listed at 6-2, 260 lbs.

Chris Young• Girardi said he was glad Rodriguez didn’t try to slide on the play at the plate. He also liked the aggressive send by new third-base coach Joe Espada. “It was a pretty good throw,” Girardi said. “You’re going to take that chance with that being the second out. Maybe if it’s the first out, you don’t take it. But you’re going to take that chance, and Franceour’s always been a good thrower.”

• The Yankees saw Phillies prospect Aaron Nola this afternoon. He was the seventh overall pick in last year’s draft and struck out four through three scoreless innings. His changeup was absolutely filthy. “The one I almost choked on?” Rodriguez said. “Yeah. That was a pretty good changeup.”

• Getting his first start alongside Drew, Brendan Ryan was part of two double plays — one he took himself, one he took a feed from Drew — and also went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles.

• The Yankees didn’t score in their first four innings, then they scored seven times in the fifth and three times in the sixth. They finished with 15 hits, including one apiece for Gardner, Rodriguez, Chase Headley, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Chris Young. Every big leaguer in the starting lineup had at least one hit (Drew and Ryan combined for five). The other three hits came from Eddy Rodriguez, Kyle Higashioka and Tyler Austin. Austin doubled and had three RBI.

• We’ll give the final word to Girardi, talking about his plans for the lineup: “We know that we’re going to have a lot of lefthanders in our lineup. You try to break some of it up with the DH, or the switch-hitters. If I had to make out a lineup today, without talking to all my coaches and everyone, I have an idea what it would be, but that’s something we’ll try to iron out the last week. The one thing is, I feel pretty good about where most of our hitters are at right now, the thing is you want to keep that, keep that feeling of having good at bats.”

Associated Press photos

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