Pieces falling off the board always seem to bring fresh perspective during the offseason, and to some extent, that’s what happened yesterday when J.J. Hardy signed a contract extension.
I have no idea whether the Yankees would have been fully motivated to make a real run at Hardy had he hit the open market. I thought he was a relatively good fit considering the alternatives – strong glove, hit in the past, experience in the division, fairly short contract – but the Yankees are in such a strange spot that it’s hard to perfectly pinpoint what they might do. I liked Hardy more the alternatives. Doesn’t mean he would have actually landed in the Bronx.
At the very least, though, Hardy gave us some perspective on the price of a proven shortstop these days. The Orioles gave three years, $40 million, plus a vesting option, to bring back a 32-year-old. Hanley Ramirez is going to cost more. Stephen Drew will surely cost less.
And maybe that’s the spectrum we need to look at now.
Ramirez is the headliner of a fairly strong shortstop market that still includes Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jed Lowrie and international possibility Jung-ho Kang. Ramirez is the biggest bat of the bunch – and the Yankees most certainly need offense – but he’s not a great defender, he’s been hurt plenty in the past, and he’s likely to require another high-risk, long-term contract.
You know, the kind of contract that put the Yankees roster in its current state of frustration.
Maybe it’s worth the risk because Ramirez is certainly a heck of a player when he’s in the lineup, but the Yankees have enough bad contracts as it is. Might make more sense to buy low on a guy like Drew, hope for a big bounce-back season, and if nothing else pair him with Brendan Ryan as a defense-first platoon (to his credit, Andrew Marchand began beating that drum long before I did).
Amazing to think bring Drew back is even a remote possibility given the way he performed during his two-month rental period, but the Yankees really have to pick their battles at this point. Maybe buying low on Drew is the way to go. I wouldn’t have said that yesterday, but perspective is always changing.
Associated Press photo
Now that Derek Jeter has decided to become a sports blogger, the Yankees need to find someone else to play shortstop. We’ve known for a long time that this transition was coming, and now that it’s here, there’s no perfect solution. There is no shortage of options, just nothing that stands out as an obvious, can’t-miss way to go.
Essentially, the Yankees are going to have to make a choice. Take an injury risk? Go for a big bat? Settle for a great glove? Spend big money? Go with a cheap platoon?
There might be preferences, but I don’t think there’s a slam dunk out there.
For one of two reasons, several of the market’s best shortstops might not actually be able to play the position this season. They’re either significant injury risks, or they’re mostly likely second basemen or third basemen masquerading as shortstops.
At the top of this list is Hanley Ramirez, who’s either the best free agent position player on the market or the market’s biggest gamble (or maybe he’s both). The Yankees need offense, and Ramirez can hit. He had an .817 OPS this season, and that was a down year. He also played just 128 games, and that’s one year after playing just 93 games. Health has to be a huge concern, and there are questions about his ability to stick at shortstop, but Ramirez is surely going to cash in with a massive contract. Is he worth that risk?
If not Ramirez, what about Asdrubal Cabrera, who moved to second base with the Nationals, and whose offensive numbers are trending the wrong way? What about Jed Lowrie, who slugged just .355 this season and not so long ago looked more like a high-end utility man than a true everyday shortstop? How about Korean standout Jung-Ho Kang, who’s hit for power but brings the usual uncertainty that comes with any international free agent?
If next season started tomorrow with the Yankees current roster, they would at least have a true defensive shortstop in place. Brendan Ryan hardly played this season, so it’s hard to make much of his numbers, but he’s historically been an elite defender. Hasn’t hit much (at all) but he can handle the position. That’s worth something.
Which brings us to an unusual free agent alternative: Stephen Drew. Also a proven defensive option at shortstop, Drew’s coming off a season surely wrecked his earning power. After turning down a qualifying offer last winter, Drew hit just .162/.237/.299 this season, and the Yankees spent two months seeing that kind of production up close. It wasn’t pretty.
But if there’s not a reliable offensive shortstop available, would the Yankees consider some sort of defense-first platoon of Drew and Ryan? Might be worth spending money elsewhere — Yasmani Tomas? Jon Lester? — while prioritizing a relatively cheap glove at shortstop (with the upside that Drew might reestablish himself and become a real bargain).
Realistic or not, at some point Troy Tulowitzki has to be a part of the conversation, if only because he’s the best shortstop in the game. He brings his own obvious injury risks, and if the Rockies actually make him available, there might be other teams better positioned to get him, but he’s still worth mentioning. Trades are about hoping for the best, and Tulowitzki’s best-case scenario is about as good as it gets.
But trades are tough, because it’s not only about the Yankees needing to have “enough” to trade for a guy like Tulowitzki, it’s about them having and giving more than anyone else. Would the Cubs trade Starlin Castro at a price that make sense? Is Alexei Ramirez worth the prospect price at 33 years old? How willing to deal are the teams that have young depth at shortstop — Diamondbacks, Mariners, Cubs — and would the Yankees really plug a kid into that spot?
Trade speculation is a favorite winter activity, and the Yankees will surely be a big part of the rumor mill, even if it’s far more smoke than fire.
A separate category largely because I’ve long thought Hardy might be the best combination of offense and defense at a reasonable price. Here’s the problem: Hardy has warts of his own.
He turns 33 in August, he’s surely going to require a multi-year deal, and his home run power seriously declined this season. Hardy might still have 25-homer potential — he’s averaged 21 homers per 162 games during his career — but he’s not exactly a guy who wipes out the Yankees current run-production problems. Metrics still like his defense, but he’s also moving past his prime years.
I still think Hardy might make the most sense, but just like all the other options, he comes with plenty of causes for concern.
Associated Press photos
Plenty of confusion tonight about the fifth-inning play at the plate that essentially cost the Yankees their best chance to tie the game. But the reality is — and everyone seemed to agree — that baseball’s evolving rule about blocking the plate never should have come into play because Stephen Drew never should have been waved home in the first place.
“To begin with, just a bad send,” third-base coach Rob Thomson said. “Just an error on my judgment. I take full responsibility for it. We’re all accountable around here. It just wasn’t a good decision. Nobody out, the middle of the lineup coming to the plate, I’ve got to stop him right there. I thought the outfielder was going a little bit further to the line. He came up and squared up (to throw) pretty quick. I should’ve stopped him. … From my perspective, the ruling doesn’t really come into play. It’s just a matter of whether I think that guy is going to be able to score or not, and (the rule) shouldn’t come into play, especially with nobody out.”
Or, to put it another way:
“You can’t make the first out at home,” Joe Giradi said. “It’s a quick decision he has to make. It’s a bang-bang decision — and it’s not an easy job — but you have the bases loaded and nobody out (if he doesn’t send the runner).”
The confusion came because Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan clearly blocked the plate without the ball, but the league actually sent a memo earlier today saying that catchers can stand in front of the plate if they have the ball in plenty of time (basically making sure runners aren’t safe on a technicality, which is the best Drew could have hoped for). With or without the memo, it seems Drew would have been allowed to run over the catcher, but runners are basically conditioned to slide at this point.
“They still want them to slide,” Girardi said. “It really hasn’t changed a whole lot. They talk about they want the guys to slide. And the guys know that if the guy’s blocking the plate, they can run them over. They are so used to sliding now, in a sense, it’s going back and forth.”
That’s what Drew said. He basically had no lane and wasn’t sure what he was allowed to do, so he slid. But it all comes back to the decision to send the runner.
“If I had to do it again I’d probably do it the other way (and run him over) because of the outcome,” Drew said. “… At the time I thought it was be a little closer than it was when Tomper sent me there. At that point, it was already too late.”
• I’ll probably write more about this in the morning, but my impression of Girardi and everyone else was that this was the most resigned the Yankees have seemed all season. This really felt like the blow that knocked out what little hope remains for a playoff push. “It leaves us in a pretty big hole,” Girardi said. “Basically we have to win every day. That’s the bottom line: we have to win every day.”
• Girardi pointed out that immediately after Drew was thrown out at the plate, Derek Jeter still had a chance to drive in the tying run and he instead lined into double play. Sending Drew was a bad decision. Jeter’s ball was pretty bad luck.
• Girardi also called it bad luck that Ichiro Suzuki was doubled up at second base in the seventh inning. Ichiro had singled and stolen second base and he had a great jump trying to steal third, but Drew flied to right and Ichiro couldn’t get back in time.
• Chris Young drove in two of the Yankees three runs tonight. He got his first Yankees hit in his first Yankees start. It was his first hit and first start since August 5 with the Mets. It was his first RBI July 30 and first multi-RBI game since July 13.
• The other Yankees run came on Jacoby Ellsbury’s 15th home run. This is the second time in his career that he’s hit at least 15 homers in a season. Ellsbury is hitting .361 with 12 runs, three triples, five homers and 15 RBI in his past 19 games.
• Brutal game for Hiroki Kuroda, who’d been pitching extremely well before tonight’s debacle. “I had a great start in the first inning,” Kuroda said. “But I feel like they changed their approach in the second inning on, and I wasn’t able to re-adjust instantly. … I guess I should have changed my approach on my first pitches, which I didn’t do.”
• Kuroda struck out the game’s first three batters, but beginning with a leadoff homer in the second, he allowed four runs on nine hits without pitching through the fourth inning. It was the first time this season that he lasted fewer than four innings. “I just didn’t think he located his fastball very well and his split didn’t have quite the bite it had all of his other starts that we’ve been seeing when he’s been on a roll,” Girardi said.
• This was Kuroda’s shortest outing since May 22 of last year, and it was the most hits he’d ever allowed in a start of 3.1 innings or less. He was one hit shy of a season-high in hits allowed.
• The Yankees bullpen was exceptional. Seven relievers combined for 5.2 scoreless innings with just two hits, two walks and six strikeouts. The bullpen has pitched 20.2 scoreless inning in their past six games.
• Derek Jeter went 0-for-4 while playing in his 2,730th career game. He is now tied with Mel Ott for the eight-most games ever played among players who played their whole career with one team. According to Elias, Jeter also tied Ott for the most games ever played for a New York MLB team.
• We’ll give the final word to Mark Teixeira: “I mean, we want to win, obviously. That’s a tough game. We made a little run there, but you have to get to these guys before their eighth- and ninth-inning relievers. They’re two of the best in baseball. We had some chances in the middle innings but just couldn’t get over the hump. … We have to win a lot of games. We’ve said it before; we have very little margin for error. We have to try to win every night.”
Associated Press photos
Just got into my Detroit hotel after missing Monday’s makeup game in Kansas City, so we’ll start this day with the AP story from last night. Here’s Dave Skretta:
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Michael Pineda kept throwing strikes. The Royals kept taking them, trying in vain to drive his pitch count up. When Yankees catcher Brian McCann looked up in the third inning, his right-hander had still thrown just 35 pitches.
He knew then that Pineda was in a groove.
Pineda wound up pitching into the seventh inning Monday night to win for the first time since April 16, helping New York beat the Kansas City Royals 8-1 for its fifth straight win.
“He’s got so much cut on his fastball,” McCann said. “I feel like he could literally throw it every pitch and be successful. When he’s like that, he’s as good as anybody.”
In the makeup of a game rained out in early June, Pineda (3-2) gave up a solo shot to Mike Moustakas leading off the third inning. But that was about it in Pineda’s third game back from the disabled list. He struck out five without a walk.
Jacoby Ellsbury drove in a run in the seventh inning with the 1,000th hit of his career, then added a two-run homer in the ninth. Derek Jeter added a pair of RBIs in his final scheduled trip to Kauffman Stadium, and Stephen Drew and Martin Prado had solo home runs.
“It’s nice when you have a lot of people contribute,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
James Shields (12-7) allowed six runs over 6 2-3 innings for Kansas City.
“We’ve been playing really, really good baseball the last month or so. We’re definitely not going to let just one little game take care of us,” Shields said. “We’re going to move onto this next series and hopefully we’ll win it.”
If you’re willing to count the makeup against New York as a true series, it was the first time in their last 11 that the Royals have dropped one.
“It’s going to happen,” outfielder Alex Gordon said. “We’ll bounce back. We’ll be OK.”
Moustakas tied the game with his 15th homer in the bottom half.
Drew gave the Yankees the lead back in the fourth with his home run, and they piled on four more runs off Shields in the seventh to put things out of reach.
The last of the runs was scored by Ellsbury, who came home on a sacrifice fly by McCann. Ellsbury initially was ruled out at the plate, but the call was overturned after a 2-minute video review showed his left leg sliding just under catcher Salvador Perez’s tag.
That was plenty of support for Pineda, who had gone through the ringer since his previous win. He served a 10-game suspension for getting caught with pine tar on his neck in a game against Boston, then landed on the DL with shoulder trouble that kept him out until mid-August.
Pineda was stuck with a pair of no-decisions in his first two starts back.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I feel like I have good power in my arm.”
BRONX BOMBERS: The Yankees homered at least three times in a game for the seventh time this season, but it was the first time they had done it since July 9 at Cleveland.
CRACKED SHIELDS: Speaking of homers, Shields gave up at least two in a game for the seventh time this season, tied for second-most in the majors behind the Brewers’ Marco Estrada with nine.
TRAINER’S ROOM: 1B Mark Teixeira (left hamstring) and OF Brett Gardner (right ankle) were held out of the starting lineup. Girardi hopes both will be available Tuesday in Detroit.
UP NEXT: RHP Brandon McCarthy makes his ninth start with the Yankees to open a three-game series in Detroit, one of the clubs they’re chasing in the AL wild-card race.
Associated Press photos
A few thoughts heading into the weekend • 08.22.14
The big picture is pretty obvious heading into this weekend. The Yankees are four games out of the second wild card and about to play three games against a pretty bad White Sox team (granted, with Chris Sale pitching one of those games). They’re not in a great spot, but they are remarkably not buried just yet. They have to hit better, they have to get on a roll, and they have to take advantage of situations like this weekend if they want to make any sort of playoff run. All of that goes without saying at this point. So here are a few random thoughts heading into the weekend.
• Easy to say this after yesterday’s strong start, but of all the guys the Yankees traded for his season, Brandon McCarthy stands out as the best option for a new contract. Martin Prado is going to stick around anyway, and while there’s an argument to be made for both Chase Headley (who I think might be more expensive than expected) and Stephen Drew (who doesn’t strike me as the best shortstop on the market this winter), McCarthy seems like a great fit. He gets groundballs in a stadium where fly balls are dangerous, he throws strikes, and he has a personality that fits this market and this clubhouse. Kind of walks that line between being goofy and still having a leadership quality. And this year has proven beyond a doubt that there really is no such thing as too much starting pitching.
• Speaking of McCarthy, there are some similarities between him and tonight’s Yankees starter, Shane Greene. And yesterday, McCarthy had some awfully nice things to say about Greene. “I like watching Shane pitch. I don’t care if I’m not here anymore (next year), he’s a really fun kid for me to watch pitch because he lies and calls it a cutter even though it’s s disgusting, unhittable slider. His fastball is just explosive. He’s a guy I’d never heard of before a came here, and 10 years ago that’s a kid that’s on the cover of Baseball America, and he’s the next big thing. It’s crazy where pitching has gone, but I think it shows how good he is that, nobody really knows who he is, probably, and I guarantee you when hitters go back to the dugout they’re (saying), ‘I don’t know what I just saw.’”
• On Wednesday night, Joe Girardi said that Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Derek Jeter — the top three hitters in the lineup — have been probably the team’s most consistent hitters. While I think most people are on board with Gardner and Ellsbury being two of the bright spots this season, I wanted to look up Jeter’s numbers. He hit .272 in April, .275 in May, .272 in June, and .289 in July. His on-base percentage — except for a down much of June — and slugging percentage have also been fairly steady from month to month (though all of his numbers are down in August). Jeter has not been a great hitter this season, but I really believe that if the offense were more productive around him, we’d all be talking about what a nice, steady, still-productive final seasons he’s having. Instead, with the offense struggling so much, Jeter occasionally becomes a go-to argument as if he’s the source of the problem.
• Carlos Beltran seems confident that playing catch and playing the outfield have nothing to do with his recent elbow setback. But that’s been a risky situation ever since the bone spur was discovered, and I can’t help wondering if throwing a baseball a little bit might have played some small role in expediting a setback that was probably inevitable anyway. He’ll have surgery regardless, but now he’s had three cortisone shots in a year. That just seems like a lot. If doctors cleared it, I’m sure it’s fine, but he’s really doing what he can to stay on the field.
• On the flip side of the Beltran-in-the-field argument: I was never sure it was a good idea, and I’m still not sure it was a good idea, but I became significantly more on board when Girardi made it clear he was willing to give Derek Jeter significant time at designated hitter so that either Drew or Brendan Ryan could spend more time at shortstop. Freeing up the DH spot not only let the Yankees rest veterans more easily, but it helped their infield defense on those days Girardi was willing to play his best defensive shortstops. That seemed like a real plus. It might have been an obvious move, but I wasn’t sure Girardi would be willing to do it.
• I assume yesterday’s Zelous Wheeler call-up makes him a shoo-in for a September call-up (meaning he’ll stick around once rosters expand). Nothing against Wheeler, who’s done a nice job establishing himself as a kind of utility option in the big leagues, but I really wondered if his roster spot might be up for grabs next month. There’s little sense keeping both he and Jose Pirela on the roster — they’re fairly similar — and I thought the Yankees might prefer to check out the younger guy. I guess it still might happen. With Wheeler and Yangervis Solarte, the Yankees did a nice job over the winter of finding some useful pieces among the six-year minor league free agents. Need to do that kind of thing when the upper levels of the minor league system are fairly thin.
• Take away any requirement for number of at-bats, and the only Yankees who have hit better than .300 with runners in scoring position this year are Scott Sizemore (2-for-4), Zoilo Almonte (1-for-3) and John Ryan Murphy (4-for-13). The other Yankees hitting better than .250 with runners in scoring position are Brett Gardner (.295), Stephen Drew (.294), Jacoby Ellsbury (.292), Yangervis Solarte (.284), Kelly Johnson (.280) and Derek Jeter (.275).
• Not the usual sort of item for a post like this, but it sounds interesting: Yesterday, MLB announced that Robinson Cano, Adam Jones, Yasiel Puig and Albert Pujols will be among a group of Major Leaguers who will travel to Japan this November to play a five-game series against “Samurai Japan” (Japan’s National Team) in “All-Star Series 2014.” Ron Washington will manage the team. No word on a full roster just yet. I think it would be cool to see Brett Gardner, Dave Robertson or Dellin Betances make the trip. Maybe even a guy like Shane Greene or David Phelps if MLB is going to flesh out the roster with younger guys like that. Certainly not the biggest names on the Yankees roster, but absolutely among the most deserving of something like this.
• One reason the Yankees are still in the race is because of the general parity in baseball. I really wonder if we’ll see another run where a team makes the playoffs as consistently as the Yankees did the previous two decades. “I think that with the way that baseball has (gone) with the revenue sharing and the TV contracts and everything that’s going on, I think you’re seeing more parity in the game,” Girardi said. “It doesn’t appear that there’s going to be a team that wins 100 games this year. I don’t know how many teams are going to win 90 games this year. You’re seeing, I think, a group of 30 teams that from top to bottom, I think there’s more competition and it becomes really difficult. We can look at Boston last year, they won the World Series. They made a few changes, but they didn’t make a ton of changes, and this year for whatever reason it hasn’t worked out for them. And I don’t think they expected that. It’s not easy to win a championship.”
Associated Press photos
Here’s the way Joe Girardi explained the Carlos Beltran situation:
Apparently Beltran’s elbow bothers him from time to time when he swings. Nothing extreme, just enough to feel that there’s something not quite right — which everyone knows to be the case — and then it goes away. He’s felt it before and stayed in games without much concern. Last night it happened again, but this time Beltran was still feeling something the morning after.
“He said it grabbed a little bit last night on one of the swings,” Girardi said. “He went through the rest of the game, but today he woke up and he felt it. Obviously that’s a little worse than it’s been at any other point during when he’s been playing and playing pretty well. I’m not really sure what it means. Hopefully it’s just a day or two.”
Beltran was originally at designated hitter, Derek Jeter at shortstop, Stephen Drew at second base and Martin Prado in right field. When Beltran was scratched, the lineup shuffled to the one you’ve already seen.
Is there concern that Beltran playing the field is what caused this lingering discomfort?
“No, because he’s felt it on swings, not in the outfield,” Girardi said. “He didn’t really have a lot of action in the outfield, so he didn’t really have to make any throws or anything like that. It seems to be more from a swing than from throwing.”
Girardi said it’s too early to know what this means for the future of using Beltran in the outfield. It seems too early to say even what it means for the immediate future of using him in the lineup. Dr. Chris Ahmad will check the elbow tonight.
“He’ll see the doctor and we’ll find out what’s going on,” Girardi said. “I’m sure it’s much of the same of what he had going on before, but for whatever reason it was a little worse today in a sense that he still felt it whereas other times he didn’t.”
• Masahiro Tanaka threw a 35-pitch bullpen today, and it included breaking balls. Using one-word English answers in the beginning of a group interview at his locker, Tanaka said that the bullpen was “good” and “better” than last time.
• This was the first time since the injury that Tanaka threw something other than fastballs off a mound. He threw his breaking balls, including five splitters. “I felt (the offspeed stuff) was a little bit rusty,” Tanaka said. “I’ll have to brush that up a little bit.”
• No official word on what’s next for Tanaka. The next step would be live batting practice, but Tanaka might throw another bullpen before he faces hitters. “I don’t really have a realistic timeframe because I don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves,” Girardi said. “But the next step would be throwing BP, then a simulated game, then obviously a rehab game. The fact that he felt good today was encouraging. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow; obviously that’s really important. But he was able to throw his curveball, his slider and his split; I watched it and he looked pretty good.”
• Tanaka said he was not worried about the elbow during the bullpen, and he feels pretty confident that the health problems are behind him. “Absolutely,” he said. “I feel that I’ve gotten the health; the elbow is fine now. I’m more looking towards playing in a game now. But that said, even that said, I think I do have to be cautious about the elbow.”
• Seems weird, but apparently there’s no plan to have Tanaka have another MRI. As long as he feels good, he will apparently keep pitching. “With this type of injury, it’s either going to work or it’s not going to work,” Girardi said. “It’s not something like you’re waiting for the inflammation to go away or something like that. It’s either going to work or it’s not going to work.”
• Still no exact plan for David Phelps. “No, we have not (made a decision),” Girardi said. “Cash, Stevie and myself are going to sit down with the doctor and figure out what is the best plan for him to get him back, or what needs to be done next.” Yankees are apparently still deciding whether it’s best to bring Phelps back as a starter (which will take more time) or as a reliever (which could happen quite a bit sooner).
• Any concern about Stephen Drew’s offensive numbers since the trade deadline? “He’s got, what, eight or nine RBIs since he’s been here in the games that he’s played?” Girardi said. “His average maybe is not (good), but he’s had some production for us.” Someone get this quote to Brian Kenny!
Associated Press photos
Usually on a day like this I’d do a random thoughts blog post. Today, it’s not so much thoughts but questions that are on my mind. No answers just yet, but these questions are going to determine much of what happens to the Yankees down the stretch.
Can Michael Pineda’s shoulder hold up this time?
It’s not only the setbacks this season, it’s the fact he had such a significant shoulder injury in the first place. That’s why Pineda’s health remains a concern even after last night’s encouraging start in Baltimore. Pineda looked good in his return to the rotation — hard to ask for more under the circumstances — but one game really isn’t nearly enough to tell us whether he’s going to be a great, good, average or lousy pitcher in the final month and a half. Last night was basically enough to show that he could be an impact arm if he stays healthy. Staying healthy is, of course, the key. It has huge ramifications for this year and beyond.
What happens when Masahiro Tanaka gets on a mound?
He seemed to say all of the right things after throwing what I guess qualifies as an extremely light flat ground bullpen. He’s been able to play catch, do some long toss, and now he’s been able to throw a few fastballs in the outfield. All of the steps have been positive so far, and Tanaka says the elbow pain has vanished, but let’s see what happens when he gets on a mound and dials it up with fastballs, splitters and sliders. The Yankees are hoping to avoid Tommy John surgery for both the short term and the long term, and while the early returns are positive, Tanaka’s not through the woods just yet.
Will Carlos Beltran’s return to right field be a worthwhile idea?
He was awesome in early April, then his bat diminished, then he was hurt, then he came back as only a whisper of what he used to be. But lately, Beltran has been a true impact hitter, one of the best in the Yankees lineup. He’s been terrific since the All-Star break, and the Yankees can hardly afford to lose a guy who’s actually providing offensive production and consistency. Yet, they want to get Beltran back in right field. It makes sense as a way to open the DH spot to rest other lineup regulars — and perhaps open at bats for some sort of raw bat that might clear trade waivers this month — but that’s only a worthwhile move if Beltran is able to play right field without getting hurt again.
Is the bullpen running out of steam?
Aside from that hiccup in Texas and one pitch last night, Dellin Betances still looks great. And Dave Robertson has remained perfectly reliable in the ninth inning. But one of the strengths of this bullpen has been its depth, and Adam Warren’s numbers have not been especially good lately. Chase Whitley, who looked awesome when he first showed up, has thrown a ton of innings by his standards and could be worn down. There’s no longer a proven left-hander. Shawn Kelley has been inconsistent. Could be that Esmil Rogers can provide a boost if some of the go-to guys need it, but the bullpen is starting to feel a little shaky beyond the two big guys at the end.
How much difference can three guys make?
Before the trade deadline, the Yankees completely rebuilt the bottom third of their lineup. Brian Roberts was released, Kelly Johnson and Yangervis Solare were shipped away, and Ichiro Suzuki was relegated to the bench. They were replaced by Chase Headley, Stephen Drew and Martin Prado, three pretty good hitters having pretty bad years. Headley and Drew have significantly upgraded the infield defense, but the Yankees need those three to hit, and their offensive impact has been pretty minimal so far.
When will Mark Teixeira break down again?
I suppose it’s not quite a given that Teixeira is going to get hurt again, but it seems entirely possible if not likely that he’s going to have some sort of nagging problem pop up again. This guy has already spent time on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, gotten injections in his wrist and his back, had his knee drained, gotten stitches for his pinky, and been taken out of the lineup because of fatigue and light-headedness (two separate issues). The way the roster is structured right now, a Teixeira injury would mean additional at-bats for either Francisco Cervelli, Ichiro Suzuki or Brendan Ryan. Those are hardly offensive replacements for what Teixeira brings to the lineup.
Who is the true left-handed specialist?
The Yankees saw an opportunity to get out of an uninspiring contract, and so they let Matt Thornton slip away on waivers earlier this month. Thornton had been alright — not a single extra-base hit to a left-handed hitter — but he seems infinitely replaceable. Problem is, the Yankees haven’t really replaced him yet. They’ve tried Rich Hill and David Huff in key at-bats against lefties, but those two are hardly typical left-handed specialists. Eventually the Yankees are surely going to try one of their in-house young lefties in the role. Will it be Tyler Webb, Jacob Lindgren or maybe even Manny Banuelos? And more importantly, will they be up to the challenge?
Which teams are fading and which are charging?
The Red Sox and Rays have pretty much thrown in the towel, and the Angels and A’s seem to be locked into playoff spots — they’re simply fighting for which one wins the West and which is the top wild card — but that still leaves plenty of other playoff contenders for the Yankees to keep an eye on. The Orioles and Blue Jays are obviously ahead of the Yankees in the division, and the second wild-card race also includes Detroit, Kansas City, Seattle and Cleveland. That’s seven teams in the mix for one of the two playoff spots that could let the Yankees move on.
Associated Press photos
Nearly three weeks ago, David Phelps pitched into the seventh inning against the Reds, and his strong pitching line left little reason to question whether his health. He made his next start, pitched well again, he seemed to be on a real roll with absolutely no cause for concern.
Turns out, his elbow had been bothering him.
Tonight’s injury is nothing new. Phelps first felt discomfort in the back of his elbow, near the triceps, on July 18. He was sent for an MRI after that start, and the test came back clean. No ligament damage, just a little tightness that had a tendency to loosen up as Phelps pitched.
Phelps said he came off the mound after the second inning fully prepared to tell Joe Girardi that his elbow was bothering him. Before he could say anything, Girardi told Phelps he was out of the game. He was removed due to ineffectiveness, not because of the injury. When Phelps mentioned that his elbow was bothering him, the team decided to send him for further tests tomorrow.
“It’s not like it’s in here (by the ligament),” Girardi said. “It’s back up by the triceps a little bit. We’ll see how he is tomorrow. … I believe he’s going to pitch again (this year). I don’t know if it’ll be his next turn, but I believe he’s going to pitch again. Like I said, he had the MRI before and it came back clean. He might need a little time out.”
Pitchers obviously worry about any arm issue, so Phelps is of course concerned, but he doesn’t seem overwhelmed. It doesn’t hurt him on breaking balls. Phelps said it’s mostly when he gets fully extended that he feels it.
“I’ve never had elbow issues, so I don’t know what is bad feeling,” he said. “Any time it’s your arm, there is concern, but it loosens up, that’s one (positive) thing. We already had one MRI, and it was clean. … After we got the first MRI, we sat down with Doc and he said, ‘Listen, as long as it’s not getting worse, we’re good.’ The ligament was clean, everything was good. Today was what really set me off is today was the day it was worse. Had to say something. We’ll find out what it is tomorrow and go from there.”
Even a short-term injury to Phelps is quite a blow for the Yankees. One inning got away from him last time out, but for the most part Phelps has pitched extremely well lately. He’s been one of the biggest reasons this rotation has held up despite long-term injuries to four starters. The Yankees will miss Phelps, even if he misses only one start.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “I felt like coming into this start I was throwing the ball the best I had in my career consistently. Any time we’re talking about a DL stint, it’s frustrating. I was really enjoying helping the team win ballgames. It’s frustrating. We’re playing better baseball and I feel like we’re about to go on a run.”
• If Phelps has to miss a start, Girardi said new reliever Esmil Rogers would be a candidate to spot start. Rogers was working as a starter in Triple-A with the Blue Jays, and he pitched three hitless innings tonight. “He’s obviously built up,” Girardi said. “Obviously we’ve got some time to think about it. We wouldn’t pitch him tomorrow anyway, but we’ve got some time to think about it. We’ll have a decision for you.”
• What was working for Rogers? For one thing, he was consistently throwing his fastball at 95 mph. “I think my fastball command was really important for me,” he said. “That was the key for tonight. You see how many fastballs I can throw today. I don’t throw too many sliders.”
• Just getting innings from Rogers was big because Girardi said he didn’t want to use either Adam Warren or Shawn Kelley, so someone had to bridge the gap to Dellin Betances and Dave Robertson, and Rogers did that by himself.
• Obviously it seems the elbow was a real problem tonight, but how exactly did the elbow issue impact Phelps? “I feel like my command was there for the most part,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was struggling with my stuff. It was just up in the zone.”
• Rogers became the 29th different Yankees pitcher this season. That’s a new franchise record for pitchers used in a single season. Historic!
• Another good night for the Yankees offense, and another huge night for Brett Gardner who reached base four times and had the game-winning home run in the sixth. It was his fifth homer in the past six games. He has the most home runs out of the leadoff spot of anyone in baseball. His 44 RBI out of the leadoff spot are the second-most in baseball. “I’m just happy I’ve been able to go out there and repeat my swing, swing at good pitches to hit and not chase too many balls out of the zone,” Gardner said. “Be a patient hitter but also be aggressive in the strike zone.”
• Also hitting pretty well lately is Carlos Beltran, who had another two-hit game to tie a career-high with six straight multi-hit games. He’s had at least one hit in 10 straight games. “He’s been big,” Girardi said. “He’s swinging the bat extremely well. The big thing is to keep him away from batting screens and whatever else we have to keep him away from.”
• Also with a two-hit game, new second baseman Stephen Drew. He matched his second-high with four RBI and once again played a sharp and often impressive game at second base. Tiny sample size, but Drew’s been pretty good in his first three days with the Yankees. “Our reports on Stephen Drew were that he was swinging the bat a lot better,” Girardi said. “This is a good player. He didn’t have a lot of at-bats to get ready for the season; he was rushed and I think it probably took him some time to get going.”
• How has Drew felt at second? “As comfortable as I can be for three games when I haven’t played since high school,” he said. “I am enjoying it. I am going to embrace it and to be able to play with Jeter his last year — who I looked up to when I was growing up — it’s special. I am going to soak this in.”
• Final word goes to Gardner: “We’ve got a great group of guys and we continue to fight. Esmil Rogers came in and did a great job. He’s a guy we’ve faced the last couple of seasons with Toronto and he’s got real good stuff. He came in in the middle of the game and really put a stop to everything. Hopefully we can take this momentum home with us.”
Associated Press photos