5:00pm: Tanaka threw 35 pitches in the bullpen this afternoon, including fastballs, curveballs, sliders, and even five splitters. Everything went well and he feels fine. Joe Girardi told reported the next step with either be another bullpen session or facing hitters in live batting practice, depending how Tanaka feels in the coming days.
12:30pm: Masahiro Tanaka will throw his second bullpen session today as he attempts to work his way back from a partially torn elbow ligament. He is expected to throw some breaking balls — but not splitters — this time, which is a pretty significant step. Tanaka has thrown breaking balls while playing catch on flat ground.
The Yankees have said the team’s position in the wildcard race will not change how they approach Tanaka’s rehab. They won’t rush him, but they also would like to get him back in games if possible just to see what they have. I guess there is also some feeling that if his elbow is going to blow out, it’s going to blow out, and it’s better to find that out now than early next year. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Hope today goes well.
Over the last six or seven years, basically the entire Joe Girardi era, the Yankees have done a nice job of building the bulk of their bullpen on the cheap. Oh sure, there still is the occasional Rafael Soriano or Matt Thornton signing, but the days of handing out big money multi-year contracts to (occasionally multiple) relievers every offseason are over. That has allowed the club to maintain some semblance of payroll and roster flexibility.
Low-profile pickups like Boone Logan, Luis Ayala, Cory Wade, Brian Bruney, and Shawn Kelley have contributed over the years, even if only for a short period of time — not everyone needs to be around forever to qualify as a success, getting 50-60 good innings out of a scrap heap pickup is a win — but for the most part the farm system has provided the bullpen core. David Robertson and Dellin Betances are the standouts, with others like Adam Warren, Preston Claiborne, Phil Coke, Joba Chamberlain, Edwar Ramirez, and Alfredo Aceves playing important roles at various times.
There are no indications the Yankees will stray from this approach, nor should they. They’ve been successful at cobbling together bullpens this way for several years, and it saves money to use elsewhere on the roster. They could have easily signed a veteran closer over the winter to replace Mariano Rivera, that would have been a very Yankees move, but no, they went with Robertson. (They were connected to Fernando Rodney and Grant Balfour at different points, though I think that was just due diligence.) It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Robertson is a free agent after the season.
Anyway, as I mentioned yesterday, bullpens have a way of getting overhauled during the course of the summer. Already this year we’ve seen Betances go from interesting wildcard to arguably the best reliever in the game. Warren went from long man to setup man and back to … something. His role is kinda undefined at this moment. Thornton was signed to be the primary lefty specialist but was literally given away for nothing. Robertson in the ninth inning has been the one constant, so in a sense this year has been no different than the last few, only with Robertson playing the role of Rivera.
Coming out of Spring Training, the Yankees had three young relievers who were slated to serve as depth in Triple-A in Mark Montgomery, Danny Burawa, and Fred Lewis. All three impressed in camp and put themselves in position to be called up if a need arose. Instead, all three pitched their way into demotions down the Double-A before the end of July. All three of them! Lewis almost made the team out of Spring Training and now he’s currently on the Double-A disabled list after pitching to a 6.89 ERA with the same number of walks as strikeouts (31) in 32.2 innings. We shouldn’t forget Jose Ramirez either. He was part of that next bullpen wave but has been alternately hurt and ineffective in 2014.
Such is the life of a reliever though, especially reliever prospects. They just start sucking without warning and sometimes for no apparent reason. That’s why you need a lot of them, which the Yankees have. As Lewis, Montgomery, Burawa, and Ramirez took steps back this year, other relievers have taken steps forward and put themselves on the big league map. Specifically, I’m talking about righty Nick Rumbelow and lefties Tyler Webb and Jacob Lindgren. Lindgren you all know by now. Rumbelow (seventh) and Webb (tenth) are both 2013 draftees who have climbed from Single-A to Triple-A this summer. Rumbelow started all the way down at Low-A Charleston, Webb with High-A Tampa.
The Yankees have emphasized one singular trait these last six or seven years while building their bullpen: the ability to miss bats. They don’t care how the guy does it — blow a fastball by hitters, nasty breaking ball, filthy changeup, whatever — but that is clearly their top priority out of the bullpen. In fact, the Yankees have the highest bullpen strikeout rate in baseball this year (26.7%) and the second highest since the start of the Girardi era in 2008 (23.0%). Only the Braves (23.3%) have been better. It makes sense, right? Late in the game you want to miss as many bats as possible. The other team can’t hurt you if they can’t put the ball in play, after all.
Lindgren, as you know, has a wipeout slider that has allowed him to pile up 41 strikeouts in only 20.2 pro innings (17.9 K/9 and 49.4 K%). Rumbelow has 72 strikeouts in 51.1 innings this year (12.6 K/9 and 35.0 K%) thanks to his big breaking curveball. Webb is another curveball guy. He’s struck out 89 in 64.1 innings (12.5 K/9 and 33.1 K%) during his meteoric rise this year. That’s the trademark right there. Strikeouts. The Yankees do as good a job as any team of digging up pitchers with present or future out pitches in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, whether it be Rumbelow or Montgomery or Robertson. If you have one swing-and-miss pitch, you have a chance to help out of the bullpen. If you have two, you can dominate like Robertson and Betances.
“We’ve got some arms, no doubt about it,” said Brian Cashman to Nick Peruffo yesterday. “We had Webb here (at Double-A), and now he’s at Triple-A. Rumbelow is at Triple-A. These guys are pretty interesting characters in themselves, and we have some guys who could be moving up to Triple-A soon enough. I think a lot of the guys that you are seeing that have been here or are currently here, you have a chance to see as early as next year, and in some cases you can never rule anything out. We do have some left and right side arms that get asked a lot about, and that I’d certainly ask about a lot.”
Like the big league bullpen, the Yankees’ pool of minor league relief prospects has changed as the season as progressed. Montgomery and Ramirez in particular where expected to help at some point — Ramirez got a chance but it didn’t go well, it happens — while guys like Rumbelow and Webb were little more than interesting arms in Single-A back in April. I didn’t even know who Lindgren was in April and now he’s on the cusp of being a Yankee. Their rises combined with the fall of some upper level arms have given the Yankees a new-look crop of bullpen prospects these last four months.
Last night’s come from ahead loss to the Astros dropped the Yankees to four games back of the second wildcard spot with 39 games to play. Insurmountable? Of course not. Long shot? It sure feels like it. FanGraphs puts the team’s postseason odds at 6.3% while Baseball Prospectus has them at 5.4%. ESPN has them at 3.3%, if you want another measure. Point is, New York’s chances of playing in October are growing smaller by the day.
The series opening loss to Houston was the third time the Yankees lost to the Astros in four meetings this year. We’re talking about an opponent that has lost at least 106 games in each of the last three years, a level of performance so pathetic that this year’s 94-loss pace represents a 17-win improvement (!) from 2013. And yet, the Yankees are 1-3 against the Astros in 2014. Four games tell us nothing about the talent level of these two teams, but they do count in the standings and they’ve hurt the Bombers.
Obviously, this is baseball and any team can beat any team on any given day. We all know that. But if you’re a team like the Yankees, one with plans of contending, then you’ve got to rack up some wins against bad teams like the Astros. Especially at home. They failed to do that last night and lost even more ground in the standings. Unfortunately, this extends beyond Houston. Here’s how the Yankees have fared against the teams with the ten worst winning percentages in baseball this year:
- Mets: 2-2
- White Sox: 2-2
- Red Sox: 8-5
- Twins: 4-3
- Cubs: 3-1
- Astros: 1-3
- Rangers: 4-3
(They have not and will not play the Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Rockies this season.)
That works out to 24-19, or a .558 winning percentage. That’s a 90-win pace over a full season. Pretty good, right? Well, not really. The rest of the league has a .573 winning percentage against bottom ten teams. The AL East leading Orioles have a .629 winning percentage against bottom ten teams. The Tigers and Mariners are essentially tied for the second wildcard spot and they have .565 and .500 winning percentages against bottom ten teams, respectively, which is why they’re battling for the second wildcard and aren’t higher in the standings, same as the Yankees.
The old adage says you’re supposed to hold your own against the good teams and beat the snot out of the bad teams, but baseball’s changed. Every team is a bad team these days, or at least it feels that way. There are two or three very good teams (zero truly great teams, though) and I’d say five or six awful teams. Every other club is scrunched together in the middle, beating up on each other. Those games against bad teams are a separator. Whoever does the best job of actually getting wins against the teams “you’re supposed to beat” will have a leg up on the competition. The Yankees haven’t done that this year and it’s hurt them in the standings.
A lot has gone wrong for the Yankees this year, mostly pitching injuries and some really bad offensive performances. It seems like they’ve been playing catch up all season. One thing goes right, two things go wrong. Dropping three of four to Astros stings. So does splitting four games with the Mets and winning only four of seven against both the amazingly terrible Twins and Rangers. There is no such thing as an easy win in baseball, but the Yankees have let some very winnable games against bad teams slip away (like this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, and last night) and that’s part of the reason why they’re facing such a big deficit in the race for a postseason spot.
So much for starting the homestand off on the right foot after those two wins in Tampa, huh? A rare David Robertson meltdown led to a 7-4 Astros win in Tuesday night’s series opener. The Yankees are now 1-3 against Houston this year.
From 0-2 to 2-0
As usual, the Yankees traded zeroes with [insert opponent here] for the first three innings of Tuesday’s game. They should just start every game in the fourth or fifth inning with the score 0-0 the rest of the season. It would save so much time. Mark Teixeira (strikeout) and Carlos Beltran (fly out) were quickly retired in the bottom of the fourth, but Martin Prado followed with a first pitch single and Brian McCann followed that with a two-run homer into the second deck in right. Brett Oberholtzer hung an 0-2 breaking ball right out over the plate. It was a cookie. Those were two of the five men the Yankees put on base in the first five innings.
For his 36th birthday, Chris Capuano have himself a no decision. His bullpen tried to give him a loss. Adam Warren, specifically. Capuano did what he’s done since he arrived in New York, specifically using his array of changeups and curveballs and other soft stuff to keep the Astros completely off balance through four innings, striking out six in the process. Houston had a base-runner in each of those four innings but only one (Gregorio Petit’s ground rule double in the third) made it as far as second base.
Capuano gave up a run in the fifth inning on Petit’s double and Robbie Grossman’s soft single to right, which kinda sucked because a) there were two outs and bases empty before the mini-rally, and b) McCann had just given the Yankees a 2-0 run in the previous half-inning. But, one run in five innings of work isn’t bad by any stretch. You’d take that from your … 11th? 12th? I’ve lost count at this point … starter every time out. Dexter Fowler’s leadoff stand-up triple in the sixth is when things started to fall apart.
Jason Castro drove in Fowler with a simple ground out to tie the game, which, I mean, fine. Hard to strand a guy after a leadoff triple. But then Matt Dominguez singled. Then Jon Singleton singled. Then Joe Girardi came out of the dugout to get Capuano with his pitch count at a season-high 103, opting to go with struggling Warren. Warren got the second out of the inning on a weak ground ball that hit him, but he hung a slider to pinch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez, who pulled it to right for a two-run single. Ichiro Suzuki completely misplayed the ball but there wouldn’t have been a play at the plate anyway.
Warren stranded the runner and got the third out, but the damage had been done. The 2-1 lead was suddenly a 4-2 deficit, and all four runs were charged to Capuano. His final pitching line — 5.1 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 8 K — looks worse than he pitched, if you know what I mean. Some shoddy bullpen work could gave given him a lead and did bloat his ERA. On his birthday, no less. Jerks.
Rally To Tie
You gotta hand it to them, as soon as the Astros had that big three-run top of the sixth to take the lead, the Yankees answered right back to tie the game in the bottom half. Jacoby Ellsbury started things off with a first pitch single — he’s a much better leadoff hitter than number three hitter, no? — and he took second on a stolen base/balk. He got a great jump and had the base stolen, but Oberholtzer balked, so it didn’t matter. Sucks if you own Ellsbury in fantasy, but it accomplished the same thing.
Teixeira struck out and Beltran walked, putting the tying run on base with one out. Astros manager Bo Porter opted to stick with the left-handed Oberholtzer against the right-handed Prado, who took five straight pitches to work the count full. One of the strikes was way off the plate should have been called a ball, but it’s a good thing it wasn’t. Prado yanked Oberholtzer’s 94th and final pitch of the night into the left field corner for a game-tying two-run double. It nearly hopped over the wall for a ground-rule double, which would have cost the Yankees a run. Thankfully it stayed in play and the game was tied.
The Yankees didn’t get Prado in from second with one out because that’s what they do. Just be happy they got the two runs. Ellsbury led off the bottom of the eighth with an infield single before stealing second and getting to third on a throwing error. The throw literally hit his leg as he slid into second and bounced into the outfield. Unfortunately, Beltran grounded right to shortstop with the infield in and Ellsbury was thrown out at home on the contact play. What can you do? This team can’t score runs and a speedy runner like Ellsbury could have forced a young infielder like Gonzalez to rush his throw, but alas. Wasted opportunity.
Robertson picked a really, really bad time to have his first terrible outing in about two and a half months. The score was still knotted up at four when he took over in the ninth inning, and he did get a quick first pitch out to start the inning, but things unraveled from there. Robertson walked Grossman on five pitches — he stole second, though that really didn’t matter given the outcome — then walked Jose Altuve after being ahead in the count 0-2. The Astros had men on first and second with one out.
In between the Altuve at-bat and the Chris Carter at-bat that followed, Robertson threw seven straight balls. The Astros turned Carter lose 3-0, Robertson grooved a fastball right down the middle, and Carter hit it a mile to left field for a three-run homer. No-doubter, gone on contact. The game was over because the offense sure as hell wasn’t scoring three runs in the ninth to tie. If you rank the players on the roster 1-25 based on how much of a problem they are, Robertson would be … 25th? Maybe 24th behind Dellin Betances? He’s been awesome this year but stunk in this game.
Ellsbury and Prado both went 3-for-4 while the rest of the lineup went 3-for-27 (.111). McCann homered, Teixeira singled, and Ichiro singled. Ichiro actually slipped when he took his stride and put his front foot down, but he still got the barrel on the ball on found a hole for a base hit. The guy’s bat control is ridiculous. Beltran drew the only walk. Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter both went 0-for-4 as the one-two hitters.
Between the Warren and Robertson calamities, Shawn Kelley and Betances retired six of seven batters faced with two strikeouts apiece. Betances allowed a dinky little ground ball single through the shift. Rich Hill came on to replace Robertson in the ninth, allowed the two lefties he faced to reach base (single and walk) and struck out the two righties. Of course.
I’m not normally one to complain about the strike zone (it is what it is), but Paul Emmel seemed to have a particularly big zone, especially the outside corner to righties. The PitchFX data confirms it. It completely changed Chase Headley‘s at-bat with Prado at second in the seventh, turning what should have been ball four in a 3-1 count into a 3-2 count. Changed everything. Headley struck out on the next pitch.
And finally, Jeter did the Ice Bucket Challenge before the game on Tuesday. The video is above. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason for doing it on the carpet in the middle of the clubhouse. Anyway, the hug with Masahiro Tanaka is the best part.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and video highlights, go to MLB.com. You can find some more game stats at FanGraphs and the updated standings at ESPN. The Orioles won, so the Yankees are now 8.5 games back in the AL East. They’re in second place too. This division was there for the taking if someone wanted to go on an extended run, and Baltimore took advantage. The Mariners won as well, meaning the Yankees are now four games back of the second wildcard spot. FanGraphs has their postseason odds at 6.6%.
Same two teams on Wednesday night, when Michael Pineda and Scott Feldman meet in the middle game of this three-game series. Hoping to see some big things out of Big Mike. If you want to catch that game or any of the other four games left on homestand, RAB Tickets can get you in the door.
- RHP Luis Severino (oblique) was activated off the Double-A Trenton disabled list, the team announced. How about that? A minor injury that actually turned out to be minor. C Gary Sanchez was placed on the paternity list to clear a roster spot, according to the team. Congrats to him.
- 1B Mike Ford was promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa, says Nicholas Flammia. 1B Bubba Jones was bumped from Short Seasons Staten Island to Charleston in a corresponding move, according to the team.
Triple-A Scranton (6-5 win over Syracuse, walk-off style)
- CF Jose Pirela: 3-5, 2 R, 1 3B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 K — walk-off three-run triple … hot damn
- 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 R, 2 K
- RF Zoilo Almonte: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 K
- 1B Kyle Roller: 0-4, 1 K
- SS Zelous Wheeler: 0-2, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K
- C Austin Romine: 0-4, 2 K
- RHP Zach Nuding: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 WP, 2/6 GB/FB — 59 of 93 pitches were strikes (63%)
The Yankees and Astros could not be any more different. One team has a huge payroll, the other has a laughably small payroll by 2014 standards. One has one of the oldest rosters in the league, the other has one of the youngest. One is actually trying to contend and doing whatever they can to win, the other is content with losing and stockpiling prospects for a future than may never come.
After winning two straight over the Rays this past weekend, the Yankees have some renewed hope that their postseason chances are not completely shot. They are three games back of the second wildcard spot with 39 games to play after tonight. If they’re going to make a run, it has to start with a beatdown of a lowly Astros at home this week. Here is Houston’s lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- SS Derek Jeter
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- DH Carlos Beltran
- 2B Martin Prado
- C Brian McCann
- 3B Chase Headley
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
LHP Chris Capuano
It’s starting to feel a little like fall in New York. The temperature is hovering around 80 even though it’s nice and sunny and there are no clouds in the sky. There is no rain in the forecast tonight either. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET. You can watch on My9. Enjoy.
For the first time since being placed on the 15-day disabled list with elbow inflammation two weeks ago, David Phelps played catch
today yesterday. He made 50 throws from 60 feet and told reporters he had an MRI yesterday. The results will be available at some point today. Joe Girardi told reporters that Phelps is likely three weeks away from returning to the team if the tests come back clean (as expected), though they might bring him back as a reliever just to speed things up.
After a six-game turned five-game because of a rainout road trip, the Yankees are back home in the Bronx for a six-game homestand. They’re going to face two really bad teams and winning four of the six is the bare minimum at this point if they want to get back in the postseason race. The Astros are in town for three games starting tonight. The Yankees lost two of three in Houston way back in April, the very first series of the season.
What Have They Done Lately?
Like the Yankees, the Astros were off on Monday. They split a four-game series with the Red Sox up in Fenway Park over the weekend and have lost eight of their last 13 games overall. Houston is 52-73 with a -91 run differential in 2014, both the third worst marks in baseball. To their credit, Houston has already won more games this year than they did last year (51-111).
Manager Bo Porter’s club averages 4.01 runs per game with a team 97 wRC+, so they’re just a touch below-averageoffensively. Better than the Yankees (3.94 and 92, respectively), anyway. The Astros are currently without OF George Springer (125 wRC+) and OF Alex Presley (82 wRC+) due to quad and oblique injuries, and neither will return this series. Bummed we won’t see Springer. UTIL Jesus Guzman (56 wRC+) is out with a back problem but could be activated off the disabled list sometime this week.
The Houston lineup revolves around 2B Jose Altuve (131 wRC+), who leads the league in average (.339) and steals (46). His reputation outweighed his production the last few years — I’m convinced it’s because he’s really short, similar to how Melky Cabrera was overrated while with the Yankees because he had a cool name — but he is definitely performing like a true star right now. 1B/OF Chris Carter (127 wRC+) strikes out a ton (30.4%) but he has ten homers and a 186 wRC+ over the last 30 days. OF Dexter Fowler (129 wRC+) just came off the disabled list a week ago. Altuve, Carter, and Fowler are the stars of the show with Springer injured.
The rest of Porter’s lineup includes former first rounders C Jason Castro (94 wRC+) and 3B Matt Dominguez (72 wRC+). Castro has had a disappointing follow up to last summer’s breakout year. OF Robbie Grossman (94 wRC+) and OF Jake Marisnick (53 wRC+) both see time in the outfield and 1B Jon Singleton (87 wRC+) plays first. He signed a five-year, $10M extension before ever playing in a MLB game. I bet the lefty swinger takes advantage of the short porch at least once this week. IF Gregorio Petit (100 wRC+ in very limited time) and IF Marwin Gonzalez (96 wRC+) share time at shortstop. 1B/OF Marc Krauss (78 wRC+) and C Carlos Corporan (88 wRC+) fill out the bench.
Oberholtzer, 25, has gone down to Triple-A a few times this year despite a solid 3.87 ERA (3.68 FIP) in 17 starts and 104.2 innings at the MLB level. He excels at limiting walks (1.89 BB/9 and 5.0 BB%) and does keep the ball in the park (0.77 HR/9 and 5.9 HR/FB%), but both his strikeout (5.68 K/9 and 14.9 K%) and ground ball (37.0%) numbers are unimpressive. Righties (.326 wOBA) have hit him a bit harder than lefties (.300 wOBA), and he’s been more successful on the road (.305 wOBA) than at home (.330 wOBA). Oberholtzer is a classic finesse southpaw, sitting right around 90 mph with his fastball while throwing both his changeup and curveball in the low-80s. He held the Yankees to three runs in 5.2 innings back in April.
The Astros finally decided to spend some money this past offseason, and most of it went to the 31-year-old Feldman. He got three years and $30M. Feldman has a 4.45 ERA (4.40 FIP) in 22 starts and 129.1 innings this year — he missed time with a biceps injury — even though his walk (2.78 BB/9 and 7.1 BB%), homer (0.84 HR/9 and 8.4 HR/FB%), and ground ball (44.7%) rates are more or less in line with his career norms. His strikeout rate (4.94 K/9 and 12.6 K%) is way down though, plus he has minimal platoon and home/road splits. Feldman is primarily a low-90s sinker/upper-80s cutter/mid-70s curveball pitcher, though he will throw the occasional mid-80s splitter that serves as his changeup. The Yankees did not score in 6.2 innings against the right-hander on Opening Day.
Keuchel, 26, has broken out in a huge way this season, pitching to a 3.11 ERA (3.31 FIP) in 23 starts and 156.1 innings. His strikeout (6.91 K/9 and 18.8 K%), walk (2.30 BB/9 and 6.3 BB%), and homer (0.58 HR/9 and 10.6 HR/FB%) rates are lower than the league averages, and his 61.8% ground ball rate is the highest in baseball by roughly five percentage points. Also, as Mark Simon notes, Keuchel has the tenth lowest hard-hit ball rate in baseball, so he’s getting a ton of weak contact on the ground. That’s a great way to keep runs off the board. Righties (.311 wOBA) are a bit more successful than lefties (.286 wOBA), though he does not have a significant home/road split at all. Keuchel gets all those weak grounders with upper-80s two and four-seam fastballs, plus he’ll mix in some mid-80s cutters. An upper-70s slider is his top secondary pitch and he’ll also throw a handful of upper-70s changeups per start. He’s basically a two-seamer/slider pitcher who will show a four-seamer and changeup. The Yankees did not see Keuchel when these two teams met in April.
The Astros spent some money on relievers this year, and ex-Yankee RHP Chad Qualls (3.11 FIP) has taken over as closer. RHP Jesse Crain has not pitched at all in 2014 due to continued arm problems and RHP Matt Albers has missed most of the season with a shoulder issue. Veterans LHP Tony Sipp (2.87 FIP) and ex-Yankee RHP Jose Veras (4.92 FIP) are Qualls’ primary setup men, though RHP Josh Fields (2.17 FIP) will see important innings as well.
The rest of Porter’s bullpen includes RHP Jake Buchanan (4.36 FIP), LHP Kevin Chapman (7.88 FIP in very limited time), LHP Darin Downs (3.29 FIP), and RHP Mike Foltynewicz (5.26 FIP in very limited time). Foltynewicz is a top prospect who was called up not too long ago and he throws very, very hard. Like every other team these days (it seems), the Astros are carrying eight relievers at the moment. Both of these teams were off Monday, so the bullpens are as fresh as it gets in mid-August. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for details on Joe Girardi‘s bullpen, then check out Astros County and Crawfish Boxes for the latest and greatest on the Astros.
Update: The Astros activated Guzman off the disabled list and sent Downs to Triple-A, the team announced. There you go.
Via Pete Caldera: The Yankees have “ended any pursuit” of Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo. For what it’s worth, George King says the Phillies are the favorite to sign him while Jim Salisbury says Philadelphia is not the front-runner, so believe these reports at your own risk. Caldera also notes Castillo is having visa issues and is unlikely to sign before August 31st, meaning he will not be postseason eligible this year.
The Yankees reportedly like Castillo as a second baseman more than as an outfielder, which goes against the consensus. They had him in Tampa for a private workout two weeks ago. Castillo is said to be sifting through several offers — it’s unknown if the Yankees made one — and he was initially expected to sign within a few days, but I guess the visa issues put an end to that. It’s unclear why the Yankees are passing on the 27-year-old Castillo. In all likelihood they think he’s not worth the money he’s going to get.
The Yankees were off yesterday for the third time in the last week. It’s not often that happens during the season outside of the All-Star break. For a team with an older roster and intentions of making a run at a postseason spot, a bunch of off-days bunched together in the middle of August might do them some good. Anyway, here are some miscellaneous thoughts.
1. In the last two games against the Rays this weekend, Joe Girardi went to Shawn Kelley in seventh inning fireman situations before giving the ball to Dellin Betances to start the eighth. Earlier in the season, we would have seen Betances come in to pitch out of the jam in the seventh before throwing the eighth as well. Maybe not in back-to-back games, but definitely in one of the two. Girardi has scaled back on Betances’ workload — the attempted three-inning outing against the Orioles last week was a bit of a special case because he had not pitched in five days and the Yankees were off the next day — using him for four or more outs only six times in 14 appearances since the All-Star break (17.2 innings). In his 14 appearances before the All-Star break, Betances was asked to record four or more outs ten times (19.1 innings). The plan might be to limit him to one-inning outings the rest of the season unless there are extenuating circumstances, like an upcoming off-day or a particularly long stretch of inactivity. Betances is up to 73 innings this year, the most of any full-time reliever in baseball — it’s also the most innings thrown by a Yankees reliever during the Girardi era, surpassing the 71.2 innings Joba Chamberlain threw in 2011 — and most of them have been stressful high-leverage innings. They have to be careful not to run Betances into the ground. The Yankees and Girardi are right to lighten up on him these next few weeks, and this past weekend might have been an indication of how the bullpen pieces will fall into place the rest of the way.
2. With that in mind, it was noticeable Adam Warren didn’t even warm up during the Tampa series. Kelley was the first and only guy up in those important seventh inning spots. Warren hasn’t pitched since his meltdown against the Orioles last Monday. He hasn’t been very good these last few weeks — 5.46 ERA and 4.06 FIP in 28 innings since June 1st — and maybe that outing against Baltimore was the final straw. The one that led to Girardi taking him out of important situations. That would be preferable to, say, Warren nursing an injury and not being available in general. If that is the case, that he is out of the Circle of Trust™ for the time being, it could open the door for Esmil Rogers to see some setup work whenever Kelley and/or Betances is unavailable. Rogers has pitched well during his brief stint in pinstripes and he has had success in a short relief role in the past — 3.06 ERA and 3.13 FIP in 44 appearances and 53 innings with the Indians in 2012 — which could be enough to land him some more responsibility. It’s amazing how the bullpen changes throughout the season. Every year, without fail. Kelley was the setup man, Warren the emerging relief ace, and Betances the great unknown in April. Now Betances is the shutdown relief ace, Kelley is the shaky seventh inning guy, and Warren is (temporarily?) untrustworthy. And we’re talking about Esmil Rogers pitching important innings.
3. Derek Jeter served as the DH both Saturday and Sunday and I think we’re going to see a bit more of him at DH in the coming weeks. Carlos Beltran returned to right field and Jeter has simply played a ton in the field this year. He’s started 102 of the team’s 122 games at shortstop and his recent slump — .237/.250/.322 (55 wRC+) with a 74.0% ground ball rate in August compared to .289/.340/.320 (86 wRC+) with a 60.5% ground ball rate in July — could be fatigue related. We are talking about a 40-year-old coming off a major ankle injury, remember. That doesn’t mean Jeter will be the full-time DH, but he might spend two or even three days a week there going forward. Beltran is no great shakes in the outfield, but Jacoby Ellsbury‘s range and the small Yankee Stadium right field make it easier to hide him. Especially since the Yankees (still) have a ground ball heavy pitching staff. Jeter at DH means Stephen Drew at short and Martin Prado at second, which is a tremendous double play combo defensively, as we saw over the weekend. The Yankees are not going to flat out take Jeter off short, not at this point, but giving him some more time at DH definitely improves the team. (It also gives them more time to evaluate Drew at short up close.)
4. I can’t imagine the Yankees will go through this coming offseason without trading a catcher. I don’t know who it will be, but they’ve reached the point where someone has to go. Brian McCann is locked in at the big league level and Gary Sanchez is ready to be bumped up to Triple-A Scranton. That leaves two spots (McCann’s backup, Sanchez’s caddy) for Frankie Cervelli, Austin Romine, and John Ryan Murphy. The tricky part is trading the “right” catcher, so to speak. Cervelli gets hurt all the time and Romine seems to have played his way out of the team’s long-term plans, which means they don’t have much trade value. McCann obviously isn’t going anywhere, leaving Sanchez and Murphy. I really like Murphy and think he’s on track to become a rock solid all-around catcher (not a star), so I would be hesitant to give him up, but Sanchez has a chance to become a true impact bat, something the Yankees desperately need. His defense needs work and even if he can’t catch in the long run, first base will open sooner rather than later. The club needs both pitching and offense help this winter, and unless some team is willing to give up more than expected for Cervelli or Romine, it makes the most sense to move Murphy. Teams will move mountains for young catchers who can actually catch, and potential impact bats like Sanchez are super valuable in this offense-challenged era.
5. By all accounts, the Yankees are a “major player” for Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo, who is sorting through offers and is expected to pick his new team relatively soon. They supposedly like him more as a second baseman than as an outfielder, which puts them in the minority. Either way, the Bombers have long-term openings at second and in right, so they could make it work either way. I absolutely do not think they need to go all out to sign him after missing out on other big time Cuban players like Yasiel Puig or Jose Abreu — that’s the kind of logic that resulted in Kei Igawa back in the day — but I do think the Yankees should be in the business of aggressively acquiring assets, especially guys in the prime of their careers. Castillo is only 27 and the Bombers have a decided lack of prime-aged regulars. Blocking a prospect like, say, Rob Refsnyder at second or Austin in right is a non-factor in my opinion. The prospects (and Castillo!) have not proven anything, so the more options the Yankees give themselves, the more likely they are to land a bonafide Major League regular. If everyone works out and the club is left with a logjam, great! That’s not a problem. It’s an envious situation. I have no idea how good Castillo really is, but if the Yankees think he’s legit, then they should absolutely flex their financial muscles to bring him in. They went bonkers for international free agent amateurs last month. Now continue it with a more high-profile player to give the big league team more immediate help.