Change of Plans: A-Rod to begin rehab assignment tonight, not rejoin Yankees

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Turns out Alex Rodriguez will not rejoin the Yankees tonight after all. Earlier this morning the team announced A-Rod will play in a minor league rehab game with Double-A Trenton tonight. The Yankees had originally planned to activate him from the DL with no minor league time.

“We are not going to waste his at-bats in Triple-A,” said Joe Girardi to George King over the weekend when asked about bringing Alex back without a rehab stint. Joe didn’t say anything about Double-A, but yeah, the team obviously feels the best thing to do is let A-Rod see some live pitching being returning to the lineup.

Rodriguez has been out nearly three weeks now with a hamstring problem. He’s been running the bases and taking batting practice the last few days, but taking batting practice and facing live pitching is not the same thing. Three weeks (or close to it) is a long time to go without facing real pitching.

The Yankees are scheduled to face R.A. Dickey tonight, and a knuckleballer is pretty much the last thing you want a player who hasn’t seen live pitching in nearly three weeks to face. The knuckler could screw up his timing even more. It’s unclear how many rehab games A-Rod will play, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was only one. We’ll see.

Severino should not automatically re-enter the rotation once healthy

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Let’s get straight to the point: the Yankees were counting on Luis Severino to be really good this season. Everyone from Joe Girardi to Brian Cashman to Hal Steinbrenner said one of the reasons they expected the 2016 Yankees to be better than the 2015 Yankees was Severino. They were going to have him for a full season after his strong eleven-start debut a year ago.

Folks were calling Severino the ace of staff before the season got underway and there was even talk about starting him on Opening Day ahead of Masahiro Tanaka. I always thought the instant ace stuff was too much, too soon. Young players often go through growing pains and expecting a 22-year-old with minimal experience to lead the staff of a team trying to contend was very optimistic. Not everyone is Clayton Kershaw.

That doesn’t mean I expected Severino to be bad. In fact, I expected him to be pretty darn good, albeit with some inevitable bumps in the road along the way. ZiPS pegged Severino as a true talent 3.80 ERA (3.85 FIP) pitcher coming into 2016 and that sounded pretty good to me. I probably would have signed up for 175 innings of that before the season. A 22-year-old pitching his home games in Yankee Stadium? That works.

I certainly didn’t expect Severino to pitch this poorly. Not even the most pessimistic folks could have imagined this. One hundred and twenty nine pitchers have thrown at least 30 innings this season, and Severino ranks 127th in ERA (7.46) and 116th in FIP (5.48). Cashman said a demotion to Triple-A was on the table — the Yankees shuffled their Triple-A rotation to make sure Luis Cessa and Severino were on the same schedule — but, before that could happen, Severino got hurt. He left Friday’s start with a triceps strain.

Injuries often explain poor performance and in a weird way Severino’s injury felt like a bit of a relief. It was a possible explanation for his problems. Cashman shot that down though. Following the injury, the GM offered a brutally honest assessment of Severino’s season to date. From Justin Tasch:

“No, no, no,” Cashman said. “His stuff’s not there, bottom line. His arm strength is there, but his stuff is not there. He doesn’t have command of his fastball. He doesn’t have command of his secondary pitches. His changeup and slider have been inconsistent. It’s not health related.”

Cashman confirmed Severino will make a rehab start but would not commit to him stepping right back into the rotation once healthy, and that’s smart. Even if he didn’t leave Friday’s start with an injury, a demotion to Triple-A felt inevitable. It would have been very hard to justify continuing to send the kid out there every fifth day to take a beating.

Severino grabbed at his elbow on the mound Friday and that was scary as hell. These days it’s easy to assume the worst, meaning ligament damage. A triceps strain is not as severe as ligament damage but it’s still not good. Justin Verlander missed two months with a triceps strain just last year. Severino’s strain was termed “mild,” though who knows what that means. Chances are this won’t be a 15-day stint on the DL. Let’s put it that way.

What the injury does is buy the Yankees and Severino some time. Yes, it would be far more preferable to have him healthy and able to pitch, but that’s not an option. Severino has a chance to clear his head a bit — he’ll be shut down a week before picking up a ball anyway — and then be brought back slowly with a throwing program. It’s an opportunity to get back to the basics and fix whatever is wrong.

That “fix whatever is wrong” part is very important. I don’t think Severino should return to the big leagues until those command issues are solved and he’s having more success locating his slider and changeup. If that means he has to go to Triple-A for a few weeks once he’s healthy, fine. I think it’s reached that point with Severino. The Yankees will be getting CC Sabathia back Friday and they have decent enough depth in Cessa and Chad Green.

Teams always have to balance the short-term with the long-term, though the Yankees have been focused more on the short-term over the last 20 years or so. In Severino’s case, they have to take the long-term view and do what’s best for him as a player, because that’s what’s best for the organization. Bringing him back once he’s healthy just because he’s healthy is a wrong move. There has to be improvement in the secondary pitches and command first.

Many young pitchers have gotten lit up early in their careers before finally finding what works for them. Go look at what Roy Halladay and Johan Santana and Zack Greinke did in their first few seasons as a big leaguer. It was ugly. That isn’t to say Severino will become those guys one day, it just means getting there isn’t always easy. Severino is obviously very talented, but right now he has some real flaws, and he shouldn’t return to the big leagues until he shows improvement.

Update: Severino exits Friday’s game with triceps strain

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

10:32pm: Severino has been diagnosed with a mild right triceps strain, the team announced. He will be shut down 5-7 days and is going to be placed on the DL. All things considered, good news. Or at least better news than expected.

9:22pm: Severino left the game with “soreness in the back of his right elbow,” the Yankees announced. He’s going for an MRI tonight.

9:09pm: Luis Severino left tonight’s game in the third inning with an unknown injury. The YES cameras did catch Severino grabbing at his elbow while talking to the trainer on the mound. Here’s the video and here’s Severino’s final pitch:

Luis Severino injury

Welp, the shake of the arm and the grimace on his face and the grab at the elbow during the mound meeting is all pretty disconcerting. Not ideal! For what it’s worth, Severino’s final pitch of the night was a 95 mph fastball per PitchFX.

Severino threw 81 pitches (!) and recorded only eight outs Friday. He allowed seven runs and was hit pretty hard all evening. Severino has struggled big time with his command all season and bad location is a common indicator the elbow ain’t right. It’s worth noting his workload increased nearly 50 innings (~43%)  from 2014 to 2015.

The Yankees are already without CC Sabathia (groin) and Bryan Mitchell (toe), so their rotation depth has been thinned out. Luis Cessa is the logical candidate to replace Severino; the Yankees rearranged their Triple-A rotation recently to line Cessa and Severino up in case they had to send Severino to Triple-A.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves though. The Yankees have not yet released an update on Severino, so stay tuned. Fingers crossed.

It’s working now, but the Yankees should not make a habit of playing short-handed this season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Thanks in large part to bench players Dustin Ackley and Aaron Hicks, the Yankees beat the Royals last night and won for the fifth time in seven games. Ackley and Hicks went a combined 3-for-6 with two walks, three runs scored, and three runs driven in. Ackley drove in the game tying run in the seventh and Hicks followed by plating what was temporarily the go-ahead run.

Last night was Ackley’s fourth straight start and fifth in the last six games. Hicks started for the seventh straight game and eighth time in nine games. They’re in the lineup because of injuries, obviously. Alex Rodriguez pulled his hamstring last week, allowing the Yankees to slide Carlos Beltran into the DH spot and play Hicks everyday. Ackley is in there because Jacoby Ellsbury is day-to-day with a hip issue.

Mark Teixeira entered the infirmary yesterday with neck spasms, clearing the way for Ben Gamel to make his first career start. The Teixeira and Ellsbury injuries mean the Yankees had a two-man bench last night: Ronald Torreyes and Austin Romine. It almost came back to bite them when they couldn’t pinch run for Brian McCann in the seventh. Luckily it didn’t matter.

In all likelihood the Yankees will again have a two-man bench tonight. Ellsbury has not yet tested his hip with full sprints and Teixeira is one day into an injury that is expected to require two or three days. This is a messy situation. The veteran players are hurting, but not hurting enough to require a DL stint, so the Yankees are playing short-handed. They have a 23-man roster while their opponent has a full 25-man unit.

“I think Torreyes gives you a ton of options. I can put him almost anywhere. (The bench is) short, but I think we have options that should make it okay,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings yesterday. And he’s right. Torreyes gives them an option pretty much everywhere, so they’re not going to be forced into playing someone out of position. (You could argue Ackley in right field is out of position given his arm.)

That said, thanks to the makeup of that rained out game in Detroit, the Yankees are eight games into a stretch of 40 games in 41 days. Their next off-day is 12 days away and the short bench means they can’t rest people in addition to not pinch-hitting and pinch-running. Girardi’s options are really limited for the time being and it is absolutely a disadvantage.

The Yankees don’t really have a timetable for Ellsbury’s return — “If you’re in a week and you don’t feel he’s going to be ready anytime soon, you might as well backdate (the DL stint),” said Girardi — and let’s face it, he’s not exactly the quickest healer in the world. It’s already been four days and he’s not sprinting yet, so it’s not like Ellsbury will be back in the lineup tonight.

I get why the Yankees are hesitant to put him Ellsbury on the DL, but stuff like this can’t happen all season. They can’t slowly nurse players back to health and play short-handed, especially when multiple players are banged up like Ellsbury and Teixeira right now. The Yankees are playing much better of late but they still have to dig themselves out of this early season hole. That will be tough as it is. Imagine trying to do it short-handed?

Avoiding injuries just isn’t realistic. Players are going to get hurt. That’s baseball. The Yankees should be a little more liberal with their DL usage going forward, especially when it’s a situation like Ellsbury, where he might miss a week anyway before being ready to play again. The Yankees have some depth in the minors. It’s okay to use it. They’re already made things hard enough on themselves this year.

Update: Ellsbury day-to-day with strained hip muscle

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

10:28pm: Ellsbury is day-to-day with a strained hip muscle, the Yankees say. The MRI didn’t show anything serious.

8:27pm: Ellsbury left with a “tight right hip” and is heading for an MRI, the Yankees have announced.

7:46pm: Jacoby Ellsbury left tonight’s game with an apparent hip injury after the first inning. He drew a walk then stole second and third bases, and after the steal of third he was seen grabbing at hip right hip. Ellsbury trotted home gingerly on Brian McCann‘s single, then went to the clubhouse. Here’s the video.

The Yankees have not yet announced any updates on Ellsbury, so stay tuned. The Yankees lost Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) and CC Sabathia (hamstring) to injuries this week, and while losing Ellsbury would hurt, the team at least has plenty of outfield depth in Triple-A. Ben Gamel is on the roster now and would be a candidate to stick around, if necessary.

Ellsbury, 32, went into Friday’s game hitting .260/.315/.380 (94 wRC+) with one home runs and seven steals. He has a bit of a history of getting hurt and having the injury linger longer than expected. Hopefully that is not the case here.

Yankees place CC Sabathia on 15-day DL with groin strain, call up Phil Coke

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

3:54pm: Joe Girardi told reporters this afternoon Sabathia hurt himself in the fourth inning of Wednesday’s game. He didn’t say anything until after the game, however. Nova will indeed move into the rotation and start in Sabathia’s place. The timetable for Sabathia is about three weeks, says Girardi.

2:24pm: Earlier this week CC Sabathia had his best start in about three years, so, naturally, he was placed on the 15-day DL with a left groin strain today, the Yankees announced. We’re not allowed to have nice things. Phil Coke has been called up to fill the roster spot. Definitely never expected to write that sentence again.

Sabathia threw seven shutout innings against the Orioles two nights ago. I have no idea when he got hurt, but Sabathia has been known to pitch through pain, so it could have happened during that start. He’s pitched with a bone spur in his elbow, a hamstring strain, and all sorts of knee problems over the years.

In all likelihood Ivan Nova will step into the rotation to replace Sabathia. Luis Cessa and Chad Green, both of whom came over in the Justin Wilson trade, are pitching well in Triple-A and are rotation candidates as well. It’s unclear how long Sabathia will be sidelined. Hopefully it’s only two weeks and not any longer.

My guess is Coke is a stopgap. The Yankees signed him out of an independent league last week where he had been working as a starter, so he’s stretched out to 70 pitches or so. Coke will replace Nova as the long man. Aroldis Chapman is due to return Monday and that may be the end of Coke’s second stint in pinstripes.

Sabathia, 35, has a 3.81 ERA (3.51 FIP) in five starts and 28.1 innings this season. He’s been the Yankees’ second best starter overall. Sabathia’s vesting option for 2017 is based on the health of his shoulder, not his groin, so this injury doesn’t change anything.

X-rays negative after Brett Gardner takes pitch to elbow

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Following tonight’s win, Joe Girardi announced x-rays on Brett Gardner‘s right elbow were negative after he was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning. Here’s the play. Gardner did remain in the game at first, but was eventually replaced in the outfield in the ninth inning.

Girardi did admit to being concerned because Gardner is pretty sore. The Yankees are already without Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) and they can’t afford to lose another one of their top hitters. That said, the Yankees do have plenty of outfield depth, with Aaron Hicks and Dustin Ackley in MLB and Slade Heathcott, Ben Gamel, and Aaron Judge in Triple-A.

Hopefully this is nothing more than a nasty bruise and Gardner and return to the lineup in a day or two, if not tomorrow. The Yankees currently have a three-man bench and an eight-man bullpen, so if Gardner does need to miss more than a few days, the team will have no choice but to call up another position player.