Knee holds up as Sabathia allows two runs in two innings in spring debut

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time since last May, CC Sabathia pitched in an actual game Tuesday night, making his Grapefruit League debut against the Blue Jays at home in Tampa. He allowed two runs on four hits in two innings of work, striking out two. Twenty-two of his 31 pitches were strikes (71%).

Sabathia retired the side in order in the first (two grounders and a strikeout) before running into some trouble in the second. More importantly, scouts clocked his fastball at 90-92 mph in the first inning and 89-92 mph in the second inning, according to Mark Feinsand. That’s in line with the 90.6 mph he averaged last year and it’s only March 17th.

“I felt pretty good,” said Sabathia during a YES Network interview after his outing. “I was just telling the guys I was really nervous in the bullpen. Just wanted to get out there and be healthy. Felt good throwing the ball — made a couple bad pitches but I still wanted to get out there and get the game feel and get after it, and I did that.”

I thought Sabathia looked pretty good considering it was his first outing a) in ten months, and b) after knee surgery. His location was okay with most misses way off the plate, so hopefully he irons that out as camp progresses. It would have been nice to see him go six up, six down, but whatever. Sabathia didn’t come out with Jamie Moyer velocity and his mechanics seemed fine. That’s good enough for me in mid-March.

Spring Training Game Thread: Sabathia’s debut

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are back in action tonight following yesterday’s off-day, their first of the Grapefruit League season. The big story tonight is CC Sabathia‘s spring debut. This will be his first game action of any kind since last May thanks to his knee issue aside from his recent simulated game, but that doesn’t really count.

Everything has gone well for Sabathia in Spring Training so far — he’s thrown bullpens and simulated games and all that and reported no problems with the knee — so tonight is about preparing for the season. Getting stretched out and developing a feel for his pitches. That sort of thing. Hopefully he makes it through in one piece.

Tonight’s reason to watch: Sabathia, obviously. I know people are going obsess over the radar gun but I have no reason to think Sabathia’s velocity is coming back. He’s 34 and has a million miles on his arm. I’m going to looking at his location more than anything. Is Sabathia consistently hitting the glove? That’s most important.

Here is the starting lineup that face the visiting Blue Jays tonight:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Alex Rodriguez
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. DH Garrett Jones
  7. CF Chris Young
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    LHP CC Sabathia

Available Pitchers & Position Players: I haven’t seen tonight’s lineup card floating around anywhere so I have no idea who is coming off the bench or out of the bullpen tonight. Sorry.

It’s nice and sunny in Tampa this evening. No clouds and it’s cool, with temperatures in the low-to-mid-70s. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7pm ET and there are plenty of ways to watch: YES, MLB Network, and MLB.tv are all showing the game live. It will be blacked out in the Yankees’ market on MLB Network but not MLB.tv. Enjoy the game.

March 17th Camp Notes: Ellsbury, Bailey, Ryan, A-Rod

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are playing the Blue Jays later tonight and CC Sabathia will be making his Grapefruit League debut. It will be the big man’s first game action since last May. That makes it a pretty important game by Spring Training standards. The regular game thread will be a long a little closer to first pitch. Until then, here are the day’s notes from camp:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury is day-to-day with a “mild, mild, mild, mild” right abdominal strain according to Joe Girardi, who isn’t too concerned. Ellsbury won’t play tonight or tomorrow. It’s the middle of March. No reason to push anything. Give Ellsbury whatever rest he needs plus an extra day for good measure [Dan Barbarisi]
  • Andrew Bailey is scheduled to make his spring debut tomorrow night. He hasn’t pitched in an actual game — Spring Training or otherwise — since July 2013. Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to start tomorrow’s game, and others set to make the trip are Brett Gardner, Jacob Lindgren, and the entire projected starting infield. [Mark Feinsand, Brendan Kuty]
  • Bryan Mitchell and Andrew Miller both threw simulated games today. Esmil Rogers, Adam Warren, Nathan Eovaldi, David Carpenter, Ivan Nova, Chase Whitley, Vicente Campos, and Jose DePaula were among the small army of pitchers to throw bullpen sessions. Nova threw curveballs for the first time as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. [Chad Jennings, Kuty, Pete Caldera]
  • During yesterday’s off-day, Brendan Ryan (mid-back sprain) took ground balls and did all sorts of hitting, including full batting practice. He’ll do the same today and is on track to play in a game later this week. [Feinsand, Jennings]
  • Girardi doesn’t seem to be in a rush to play Alex Rodriguez at first base this spring. “I am not sure, it’s something we will talk about,” Girardi said. “It is something we can do if we want. (Garrett) Jones is more than capable of playing there and we have to get him reps but I might throw (A-Rod) in there one or two games just to see.’’ [George King]

Yankees avoid ugly years of Cliff Lee, but missed out when he could have made a big difference

(Getty)
(Getty)

To date, the second highest traffic day* in RAB history is the day of the Cliff Lee non-trade back in 2010. I remember being off that day, sleeping in an extra hour, and waking up to the news that the Yankees were on the verge of acquiring Lee. Then throughout the day there were constant updates until, finally, no the Yankees were not getting Lee. The Mariners reportedly reneged on an agreement with New York and sent him to the Rangers.

Losing out on Lee as a free agent during the 2010-11 offseason was the first time a generation of Yankees fans experienced the team losing out on a big free agent they so obviously wanted. Like many of you, I was too young to remember the Yankees being spurned by both Greg Maddux and Barry Bonds in the same offseason 25 years ago. (Imagine how that would have gone over nowadays.) Everyone wanted Lee that offseason and the Phillies got him. It was a shock to the system.

Yesterday afternoon, the Phillies announced Lee, now 36, will again attempt to rehab the elbow injury that has been hampering him since last May. “Cliff has now attempted to twice rehabilitate this injury without having surgery. While surgery has now been recommended, it would effectively put an end to his 2015 season as the rehabilitation from the surgery would run through the end of the season. As a result, the Phillies and Cliff have mutually decided to try once again to rehabilitate the injury non-operatively, with the hope that Cliff might be able to return to pitch during the 2015 season,” said the team’s statement.

Lee has spoken to the media in Spring Training and said surgery would potentially end his career, which is why he is trying to avoid it. That makes sense. The Phillies owe him $25M this season, and since he won’t meet the innings pitched requirement to vest his option for next year, the team will pay him a $12.5M buyout after the season. Philadelphia is potentially going to pay Lee $37.5M in 2015 to throw zero pitches. Add in last season, and the Phillies could end up paying him $62.5M to make 13 starts from 2013-14. Ouch.

Needless to say, that’s a contract situation no teams wants a part of right now. The Yankees dodged a bullet by not signing Lee back during the 2010-11 offseason. They have enough bad contracts as it is. Then again, it’s not that simple. The end of Lee’s contract is really ugly, but having him at the front end could have made all the difference in the world. Remember, the Yankees were legitimate contenders from 2010-12, averaging 96 wins per season and going to the ALCS twice, and Lee was a top four pitcher in the world those years.

I find myself thinking about the non-trade in 2010 the most. The Yankees lost to Lee and the Rangers in the ALCS that year, so had the trade gone through, New York would have had Lee on their side instead of facing him. And considering what Lee did against the Rays in the ALDS, Texas probably doesn’t even make the ALCS without him that year. The trade would have changed everything — not automatically for the better, of course, but it’s really hard for me to see a scenario in which the 2010 Yankees are worse off by acquiring Lee.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In sort of the perfect world scenario, the Yankees trade for Lee in 2010, he falls in love with New York and re-signs after the season, allowing the team to trot him and CC Sabathia out to the mound in 2011-12, when both were in the prime of their careers. Or, on the other hand, maybe re-signing Lee means the Yankees don’t give Sabathia an extension when he threatens to opt-out of his contract after 2011. Either way, the Yankees would have had Lee and Sabathia in 2011, the same year they were forced to start Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett in the ALDS against the Tigers.

Of course, trading for Lee means Jesus Montero is not around to go to Seattle for Michael Pineda during the 2011-12 offseason, and that would sort of suck because Big Mike is awesome. At least he is right now. The fact of the matter is Pineda has made 13 starts in three years for the Yankees due to injury. Lee made more starts for the Rangers in 2010 than Pineda has made for the Yankees overall. The Pineda trade has indisputably not worked out as hoped to his point. Based on what we know right now, having totally awesome Cliff Lee with those teams from 2010-12 is much more preferable to having Pineda on whatever the 2015-17 Yankees look like. Those 2010-12 teams were World Series threats. Like, for real.

The Yankees passed on guys like Max Scherzer and Jon Lester this offseason because they’re sick of getting burned by long-term six and seven-year contracts, and I am totally on board with that. Lee falls into the same category — another long-term deal that would have burned the team in the long run. (The Yankees reportedly offered Lee six years, remember. He took five from the Phillies.) The circumstances are very different though. The Yankees were a legitimate contender when Lee was available and he’s a piece who could have put them over the top early on in his contract. Scherzer or Lester this winter would have been an attempt to prop up an otherwise mediocre roster.

There’s a time to go for it and a time to scale back, and right now the Yankees are in a place where scaling back and regrouping make sense. A few years ago, that was the not the case. They were in position to win because their top players — Sabathia, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Mariano Rivera, etc. — were all still very productive, and taking on another big contract like Lee would have made them even better because man, he was a difference-maker. He wouldn’t have guaranteed another World Championship, but he sure would have helped. So yeah, the Yankees dodged a bullet because they don’t have Lee’s contract on the books right now. They also would have been much better off with him from 2010-12.

* The busiest day in RAB history? December 6th, 2013. That day the Yankees re-signed Hiroki Kuroda, lost both Cano and Granderson to free agency, and signed Carlos Beltran. It’ll be hard to top a day with that much major news.

Recalibrating Expectations for CC Sabathia [2015 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

After four truly excellent seasons (3.22 ERA and 3.28 FIP) from 2009-12, we’ve officially entered the “oh please just let it be over already” phase of CC Sabathia‘s stint in pinstripes. (That makes me sad.) The big man was bad in 2013 (4.78 ERA and 4.10 FIP) and both bad (5.28 ERA and 4.78 FIP) and hurt in 2014. He’s now working his way back from surgery to treat a degenerative knee condition that will require regular maintenance, specifically having fluid drained.

As the old saying goes, the Yankees took the elite years from Sabathia up front and have to live with the ugly years on the back-end of his contract. His days as a front of the rotation arm are almost certainly over and the team is now looking to salvage whatever they can from their erstwhile ace, who is signed through 2016 with a vesting option for 2017 based on the health of his shoulder. Sabathia is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut this evening. Now let’s see what the team needs from him this summer.

Yankees Need: Innings. Lots Of Innings.

Sabathia was once the game’s preeminent workhorse, averaging a mind-blowing 213.1 innings per season from 2001-13. I mean, take a second to wrap your head around that number. It’s staggering. And even during his bad starts with the Yankees from 2009-12, Sabathia was still pretty good. Four runs in six innings was a bad Sabathia start. There were no “seven runs in two innings” kind of clunkers those four seasons.

In fact, Sabathia started 129 games from 2009-12, and only four times did he fail to complete five full innings of work. One of those four was the result of a lengthy rain delay at Fenway Park. Sabathia went at least six innings in 116 (!) of those 129 games as well. Heck, even though he was so very ineffective in 2013, he still averaged 6.2 innings per start. He completed five innings in seven of his eight starts last year and six innings in five of the eight.

When he’s taken the ball, Sabathia has routinely pitched deep into the game. That’s not really the issue. The issue is being able to stay healthy enough to start every fifth day from April through September. I think the Yankees would happily live with Sabathia averaging 5.9 innings per start (the AL average in 2014) if it means getting 32 starts out of him. Taking the ball deep into the game would be nice, but the team has the bullpen to compensate if he can’t. Not missing a start is more important.

Sabathia Can: Maybe Throw Innings?

The good news is Sabathia’s arm is healthy. The bad news is we are flying blind with his now three-time surgically repaired right knee. (Two meniscus procedures and the clean out last year.) Sabathia has not pitched since last May and we have no idea how that knee is going to hold up, not within an individual game and definitely not over the course of a full season. This is uncharted territory.

Sabathia has been wearing a brace during his throwing sessions this spring for extra support — from what I understand it is more of a sleeve than some sort of clunky brace — and he will continue to wear it during the season. Basically from now through the end of his career. The knee issue is degenerative and will need regular maintenance. Sabathia’s a total gamer. He’s shown he will pitch through injury over the years. I have no reason to doubt his effort. The knee simply might not be up for 32 starts, however.

Yankees Need: Respectability

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees aren’t stupid. They know Sabathia’s best years are behind him and aren’t counting on him to be the staff ace anymore. They signed Masahiro Tanaka to be the ace last offseason and saw glimpses of Michael Pineda being that type of pitcher last year. (Obviously those two have physical issues of their own, but I digress.) The Yankees would love Sabathia to turn back into an ace but aren’t expecting it at all.

Instead, the Yankees simply need Sabathia to be respectable this year. How about league average? That’s a modest goal. Can Sabathia be league average this year despite playing in a hitter friendly park? I think the Yankees would consider 180 innings of league average pitching — the league average AL starter had a 3.92 ERA and 3.85 FIP last season, for what it’s worth (I miss offense) — a win given the state of Sabathia’s knee. Expectations are pretty low but the need to get some production from the lefty does exist.

Sabathia Can: Maybe Be Respectable?

In terms of plain ol’ run prevention, Sabathia stunk the last two years. He allowed 4.87 earned runs per nine innings pitched in 257 innings from 2013-14 and that’s bad. Very bad. One hundred and thirty six pitchers threw at least 200 innings the last two seasons and only eight have a higher ERA than Sabathia. Bad. Very, very bad.

If you want to squint your eyes and see some positives, they do exist. Even while pitching on that bad knee early last season, Sabathia did post very good strikeout (9.39 K/9 and 23.0 K%), walk (1.96 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%), and ground ball (48.3%) rates. If you strike out a lot of guys, limit walks, and get hitters to beat the ball into the ground, you should fare pretty well, especially now that the Yankees have such a strong infield defense. Hopefully Sabathia can do that stuff again this summer.

On the downside, Sabathia was incredibly homer prone (1.96 HR/9 and 23.3 HR/FB%) last year. That’s almost unsustainably bad, even in tiny Yankee Stadium. Then again, Hit Tracker classified eight of the ten homers Sabathia allowed last season as either “plenty” or “no-doubt,” meaning they were not cheapies, so who knows. Maybe Sabathia’s true talent level at this point of his career is nearly two homers per nine innings with a quarter of his fly balls leaving the yard? I’m not sure anyone is really that bad though. Home runs are hard to hit.

It has now been two full seasons since Sabathia was last even an average big league starter. The prospect of a healthy knee gives us hope he will rebound and be, well, respectable this coming season, but we haven’t even seen him pitch in a Grapefruit League game yet. We have no idea how his location looks, no idea if he slider is moving the way it’s supposed to move, no idea if his changeup is changin’ up. The combination of age, wear-and-tear, and the knee injury make it damn near impossible to project Sabathia’s performance this year. This is a total wait and see situation.

Yankees Need: Leadership

With Derek Jeter retired and Alex Rodriguez persona non grata, Sabathia is the elder statesman in the clubhouse. He’s been with the team longer than Carlos Beltran and has accomplished more in his career than Mark Teixeira. Sabathia is one of those “instant respect” guys as a former Cy Young winner and World Series champ, not to mention his oh so obvious willingness to leave it all out on the field. Players notice that. The Yankees will count on Sabathia to lead the clubhouse this summer and be a mentor to a surprisingly young pitching staff.

Sabathia Can: Be A Leader

Sabathia doesn’t need to be healthy to be a leader. He just needs to be around. Chad Jennings shared this story the other day and I think it’s important:

Tanaka is the best pitcher on this team, but it’s hard to be in the Yankees clubhouse and not see CC Sabathia as the clear ace. Pitchers still look to him for advice. They look to him for leadership. And the big man provides. I have no clue whether he can be a great big league pitcher again. I don’t even know if he can be a solid No. 3. But I don’t think his role in the clubhouse has changed from what it was three years ago. Even veteran guys will gather around near his locker to talk to him about anything and everything.

The Yankees have a very young pitching staff, especially now that Chris Capuano is hurt. (The second oldest pitcher on the projected Opening Day roster is Andrew Miller, who turns 30 in late-May.) Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi are pups and even Tanaka is still relatively young, having turned 26 in November. When these guys need guidance, they’re going to turn to Sabathia. Considering how popular he’s been in the clubhouse since the day he arrived in New York, we know CC will be there to help.

Thoughts following two weeks of Grapefruit League play

This ball wasn't caught (GIF). (Presswire)
This ball was not caught (GIF). (Presswire)

The Yankees had their first off-day of the Grapefruit League schedule yesterday and return to action later tonight, when CC Sabathia makes his spring debut. That’s sort of a big deal. It’s been a long time since the big man pitched in any sort of game situation. Anyway, here are some thoughts on this Tuesday morning.

1. Needless to say, Sabathia’s outing is pretty important, just like Masahiro Tanaka‘s spring debut was important last week. The results don’t really matter, but does he make it through the outing in one piece? Does his stuff and/or command look further compromised following the injury? Sabathia is 34 years old with nearly 3,000 career innings on arm. I’m not expecting any velocity to come back with a healthy knee. I just want to see him do a better job of keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate. Hopefully with a more stable landing leg and improved balance from the additional weight — that sounds weird but it’s something Sabathia has mentioned as a positive — Sabathia can hit the corners and drive the ball down around the knees consistently. If he does that, I think he’ll be effective. Maybe not an ace, but someone the Yankees can run out there every fifth day and have a reasonable chance to win.

2. A few weeks ago I noted Chasen Shreve was the extra guy in the bullpen early in Spring Training, not someone scheduled to pitch specific days, which may have meant he was on the outside of the Opening Day roster looking in. Shreve has since joined the ranks of the “scheduled pitchers” and the Yankees have actually made a point of testing him against right-handed batters. In his last outing, Shreve was sent out to face switch-hitter Pablo Sandoval (pop-up) and righty hitters Mike Napoli (strikeout), Xander Bogaerts (walk), Ryan Hanigan (fly out), Mookie Betts (ground out), and Dustin Pedroia (ground out). That’s about as good a test as you can find for a lefty reliever in mid-March. Shreve has had success against both righties and lefties in the minors but his exposure to MLB hitters is very limited. Seems like the Yankees specifically sent him out there against the Red Sox to see how he handled all those right-handed batters. He did well and that doesn’t mean he’s a lock for the roster now, but it didn’t hurt his chances either.

3. At this point it’s clear Andrew Bailey won’t be a part of the Opening Day roster. He has yet to get into a game — he did throw a simulated game this weekend — and there probably isn’t enough time in Spring Training for him to show he’s ready to face big league hitters. That makes sense. The Yankees have plenty of bullpen options, so they can afford to send Bailey to Triple-A for a few weeks to gauge his actual effectiveness. They don’t have to continue to evaluate him in games that count. If Bailey gets on a regular reliever’s schedule — pitching in back-to-back games, entering in the middle of an inning, that sort of thing — and handles it well, then the Yankees can call him up. There’s no need for him to be on the Opening Day roster at this point. There are too many other quality relievers in the organization to fiddle around with Bailey, trying to see if he can help any. Let him do that in the minors.

Ref Robsnyder. (Presswire)
Ref Robsnyder. (Presswire)

4. Another thing that is clear: Rob Refsnyder was never seriously considered for the second base job. He’s seen basically no time in the field with Didi GregoriusStephen Drew‘s been playing with Gregorius so the two could get comfortable with each other as the double play combination — and he hasn’t gotten a whole lot of premium playing time. He’s the guy coming off the bench with the subs and playing later in games. That’s not how teams treat players they want to see win a job, or at least compete for a job. And you know what? I am 100% cool with this. Refsnyder needs more time in Triple-A to work on his defense — this is painfully obvious from watching him play the last two weeks, right? Routine plays have been not so routine with him this spring — and I’m pretty sure I’ve written that before. He just doesn’t look natural at second base, and that’s not surprising. Refsnyder was an outfielder as recently as 2012, remember. He’ll go to Triple-A and hopefully work on his defense. That’s partially why Drew was brought in — to give Refsnyder more time to work on what is a glaring but potentially correctable flaw.

5. Eighteen months ago, the Rangers had an enviable quartet of starting pitchers in Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Martin Perez, and Matt Harrison. Not a single one of them will be on the Opening Day roster this year. Darvish and Perez will be rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Holland has been slowed in camp by a shoulder issue, and Harrison is trying to work his way back from a career-threatening back injury. In fact, the entire Rangers organization is a cautionary tale of just how quickly things can go south. Two or three years ago they looked poised to become a perennial powerhouse and World Series contender. Now they’re coming off a 95-loss season with a ton of awful contracts and core players dealing with major injuries. The Yankees haven’t been great by any stretch of the imagination these last two years, but geez, I’d much rather be the Yankees going forward than the Rangers. Who would have said that a year or two ago? At least New York’s disaster contracts are expiring relatively soon.

Monday Night Open Thread

The Yankees had an off-day today and it was a complete off-day. There were no official workouts scheduled at the complex in Tampa or anything like that. That doesn’t mean a few players didn’t show up to get work in, of course. Anyway, there’s no news to pass along from the off-day, so consider this the day’s camp notes. No news is good news, right?

Here is your open thread for the evening. MLB Network will replay the Athletics and Dodgers later tonight and the Nets are playing as well. That’s about it. Talk about whatever here.