Romine’s hot start allows the Yankees to be patient with Gary Sanchez

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s hard to believe that only a year ago, Austin Romine went unclaimed on waivers and seemed to be nearing the end of his time with the Yankees. Heck, it was only seven months ago that he looked like a candidate to lose his 40-man roster spot whenever the Yankees needed room. Romine’s time in the organization was about to come to an end after nine seasons.

Except it didn’t come to an end. The Yankees managed to hang on to Romine over the winter and he came to Spring Training as a backup catcher candidate. No one seemed to think he would actually win the job after Gary Sanchez‘s monster 2015 season, but the Yankees insisted he was in the mix, and eventually he did indeed win the job. Sanchez struggled in camp, Romine raked, and that was that.

“There was a lot of talk that (Sanchez would) be the backup, and we were encouraged with how he played last year, but it’s probably a guy trying too hard and trying to do too much,” said Joe Girardi last week when asked about Sanchez’s spring. “That happens all the time. The key is that you learn from that — like an Austin Romine did — and that you just go out and relax and be yourself.”

Six weeks into the regular season, it’s hard to think that decision could have worked out any better. The 27-year-old Romine is hitting .303/.324/.424 (104 wRC+) in limited time as Brian McCann‘s backup while Sanchez remains in Triple-A, playing every day to continue his development, especially defensively. Sanchez owns a .297/.345/.550 (163 wRC+) batting line with the RailRiders.

We spent so much time talking about keeping Sanchez down in the minors long enough to delay his free agency. Thirty-five days. That was the magic number. Thirty-five days in the minors in 2016 meant team control of Sanchez’s age 29 season in 2022. That’s a very long way off and no one has any idea what will happen between now and then, but 35 days? It was worth keeping Sanchez in the minors that long this year to gain that extra year of control.

Those 35 days have come and gone, and Romine has not given the Yankees a reason to make a change at backup catcher. On day 33 Romine went 3-for-4 with two doubles against David Price and the Red Sox while leading Nathan Eovaldi through eight innings of two-run ball. A few days later he started at DH because he’s been hitting so well. Romine was going to have to hit to keep his job. He’s credited his success to a change in his mental approach.

“I went home in the offseason and said I’m done not doing the best that I can,” he said to Laura Albanese last week. “You get passed up (for a job) by another catcher … It just makes me step back and realize what I needed to do, and that was hit. It comes down to the same thing. I’ve got to hit. I’ve got to show them I can hit up here, show them I can hit off big league pitchers and continue to show them I can catch.”

Romine has hit well and he has seemed to work well with the pitching staff, so much so that he’s essentially become Eovaldi’s personal catcher. The hitting success very well might be small sample size noise. That stuff happens. But Romine was going to have to hit in Spring Training to win a job and hit early in the regular season to keep that job, and he did just that. This is one of those cases where a small sample means a whole lot.

“Just being able to slow the game (down),” said Romine to Chad Jennings when asked what has made him successful this year. “I’ve been here. I’ve been in this situation before. I know how to prepare for hitting every four, five days. Being the backup catcher you get to play once a series, maybe. Being able to prepare myself to hit, going on a couple days now, it’s a hard thing to do. But it’s just being able to slow the game down.”

So now, with Romine emerging as serviceable backup catcher (if not more) rather than settling in a stopgap, the Yankees have some options. First and foremost, they have the option to remain patient with Sanchez and leave him in Triple-A. Not for service time reasons, but for developmental reasons. Sanchez is still only 23, remember. He’s 23 and still in need of refinement behind the plate. He can play everyday in Triple-A and work on things.

Also, Romine’s combination of strong play, cheap salary ($556,000), and years of team control (through 2019) means he may have some actual trade value. A year ago this guy slipped though waivers unclaimed. Any team could have had him and they all passed. Now, a year later, Romine is a productive big leaguer who seems to have turned a corner with his mental approach and preparation. And it helps that he plays the most premium position of all.

The Yankees have made a habit of trading backup catchers in recent years. They sent Chris Stewart to the Pirates for Kyle Haynes two years ago, Francisco Cervelli to the Pirates for Justin Wilson one year ago, and this past winter John Ryan Murphy went to the Twins for Aaron Hicks. Can Romine bring back a Wilson or a Hicks in a trade? Nah, probably not. Cervelli was an established big league backup catcher and Murphy had a full year as a productive backup to his credit and is three years younger.

Romine for all we know is a guy who just had the six best weeks of his career. He’s appeared in 15 games and has 35 plate appearances. That’s it. I do buy his change in approach because he does look different at the plate. Romine is swinging at way fewer pitches out of the zone this year than he did in 2013 (36.3% to 31.4%), his only other extended trial in MLB, and his hard contact rate is up too (29.4% to 37.0%). For the first time, he looks like someone who knows he belongs.

For now, Romine has performed better than anyone could have reasonably hoped in the early going this season, and that’s great news for the Yankees. I get that people are eager to see Sanchez, I am too, but Romine has given the Yankees no reason to make a change. Two quality backup catchers is better than one, after all. At some point the Yankees will have to pick between the two. Right now they can be patient. There’s no urgency to make a decision because Romine had made himself in an asset.

Yankeemetrics: Light at the end of the tunnel? [May 13-15]

Chase "Mr. Clutch" Headley (AP Photo)
Chase “Mr. Clutch” Headley (AP Photo)

Raise the white flag
Friday’s pitching matchup between Chris Sale and Luis Severino looked like a complete mismatch on paper, and that’s how it played out in real time as the White Sox crushed the Yankees, 7-1, in the series opener.

Sale went the distance, dominated the Yankees lineup and moved to 8-0 with a 1.67 ERA this season. He also lowered his career ERA versus the Yankees to 1.17, the best mark against the Yankees by any pitcher in major-league history who has made at least five starts against the team.

Holding the Yankees to one run on six hits, Sale also became the first White Sox pitcher with a complete game win at Yankee Stadium since Jim Abbott on July 18, 1995. The last White Sox pitcher to allow one run or fewer in a nine-inning complete-game win at Yankee Stadium was Neil Allen in 1986.

Severino was removed in the third inning after surrendering seven runs, and fell to 0-6 with a 7.46 ERA in seven starts. The only other Yankees in the last 100 years to go winless in their first seven starts of the season, and lose at least six of those games, were Chien-Ming Wang (2009), Doyle Alexander (1982) and Stan Bahnsen (1969).

Two good to be true
The Yankees bounced back from Friday’s deflating loss with a 2-1 victory on Saturday afternoon, improving to 9-2 against the White Sox at Yankee Stadium since the start of 2013, their best record in the Bronx against any team over the past four years.

The win was also their first this season when scoring fewer than three runs; entering Saturday, the Yankees were 0-16 in those games, the worst record among all MLB teams.

Ivan Nova, making his second start of the season, was outstanding in giving the Yankees 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball. He’s now allowed one run or fewer in six of his seven starts against the White Sox, including all three at Yankee Stadium. His 2.42 career ERA versus Chicago is the best by a Yankee pitcher in the Wild Card era (min. 44 innings).

Dellin Betances relieved Nova in the sixth inning and struck out all four of the batters he faced. That’s the second time in his career he’s thrown more than an inning and punched out every guy.

He is the only Yankee pitcher in the last 100 years to have multiple outings like that. Two other active pitchers have two such games on their resume: Steve Geltz (Rays) and Kenley Jansen (Dodgers).

Milestone Man (mlb.com)
Milestone Man (mlb.com)

Don’t call it a comeback
Slowly, but surely, the Yankees are starting to dig themselves out of the massive hole they dug themselves into during the first month of the season. After taking the rubber game on Sunday afternoon against White Sox, the Yankees clinched their third series in a row and finished off a strong 10-game homestand at 7-3.

Carlos Beltran, hitless in his previous three games, broke out of that mini-slump in style with a towering home run in the sixth inning to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead. It was also the 400th of his career, putting Beltran in rare company with some of baseball’s greatest sluggers. He is the:

  • 54th player in MLB history with 400 career homers;
  • eighth player to reach the 400-homer milestone in a Yankee uniform (Babe Ruth, A-Rod, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Gary Sheffield, Alfonso Soriano);
  • fourth switch-hitter to reach the milestone (Chipper Jones, Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray);
  • third Puerto Rican in the exclusive club (Carlos Delgado and Juan Gonzalez).

Beltran’s legacy is more than just homers, though, he’s one of the best all-around, five-tool players. There are now three players in major-league history with at least 400 homers, 75 triples, 1,000 walks and 300 stolen bases in a career: Beltran, Willie Mays and Barry Bonds.

While Beltran provided the biggest milestone moment of the game, Chase Headley delivered the decisive blow with a two-out, pinch-hit RBI double in the bottom of the seventh that broke a 5-5 tie. It was his fifth go-ahead hit in the seventh inning or later since his debut in pinstripes on July 22, 2014. That’s tied with A-Rod for the most go-ahead hits in the seventh inning or later among Yankees during that span.

Fan Confidence Poll: May 16th, 2016

Record Last Week: 5-2 (36 RS, 33 RA)
Season Record: 16-20 (137 RS, 159 RA, 15-21 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: @ Diamondbacks (three games, Mon. to Weds.), @ Athletics (four games, Thurs. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Beltran’s milestone homer helps Yankees to 7-5 win over White Sox

The Yankees dug themselves a bit of a hole early this season, and if they’re going to turn things around, they were going to have to have a great homestand. They did exactly that. The Yankees beat the White Sox by the score of 7-5 on Sunday afternoon. They took two of three from the Red Sox, three of four from the Royals, and now two of three from the White Sox. Couldn’t ask for a better homestand. The Yanks have won eight of their last 12 games overall.

<3 (Elsa/Getty)

Take The Lead, Then Re-Take The Lead
Boy did this game drag. Neither starting pitcher was particularly sharp, so there were a lot of long at-bats and long innings early on. The score was 4-3 White Sox going into the bottom of the sixth, which is when the Yankees first rallied to take the lead. It all started with an error too. Brett Lawrie pulled Jose Abreu off the bag with a throw, allowing Jacoby Ellsbury to reach with one out.

With two outs and two strikes, Carlos Beltran came through with a clutch two-run home run to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead. It just so happened to be his 400th career homer too. Beltran is the fourth switch-hitter in history to reach 400 dingers, joining Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, and Chipper Jones. He’s also only the fifth player with 400 homers and 300 steals. Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, and Andre Dawson are also members of that club. Good company, huh?

Beltran’s homer gave the Yankees a lead that proved to be short-lived. Dellin Betances allowed a stupid BABIP fueled run in the very next half inning. Abreu and Todd Frazier pulled soft ground balls through the left side to put runners on first and second with no outs, then Melky Cabrera slapped a double the other way that was fair by maybe a foot. Probably less:

Melky Cabrera Dellin Betances

Bah. Baseball can be so stupid sometimes. The double tied the game 5-5 and set the White Sox up for a potentially big inning. The Yankees were in trouble.

The “save” in this game came in that seventh inning, if you ask me. The ChiSox had runners on second and third with no outs following Melky’s double, yet Dellin rebounded to escape the jam with a ground ball — the infield was in, so Frazier had to hold at third — and two strikeouts. Chicago could have conceivably scored two runs with outs that inning if some grounders or fly balls were well-placed. Betances stranded ’em. Well done.

The Yankees took the lead again the next half-inning. It all happened with two outs too. Didi Gregorius worked a two-out walk against Matt Albers, then pinch-hitter Chase Headley (!) came off the bench to rip a first pitch fastball into the right-center field gap for a run-scoring double. How about that? Headley went from having zero extra-base hits to having three in the last four games. Good times.

Headley’s double gave New York a 6-5 lead and later Brian McCann made it 7-5 with a solo home run against Nate Jones in the eighth. Andrew Miller struck out two in a perfect eighth and Aroldis Chapman struck out zero (wtf!?) in a perfect ninth. The White Sox did not have a base-runner following Melky’s game-tying double in the seventh. Some timely hitting and clutch bullpen work led to this win.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Tanaka Labors
For the second straight start, Masahiro Tanaka struggled on Sunday, though these struggles were different than the last time out. In his last start he got beat with the long ball. On Sunday the the White Sox strung together a bunch of hits and capitalized on some walks. Adam Eaton did hit a solo home run. The other three runs scored on singles with a combined exit velocity of about 150 mph.

Tanaka walked back-to-back hitters with one out in the second, then Avisail Garcia singled a run in with a ground ball through the left side of the infield. Following a pair of bloop singles in the fourth, Eaton laid down a squeeze bunt to score a run — he was thrown out at first on the play — and Austin Jackson followed with a bloop single to center. That whole inning was annoying. Three bloops and a squeeze bunt. Blah.

(Also, shout out to Eaton for the squeeze bunt. He went deep in his previous at-bat and the White Sox had runners on the corners with one out and the top of the order up. And Tanaka was very hittable. Playing for the big inning is for suckers.)

Aside from Eaton’s homer, the hardest hit balls against Tanaka did not score a run. Melky and Garcia were stranded after ripping doubles, and Frazier was stranded after whacking a hard hit grounder back up the middle. Starlin Castro did get to the ball, but he rushed the throw and wound up bobbling the transfer. Tanaka finished with four runs allowed on a season high eight hits and three walks. He fanned seven.

More than anything Tanaka struggled to get his splitter in the right spot. It was generally down — the splitter Eaton hit for a homer was decidedly not down — but too far down and in the dirt. Tanaka made it easy for the ChiSox to take the pitch Sunday. He threw 25 splitters and got only nine swings (36%) and four swings and misses (16%). Tanaka came into the game averaging 55% swings against the splitter and 24% whiffs.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Early Runs
The pitching line on Miguel Gonzalez would lead you believe the Yankees scored way more than three runs against him. He allowed five hits and five walks in only 4.2 innings. Gonzalez fanned one batter. The Yankees let him off the hook a few times, most notably leaving the bases loaded in the third. At least Castro beat out an infield single and Dustin Ackley drew a bases loaded walk with two outs to score two runs earlier that inning.

The Yankees scored their first run in a matter of four pitches in the first inning. Ellsbury reached on an infield single, Brett Gardner singled to put runners on the corners, then Beltran plated Ellsbury with a sacrifice fly. Ellsbury saw two pitches and the other two hacked at the first pitch they saw from Gonzalez. Hey, it worked, right? The Castro infield hit and Ackley walk drove in the team’s second and third runs of the afternoon.

Leftovers
Gregorius made what was probably the team’s best defensive play of the season in the sixth inning. It was certainly the most heads up and most athletic defensive play we’ve seen by a Yankee in 2016. Didi came off second base and had to jump to catch McCann’s throw on a steal attempt, but he still managed to reach down and apply the tag on Tyler Saladino while in midair. Check it out:

For the fourth time this season, Ellsbury reached on a catcher’s interference. There are 126 games to go, so the single season record is well within reach. What is the record, you ask? That would be eight by Roberto Kelly, who did it with the 1992 Yankees. Maybe if Ellsbury breaks the record the Yankees can trade him for the next Paul O’Neill?

Gardner had three hits and a walk on the afternoon. In fact, the top five hitters in the lineup went a combined 8-for-19 (.421) with three walks, a hit-by-pitch, a double, two homers, two steals, six runs scored, four runs driven in, and one strikeout. That will work just fine, thank you very much.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and up to the minute standings, head over to ESPN. MLB.com is the place to go for the video highlights. Also don’t forget about our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are heading to the lesser coast for a seven-game road trip through Arizona and Oakland. They’ll play the first of three against the Diamondbacks on Monday night. That’s a 9:40pm ET start. Chad Green will make his Major League debut and start that game, the Yankees announced this afternoon. They’re going to start him now rather than wait for Luis Severino‘s next turn to come up to use the spot starter. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi get an extra day of rest this way. Lefty Robbie Ray will be on the bump for the D’Backs.

DotF: Refsnyder goes deep twice in Scranton’s win

A non-update on OF Mason Williams: he is progressing well following shoulder surgery, but there is still no timetable for hims return to the field, according to Shane Hennigan. He had surgery in early-August last year, so he’s nine months out now.

Triple-A Scranton (7-1 win over Indianapolis)

  • DH Ben Gamel: 2-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 E (throwing)
  • C Gary Sanchez: 0-4 — Chris Sale broke him, bust!
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-4, 3 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI — first two homers of the season
  • CF Jake Cave: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI — two singles, two doubles, a triple, and a homer in five games since the promotion
  • LHP Dietrich Enns: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HB, 2/1 GB/FB — 61 of 95 pitches were strikes (64%) … very nice Triple-A debut … if he keeps pitching like this, the Yankees are going to have no choice but to consider calling him up whenever they need an arm later this summer
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 2/1 GB/FB — 22 of 36 pitches were strikes (61%)

[Read more…]

Sunday Open Thread

Here is the open thread for the rest of the weekend. The Mets are playing right now and the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game is the Cardinals at the Dodgers (Leake vs. Wood). You’ve also got an NBA playoff game (right now) and an NHL playoff game (later tonight), so talk about those games, this afternoon’s win, or anything else right here.

Game 36: End of the Homestand

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The long homestand comes to an end today, and so far things have gone very well. The Yankees have won six of nine and today they can make it seven of ten. That didn’t seem possible two weeks ago, huh? The Yankees have already banked series wins over the high scoring Red Sox and the defending champion Royals. Now they have to win a series against the first place White Sox. Here is the ChiSox’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. RF Dustin Ackley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cool, cloudy, and really windy in New York today. I don’t know if that means balls will be flying out of the park or dying in the air. I guess we’ll find out. Today’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET, and you can watch on WPIX locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: CC Sabathia (groin) threw 45 pitches in a simulated game and had no problem. Joe Girardi said Sabathia will start Friday, when he is eligible to come off the DL … Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) has been doing some light running and continues to hit off a tee and in the batting cage. The hope is he will be ready to be activated when eligible Thursday.