Game 84: The Return of Ellsbury and Miller

Yay good players. (Presswire)
Yay good players. (Presswire)

The Yankees made two big trades today! Well, no, not really. People just like to say getting someone back from the DL is like making a trade for whatever reason. Both Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) and Andrew Miller (forearm) have rejoined the team today, so they’re whole again. Or at least closer to being whole. They still have some dudes out with injury.

Miller and especially Ellsbury will be asked to contribute right away because the offense has had trouble scoring more than three runs a game lately and because CC Sabathia is back on the mound tonight. Sabathia has not pitched well at all this year — he’s made 16 starts and allowed fewer than four runs only six times — but he’s staying in the rotation, so the Yankees are hoping he turns in a surprisingly strong performance tonight. Hopefully Ellsbury and Miller can help pick up the slack. Here is the A’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Chris Young
  6. C John Ryan Murphy
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Jose Pirela
  9. 3B Gregorio Petit
    LHP CC Sabathia

Now, the bad news: It’s raining. Has been for most of the afternoon but it’s just light rain at the moment. There’s more rain in the forecast later tonight, though it appears there’s a big enough window to get the game in. We’ll find out soon enough, I suppose. First pitch is scheduled for a bit after 7pm ET. The game will be on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Moves: Both Ramon Flores and Nick Rumbelow were sent down to Triple-A Scranton to make room for Ellsbury and Miller, the Yankees announced. Not unexpected.

Injury Updates: Chase Headley is day-to-day with a sore calf … Brendan Ryan (back) has resumed baseball activities and could begin a minor league rehab assignment soon … Mason Williams (shoulder) has renewed soreness after throwing, so his rehab has been slowed down. Surgery is not being considered at this time … Slade Heathcott (quad) is still shut down. He’s not close to returning.

All-Star Update: According to MLB’s update, Brett Gardner is currently fourth in the AL Final Vote voting. There is basically no chance anyone other than Mike Moustakas wins based on the way Royals fans stuffed the ballots for the starters. Here’s the ballot anyway … No Yankees will be in the Home Run Derby, unsurprisingly. Here are the participants.

TiqIQ: Betances Figurine Night Provides Rare Giveaway At Yankee Stadium

Tonight the New York Yankees will host the Oakland Athletics in the second game of a three-game set, and it will feature something more than a potential Yankees home victory. In addition to the action, this particular affair will also serve as Dellin Betances Figurine Night, the only one of its kind to be held at Yankee Stadium all season long, and the only night dedicated to honoring one of the game’s brightest young relievers.

While the giveaway item will be rare and perhaps even become valuable, considering the Yankees typically only give bobbleheads as opposed to figurines, tickets are averaging $58.66 for this contest, with a get-in price of just $7 on TiqIQ. Going into the season, many figured this promotion at the stadium would rank amongst the most highly demanded Yankees tickets of the year, so the value in going to this game looks remarkable at the moment. There are great deals to be had not just on the secondary market, but also directly through the team on, as tonight offers discounts for students and military members.

Betances has been enjoying another unbelievable All-Star campaign in 2015, owning a 5-1 record, 1.80 ERA, and 0.86 WHIP (as of July 7), not to mention the fact that he has 68 strikeouts in just 42 innings of work for one of the best strikeout-per-inning ratios amongst all Major League relief pitchers. Furthermore, opposing batters are hitting an eye-opening .127 against the hard-throwing right-hander.

As great as he’s been this season, it will be difficult for the Washington Heights native to top his success from a season ago. Aside from making the All-Star team and finishing third in the voting for the AL Rookie of the Year award, Betances set a new franchise record last year for strikeouts by a reliever, as his 135 punch-outs topped the great Mariano Rivera’s previous mark of 130 set back in 1996.

Alongside closer Andrew Miller, the 27-year-old Betances helps comprise one of the top one-two late-inning punches in all of baseball. In the process, he’s helped ease the transition in the bullpen as it regards the post-Rivera era, as well as moving on from David Robertson.

With a revamped bullpen led by Betances and Miller in addition to Alex Rodriguez’s resurgence at the plate this season, the Yanks are leading the AL East with a 44-38 record to begin July. In challenging the struggling Athletics, Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners in their next three series starting Tuesday evening, the Yanks have a golden opportunity to broaden their lead on the Baltimore Orioles and take control of the division.

As long as they can consistently get leads into the latter innings, there’s no question Betances will play a crucial role in helping close the door. Any fan who follows baseball recognizes that Betances is as automatic as any late-inning reliever the sport has to offer.

If not now, when will it be the time for Rob Refsnyder?


The Yankees have already reached the point where a change needs to be made at second base. Stephen Drew is nursing a .176/.251/.360 (66 wRC+) batting line and currently ranks 155th out of 164 qualified hitters in wRC+. He’s sure-handed in the field and that is appreciated, but good gravy, no level of defense makes up for that offense. Second base is a problem.

Neither Jose Pirela nor Brendan Ryan nor Gregorio Petit is appealing as an everyday player, meaning the club’s best internal second base option is Rob Refsnyder. He’s hitting a solid .286/.384/.409 (134 wRC+) with Triple-A Scranton after going deep in each of his last two games. Since May 1st, Refsnyder owns a .295/.410/.436 (151 wRC+) batting line with more walks (38) than strikeouts (30). He’s also gone 10-for-10 in stolen base attempts.

Refsnyder’s strikeout rate is most encouraging. His walk rate has always been good in the minors — minor league walk rates aren’t all that predictive anyway because there are so many pitchers down there who can’t throw strikes — but his strikeout rate did increase as he climbed the ladder. It went from 13.8% at High-A to 15.6% at Double-A to 20.1% at Triple-A last year. This year Refsnyder has cut it down to 12.5%, which is good to see even if he is repeating the level.

That said, we all know offense isn’t really the issue with Refsnyder. He’s put up great minor league numbers and who knows if that will translate to MLB success. That applies to everyone. Many great minor league mashers couldn’t hack it in the show. Refsnyder’s real problem is his sketchy second base defense at a time when the Yankees are prioritizing defense so heavily that they’re willing to punt offense to get it. (See: Drew, Stephen.) Bad timing for Refsnyder. A few years ago the team would have been more willing to overlook his glove.

There’s no way for us to evaluate Refsnyder’s defense in Triple-A. Errors don’t tell anything (can’t make an error on a ball you don’t get to!) and looks are limited. At least they are for me. The scouting reports have generally remained the same: Refsnyder works hard and is making progress but is still below-average and unlikely to be better than average down the line. And if that really is the case, it’s hard to see where Refsnyder fits with the Yankees long-term given their sudden obsession with defense.

At this point though, the Drew experiment isn’t working. He was a fine low-cost flier coming into the season and it didn’t work out. That’s baseball. The Yankees have turned to other young players this year — mostly outfielders following injuries — and were rewarded with solid production. In some cases more than that. Refsnyder won’t play much defense and he might not hit at all. It’s a risky move, no doubt. Is that enough of a reason to keep running Drew out there? I don’t think so. Obviously the Yankees disagree.

I think we’ve reached the point where it’s fair to ask: when will the Yankees be comfortable calling up Refsnyder if not right now? The second base situation at the MLB level is dreadful and the team has a good (not great) second base prospect in Triple-A who’s hit well since the calendar flipped to May. That … seems like a no-brainer move. They’re waiting for his defense to improve, I get it, but that may never happen. That also applies to Drew’s offense!

No one is asking Refsnyder to be a savior. We’re just looking for competence and a possible upgrade over one of the worst everyday players in baseball. The Yankees could either try the kid out and hope for a net upgrade thanks to improved offense, or continue to stick with a known sub-mediocrity. Unfortunately so far the club is going with the latter.

Ellsbury returning to better lineup than one he left behind earlier this season


Later today, the Yankees will officially welcome Jacoby Ellsbury back from the DL. (Andrew Miller too!) He missed 43 games with a knee injury and will finally return to the lineup tonight, seven weeks after getting hurt when he caught a spike during a swing. Injuries don’t get much flukier than that. What can you do?

At the time of Ellsbury’s injury, the Yankees were averaging a solidly above-average 4.38 runs per game, and that number has since climbed to 4.60 runs per game overall. The team managed to score 4.80 runs per game without their leadoff hitter. Go figure. Like many of you folks I figured the Yankees would have a harder time scoring runs simply because Ellsbury is one of their top hitters. Brett Gardner is a fine fill-in leadoff hitter, but still, the Yankees lost a good bat.

Earlier this season the Yankees relied heavily on the top of the order. That’s putting it lightly. They were totally dependent on the top of the lineup to score runs. Ellsbury and Gardner were getting on base, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira were driving them in, and that was it. The bottom five hitters in the lineup were doing nothing. Ellsbury and Gardner got on, A-Rod and Teixeira got them in. If that didn’t happen, the Yankees didn’t score.

Things are much different now because a few (not all) of those players at the bottom of the lineup have either turned their season around or simply picked up the pace a little bit. Here’s the quick rundown:

Date of Ellsbury’s injury Since Ellsbury’s injury
Brian McCann .228/.279/.382 (78 wRC+) .297/.388/.559 (161 wRC+)
Carlos Beltran .236/.272/.386 (75 wRC+) .287/.349/.478 (130 wRC+)
Chase Headley .236/.284/.389 (84 wRC+) .263/.323/.351 (88 wRC+)
Didi Gregorius .204/.269/.241 (42 wRC+) .270/.314/.392 (95 wRC+)
Stephen Drew .188/.271/.350 (70 wRC+) .164/.231/.369 (62 wRC+)

There’s no correlation here. The five regulars at the bottom of the order didn’t start performing better — well, three regulars are performing better, Drew has been worse and Headley just changed the shape of his production without really improving much  — because Ellsbury got hurt. They didn’t step up their game because they had to pick up the slack. That’s a cheesy narrative. Those guys were playing below their talent level and simply picked it up as the season continued and the sample grew. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.

Obviously McCann is the big one there. For the first few weeks of the season he looked like 2014 McCann, meaning lots of weak pop-ups and missed meatballs. It wasn’t pretty. He’s been substantially better the last two months or so, hitting for average and power while drawing more walks. McCann has been the guy he was with the Braves all those years and it’s added length to the lineup. Much-needed length.

Gregorius went from totally useless at the plate early in the season to competent now. That’s the best way to put it, competent. He’s not tearing the cover off the ball but he’s not a total zero anymore either. Headley did a surprisingly fine job filling in as the two-hole hitter — he hit .291 with a .340 OBP as the No. 2 hitter while Ellsbury was out, albeit with little power (.376 SLG) — though he’s a better fit for the lower third of the order, where he’ll hit now.

The Yankees won’t be firing on all cylinders when Ellsbury returns because Beltran is on the DL, and who knows how long he will be sidelined. Obliques are very tricky and easy to re-injure. Beltran has really turned things around the last few weeks and that’s a big bat that will be missed. Hopefully he’s able to make it back shortly after the All-Star break. Either way, his turn around was a huge reason why the offense improved so much in recent weeks.

Although the Yankees did score more runs per game with Ellsbury on the shelf, it doesn’t mean they’re better off without him. Hardly. It just means they’ll be that much better with him. He adds speed to a very station-to-station team and lengthens the lineup, not to mention improves the defense. The Yankees are a better team with Ellsbury healthy, and they’re even more dangerous when guys like McCann, Beltran, and Gregorius are producing.

Pushing CC Sabathia’s start back was an easy call, but it’s still only a temporary solution

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Late last week the Yankees announced CC Sabathia would not start as scheduled this past Sunday, and would instead get the ball today. Ivan Nova started Sunday on normal rest thanks to last Thursday’s off-day. Sabathia will start on eight days’ rest tonight, and, of course, he wasn’t thrilled with the decision. He’s a competitor, he wants to pitch.

“Don’t ask me what I’m working on,” said Sabathia to Zach Braziller last week. “It is up to them. Whatever they think is best is the schedule (is the one) that I’m following. It’s a break that I probably need, I guess. Take a step back, look at some things, try to be ready on Wednesday … It’s a good to get a break for my body, for sure.”

The team framed the decision as a chance to give Sabathia extra rest and extra time to work on things in the bullpen. “It gives him a few extra days. He’s been a guy that’s thrown every fifth day or sixth day,” said Joe Girardi to Andrew Marchand when the announcement was made. That was as predictable a response as it gets from Girardi, who protects his players as much as any manager in the game.

Sabathia may be getting some extra rest and time to work on things, but it’s clear what’s really happening here. The Yankees used their recent off-days to make sure Sabathia not only makes just one start before the All-Star break rather than two, but also to ensure he makes that start against the Athletics rather than the division rival Rays and Red Sox. It’s a no-brainer move. They had to do it.

The Yankees are sheltering Sabathia like a fifth starter because that’s what he is, their fifth best starter. (Really their sixth best starter, but let’s not get started with that again.) They’re putting him in position to hurt the team less. Like it or not, the Yankees are unwilling to pull Sabathia out of the rotation right now, so this it the next best thing. Keeping him away from division rivals and spacing out his starts as much as possible. It would have been foolish not to do it.

This is only a temporary measure, of course. The Yankees can use off-days and the All-Star break to limit Sabathia to one start in a 27-day span (!) if they really want — he started on July 29th, will start tonight, and they won’t need a fifth starter after the break until July 26th — but then what? They will have successfully avoided using their worst start for close to a month — I have a hard time thinking they’ll actually limit Sabathia’s starts that much — though that’s not a solution. It’s a band-aid.

Perhaps this is step one in the process of removing Sabathia from the rotation. Something like that won’t happen in an instant. That would be humiliating and there’s a gentler way to do it. It could be a gradual process and pushing this start back is the start of that process. Maybe next they’ll outright skip one of Sabathia’s starts using an off-day. I’m not saying that’s the right way to go about removing him from the rotation — ripping the band-aid off is almost always preferable to slowly peeling it away — but that could be the thought process.

For now, the team’s plan for Sabathia seems to be nothing more than hope. Hope something clicked in the bullpen during this recent break, hope he finds a way to be a competent starter going forward, hope he doesn’t hurt them as much as he has already this season. I love Sabathia, he’s been a great Yankee, but man, he has a 5.06 ERA (79 ERA+) in his last 352 innings now. That’s brutal. Pushing his start back was an easy decision and maybe that’s a stepping stone to a more drastic move in the future.

Yankees fall 4-3 to A’s on a Brett Lawrie homer in extras

The Yankees offense actually managed to score three run off of Sonny Gray tonight and Nathan Eovaldi pitched a solid game as well. However, in the end, the result did not favor New York — a pair of solo homers allowed by Yankee relievers doomed the team into an annoying 4-3 loss in ten innings. Less of these in the future, please.

Look at them veins on elbow (Source: Getty)

The Splitters

In the first inning, the A’s drew first blood when Josh Reddick drove in Stephen Vogt from second base on a 2-out RBI single. Eovaldi allowed another run in the third after giving up three straight singles to start the inning. He did, however, manage to get out of that inning without further damage by inducing a strikeout from Ben Zobrist and a double play from Reddick, which was neat.

I thought Eovaldi was not great but he showed some promise with his work-in-progress pitch: the splitter. He continued to utilize his new weapon tonight, which ranged from 88-90 mph and got some swings-and-misses. Also importantly, Eovaldi generated 62.5% ground ball rate, much higher than a 45.3% career rate.

After that disastrous 0.2 IP, 8 ER performance in Miami, Eovaldi has gone 3-0, 2.38 ERA in 22.2 IP with 17 strikeouts. The righty is far from the finished product we’d like to see, but using more splitters and getting better outcomes than the first few months of the season is welcome progress.

(Source: Getty)

The All-Star

In the bottom of the first, Brett Gardner singled and Chase Headley worked a walk against the All-Star RHP Sonny Gray. A-Rod flied out (and looked quite displeased doing so because it looked like a meatball) and Mark Teixeira followed it with a strikeout.

Brian McCann, however, fisted an inside fastball towards left field for a bloop single, driving in Gardner. Garrett Jones also joined in on the fun with an RBI single to right. 2-1 Yankees.

This was Gray’s first game back after missing a start due to salmonella. His velocity was fine but his command was missing just slightly. He showed a little rust but not too much, going 7.0 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 3 ER and striking out 5. Yes, that would be a more than acceptable outcome for most pitchers but this is Sonny Gray we’re talking about – a top 5 starter in the AL. It’s still a fine, serviceable line but not his best effort.

The Hanging Breaking Ball

The All-Star Dellin Betances came into the game in the ninth inning with the game tied at three. In his first inning of work, Dellin was dominant – three up, three down with two K’s. In the tenth inning, he entered the game again for possibly another inning of work. During the Brett Lawrie at-bat, the YES broadcast showed Chris Capuano warming in the bullpen and I thought “the offense better score a run in the bottom tenth before he comes into the game.”

Just a moment later, however, Betances threw an absolute hanger to Brett Lawrie. The A’s infielder didn’t miss a beat – Lawrie drove it over the left field fence for a tie-breaking homer. 4-3 A’s lead. I mean, boy, that was as hanging as Dellin’s breaking ball could be. After not allowing a homer in 54 straight appearances, Betances allows one each in back-to-back games. Go figure.

The Changeup

With one out in bottom tenth, Gardner worked a walk to get the tying run on base. Headley followed it up with a pop out and A-Rod walked after not biting on Tyler Clippard’s series of changeups.

With runners on first and second and two outs, Mark Teixeira came up to bat. He managed to lay off the first three pitches (all changeups) to make it a 3-0 count. Clippard then threw a fastball right down the middle for a strike, 3-1. Next pitch, the righty threw another fastball one down the middle and Teixeira was clearly timing his swing as if Clippard was throwing a changeup. The ball hit the bat as Teixeira’s hands were going through the zone and it fouled off. 3-2.

On the next pitch, it seemed like Teixeira was fully anticipating a fastball – he swung and only thing his bat hit was thin air. Clippard struck Teixeira out on a 80 mph changeup to end the game. 4-3 Athletics. Womp.


Yeah, so Chasen Shreve has been absolutely lights out for the Yankee bullpen this season but he can’t be great all the time. It was unfortunate that he put a 90 mph fastball right down the middle for Billy Butler to drive it over the left field fence – it was one of those pitches that big league hitters just should not miss. It was also unfortunate that it only took that one moment to tie the game for the A’s and erased Eovaldi’s win. Oh well.

Two of the biggest hitters of the team – A-Rod and Teixeira – went for a combined 0-for-9 with 5 strikeouts. Ouch. Imagine the game outcome if the cleanup guys actually cleaned it up.

The Box Score, the Standings, the Highlights, the WPA

Here’s today’s box score, updated standings, video highlights and WPA. 

Source: FanGraphs

The Yankees will send C.C. Sabathia against Scott Kazmir tomorrow. If you somehow don’t know, Kazmir has been one of the better lefties in the Major League while Sabathia, well, has not been good this season at all. This definitely does not inspire much confidence but… excuse me while I try to stay optimistic here but… strange things have happened in baseball before numerous times.

DotF: Severino labors in Triple-A, Sanchez homers again in Double-A

RHP Brady Lail was added to the Double-A Eastern League All-Star Roster, replacing RHP Nick Goody, who has indeed been promoted to Triple-A Scranton. Congrats to both. RHP Joel De La Cruz was sent down to Double-A Trenton to make room for Goody.

Also, RHP Wilking Rodriguez was activated off the suspended list and added to the Triple-A Scranton roster, according to Donnie Collins. Rodriguez was suspended 80 games in Spring Training after failing a drug test.

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 win over Syracuse)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-4, 1 2B, 2 RBI
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB — second straight game with a homer
  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-4, 1 K
  • 1B Greg Bird: 1-4, 1 2B
  • RHP Luis Severino: 4 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 5/3 GB/FB — 52 of 82 pitches were strikes (63%) … good results but a bit of a grind, lots of pitches
  • RHP Wilking Rodriguez: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 10 of 13 pitches were strikes (77%) in his season debut
  • RHP Branden Pinder: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2/3 GB/FB — 27 of 36 pitches were strikes (75%)

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