Monday Night Open Thread

Looking for some off-day reading? Check out Travis Sawchik’s article on Brian Cashman convincing ownership to sell last year. Cashman said he’s pushed to sell in the past — “(Robinson Cano) was, to me, someone we ultimately should have moved at the deadline but didn’t,” he said — but last year was the first time ownership gave him the thumbs up. Better late than never, I guess.

Here is the open thread for the night. ESPN is showing the Rangers and Indians now (Darvish vs. Kluber) and ESPN2 will have the Angels and Athletics later (Nolasco vs. Graveman). There’s also the college basketball championship game as well (9:20pm ET on CBS). Talk about those games, Sawchik’s article, or anything else right here.

Yankees bring back veteran catcher Eddy Rodriguez

(Scranton Times Tribune)
(Scranton Times Tribune)

The Yankees have added another layer of catching depth. The club has signed veteran journeyman Eddy Rodriguez and assigned him to Triple-A Scranton, according to his Twitter feed. The Yankees have not yet announced the move. Rodriguez was in the organization in 2015 and 2016. He was in camp with the Twins as a non-roster player this year, and was apparently let go at the end of camp.

Rodriguez, 31, was Gary Sanchez‘s primary backup at Double-A Trenton in 2015 and Triple-A Scranton in 2016. Last year he hit .214/.265/.329 (68 wRC+) in 44 Triple-A games last year, though the Yankees didn’t sign him for his bat. They signed him for his glove and because he’s long been regarded as a great clubhouse guy and mentor. Rodriguez has a little big league time with the Padres in 2012. His only MLB hit? A dinger:

This season Rodriguez will be tasked with backing up Kyle Higashioka with the RailRiders. I know this seems like a nothing signing, but Rodriguez is a much more viable big league option than Wilkin Castillo, who was originally slated to back up Higashioka. Should Higashioka get called up due to injury or whatever, Rodriguez would be a perfectly fine No. 3 catching option in Triple-A.

The minor league season starts this Thursday, April 6th. The official Opening Day rosters have not been released yet. The Yankees and their affiliates are notoriously slow to release those. We might not see them until Thursday afternoon.

A fifth bench player, not an eighth reliever, may be best use of the extra roster spot until the fifth starter is needed

So many pitching changes. (Presswire)
So many pitching changes. (Presswire)

Once again, the Yankees failed to pick up a win on a first day of the season this year. Yesterday’s loss to the Rays was not only their sixth straight Opening Day loss, it was their eighth loss in the last nine Opening Days. Yikes. Good thing it’s just another game, eh? The Yankees have not won on Opening Day since beating the Tigers back in 2011. Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano set up Mariano Rivera for the save that day.

The Yankees used four relievers in yesterday’s game, leaving four others in the bullpen unused even though Masahiro Tanaka didn’t make it out of the third inning. Today is an off-day, so those guys will get a day to rest before going back to the park for Game Two tomorrow night. They’ll be fresh, if nothing else, and they figure to be very fresh for the first few weeks of the season. The Yankees have three off-days within the first ten days of the season, which they’re using to skip the fifth starter’s spot twice. Smart move.

Rather than carry a fifth starter, the Yankees have opted to carry eight relievers to start the season, which in no way surprises me. They seem to carry an extra reliever whenever they get a chance. Like every other team, the Yankees are terrified of overworking guys early in the season and running out of pitchers in extra innings. I get it. I do. I also think the eighth reliever is wasted roster spot because those scheduled off-days ensure the bullpen won’t be overworked early.

Keep in mind what happened last year. An Opening Day rainout meant the Yankees couldn’t skip their fifth starter, but they still had three off-days within the first 14 days of the season. Because of that, last guy in the bullpen Luis Cessa made just one appearance in the first eleven days of the season. The Yankees eventually decided to send him down to Triple-A Scranton because sitting unused in the big league bullpen was doing him no good.

This year the Yankees have an extra reliever and three off-days within the first ten days of the season, not the first 14 days like last year. More relievers, more off-days early. It sure seems like we’re heading for a “this reliever(s) has to get in a game soon because he needs the work” situation next week, doesn’t it? Joe Girardi is going to lean on his top relievers early thanks to those off-days — which he absolutely should do! — meaning the other relievers will be left idle.

Perhaps the Yankees will run into some extra innings games or get a few more short starts these next two weeks and need the extra relievers. That’s what they’re worried about, right? But, keep in mind both Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell were stretched out to start during Spring Training, so they can give the Yankees some serious distance these next few weeks. And the Yankees aren’t shy about shuttling relievers in and out either.

Anyway, my point is there may be a better way to use the roster spot vacated by the fifth starter, who won’t be needed until April 16th. The Yankees could carry a fifth bench player instead, which would allow Girardi to do two things a little more often:

  1. Pinch-run in the late innings. The Yankees are getting younger but they’re still on the slow side. If they’re down a run or two in the ninth inning and either Gary Sanchez or Greg Bird reaches base, pinch-running would be a wise move. Right now Aaron Hicks, the only backup outfielder on the roster, is the best pinch-runner option.
  2. Pinch-hit for Torreyes. Inevitably, some big moments are going to find Ronald Torreyes, the fill-in shortstop while Didi Gregorius is sidelined. It happened yesterday and Girardi went to Hicks to pinch-hit against a righty. Chris Carter is available to pinch-hit against a lefty. Pete Kozma then has to take over at short, so they’re burning two players in one move.

The Yankees almost ran out of bench players yesterday. Hicks pinch-hit for Torreyes in the seventh inning, Kozma took over at shortstop, then Carter pinch-hit for Kozma in the ninth. The Yankees were going to be short a middle infielder had they tied the game. Bird told Anthony Rieber he volunteered to play third so Chase Headley could play second, allowing Starlin Castro to slide to short. Austin Romine at second was another option. No. Just … no. Playing dudes out of position on Opening Day would not be fun.

As with the eighth reliever, how often would this fifth bench player be used? That’s the question and the answer could very well be never. Maybe the Yankees keep socking dingers like they did in Spring Training and won’t need pinch-runners, and Torreyes goes all BABIP crazy for a few weeks and there’s no reason to pinch-hit for him. Baseball can be weird like that.

There’s also this: who would be the fifth bench player? Rob Refsnyder is at the front of the call-up line, and he would give the Yankees an extra middle infielder given his ability to play second base. That said, if you’re going to lift anyone for a right-handed pinch-hitter, Carter will get the nod before Refsnyder because that dude hits fungo bat pop-ups that carry over the fence.

The only left-handed hitter on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues is Mason Williams, and while he’s not someone Girardi figures to use as a pinch-hitter for Torreyes, Hicks sure is. He did it yesterday. Hicks hits for Torreyes, Kozma takes over at short, and the Yankees would still have a capable outfielder on the bench in Williams should, say, Carter pinch-hit for Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury against a lefty the next inning. That’s not really doable right now.

Either way, eighth reliever or fifth bench player, we are talking about literally the 25th player on the 25-man roster. No team uses the last player on the roster all that often. It just seems like, with all those early season off-days, carrying an extra reliever is a waste. Heck, the Yankees might be able to get away with only six relievers thanks to those off-days. Instead, they’re carrying eight. The extra bench player could be the better use of that roster spot, even if he only plays two or three times before the Yankees need a fifth starter.

The pitfalls of recent rookies in the Yankees rotation

Hughes (Getty Images)
Hughes (Getty Images)

You don’t have to look far into the past to the last time the Yankees put a young starter in its opening day rotation. That is, of course, because Luis Severino – all of 22 years old at the time – made the Yankees’ rotation in 2016. It didn’t … well, it didn’t go all that great for him. He was in Triple A by mid-May and bounced between the minors, the major league rotation and the bullpen, where he was quite effective.

But you have to travel a little bit further back before then to the last time a true rookie made the Yankees’ rotation out of spring training. Ivan Nova did so in 2011 and Ian Kennedy did so in 2008. Because this has happened so few times in the last decade, I thought it might make sense to look back at these past examples for a glimpse into what the Yankees’ immediate future might look like.

After all, Jordan Montgomery and Chad Green are on the cusp of pulling off that feat this year. A fellow young starter in Severino claimed the other spot in the rotation. Therefore, in the Kennedy example, I’ll group in Phil Hughes, who had eclipsed the rookie limits in ’07 but was even younger in April of ’08 than Severino on opening day last season.

Let the look back begin.


(Getty Images)
Kennedy (Getty Images)

’08 seems like the perfect reference point to the present day. The Yankees had two rotation spots open behind Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang and they were Hughes and Kennedy’s spots to take, which they proceeded to do.

The Yankees’ current wave of optimism about its prospects comes primarily from its hitting, but at that time, it was because of the pitching. It’s really hard to emphasize just how excited fans (and the team) were about its pitching prospects. The team has three former first-round picks (add in Joba Chamberlain) that had shown glimpses of promise and seemed destined to be the team’s star starters/relievers.

Kennedy wasn’t a top of the rotation talent necessarily and Hughes was coming off a season with a hamstring injury, so there was some concern. However, Kennedy has impressed and Hughes had just won a playoff game. Of course these guys were going to hit the ground running. There was no way both would fall flat in their big opportunity.

Or, I guess there was. Hughes had six starts, no wins, and a 9.00 ERA in April. He didn’t make it out of the fourth inning in four of those starts. After his last start went on the disabled list with a cracked rib and wouldn’t appear in the majors again until September.

Kennedy’s start to the season went just as poorly. In nine appearances (eight starts) through the end of May, he went 0-3 with a 7.41 ERA. He only completed five innings a total of four times. In his first start, he gave up six runs and got just seven outs.

Perhaps the most disappointing moment happened when he resurfaced in the majors in August. He came up from the minors to replace an injured Chamberlain (Save the Big 3!) and gave up five runs in two innings to the Angels. He told reporters after the game he wasn’t too upset with the way he pitched, which angered many in his own clubhouse. It made some question, rightly or wrongly, whether he had the best mindset to make it through a major league season.


(Getty Images)
Nova in the 2011 ALDS (Getty Images)

The failures of Kennedy and Hughes are a pretty sharp contrast to what happened for Ivan Nova. Nova was in no way the prospect that the duo were, to the point where he was claimed in the Rule 5 Draft by the Padres in 2008. He pitched in 10 games (42 innings) in 2010 and was fine. A 4.50 ERA, a low strikeout rate, but strong groundball numbers.

And at age 24 in ’11, he made the rotation. The Yankees had lost a few starters from the year prior and Nova was solid enough in the spring to earn the spot.

From there, he ran with it. He had some bad starts here and there, but for the most part would always complete five innings. He had a 5.82 ERA after April, but it went down every single month after that, culminating in a 3.70 ERA over 165 1/3 innings.

He really hit his stride over the last four months. He won his last 12 decisions, made it through five innings in each of his last 17 starts and made it through at least six in 13 of them. He didn’t allow more than four earned runs in an appearance after Apr. 15.

What are the takeaways from that? First off, it’s really important for Montgomery or Green to avoid a slow start. Getting off to even one solid appearance to begin the season will go a long way to finding one’s rhythm. They have a buffer of not needing to start until Apr. 16 in the majors, but Severino will need to go beginning with the Yankees’ second series against a solid Baltimore lineup. Staying healthy will also help because who knows if Hughes could have turned things around if he’d only stayed healthy. Heck, that’s probably a common refrain for his early Yankees’ tenure.

Nova excelled in part because he avoided bad innings, keeping teams from knocking him out quickly. If a young starter can complete five innings, it goes a long way. Whether it’s Severino or Montgomery or whomever, it won’t necessarily be all about their strikeout rate or how many people they walk. Nova struck out few and walked a ton in his first month in ’08. Those things are still important, but we also need to wait for a definitive sample size.

Therefore, it’s important to put process over results for a little while, preach some patience for these young starters. Not many pitchers have a clean beginning to their first big opportunity and it will likely take a while before these guys can establish themselves in the majors, if they even truly do.

Fan Confidence Poll: April 3rd, 2017

Spring Training Record: 24-9-1 (198 RS, 140 RA)
Regular Season Record
: 0-1 (3 RS, 7 RA)
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, @ Rays (two games, Tues. and Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Orioles (three games, Fri. 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.

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Yankees lose on Opening Day for sixth straight season, fall 7-3 to Rays

The Opening Day losing streak has hit six years. That is both a new franchise record and quite annoying. Getting a little tired of seeing 0-1 every year, you guys. A rare dreadful start by Masahiro Tanaka put the Yankees down early on Sunday, and they were never able to get back in the game. The Rays won the season opener 7-3.

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

A Bad Start
Not the way you wanna start the season, Masahiro! After allowing four first inning runs total last season — four! — he allowed three in the first inning Sunday. A single by Corey Dickerson, a hustle double by Kevin Kiermaier, and a sac fly by Evan Longoria created the first run. Tanaka should have had his second out of the inning on Brad Miller’s hard hit grounder to first, but the ball got through Greg Bird‘s glove and Miller beat it out. Womp womp. Starlin Castro did a nice job backing up the play to prevent the ball from rolling into the outfield.

What followed was a rarity: a four-pitch walk. Tanaka issued one all last season. One! So, naturally, he issued one to the fifth batter he faced in 2016. Go figure. The walk loaded the bases, so Tanaka was a double play ball away from limiting the damage. He did get the ground ball from Logan Morrison, but it skipped by a diving Ronald Torreyes behind second base …


… and into center field for a two-run single. Blah. A full-sized shortstop might have been able to knock that down and limit it to a one-run single, but alas. (I kid. I kid.) Tanaka was able to escape the inning without allowing any more runs, but the damage had already been done. One inning into the new season, the Spring Training juggernaut Yankees were down 3-0. Baseball.

Tanaka never did settle down after that tough first inning. He gave up a two-run home run to Longoria in the second inning and it was a stupid homer. It hit the top of the short wall in left field and hopped over. Did you know the Rays originally cut out the top of that wall so Carl Crawford could rob home runs years ago? True story. The two-out walk to Kiermaier set that up. Tanaka gave Tampa a free two-out baserunner and Longoria made him pay.

Morrison tacked on a legitimate solo home run to center field in the third inning, then a Tim Beckham double and a Gary Sanchez error created Tampa’s seventh run. Mallex Smith laid down a bunt, Sanchez rushed the throw because Smith is crazy fast, and the throw sailed way wide of first base. Beckham scored on the play and Smith chugged into second. Tanaka faced one more batter, getting Derek Norris to fly out, and that was it. Joe Girardi yanked him.

The total damage: seven runs on eight hits, including two home runs, and two walks in 2.2 innings. Tanaka threw 67 pitches to get eight outs. The seven earned runs are a career high — he had allowed seven runs on four other occasions, though there were unearned runs involved — and the 2.2 innings are the second fewest of his career. (He had a 1.2-inning start in 2014.) This was only the fourth time in 76 starts with the Yankees that Tanaka failed to complete five full innings.

Overall, Tanaka just never really looked like himself on the mound. He was missing his spots by a lot — Sanchez made several nice stops on pitches in the dirt and well wide of the plate — and he fell behind a ton of hitters. In fact, Tanaka faced 18 hitters, and only eight saw a first pitch strike. Five of the 18 saw a hitter friendly 2-0 or 3-1 count, which is bad news. Good to get the worst start of the year out of the way early, I guess. Shake it off and go get ’em in five days, Masahiro.

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Two Runs Early, One Run Late
Following that ugly bottom of the first inning, we were all hoping the Yankees would answer right back, and hey, they did. Back-to-back singles by Castro and Chase Headley — Castro beat out an infield single and Headley squibbed a grounder to beat the shift — set up Aaron Judge for an RBI double. Chris Archer hung a first pitch slider and Judge hooked it to left field. That scored one run. Torreyes followed with a run-scoring ground out for the second run. Just like that, it was 3-2 and the Yankees were right back in the game. Then Tanaka barfed all over it.

Archer did what Tanaka could not do after that: he settled down. Following the Judge double, Archer retired 14 of the next 15 batters he faced on 53 total pitches. That streak ended when Castro and Headley strung together another set of back-to-back singles, this time leading off the seventh inning. Castro lined a single to center and Headley bunted to beat the shift. Pretty much a perfect bunt, it was. Archer’s pitch count was rising, so that seventh inning rally was New York’s last best chance to get back in the game.

Although the Yankees ultimately did not score that inning, they got the situation they will take every day of the week: Sanchez at the plate with the bases loaded. Archer’s pitch count was over 100 too. Sanchez sliced a two-strike slider juuust foul down the right field line — we’re talking maybe six inches from being a three-run double — before rolling over on a slider and grounding out to short. That’s why you bat Sanchez second. That one extra lineup spot could be the difference between Sanchez hitting with the bases loaded and a lesser hitter. Just didn’t pay off this time.

Unlike previous years, the Yankees did not pack it in after blowing that rally. Two singles (Headley and Aaron Hicks) and an error loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth inning. Fighting Spirit! Chris Carter made his Yankees debut at that point — he was pinch-hitting for Pete Kozma, who took over at short after Hicks pinch-hit for Torreyes in the seventh inning (Hicks took over in left and Kozma took Brett Gardner‘s spot in the lineup) — and drove in a run with a sac fly. Sanchez struck out, Bird flew out, and the game was over. At least maybe the O’Neill Theory will be in effect Tuesday.

The Firsts
Since it was Opening Day, the Yankees had a whole bunch of “firsts” this afternoon. Here’s a quick recap:

  • First Hit: Castro (infield single in the second inning against Archer)
  • First Walk: Bird (first inning against Archer)
  • First RBI: Judge (second inning double against Archer)
  • First Run: Castro (on Judge’s double)
  • First Hit-By-Pitch: Jacoby Ellsbury (eighth inning by Danny Farquhar)
  • First Home Run: Still waiting.
  • First Stolen Base: Still waiting.

Tanaka recorded the first pitching strikeout of the season, because duh. He fanned Smith on three pitches to end the first inning. Tommy Layne was the first reliever used — love seeing matchups in the third inning on Opening Day! — and Hicks was the first pinch-hitter used.

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Ellsbury, the No. 1 hitter turned No. 5 hitter, led off two innings in this game. He flew out in foul territory to start the second inning and struck out to start the fourth inning. The top five hitters in the lineup went a combined 1-for-20 with a single, a walk, a hit-by-pitch, and a sac fly. Ain’t gonna win many games like that. Sanchez did hit a first inning rocket back up the middle that hit Archer in the shin. At 115.7 mph, it was Gary’s hardest hit ball as a big leaguer. And it was an out. Go figure.

Castro was the offensive hero on Opening Day, going 3-for-4 with three hard-hit singles. He had a ridiculous first series last season, remember. Another hot start would be cool. Headley had three shift-beating hits. He was living the good BABIP life this afternoon. The 6-7-8 portion of the lineup went a combined 7-for-12. Also, four relievers (Layne, Adam Warren, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve) combined to throw 5.1 scoreless innings. Warren retired all seven batters he faced. It’s almost like he should be starting rather than mopping up.

Not a great start to the season for the instant replay system. There was a technical issue at Tropicana Field, so both teams had unlimited crew chief challenges for the game. And, in the first inning, the replay crew appeared to blow a call on Matt Holliday‘s would-be infield single. He was called out and the replays YES showed sure made it look like he was safe, but the out call stood for whatever reason. Then, in the second, it appeared the Rays got Castro at first on his infield single, yet the replay crew said no. I don’t understand anything anymore.

And finally, the Yankees tied a franchise record today by having four players age 25-and-under in their Opening Day lineup. The four: Sanchez, Bird, Judge, and Torreyes. The Yankees had done that previously in 1914 (Bill Holden, Fritz Maisel, Roger Peckinpaugh, Harry Williams) and 1932 (Ben Chapman, Frankie Crosetti, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez). That is pretty darn cool. Shoulda started Luis Severino just to set the record. He couldn’t have pitched any worse than Tanaka.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head on over to ESPN for the box score and for the video highlights. Also, make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload page too. Bullpens are pretty darn important these days. Here is the first win probability graph of the season:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
An off-day, for some reason. I’m guessing Opening Day was originally scheduled for Monday before ESPN flexed it to Sunday for broadcasting purposes. Otherwise there’s no reason to have an off-day after the opener when the ballpark has a dome. Whatever. CC Sabathia and Jake Odorizzi are the starters for the second game of the season Tuesday night.

Sunday Night Open Thread

Opening Day is in the books. For the Yankees, that is. They lost to the Rays earlier this afternoon. Doomed. Season over. Blah blah blah. There are only 161 more games to go, after all. Anyway, welcome back regular season baseball. I’ve missed you so.

Here is an open thread for the rest of the day. ESPN has the Giants and Diamondbacks right now and will have the Cubs and Cardinals at 8:30pm ET (Lester vs. Martinez). The (hockey) Rangers, Islanders, and Nets are playing as well. Talk about those games, this afternoon’s loss, or anything else here as long as it’s not religion or politics.