So that series couldn’t have gone much better. The whole road trip couldn’t have gone better, really. The Yankees eked out a 2-1 win over the Tigers on Thursday afternoon to win three of four in the series. They’ve won six of their last seven games overall and went 7-3 on the ten-game trip through Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and Detroit.
Much like Adam Warren on Wednesday night, Masahiro Tanaka seemed to struggle with his command in the cold weather in the first inning of Thursday’s game. The results weren’t as bad as Warren’s but Tanaka still allowed a first inning run on an Anthony Gose double, an Ian Kinsler ground out, and a Victor Martinez sac fly. He struck out J.D. Martinez looking with Miguel Cabrera on second to end the inning.
Then, like Warren on Wednesday, Tanaka settled down and found a groove. He retired 16 of the next 17 batters he faced with the only blemish a booming two-out double by J.D. Martinez in the fourth that stayed in the park because of the cold. The ball was well-struck and probably leaves the yard on a nice hot summer day. Martinez doubled again with one out in the seventh — hard-hit but not as hard-hit as the first double — and Tanaka followed that by walking Yoenis Cespedes, ending his afternoon.
The bullpen and infield defense picked up Tanaka out in that seventh inning. Justin Wilson was brought in to face the lefty hitting Alex Avila, who was replaced by righty pinch-hitter James McCann, who then ripped a hard-hit grounder to third base. Chase Headley snared the ball on his knees and fired a one-hopper to second to get the force out. Gregorio Petit made a real nice scoop. Great plays by both Headley and Petit. Dellin Betances then coaxed a pop-up from Nick Castellanos to strand runners on the corners.
All told, Tanaka limited a powerful Detroit lineup to one run on three hits and two walks in 6.1 innings. All three hits were doubles. He struck out six, got five ground ball outs, two foul pop-ups, and six fly balls outs. Only one or two of the fly ball outs were any kind of trouble. They were mostly routine. After two shaky starts to open 2015, the pre-injury version of Tanaka has returned these last two starts. He’s locating his fastball up and down, breaking off nasty sliders, and still throwing the embarrasplitter. It’s glorious.
Despite his ugly early season numbers, Anibal Sanchez is a damn good pitcher and it was clear early in Thursday’s game he was sharp. He was locating his fastball well, particularly inside on lefties, and his changeup was dancing all over the place. Chris Young had the team’s first and only hit of the first six innings, singling to left in the second. Sanchez sat down eleven of the next 13 batters.
The Yankees caught their big offensive break — well, two of them, really — in the sixth inning, when Jacoby Ellsbury worked a nine-pitch at-bat to draw the leadoff walk. He stole second and moved to third on Brett Gardner‘s ground ball. That brought Carlos Beltran to the plate. Beltran struck out feebly to end the third inning with runners on second and third and two outs, so he had a chance to redeem himself. Instead, Beltran struck out again, taking some hittable fastballs over the plate before waving at a changeup in the dirt for the second out of the inning. Ugly.
It appeared New York was about to blow their best run-scoring opportunity when Ellsbury took matters into his own hands. Sanchez was working from the full windup and Ellsbury coaxed him into a balk by dancing off third base. Check out the play:
— #GREGBIRD (@EderMik) April 23, 2015
For whatever reason, home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi did not call that a balk. Third base ump Gerry Davis had to step in to bail him out a few seconds later. Balk rules are weird, but c’mon. Sanchez was in the middle of his windup, stopped, stepped off the rubber, and threw home. Easy balk call yet Cuzzi missed it. Davis didn’t and Ellsbury was awarded home plate for the game-tying run. Jacoby can be game-changer on the bases and we saw it there.
Battle of the Bullpens
Both starters were out of the game with the score tied 1-1 in the seventh inning, and while the Yankees’ bullpen was able to navigate through danger in the seventh, the Tigers’ bullpen couldn’t do the same in the eighth. It started once again with Ellsbury, who laced a hustle leadoff double to center and narrowly beat the throw. He was looking two all the way. Like I said, his base-running can be a real game-changer.
Gardner bunted Ellsbury to third base, which again put Beltran in the spotlight, but this time he didn’t have a chance to redeem himself/fail. The Tigers intentionally walked him to set up the double play and get the left-on-left matchup with Tom Gorzelanny against Brian McCann. It almost worked! McCann hit a ground ball to first base. Miguel Cabrera couldn’t handle it cleanly though, so there was no chance for a double play. They took the out at first and Ellsbury trotted in with the go-ahead run from third. The Yankees were up 2-1 with six outs to go.
Betances stayed on to pitch the eighth and, for the first time this year, he really looked like 2014 Dellin. Nasty breaking balls and upper-90s fastballs all inning. He completely overwhelmed Hernan Perez, Gose, and Kinsler, sandwiching two strikeouts around a weak tapper back to the mound. Vintage Dellin. And yet, he did not face Miguel Cabrera to start the ninth. Not-the-closer Andrew Miller came in even though Cabrera was 2-for-2 with a double against him in his career. (Miggy is 0-for-3 with three strikeouts against Betances.) Pretty safe to say the co-closers experiment is over.
Anyway, Miller is a retired the side in order in the ninth inning for his sixth save in six chances. He struck out Miggy, got a ground out from Victor Martinez, and struck out J.D. Martinez for a clean 1-2-3 frame. Seven of his eight pitches were strikes. Headley made a great diving stop on V-Mart to save a single. It took some nice third base defense, but the bullpen retired all seven men they faced. Beautiful.
I can’t remember the last time the Yankees played a series in Detroit in which Cabrera didn’t hit a massive home run. He went 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout on Thursday and 2-for-13 (.154) with two walks and two strikeouts in the four-game series. That’s basically the best case scenario. V-Mart went 0-for-3 with a sac fly on Thursday and 0-for-10 with three walks (one intentional) with two strikeouts in the series. Pretty awesome.
Betances threw six straight curveballs to Castellanos to get the final out of the seventh, then threw eight fastballs and four curves in the eighth inning. Dellin has been throwing a ton of breaking balls lately but it seems he is starting to go back to the fastball now. That’s good to see. Betances is making real progress and starting to look more like the elite reliever he was last summer.
The Yankees only had three hits in the game — Ellsbury’s hustle double, Young’s second inning single, and a single by Petit off the bench.
They only drew one walk too, and it was intentional. Four base-runners and they still won! That won’t happen often. I’m an idiot. They drew six walks. That’s a lot. Ellsbury’s speed had a major impact and some good ol’ fashioned small ball did the trick. Sometimes you have to win games like this.
And finally, Miller’s six saves currently lead the league. He’s struck out 15 batters in 7.1 innings so far this year. Two hits, four walks, no runs. As advertised. Maybe even better.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Also, here are our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Do with them as you please. Now here is the win probability graph:
The ten-game road trip is over. The Yankees will fly back home this evening before opening a three-game weekend series with the Mets. Michael Pineda and reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom kick off the Subway Series on Friday night. Fun fact: Pineda is seven months younger than deGrom.
With the exception of last Wednesday’s massive meltdown in Baltimore, the Yankees’ bullpen has been a major strength so far this season. They own a collective 2.13 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 55 innings with a very good strikeout rate (26.5%) and a below-average walk rate (10.9%) that should come down once Dellin Betances and Justin Wilson get over their early-season strike-throwing issues. Hopefully get over them, anyway.
New York’s bullpen has thrown a ton of innings this season, fourth most in MLB thanks in part to that 19-inning game, so they’ve worked a lot and answered the bell. On the list of problems with the team, the relief crew is very far down right now. That said, there is always room for improvement, and when you rely on the bullpen as much as these Yankees, fielding the strongest possible bullpen seems like a no-brainer.
At some point very soon, the Yankees are going to reach a crossroads with Jacob Lindgren, their top bullpen prospect who is currently wasting bullets in Triple-A. And that’s basically what he’s doing. Wasting bullets. Lindgren has struck out 42.1% of batters faced with an 84% ground ball rate in 32.2 innings since signing last year. He’s faced 36 batters in Triple-A this year — eleven have struck out and 19 others hit the ball on the ground. Exactly 80% of the batters he’s faced as a pro have either struck out or hit a grounder. Total domination.
Given how quickly he’s risen up the ladder and how much success he’s had in pro ball, I’m not sure what’s left for Lindgren to learn in the minors. He’s never going to be a control artist because there’s some funk in his delivery, so sitting around and waiting for his walk rate (career 12.1%) to come down seems like a waste since it might never happen. Lindgren’s not a starter who has to work on turning over a lineup three times or a position player who needs to iron out his approach at the plate or improve defensively. He’s a one inning, air it our reliever who isn’t being challenged.
Part of Lindgren’s appeal out of the draft was his ability to move quickly, which he has. He’s knocking on the door of the show nine months out of college. The Yankees have downplayed his MLB readiness since last year but that’s not really uncommon. Lots of teams try to pump the breaks on their recent draft picks. Here’s what scouting director Damon Oppenheimer told Anthony McCarron after drafting Lindgren with the team’s top pick last summer:
“I kind of leave those decisions for other people. My job’s just to bring the talent into the system. But we just think as a group that he does have the capability of moving through the system hopefully quickly. Whether he’s good enough to go pitch in the big leagues right away, somebody else will make that decision. But he’s obviously advanced. He’s obviously gotten out really good hitters. There’s some history with guys doing this, but there’s also some history with guys getting to the big leagues as relievers too quick and it doesn’t last. We’d like to get impact and longevity from him, not just something that’s real quick.”
Development isn’t always nice and linear. Even David Robertson, another strikeout and ground ball heavy reliever, went up and down a few times before sticking for good. Chances are Lindgren will do the same, and those trips up and down are a learning experience. Right now Lindgren doesn’t seem to be learning all that much in Triple-A, but he will learn in the big leagues because he will be challenged, at which point he may have to go back to Triple-A to make adjustments. The sooner he comes up, the sooner the sticks for good, even if he rides the bus a few times before it happens.
The Yankees have moved Lindgren through the minors much quickly than any of their other recent reliever draft picks. J.B. Cox, another high-end college reliever selected in the second round (2005), spent his entire first full pro season with Double-A Trenton. Lindgren started his first full season in Triple-A. He did the Double-A thing late last year. The team hasn’t been shy promoting him. It would be ridiculous if Lindgren was still in High-A or even Double-A. He’s not though. He’s right on the doorstep.
I think the Yankees are planning to call Lindgren up very soon because they’ve moved him aggressively. Maybe it’ll even happen this weekend. Fitting him on the roster won’t be difficult — I like Chris Martin, but you don’t let a soon-to-be 29-year-old who was designated for assignment in the offseason stand in the way of a bonafide end game bullpen prospect, Martin can go to Triple-A for a few weeks — and even if the Yankees were playing the service time game, Lindgren’s free agency has already been pushed back a year. (Relievers are so volatile that planning six and seven years into the future with them seems totally pointless, but I digress.)
Given his overwhelming minor league dominance to date, every pitch Lindgren throws in Triple-A is a wasted bullet. It’s a pitch he should be throwing in MLB. I’ve been saying that since the spring. The Yankees are rapidly approaching a crossroads with Lindgren if they haven’t gotten there already — he needs to come up to be challenged so he can take the next step in his development. The bullpen has been very strong and I understand not wanting to fix something that isn’t broken, but this isn’t an attempt to fix anything. It’s a necessary step to continue Lindgren’s development that also has the potential make that all important bullpen even stronger.
Considering it started with a series loss in Baltimore, this ten-game road trip has gone pretty darn well for the Yankees. They’ve won six of nine games so far — including five of the last six — and this afternoon’s series finale with the Tigers will determine if it’s a great 7-3 road trip or merely a very good 6-4 road trip. I’m greedy, I want the former.
Masahiro Tanaka is on the mound this afternoon and he is making his first start on normal rest this year. He’s made all of his previous starts — regular season and Spring Training — with an extra day of rest by design. Tanaka looked like the pre-injury version of himself in his last start, during which he threw only 85 pitches in seven innings. Detroit’s lineup is much tougher than Tampa Bay’s, but, when Tanaka is on, he can dominate anyone. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- LF Brett Gardner
- DH Carlos Beltran
- C Brian McCann
- 3B Chase Headley
- RF Chris Young
- 1B Garrett Jones
- 2B Stephen Drew
- SS Didi Gregorius
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
It’s still really cold and windy in Detroit, but thankfully there is no rain (or snow!) in the forecast this afternoon. The game will begin at 1:08pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.
Heading into Spring Training, the Yankees had plenty of reasons to be concerned about their rotation. Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda all missed significant time with injuries last season, Nathan Eovaldi was making the NL-to-AL transition, Chris Capuano is Chris Capuano, and Adam Warren had never held down a full-time big league rotation spot. Question marks were abound.
The Yankees lost Capuano to a quad injury early in camp and they took it very easy on Tanaka and Sabathia this spring, bringing them along slowly for completely understandable reasons. They’re also hoping to give them an extra day of rest between starts this month whenever possible, even if it means using a spot sixth starter. So far so good — everyone has stayed healthy aside from Capuano and they’ve all shown flashes of effectiveness, if nothing else.
One thing the Yankees were not getting from their rotation in the early going this season is length. New York’s starters completed six innings of work just three in the first ten games of the season — Pineda did it twice (6 IP and 6.1 IP) and Sabathia did it once (7 IP) — and they were averaging only 5.3 innings per start, which is no good. It’s no surprise the team’s bullpen has thrown the fourth most innings in baseball this season (55.0). (The 19-inning game skews things but those innings happened and contributed to the bullpen workload.)
Only once has Joe Girardi allowed his starter to throw 100+ pitches this year — Eovaldi threw 101 pitches against the Orioles last week — though that is partially by design. Like I said, the team is trying to take it easy on everyone early in the season, so Girardi isn’t necessarily letting them pitch as deep as they normally would. Of course, some early season starts were ugly and leaving the starter out there for 100+ pitches wasn’t doable. They were getting knocked around.
Over the last five games though, the last turn through the rotation, the starter has completed seven innings of work three times and come within one out of completing six innings the other two times. Tanaka and Eovaldi both completed seven innings and Sabathia threw an eight-inning complete game. Pineda and Warren both labored in their 5.2-inning starts but still managed to take the ball deeper into the game than the rotation had averaged in the first ten games of the year.
The Yankees have gotten seven innings from their starting pitcher four times in the last eight games and six innings five times in the last nine games. After averaging 5.3 innings per start through the first ten games, they’ve raised their season average to 5.8 innings per start through 15 games. The AL average is 5.6 innings per start right now, so the Yankees are just above that mark and they’re trending in the right direction.
As we’ve seen so far this season, the Yankees have a pretty dynamic bullpen, particularly at the end of games with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Not many clubs are using relievers as good as David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve in mop-up innings like New York did last night. Pitchers like that are logging setup innings for many clubs around the league. I mean, how many teams could afford to send someone like Shreve to Triple-A for ten days to get a fresh arm?
As good as that bullpen is, Girardi and the Yankees don’t want to use it as much as they’ve had to so far this year. Miller has already recorded a four-out save and a five-out save, and they don’t want outings that long to become the norm. The longer the starters can go, the easier it is on the bullpen, and the more effective the club’s key relievers will be late in the season. The Yankees weren’t getting many innings from their starters the first two turns through the rotation, but this last turn though was much better and it’s lightened the load on the bullpen considerably.
On the paper, the Adam Warren vs. David Price matchup didn’t sound sexy for the Yankee fans. However, the offense pounced on the former Cy winner to warrant at least a series tie in Detroit. New York has taken seven of their last ten and tied the Blue Jays for the second place in AL East (and a game behind the first-place Red Sox).
So, About That First Inning…:
Maybe David Price was looking forward to the snow too much, or the cold and snowy atmosphere really messed with him a lot, but he clearly did not have it tonight. He started the game off by plunking Jacoby Ellsbury and consistently missing spots. Chris Young singled, Alex Rodriguez struck out and Mark Teixeira walked. Brian McCann drove in the first run of the game with a single to Yoenis Cespedes. Carlos Beltran followed that up by striking out (sigh) but the fun started right after. Chase Headley drove in Young with a ground ball single to left field, giving Yanks a 2-0 lead. With two outs, bases loaded, Gregorio Petit came up.
Petit, who was hitting for an ungodly .111/.150/.111 line before tonight’s game, took Price’s slider down the middle into the gap for a bases-clearing double. Man, snow or no snow, you don’t see something like this every day. The Yanks led 5-0. Price proceeded to walk Didi Gregorius and allowed an RBI single to Ellsbury. By the way, that was the first run that Ells drove in this season and it took a very gutsy Rob Thomson call — Petit ran on Cespedes’ very strong arm and Avila couldn’t handle the throw properly. If he did, Ellsbury might have had to wait another day for the first RBI of 2015.
That was just the first part of the first inning saga for pitchers. In the bottom of the first, Adam Warren’s command also caught the David Price disease. Instead of allowing meatballs, the righty just couldn’t find the strike zone. Warren walked four (!!!) of the first five batters faced. One batter he did not walk – Ian Kinsler – lined out sharply to center. After walking in a run, Warren faced Cespedes. The Cuban outfielder hit a grounder to Didi, who made a nice diving stop and was in a good position to get a force out at third … but he went a much harder way and threw to second awkwardly. What? I honestly have no idea what prompted Gregorius to do that. Next batter, Nick Castellanos, hit a grounder to Gregorius. Didi, instead of quickly throwing overhand to turn a double play, did a slower underhand toss to second base for a force out and Castellanos was safe at first. The lead cut to 6-3. Argh.
This inning just screamed of not only the big league inexperience but just overall baseball inexperience for Didi, which shouldn’t be the case since he’s been playing at least since the teens. Given the way he seemed to field the ball in Spring Training, I predict that he’ll find his groove back at some point. He just seems to be in some kind of funk right now.
Oh, and after the force out, Warren allowed an RBI single to Alex Avila. A 6-0 laugher became a 6-4 nailbiter in a matter of half of an inning. Yeesh.
The 5th Starter:
Warren had not all that been inspiring in first two starts as the Yankee fifth starter (9 IP, 11 H, 5 ER, 4 BB and 3 K’s). Even before getting the second out of the first inning, he doubled his walk total of the season and it seemed like New York needed to score way more than six to earn a win. However, after a tumultuous first inning, Warren settled down nicely. For the next 4.2 innings pitched, Warren allowed only three hits, no runs, no walks and struck out three. Not bad. It was definitely suboptimal (and I’m putting that lightly) condition for pitchers in the beginning and unlike Price, Warren did a nice job rebounding from it. Props.
Warren’s line for the season now stands at 5.40 ERA/5.61 FIP and his walk rate (4.80 BB/9) is higher than his strikeout rate (3.60 K/9). But hopefully he’ll build from the latter portion of tonight’s start. I don’t want to be watching another game where the fans genuinely seem to yearn for Chris Capuano‘s return to the rotation.
No offense to you Detroit, but here’s our offense:
So, 13 runs. Not too shabby. Remember that Yankees’ big Achilles heel in 2013 and 2014 was the inability to score runs? Believe it or not: the Yankees are now second in the entire league in runs scored with 83, trailing only to the Blue Jays (87).
Five starters in the lineup had two or more hits tonight (Ellsbury, Young, McCann, Beltran, Headley) and the team totaled 15. Gregorio Petit, who hit an aforementioned bases-clearing double in the first inning, walked twice (including an intentional one, no kidding!). Teixeira, who now has a .202 batting average and a .925 OPS, hit a towering three-run homer in the seventh inning to pad his slugging percentage. He could use some love from the BABIP gods right now but it’s good to see him hit for good power in early in the season.
By the way, how fun is it to watch Chris Young right now? After a 3-for-6 performance, his 2015 line is .368/.442/.816 in 44 PA’s, which is ridiculous. For obvious reasons, I don’t expect him to keep that kind of production up for too long but it’s really fun to be in the moment for it. I still have a thread of hope that he could’ve found something that clicked and Jose Bautista’d his career with the Yankees … but that’s a pipe dream.
On the note of an excellent offensive showing, how about this? According to our Katie Sharp, the Yankees are the only team in the majors to score 13 runs or more multiple times so far in 2015. Here’s to many more for the rest of season. Hopefully. Not going to kid you, It’s fun to see this team score a lot of runs again.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings:
The Yankees look to take the four-game series in Comerica with their ace Masahiro Tanaka on the mound. The Nipponese righty shut down the Rays last time out and he’ll look to repeat that against the Tigers’ starter Anibal Sanchez. Oh, by the way, New York has a winning streak going again. Let’s hope it continues!
- CF Slade Heathcott: 4-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI — got picked off first … ten hits in his last 24 at-bats (.417)
- 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4, 2 K
- RF Tyler Austin: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 K — in a little 3-for-19 (.158) skid
- C Austin Romine: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI
- RHP Chase Whitley: 6 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 6/5 GB/FB — 53 of 74 pitches were strikes (72%) … I wonder when they’ll get him up to 90 pitches
- RHP Danny Burawa: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — eight of eleven pitches were strikes
- LHP Jacob Lindgren: 0.2 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 12 of 19 pitches were strikes (63%)
- RHP Jose Ramirez: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 13 of 18 pitches were strikes (72%) … continues to be awesome