It’s working now, but the Yankees should not make a habit of playing short-handed this season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Thanks in large part to bench players Dustin Ackley and Aaron Hicks, the Yankees beat the Royals last night and won for the fifth time in seven games. Ackley and Hicks went a combined 3-for-6 with two walks, three runs scored, and three runs driven in. Ackley drove in the game tying run in the seventh and Hicks followed by plating what was temporarily the go-ahead run.

Last night was Ackley’s fourth straight start and fifth in the last six games. Hicks started for the seventh straight game and eighth time in nine games. They’re in the lineup because of injuries, obviously. Alex Rodriguez pulled his hamstring last week, allowing the Yankees to slide Carlos Beltran into the DH spot and play Hicks everyday. Ackley is in there because Jacoby Ellsbury is day-to-day with a hip issue.

Mark Teixeira entered the infirmary yesterday with neck spasms, clearing the way for Ben Gamel to make his first career start. The Teixeira and Ellsbury injuries mean the Yankees had a two-man bench last night: Ronald Torreyes and Austin Romine. It almost came back to bite them when they couldn’t pinch run for Brian McCann in the seventh. Luckily it didn’t matter.

In all likelihood the Yankees will again have a two-man bench tonight. Ellsbury has not yet tested his hip with full sprints and Teixeira is one day into an injury that is expected to require two or three days. This is a messy situation. The veteran players are hurting, but not hurting enough to require a DL stint, so the Yankees are playing short-handed. They have a 23-man roster while their opponent has a full 25-man unit.

“I think Torreyes gives you a ton of options. I can put him almost anywhere. (The bench is) short, but I think we have options that should make it okay,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings yesterday. And he’s right. Torreyes gives them an option pretty much everywhere, so they’re not going to be forced into playing someone out of position. (You could argue Ackley in right field is out of position given his arm.)

That said, thanks to the makeup of that rained out game in Detroit, the Yankees are eight games into a stretch of 40 games in 41 days. Their next off-day is 12 days away and the short bench means they can’t rest people in addition to not pinch-hitting and pinch-running. Girardi’s options are really limited for the time being and it is absolutely a disadvantage.

The Yankees don’t really have a timetable for Ellsbury’s return — “If you’re in a week and you don’t feel he’s going to be ready anytime soon, you might as well backdate (the DL stint),” said Girardi — and let’s face it, he’s not exactly the quickest healer in the world. It’s already been four days and he’s not sprinting yet, so it’s not like Ellsbury will be back in the lineup tonight.

I get why the Yankees are hesitant to put him Ellsbury on the DL, but stuff like this can’t happen all season. They can’t slowly nurse players back to health and play short-handed, especially when multiple players are banged up like Ellsbury and Teixeira right now. The Yankees are playing much better of late but they still have to dig themselves out of this early season hole. That will be tough as it is. Imagine trying to do it short-handed?

Avoiding injuries just isn’t realistic. Players are going to get hurt. That’s baseball. The Yankees should be a little more liberal with their DL usage going forward, especially when it’s a situation like Ellsbury, where he might miss a week anyway before being ready to play again. The Yankees have some depth in the minors. It’s okay to use it. They’re already made things hard enough on themselves this year.

Yanks give up three homers to Lorenzo Cain, beat Royals 10-7 anyway

Love this team, you guys. The Yankees won a wild back and forth game Tuesday night, eking out a 10-7 win over the defending World Series champion Royals. The game was closer than the score indicates. The Yankees have now won five of their last seven games. Cool cool.

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

Score Early, Score Often
You could tell right away Kris Medlen was not long for this ballgame. The Royals righty had two pitches working: meatball down the middle and something way outside. That’s all he threw Tuesday. The Yankees loaded the bases with one out in the first inning on three singles, and they scored a run on Dustin Ackley‘s sacrifice fly. You’d like to get more there, sure, but Medlen was fooling no one.

In the second inning the Yankees scored a quick run on a Didi Gregorius double and a Chase Headley single. They added two walks later in the inning, but a Ben Gamel double play short-circuited the rally. That’s alright. It happens. In the third, the Yankees again loaded the bases, this time with no outs. Carlos Beltran doubled to center, then Ackley and Aaron Hicks drew walks. The Royals were up 3-2 at the time, but the Yankees were in business.

Medlen was out of the game at this point, so in came lefty Brian Flynn to face Gregorius. Smart move by the Royals. It just didn’t work out. Gregorius managed another one of his half-swing bases clearing doubles, though it was really a single the Kansas City outfielders played into a double with general indifference. Third base coach Joe Espada read it and was sending Hicks all the way. Medlen was charged with four runs on six hits and three walks in two innings. The Yankees were up 5-3 after Didi’s double.

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

The Return of Home Run Tanaka
The long ball was a big time issue for Masahiro Tanaka last year. He allowed 25 homers in 154.1 innings. That’s real bad. So, in an apparent attempt to keep the ball in the park, Tanaka has been throwing more sinkers this season, and it working pretty well up until Tuesday. He allowed only two home runs in his first 39.1 innings. Small sample of course, but encouraging nonetheless.

The home run problems came back Tuesday. Tanaka served up three dingers to the Royals in seven innings, and two of the three were bombs. (The third was a cheap Yankee Stadium shot.) Cheslor Cuthbert hit a two-run shot in the second, Lorenzo Cain hit a solo shot in the third, then Cain hit a three-run job in the fifth. That last one was rather deflating. The Yankees had taken the lead two innings earlier and Tanaka followed it with a dominant 1-2-3 inning. He looked like he was ready to take over.

Tanaka finished the night with six runs allowed in seven innings, making this easily his worst start of the year. He allowed ten earned runs total in his first six starts. The Royals are an aggressive team that swings early in the count, which mean Tanaka couldn’t get to his trademark splitter at times. In fact, he threw only 16 splitters on the night, the fewest of the season and the third fewest in his 51 starts in pinstripes. Sometimes good pitchers have bad games.

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

Three Big Breaks
Things are definitely starting to break the Yankees’ way. With the Royals up 6-5 in the seventh, Brian McCann dropped a one-out single into left, then moved up on a Joakim Soria balk. The balk negated what would have been strike three to Beltran, and while Carlos went on to ground out, the balk put the tying run at second with two outs. Ackley came through with a little broken bat single to left that somehow scored McCann to tie the game.

The balk was the first break. The second: Alex Gordon airmailing the throw home on Ackley’s single, allowing Ackley to advance to second. Gordon is a great defensive left fielder with a great arm. His throws are usually right on target. This one was way high — shout out to Soria for not backing up the play either — and Ackley moved into scoring position. Hicks drove him in with a single to left to give the Yankees a 7-6 lead.

One-run lead after seven? The Yankees are designed to win these games with ease. It was not easy Tuesday though. New eighth inning guy Andrew Miller allowed yet another home run Cain, his third of the game. The solo shot tied things up at seven apiece. Blargh. Miller went on to hit a batter and allow a single later in the inning, but did escape without allowing any more runs. Obviously he can’t handle the pressure of the eighth. Doomed.

The third break came in the bottom of the eighth. Against Kelvin Herrera, Gamel slapped a ground ball to the usually sure-handed Alcides Escobar at short, and Escobar straight up booted it. It should have been two outs with the bases empty. Instead, the Yankees had a runner on first with one out. The good at baseball Brett Gardner made Escobar and the Royals pay with a double to the left-center field wall. Gamel and his long flowing locks scored all the way from first.

Ben Gamel hair

Even with arguably the most dominant closer in the game waiting, the 8-7 lead did not feel safe. It was that kind of game. Thankfully, McCann followed Gardner’s double with a double of his own, this one a two-run job to give the Yankees a 10-7 lead. Starlin Castro was hit by a pitch between doubles. Huge hit. Huge huge huge.

Aroldis Chapman walked a batter — he’s known to do that — in an otherwise uneventful ninth inning for his first save as a Yankee. He struck out one and got Cain to pop up for the final out. Four home runs would have been something, huh? Especially if the Royals lost. The worst Cain could have done there was cut the lead to 10-9. Doesn’t matter now.

Leftovers
Aside from Headley, the three worst hitters on the Yankees this season have probably been Ackley, Hicks, and Gregorius. Those three went a combined 5-for-10 with two walks, three doubles, four runs scored, and six runs driven in Tuesday. McCann and Gardner had some big hits. It was the second tier guys who really did damage in this game though.

Cain’s home run was the first — and still only — run allowed by Miller this season. Chapman managed to allow a run before Miller. Crazy, huh? Dellin Betances, meanwhile, warmed up but did not pitch for the second straight night. That’s going to be a thing now, isn’t it? Dellin warming up a bunch but not appearing in the game? I hope not.

And finally, Cain is the first player with a three-homer game against the Yankees since … J.D. Martinez last season. I don’t remember that at all. Before that you have to go back to Chris Heisey in 2011. That I remember. The last Royal with a three-homer game against the Yankees was Bo Jackson in 1990.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Go to MLB.com for the video highlights and ESPN for both the box score and updated standings. Also make sure you don’t miss our Bullpen Workload page. And I guess our Announcer Standings page too. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Same two teams Wednesday night, when Michael Pineda and Yordano Ventura will be on the mound for the third game of this four-game series. There are five games left on the homestand, and if you want to catch any of them live at Yankee Stadium, check out RAB Tickets.

DotF: Refsnyder extends hitting streak to 14 games in Scranton’s loss

More bad news on the pitching front: RHP Tyler Cloyd is heading for arm surgery, according to Shane Hennigan. Triple-A Scranton pitching coach Tommy Phelps seemed to indicate he needs Tommy John surgery. Cloyd isn’t great or anything, but he’s a stretched out warm body who could have come up as an emergency starter/long man.

Triple-A Scranton (3-0 loss to Pawtucket)

  • DH Donovan Solano: 3-4, 1 2B, 1 BB — 6-for-12 with three doubles, two walks, and no strikeouts in his last five games
  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-5, 1 K — he’s played 30 games this year: 30.9 K% in the first 15 and 19.4 K% in the last 15
  • 3B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 K — extends hitting streak to 14 games and on-base streak to 18 games
  • 1B Deibinson Romero: 1-2, 2 BB
  • RHP Kyle Haynes: 3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 3/3 GB/FB — 38 of 57 pitches were strikes (66%) … he started the fourth inning, then left with the trainer per Hennigan, so yet another pitcher is hurt
  • RHP Conor Mullee: 3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2/4 GB/FB — 31 of 42 pitches were strikes (74%) … 25/5 K/BB in 19 innings
  • LHP James Pazos: 2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 18 of 24 pitches were strikes (75%)
  • RHP Anthony Swarzak: 1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 20 of 28 pitches were strikes (71%) … came out of the bullpen on his throw day to give the regular relievers an inning off

[Read more…]

Game 31: Tanaka Tuesday

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

The Yankees may be starting to right the ship. They’ve won four of their last six games and they have the right guy on the mound to keep things going tonight: Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball so far this season, and he’s coming off that eight inning masterpiece against the Orioles. Hopefully his teammates provide a little more run support tonight. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Carlos Beltran
  5. 1B Dustin Ackley
  6. CF Aaron Hicks
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. RF Ben Gamel
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It has been cloudy and overcast all day in New York, though there is no rain in the forecast. There have been better nights for baseball. Tonight’s game is going to begin 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Mark Teixeira has neck spasms and is day-to-day. It’s been bothering him for a while, apparently … Jacoby Ellsbury (hip) has only done some light jogging and is not yet ready to run full sprints … Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) is “progressing,” per Joe Girardi.

2016 Draft: Cody Sedlock

Cody Sedlock | RHP

Background
Sedlock, 20, is from the small little town of Sherrard, Illinois — the internet tells me the population is 626 according to the 2013 Census — and he is currently in the University of Illinois rotation after spending his freshman and sophomore years in the bullpen. He has a 2.82 ERA with 97 strikeouts and 25 walks in 83 innings this spring. Sedlock broke out as a starter with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod League last fall. He struck out 26 in 29 innings.

Scouting Report
Out of the bullpen, the 6-foot-4 and 210 lb. Sedlock would routinely touch 96 mph, though he’s been mostly 91-93 mph as a starter this spring. He does hold his velocity deep into games, which always seems to be a challenge for reliever-to-starter conversion guys. Sedlock’s main secondary pitch is a low-80s slider that is a legitimate swing-and-miss offering on its best days. He also throws both a changeup and curveball. They’re underdeveloped at this point because he leaned on his heater and slider out of the bullpen. Sedlock has cleaned up his delivery with the Illini and now does a much better job throwing strikes and staying on line with the plate.

Miscellany
In their most recent rankings Keith Law (subs. req’d), MLB.com, and Baseball America had Sedlock as the 19th, 32nd, and 36th best prospect in the draft class, respectively. The Yankees hold the 18th overall pick. As a college starting pitcher, Sedlock is right up New York’s alley because they’re emphasizing quick to the majors players. Sedlock does need some work with his change and curve, but the tools are there for four pitches. His arm is also relatively fresh after spending two seasons in the bullpen.

Inability to get the ball airborne causing Teixeira’s power outage

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

For the majority of the season the Yankees have really struggled to score runs, and you can’t single out one guy as the culprit. It takes a total team effort to rank 24th out of the 30 clubs in runs per game (3.57) more than a month into the season. Starlin Castro has been the team’s only consistently productive hitter, I’d say.

A year ago the Yankees had one of highest scoring offenses in baseball overall, and one of the biggest reasons was regular cleanup hitter Mark Teixeira. He hit .255/.357/.548 (143 wRC+) with 31 home runs in 111 games before going down with a small fracture in his shin. Teixeira turned back the clock and was one of the game’s best power hitters.

That has not been the case this season. Far from it. Through 30 team games Teixeira is hitting .202/.325/.298 (82 wRC+) with only four extra base hits. (A double and three homers.) It has been 23 games and 94 plate appearances since his last home run. That is quite bad. Teixeira is not a complementary player. He’s a cornerstone piece of the offense and he isn’t helping much right now.

“It’s only natural that you want to help carry the team, but I’ve always been someone that’s done that,” said Teixeira to Dan Martin yesterday. “As a middle-of-the-order hitter, it’s kind of what you’re there for, to drive in runs. You can carry a team for weeks or months at a time. This is nothing new for me to deal with.”

It’s actually pretty easy to pinpoint why Teixeira has not hit for much power this season: he isn’t hitting the ball in the air. His 50.7% ground ball rate is easily the highest of his career. (Previous high: 42.8% in 2008.) That’s only the super short version though. Teixeira is a switch-hitter and that complicates things. Plus we want to know why he isn’t hitting the ball in the air, right?

Here are Teixeira’s ball in play splits dating back to the start of the 2014 season. I’d normally go back three full years, but wrist surgery limited Teixeira to only 15 games in 2013.

Mark Teixeira batted ballsEverything looks okay from the right side of the plate this season. Teixeira’s batted ball profile is generally in line with last year’s, which is what we want to see. He was pretty awesome last year. It goes without saying this is all coming from a small sample, but so far, so good as a right-handed hitter.

The left side is where Teixeira is having big problems. He’s still pulling the ball a ton, but he’s not making as much hard contact and he’s not hitting the ball in the air. More weak contact on the ground as a left-handed batter means more balls that get eaten up by the shift. It’s actually kinda surprising Teixeira’s batting average isn’t lower, to be honest.

Before we move forward it should be noted Teixeira’s plate discipline has been fine. More than fine, really. He has the 23rd lowest swing rate on pitches out of the zone in baseball (22.7%), and his overall contact rate (80.3%) is right in line with his career norm. Teixeira’s not expanding his zone and hacking at bad pitches. That’s not causing all those extra ground balls as a lefty hitter.

Teixeira said he was working to correct a timing issue near the very end of Spring Training, and it’s possible that timing issue is still, well, an issue. He does the most damage as a left-handed hitter when he can extend his arms and punish a pitch on the outer half. Here’s the pitch location of every ball Teixeira hit 100+ mph last season from the left side of the plate, per Baseball Savant:

Mark Teixeira 100 mph

That is some plate coverage, huh? The guy is a big time power hitter playing his home games in Yankee Stadium, so as pitcher you’d think the best place to go is away, but nope. That is Teixeira’s wheelhouse. It takes a long swing to get to those outside pitches, so if his timing is off even a tiny little bit, it can be the difference between loud contact and something off the end of the bat.

Of course, it’s possible Teixeira’s timing is off because he’s 36 and his bat is slowing. It’s not necessarily a mechanical issue. That said, even old players still hit home runs, and I feel like Teixeira going 94 plate appearances (!) without a dinger is indicative of a mechanical problem more than a “he’s old” problem. What about injury? What if he’s not using his lower half the way he normally does following the shin fracture? Teixeira is not hitting for power because he’s not hitting the ball in the air from the left side of the plate. Why is he not lifting the ball? That’s the mystery.

“There’s no reason I should be struggling like this,” added Teixeira. “It’s been a tough few weeks. I’ve just got to get the ball in the air. I’ve been hitting too many ground balls and soft line drives … My whole career has been about back-spinning the ball, hitting the ball in the air and home runs. I’m just not doing that right now.”

The Yankees obviously still want to climb back into the postseason race this summer, and they’ll need Teixeira to get back to mashing baseballs to do that. And even if they continue to lose, they want him to be productive so they at least have the option of exploring trading him. Who knows whether Teixeira will waive his no-trade clause. But if he doesn’t start hitting, it won’t matter. No one will want him.

The silver lining here is that unlike some of the team’s other veterans, specifically Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran, Teixeira can still contribute with his glove when he’s not hitting. He’s still a great defensive first baseman. That’s not enough though. Teixeira is still getting on base thanks to his walks, so he’s not totally useless at the plate, but the Yankees need him to start hitting the ball out of the park, and he needs to get the ball airborne for that to happen.

There’s a lot at stake with Nova’s return to the rotation

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night, Ivan Nova made his first start in place of the injured CC Sabathia, and it went … okay. Not great, not bad. He was serviceable. One run on six hits and a walk in 4.2 innings isn’t awful, especially since he was on a pitch limit. That’s about as good as you can expect from your sixth starter in his first start out of the bullpen.

“It was a good night for me. I faced the last batter and saw 81 pitches and I knew I was coming out,” said Nova to Dan Martin after the game. Joe Girardi added, “He did a tremendous job. I hated that I had to pull him out. I was hoping he would get a double play with the last batter to get the win, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

Sabathia beat out Nova for the fifth starter’s job in Spring Training and he’s been pretty good in the early going. The Yankees hope he can return following the minimum 15 days on the DL, but that’s no guarantee, so Nova is in the rotation for the foreseeable future. There’s quite a bit at stake here in the meantime.

  1. Wins. Duh. If Nova pitches poorly, the Yankees probably won’t win because the offense has been stinky. The team needs all the wins they can get right now.
  2. A Rotation Spot. Nova may be replacing Sabathia, but that does not necessarily mean he’ll automatically go back to the bullpen when CC is activated. Nova wants to make the Yankees think long and hard about sending Luis Severino to Triple-A.
  3. Trade Value. This is more relevant to the Yankees than Nova. The better Ivan pitches, the more the team could get for him in a trade at the deadline if it comes to that.
  4. Free Agent Stock. This is more relevant to Nova than the Yankees. Nova’s going to be a free agent after the season, so the better he pitches, the more he can demand on the open market.

This stint in the rotation, however long it may be, is a big opportunity for Nova. He has a lot to gain as an impending free agent. Ivan has to pitch well to keep his rotation spot and maximize his free agent stock. And, ironically, pitching well could land him in another uniform via trade come July.

Money is a great motivator, and by MLB player standards, Nova hasn’t made much of it in his career. His career earnings check in at a bit under $9M, so you know he’s hoping to land that huge payday after the season. Pitching well during this stint as Sabathia’s replacement is Nova’s first step in building free agent value.

The Yankees tried and failed to trade Nova over the winter and I think that’s a good thing. He wasn’t good last season and his trade value was at an all-time low. I think he is more valuable as a depth arm than anything he could have realistically fetch in a trade. They’re fortunate they have him now with Severino struggling and Bryan Mitchell hurt, and the possibility exists for him to increase his value. Moving Nova for the sake of moving him never did make much sense to me.

For now, Nova is in the rotation and he’s still getting stretched back out. The single most important thing at the moment is winning games. The Yankees dug themselves quite a hole and need Nova to do more than hold down the fort. They need him to thrive to help them make up ground. And if he does thrive, that’s opens a lot of doors, both in the rotation and in terms of trade and free agent value.