Update: Rivera taken off field with apparent right leg injury

Update by Mike (7:49pm): They’re calling it a “twisted right knee” at the moment and Rivera is headed for an MRI. He was examined by the training staff and the Royals’ team doctor.

7:19pm: According to multiple reports out of Kansas City, Mariano Rivera was taken off the field during batting practice this evening after he apparently hurt his right knee while shagging balls in the outfield. According to MLB’s Whitney Holtzman, Rivera was “writing in pain, holding his knee” after going down. Royals’ broadcaster Nate Bukaty says Yankee players believe Rivera slipped on the warning track while others say he “stumbled or hit the wall.”

Either way, he was carted off the field with assistance from Joe Girardi and the team medical staff. David Waldstein reported that the Yanks’ closer was in obvious pain, and he is putting no weight on his right leg. As of 7:30, the YES Network is on the air covering this story.

Clearly, this is not a good development, but we have no prognosis now. We’ll have word from the team as soon as they release anything. If 2012 truly is Rivera’s last season, this is not a good way for him to go out.

Game 25: The Search for Offense

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

We’re not used to the Yankees not scoring runs ’round these parts, so it becomes painfully obvious rather quickly when the team is in a collective offensive slump. I suppose the good news is that over the last few years, the Yankees are 23-8 in games immediately following a shutout loss (via Mark Feinsand). If only had was meaningful in some way. Here’s the lineup, which looks quite a bit like last year’s primary setup…

DH Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
1B Mark Teixeira
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
RF Andruw Jones
SS Eduardo Nunez
Russell Martin
LF Jayson Nix

RHP David Phelps

Tonight’s game starts at 8:10pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy.

Nick Swisher Update: Swisher will take some swings in the cage today and if he comes through that well, he’ll do some running tomorrow for the first time since feeling his hamstring grab over the weekend.

Mariano Rivera Update: The Yanks’ closer hurt his right knee during batting practice. We’ll have updates in this thread as they become available.

Transactions: Eric Chavez, Jayson Nix, Joba Chamberlain

The Yankees officially announced a series of expected roster moves this afternoon. Eric Chavez was placed on the 7-day concussion deal, creating room on the roster for Jayson Nix. Joba Chamberlain was transferred from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. Nix is in tonight’s lineup against the left-handed Danny Duffy, batting ninth and playing left field.

Notes: Chavez, Hughes, Joba, Gardner, Andy

Brian Cashman made an appearance on WFAN 660 earlier this afternoon and had a number of interesting things to say beyond the usual YankeeSpeak schtick. Let’s recap (with some help from our own Stephen Rhoads)…

  • Eric Chavez will be placed on the DL and was actually still at the hospital as of the time of the interview. Jayson Nix is taking his place on the roster and Cashman says he can play the outfield if needed.
  • “I believe he’s getting there … baby steps,” said Cashman about Phil Hughes, making it sound like his rotation spot is safe for at least another few weeks. “I think he throws a fantastic curve, I think he’s better than what he’s shown … We want to be patient and optimistic but we also want to reward performance.”
  • Joba Chamberlain has already shed his walking boot and is recovering well from both Tommy John surgery and his dislocated ankle. There’s even a chance he may return this year, though I wouldn’t count on itl. “Definitely a possibility [he returns in 2012],” said the GM. “He’s got some sort of amazing recovery ability, he doesn’t feel pain … Definitely possible we’ll see Joba.”
  • Brett Gardner will head out on a minor league rehab assignment before returning to the team. He was shut down with pain in his right elbow a few days ago, though Cashman didn’t specify a new timetable. With the scheduled day off on Monday, me thinks the earliest we’ll see Gardner is Tuesday.

In a separate radio interview, Cashman said Andy Pettitte will make his next minor league tune-up start with Triple-A Empire State this Sunday. That game is scheduled to be played in Batavia but apparently is in the process of being moved to Rochester. It that goes well, it’s entirely possible we’ll see Pettitte make his return to the Yankees next weekend against the Mariners.

Robinson Cano’s ground ball problem

Miss the good version of Cano. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Given how dominant he’s been the last two seasons, I think it’s fair to say Robinson Cano has been the most disappointing player on the Yankees this season, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Expectations were relatively low for Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Russell Martin, but I think everyone assumed Cano would continue to be the hitter he’s been over the last two years. Needless to say, a .255/.308/.367 batting line (.297 wOBA) after the first month of the season is a surprise.

Everyone is going to have a theory about why a player is slumping when they’re slumping. Some resort of old diatribes like “he can’t hit good pitching” or “he can’t hit breaking balls” while others write it off as part of the typical ups and downs of the 162-game season. Occasionally we’ll get an actual answer, whether it be a nagging injury we didn’t know about or a mechanical issue or something else entirely. During last night’s broadcast, Jack Curry he spoke to hitting coach Kevin Long about Cano, and he indicated that he’s not getting his hands in the right place before swinging. Sounds reasonable, who am I to disagree?

Whether or not the hand issue is the root cause of the problem isn’t for us to decide. Whatever’s ailing Cano is causing him to hit a ton of ground balls, 52.9% to be exact. That is the 30th highest ground ball rate out of 184 qualified hitters and comes after a four-year stretch with a 46.2% ground ball rate and a two-year stretch with a 45.4% ground ball rate. Just to drive home the point, here’s the day-to-day graph…

Grean is grounders, red is line drives, blue is fly balls.

A 6-8% difference isn’t a huge red flag, but it does help explain why Cano has hit for so little power — .112 ISO — this season. Robinson’s not a ground ball/singles hitter, he’s a guy that rips line drives all over the field for extra bases. We’ve been watching hi do it for years, but he we have yet to see that guy in 2012 and who knows why. Maybe he really can’t hit good pitching or maybe it’s just some stupid little mechanical issue that will be ironed out in time. Your guess is as good as mine.

The Yankees scored just three total runs during a three-game series at home against the Orioles, and part of the reason why is Cano’s anemic bat. He’s gone 30 plate appearances without an extra-base hit — since the Yu Darvish game — after averaging one extra-base hit for every 8.9 plate appearances during the last two seasons*. For whatever reason, he simply has not been hitting the ball with much authority in recent weeks and it’s incredibly frustrating. We all want to assign blame when the Yankees lose, and right now some of that blame definitely falls on Robinson’s shoulders.

* He also hasn’t drawn a walk in 38 plate appearances after drawing eight in his first 70 plate appearances of the season, but that isn’t terribly surprising. Cano’s never been a fan of ball four.

5/3-5/6 Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

(Tim Umphrey/Getty Images)

Man, talk about a trap series. The Royals remain winless at home this season, sporting an unsightly 0-10 record at Kauffman Stadium on May 3rd. It seems inevitable that they’ll win their first home game at some point during this four-game weekend set with the Yankees.

What Have They Done Lately?

As expected, the Royals are pretty bad. They wrapped up a 12-game losing streak about ten days ago and have won four of six games since. At 7-16 with a -24 run differential, Kansas City has the second worst record and run differential in the American League.

Offense

Ummm, Eric? (REUTERS/Dave Kaup)

One year after finishing in the top ten in runs scored and runs per game, the Royals are bottom five in the league in runs (89) and runs per game (3.87) this season. Their team 103 wRC+ is tenth in baseball though, and I would put more stock in that than simple runs scored. The Royals are middle of the pack in both team homers (20) and steals (16).

Mike Moustakas (146 wRC+) and the underrated Billy Butler (140 wRC+) have been the club’s two most productive hitters while Eric Hosmer (74 wRC+) and Jeff Francoeur (57 wRC+) haven’t provided much support. Alex Gordon’s follow-up to his breakout season has not gotten off to the start he would’ve liked (112 wRC+). Most of the players who are hitting — Alcides Escobar (111 wRC+), Mitch Maier (112 wRC+), Yuniesky Betancourt (109 wRC+), and Chris Getz (139 wRC+) — are not guys you’d expect to maintain that level of performance over a full season.

Center fielder Lorenzo Cain (-20 wRC+) is currently on the DL with a hip strain and catcher Salvador Perez has not played at all this season due to a knee injury. Jarrod Dyson (102 wRC+) has helped the depleted outfield while Brayan Pena (80 wRC+) and Humberto Quintero (103 wRC+) handle catching duties in Perez’s stead.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday: RHP David Phelps vs. LHP Danny Duffy
Duffy is coming off a ten-day layoff after having his last start skipped due to some elbow tightness. He threw 113 pitches in just 4.2 IP in his previous start, so I guess give the Royals credit for being smart enough to give him the extra rest. The 23-year-old southpaw has struck out 20 batters in 17.1 IP but has also walked ten, getting a ground ball just 34.1% of the time. Duffy throws very hard, legitimately sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball. An upper-70s curveball is his primary secondary pitch and a mid-80s changeup is a third show-me offering more than anything. The Yankees crushed him the only time they saw him last year — eight runs in three innings — though that doesn’t mean much as far as I’m concerned. It’ll be interesting to see if the elbow gives him any trouble, specifically with his control.

Friday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Bruce Chen
Kansas City’s version of Freddy Garcia (the 2011 version, not 2012), Chen has revived his career as a low-strikeout (5.86 K/9 and 16.1 K%), low-walk (1.95 BB/9 and 5.4 BB%), low-ground ball (35.6%) finesse lefty. He’s a true five-pitch guy, sitting in the upper-80s with his four-seamer, the mid-80s with his sinker, the low-80s with his slider, the upper-70s with his changeup, and the low-70s with his curveball. It’s a much different look than the guy the Yankees will be running out there. Chen is going to force hitters to put the ball in play, so the Yankees have to punish his mistakes and avoid chasing his junk off the plate.

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Saturday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Felipe Paulino
Paulino will be making his season debut after starting the year on the DL with a forearm strain. He was arguably the team’s most effective starter last season after being claimed off waivers from the Rockies, posting strong strikeout (8.59 K/9 and 22.4 K%) and ground ball (45.1%) numbers in addition to a mediocre walk rate (3.47 BB/9 and 9.0 BB%). Paulino throws pretty hard, sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball and backing it up with an upper-80s slider. His mid-80s changeup is a usable third pitch more than a true weapon. Paulino is the kind of guy the Yankees can make work hard and throw a lot of pitches, but a mid-90s fastball is a pretty good way to escape any potential jams.

Sunday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Luke Hochevar
The former number one overall pick, Hochevar has developed into a sturdy mid-rotation type. That has value but isn’t the kind of return you’re expecting from the top pick in the country. His 7.36 ERA is the result of two four-inning disasters (seven runs against the Indians and nine runs against the Tigers) and three otherwise strong starts. He doesn’t miss bats (6.31 K/9 and 15.7 K%) and his walk rate is high (3.86 BB/9 and 9.6 BB%) compared to his career numbers (3.05 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%), but his shiny 2.94 FIP is buoyed by the zero homers he’s allowed. Anyway, Hochevar throws three different fastballs — low-90s four-seamer and sinker, upper-80s cutter — and three different offspeed pitches — mid-80s slider, upper-70s curveball, mid-80s changeup. The changeup and curveball are seldom-used, but they’re there if needed.

(Harry How/Getty Images)

Bullpen Status
The Royals had a strong bullpen last season (3.75 ERA and 4.07 FIP) and reason to be optimistic for 2012, but their relief corps has suffered two massive injuries in the early going. Closer Joakim Soria went down with his second Tommy John surgery during Spring Training, then setup man extraordinaire Greg Holland (2.21 FIP in 2011) hit the DL with a rib cage problem after seven ineffective appearances (eight runs in 6.1 IP). The solid but unspectacular Blake Wood (3.69 FIP in 2011) hasn’t thrown a pitch this season due to an elbow problem.

As a result of all the injuries, former Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton (3.06 FIP) now handles ninth inning duties for KC. He was one of the two or three best relievers in baseball from 2006 through the middle of 2010, when the Yankees broke him with a four-run, 48-pitch outing that June. Broxton hasn’t been the same since, and although his 2012 performance is encouraging, he’s no longer the dominant late-inning force he once was. He threw eleven pitches yesterday after not pitching since last Friday.

Anyway, two rain outs in the last five days has the Royals’ bullpen is relatively good shape. Setup man Aaron Crow (3.44 FIP) threw a dozen pitches yesterday afternoon, his first appearance since last Thursday. Right-hander Kelvin Herrera (5.94 FIP) and left-hander Tim Collins (2.73 FIP) have each appeared in the last two games and are probably the only question marks for tonight. Lefty Jose Mijares 2.67 FIP) threw nine pitches yesterday after a long layoff. Long men Nathan Adcock (3.50 FIP) and Luis Mendoza (5.55 FIP), side-arming righty Louis Coleman (7.23 FIP), and lefty specialist Tommy Hottovy (2.94 FIP) are all fresh. Someone from this group will get send down for Paulino at some point before Saturday’s game.

There are a number of great Royals’ blogs out there, including Royals Review and Royals Authority. As for the Yankees, check out our Bullpen Workload page to see who may or may not be available tonight.

Yankees to recall Jayson Nix

Via Sweeny Murti, the Yankees will recall utility man Jayson Nix today. No word on the corresponding move, but I have to think Eric Chavez will be placed on the DL after leaving last night’s game with whiplash and a possible concussion. Michael Pineda, Joba Chamberlain, and Cesar Cabral are all 60-day DL candidates, so clearing a 40-man roster spot is a non-issue.

Nix, 29, posted a .311 wOBA in just 31 plate appearances for Triple-A Empire State after starting the season on the DL. He owns a .286 wOBA in 869 big league plate appearances, though he’s actually hit lefties decent enough: .321 wOBA with a .204 ISO. The Yankees could use some versatility on the bench, and Nix has experience at every position other than pitcher, catcher, first base, and center field. He is out of options though, so they won’t be able to send him to the minors once everyone gets healthy without first sending him through waivers.