Poll: Internally Replacing Brett Gardner

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

The Yankees played their 60th game of the season last night and they’ve only had Brett Gardner in the starting lineup for eight of them. The elbow injury he suffered sliding for a ball against the Twins has morphed into a series of setbacks that culminated with a visit to Dr. James Andrews yesterday. Gardner will see Dr. Tim Kremcheck for a second opinion on Thursday, at which point the Yankees will presumably announce the latest diagnosis.

Barring some fortunate and frankly unexpected good news, Gardner is going to miss several more weeks. A few days ago Joe Girardi indicated that he doesn’t expect his left fielder back until after the All-Star break, which is still more than a month away. Raul Ibanez has been better than expected and softened the blow of losing Gardner a bit, but the Yankees can’t really rely on him as the everyday left fielder for an extended period of time. He’s already started 33 games in the field and at 40 years old, there has to be some concern about him wearing down later in the season.

Unless the Yankees get good news on Thursday, they have to at least consider bolstering their roster with Gardner on the shelf. With all due respect to Dewayne Wise, he’s nothing more than a defensive replacement/spot starter in the big leagues. The Yankees can do better without having to go outside the organization, they have some potential solutions sitting in Triple-A.

Chris Dickerson
I’ve written about Dickerson before, noting that he offers the ability to hit right-handed pitching (career .341 wOBA against northpaws) in addition to strong defense and base running skills. I don’t know if he’s a better defensive player than Wise but the difference isn’t worth arguing about. Dickerson can handle all three outfield spots with aplomb as well as contribute offensively with his bat and legs. The Yankees don’t have to play him every day in a straight platoon, but they could run him out there three times a week against righties while keeping Ibanez in the DH role. Cutting Wise in favor of Dickerson — who is out of minor league options and would have be waived whenever Gardner is healthy — is an upgrade in almost every single way.

Russell Branyan
Joe and I talked about this option on yesterday’s podcast. The idea would be to dump Wise, keep playing Ibanez in left, and use Branyan as the regular DH against right-handers. He’s come back very well from his back injury — six homers in 13 minor league games already — but it’s tough to consider him anything more than a first baseman/DH option. Branyan’s days of even faking third base and the corner outfield are a thing of the past. Adding a huge left-handed power bat lineup is obviously desirable, but it would leave the Yankees without a true backup center fielder and further limit roster flexibility.

I suppose it’s also worth mentioning Jack Cust here, who is also raking in Triple-A but has yet to play a single game in the field. It’s been DH or the bench. At least Branyan has played first base pretty much every game.

(Rudy C. Jones/MiLB.com)

Ronnie Mustelier
The most interesting 27-year-old in the minor league system, Mustelier has been hitting non-stop since signing last summer and he’s now doing it at the Triple-A level. Joe Girardi raved about his bat speed recently and said his name has come up as a call-up candidate at various points this year … but that’s pretty much all we know about the guy. He’s small — listed at 5-foot-10 and 210 lbs. — and right-handed with phenomenal numbers, but we don’t know anything about his defensive skills or speed or anything else. Box scores only tell you so much. Mustelier has spent a ton of time in left field and also has experience in the infield, so his versatility as a plus. He’s not an ideal platoon candidate given his right-handedness, but he could also hit enough that it doesn’t even matter.

Eduardo Nunez
This one probably won’t happen for a number of reasons. For one, Nunez is currently on the minor league DL with a thumb issue. For another, the Yankees sent him to Triple-A to focus on one position after bouncing him all around the field over the last year or so. Calling Nunez back up to do anything — utility infielder, platoon left fielder, etc. — would go against that plan. That doesn’t mean it’s not an option, just that it seems unlikely. That said, we can’t rule anything out. Whenever Nunez gets healthy — probably soon since he was taking grounders just last week — he figures to at least be on the call-up radar.

As always, the top minor league affiliate is chock full of random call-up options. Brandon Laird is on the 40-man roster and can play all four corner spots, but he can’t hit — .251/.289/.393 in 870 total plate appearances in Triple-A. Corban Joseph has zero outfield experience so he’s of no use in this situation despite being on the 40-man. Colin Curtis is a solid enough defensive player and can play all three outfield spots, but he’s never been much with the stick. Kevin Russo can play all over the field and make some contact, but otherwise isn’t any kind of upgrade. Neither he nor Curtis is on the 40-man roster as well. Not much to see here.

* * *

Of course, the Yankees always have the option of doing nothing and sticking with their current setup. Ibanez, Andruw Jones, and Jayson Nix could continue to take turns in left field while Wise gets nothing more than the occasional spot start. That’s  fine for two weeks or whatever, but I’d rather not see them roll with it for an extended period of time. It’s already been long enough as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, stuff is like this begging for a poll, so…

How should the Yankees replace Brett Gardner internally?
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Nova shuts down Braves as Yanks win fourth straight

Different league, different rules, same result. The Yankees played their first 2012 interleague game in an NL park on Monday, shutting out the Braves for their fourth win in a row. New York has now won seven of eight, nine of eleven, and 14 of 18 to tie the Rays atop the AL East with a 35-25 record.

(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Two Outs
Rookie right-hander Randall Delgado has been a five-and-fly guy for Atlanta this year, so the goal for the Yankees was to get his pitch count up. Although Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson made two outs on seven pitches in the first, they were able to extend the inning and score a run when Alex Rodriguez scorched a double over Martin Prado‘s head in left and Robinson Cano drove him in with a single to center. Delgado’s shot at a quick inning went kaput with the two-out mini-rally, something I always enjoy seeing. Anytime you can score a run with two outs and the bases empty, it has to demoralize the other team to a certain extent.

Two Strikes
One thing I enjoy just as much as two-out rallies is two-strike hits. The AL as a whole is hitting .178/.246/.278 in two-strike counts this year — the Yankees were at .178/.259/.328 coming into this game — so it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do. Delgado got ahead of Raul Ibanez with three straight fastballs to lead off the second before hanging a 1-2 curveball, which Raul launched to right for his first homer since the final game of the Reds’ series. That was 19 games ago. The Yankees were up two-zip following the two-out and two-strike scores.

Seven Scoreless
This was a solid but very weird start for Ivan Nova, who put the leadoff man on-base in five of seven innings … but only allowed one runner to reach second base all night. That was when he balked Prado to second with two outs in the fourth. He just made pitches when he needed to and was able to pitch around danger all evening. Nova only got seven ground balls out of 14 balls in play, but he struck out six and got some pretty stellar defense behind him (more on that in a second). I thought he may have had another inning in him after finishing the seventh at 102 pitches, but with the three-run lead Joe Girardi understandably pinch-hit in the eighth to try to increase the lead. After allowing at least two runs in each of his first ten starts, Nova’s allowed one run total in his last two. Well done, kid.

(AP Photo/Atlanta Journal & Constitution, Curtis Compton)

Flash The Leather
As I said, Nova got a little help defensively. He made a nice stab on an Andrelton Simmons line drive in the third, and was able to get rid of it in time to double the runner off first. Nick Swisher make a leaping catch at the wall to rob Brian McCann of some kind of extra-base hit with no outs in the fourth, then Cano made a nice play from his knees on a hard-hit Freddie Freeman grounder to end that inning. I don’t know if McCann’s ball would have left the yard but it was close. At the very least it was going to be off the top of wall for a run-scoring double. McCann smashed a line drive right at Mark Teixeira at first in the ninth, capping off the kind of night the Yankees usually have with runners in scoring position. Lots of hard hit balls but everything seemed to be right at someone.

Mix & Match
With Rafael Soriano unavailable due to a minor blister problem, Girardi emptied out his bullpen and used four pitchers to get the final six outs. Cody Eppley got the first out of the eighth, raising his season ground ball rate to a whopping 67.5%. Clay Rapada then came in to retire the next two batters, including the lefty mashing Matt Diaz with a three-pitch strikeout. Can’t say I expected that. Cory Wade (one out) and Boone Logan (two outs) wrapped things up in a perfect ninth. Freddy Garcia was warming up in the ninth and I have to say it would have been pretty wild to see him replace Logan to record the final out. The Braves came into the game as the seventh highest scoring team in baseball at 4.80 runs per game, but the Yankees didn’t let him get a single runner to third base. The pitching has been excellent of late and it continued on Monday.

(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Nova became the first Yankees’ hurler to pick up a hit since Andy Pettitte singled off Dan Haren on June 22nd, 2010. He slapped an opposite field single to right off Delgado with two outs in the second. I’m pretty sure it would have been a double for most players but there was no reason for the starting pitcher to push it.

Here’s an interesting one: Ibanez became the first 40-year-old player in franchise history to hit at least ten homers in a season with his second inning blast. That was is hard to believe so I had to Play Index it and yep, it’s true. Apparently all of the all-time greats were either retired or just flat out ineffective by age 40. Crazy, isn’t it?

The Yankees did strand eleven men on base and went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, though they only grounded into two double plays. I swear it felt like six. They scored their third run when Delgado uncorked a wild pitch with two outs and the bases loaded in the third. One of these days they’ll go 15-for-16 with runners in scoring position and it’ll be glorious.

I gotta say, I was surprised by how many Yankees fans were in attendance. It sounded like a typical crowd in Baltimore with “Let’s Go Yan-Kees!” chants and everything.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score, and ESPN the updated standings.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

Same two teams on Tuesday night for Game Two of this three-game interleague series. CC Sabathia gets the ball against fellow southpaw Mike Minor.

Soriano unavailable due to blister, should be good for tomorrow

Rafael Soriano was unavailable tonight due to a blister on his right index finger, but it isn’t anything serious and he should be available tomorrow. The YES cameras showed him standing around in the bullpen in the sixth inning and he told Joe Girardi he could pitch if needed, but they held him back. Soriano had pitched in each of the last two games so the night off was probably a blessing in disguise.

Cust homers in Triple-A win

RHP Dellin Betances made this week’s Ten Pack, though not in a good way. The blurb is before the paywall, so you can read it without a subscription. “He’s never exactly been mechanically sound at any point in his career, and he’s clearly regressed this year,” wrote Kevin Goldstein, “he has a disturbing tendency to cut off his delivery at release, which costs him balance in a delivery already sorely lacking in that department. The 24 year old just doesn’t look like a starter anymore, and unless he finds the mechanics that once made him a top prospect, he might not look like a reliever either.”

In other news, OF Tyler Austin has been placed on the 7-day DL but confirmed (via Twitter) that he’s getting better and will return soon. Austin left last Thursday’s game with a bruised foot after a take-out slide at second base. Russell Branyan was named the Triple-A International League Offensive Player of the Week while Shane Greene took home High-A Florida State League Pitcher of the Week honors.

Triple-A Empire State (3-1 win to Louisville)
RF Kevin Russo: 1-4, 2 K
2B Corban Joseph: 0-4
LF Ronnie Mustelier & C Frankie Cervelli: both 1-3 — Mustelier walked … Cervelli allowed a passed ball
DH Jack Cust: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K — fourth homer in his last seven games and number 13 on the year
1B Russell Branyan: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K — eight hits in his last 24 at-bats (.333) with one double and five homers
3B Brandon Laird: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI — nine hits in his last 28 at-bats (.321)
CF Colin Curtis: 0-3, 1 K,1 SB
SS Doug Bernier: 1-2, 1 BB, 1 CS
RHP Ramon Ortiz: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 8/3 GB/FB — 50 of 78 pitches were strikes (64.1%)
RHP Manny Delcarmen: 1.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 15 of 19 pitches were strikes
LHP Juan Cedeno: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 11 of 19 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 60: No DH


The Yankees have already played six interleague games this season, but all six have come at home in Yankee Stadium. Now they’re going out on the road to Atlanta, which means no designated hitter. That means pitchers hitting making outs and sacrifice bunting and double switches and all sorts of horrible stuff. I hate it. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
LF Raul Ibanez
RF Nick Swisher
C Russell Martin
RHP Ivan Nova0-for-4 with four strikeouts and one sac bunt in his career

Tonight’s game is scheduled to start a little after 7pm ET and thankfully the forecast has cleared up. Things weren’t looking too hot a few hours ago. The game will be broadcast on YES. Enjoy.

Andy Pettitte & Hiroki Kuroda Updates: Pettitte (hand) and Kuroda (foot) are fine and on track to make their next starts. The former barely has a bruise on his hand after barehanding a one-hopper yesterday and the latter came through yesterday’s bullpen session fine after taking a comebacker to the foot.

Brett Gardner Update: Gardner (elbow) visited Dr. Andrews today and will visit Dr. Kremcheck on Thursday. The Yankees haven’t received the results from Andrews yet, though I wouldn’t expect them to announce anything until he gets the second opinion later this week.

Ivan Nova and pitching backwards

Ivan Nova gets the ball for the Yankees tonight coming off his best start of the season thanks to an adjustment that led to an increase in ground balls. That isn’t the only adjustment the 25-year-old right-hander has made this year, however. In a (free!) piece at Baseball Prospectus, R.J. Anderson looked at how Nova has pitched backwards and used more first pitch breaking balls to keep hitters off balance. He also spoke to someone within the organization who confirmed that the adjustment was a conscious decision and not just small sample size noise.

The Yankees have gotten some pretty stellar starting pitching during this 13-4 stretch — 3.03 ERA with a 3.96 K/BB — and Nova is a big part of that. Only twice in the last 21 games has a started failed to complete six innings, and Ivan’s a guy that can chew up some serious innings with his quick ground balls. The mechanical adjustment as well as the game plan adjustment should help him with that. Make sure you check out the BP article, as I said it’s free for everyone. No subscription needed.

Adjustments help Martin take advantage of the short porch

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

The Yankees finished off the sweep of the Mets yesterday thanks to not one, but two homers — including the walk-off dinger — by catcher Russell Martin. He’s hit .319/.418/.681 in his last 15 games and .261/.369/.545 in his last 29 games dating back to the start of the Royals series in Kansas City. Sure, his first homer on Sunday was a total Yankee Stadium cheapie that hit off the top of the wall and took a fortunate bounce, but a few weeks ago Russ wasn’t even able to hit the ball to right field.

“I felt like I was getting tied up inside and I felt like I was starting to pull off the ball early with my stride,” said Martin after yesterday’s game. “Now I kind of just evened out my stride, and I feel like I’m ready to drive the ball the other way more with more ease. I was fighting to do it before.”

Hitting coach Kevin Long expanded on the idea of Martin evening out his stride, saying he’s backed off the plate a bit and is now able to turn on the inside pitch. “He was frustrated a little bit, but he kept believing that all his hard work — everything he’d done through the winter and up to this point — was going to pay off,” said Long. “It’s starting to show real good signs, especially this month. He’s been on fire.”

Martin was offensive dead weight for the first six or seven weeks of the season, carrying a .173/.321/.318 batting line into the recent West Coast trip before really turning things around. He was walking enough — 13.5 BB% this year — to keep from being a complete back hole offensively, but he lacked impact when he actually swung the bat. As you can see, he’s gone from constantly beating the ball into the ground to actually getting some loft and hitting it to the outfield…

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

This recent hot streak has Martin sitting on a 116 wRC+, the tenth best mark among catchers with at least 150 plate appearances. His .348 OBP ranks eighth. Russ is never again going to be the monster he was earlier in his career with the Dodgers, but the Yankees aren’t exactly asking him to be that guy. It would be nice if he was, but it isn’t imperative. He’s hitting mostly ninth in the lineup and like so many nine-hole hitters before him, he just has to be something more than an automatic out. Martin’s recent adjustment has him driving the ball to right — five of his eight dingers have gone the other way — and have helped him take advantage of the short porch.