Pineda on target to begin throwing in mid-September

Via Bryan Hoch and Chad Jennings, doctors have told right-hander Michael Pineda that he can begin throwing in mid-September after having surgery to repair a tear in his labrum on May 1st. “The doctors say everything is great right now, so I’m continuing this plan,” said Pineda, who was at Yankee Stadium today after going for a checkup on the shoulder. “Now I’m just starting working on my exercises. I go to physical therapy every day. No throwing right now … Everything is great. I’m feeling great right now. I’m feeling much better.”

For what it’s worth, the various reporters say Pineda has lost weight and appears to be in better shape than he was in Spring Training. His arm is no longer in a sling and he’s headed back to Tampa tonight to continue his rehab. This is the first real update we’ve gotten since Pineda’s surgery, and so far it sounds like everything is going well.

Game 67: Do I hear 11?

(REUTERS/Adam Hunger)

It’s been a long time since the Yankees last won 11 straight games. They last did it in late-August/early-September way back in 1985, a streak that started when Mike Pagliarulo hit a three-run homer off Doug Corbett of the Angels and ended when Cecil Cooper of the Brewers hit a walk-off single off Dave Righetti. Yeah, it’s been a while. Here’s tonight’s lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
DH Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
LF Raul Ibanez
RF Nick Swishertested the quad out before the game and he’s good to go
3B Eric Chavez
Russell Martin

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Tonight’s game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on My9 locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Aardsma throws scoreless inning in first minor league rehab appearance

In his first minor league rehab appearances, right-hander David Aardsma (elbow) threw a scoreless inning for the Rookie GCL Yankees. He struck out two, walked one, and also uncorked a wild pitch. The one ball in play was a ground ball to short. Aardsma confirmed that his next appearance will be this Saturday, again with the GCL squad. His 30-day rehab clock is officially ticking now, though you have to expect the club to max that out before adding him to the active roster.

The Downside of Raul Ibanez

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Once the Yankees traded Jesus Montero to the Mariners, they were left to pluck the scrap heap for a platoon DH option. They passed on former Bombers Johnny Damon (60 wRC+ in 135 PA for the Indians) and Hideki Matsui (39 wRC+ in 53 PA for the Rays) in favor of Raul Ibanez, who has produced an essentially league average 99 wRC+ in just shy of 200 PA this year. He and Derek Jeter carried the offense through the first six weeks of the season, but the last six weeks have been a different story for Raul…

First 33 games: .282/.333/.588 with seven homers, seven walks, and eight strikeouts in 93 PA

Last 33 games: .196/.250/.359 with three homers, five walks, and 13 strikeouts in 100 PA

Brought in to be that left-handed platoon DH, Ibanez has started 36 of the team’s 66 games — including 24 of the last 34 — in the outfield because of Brett Gardner‘s injury. At age 40, I think it’s fair to wonder if all the unexpected time in the outfield has worn him down a bit. At the same time, we also have to acknowledge that Raul has always been one of the streakiest players in baseball. He could just be in one of those slumps before picking it back up, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Gardner’s continued elbow trouble means Ibanez will see more time in the outfield in the coming weeks. The rest of the offense has come around so his offensive slide hasn’t hurt them in the standings, and this is usually the way things go most of the time anyway. Not everyone in the lineup hits at the same time, different players carry the team at different parts of the season. When you’re like the Yankees and you have a lineup full of strong hitters, the individual slumps don’t hurt as much. Hopefully Ibanez gets back to hitting like he was in April and this little dry spell is nothing more than a blip on the radar.

Poll: Rafael Soriano’s Opt-Out Clause

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

An expensive — and injured — luxury at this time last season, Rafael Soriano has become an indispensable part of the Yankees’ bullpen with Mariano Rivera out for the season and David Robertson shelved for a month. He’s pitched to a 0.73 ERA (1.91 FIP) with ten strikeouts and just two walks in 14 appearances since mid-May, and he’s kept the closer’s job despite Robertson’s return from the DL. That’s due to his 12-for-13 effort in save chances.

The return to the ninth inning already has some wondering about Soriano’s future with the team beyond this season, specifically his ability to opt-out of the final year and $14M left on his contract. This morning Joel Sherman wrapped up the situation succinctly…

Some teams in need of closers will appreciate (his performance), indeed, it continues. Soriano might not get $14 million a year, but what if he, say, were offered three years at $30 million? It would probably be in his best interest to jump at that, especially if it looks as if Rivera would return in 2013. Because, in that scenario, Soriano would almost certainly go back to being a set-up man in his walk year and run the risk of not being as enticing to the rest of the sport.

Soriano is a Scott Boras client and Boras isn’t stupid, he’ll gauge the closer market before pulling the trigger on the opt-out clause. The upcoming free agent market for late-game relievers is quite weak, with Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Broxton, Jose Valverde, and an injured Ryan Madson highlighting the crop. Soriano is the best healthy pitcher of the bunch and teams will pay for saves, just look at Heath Bell last winter.

Losing Soriano to the opt-out after the season would hurt the bullpen but also probably represents a net gain. Not only could the Yankees find a replacement setup man with that $14M, but they should have enough left over to help fill the right field and/or catching holes. Since the opt-out indicates a search for a larger payday, the Yankees could also make Soriano a qualifying offer — one year at approximately $12.5M — and be eligible for draft pick compensation should he sign elsewhere. Again, his performance won’t be easy to replace, but it’s not impossible.

We’re still months away from the opt-out becoming an issue, and Soriano’s performance (and health) over these next few weeks are going to play a major role in his decision to stick it out for another season — as Mariano’s setup man — or leave for greener pastures. I’ve been saying since Day One that he wouldn’t opt-out, then again I also didn’t expect him to fill-in for Rivera for what amounts to 75-80% of the season.

Will Soriano opt-out of his contract after the season?
View Results

Cashman talks Granderson and Cano, long-term

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

The 2014 payroll plan is looming, and while the short-term right field and catcher situations are front and center given the impending free agencies of Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, the long-term Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson situations are a much more serious issue. The team’s two best hitters each have no-brainer club options for 2013 that will be picked up before qualifying for free agency after next season, right when the team is looking to get under that $189M luxury tax threshold.

During an appearance on MLB Network Radio, Brian Cashman told Jim Bowden that although contract extension talks with the two sluggers have not taken place, though the team hopes to keep both players in pinstripes well into the future. Here’s the quote…

Wanting to keep them both long-term and actually keeping both long-term are two entirely different things. I’m sure the Yankees wanted to add a young power pitcher and keep Jesus Montero this offseason, but sometimes you have to give to get.

I’m definitely in the “let Cano walk” camp, at least right now. I reserve the right to change my mind over the next 16 months. He’s going to be 31 years old when he signs his new contract and most middle infielders — particularly second baseman who have to make the blind double play pivot — tend to decline quickly in their mid-to-early-30s. If the Yankees want to get serious about being smarter and more efficient, then not locking up players at big money through their decline years is the first step. Robinson didn’t hire Scott Boras last year because he was looking to take a hometown discount, remember.

The development of the pitching staff figures to have the greatest impact on the Yankees’ ability to keep both Cano and Granderson around long-term. If Michael Pineda comes back from shoulder surgery well, they’ll have an above average and cheap rotation arm to pair with Ivan Nova. If he comes back a dud, they’re going to have to change course and possibly dramatically. I’ve said this before, but getting under the luxury tax threshold in 2014 is going to require some creativity and a lot of tough decisions, particularly with these two left-handed mashers.

Sabathia makes adjustment to dominate Braves

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

I didn’t see last night’s game, but based on what I’ve seen and read this morning, it sounds like CC Sabathia was on point. The box score — 9 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 10 K, 13 GB, 4 FB — certainly backs that up as well. The Yankees’ tenth win in a row will obviously grab the headlines, but Sabathia’s best start of the season (by Game Score) is the more important development.

“Through his, what we would call struggles — most guys would probably be happy with what he’s doing — he hasn’t had a consistent sinker, and I thought tonight it’s been as consistent as its been,” said Joe Girardi after the game. “I could sense he was a little bit frustrated. It’s a great start for him.”

Sabathia’s season-long problem had been his fastball command, which he seemed to fight start after start. He’s been behind in the count to 126 of the 427 batters he’s faced this season, a 29.5% rate that is a bit worse than last year’s (28.7%). The AL average is 34.9%, keep in mind. Sabathia’s thrown a first pitch strike 62.1% of the time in 2012, 16th best out of 49 qualified AL starters. The long counts have hurt him a bit. He’s been off just a touch, nothing major.

Prior to last night’s game, pitching coach Larry Rothschild indicated that CC had picked up a mechanical flaw during a video session and would correct it going forward. “He can see it, what he needs to do,” said Rothschild. “It’s not like he hasn’t done it. It just has to be consistent.” Sabathia simply described the problem as “(just) not getting through my front side and finishing pitches,” whatever that means in PitcherSpeak.

The Yankees have won ten straight and 20 of 24 largely on the strength of their pitching staff, which has allowed just 2.79 runs per game during the stretch. Sabathia hasn’t been pitching terribly — 3.55 ERA with a 3.21 FIP in 101.1 IP this year — he just hasn’t been especially sharp. He had still been pitching deep into games — 7+ innings in 11 of his last 12 starts — but wasn’t overly dominating. The rest of the staff really picked things up and if last night’ outing was any indication, Sabathia is about to do the same as well.