As of right now, with a little less than two weeks to go before Opening Day in Houston, the Yankees have not tipped their hand about the fifth starter’s spot. One some days it seems Michael Pineda is the frontrunner, on others it seems to be David Phelps. Then Vidal Nuno chucks four one-hit innings against the Orioles’ mostly-regular lineup to re-enter the conversation. Adam Warren has allowed two runs while striking out nine in 8.2 innings this spring. No one has pitched themselves out of consideration yet.
Having four possible starters for one rotation spot is one of those “good problems” people like to talk about. It’s not really a problem of course, pitching depth is a wonderful thing to have. The baseball gods have taken it upon themselves to remind teams and fans of that the (very) hard way over the last week or so. Look at this recent run of pitching injuries:
- Sunday, March 9th: Kris Medlen of the Braves left his start holding his elbow. After getting a second opinion, he is having his second Tommy John surgery in the last four years this morning.
- Monday, March 10th: Medlen’s teammate Brandon Beachy left his start with what is called biceps tightness. Tests show ligament damage and he is likely headed for his second Tommy John surgery in the last three years.
- Friday, March 14th: Jarrod Parker of the Athletics was scratched from his start with a forearm issue. A visit to Dr. James Andrews revealed a torn ligament. He needs a second Tommy John procedure after having his first in 2009.
- Saturday, March 15th: Diamondbacks’ ace and native New Yorker Patrick Corbin left his start with elbow pain and is currently deciding between Tommy John surgery and rehab, the latter of which never seems to work.
Four the game’s best young pitcher are out for the season and it happened in the span of a week. It doesn’t end there though. Luke Hochevar blew out his elbow two weeks ago. The Padres lost lefty Cory Luebke to his second Tommy John surgery last month and are on the verge of losing prospect Joe Wieland to the same fate. Mike Minor’s shoulder is acting up (the Braves signed Ervin Santana because they had so many injuries), Jon Niese has been dealing with shoulder and elbow problems, Cole Hamels has yet to appear in a game because of a shoulder issue, on and on it goes. Pitchers get hurt, we know this, but this recent rash of injuries around the league has been something else.
Last season the Yankees were the ones hit hard by injuries, though most of them hit the position players. The pitching staff has remained healthy this spring, knock on wood, but that tells us nothing about future durability. CC Sabathia has a ton of innings on his arm, Hiroki Kuroda is approaching 40, Michael Pineda is coming off two lost years following shoulder surgery … it wouldn’t be a surprise if any of those guys missed time in 2014. That and all these pitching injuries around the league are a reminder that the Yankees’ pitching depth — Phelps, Warren, Nuno, etc. — is not really expendable. The Yankees have not gotten through a non-strike season using fewer than eight starters since 1975, so all of those guys figure to be needed at some point this year.
It’s easy for us to starting thinking about a trade whenever the team has an extra something, be it pitchers or catchers or whatever. Heck, just last week I wrote about the possibility of the Yankees trading one of their spare arms to the Braves in the wake of their injuries, thinking it would be one way to improve the infield. Pitching, especially potential starters, have to be treated differently though. You know you’re going to need several extras throughout the season, moreso than any other position, so dealing away a spare arm is always risky. I don’t think we needed all the recent injuries to drive the point home, but it’s pretty clear the Yankees are best off holding onto guys like Phelps, Warren, and Nuno. They will come in handy at some point, probably sooner rather than later.
For the first and hopefully only time this spring, the Yankees were rained out this afternoon. Their game against the Pirates in Bradenton was canceled due to the weather and will not be made up. Scheduled starter Hiroki Kuroda instead threw a five-inning, 75-pitch bullpen session in Tampa, the Yankees announced, so the rotation will remain on schedule. Here is the rest of the day’s news from camp.
- Jacoby Ellsbury (tight calf) hit in the batting cage but Joe Girardi does not expect him to play tomorrow. Brendan Ryan (oblique) and Tyler Austin (wrist) both took batting practice on the field, usually the last step before returning to game action. Scott Sizemore hit on the field as well. He’s been nursing a minor quad issue. [David Lennon, Chad Jennings]
- Some more from Jennings: CC Sabathia is scheduled to start Friday on normal rest and it appears Masahiro Tanaka will pitch Saturday with an extra day of rest, though it’s unclear if he will travel or stay in Tampa to throw a simulated game. Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren are not listed as starters this week and there’s a chance both have made their final spring starts.
- The Yankees who went to Panama arrived back in Tampa a little after midnight last night, so most of the veterans who made the trip were given the day off. [Andrew Marchand]
- And finally, the Yankees open their season in Houston two weeks from
todaytomorrow, and this morning Astros manager Bo Porter announced right-hander Scott Feldman will be their Opening Day starter. Just in case you were wondering.
Here is your open thread for the night. MLB Network was supposed to replay this afternoon’s game at 11pm ET, so I assume they’ll slot in another game instead. The Nets are the only local basketball or hockey team playing, so talk about that game or anything else right here.
5:00pm: Cashman confirmed long-time baseball operations staffer Steve Martone will replace Kuntz, according to Andrew Marchand. Kuntz will take over as the Director of Player Relations for the MLS, so he’ll deal with labor issues and their Collective Bargaining Agreement, stuff like that.
11:30am: Via George King: Will Kuntz, the Yankees’ manager of pro scouting, has left the club for an unknown position with Major League Soccer. “He loves soccer and that’s a huge job,” said Brian Cashman.
Kuntz took over as the head of the pro scouting department when Billy Eppler was promoted to assistant GM during the 2011-12 offseason. The team has not really unearthed any hidden gems like Bartolo Colon or Eric Chavez this last year or two, which may or may not have to do with Kuntz. Who the hell knows. No word on his replacement yet, but the Yankees almost always promote from within. · (59) ·
It wasn’t all that long ago that it felt like a miracle whenever a Yankees’ starter completed six full innings of work. At least it felt like a miracle to me. In fact, from 2006-08, the team’s starters completed six full innings only 284 times out of 486 regular season games, or 58%. Over the last three seasons, that number is 67%. Doesn’t seem like a big difference, but it is one extra start of 6+ innings out of every ten games.
Thankfully things have changed in recent years and I think the reasons are obvious. The Yankees haven’t only added better starters over the last few seasons, but they’ve added more durable starters as well. They’ve been getting not just more innings, but more quality innings, and in turn the workload on the bullpen has been reduced. It makes the entire staff better when the starter can go deep into the game.
This coming season, the Yankees again figure to have a few starters who can be counted on to soak up innings and complete those six innings of every five days. Given the questionable state of the middle of the bullpen, having the starter take the ball deep into the game will be more important to the club in 2014 than it was at any point in the last few years. Who is going to eat up those innings? Let’s preview.
Let’s get this out of the way early: Sabathia was terrible last year. The reasons are whatever the reasons are, but the bottom line is that he ranked 76th with a 4.78 ERA and 72nd with 0.3 bWAR out of 81 qualified starters. Terrible. From 2009-12, even bad Sabathia starts were hardly disasters, usually something like four runs in six innings than six innings in four innings. That wasn’t always the case last summer.
And yet, despite all his struggles, Sabathia still managed to throw 200+ innings for the seventh straight year. Mark Buehrle, James Shields, and Justin Verlander are the only pitchers who can make that claim. Sabathia’s 211 innings were the 16th most in baseball, and he completed six full innings in 24 of his 32 starts. He completed seven full innings 17 times, the 12th most in baseball. CC’s effectiveness is waning but he remains a workhorse of the first order, someone the Yankees can rely on to spare the bullpen every five days. I have very little doubt he will continue to eat innings in 2014.
An oblique strain and a concussion caused Kuroda to miss nearly three full months in 2009, but he’s thrown at least 196 innings in the four seasons since. He’s also thrown at least 200 innings in each of the last three seasons. Kuroda, true to his workhorse form, completed six innings 24 times and seven innings 14 times in his 32 starts last season. Remember when I said the Yankees were not just getting more innings, but more quality innings out of their starters in recent years? That describes Kuroda perfectly.
Both the Yankees and Kuroda have indicated they will look for ways to lighten the load on their top right-hander this summer, mostly because he’s 39 years old and has faded late in each of the last two regular seasons. How will they accomplish that? I have no idea. Maybe they won’t send him out for that one extra inning, maybe they’ll use off-days to give him extra rest, maybe they’ll do that and more. Kuroda may intentionally be turned into a 180-inning starter this year, which is still a ton of innings even if it falls short of the hallowed 200-inning plateau.
After three televised Grapefruit League outings, we still don’t really know what to expect out of Tanaka this coming season. We know the scouting report and all that, but until he gets on a big league mound and pitches every fifth day in the regular season, there’s just no way to know what he can give the Yankees in 2014. He could be great, he could be awful, he could be something in between.
What we do know is that Tanaka was pretty durable during his time with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan, missing a little bit of time with shoulder inflammation in 2008, 2009, and 2012. Tanaka threw 212 innings last season and has averaged 203.2 innings per season over the last three years, which works out to 7.9 innings per start. That was pitching ever seventh day and not a pace he will maintain in MLB, but it shows Tanaka is used to pitching deep into the game.
The Yankees have indicated they will try to work some extra rest in for Tanaka throughout the season, and may start him in the fourth game of the season rather than the third for that very reason — an off-day means his second start would come with an extra day of rest as the number four starter rather than regular rest as the number three. Can he give the team six or so innings every time out? I hope so, but he have to see how efficient he is first. The club will try to give their new starter some extra rest here and there, but make no mistake, he’s being counting on for lots of high-end innings right away.
It wasn’t until his sixth professional season, when he took a comebacker to the ankle in July 2011, that Nova missed a scheduled start. He was insanely durable throughout his minor league career, and he’s thrown at least 140 innings every season since 2008. Nova did miss three weeks with shoulder inflammation in 2012 and four weeks with triceps inflammation in 2013, so he’s not an ironman, but by and large he’s been an innings guy throughout his career.
The question now is whether Nova can be counted on an innings eater in 2014. It’s not just the two relatively minor arm problems the last two seasons, it’s the unpredictability of his performance as well. He’s been very up and down over the last three seasons, not an uncommon problem for a young starting pitcher. Nova’s a big guy (listed at 6-foot-4 and 225 lbs.) and his delivery seems to be pretty smooth, two traits that portend workhorseishness. Can he make the jump to become a consistent 180+ or even 200+ innings guy this season? I hope so. Nova’s is a pretty important piece of the franchise going forward and taking that next step would be a nice development.
* * *
The Yankees have said Michael Pineda will have an innings limit because, well, duh. Of course he will. The kid threw 171 innings for the Mariners a few years ago but it’s hard to think that number means anything after a major shoulder surgery and two lost years. They have to be careful and build Pineda back up slowly. In no way should he be counted on to chew up innings, even if the bullpen was taxed the night before.
David Phelps (94.1 IP), Adam Warren (77 IP), and Vidal Nuno (45 IP) all threw fewer than a hundred innings in 2013, but none of them are particularly young (Nuno is the youngest at 26) and they all have multiple 100+ inning seasons to their credit (Phelps and Warren have multiple 150+ inning seasons). I think the Yankees would let all three throw upwards of 150 innings this season, maybe more depending on how they’re performing.
Sabathia (performance), Kuroda (age), Tanaka (transition), and Nova (unpredictable) all come into the season with questions but they all have the ability to be top-notch innings guys. This isn’t some far-fetched idea either, we’re asking these guys to do something they did just last year and over the last several years as well (aside from Nova). The benefits of having durable starting pitchers is obvious and the Yankees are in line to have several of them in 2014.
1:52pm: The game has been canceled due to the rain. It’s Spring Training, they’re not making it up. No word on what this does to the upcoming rotation, but I’m sure we’ll find out later today.
1:00pm: The Yankees will look to win their third Spring Training game in the span of 24 hours this afternoon when they make the short trip south to play the Pirates in Bradenton. Hiroki Kuroda gets the start and is scheduled to throw five innings or 75 pitches, whichever comes first. Here are the Yankees and Pirates lineups. The game will not be broadcast live on YES or MLB Network, so it’s MLB.tv or nothing if you live outside the Pittsburgh area. The weather forecast isn’t all that pretty, so there’s a chance they won’t even play. Talk about the game here. · (6) ·
Spring Training Record: 10-9-2 (93 RS, 78 RA)
Spring Training Games This Week: @ Pirates (Mon.), vs. Red Sox (Tues. on YES, ESPN), @ Braves (Weds.), @ Red Sox (Thurs. on YES, ESPN), vs. Pirates (Fri. on MLBN), @ Twins (Sat.), vs. Blue Jays (Sun. on YES, MLB)
Top stories from last week:
- The Yankees have signed all their remaining pre-arbitration-eligible players. There is “nothing doing” in trade talks about Ichiro Suzuki, though several teams are scouting Frankie Cervelli.
- Injury Updates: Both Tyler Austin (wrist) and Brendan Ryan (oblique) have resumed hitting and are expected to start full workouts this week. Jacoby Ellsbury (calf) is day-to-day with tightness. Eduardo Nunez (thigh) is fine after getting spiked. Nik Turley (arm) will be shut down another two weeks with tightness.
- Gary Sanchez topped MLB.com’s list of the team’s top 20 prospects. The Yankees ranked 13th in ESPN’s Future Power Rankings.
- The Yankees gave Shin-Soo Choo only 21 hours to accept their offer over the winter.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
The Yankees had a good day on Sunday, winning two games in two different countries. In Tampa, Masahiro Tanaka helped the club to a 7-4 win over the visiting Braves. He allowed one run on three hits and two walks in 4.1 innings before hitting his pitch count, striking out six. Forty-four of his 74 pitches were strikes, according to David Lennon. Ichiro Suzuki, Eduardo Nunez, and Ramon Flores all went 2-for-3 while Brian McCann had a two-run double. Mark Teixeira went 0-for-2 with a walk. Dellin Betances had his first shaky outing of the spring, allowing a run on a hit, a walk, and a hit batsman in one inning of work. Here are the box score and video highlights for that game.
Meanwhile, in Panama, the Yankees responded to being no-hit on Saturday by holding the Marlins to one hit on Sunday, shutting them out 7-0. CC Sabathia retired 15 of 16 batters faced (five strikeouts), with the only exception being an error by third baseman Zelous Wheeler. I couldn’t get the online feed to work, so I have no idea how Sabathia actually looked as far as command and velocity, but Bryan Hoch says he was sharp. Carlos Beltran singled, Yangervis Solarte went 3-for-5, Frankie Cervelli went 3-for-3, and Gary Sanchez hit a homer. Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, and Alfonso Soriano went a combined 0-for-9. David Robertson walked one in an otherwise perfect inning. Here’s the box score (no highlights) for that game, and here is the rest from camp.
- Another roster cut: Manny Banuelos has been optioned down High-A Tampa, the team announced. Brian Cashman said Banuelos may start the season with High-A Tampa rather than Triple-A Scranton because of the weather, but nothing is decided yet. There are still 58 players in big league camp by my unofficial count. [Chad Jennings]
- Ivan Nova, David Phelps, and Michael Pineda were among those to throw their scheduled bullpen sessions. Tyler Austin (wrist) took batting practice and is expected to get into a game this week. Brendan Ryan (oblique) hit and fielded grounders today, and is expected to have a full workout tomorrow. Russ Canzler (hip) is feeling better but he is still receiving treatment and has yet to resume workouts. [Jennings]
- Sabathia said he planned to speak to Mariano Rivera about his work-in-progress cutter while in Panama. Couldn’t speak to a better guy about the pitch, but I wouldn’t expect Sabathia’s to become lethal like Rivera’s just because they chatted. [Dan Barbarisi]
- And, in case you were wondering, the Yankees did bring a jersey to Panama for Rivera. They were lobbying him to play center field, but Joe Girardi said the jersey was so Mo could spend a few innings in the dugout. [Barbarisi]
This is your opening thread for the evening. If you missed Tanaka earlier or just want to see him again, YES is replaying this afternoon’s game at 7pm ET. MLB Network will re-air two games later tonight as well. Feel free to talk about whatever you like right here.
Looking for some Sunday morning reading? Here’s a great piece from Jorge Arangure on Shingo Horie, Masahiro Tanaka’s translator. Arangure goes into Horie’s background (he applied for the job despite having no translating experience), the relationship between the two men (they first met the day of Tanaka’s introductory press conference), and why Japanese players are given individual interpreters rather than sharing one. It’s really interesting stuff, so check it out. Comes with RAB’s highest level of recommendation. · (2) ·
It has been a little while, but we’ll finally get our third look at Masahiro Tanaka this afternoon. He was effective in his first two Grapefruit League appearances (5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K) and his last outing was a simulated game, the first of his life. Tanaka threw 63 pitches in that four-inning simulated game last week, and today he’s scheduled for five innings or 75 pitches. We’ll get a nice extended look this afternoon.
The Yankees will be without Jacoby Ellsbury today after he was scratched from the lineup with minor calf tightness. Acting manager Rob Thompson told reporters he was scratched as a precaution and it is one of those “he would have played if it was the regular season” things. Ellsbury will not travel for tomorrow’s game either, so he will get two straight days off. Considering his game is built around speed, any kind of leg problem is worth keeping an eye on. Scratching him is a no-brainer.
The Braves are down from Orlando for this afternoon’s game and they’re going to be a nice test for Tanaka. Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Ryan Doumit, Dan Uggla, Andrelton Simmons, and both Upton brothers are in their starting lineup. Right-hander Julio Teheran will be on the mound. Here is the Yankees’ starting lineup:
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- SS Eduardo Nunez
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- C Brian McCann
- 3B Kelly Johnson
- LF Ramon Flores
- DH Peter O’Brien
- CF Mason Williams
- 2B Ali Castillo
SP Masahiro Tanaka
Available Pitchers: LHP Matt Thornton, RHP Dellin Betances, RHP Shawn Kelley, and RHP Shane Greene are also scheduled to pitch. RHP Caleb Cotham, LHP Aaron Dott, LHP Tyler Webb, and SwP Pat Venditte are the extra arms.
Available Position Players: C Francisco Arcia, 1B Kyle Roller, SS Carmen Angelini, 3B Rob Segedin, LF Ben Gamel, and RF Taylor Dugas will all come off the bench. C Austin Romine, 1B/3B Zach Wilson, and 2B Rob Refsnyder are also available.
In addition to the game against the Braves, the Yankees are also playing the Marlins in the second game of the Legends Series down in Panama this afternoon. I don’t have a lineup for that game, but CC Sabathia is starting. That game will start at 2pm ET and you can watch right here (h/t @PanamaHitek). As for the game in Tampa, the weather is great (little cloudy with temperatures in the 70s with no threat of rain) and first pitch is scheduled for a little after 1pm ET. You can watch that game live on both YES and MLB.tv. Enjoy.
Alright, now this is pretty funny. The Yankees were no-hit by four Marlins pitchers in the first game of the two-game Legends Series down in Panama tonight. The final score was 5-0. I don’t have the box score handy, but you can find it on MLB.com. They Yankees are never going to win the Grapefruit League World Series at this rate. · (8) ·