Rehab progress means Greg Bird has a chance to be a factor in September

(Presswire)

For all intents and purposes, this is a second straight lost season for Greg Bird. He missed the entire 2016 season following shoulder surgery — he was able to squeeze in an Arizona Fall League stint — and this year he’s been sidelined since early May with ongoing ankle issues. Since the end of the 2015 season, Bird has only 263 plate appearances to his credit, and that includes Spring Training.

At this point the hope is Bird can return from ankle surgery at some point this year and maybe give the Yankees a nice shot in the arm down the stretch. The Yankees won’t push him too hard after the way things have gone this season, though it’s starting to look more and more likely Bird will return this year. He’s already started hitting just two weeks out from surgery. From Dan Martin:

“I played catch for the first time (Monday) and hit for the first time (Tuesday),” said Bird. “It felt great. I already feel the difference in a lot of things that I’ve done since the surgery and that makes me believe I could be back soon — especially with the stitches out and the (incision) is good … The discomfort is gone. Now it’s about getting ready to play again, getting in the weight room and on the field. I have to get used to it — and get used to not having the ankle in the back of my mind.”

Brian Cashman of course downplayed Bird’s chances of returning by the end of this month — “It’s hard to predict with this kind of injury because it’s unusual. But he’s progressing,” said the general manager to Martin — because that’s what Brian Cashman does. This isn’t the first time Bird has started working his way back this year, remember. He was on a rehab assignment for a few weeks in June before being shut down again.

The Yankees went out and acquired Todd Frazier essentially for first base depth even though he’s playing third, and I’m glad they did because I didn’t want the Yankees to be in a position where they were counting on Bird coming back. Anything he gives them this year is gravy as far as I’m concerned. In fact, as I said the other day, I’d like to see the Yankees bring in another bat. I don’t expect it to happen, but I’d like to see it.

So perhaps Bird can be that bat, even if he doesn’t return until sometime after rosters expand on September 1st. He’s had a very long layoff and needs to get his timing down, so his minor league rehab stint could run the full 20 days, but the fact Bird is already hitting and doing baseball stuff suggests his season is not over. The top priority here is next season and getting Bird ready for 2018. But, if he can make it back in September, the Yankees will be that much better.

Game 106: End of the Homestand

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

This long nine-game homestand comes to end this afternoon, and today’s game will determine whether this is a great 7-2 homestand or merely a very good 6-3 homestand. Winning seven of nine sounds so much better, doesn’t it? A win today gives the Yankees their fourth straight series win after going 0-8-2 in their previous ten series.

Masahiro Tanaka is on the mound this afternoon and he’s coming off that brilliant start against the Rays, in which he took a perfect game into the sixth inning and finished with one run allowed on two hits and no walks in eight innings. He struck out a career high 14. Tanaka has a 3.43 ERA (3.52 FIP) in his last nine starts and looks better than he has pretty much all season. Hopefully it continues today. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. DH Matt Holliday
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 1B Todd Frazier
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is warm, cloudy, and humid in New York today, and there is some rain in the forecast throughout the afternoon. Hopefully nothing heavy enough to delay the game. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Update (12:48pm ET): The Yankees say the game will not start on time due to rain. The Tigers are not scheduled to come back to New York again this season, so they’re going to wait as long as necessary to get this game in.

Update (1:55pm ET): Today’s game will begin at 2:30pm ET, the Yankees say. That’s not too bad.

With Aaron Hicks on the mend, the Yankees will soon have to make some roster and playing time decisions

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

Later tonight nominal fourth outfielder Aaron Hicks will start a minor league rehab assignment with Triple-A Scranton. He’s been sidelined since June 26th with a right oblique strain. Oblique injuries are really tricky. They’re very easy to reaggravate. And because Hicks is a switch-hitter, he and the Yankees had to be extra careful during his recovery and rehab.

Prior to the injury the 27-year-old Hicks was enjoying a breakout season, a breakout season that had him in the All-Star Game conversation. He hit .290/.398/.515 (145 wRC+) with ten homers and nearly as many walks (15.3%) as strikeouts (17.4%) before getting hurt. Among the 281 players with at least 200 plate appearances this season, Hicks ranks 14th in OBP and 19th in wRC+. He was awesome.

Since Hicks got hurt, a whole lot has changed. The Yankees lost for the seventh time in nine games to blow their division lead the day Hicks got hurt. Now the Yankees have won seven of their last nine games to climb back in the AL East race. They’re still only a half-game back following last night’s loss. Also, Jacoby Ellsbury returned from the disabled list and has since been relegated to fourth outfielder duty, both by his play and Clint Frazier‘s play.

Simply put, when Hicks got hurt, the Yankees were trending down and it was not pretty. Now, with Hicks nearing a return, the Yankees are winning games and they’ve added several new players to the roster. Frazier came up from the system and all the trades brought in Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, Sonny Gray, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle. Hicks is returning to a much better and more formidable team.

Because he’s missed more than a month and because he’s a switch-hitter with two swings to hone, my guess is Hicks will need more than one or two rehab games. The plan might be to have him rejoin the team next Friday at the start of the next homestand. That would give him eight days worth of minor league games. Hopefully that’s enough. We’ll see. Whenever Hicks is ready to come back, the Yankees will have to make some roster decisions.

Opening A Roster Spot

If Clint goes down, we riot. (Elsa/Getty)
If Clint goes down, we riot. (Elsa/Getty)

At the moment the Yankees are carrying a three-man bench with a backup catcher (Austin Romine), a backup infielder (Tyler Wade), and a backup outfielder (Ellsbury). They’re also carrying six starters and seven relievers, and for at least one turn through the rotation, the Yankees will use all six starters. They say they’re going back to a five-man rotation after that. Does that mean Jordan Montgomery to Triple-A? Garcia to the bullpen? Both are possible.

The easiest way to open a roster spot for Hicks would be sending down that 13th pitcher (whoever it is) and getting back to a normal four-man bench. As much as you may want them to, the Yankees are absolutely not going to release Ellsbury this year. At the very least, the Yankees are going to wait until the offseason to see whether they can unload him in a salary dump trade first. Saving even $4M or $5M a year on his contract is better than nothing.

The other option, which Brian Cashman has floated, is sending down Frazier. Man, if that happens, I will be Mad Online. I can’t see it happening at this point. Frazier has been productive and the Yankees are in it to win it now. You don’t go out and trade all those prospects only to turn around and send down Frazier, who has had an impact in his short time as a big leaguer. That’s not putting the best roster on the field.

Remember, once upon a time the Nationals said they were calling up Bryce Harper only temporarily. Then he hit the snot out of the ball for a few weeks and they had to keep him around. Frazier is not Harper, but he is really good, and he is forcing the team’s hand here. He’s done enough to stick. The Yankees may have planned to send Frazier down when Hicks is ready, but plans have to be flexible. Plans change.

Now, that all said, one thing to keep in mind here is that September isn’t far away. Assuming Hicks returns for the start of the homestand next Friday — again, that’s just my assumption, not something the Yankees have confirmed — the Yankees could send Frazier down for three weeks, then bring him right back when rosters expand on September 1st. Reevaluate the roster situation at that time to figure out the best outfield alignment. It’s an option. I hate it, but it’s an option.

So, as things standing right now, the best way to get Hicks back onto the roster is to send down that 13th pitcher, likely either Montgomery or Chasen Shreve. No one else is going down. The other options are release Ellsbury (nope) or send down Frazier (please no). An injury could change things — Matt Holliday back on the disabled list with his mystery illness? — but right now, I’d say it’s drop the 13th pitcher or bust for Hicks.

Finding Playing Time

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

This interests me much more than opening a roster spot. Hicks was out of this world before the injury, and because of that, he belongs in the lineup once he gets healthy. So does Frazier. So does Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge. I know Judge has slumped since the All-Star break, but does anyone actually want him out of the lineup? No way. He could snap out of it at any moment. No one busts out of a slump sitting on the bench.

As it stands the Yankees have four outfielders who deserve to play everyday (Hicks, Frazier, Gardner, Judge) and a fifth outfielder on the 29th richest contract in baseball history. I’m glad the Yankees and Joe Girardi have reduced Ellsbury’s playing time. It needed to happen. Now they’re looking at the possibility of completely burying Ellsbury on the bench as the seldom used fifth outfielder. The right move? Sure. An awkward situation? Yup.

Four outfielders who deserve to play means the return of the outfield rotation, I assume. Gardner will sit against lefties and I guess Frazier and Judge will take turns sitting against tough righties. Hicks will get days off here and there as well. All four of those guys should play as much as possible, and it’s up to Girardi to make it work. Ellsbury will have to be limited to pinch-runner and spot start duty. There’s really no other way to use him.

The wildcard here is the DH spot. Holliday has been pretty terrible for weeks now. If he continues to be terrible, it’s entirely possible the Yankees will scale back on his playing time, freeing up DH at-bats for the four regular outfielders and Ellsbury. “We continue to talk about it … (He) has had some good at-bats, but he really hasn’t gotten back on track. I think he will but it hasn’t happened yet,” said Girardi to George King when asked about Holliday’s slump recently.

The best case scenario is having too many good players. The Yankees don’t want to sit Holliday to open DH at-bats for other players. They want Holliday to mash, Hicks to mash, and Judge and Frazier and Gardner to mash. And they want Ellsbury to mash too. The more good players, the better. Take the depth and the production and enjoy it while it lasts. Realistically, that won’t happen. It’s very rare that everyone is hitting at the same time. That’s baseball.

Once Hicks returns, the Yankees will have to go back to the four-man outfield rotation, and maybe make it a five-man outfield/DH rotation should Holliday not get back on track. There’s really no other way to do it. None of the three current outfielders deserve to be taken out of the lineup, yet Hicks played too well before his injury to go to the bench. The Yankees have to play him to see whether that was for real. Early season Hicks was the best non-Judge hitter on the team, remember.

* * *

For now, Hicks’ return is at least a few days away and maybe more than a week away. Tonight will only be his first rehab game after more than a month on the shelf. A lot could change between now and the time Hicks is ready to be activated. Someone could get hurt, Frazier could play his way down to Triple-A, someone could get traded … who knows? Hopefully the Yankees have to make some tough decisions when Hicks returns. That’ll mean everyone is playing well and no one deserves to lose playing time or a roster spot.

Tigers 4, Yankees 3: Sir Didi can’t do it all himself

Meh. That was one of those unremarkable games every team will play about 40 of each season. It’ll soon disappear into the giant blob of baseball we all forget each season. Maybe Paul George will remember it. YES showed him sitting in the stands during the broadcast enough times. The Yankees dropped Tuesday night’s game 4-3 to the Tigers.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Sabathia’s Bad Inning
Pretty amazing CC Sabathia managed to get through six innings given the way things unfolded early. And the Yankees really needed those six innings too. The bullpen has been worked pretty hard of late. Sabathia allowed three runs in the second inning, all on one swing of the bat, and only one run in his other five innings. Those One Big Innings, man. I guess you kinda have to expect them in a small park.

Anyway, the second inning rally was kinda dumb. Miguel Cabrera lifted a jam shot bloop into center field, then Nick Castellanos pulled a well-located grounder just inside the third base bag for a double to put runners on second and third with no outs. Exit velocity on the Miggy bloop: 71.8 mph. Exit velocity on the Castellanos double: 78.1 mph. Not exactly scalded, you know?

The biggest problem that inning was not the Cabrera bloop or the Castellanos double. It was Sabathia not being able to put John Hicks away. John Hicks! He fouled off four two-strike pitches — four! — to extend the at-bat before Sabathia caught just enough of the plate with a backdoor slider …

cc-sabathia-john-hicks

… which Hicks lifted two rows back into the short porch for a three-run home run. I mean, it’s John Hicks. He’s a 27-year-old rookie who hit .269/.281/.428 (90 wRC+) in Triple-A prior to being called up before the game. Gotta put that guy away for the second out and give yourself a chance to escape the inning. Or at least hold him to a sac fly or a run-scoring ground out, something like that. Limit the damage.

Sabathia’s final line: 6 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 3 K on 97 pitches. He had words with home plate umpire Mike Estabrook a few times because he thought he was getting squeezed, particularly on backdoor sliders — Sabathia thought he had Hicks struck out on a backdoor slider earlier in that at-bat — and you know what? Later in the game the plate opened up a bit. A little too late though. Getting beat by John Hicks is: annoying.

Gregorius Is Glorious
Great night for Didi Gregorius and not such a great night for the rest of the offense. Anibal Sanchez and his 6.18 ERA (5.16 FIP) were out there throwing cement mixers all game — Sanchez’s average fastball: 89.7 mph — and the Yankees could only get to him for two runs in 6.2 innings. Those two runs came on Didi’s fourth inning homer into the short porch. Gary Sanchez doubled as the previous batter.

The Yankees scored their other run on a Gregorius single in the eighth. Sanchez singled and moved to second when Justin Upton misplayed the ball in left field. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus lifted (Anibal) Sanchez for the lefty Daniel Stumpf and Gregorius jumped all over his first pitch for a line drive to right. Sir Didi went 2-for-4 with the homer in the game and is now hitting .303/.330/.506 (119 wRC+) this season. His seven home runs since the All-Star break are the most in baseball. For reals.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

As is the case in most one-run losses, the Yankees had some chances to score but failed to capitalize. Most notably, they had a runner at third with no outs in the third inning and did not score. Tyler Wade started the inning with a double and moved to third on a wild pitch. Ground out (Brett Gardner), pop-up (Clint Frazier), ground out (Aaron Judge). Gross. Second time in what, three days the Yankees had a man on third with no outs and didn’t score?

The Fighting Spirit kicked in in the ninth inning and the Yankees did get the winning run into scoring position. Jacoby Ellsbury pinch-hit for Wade with two outs, worked a good walk, then advanced all the way to third when Shane Greene threw away a pickoff throw. The Tigers intentionally walked Gardner — intentionally walked the winning run! — and he immediately stole second without a throw. Alas, Frazier flew out to end the game. Drat.

Leftovers
Gardner threw a runner out at the plate in the eighth inning to save David Robertson a run and keep the Yankees within one. Robertson struck out two and allowed three little singles in his inning. Adam Warren walked a batter in his two otherwise uneventful innings. The rest of the bullpen got to rest, so that’s good.

Matt Holliday did a thing! Two things, actually. He had a single to left in the second and a double off the wall in the sixth. That was the hardest he’s hit a ball since taking Craig Kimbrel deep. Gregorius, Sanchez, and Holliday each went 2-for-4. So the 4-5-6 hitters went 6-for-12 and the rest of the Yankees went 2-for-22. There’s yer ballgame.

And finally, this was Sabathia’s 500th career regular season start, so congrats to him on the milestone. Sabathia and Tom Glavine are the only pitchers in history to start their careers with 500 starts and zero relief appearances.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN has the box score and updated standings, and MLB.com has the video highlights. Don’t miss our Bullpen Workload page either. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The homestand ends Wednesday afternoon — that’s a 1pm ET getaway day start — and the Yankees will try to win the series in the rubber game. Masahiro Tanaka and Jordan Zimmermann are the scheduled starting pitchers. RAB Tickets can get you in the door if you want to catch the Yankees before they go out on an eight-day road trip.

DotF: Garcia homers in fifth straight game in Charleston loss

Got some notes and links to pass along, including several promotions that have been announced by the affiliates. These are all a big chain reaction to the recent trades opening up roster spots:

  • 2B Nick Solak and OF Jeff Hendrix have been promoted from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton. OF Estevan Florial and SS Hoy Jun Park have been promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa. 3B Dermis Garcia and OF Steven Sensley have been promoted from Rookie Pulaski to Low-A Charleston. Got all that?
  • OF Jake Cave was named the Triple-A International League Player of the Month (PDF link). He hit .390/.439/.667 (206 wRC+) with seven homers in 26 games in July. Cave will be a minor league free agent after the season. Curious to see what happens with him.
  • Both MLB.com and FanGraphs ranked the prospects traded prior to the deadline. Four of the top ten on both lists are former Yankees farmhands. The Yankees definitely traded away some high-end talent these last few weeks.

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 win over Buffalo)

  • CF Mason Williams: 1-3, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 SB
  • RF Jake Cave: 2-3, 2 R, 1 BB — hitting streak is up to 16 games
  • LF Billy McKinney: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K — third homer in his last four games … my guess is he winds up on the 40-man roster after the season … I think the Yankees would have traded him at the deadline if they had no intention of protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft
  • RHP Chance Adams: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 5/8 GB/FB — 65 of 101 pitches were strikes (64%) … third time in his last four starts he’s had more walks than strikeouts
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 18 of 29 pitches were strikes (62%)
  • RHP Ben Heller: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — seven of 12 pitches were strikes … 58/17 K/BB in 43 innings down here

[Read more…]

Game 105: Win Another Series

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The post-trade deadline Yankees opened their post-trade deadline schedule with another win last night, their seventh in the last eight games. Remember when the Yankees couldn’t buy a series win? They’ve now won three straight series and have a chance to win their fourth straight tonight. Things turned around in a hurry.

With the trade deadline in the rear-view mirror, we’ve entered the dog days of summer, the daily grind of getting through August before the races really heat up in September. That doesn’t make these games any less important, of course. Every game you win in August is one less game you have to win in September. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. LF Clint Frazier
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. DH Matt Holliday
  7. 1B Chase Headley
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. 2B Tyler Wade
    LHP CC Sabathia

Nice warm day in New York today. A bit cloudy now but no rain or anything to worry about. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Greg Bird (ankle) is progressing well following surgery and he had his stitches taken out today. The hope is he’ll begin baseball activities in the near future … Aaron Hicks (oblique) and Tyler Austin (hamstring) will begin minor league rehab assignments with Triple-A Scranton tomorrow … Starlin Castro (hamstring) has not started running yet, in case you missed it earlier.

Roster Moves: The Yankees sent down Jonathan Holder and Garrett Cooper following last night’s game, the team announced. That cleared roster space for Jaime Garcia and Sonny Gray, who joined the team today. If you’re into uniform numbers, Garcia will wear No. 34 and Gray will wear No. 55. Both wore No. 54 with their former teams, though that’s Aroldis Chapman‘s number.

Rotation Update: The Yankees will use a six-man rotation this week. Sabathia starts tonight, Masahiro Tanaka starts tomorrow, Gray starts Thursday, Garcia starts Friday, Jordan Montgomery starts Saturday, and Luis Severino starts Sunday. They plan to go back to a five-man rotation after that. It’s possible Garcia and Gray could be flip-flopped. Depends whether Gray’s plane lands in time today for him to do his between-starts work.

Starlin Castro’s ongoing hamstring issues could push Yankees into August trade market

(Stephen Brashear/Getty)
(Stephen Brashear/Getty)

Thanks to a series of hamstring injuries, Starlin Castro has played in only six of the Yankees’ last 30 games. He spent two weeks and change on the disabled list in late-June and early-July, then a week after returning, he went back on the disabled list with another hamstring strain. Supposedly it’s two different strains. The second wasn’t a reaggravation of the first. Whatever. Point is, Starlin is hurt, and he’s not coming back anytime soon.

“He is still a ways away. He still hasn’t run,” said Joe Girardi to Dan Martin yesterday when asked about Castro’s status. The Yankees and Castro are in wait and see mode. They have to give him time to heal and then get him ready for big league games, which is a long-ish process. If Starlin were to start running on, say, Friday, he’s still roughly two weeks away because he has to run, take batting practice, get in rehab games, etc. That’s not good.

With Castro out for the foreseeable future, the Yankees have two options here. One, they could stick with the status quo and keep running Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade out there. Torreyes played well as the fill-in shortstop in April and he’s playing well right now, so going with him seems fine. At the same time, he played an awful lot earlier this month, and it got old quick. Wade? I like him a lot, though he has looked overmatched at times. (Many times.)

Option two is go out and get another infielder, which is tough to do now that the trade deadline has passed. Maybe the Yankees should have signed Danny Espinosa after the Angels released him and before he hooked on with the Mariners two weeks ago? Eh. He can really play defense, but he also hit .162/.237/.276 (39 wRC+) before being released and is a .207/.282/.354 (70 wRC+) hitter in his last 1,800 plate appearances dating back to 2013. I’m not going to complain about missing out on Espinosa. I was just throwing a name out there.

An August waiver trade to add a stopgap second baseman is certainly possible, though I get the sense the Yankees aren’t eager to trade a prospect and/or take on salary for a stopgap. Castro is going to be the second baseman when he returns. Potential August waiver trade candidates include Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker, Jed Lowrie, and Brandon Phillips, so there will be infielders available. It’s just a question of whether the Yankees want to trade prospects or (more realistically) take on their salary to facilitate a trade for a stopgap player.

My guess is the Yankees are going to stand pat and roll with Torreyes and Wade for the time being. If Castro’s hamstring strain continues to linger or he suffers a setback, then maybe they’ll look to make a trade. Their top two middle infielders in Triple-A right now are Cito Culver and Donovan Solano, so yeah. The Yankees can’t afford to lose anyone else. Perhaps a small depth trade for a non-40-man journeyman is coming. Another Solano type.

So far the Yankees have not just gotten by without Castro these last few weeks, they’ve thrived. They’ve been able to climb back into first place. They added reinforcements at the trade deadline and Torreyes has shown he can be quite productive in short bursts. The ability to get the bat on the ball and run like hell can go a long way. The Yankees are at their best with healthy Castro though, so over these next few weeks, the priority will be getting him healthy for the stretch run. And if his recovery takes longer than expected, the Yankees may to look for some last minute help.