The pitfalls of recent rookies in the Yankees rotation

Hughes (Getty Images)
Hughes (Getty Images)

You don’t have to look far into the past to the last time the Yankees put a young starter in its opening day rotation. That is, of course, because Luis Severino – all of 22 years old at the time – made the Yankees’ rotation in 2016. It didn’t … well, it didn’t go all that great for him. He was in Triple A by mid-May and bounced between the minors, the major league rotation and the bullpen, where he was quite effective.

But you have to travel a little bit further back before then to the last time a true rookie made the Yankees’ rotation out of spring training. Ivan Nova did so in 2011 and Ian Kennedy did so in 2008. Because this has happened so few times in the last decade, I thought it might make sense to look back at these past examples for a glimpse into what the Yankees’ immediate future might look like.

After all, Jordan Montgomery and Chad Green are on the cusp of pulling off that feat this year. A fellow young starter in Severino claimed the other spot in the rotation. Therefore, in the Kennedy example, I’ll group in Phil Hughes, who had eclipsed the rookie limits in ’07 but was even younger in April of ’08 than Severino on opening day last season.

Let the look back begin.

2008

(Getty Images)
Kennedy (Getty Images)

’08 seems like the perfect reference point to the present day. The Yankees had two rotation spots open behind Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang and they were Hughes and Kennedy’s spots to take, which they proceeded to do.

The Yankees’ current wave of optimism about its prospects comes primarily from its hitting, but at that time, it was because of the pitching. It’s really hard to emphasize just how excited fans (and the team) were about its pitching prospects. The team has three former first-round picks (add in Joba Chamberlain) that had shown glimpses of promise and seemed destined to be the team’s star starters/relievers.

Kennedy wasn’t a top of the rotation talent necessarily and Hughes was coming off a season with a hamstring injury, so there was some concern. However, Kennedy has impressed and Hughes had just won a playoff game. Of course these guys were going to hit the ground running. There was no way both would fall flat in their big opportunity.

Or, I guess there was. Hughes had six starts, no wins, and a 9.00 ERA in April. He didn’t make it out of the fourth inning in four of those starts. After his last start went on the disabled list with a cracked rib and wouldn’t appear in the majors again until September.

Kennedy’s start to the season went just as poorly. In nine appearances (eight starts) through the end of May, he went 0-3 with a 7.41 ERA. He only completed five innings a total of four times. In his first start, he gave up six runs and got just seven outs.

Perhaps the most disappointing moment happened when he resurfaced in the majors in August. He came up from the minors to replace an injured Chamberlain (Save the Big 3!) and gave up five runs in two innings to the Angels. He told reporters after the game he wasn’t too upset with the way he pitched, which angered many in his own clubhouse. It made some question, rightly or wrongly, whether he had the best mindset to make it through a major league season.

2011

(Getty Images)
Nova in the 2011 ALDS (Getty Images)

The failures of Kennedy and Hughes are a pretty sharp contrast to what happened for Ivan Nova. Nova was in no way the prospect that the duo were, to the point where he was claimed in the Rule 5 Draft by the Padres in 2008. He pitched in 10 games (42 innings) in 2010 and was fine. A 4.50 ERA, a low strikeout rate, but strong groundball numbers.

And at age 24 in ’11, he made the rotation. The Yankees had lost a few starters from the year prior and Nova was solid enough in the spring to earn the spot.

From there, he ran with it. He had some bad starts here and there, but for the most part would always complete five innings. He had a 5.82 ERA after April, but it went down every single month after that, culminating in a 3.70 ERA over 165 1/3 innings.

He really hit his stride over the last four months. He won his last 12 decisions, made it through five innings in each of his last 17 starts and made it through at least six in 13 of them. He didn’t allow more than four earned runs in an appearance after Apr. 15.

What are the takeaways from that? First off, it’s really important for Montgomery or Green to avoid a slow start. Getting off to even one solid appearance to begin the season will go a long way to finding one’s rhythm. They have a buffer of not needing to start until Apr. 16 in the majors, but Severino will need to go beginning with the Yankees’ second series against a solid Baltimore lineup. Staying healthy will also help because who knows if Hughes could have turned things around if he’d only stayed healthy. Heck, that’s probably a common refrain for his early Yankees’ tenure.

Nova excelled in part because he avoided bad innings, keeping teams from knocking him out quickly. If a young starter can complete five innings, it goes a long way. Whether it’s Severino or Montgomery or whomever, it won’t necessarily be all about their strikeout rate or how many people they walk. Nova struck out few and walked a ton in his first month in ’08. Those things are still important, but we also need to wait for a definitive sample size.

Therefore, it’s important to put process over results for a little while, preach some patience for these young starters. Not many pitchers have a clean beginning to their first big opportunity and it will likely take a while before these guys can establish themselves in the majors, if they even truly do.

Fan Confidence Poll: April 3rd, 2017

Spring Training Record: 24-9-1 (198 RS, 140 RA)
Regular Season Record
: 0-1 (3 RS, 7 RA)
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, @ Rays (two games, Tues. and Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Orioles (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

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Yankees lose on Opening Day for sixth straight season, fall 7-3 to Rays

The Opening Day losing streak has hit six years. That is both a new franchise record and quite annoying. Getting a little tired of seeing 0-1 every year, you guys. A rare dreadful start by Masahiro Tanaka put the Yankees down early on Sunday, and they were never able to get back in the game. The Rays won the season opener 7-3.

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

A Bad Start
Not the way you wanna start the season, Masahiro! After allowing four first inning runs total last season — four! — he allowed three in the first inning Sunday. A single by Corey Dickerson, a hustle double by Kevin Kiermaier, and a sac fly by Evan Longoria created the first run. Tanaka should have had his second out of the inning on Brad Miller’s hard hit grounder to first, but the ball got through Greg Bird‘s glove and Miller beat it out. Womp womp. Starlin Castro did a nice job backing up the play to prevent the ball from rolling into the outfield.

What followed was a rarity: a four-pitch walk. Tanaka issued one all last season. One! So, naturally, he issued one to the fifth batter he faced in 2016. Go figure. The walk loaded the bases, so Tanaka was a double play ball away from limiting the damage. He did get the ground ball from Logan Morrison, but it skipped by a diving Ronald Torreyes behind second base …

logan-morrison-single

… and into center field for a two-run single. Blah. A full-sized shortstop might have been able to knock that down and limit it to a one-run single, but alas. (I kid. I kid.) Tanaka was able to escape the inning without allowing any more runs, but the damage had already been done. One inning into the new season, the Spring Training juggernaut Yankees were down 3-0. Baseball.

Tanaka never did settle down after that tough first inning. He gave up a two-run home run to Longoria in the second inning and it was a stupid homer. It hit the top of the short wall in left field and hopped over. Did you know the Rays originally cut out the top of that wall so Carl Crawford could rob home runs years ago? True story. The two-out walk to Kiermaier set that up. Tanaka gave Tampa a free two-out baserunner and Longoria made him pay.

Morrison tacked on a legitimate solo home run to center field in the third inning, then a Tim Beckham double and a Gary Sanchez error created Tampa’s seventh run. Mallex Smith laid down a bunt, Sanchez rushed the throw because Smith is crazy fast, and the throw sailed way wide of first base. Beckham scored on the play and Smith chugged into second. Tanaka faced one more batter, getting Derek Norris to fly out, and that was it. Joe Girardi yanked him.

The total damage: seven runs on eight hits, including two home runs, and two walks in 2.2 innings. Tanaka threw 67 pitches to get eight outs. The seven earned runs are a career high — he had allowed seven runs on four other occasions, though there were unearned runs involved — and the 2.2 innings are the second fewest of his career. (He had a 1.2-inning start in 2014.) This was only the fourth time in 76 starts with the Yankees that Tanaka failed to complete five full innings.

Overall, Tanaka just never really looked like himself on the mound. He was missing his spots by a lot — Sanchez made several nice stops on pitches in the dirt and well wide of the plate — and he fell behind a ton of hitters. In fact, Tanaka faced 18 hitters, and only eight saw a first pitch strike. Five of the 18 saw a hitter friendly 2-0 or 3-1 count, which is bad news. Good to get the worst start of the year out of the way early, I guess. Shake it off and go get ’em in five days, Masahiro.

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Two Runs Early, One Run Late
Following that ugly bottom of the first inning, we were all hoping the Yankees would answer right back, and hey, they did. Back-to-back singles by Castro and Chase Headley — Castro beat out an infield single and Headley squibbed a grounder to beat the shift — set up Aaron Judge for an RBI double. Chris Archer hung a first pitch slider and Judge hooked it to left field. That scored one run. Torreyes followed with a run-scoring ground out for the second run. Just like that, it was 3-2 and the Yankees were right back in the game. Then Tanaka barfed all over it.

Archer did what Tanaka could not do after that: he settled down. Following the Judge double, Archer retired 14 of the next 15 batters he faced on 53 total pitches. That streak ended when Castro and Headley strung together another set of back-to-back singles, this time leading off the seventh inning. Castro lined a single to center and Headley bunted to beat the shift. Pretty much a perfect bunt, it was. Archer’s pitch count was rising, so that seventh inning rally was New York’s last best chance to get back in the game.

Although the Yankees ultimately did not score that inning, they got the situation they will take every day of the week: Sanchez at the plate with the bases loaded. Archer’s pitch count was over 100 too. Sanchez sliced a two-strike slider juuust foul down the right field line — we’re talking maybe six inches from being a three-run double — before rolling over on a slider and grounding out to short. That’s why you bat Sanchez second. That one extra lineup spot could be the difference between Sanchez hitting with the bases loaded and a lesser hitter. Just didn’t pay off this time.

Unlike previous years, the Yankees did not pack it in after blowing that rally. Two singles (Headley and Aaron Hicks) and an error loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth inning. Fighting Spirit! Chris Carter made his Yankees debut at that point — he was pinch-hitting for Pete Kozma, who took over at short after Hicks pinch-hit for Torreyes in the seventh inning (Hicks took over in left and Kozma took Brett Gardner‘s spot in the lineup) — and drove in a run with a sac fly. Sanchez struck out, Bird flew out, and the game was over. At least maybe the O’Neill Theory will be in effect Tuesday.

The Firsts
Since it was Opening Day, the Yankees had a whole bunch of “firsts” this afternoon. Here’s a quick recap:

  • First Hit: Castro (infield single in the second inning against Archer)
  • First Walk: Bird (first inning against Archer)
  • First RBI: Judge (second inning double against Archer)
  • First Run: Castro (on Judge’s double)
  • First Hit-By-Pitch: Jacoby Ellsbury (eighth inning by Danny Farquhar)
  • First Home Run: Still waiting.
  • First Stolen Base: Still waiting.

Tanaka recorded the first pitching strikeout of the season, because duh. He fanned Smith on three pitches to end the first inning. Tommy Layne was the first reliever used — love seeing matchups in the third inning on Opening Day! — and Hicks was the first pinch-hitter used.

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Leftovers
Ellsbury, the No. 1 hitter turned No. 5 hitter, led off two innings in this game. He flew out in foul territory to start the second inning and struck out to start the fourth inning. The top five hitters in the lineup went a combined 1-for-20 with a single, a walk, a hit-by-pitch, and a sac fly. Ain’t gonna win many games like that. Sanchez did hit a first inning rocket back up the middle that hit Archer in the shin. At 115.7 mph, it was Gary’s hardest hit ball as a big leaguer. And it was an out. Go figure.

Castro was the offensive hero on Opening Day, going 3-for-4 with three hard-hit singles. He had a ridiculous first series last season, remember. Another hot start would be cool. Headley had three shift-beating hits. He was living the good BABIP life this afternoon. The 6-7-8 portion of the lineup went a combined 7-for-12. Also, four relievers (Layne, Adam Warren, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve) combined to throw 5.1 scoreless innings. Warren retired all seven batters he faced. It’s almost like he should be starting rather than mopping up.

Not a great start to the season for the instant replay system. There was a technical issue at Tropicana Field, so both teams had unlimited crew chief challenges for the game. And, in the first inning, the replay crew appeared to blow a call on Matt Holliday‘s would-be infield single. He was called out and the replays YES showed sure made it look like he was safe, but the out call stood for whatever reason. Then, in the second, it appeared the Rays got Castro at first on his infield single, yet the replay crew said no. I don’t understand anything anymore.

And finally, the Yankees tied a franchise record today by having four players age 25-and-under in their Opening Day lineup. The four: Sanchez, Bird, Judge, and Torreyes. The Yankees had done that previously in 1914 (Bill Holden, Fritz Maisel, Roger Peckinpaugh, Harry Williams) and 1932 (Ben Chapman, Frankie Crosetti, Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez). That is pretty darn cool. Shoulda started Luis Severino just to set the record. He couldn’t have pitched any worse than Tanaka.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head on over to ESPN for the box score and MLB.com for the video highlights. Also, make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload page too. Bullpens are pretty darn important these days. Here is the first win probability graph of the season:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
An off-day, for some reason. I’m guessing Opening Day was originally scheduled for Monday before ESPN flexed it to Sunday for broadcasting purposes. Otherwise there’s no reason to have an off-day after the opener when the ballpark has a dome. Whatever. CC Sabathia and Jake Odorizzi are the starters for the second game of the season Tuesday night.

Sunday Night Open Thread

Opening Day is in the books. For the Yankees, that is. They lost to the Rays earlier this afternoon. Doomed. Season over. Blah blah blah. There are only 161 more games to go, after all. Anyway, welcome back regular season baseball. I’ve missed you so.

Here is an open thread for the rest of the day. ESPN has the Giants and Diamondbacks right now and will have the Cubs and Cardinals at 8:30pm ET (Lester vs. Martinez). The (hockey) Rangers, Islanders, and Nets are playing as well. Talk about those games, this afternoon’s loss, or anything else here as long as it’s not religion or politics.

Game One: Opening Day

For the first time in 185 days, the New York Yankees will play a meaningful baseball game today. It’s Opening Day, the first day of the 2017 regular season, when every team is tied for first place and thinking this is their year. The Yankees had a phenomenal Spring Training, an everything went right Spring Training, so we’re all feeling good right now. I know am.

This is very much the start of a new era for the Yankees. They’re transitioning away from older veterans to young up-and-comers, with even more youngsters on the way. The farm system is loaded. The old stalwarts, guys like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, are all gone. The Yankees are trying to build a new core from within, moreso than at any point in the last two decades.

The Yankees are 63-50-1 all-time on Opening Day, but, believe it or not, they’ve actually lost their last five season openers. They’ve lost seven of their last eight too. Seriously. That’s pretty annoying. The Yankees have never once in their history lost six straight Opening Days. That is not the kind of record I want to see them break this year. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is Joe Girardi‘s first lineup of the new season:

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

It is sunny and warm in St. Petersburg this afternoon. Pretty much perfect baseball weather, but alas, the Yankees and Rays will be playing indoors at Tropicana Field. The Yankees last opened in Tampa back in 2012, the first of these five straight Opening Day losses. That was the “hey let’s intentionally walk Sean Rodriguez to load the bases for Carlos Pena” game, not that I’m still bitter or anything. Anyway, this afternoon’s game will begin at 1:10pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the first of 162.

Roster Move: The Yankees officially announced their 25-man Opening Day roster and it is as expected. No surprises or last minute changes. Tyler Austin was placed on the 60-day disabled list to clear a 40-man spot for Pete Kozma. The Yankees are officially calling it a fractured left ankle for Austin, if you’re into specifics. Also, Didi Gregorius was placed on the 10-day DL with a right shoulder sprain. Yes, it’s the 10-day DL now. The 15-day DL is no more. Gregorius was placed on the DL retroactive to March 30th. The Yankees didn’t say anything about backdating Austin’s DL stint.

4/2 to 4/5 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Meaningful baseball! Indoors? (Presswire)
Meaningful baseball! Indoors? (Presswire)

At long last, meaningful baseball is back. The Yankees open the 2017 regular season this afternoon with the first of three games against the Rays at Tropicana Field. For some reason the Yankees and Rays have an off-day Monday even though this series will be played in a dome. I guess the Opening Day game was originally scheduled for Monday before ESPN flexed it to Sunday. The Yankees’ schedule the next ten days goes game, off-day, game, game, off-day, game, game, game, game, off-day. Fun.

What Have They Done Lately?

Last season was pretty much a disaster for the Rays, who went 68-94 with a -41 run differential overall, including 37-62 in their final 99 games. They hold the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft as a result. Tampa hasn’t picked that high since taking Tim Beckham first overall in 2008. Buster Posey was picked fifth overall that year. Not the greatest moment in Rays history. Anyway, the Rays went 12-16-5 with a +14 run differential this spring. That means nothing me.

Offense & Defense

Longoria. (Presswire)
Longoria. (Presswire)

Over the last few seasons the common theme has been the Rays can pitch, but they can’t hit. Last year they started to hit, but their pitching let them down. Go figure. Tampa Bay averaged 4.15 runs per game with a team 98 wRC+ a year ago, and their biggest position player loss over the winter was noted Yankees killer Logan Forsythe. Won’t miss that dude at all. He crushed the Yankees.

No one has any stats because the season hasn’t started yet, and there’s no chance I’m going to regurgitate Spring Training numbers here, so instead here is each player’s 2016 performance and their 2017 ZiPS projection.

2016 MLB Stats 2017 ZiPS Projection
C Derek Norris .186/.255/.328 (55 wRC+), 14 HR, 458 PA .229/.302/.382 (80 wRC+)
1B Logan Morrison .238/.319/.414 (101 wRC+), 14 HR, 398 PA .242/.318/.399 (96 wRC+)
2B Brad Miller .243/.304/.482 (111 wRC+), 30 HR, 601 PA .248/.313/.440 (104 wRC+)
SS Tim Beckham .247/.300/.434 (98 wRC+), 5 HR, 215 PA .236/.286/.388 (82 wRC+)
3B Evan Longoria .273/.318/.521 (123 wRC+), 36 HR, 685 PA .266/.318/.485 (113 wRC+)
LF Mallex Smith
.238/.316/.365 (84 wRC+), 16 SB, 215 PA .231/.296/.322 (71 wRC+)
CF Kevin Kiermaier .246/.331/.410 (104 wRC+), 12 HR, 414 PA .258/.316/.426 (101 wRC+)
RF Steven Souza .247/.303/.409 (94 wRC+), 17 HR, 468 PA .242/.314/.419 (101 wRC+)
DH Corey Dickerson
.245/.293/.469 (101 wRC+), 24 HR, 548 PA .251/.300/.461 (103 wRC+)
BENCH
C Jesus Sucre .480/.522/.680 (244 wRC+), 1 HR, 29 PA .236/.263/.292 (51 wRC+)
IF Daniel Robertson N/A (110 wRC+ in Triple-A) .241/.316/.340 (83 wRC+)
OF Peter Bourjos .251/.292/.389 (79 wRC+), 5 HR, 383 PA .230/.286/.361 (71 wRC+)
UTIL Rickie Weeks .239/.327/.450 (102 wRC+), 9 HR, 205 PA .213/.299/.374 (85 wRC+)

Reminder: The Rays traded Trea Turner (+3.8 WAR from 2015-16) and Joe Ross (+3.5) to the Nationals for Souza (+1.9) two years ago on purpose. That’s going to go down as an all-time bad trade. If you’re a big market team like the Yankees, you can survive that because you can paper over the mistake with money. A small payroll team like the Rays? Forget it. Total disaster.

Aside from a Smith/Bourjos platoon in left field, the Rays look to be fairly set with their lineup. We’re used to seeing them employ multiple platoons and all sorts of different lineup arrangements. That doesn’t seem to be the case this year. Longoria is the center piece, obviously. Even if the Rays do opt for multiple platoons, Longoria will be in the lineup day after day, not posting a .900 OPS.

I should note the Rays will not have three key-ish players to start the season due to injury: SS Matt Duffy (Achilles), OF Colby Rasmus (hip), and C Wilson Ramos (knee). Ramos won’t be back until midseason after tearing his ACL for the second time in four years. Tampa Bay signed him to a two-year deal over the winter knowing that. Duffy and Rasmus are expected back sometime point in April, possibly in time for the series between these two clubs at Yankee Stadium next week.

The Rays started sacrificing defense for power a few years ago, leading to Souza in right and Miller at second. Both are liabilities in the field. Kiermaier is excellent, probably the best defensive center fielder in baseball, and Longoria is very good at the hot corner. The Smith/Bourjos platoon will save runs in center field. Beckham and Morrison are solid defenders, and while Norris doesn’t have much of an arm, he rates as a very good pitch-framer. So, overall, the Rays are good defensively, but not otherworldly like they were three or four years ago.

Pitching Matchups

Archer and Cobb. (Presswire)
Archer and Cobb. (Presswire)

Sunday (1pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TB) vs. RHP Chris Archer (vs. NYY)
Nice pitching matchup to start the season. Archer is better than last year’s numbers (4.02 ERA and 3.81 FIP) would lead you to believe, and I think we all know that. His strikeout (28.2% from 2015-16) and ground ball (46.9% from 2015-16) tendencies suggest good things will happen. I have no evidence to back this up and I’m too lazy to look through the game logs, but it seems Archer usually dominates the Yankees for a few innings before giving it up late. Am I the only one that feels that way? Whatever. As always, Archer is primarily a mid-90s fastball/upper-80s slider pitcher, though his mid-80s changeup has come a long way the last few seasons. His slider is one of the best in the business, hence the strikeouts. It gives both lefties and righties fits.

Tuesday (7pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. TB) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (vs. NYY)
It’s too bad the Yankees don’t have Brian McCann anymore. He’s wrecked Odorizzi throughout his career: 13-for-28 (.464) with three doubles, three homers, and a triple (!). Last season Odorizzi pitched to a solid 3.69 ERA (4.31 FIP) in a career high 187.2 innings, and, like everyone else, he became very home run prone (1.39 HR/9). The ball was flying out of the park last summer. I hope it does again this year too. Homers are fun. Odorizzi’s strikeout (21.5%), walk (7.0%), and grounder (36.6%) rates were right where they always are in 2016. He’s more of a pop-up guy that a long fly ball guy, so don’t get too excited by the lack of grounders. Odorizzi has a deep repertoire that includes three fastballs (low-90s two and four-seamers, upper-80s cutter), one offspeed pitch (mid-80s splitter), and two breaking balls (low-80s slider and low-80s curve). The split has become his go-to put-away pitch. Odorizzi has been pretty tough on Yankees not named McCann the last few seasons.

Wednesday (7pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TB) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (vs. NYY)
Future Yankee Alex Cobb? He’ll be a free agent after the season and seems like a potential alternative to pricier free agents like Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta (and Tanaka?). He’s good, he’s reasonably young (29), and he’s had success in the AL East. Seems like someone the Yankees would gravitate toward. Anyway, Cobb missed all of 2015 and most of 2016 with Tommy John surgery, and when he returned last year, he had an 8.59 ERA (5.60 FIP) in five starts and 22 innings. His walk (6.7%) and grounder (52.5%) rates were in line with his career norms, though his strikeouts (15.4%) were way down and his homers (2.05 HR/9) were way up. Typical post-Tommy John surgery rust and small sample size weirdness, I’d imagine. A mid-80s splitter is Cobb’s moneymaker, and he also throws a low-90s four-seamer and an upper-70s curveball.

Bullpen Status

Farquhar. (Presswire)
Farquhar. (Presswire)

Manager Kevin Cash will be short a few relievers to start the season because of injuries. RHP Brad Boxberger (lat), RHP Shawn Tolleson (flexor), and Rule 5 Draft pick RHP Kevin Gadea (elbow) are all on the disabled list. Tolleson and Gadea are on the 60-day DL already, so they’re out long-term. Boxberger could return later this month.

Unlike the Yankees, the Rays can not use early season off-days to skip their fifth starter, so they’ll open the new season with a normal seven-man bullpen. Remember when six-man bullpens were normal? Good times. Here is Tampa’s relief crew:

Role 2016 MLB Stats 2017 ZiPS
RHP Alex Colome Closer 1.91 ERA (2.92 FIP), 31.4 K%, 56.2 IP 2.93 ERA (3.18 FIP)
RHP Danny Farquhar Setup 3.06 ERA (5.10 FIP), 29.1 K%, 35.1 IP 3.79 ERA (3.92 FIP)
LHP Xavier Cedeno Setup 3.70 ERA (2.64 FIP), 34.7 K%, 41.1 IP 3.40 ERA (3.45 FIP)
RHP Tommy Hunter Middle 3.18 ERA (3.06 FIP), 16.6 K%, 34 IP 3.81 ERA (3.70 FIP)
RHP Jumbo Diaz Middle 3.14 ERA (5.24 FIP), 20.3 K%, 43 IP 3.82 ERA (4.20 FIP)
RHP Erasmo Ramirez Middle 3.77 ERA (4.76 FIP), 16.7 K%, 90.2 IP 4.08 ERA (4.61 FIP)
RHP Austin Pruitt Long N/A (3.76 ERA and 3.53 FIP in AAA) 4.69 ERA (4.51 FIP)

As the only lefty in the bullpen, I assume Cedeno will be Cash’s designated Greg Bird specialist these next three games. That’s not the most intimidating bullpen in the world — the middle relievers don’t figure to miss many bats at all — but Colome is an All-Star caliber closer, so if the Rays have a lead after eight innings, the Yankees will be in trouble. Farquhar, by the way, is one of the players the Yankees traded to the Mariners for Ichiro Suzuki back in 2012.

Saturday Open Thread

Only a few more hours, folks. Only a few more hours until the Yankees open the new season against the Rays at Tropicana Field. Hooray for that. The Yankees had a quick workout there today — they replaced the turf at the Trop over the winter, so the players were getting familiar with the bounces and whatnot — and that’s about it. Last night to relax before the long grind begins.

This is the open thread for the rest of the day. MLB Network is showing an exhibition game right now (Giants vs. Angels) and later tonight (Dodgers vs. Angels). The Nets and Devils are both playing, plus there are the two March April Madness games later on. You folks know how these work, so have at it.