Chris Young’s great April shouldn’t stand in the way of regular playing time for Slade Heathcott

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Back a few weeks ago, when the Yankees were winning on a consistent basis, they were doing so thanks in part to fourth outfielder Chris Young, who was providing power and strong overall play off the bench. His production was forcing Joe Girardi to pencil him into the lineup as often as possible, even at the expense of Brett Gardner at times. It appeared the Yankees had struck bench player gold.

The last few weeks have been much different, however. Both for the Yankees and Young. Since the calendar flipped to May, Young is gone a weak 6-for-42 (.143) overall, including his current 2-for-31 (.065) rut. And while that isn’t a ton of playing time, it is enough to know Young no longer belongs in the lineup as often a possible. His struggles seem to have flown under the radar a bit given everything else happening with the team, yet there they are.

Young’s hot start earned him some rope, and with Jacoby Ellsbury out hurt and Carlos Beltran always at risk of getting hurt, there are lots of reasons to keep him around. I don’t think anyone is lobbying to get rid of him anyway. What the Yankees should do though is reduce Young’s playing time, especially against righties, with those at-bats going to Slade Heathcott instead.

Heathcott was called up when Ellsbury got hurt and he’s gone 5-for-12 (.417) with a double and a homer in three starts so far, which tells us … nothing, really. Outside of a serious injury, there’s no way three games should change your opinion about any player. Heathcott should play more simply because he’s young player with two-way ability who — bear with me a second, it’s about to get a little crazy — might actually carve out a role with the team going forward because his best years are ahead of him.

The Yankees are being hush hush about Ellsbury’s timetable, though we do know he will spend more than the minimum 15 days on the DL. That could mean 16 days, 30 days, 60 days … who knows? Either way, Ellsbury is not returning anytime soon, so playing time is plentiful, and that’s an opportunity to evaluate Heathcott at the MLB level. The Yankees called Slade up over other deserving players (Ramon Flores, most notably), so it’s clear they like him. He’s not just a warm body.

Remember, Heathcott is a former first round pick and tools aren’t a question. He’s battled injuries and off-the-field demons over the years, not a lack of production, and we’ve seen just how dynamic he can be when healthy these last few days. Slade plays defense, seems to have a plan at the plate, has speed, and is sneaky strong. Plus he plays with the dial turned to eleven at all times. That doesn’t necessarily make him a better player, but it makes him fun to watch. Talent, effort, health. For years he only had two of the three. At this very moment he has all three.

Heathcott is someone who could have a future with the Yankees and force the team to clear a spot for him down the road. This call-up during Ellsbury’s injury may only be temporary, but that’s okay, it’s still an opportunity for Slade to get his foot in the door. Play well now and make a good first impression, and the next time an outfielder gets hurt, the club’s call-up decision won’t be tough. Keep playing well and suddenly a roster spot could be there come Spring Training 2016.

This isn’t Melky Cabrera circa 2005-06, when he fell on his face (almost literally too) during his 2005 cameo but got called up again in 2006 because he was the best option. Heathcott has competition and the Yankees have options. If he doesn’t play well now, Flores is waiting to get the next opportunity. If Flores doesn’t work, there’s Tyler Austin. Slade is the most well-rounded player though, one who can contribute on both sides of the ball, and he’s the kind of young player the Yankees should be embracing given their current roster.

Young did some fine work earlier this season. The Yankees benefited greatly and he remains a useful piece off the bench. He shouldn’t get playing time priority over Heathcott though, and, to be fair, Heathcott has started three of the last four games against right-handed starters, so Young isn’t stealing at-bats from him right now. Slade is an underdog with one heck of a story. He’s also a young player with talent who could help the Yankees short and long-term. The Yankees owe it to themselves to use Ellsbury’s injury as an opportunity to let Heathcott show what he can do. Otherwise I don’t see much point in calling him up.

DotF: Refsnyder’s on-base streak ends at 25 games

Triple-A Scranton (2-0 win over Pawtucket)

  • CF Mason Williams: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 BB
  • RF Ramon Flores: 1-4, 1 BB, 2 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4 — the on-base streak ends at 25 games … he went 35-for-101 (.347) with 13 walks (.426) during the streak
  • C Austin Romine: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K — 11-for-38 (.289) in his last ten games
  • LF Tyler Austin: 1-2, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP
  • DH Ben Gamel: 2-4, 1 SB
  • RHP Jaron Long: 7.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 11/3 GB/FB — 63 of 97 pitches were strikes (65%) … his best start at this level by a mile
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 1 K — four pitches, four strikes
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 12 of 19 pitches were strikes (63%)

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Memorial Day Open Thread

Gosh, what a perfect game this afternoon. Lots of runs, Slade Heathcott hit a homer, Jacob Lindgren made his MLB debut, a blowout win against the best team in baseball … what more could you have wanted? The six-game losing streak is over and it’ll take some work to erase that 1-10 stretch from memory, but you have to start somewhere. This afternoon was a pretty great start.

Here is your open thread for the evening. This afternoon’s game will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET and MLB Network will show a regional game live a little later. Plus there’s NHL and NBA postseason action. Talk about all of that or anything else right here. And thank you to everyone who served in the armed forces and gave their lives so idiots like me can blog about baseball.

Yankees pile on for 14 runs in a Memorial Day matinee victory against the Royals

Remember the olden times when the Yankees got swept by the Rangers and saw their record fall to 22-22? That was actually last night. Maybe it’s just me, but after watching today’s game, that feels like quite awhile ago. The Yankee offense came alive and Nathan Eovaldi pitched quite alright to give the Yanks an easy 14-1 win over the Royals in a Memorial Day matchup.

(Source: Getty)

Too. Many. Homers.

The Yankees hit three homers in the first inning. Three! Two of them came before Jeremy Guthrie and the Royals could record an out. After Brett Gardner doubled to start it off, Chase Headley hit one towards the bleachers for a 2-0 lead. Headley added two more hits for the rest of the day and his line is up to .255/.309/.416, good for an even 100 wRC+. His bat seems to be coming around as of late.

A-Rod followed it up with a single and Guthrie walked Mark Teixeira. Brian McCann then hit a screaming line drive towards the right field seats that was *almost* caught by leaping Paulo Orlando. It would have been a very pretty-looking Sportscenter highlight had he caught it, but the ball was just over his glove and found the seats. 5-0 Yankees in the first inning, no outs.

Guthrie had better luck against Garrett Jones (flyout) and Stephen Drew (bunt ground out). The righty the plunked Didi Gregorius and allowed a single to Slade Heathcott. Gardner, on a 2-2 count, squared up against a hanging breaking ball into the right field seats for a 8-0 lead. Man, it just seemed like Yankees were incapable of scoring when they really needed it for the past week (well, hence, the losing streak). An inning like this really makes you feel good and wonder “where has this been?”

When a pitcher is off, he can be very off. Royals manager Ned Yost did not take Guthrie out of the game to start the second inning and unfortunately for him, things got even worse. Guthrie walked McCann and Jones followed it up with a single. Drew, on a 0-2 count, hit a 93 mph fastball up and inside into the second deck. That was crushed and just summarized Guthrie’s day: he just didn’t have it, even on a 0-2 count.

You always remember the first one (Source: Getty)

Oh, and the Yanks weren’t done with dingers just yet. In the bottom seventh, Slade Heathcott took Greg Holland deep for the first homer of his young career. Almost six years after being drafted in the first round, the outfielder overcame a lot to fulfill the major league dream and hit one off one of the best relievers in baseball (granted, Holland looked really off today, but still). Heathcott is a talented guy and I hope he can stay healthy and learn his way around the bigs to fulfill his potential. Oh, and after the homer, Yankees were up 14-1. The score did not change for the rest of the game.

(Source: Getty)

Acceptable Nate

I don’t know how to feel about the “Nasty Nate” moniker. Sure, he throws hard and can overpower hitters, but his results does not really match up to that kind of hype (yet).

Nonetheless, Eovaldi had one of the better outings of 2015 today. The righty went 7 innings, struck out four, allowed only an earned run while also allowing 8 hits. It’s not an eye-popping line but that’ll do well. He had control for sure – throwing 76 pitches out of 103 total for strike, good for a 73.8 % rate. At times, however, I felt that his fastball went way too much the middle and Royals hitters did not miss it. Sometimes the hitters punish it for a big hit, but today, there weren’t much damage, which is nice. But I do hope he shows improvement in command sooner or later. Today’s game showed what he can give to the Yankees despite the imperfections.

JaKKob Lindgren! (Source: Getty)

(A seemingly-long awaited) Lindgren debut

We got what some of us have been waiting for since the end of last season – 2014 second-rounder LHP Jacob Lindgren made his ML debut, relieving Eovaldi in the eighth inning. Lindgren showed what he was advertised for – a fastball in low-90’s, a nasty slider that gets hitters chasing, and well, not the best command (two walks) but overall, he made a solid impression. With his high-draft pick pedigree and a nice 2-inning, no-run performance to close out the game, he definitely earned at least several more ML looks.

The YES broadcast compared Lindgren to Sparky Lyle, which is a huge compliment and a hard ceiling to reach (if we are talking about 1977 Lyle, that is). If Lindgren turns out as a high-leverage lefty reliever with swing-and-a-miss breaking ball and a passable command – I’m thinking B.J. Ryan – I’d be really, really happy. Also B.J. Ryan in prime is also a very high ceiling to ask for. I’m probably being tad optimistic here. But let’s not forget that Lindgren is projected to be a valuable ML reliever so that’s that. We’ll see how far he can go.

Leftovers

A-Rod added two hits – he now has 2,977 total hits and 23 away from his 3,000th. He’s now hitting a healthy .262/.363/.545 for the season, good for a 148 wRC+.

Jeremy Guthrie’s start today was awful – 1 inning, 9 hits, 11 earned runs, 3 walks, 1 strikeout and 4 homers allowed. He didn’t look like the guy who was called to start the Game 7 of the World Series just this past October. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, he is the second SP ever to allow 11 earned runs in 1 inning or fewer. Good lord.


Source: FanGraphs

Here’s the box score, video highlights, win probability chart and updated standings. As of this moment, the Rays have yet to play the Mariners, but it’s kind of mind-boggling to think that the Yankees are only a game back from the first place. The AL East as a whole has been very meh this season. Tomorrow, Yankees are facing the Royals again. Adam Warren is up on the hill against Jason Vargas. Is today’s win a start of something? We shall see.

Game 45: Rock Bottom

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Boy oh boy are the Yankees awful right now. Six straight losses and ten in their last eleven games. At the start of this 1-10 stretch, they were 21-12 with a +36 run differential and a four-game lead in the AL East. They’re now 22-22 with a -3 run differential and a 1.5-game deficit in the division. If there’s one thing we know about the 2015 Yankees, it’s that they’re streaky as hell.

Hopefully last night’s series finale loss to the Rangers was rock bottom. If it wasn’t, then gosh, this is going to be a rough month of May. The first place Royals — as in first place in all of MLB, they have the game’s best record (28-15) and run differential (+65) — are in the Bronx for a three-game series after contact-bombing the Yankees for three games in Kansas City last weekend. This 1-10 stretch won’t be erased in an afternoon, but it has to start somewhere. Maybe today? Here is Kansas City’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Garrett Jones
  7. 2B Stephen Drew
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. CF Slade Heathcott
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It’s a bit cloudy but otherwise warm and dry in the Bronx this afternoon. This afternoon’s game will begin a bit after 1pm ET and you can watch live on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Try to enjoy.

Injury Updates: McCann (calf) is fine, obviously, since he’s back in the lineup … Carlos Beltran is still day-to-day with flu-like symptoms.

5/25 to 5/27 Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the second time in less than two weeks, the Yankees and Royals are hooking up for a three-game series, starting with a Memorial Day matinee. This time the scene shifts to Yankee Stadium. The Royals took two of three when these two clubs met in Kansas City last weekend. The Yankees are trying to snap a six-game losing streak.

What Have The Royals Done Lately?

Remember when Chase Headley hit that three-run home run to give the Yankees the lead against the Royals nine days ago, a game the Yankees eventually won? The Royals had not lost since that game until the Cardinals took them down yesterday. They’ve won five of six since the Headley homer game and currently have baseball’s best record (28-15) and run differential (+65).

Offense & Defense

Manager Ned Yost’s club is averaging 4.91 runs per game with a team 113 wRC+, making them one of the best offenses in the game. They never strike out — they have baseball’s lowest strikeout rate at 14.4% (Red Sox are next lowest at 17.0%) after having the lowest strikeout rate last year (16.3%), the second lowest the year before that (17.2%), and the lowest the year before that (16.8%). That’s their thing. The put the ball in play and run like hell.

Cain. (Presswire)
Cain. (Presswire)

The Royals are currently without OF Alex Rios (broken hand) and backup C Erik Kratz (foot inflammation), neither of whom is expected to return this week. The offense is led by former high draft picks 1B Eric Hosmer (156 wRC+) and 3B Mike Moustakas (149 wRC+), who are getting plenty of help from DH Kendrys Morales (137 wRC+) and OF Alex Gordon (134 wRC+). OF Lorenzo Cain (118 wRC+) and C Salvador Perez (114 wRC+) are also having fine years.

SS Alcides Escobar (93 wRC+) has been good for a shortstop, though 2B Omar Infante (69 wRC+) is not having a good year at all. OF Paulo Orlando (92 wRC+) has gotten most of the playing time with Rios out. OF Jarrod Dyson (30 wRC+) is mostly a pinch-runner/defensive specialist right now. IF Christian Colon (91 wRC+) and backup C Drew Butera (95 wRC+ in very limited playing time) are the remaining extras on the three-man bench.

The Yankees just played the Royals a week and a half ago, and since Kansas City’s roster hasn’t changed at all since then, I’m just going to quote myself for the defense:

Defensively, the Royals are second to none. Hands down the best defensive team in MLB. Gordon, Cain, Dyson, and Hosmer are elite defenders; Moustakas and Escobar are somewhere between above-average and elite; Perez and Orlando are above-average. Infante is the worst defensive regular on the team and even he isn’t all that bad. It gets no better than this group. Celebrate every time a ball drops in this weekend.

And there you have it.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Nathan Eovaldi (Career vs. KC) vs. RHP Jeremy Guthrie (Career vs. NYY)
The Yankees and Guthrie are certainly familiar with each other following all that time the 36-year-old spent with the Orioles. He has a 4.75 ERA (4.75 FIP!) in eight starts and 47.1 innings this season while getting no strikeouts (8.8%) and no ground outs (36.1%). Guthrie doesn’t walk anyone (6.4%), keeps the ball in the park (0.95 HR/9), and gets righties (.307 wOBA) out better than lefties (.394 wOBA). At this point of his career Guthrie works mostly with low-90s four-seamers and sinkers while mixing in a few upper-80s cutters. A mid-80s changeup is his go-to offspeed pitch, though he’ll also thrown a handful of mid-80s sliders and upper-70s curves per start.

Tuesday: RHP Adam Warren (Career vs. KC) vs. LHP Danny Duffy (Career vs. NYY)
A week and a half ago the Yankees roughed up the 26-year-old Duffy, scoring four runs on four hits and four walks in five innings, forcing him to throw 113 pretty high stress pitches. Duffy hasn’t started since. He’s been dealing with shoulder stiffness and the Royals used some off-days — they had a similar schedule as the Yankees last week, off-days on Monday and Thursday — to skip his spot. Duffy has a 5.87 ERA (4.56 FIP) in eight starts and only 38.1 innings this season (so 4.2 innings per start), with below average strikeout (16.9%), walk (10.7%), and ground ball (37.1%) rates against an average homer rate (0.95 HR/9). He throws really hard, sitting in the mid-90s and bumping the upper-90s with his four-seamer, at least when his shoulder isn’t acting up. Duffy’s top secondary pitch is a low-80s curveball, though he’ll also throw some mid-80s changeups as well.

Late Update: Duffy was placed on the 15-day DL today because of his shoulder. Jason Vargas will be activated off the DL and start tomorrow in his place. Vargas had a 5.26 ERA (5.25 FIP) in five starts and 25.2 innings before his elbow starting barking.

Young. (Presswire)
Young. (Presswire)

Wednesday: RHP Michael Pineda (Career vs. KC) vs. RHP Chris Young (Career vs. NYY)
Young, 35, befuddled the Yankees last week, holding them to one run in 5.1 innings. To be fair, he’s been doing that to everyone this season. Young has a 0.78 ERA (2.95 FIP) in four starts and six relief appearances — he moved into the rotation a few weeks ago when Jason Vargas hit the DL with an elbow issue — despite a below-average strikeout rate (17.7%) and an utter lack of ground balls (21.1%). He doesn’t walk anyone (6.9%) and does keep the ball in the park (0.26 HR/9), though that latter number is unsustainably low. No one is that good at suppressing homers. Young stands 6-foot-10 and he pitches up in the zone with a mid-80s fastball, generating a frickin’ ton of pop-ups, which he’s been doing it for a decade now. He’ll also mix in some low-80s sliders but not many.

Bullpen Status
The Royals have, hands down, the best bullpen in baseball. Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances may be the best left-right bullpen duo, but as far as an entire bullpen top to bottom, it’s Kansas City, easily. Yost’s bullpen has a 1.68 ERA (3.29 FIP) overall and yesterday he only used RHP Luke Hochevar (1.33 FIP) and RHP Joe Blanton (4.73 FIP) for one inning each. That’s it. Everyone else is fresh.

Starting from the ninth inning out, the Royals have RHP Greg Holland (3.73 FIP) as closer, RHP Wade Davis (1.76 FIP) in the eighth inning, RHP Kelvin Herrera (3.46 FIP) in the seventh inning, and Yost will often use RHP Ryan Madson (3.23 FIP) in the sixth inning. LHP Franklin Morales (3.36 FIP) is the only lefty but that doesn’t matter. All those other guys get lefties out too. RHP Jason Frasor (4.40 FIP) rounds out the eight-man bullpen. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen, then check out Royals Review for everything you need to know about the best team in baseball.

Yankeemetrics: May 22-24 (Rangers)

Garrett Jones: Yankees new sixth starter? (Elsa/Getty Images)
Garrett Jones: Yankees new sixth starter? (Elsa/Getty Images)

Bad Mike
Nine runs? Check.
Three home runs? Check.
You’d think that would be enough offense to win a game, right? Wrong.

The Yankees descent towards mediocrity picked up steam on Friday night in a 10-9 loss to the Rangers. It was the first time the Yankees lost a game at home when they scored at least nine runs and hit three-or-more homers since Sept. 19, 1996 vs Orioles. (At this point, it’s hard to see this season ending the same way that season did.)

Most of the damage was done against Michael Pineda in a seven-run third inning. He is the first Yankees pitcher to allow at least seven runs in an inning against the Rangers since David Wells on May 6, 1998 in Texas, and first to do it at Yankee Stadium since Andy Hawkins on May 8, 1989.

The Rangers are quickly becoming Pineda’s kryptonite. He is now 0-3 with a 5.04 ERA in four starts vs. the Rangers, his worst record against any team and also his second-highest ERA against any team he’s faced more than twice.

Garrett Jones did his best to spark a Yankees rally, hitting a three-run pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning to cut the deficit to two runs. It was the first time a Yankee hit a pinch-hit homer against the Rangers since Don Baylor on July 11, 1985.

Rock bottom
Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse … Saturday afternoon happened.

An embarrassing 15-4 loss, punctuated by another third-inning implosion, and the Yankees had their fifth straight loss. This time the Yankees gave up a whopping 10 runs in the third inning, their most allowed in a single frame since April 18, 2009 against the Indians.

Combined with Friday’s seven-run third inning, it’s the first time the Yankees had back-to-back games allowing at least seven runs in an inning since playing an interleague series in Colorado in June 2002. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, before this weekend, the Yankees had never given up seven-or-more runs in an inning in consecutive games at Yankee Stadium — the old or new version.

CC Sabathia didn’t make it out of that third frame, giving up nearly as many runs (6) as outs recorded (7). He’s now lost his last six starts at Yankee Stadium, matching the longest such losing streak by any Yankee in the last 100 seasons. Four other Yankees in that span dropped six starts in a row in the Bronx: Red Ruffing (1931), Sam McDowell (1973-74), Orlando Hernandez (2000) and Phil Hughes (2013).

It gets worse, though. Sabathia’s ERA is 9.42 during the six-start losing streak, and he is the only pitcher in the group listed above to have also allowed at least four runs in each of the six starts. Welp.

Garrett Jones came in to get the final two outs of the ninth inning (and didn’t allow a hit or a run!), sparing another wasted bullpen arm in this pointless game. The only other Yankee position player to pitch in a game against the Rangers was Rick Cerone on July 19, 1987 in a 20-3 loss at Texas.

It’s not what you want
The slide continues, and where it ends, nobody knows.

The Yankees lost the Sunday night series finale, extending their season-high losing streak to six games, their longest in a single season since May 11-16, 2011. They’ve won just once in their past 11 games, their worst 11-game stretch in nearly 20 years — since they went 1-10 in an 11-game span from May 23-June 3, 1995.

The Rangers completed a rare sweep in the Bronx, winning every game in a series of three-or-more games at Yankee Stadium for just the second time since the team moved to Texas in 1972 (it also happened May 16-18, 2003).

The Yankees simply couldn’t stop giving up hits (and runs) against the Rangers, surrendering a total of 40 hits in the series. It’s the first time they’ve ever been swept in a series of three-or-more games at Yankee Stadium, allowing at least 12 hits in each game.