After being re-evaluated by team doctor Dr. Ahmad on Monday, surgery has been recommended for Ivan Nova’s partially torn ulnar collateral ligament, the Yankees announced. An MRI arthrogram confirmed the original diagnosis.
Nova, 27, left Saturday’s start with a sore elbow and initial tests revealed the partial UCL tear. Rest and rehab never seems to work, and once the ligament starts tearing, Tommy John surgery becomes inevitable. Now that it has been officially recommended by the team doctor, it’s just a matter of setting a date and going under the knife. The procedure will sideline Nova for 12-18 months. Sucks. · (47) ·
For the second time in a little more than a week, the Yankees and Red Sox meet for what is sure to be a tense, time-consuming, over-hyped, and over-analyzed series. This time the scene shifts to Boston and Fenway Park. The Yankees won three of four from their rivals in the Bronx the weekend before last. This will be Jacoby Ellsbury‘s first trip back to Boston since signing with New York.
What Have They Done Lately?
Since these two teams last met, the Red Sox took two of three from the White Sox and split a four-game series with the Orioles. They are 9-11 with a -6 run differential overall, which currently has them in the AL East cellar. Little too early to start worrying about division standings, but that’s just me.
The BoSox were really struggling to score runs when they were in town a week and a half ago, but they scored six runs in each of their last two games and appear to be coming around offensively. They currently average 3.8 runs per game with a team 92 wRC+, both below-average marks. The Red Sox are currently without OF Shane Victorino (hamstring) and 3B Will Middlebrooks (calf), neither of whom is expected to return this series even though they are out on minor league rehab assignments.
As usual, manager John Farrell’s lineup is anchored by 2B Dustin Pedroia (95 wRC+) and DH David Ortiz (100 wRC+), both of whom are off to slow starts compared to their usual levels of production. 1B Mike Napoli (140 wRC+) has been the team’s best hitter, and the recently called up Brock Holt (173 wRC+) has taken over at third base and the leadoff spot. SS Xander Bogaerts is having a strong rookie campaign (123 wRC+) as well.
Platoon OF Jonny Gomes (98 wRC+) is seeing more playing time than he should, mostly because OF Daniel Nava (38 wRC+) has been awful. OF Jackie Bradley Jr. (82 wRC+) is starting to take playing time away from OF Grady Sizemore (80 wRC+). The catching platoon of C A.J. Pierzynski (61 wRC+) and C David Ross (125 wRC+) has been okay overall. IF Jonathan Herrera (55 wRC+) and 1B/OF Mike Carp (89 wRC+) fill out the bench. Obligatory it is still early and those numbers came from small samples reminder.
Tuesday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Jon Lester (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Lester, 30, has been as good as ever in 2014, just as he’s getting ready to test the free agent waters this coming offseason. He has a 2.17 ERA (2.39 FIP) in four starts and 29 innings, pairing excellent strikeout (9.00 K/9 and 25.7 K%) and walk (1.24 BB/9 and 3.5 BB%) rates with a strong ground ball rate (46.1%). Lester has crushed left-handed batters (.237 wOBA) and been slightly less successful against righties (.280 wOBA). A low-90s fastball and upper-80s cutter set up his mid-80s changeup and mid-70s curveball. Lester held the Yankees to two runs in 6 2/3 innings the weekend before last.
Wednesday: RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP John Lackey (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
One reason the Red Sox won the World Series last year was Lackey going from injured and awful to a reliable workhorse starter. The 35-year-old has a 5.25 ERA (4.74 FIP) in 24 innings and four starts so far, though his strikeout (8.63 K/9 and 22.1 K%) and walk (2.63 BB/9 and 6.7 BB%) numbers remain very good. He is very air ball prone (38.0% grounders), however, and righties have just mashed him (.416 wOBA). Lefties aren’t doing so bad either (.331 wOBA). Lackey throws both a low-90s fastball and a mid-80s cutter, and his upper-70s curveball remains his go-to pitch. He doesn’t throw a changeup anymore. The Yankees roughed Lackey up for six runs in 5.2 innings in their last series.
Thursday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Felix Doubront (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Doubront, 26, has a 5.48 ERA (4.30 FIP) in four starts and 21.1 innings this year, making him the clear weak link in Boston’s rotation. His strikeout rate (6.33 K/9 and 15.6 K%) has fallen quite a bit these last two years, but he still walks a bunch (3.80 BB/9 and 9.4 BB%) and his ground ball rate (44.3%) has remained static. Lefties has crushed him so far this year (.438 wOBA), but that’s a sample size problem. Righties have gotten him for a .309 wOBA. Doubront’s big breaking mid-70s curveball is his money pitch, and he’ll also throw low-90s heaters, mid-80s cutters, and some low-80s changeups to righties. The Yankees scored three runs in 6.2 innings against the southpaw in their last series.
The Orioles did the Yankees a real favor yesterday. Baltimore knocked Clay Buchholz out of the game in the third inning, forcing Farrell to get 6.2 innings out of his bullpen. RHP Burke Badenhop (4.31 FIP) threw 3.2 innings and 40 pitches, so he’ll be out of commission tonight. LHP Craig Breslow (2.48 FIP) threw two innings and 23 pitches, and could be limited tonight if he’s even available. LHP Andrew Miller (2.39 FIP) has pitched each of the last two days. Their lefty relievers have been worked hard these last few days.
Closer RHP Koji Uehara (0.36 FIP) recently returned from a little shoulder issue. He’s set up by RHP Junichi Tazawa (1.19 FIP) and occasionally RHP Edward Mujica (2.37 FIP). LHP Chris Capuano (1.48 FIP) has graduated from strict long relief work to more of a medium-to-high-leverage guy. All of them except Uehara pitched Sunday night. The Yankees had yesterday off and are in good shape bullpen-wise, especially since David Robertson was activated off the 15-day DL this morning. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for recent reliever usage details, then check out Over the Monster for the latest and greatest on the Red Sox.
As expected, the Yankees have activated closer David Robertson off the 15-day DL, the team announced. He missed the minimum 15 days with a groin strain. Robertson threw in the bullpen last week and pitched in an Extended Spring Training game over the weekend. Bryan Mitchell was returned to Double-A Trenton yesterday to clear a roster spot.
The Yankees also announced that lefty Cesar Cabral has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Scranton. He was designated for assignment the other day to make room on the roster for Matt Daley. Because he has been outrighted off the 40-man roster in the past, Cabral can elect free agency rather than report to Triple-A. I think he has three days to make that decision, but don’t hold me to that. · (31) ·
There was no update on Ivan Nova yesterday after he had his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament re-evaluated in New York during the off-day. It’s tough not to assume the worst and it has nothing to do with the lack of an update. Partially torn UCLs almost always result in Tommy John surgery at some point, usually right away. Nova hasn’t been great this year but it is still a pretty big blow to the Yankees because he can pitch very well for extended periods of time. Anyway, here are some scattered thoughts.
1. Back before Spring Training I said Nova needed to show the Yankees who he really is this season, meaning is he someone who can be a core piece going forward or just another back-end arm? He won’t get the opportunity to show the team anything now, and, given the timing of the injury, he only has one more full season of pitching (2016) left before qualifying for free agency. We still don’t know what Nova is now, after nearly three full years in the rotation, and chances are half the 2015 season and all of 2016 won’t provide much clarity. In addition to weakening the rotation this year, the injury won’t help the Yankees determine whether Nova is worth a decent financial commitment and a rotation spot long-term. This really throws a wrench into things.
2. With Vidal Nuno in the rotation (at least temporarily) and Bryan Mitchell being shipped back to Double-A Trenton to clear a roster spot for David Robertson, it sure seems like Preston Claiborne will be sticking around for a while. He really struggled down the stretch last year and was terrible in Spring Training, plus his outing on Sunday was pretty shaky despite two scoreless innings. Robertson’s return means Shawn Kelley and Adam Warren will move down a notch into eighth and seventh inning roles, respectively, and both Dellin Betances and David Phelps are more deserving of middle relief work than Claiborne right now. Claiborne feels like the default long reliever by default even though he can only go two (maaaybe three) innings at a time. It’s a weird bullpen situation and not really ideal. I’d prefer to see someone like Shane Greene or Al Aceves up as the true long man.
3. If the Yankees aren’t going to swap Claiborne out for a real long man, then a second left-hander might be better use of the roster spot. They have series coming up against the Red Sox, Mariners, and Rays, three teams loaded with lefty bats. Nova got hurt at a bad time — this is when it would have been really nice to have Nuno available as an extra southpaw in the bullpen. With Cesar Cabral gone, the only upper-level lefty reliever in the organization is Fred Lewis, and he hasn’t been all that good with Triple-A Scranton these first few weeks. He’d need a 40-man roster spot as well. So yeah, while it would be nice to have a second southpaw available these next two weeks or so, the Yankees won’t have one without making a series of roster moves.
4. That series against the Mariners starts one week from today and will be Robinson Cano‘s first time back in the Bronx since leaving as a free agent. I’m interested to see the fan reaction — I assume he’ll get booed, but I hope he gets cheered in at least his first at-bat because he was the team’s best player for four years and he helped them win a World Series. I also think it’s kinda silly to boo him for taking more money when the Yankees have been buying other teams’ best players for decades — but I’m more interested to see how the Yankees pitch to him and set up defensively. They should know Robbie better than anyone. They should know the best places to pitch him and where he tends to hit the ball when he puts it in play. Here is his spray chart:
Cano slashes line drives to all fields, but when he hits the ball on the ground, he tends to pull it to the right side of the infield. When he hits a fly ball, it usually to go the other way to left and left-center field (right to Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury). We also know Robbie will bunt to the beat the shift (remember this?), so how do they defend him? I haven’t the slightest idea. I’m very interested to see how the Yankees go after him now that he’s wearing the wrong uniform.
5. So who hits a homer first, Ellsbury or Mark Teixeira? Teixeira seems like the easy call because of their reputations, but I’m not so sure. He is coming back from the wrist injury and has a ton of rust to shake off, plus I can’t ignore how David Ortiz and Jose Bautista saw their power numbers take a hit in the first few months following their tendon sheath injuries. Ellsbury is healthy and he’s swinging the bat very well so far, so there is nothing to overcome other than his own power-hitting limitations. He could golf one out tonight and I wouldn’t be surprised. But Teixeira? I’m not expecting much right away.
RHP Bryan Mitchell was named the Double-A Eastern League Pitcher of the Week. Not a bad week for him. He struck out 12 in six innings on Monday, turned 23 on Saturday, got called up to the big leagues on Sunday, and was named Pitcher of the Week today. That one day in the show gave him a $41,000 raise for the year. Not bad. (h/t Andy in Sunny Daytona)
According to Josh Norris, VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman said OF Slade Heathcott (knee) and 1B Greg Bird (back) are about two weeks from returning while RHP Danny Burawa (unknown) and LHP Nik Turley (arm) are still a ways off. No word on RHP Ty Hensley (hernia), RHP Jose Campos (taking it easy), and RHP Jose Ramirez (oblique).
Triple-A Scranton (4-2 loss to Lehigh Valley)
- DH Corban Joseph, 3B Russ Canzler & CF Adonis Garcia: all 1-4 — CoJo drove in a run and struck out … Canzler struck out and committed a fielding error … Garcia scored a run
- RF Ramon Flores, LF Zoilo Almonte & C Austin Romine: all 0-3, 1 BB — Zoilo stole a base … Flores and Romine both struck out once
- 2B Jose Pirela: 1-2, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 SB — first two walks of the season
- RHP Chris Leroux: 4 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 6/1 GB/FB — 48 of 70 pitches were strikes (69%)
- LHP Fred Lewis: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 2 HB, 3/1 GB/FB – 28 of 43 pitches were strikes (65%)
- RHP Mark Montgomery: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 14 of 20 pitches were strikes
As expected, the New York City Football Club will play its home games in Yankee Stadium during the 2015 season, it was announced. The expansion Major League Soccer franchise was unable to build a stadium of their own, so they will play in the Bronx for the time being. The Yankees co-own the team along with Manchester City. Although only the 2015 season was announced, NYCFC is expected to spend three years total in Yankee Stadium while they secure a facility of their own. · (13) ·
Two years ago today, the Yankees made a monster comeback from a 9-0 deficit to beat the Red Sox 15-9 at Fenway Park. I’m sure you remember that game. The only reason I realized today was the anniversary because it happened on the same day as Phil Humber’s perfect game — I remember FOX cut away from Nick Swisher‘s grand slam to show Humber’s final out — and I’ve be seeing tweets and posts about that all day. That was a pretty fun afternoon. The game was basically a microcosm of the Bobby Valentine era in Boston.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Mets are playing and ESPN will show the Reds and Pirates tonight (Leake vs. Liriano), plus there’s NHL and NBA playoff action going on somewhere. The Yankees are off today, in case you’re looking for their game. Use this thread to talk about anything your heart desires.
The Yankees sent RHP Bryan Mitchell back to Double-A Trenton this morning, and this afternoon they announced RHP Matt Daley has been optioned to Triple-A Scranton. He remains on the 40-man roster despite being designated for assignment yesterday because the service time rules are weird. The same thing happened with IF Ramiro Pena a few years ago, so read this for a full explanation of what’s going on. Daley is not only still with the team, but he is still on the 40-man roster and can be called up easily whenever a spare bullpen arm is needed. · (8) ·
As you know, last season was the worst of CC Sabathia‘s career. By a lot. He was legitimately one of the worst pitchers in the game after being no worse than comfortably above-average for the better part of a decade. Sabathia’s ability to bounce back — not necessarily to an ace, just to something better than terrible — is pretty important to the team’s chances to contend this summer, even with Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda throwing so well early on.
Sabathia’s first four starts this year have been a mixed bag but they have gotten progressively better: six runs in six innings, four runs in six innings, four runs in seven innings, and two runs in seven innings. He has pitched very well early in his last three starts before allowing some runs in the later innings. There have definitely been multi-inning stretches where he was in total control, but we’ve yet to see an entire start like that. Hopefully it’s coming soon.
Unsurprisingly, Sabathia’s oft-discussed velocity did not bounce back this year. It never does. Once velocity goes it tends to stay gone. His four-seam fastball has averaged only 89.6 mph in his first four starts, down from 91.3 mph last year. I suspect that will tick up a little bit in the summer months as it usually does. How has Sabathia attempted to compensate for his missing heater? By simply throwing it less. He has de-emphasized his four-seamer. Look at his pitch selection courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
Sabathia has incorporated a cutter this season but he rarely uses it, only a handful of times per game. He is throwing slightly fewer sliders and slightly more changeups, but nothing crazy. That’s probably a function of the small sample size more than anything. The big difference comes with the fastballs. Sabathia is throwing way fewer four-seamers than at any other time with the Yankees and he’s throwing a ton more sinkers, basically twice as many as he threw from 2011-13. That’s a big difference.
Sabathia is not necessarily using fastballs less, but now he is cutting them and especially sinking them more often. That doesn’t make him unique either. Not even close. That is an adjustment most veteran pitchers will make later in their careers. From Chris Cwik:
The added movement is likely one of the reasons we’ve seen veteran pitchers start using the sinker more often, according to PITCHf/x guru Harry Pavlidis. “As you lose velocity you need to add something,” says Pavlidis. “Movement is a good choice. So you’ll have older pitchers who lose velocity and adjust, or guys who are fringy and realize they can get a new edge, even if their velocity is still intact.”
Former major-league pitcher Brian Bannister agrees. “As pitchers lose the capability to throw powerful four-seam fastballs they have to compensate somehow,” Bannister said. “If you look at most of the pitchers who are still around as they get older, they are throwing sinking fastballs and not power fastballs because it matches up with how their body feels.”
Sort through the list of pitchers who have used the sinker the most since 2011 and they are almost all veterans in the second half of their career. Jake Westbrook, Derek Lowe, Jason Marquis, Kyle Lohse, Hiroki Kuroda, Bronson Arroyo, guys like that. Sabathia isn’t throwing his sinker as much as those guys just yet, but don’t be surprised if he creeps closer and closer to the top of that list in the coming years. It only makes sense to shelve the straight four-seamer in favor of the sinking sinker as the radar gun readings become less impressive.
Emphasizing the sinker is not the only adjustment Sabathia has made early this year. He is also pitching inside more often. According to the truly amazing Baseball Savant, Sabathia has come inside to right-handed batters with 29.5% of his pitches this year. That is up from 25.8% last year and 24.2% from 2011-13. (He’s only faced 12 lefty batters this year so I won’t even bother with those numbers.) I remember Mike Mussina (or maybe it was David Cone) saying that you have to pitch inside more when you start to lose velocity, and Sabathia has done early in 2014.
Between the increased reliance on his sinker and busting righties inside more often, CC has changed his pitching style in a tangible way so far this year. He had to after last season. The velocity isn’t coming back and adjustments had to be made. I’m guessing this is just the start of those adjustments too. We might see more sinkers, more cutters, and more pitches inside as the season continues and he gets more comfortable. The progressively better starts might be an indication of that.
Because of who he is and his importance to the Yankees, everything Sabathia does this season will be watched closely. At least by me. I’m somewhat fascinated by the way pitchers age in general, going from hard-throwing youngsters with big stuff to savvy veterans who rely on their brains as much as their arms. Sabathia was not a “thrower” these last few years, the guy knows how to pitch, but that doesn’t mean adjusting to reduced velocity is easy. Throwing more sinkers (and cutters) and pitching inside appear to be tangible changes to his approach this year, changes he needs to make at this point of his career.
The Yankees got some very bad pitching news over the weekend. Ivan Nova left Saturday’s start with a sore elbow, and a subsequent MRI revealed a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. He will be re-evaluated in New York today and, based on how these things have gone for other pitchers around the league, it’s very likely Nova will need Tommy John surgery in the near future. The procedure would end his season and delay the start of his 2015 campaign as well.
Nova was the team’s least effective pitcher so far this season — that could be the result of the injury, of course — so the Yankees will only have to replace their fifth starter. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a big loss or anything like that, but there’s a difference between losing Nova and losing one of the other starters. This blow is easier to absorb. What can the Yankees do to replace Nova? Several things, actually. Let’s look at this two different ways.
The Yankees have already placed Nova on the 15-day DL, so even if today’s re-evaluation brings best case scenario news, he’s going to miss a minimum of two starts. (Off-days could help the team out a bit.) Vidal Nuno pitched well in yesterday’s spot start (five scoreless innings) and today’s off-day allows him to step right into Nova’s rotation spot, if the team decides to go that way. I have to think they will based on yesterday’s work.
The other options on the big league roster are Adam Warren and David Phelps, both of whom competed for the fifth starter’s job in camp. Warren has settled into a one-inning setup role and even though the season is barely three weeks old, I think he’s there to stay. Even with David Robertson due to come off the DL tomorrow. Phelps has become more of a multi-inning, multi-purpose reliever. He works the middle innings, the late innings, whatever is needed. Kinda like 2009 Al Aceves. Both Warren and Phelps would need to be stretched back out, unlike Nuno.
The Triple-A options aren’t very good. The RailRiders have a mostly veteran retread rotation, and the only guy on the staff with any kind of big league success is, well, Al Aceves. He was last effective in 2011. I can’t imagine others like Brian Gordon, Bruce Billings, and Chris Leroux will get serious rotation consideration. Same with Manny Banuelos. (Billings has been quite good actually, with a 2.74 ERA and 2.67 FIP in 23 innings.) I can’t see any of these guys getting the nod over Nuno or Phelps right now. If anything, Aceves could be called up to fill a bullpen job, but that’s probably it. Nuno seems like the guy right now.
If Nova does indeed go down for the rest of the season — even avoiding surgery and successfully rehabbing the injury will sideline him for weeks if not months — I think the Yankees have to consider making a trade to bolster their rotation. Remember, Michael Pineda is going to have his workload monitored closely following shoulder surgery, plus we don’t really know what to expect out of Masahiro Tanaka late in the season now that he’s starting every fifth day for the first time in his life. Plus Hiroki Kuroda has shown a tendency to wear down late in the year. Adding some rotation help is never a bad idea.
When looking for trade candidates, the easiest thing to do is find impending free agents on non-contenders. There are fewer sellers at the deadline these days because of the second wildcard spot, so the pool of available players really shrinks. Teams like the Diamondbacks (Brandon McCarthy?), Astros (Jerome Williams?), and Cubs (Jason Hammel?) seem like safe bets to be terrible. The Marlins (Kevin Slowey?), Rockies (Jorge De La Rosa?), and Padres (Eric Stults?) are other potential sellers.
The big rotation trade candidate is the same guy it’s been for about three years now: Cliff Lee. We know the Yankees love him, he remains among the game’s truly elite pitchers, and at this point there is only ~$45M left on his contract through next year. It’s not a huge long-term commitment. (His deal does include a vesting option for 2016.) Lee is someone any team would love to add to their staff and he’d be ultra-overqualified to replace Nova. Even if the Phillies decide to sell, do the Yankees have the prospects to compete against offers from clubs like the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Rangers?
* * *
The upcoming rotation situation would have been much murkier had Nuno gotten bombed yesterday. But, because he pitched well, he’ll likely get another chance or three to fill-in for Nova. And who knows? Maybe Nuno is the long-term solution. If not, the Yankees can try Phelps. A trade is something I think they should consider no matter how well those two perform, but that can wait. It’s early in the season and the Yankees can afford to be patient with their internal options. Nova did not pitch well in his first four starts this year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he will be easy to replace.