DotF: Refsnyder’s hitting streak reaches 15 games in AAA loss

More injuries: OF Slade Heathcott and RHP Kyle Haynes have been placed on the Triple-A DL. Haynes has a lat issue and will be shut down a week, then re-evaluated, so says Shane Hennigan. It’s not clear what’s wrong with Slade, but Hennigan says he had his knee wrapped the other day and was walking with a noticeable limp. Heathcott has a pair of knee surgeries in his past. OF Jake Cave was bumped up from Double-A to fill the outfield spot.

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 loss to Pawtucket)

  • LF Jake Cave: 1-5, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 K — he played a few games with the RailRiders late last year, so this isn’t his Triple-A debut
  • CF Aaron Judge: 2-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI — eight of his last eleven hits have gone for extra bases (three doubles and five homers)
  • C Gary Sanchez: 1-4, 1 K
  • 3B Rob Refsnyder: 3-4, 1 2B — he’s 23-for-60 (.383) during his 15-game hitting streak
  • RF Nick Swisher: 0-4, 2 K — 10-for-55 (.182) in his last 13 games
  • LHP Richard Bleier: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 10/6 GB/FB — 65 of 96 pitches were strikes (68%)
  • RHP Matt Wotherspoon: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 2/1 GB/FB — 22 of 34 pitches were strikes (65%)
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — seven pitches, five strikes

[Read more…]

Game 32: Take the Series

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

The Yankees have been playing much better over the last week or so, and they come into tonight’s game winners of five of their last seven. Tonight they have a chance to clinch a win of a four-game series over the Royals, the defending World Series champs. Winning a four-game set is never easy, not even against a bad team, and Kansas City is no pushover. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Carlos Beltran
  5. 1B Dustin Ackley
  6. CF Aaron Hicks
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. RF Ben Gamel
    RHP Michael Pineda

It has been a lovely day in New York. There is no rain in the forecast tonight. Nice little evening for baseball, I’d say. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) has been running on the treadmill and it appears he’ll be ready to return once his 15 days are up … CC Sabathia (groin) played catch again and feels fine. It’s possible he’ll be able to rejoin the rotation once his 15 days are up without needing a rehab start … Jacoby Ellsbury (hip) did some light running and took batting practice. Joe Girardi said he hopes to get him back in the lineup this weekend … Mark Teixeira (neck) is out again and the plan was to give him two days off anyway. He’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow.

2016 Draft: Jared Horn

Jared Horn | RHP

Background
The 17-year-old Horn attends Vintage High School in Napa, so he’s from wine country. So far this spring he owns a 0.46 ERA with 103 strikeouts and eleven walks in 61 innings. He’s also hitting .338/.438/.600 with three homers in 96 plate appearances, though his future lies on the mound. Horn is committed to Cal.

Scouting Report
At 6-foor-3 and 190 lbs., Horn has the prototypical high school pitcher build, and he’s really broken out this spring. His fastball has consistently sat in the 92-94 mph range with some 96s and 97s, making him one of the hardest throwers in the prep ranks. Horn throws the three standard non-fastballs (changeup, curveball, slider), though none of the three are reliable secondary pitches right now. He’s dominating high schoolers with his fastball. The curveball has shown the most promise of the two breaking balls. Horn, who also played football in high school, is a very good athlete and an intense competitor.

Miscellany
In their most recent rankings Horn was ranked as the 22nd, 29th, and 54th best prospect in the draft class by MLB.com, Baseball America, and Keith Law (subs. req’d), respectively. The Yankees pick 18th. Horn has already moved up draft boards quite a bit this spring and he could continue to climb in the four weeks between now and the draft. He’s a long-term project because his secondary pitches need work, but he has good size and a good fastball, which is a pretty great starter kit.

Didi’s bat starting to come around at just the right time for the Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Year one of the Didi Gregorius era did not get off to the best start. Didi struggled big time both in the field and at the plate early last season, so much so there was talk about sending him to Triple-A and playing Stephen Drew at short. The Yankees weren’t talking about that, but many fans were. He was playing that poorly. Thankfully, Gregorius turned things around in May and finished the season strong.

This season has not started well for Didi either. His defense has been more than fine, so it hasn’t been a total repeat of last year, but the bat has started very slow. Only Chase Headley has performed worse among the regulars. Gregorius came into the homestand in a 3-for-30 (.100) slump and hitting .215/.241/.316 (48 wRC+) overall. I was hoping his Opening Day home run would be the jumping off point for a strong second season in New York, but it hasn’t come together yet.

Things have gone a bit better on the homestand for Gregorius and the Yankees in general. The team has won four of five on the homestand, and Didi has gone 5-for-17 (.294) with a pair of bases clearing doubles in the five games. That has raised his season batting line to .229/.250/.344 (58 wRC+), which is still an eyesore. And yes, the caveat here is that those two bases clearing doubles were almost mistakes. This is the pitch he hit for the first:

Didi Gregorius David Price

That’s an 0-2 changeup almost in the dirt, the kind of pitch you typically want a hitter to take. Gregorius took a little defensive half-swing and dunked it into right field. Sometimes you can do everything wrong and it still works out. Baseball. Then, last night he took another little protect swing at an outside pitch and knocked it into shallow center. Didi almost threw his bat at the pitch.

Didi Gregorius Brian Flynn

Gregorius hasn’t been driving the ball all around the yard on the homestand, but that’s okay. Sometimes you just have to put the bat on the ball and hope to finds grass. You hear players and ex-players talk about it all the time: any little thing can help get you bust out of slump, even bloops and bobbles and bunts.

Most importantly, Gregorius is starting to hit the ball harder, and that’s always a plus. A total of 196 players had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title in April, and Didi ranked 196th in hard contact rate (12.5%) and 189th in line drive rate (10.9%). Woof. Alcides Escobar had the second lowest hard contact rate at 14.3%, so the gap between Didi and the next worst hitter was substantial.

So far in May Gregorius has upped his hard contact and line drive rates up to 22.3% and 36.0%, respectively. He hard contact rate still isn’t great, so it’s not like he’s tattooing the ball, but at least he’s moving in the right direction. The next goal is being more disciplined. I know that 0-2 changeup from David Price went for a double, but if Didi keeps swinging at pitches like that, he’s going to get himself out more often than not. Look at his swing rates on the season:

BB% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Zone%
2015 5.7% 33.8% 71.7% 47.0%
2016 2.0% 35.7% 75.6% 44.3%

Gregorius has never shown great discipline as a big leaguer and I’m not sure he ever well, but geez, he’s swinging at everything this year. Swinging at more pitches in the zone (Z-Swing%) is not automatically a bad thing. Swinging at pitches out of the zone (35.7%) is though, especially when pitchers are throwing you fewer pitches in the strike zone. Pitchers know they can get Didi to chase and he has obliged so far this year.

This isn’t a matter of simply taking more pitches. Gregorius has to do a better job staying back and differentiating balls from strikes. Swing at the strikes and take the balls. It’s easy and yet oh so difficult at the same time. Didi has made himself into too easy of an out because of how often he chases out of the zone. Pitchers have been exploiting that weakness big time this year. It’s something he must improve.

It was around this time last year that Gregorius started to turn things around. I don’t think anyone is asking him to be a force at the bottom of the lineup, but he needs to be more than a zero. Didi is hitting the ball harder this month and that’s a positive. It helps that some of those defensive swings are turning into three-run doubles too. He has to continue to work on his plate discipline going forward though. That’s the key. Gregorius has to make pitchers work harder to get him out.

Cashman confirms Yankees have not looked into contract extensions for Eovaldi, Pineda

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier this week the upcoming free agent class lost its top pitcher when Stephen Strasburg surprisingly signed a seven-year extension with the Nationals. I say surprisingly because Strasburg is a Scott Boras client, and Boras tends to push his top clients to free agency whenever possible. I guess $175M with two opt-outs was too good to pass up.

The Yankees have two starters of their own nearing free agency in Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda, though Brian Cashman told Joel Sherman the team has not looked into signing either right-hander long-term. They’re also not looking to trade them right now. “People have expressed interest in the past on those two people, but at this stage, that is not our focus, our focus is contention,” said the GM.

We’ve talked about possible extensions for Pineda and/or Eovaldi in the past and honestly, my opinion seems to change by that day. Is that normal? I hope so. Both Pineda and Eovaldi can become free agents following next season, and, like everyone else, they have their pluses and minuses. They both offer high-end stuff, but the results aren’t always there. Eovaldi has flashed dominance more often, especially of late.

The way I see it, the Yankees have two options with Pineda and Eovaldi: trade them or extend them. They don’t have to do it right now, just at some point before they hit free agency. Letting them walk as free agents for nothing more than a draft pick — assuming the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t eliminate draft pick compensation — is a non-option to me. These are assets that need to be maximized.

Not many starting pitchers have signed extensions a year before free agency. Strasburg is an outlier. So, if the Yankees do decide to extend Pineda and/or Eovaldi after the season, there are few benchmarks to reference. Here are some recent extensions signed by pitchers a year before free agency:

  • Josh Tomlin: Two years, $5.5M.
  • Rick Porcello: Four years, $82.5M.
  • Homer Bailey: Six years, $105M.
  • Charlie Morton: Three years, $21M.

None of that helps us at all, unfortunately. Pineda and Eovaldi are most similar to Bailey in that they’re still young guys who can market themselves as being on the upswing. Does that mean the Yankees should offer them $17M a year? Of course not. Bailey had not yet had a major arm surgery like Pineda (shoulder) and Eovaldi (Tommy John surgery) and that’s not insignificant.

My feeling right now — and this is subject to change — is the Yankees should sign Eovaldi long-term and trade Pineda. Eovaldi has been better this year but that’s not the only reason. He’s a year younger, he doesn’t have major shoulder surgery in his recent history, and I think he has a better pitch mix with his fastball/splitter/slider. I feel more comfortable plopping a boatload of money in front of Eovaldi than I do Pineda.

The Yankees would be foolish to not at least gauge the trade market for Eovaldi and Pineda at some point. The free agent market is weak, so everyone is going to look for pitching via trades, and the Yankees could get themselves a surprisingly big haul. It doesn’t cost anything to listen. They also have to find some pitching for themselves beyond next season, and if Eovaldi and Pineda weren’t Yankees right now, we’d be looking at them as possible targets.

It’s working now, but the Yankees should not make a habit of playing short-handed this season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Thanks in large part to bench players Dustin Ackley and Aaron Hicks, the Yankees beat the Royals last night and won for the fifth time in seven games. Ackley and Hicks went a combined 3-for-6 with two walks, three runs scored, and three runs driven in. Ackley drove in the game tying run in the seventh and Hicks followed by plating what was temporarily the go-ahead run.

Last night was Ackley’s fourth straight start and fifth in the last six games. Hicks started for the seventh straight game and eighth time in nine games. They’re in the lineup because of injuries, obviously. Alex Rodriguez pulled his hamstring last week, allowing the Yankees to slide Carlos Beltran into the DH spot and play Hicks everyday. Ackley is in there because Jacoby Ellsbury is day-to-day with a hip issue.

Mark Teixeira entered the infirmary yesterday with neck spasms, clearing the way for Ben Gamel to make his first career start. The Teixeira and Ellsbury injuries mean the Yankees had a two-man bench last night: Ronald Torreyes and Austin Romine. It almost came back to bite them when they couldn’t pinch run for Brian McCann in the seventh. Luckily it didn’t matter.

In all likelihood the Yankees will again have a two-man bench tonight. Ellsbury has not yet tested his hip with full sprints and Teixeira is one day into an injury that is expected to require two or three days. This is a messy situation. The veteran players are hurting, but not hurting enough to require a DL stint, so the Yankees are playing short-handed. They have a 23-man roster while their opponent has a full 25-man unit.

“I think Torreyes gives you a ton of options. I can put him almost anywhere. (The bench is) short, but I think we have options that should make it okay,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings yesterday. And he’s right. Torreyes gives them an option pretty much everywhere, so they’re not going to be forced into playing someone out of position. (You could argue Ackley in right field is out of position given his arm.)

That said, thanks to the makeup of that rained out game in Detroit, the Yankees are eight games into a stretch of 40 games in 41 days. Their next off-day is 12 days away and the short bench means they can’t rest people in addition to not pinch-hitting and pinch-running. Girardi’s options are really limited for the time being and it is absolutely a disadvantage.

The Yankees don’t really have a timetable for Ellsbury’s return — “If you’re in a week and you don’t feel he’s going to be ready anytime soon, you might as well backdate (the DL stint),” said Girardi — and let’s face it, he’s not exactly the quickest healer in the world. It’s already been four days and he’s not sprinting yet, so it’s not like Ellsbury will be back in the lineup tonight.

I get why the Yankees are hesitant to put him Ellsbury on the DL, but stuff like this can’t happen all season. They can’t slowly nurse players back to health and play short-handed, especially when multiple players are banged up like Ellsbury and Teixeira right now. The Yankees are playing much better of late but they still have to dig themselves out of this early season hole. That will be tough as it is. Imagine trying to do it short-handed?

Avoiding injuries just isn’t realistic. Players are going to get hurt. That’s baseball. The Yankees should be a little more liberal with their DL usage going forward, especially when it’s a situation like Ellsbury, where he might miss a week anyway before being ready to play again. The Yankees have some depth in the minors. It’s okay to use it. They’re already made things hard enough on themselves this year.

Yanks give up three homers to Lorenzo Cain, beat Royals 10-7 anyway

Love this team, you guys. The Yankees won a wild back and forth game Tuesday night, eking out a 10-7 win over the defending World Series champion Royals. The game was closer than the score indicates. The Yankees have now won five of their last seven games. Cool cool.

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

Score Early, Score Often
You could tell right away Kris Medlen was not long for this ballgame. The Royals righty had two pitches working: meatball down the middle and something way outside. That’s all he threw Tuesday. The Yankees loaded the bases with one out in the first inning on three singles, and they scored a run on Dustin Ackley‘s sacrifice fly. You’d like to get more there, sure, but Medlen was fooling no one.

In the second inning the Yankees scored a quick run on a Didi Gregorius double and a Chase Headley single. They added two walks later in the inning, but a Ben Gamel double play short-circuited the rally. That’s alright. It happens. In the third, the Yankees again loaded the bases, this time with no outs. Carlos Beltran doubled to center, then Ackley and Aaron Hicks drew walks. The Royals were up 3-2 at the time, but the Yankees were in business.

Medlen was out of the game at this point, so in came lefty Brian Flynn to face Gregorius. Smart move by the Royals. It just didn’t work out. Gregorius managed another one of his half-swing bases clearing doubles, though it was really a single the Kansas City outfielders played into a double with general indifference. Third base coach Joe Espada read it and was sending Hicks all the way. Medlen was charged with four runs on six hits and three walks in two innings. The Yankees were up 5-3 after Didi’s double.

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

The Return of Home Run Tanaka
The long ball was a big time issue for Masahiro Tanaka last year. He allowed 25 homers in 154.1 innings. That’s real bad. So, in an apparent attempt to keep the ball in the park, Tanaka has been throwing more sinkers this season, and it working pretty well up until Tuesday. He allowed only two home runs in his first 39.1 innings. Small sample of course, but encouraging nonetheless.

The home run problems came back Tuesday. Tanaka served up three dingers to the Royals in seven innings, and two of the three were bombs. (The third was a cheap Yankee Stadium shot.) Cheslor Cuthbert hit a two-run shot in the second, Lorenzo Cain hit a solo shot in the third, then Cain hit a three-run job in the fifth. That last one was rather deflating. The Yankees had taken the lead two innings earlier and Tanaka followed it with a dominant 1-2-3 inning. He looked like he was ready to take over.

Tanaka finished the night with six runs allowed in seven innings, making this easily his worst start of the year. He allowed ten earned runs total in his first six starts. The Royals are an aggressive team that swings early in the count, which mean Tanaka couldn’t get to his trademark splitter at times. In fact, he threw only 16 splitters on the night, the fewest of the season and the third fewest in his 51 starts in pinstripes. Sometimes good pitchers have bad games.

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

Three Big Breaks
Things are definitely starting to break the Yankees’ way. With the Royals up 6-5 in the seventh, Brian McCann dropped a one-out single into left, then moved up on a Joakim Soria balk. The balk negated what would have been strike three to Beltran, and while Carlos went on to ground out, the balk put the tying run at second with two outs. Ackley came through with a little broken bat single to left that somehow scored McCann to tie the game.

The balk was the first break. The second: Alex Gordon airmailing the throw home on Ackley’s single, allowing Ackley to advance to second. Gordon is a great defensive left fielder with a great arm. His throws are usually right on target. This one was way high — shout out to Soria for not backing up the play either — and Ackley moved into scoring position. Hicks drove him in with a single to left to give the Yankees a 7-6 lead.

One-run lead after seven? The Yankees are designed to win these games with ease. It was not easy Tuesday though. New eighth inning guy Andrew Miller allowed yet another home run Cain, his third of the game. The solo shot tied things up at seven apiece. Blargh. Miller went on to hit a batter and allow a single later in the inning, but did escape without allowing any more runs. Obviously he can’t handle the pressure of the eighth. Doomed.

The third break came in the bottom of the eighth. Against Kelvin Herrera, Gamel slapped a ground ball to the usually sure-handed Alcides Escobar at short, and Escobar straight up booted it. It should have been two outs with the bases empty. Instead, the Yankees had a runner on first with one out. The good at baseball Brett Gardner made Escobar and the Royals pay with a double to the left-center field wall. Gamel and his long flowing locks scored all the way from first.

Ben Gamel hair

Even with arguably the most dominant closer in the game waiting, the 8-7 lead did not feel safe. It was that kind of game. Thankfully, McCann followed Gardner’s double with a double of his own, this one a two-run job to give the Yankees a 10-7 lead. Starlin Castro was hit by a pitch between doubles. Huge hit. Huge huge huge.

Aroldis Chapman walked a batter — he’s known to do that — in an otherwise uneventful ninth inning for his first save as a Yankee. He struck out one and got Cain to pop up for the final out. Four home runs would have been something, huh? Especially if the Royals lost. The worst Cain could have done there was cut the lead to 10-9. Doesn’t matter now.

Leftovers
Aside from Headley, the three worst hitters on the Yankees this season have probably been Ackley, Hicks, and Gregorius. Those three went a combined 5-for-10 with two walks, three doubles, four runs scored, and six runs driven in Tuesday. McCann and Gardner had some big hits. It was the second tier guys who really did damage in this game though.

Cain’s home run was the first — and still only — run allowed by Miller this season. Chapman managed to allow a run before Miller. Crazy, huh? Dellin Betances, meanwhile, warmed up but did not pitch for the second straight night. That’s going to be a thing now, isn’t it? Dellin warming up a bunch but not appearing in the game? I hope not.

And finally, Cain is the first player with a three-homer game against the Yankees since … J.D. Martinez last season. I don’t remember that at all. Before that you have to go back to Chris Heisey in 2011. That I remember. The last Royal with a three-homer game against the Yankees was Bo Jackson in 1990.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Go to MLB.com for the video highlights and ESPN for both the box score and updated standings. Also make sure you don’t miss our Bullpen Workload page. And I guess our Announcer Standings page too. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Same two teams Wednesday night, when Michael Pineda and Yordano Ventura will be on the mound for the third game of this four-game series. There are five games left on the homestand, and if you want to catch any of them live at Yankee Stadium, check out RAB Tickets.