Game 144: Warren’s Return to the Rotation


I woke up this morning still pumped up about last night’s win. That was a pretty awesome moment considering everything Slade Heathcott has been through all the years, between his injuries and alcoholism. The Yankees needed a big hit and the homegrown guy came through. So great. So, so great.

Today is another day though. The Yankee and Heathcott have to turn the page and focus on tonight, another important game — they’re all important games now — in both the AL East and wildcard races. Adam Warren is making his first start since late-June. He’s only scheduled to throw 60-65 pitches, which means we’re in for a lot of bullpen work tonight. That is … unsettling. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Adam Warren

Good thing Tropicana Field has a dome, because it’s been raining in St. Petersburg and will rain again later tonight. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: According to George King, A-Rod was diagnosed with a bone bruise in his left knee Tuesday after going for an MRI. He hurt himself on the slide into home plate Sunday afternoon. It can’t be too bad if Alex played yesterday and is in the lineup tonight.

Warren’s return to the rotation thins out the bullpen even further


Later tonight, Adam Warren will return to the rotation to help the Yankees following Nathan Eovaldi‘s regular season-ending bout of elbow inflammation. He’s only going to throw something like 60-65 pitches because he’s not fully stretched out, though that’s not really a problem because the Yankees are carrying 13 relievers these days. It’ll take two or three starts to get Warren all the way stretched out.

Warren was pitching quite well when the Yankees stuck him in the bullpen earlier this summer and he followed that by pitching well in relief too. He had a 3.59 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 14 starts and a 2.51 ERA (2.77 FIP) in 25 relief appearances. Warren’s been in the league full-time for three seasons now. He’s proven himself as a rock solid Major League caliber pitcher who can fill almost any role. That’s a mighty valuable piece.

That doesn’t make losing Eovaldi any less significant considering how well he pitched the last three months. Warren is a capable fill-in starter, though the Yankees will really feel Eovaldi’s loss in the bullpen. That 13-man bullpen includes only three relievers Joe Girardi actually seems to trust. Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are two of the three, of course, and Justin Wilson is the third. Chasen Shreve‘s recent struggles mean he probably won’t see a high-leverage inning anytime soon.

Warren was, essentially, the fourth member of the Circle of the Trustâ„¢. His usage has been a little weird at times this season, but when push comes to shove, I’m guessing Girardi wants Warren on the mound ahead of anyone other than Miller, Betances, and Wilson. Nine of Warren’s last 15 appearances have come in games separated by no more than two runs. Girardi started using him in more important situations over the last month or so.

Losing Warren now creates a pretty substantial hole in the bullpen. Miller, Betances, and Wilson can’t pitch every night, leaving Shreve as the fourth option almost by default. That’s not good given the way he’s pitching right now. Girardi used Caleb Cotham to get relatively big outs the last two days — he pitched down one in the eighth with an insurance run at third last night, and he faced Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista in the ninth inning Sunday — so maybe he is being auditioned. Same with James Pazos, who also pitched in the ninth inning Sunday.

The Yankees do have former All-Star closer Andrew Bailey in the bullpen, and while he could be someone who sees more important innings, he hasn’t pitched well since being called up. He’s faced 14 batters with the Yankees and allowed three walks, two singles, and one home run. Opponents have swung and missed five times at his 63 pitches. Yeah, he’s a former All-Star, but Bailey’s last All-Star Game was also Ty Wigginton’s only All-Star Game. It’s been a while.

Bailey is coming back from major shoulder surgery and physically isn’t the guy he was earlier in his career. His shoulder have been compromised to some extent. It’s unrealistic to expect him to return from a torn shoulder capsule and start handling late-inning work again. Girardi could try it, and hey, maybe it’ll work over the final 19 games of the season. Weird stuff happens in small samples. It would be a surprise though. More than likely, youngsters like Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Bryan Mitchell, Cotham, and Pazos will have to step up.

Make no mistake, in these huge games down the stretch, Girardi is going to lean on Miller and Betances more than usual. Same with Wilson to a lesser extent. He’s gone to great lengths this season to rest those guys so they can be as fresh as possible for the stretch run. The late innings are fine. Getting the ball from the starter to Betances and Miller is where things can get hectic, and that’s where Warren will be missed the most.

With Teixeira out, Yankees need Jacoby Ellsbury to snap out of post-DL slump


During the four-game series against the Blue Jays this weekend, it was hard not to notice the utter lack of impact from Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees leadoff hitter went 1-for-19 (.053) with a walk in the four games — Ellsbury went 0-for-4 last night and is currently mired in an 0-for-21 slump — and generated nothing from atop the lineup. It’s a minor miracle the Yankees have scored 26 runs in the last five games with Ellsbury hitting like that.

At this point Ellsbury’s slump is not just a little bump in the road. He did perform well during the ten-game homestand before this last one that just ended (.351 in nine games starts) and did beat up on some bad Braves pitching in Atlanta, but otherwise his bat has never really come around since returning from the DL. Ellsbury is hitting .210/.251/.328 (55 wRC+) in 258 plate appearances since returning in early-July, dragging his overall season numbers down to .254/.315/.345 (83 wRC+).

This is getting to the point where it’s more than a slump. A slump is a bad week or two. Maybe a bad month on occasion. Those happen to everyone. Ellsbury is over 250 plate appearances since returning from his knee injury now, and his offensive production has been replacement level. When he started slow immediately after coming off the DL, okay, it was understandable. But now, more than two months later? Now it’s time to be legitimately concerned.

“He’s just not squaring the ball up,” said Joe Girardi to Ryan Hatch when asked about Ellsbury’s slump Sunday, which doesn’t tell us much. We know he’s not squaring the ball up, we see it during the games and the batted ball data backs it up. Ellsbury’s soft contact rate has continually climbed since he returned in July and he’s hitting both more ground balls and more pop-ups.

Jacoby Ellsbury batted ball1

Weakly hit ground balls and pop-ups are BABIP killers. Those are the types of balls in play that rarely go for hits, which explains Ellsbury’s .235 average on balls in play since coming off the DL. He had a .379 BABIP before getting hurt and has a career .319 BABIP. Ellsbury is nowhere close to that now, and unless he starts hitting the ball with more authority, there’s no reason to expect a rebound.

The real question is why. Why isn’t he squaring the ball up? Ellsbury was a leadoff monster before getting hurt, remember. He was hitting .332/.408/.368 (123 wRC+) when he landed on the DL in mid-May. I’ve been one of the harshest critics of Ellsbury’s contract, I think it’s a disaster in the making, but I also don’t think he’s suddenly a true talent 83 wRC+ hitter either. He’s not as good as he was before the injury and he’s not as bad as he has been after. The truth is somewhere in the middle based on his history.

The injury could be certainly be a factor here. Actually, the injuries could be a factor. Plural. Ellsbury went on the DL with a right knee problem, and he also missed a few days with a right hip issue about three weeks ago. He slid for a ball in the outfield and hurt himself somehow. His hip swelled up and Girardi sat him for a few days. Leg injuries are no good for any player. Hitting starts from the ground up. Without a solid base underneath you, you won’t be able to drive the ball.

Here are two screen grabs showing the same thing at different points of the season. The screen grab on the left is from early-May, one of the final home games before Ellsbury’s knee injury. The screen grab on the right is from Saturday night. They both show the moment Ellsbury’s front foot touches down as part of his leg kick.

Jacoby Ellsbury foot

The pitch on the left has traveled a lot deeper by time Ellsbury’s foot touches down. The pitch on the right is barely out of the pitcher’s hand. Could it be the knee and hip injuries have resulted in a timing problem? Ellsbury is getting his front foot down too early now, so his weight transfer and stuff is all out of whack, leading to softer contact. (He’s been rolling over on everything and hitting grounders to the right side of late.) That sounds … plausible? I dunno. We’re playing amateur hitting coach here.

For what it’s worth, Girardi dismissed the idea Ellsbury is playing hurt, telling Brendan Kuty that Ellsbury “feels pretty good. He’s been just a little bit off.” Every player is banged up at this point of the season and it may be Ellsbury is more banged up than most given his knee and hip issues. It’s entirely possible he’s playing hurt and the team just isn’t letting on. I mean, it’s hard to think Ellsbury is playing this poorly and is 100% healthy. That would be scary. At last playing hurt would explain things.

Even if he’s not hurting right now, it could be the knee and/or hip issues have messed up Ellsbury’s mechanics. That stuff happens without the player even realizing it sometimes. They subconsciously try to protect the injured area. Thing is, we don’t even know if this is the problem. We’re searching for answers. I’m sure Ellsbury and hitting coaches Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell are as well. “He’s doing everything he can to get back on track,” added Girardi.

Should the Yankees move Ellsbury down in the order? After over 250 plate appearances of this, I say yeah, but that’s not going to happen. “If every time a guy was going through a tough spot and you start moving him around and moving him down, you’d be juggling the lineup every day,” said Girardi. The Yankees won’t drop Ellsbury in the lineup in year two of his seven-year contract. This is a team that bumped Adam Warren from the rotation in favor of CC Sabathia (and Ivan Nova), after all.

The Ellsbury we’re seeing right now is not the real Ellsbury. He’s a much better player than what he’s shown the last few days and also since coming off the DL. At this point the Yankees have to focus as much on staying in a wildcard spot as they do winning the division, and it’ll be hard to do either of those things these last three weeks with Ellsbury hitting so poorly. His season numbers are what they are. There’s not enough time to pretty them up. The best he can do is get on track and help the Yankees from here on out.

“He’s extremely important to our lineup,” added Girardi. “A lot of times, when guys go through tough periods, the game has a way of equaling its way out and it would be great if it did it over the next 20 games.”

Heathcott latest young player to come up big for Yankees in 2015


All things considered, last night’s win was the biggest of the season. The Yankees have been losing ground in the postseason race the last few weeks, so much so that the Rangers are as close to catching them for the first wildcard spot as the Yankees are to catching the Blue Jays in the AL East. They’re three games up on Texas and three games back of Toronto.

The Yankees were six outs away from being no-hit and one out away from an ugly 1-0 loss to last night. They instead rallied for a 4-1 win over the Rays, with the biggest blow coming from Slade Heathcott. He hit an opposite field (!) go-ahead three-run homer off Brad Boxberger in his first big league at-bat since May. It was huge. The Yankees need every win they can get right now.

Heathcott is just the latest young player to step up and help the Yankees this season. He’s not alone. Regulars like Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi have played huge roles after a rocky first few weeks in pinstripes. Others like Luis Severino and Greg Bird were called up in the second half to become regulars. John Ryan Murphy‘s been on the bench all season. And then there are guys like Heathcott, whose time with the team has been brief.

A total of 17 different players have been called up to make their MLB debut with the Yankees this year, and those 17 rookie players have combined for 1.5 WAR. That’s pretty good considering we’re talking about 178 plate appearances and 112 mostly low-leverage innings. The total performance doesn’t knock your socks off, but there are some big individual moments mixed in there that were pretty incredible. Signature moments, if you will.

Heathcott, obviously, hit his huge homer last night. Bird had his two-homer game against the Twins and also that go-ahead homer against the Orioles last week. Mason Williams went deep in his first big league game and had a two-double game against the Marlins. How many stellar defense plays did Ramon Flores make before he was traded away? I remember him saving a few runs in Oakland, like this one.

Severino stands out on the pitching side, clearly. He’s been pretty awesome aside from last Friday’s clunker. Others like Nick Rumbelow and Branden Pinder have chewed up some innings and occasionally gotten big outs when pressed into high-leverage work, and now James Pazos seems to be getting a chance in those situations. Caleb Cotham picked up the win last night and Diego Moreno had that brilliant, bullpen-saving outing in Texas.

It’s not just about the rookies though. Like I said, Gregorius and Eovaldi have become rather big parts of the team, and both are only 25. Chasen Shreve was a trusted high-leverage reliever for much of the summer and he just turned 25 not too long ago as well. Gregorius, Eovaldi, Shreve, Bird, and Severino have played the largest roles among the Yankees’ crop of 25 and under players this season, though they’re far from the only one who’ve contributed.

Make no mistake, the Yankees are still a veteran team who are where they are because of guys like Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran. The veteran dudes were always going to have to carry this team, and they have so far. The Yankees did make an effort to get younger this offseason, at least in moderation, and right now most of those moves have paid dividends. Heathcott’s homer last night was the latest example.

A-Rod and Heathcott lead comeback, Yankees rally for big 4-1 win over Rays

Holy cow. Best win of the season? I think this qualifies given the postseason race and all that. The Yankees went from being nearly no-hit to a 4-1 win over the Rays on Monday night. A+ win. Would watch again. Love this team, you guys.

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

Slayed By Heathcott
I’m going to start at the end. No other way to do it. The Rays took a 1-0 lead into the top of the ninth, and pinch-hitter Dustin Ackley got things going with a leadoff single. He replaced Brendan Ryan and came up with the Yankees’ second (!) hit of the game. They were in business … until Jacoby Ellsbury banged into a 3-3-6 double play on the first pitch. Ellsbury’s been a black hole lately. Gosh.

The Yankees didn’t quit though. They have that Fightin’ Spirit. Brett Gardner worked a four-pitch walk against Brad Boxberger then stole second to get into scoring position. (They initially called it defensive indifference, which was absurd. He was the tying run!) With Gardner on second and two outs, Alex Rodriguez laced Boxberger’s 1-1 pitch into the right-center field gap for a game-tying double. Boom. The Autumn of Al is in full swing.

A-Rod only tied the game though. The Yankees still needed to score again to take the lead. The Rays opted to intentionally walk Brian McCann, which made sense because rookie Slade Heathcott was on deck. He replaced Rico Noel, who pinch-ran for Carlos Beltran in the seventh. I would have walked McCann to pitch to the rookie too. Shows what I know. On the first pitch he saw from Boxberger, Slade did this:

I have no idea what WPA says, but that felt like the biggest hit of the year. I know Beltran hit that three-run homer in Toronto, and I know some other guys had huge hits throughout the summer, but man, that was enormous. This game went from potentially very bad to incredible in an eye blink. And to think, if Johnny Barbato doesn’t melt down in the ninth inning Friday night, Triple-A Scranton’s season doesn’t end and Heathcott might still be in the minors. Baseball, man.

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

Big Poppa
That might have been CC Sabathia‘s best start in three years. Game Score says it was his best since May 2013, though Game Score lacks context. It doesn’t consider opponent and other stuff like that. Yeah, the Rays have scored the fewest runs in the AL, but they also loaded the lineup with righties, who have hit .314/.370/.520 (.381 wOBA) against Sabathia this year. Also, the Yankees are in a postseason race and the bullpen was sorta taxed. That makes CC’s outing more impressive.

Sabathia held the Rays to three hits in 6.2 scoreless innings and not one was hit hard. Asdrubal Cabrera rolled a seeing-eye ground ball single the other way to beat the shift, then both Steven Souza and Kevin Kiermaier beat out infield singles that were touched by defenders. Ryan and Greg Bird couldn’t make the plays, respectively. Sabathia also walked two hitters and that was it. He allowed just one hitter to reach third base — Cabrera on Souza’s infield single. That was all. Sabathia dominated.

And, for all his good work, Sabathia was rewarded with a no decision. He walked Richie Shaffer with two outs in the seventh and was yanked in favor of Justin Wilson with his pitch count sitting at 111. Sabathia threw 68 strikes (61%) and got a season-high 15 swings and misses. His previous season-high was 14 swings and misses done three times. That was some outing by Sabathia. May new knee brace CC never change.

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

The Elusive First Hit
The Yankees did not record their first base hit off Erasmo Ramirez until Beltran ripped a hard-hit grounder off Shaffer’s shoulder at first base leading off the eighth inning. They had just two base-runners in the first seven innings: walks by A-Rod and Gardner. Gardner stolen second/advanced to second on A-Rod’s ground ball in the seventh, then was doubled off on McCann’s line drive. Mikie Mahtook caught McCann’s rocket at the wall in right field, then threw to second to get Gardner, who was going … somewhere? I have no idea why he was that far off the base.

Anyway, Noel replaced Beltran after his single, then almost immediately stole second. That’s why he’s on the roster, to do that. Bird popped up into foul territory for the first out of the inning, which was a killer because it didn’t even move Noel to third. The game was scoreless in the eighth inning! One run is frickin’ huge. Alas. Chase Headley then lined out to Mahtook — Noel moved to third on the play — and Didi Gregorius struck out to end the inning. Womp womp.

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

When One Run Seemed Like Too Many
The Rays finally broke the ice and scored a run in the bottom of the eighth against Wilson. Mahtook, who is the guy Tampa selected with the Yankees first round pick when they signed Rafael Soriano, singled with one out in the inning, then scored all the way from first on Logan Forsythe’s booming double to left. The Yankees are lucky it stayed in the ballpark. It hit the top of the padded wall, bounced up, and the relay throws weren’t good enough.

Joe Girardi had Dellin Betances warming while the Yankees batted in the top of the eighth, but for some reason elected to stick with Wilson. I guess Dellin was only coming in if the Yankees scored? Anyway, Wilson faced Evan Longoria and Forsythe with a runner on base, and while he struck out Longoria, Forsythe burned him. Isn’t keeping a scoreless game tied against the middle of the lineup way more important than protecting a lead? Seems weird to warm up Betances and then not pitch him in that spot. Girardi’s made some curious decisions the last few days.

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

Congrats to Caleb Cotham, who picked up his first career win. He struck out Cabrera to end the eighth inning with Forsythe standing on third following his go-ahead double. (He took third on the throw.) Cotham used only five pitches to retire the only man he faced. Andrew Miller struck out the side on 14 pitches in the ninth. He was electric. As good as he’s looked all season.

Only four hits for the Yankees: singles by Beltran and Ackley, A-Rod’s double, and Slade’s homer. They did draw five walks though, including two by Gardner. A-Rod, McCann, and Bird also drew walks. McCann’s was intentional. The Yankees went 2-for-6 with runners in scoring position. That seems wrong. Did they really have six at-bats with men in scoring position?

And finally, this was Sabathia’s first start with zero earned runs since April 7th, 2013. He threw seven scoreless innings that day. At 63 starts, Sabathia had by far the longest active streak with at least one earned run allowed. David Buchanan of the Phillies was second with 31. Geez.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, updated standings, and postseason odds. The magic number to clinch a postseason berth is down to 16. Here are our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages, and here’s the win probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Same two teams Tuesday night, when the Yankees and Rays play the second game of this three-game set. Adam Warren returns to the rotation and will face Jake Odorizzi.

DotF: Staten Island drops Game One of NY-Penn League Championship Series

Baseball America posted the Yankees Instructional League roster today. As usual, it’s all lower level minor leaguers and recent draftees. The guys most in need of, well, instruction.

Short Season Staten Island (4-3 loss to West Virginia in eleven innings, walk-off style) Staten Island now trails in the best-of-three series one game to none … Game Two is tomorrow and Game Three is the next day, if necessary

  • 2B Thairo Estrada: 0-5, 1 K
  • CF Jeff Hendrix: 0-5, 4 K — ouch
  • RF Trey Amburgey: 1-5, 1 K
  • 1B Ryan Krill: 0-5, 1 K — rough night for the top four of the lineup
  • DH Junior Valera: 1-4, 1 K
  • 3B Kevin Cornelius: 0-2, 1 K — 3B Drew Bridges pinch-hit late and drew two walks
  • LF Zack Zehner:  2-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K — homered to give them the lead in the second, then doubled in a run as part of their two-run game-tying rally in the eighth
  • C Eduardo de Oleo: 1-4, 1 K
  • SS Kyle Holder: 0-1, 1 BB, 1 CS — Brandon Wagner pinch-hit in the eighth and tied the game with a single
  • RHP Kolton Mahoney: 3 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 3/2 GB/FB — 36 of 62 pitches were strikes (58%) … rough Game One start for their best pitcher during the regular season
  • RHP Luis Cedeno: 6 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 1 WP, 6/3 GB/FB — 62 of 94 pitches were strikes (66%), plus the walk was intentional … that’s one heck of a job letting the offense claw back into the game
  • LHP Jonny Drozd: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 13 of 24 pitches were strikes (64%)
  • RHP Michael Schaub: 0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K — five pitches, three strikes … gave a single to allow the inherited runner to score the walk-off run

The season is over for Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, Low-A Charleston, and both Rookie GCL Yanks affiliates. None of them qualified for the postseason. Both Triple-A Scranton and Rookie Pulaski qualified for the playoffs but were eliminated in the first round.

Game 143: Half-Game


Following that nightmare series over the weekend, the Yankees sit 3.5 games behind the Blue Jays in the AL East. That annoying extra 0.5 goes away tonight. The Blue Jays have an off-day today, so both clubs will have played 143 games by the end of the night.

It goes without saying the Yankees are in “win every damn game” mode right now. There are only 20 games left in the season counting tonight. That’s not much time! Winning the AL East isn’t impossible, it’s just unlikely. Tonight’s game against the Rays is just as important as those games against Toronto. Crunch time. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Brendan Ryan
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s hot and humid in St. Petersburg and a climate controlled 72 degrees inside Tropicana Field. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.