Reds return Rule 5 Draft pick Jake Cave to Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Reds returned Rule 5 Draft pick and outfielder Jake Cave to the Yankees, the team announced. New York’s other Rule 5 Draft loss, lefty Evan Rutckyj, was returned by the Braves last month. So the Yankees got both their players back and picked up an extra $50,000 in the process. Not bad.

Cave, 23, hit .255/.349/.364 in Spring Training with the Reds this year. He started very well, going 8-for-23 (.347) in his first nine Cactus League games, before crashing and going 6-for-32 (.188) the rest of the way. I thought Cave had a pretty good chance to make the Reds anyway given their dearth of outfielders, but I guess not.

Last season Cave hit .276/.337/.356 (102 wRC+) with 25 doubles, two homers, and 17 steals in 134 games at mostly Double-A Trenton, but also some at Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees say they’ve assigned Cave to the Thunder. He’s already cleared waivers and all that, so he is no longer on the 40-man roster.

The Yankees have both Ben Gamel and Slade Heathcott at Triple-A Scranton, plus Mason Williams is on his way back from shoulder surgery, so their left-handed hitting outfielder depth chart is pretty stacked. It’s going to be tough — but not impossible — for Cave to break through and have an impact for the Yankees.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

The Yankees got their annual Opening Day loss out of the way this afternoon. Sucks. They’ll have to settle for 161-1 instead of 162-0 this year, I guess. It’s great to have baseball back though, ain’t it? Like real, meaningful baseball. Spring Training is fun, but not that fun. Welcome back, you beautiful daily grind.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The MLB Extra Innings package is in a free preview this week, so find the channels and you can watch any game you want. The three local hockey teams are all playing as well. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here.

Bats go silent, bullpen falters in 5-3 loss to the Astros on Opening Day

For the fifth consecutive season, the Yankees are 0-1 after Opening Day. The club’s vaunted bullpen let a 2-2 tie turn into a 5-2 deficit in the eighth inning — the umpires had a hand in that, but it wasn’t all them — because baseball is weird like that. Of course the bullpen blew it on Opening Day. Go figure. The Astros took the season-opener by the final score 5-3.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Opening Day Tanaka
Things were going pretty well for Masahiro Tanaka until there were two outs in the sixth inning. The very good at baseball Carlos Correa hit a solo homer to right to knot the game up 2-2, then Tanaka walked Colby Rasmus on seven pitches to end his afternoon. Prior to that he limited the Astros to one run on three hits, and even that run required some defensive funny business.

I wasn’t all that surprised Joe Girardi yanked Tanaka when he did. They weren’t going to let him pitch super deep into the game on Opening Day following offseason elbow surgery — he threw 87 pitches in the game — plus he has to make his next start on normal rest Sunday. Monday’s rainout knocked out the extra day of rest the Yankees were planning to give Tanaka.

Anyway, Tanaka was pretty good Tuesday afternoon, even including Correa’s game-tying dinger. Here is the PitchFX data on his outing, via Brooks Baseball:

Masahiro Tanaka pitches

Tanaka’s fastball was moving so much that I assume a bunch of those 51 splitters (!) are actually two-seamers PitchFX classified as splitters because of the movement. I mean, an 89.8 mph splitter? Nope. That’s a Nathan Eovaldi splitter, not a Tanaka splitter. Tanaka’s two-seamer was running all over the place. He was dotting that inside corner to lefties/outside corner to righties with the fastball all afternoon.

The one real mistake pitch, the Correa #obligatoryhomer, was a splitter that stayed up and caught a little too much of the plate. It happens, and hitters as good as Correa will make you pay. Tanaka was pretty good overall and very good up until those last two batters. If that’s a sign of things to come this season, I’ll take it no questions asked.

Hey Dallas, You Think You Need A Sweater?
It was really cold in New York this afternoon. It was 36 degrees at first pitch — the coldest first pitch at Yankee Stadium since 2003, according to Bryan Hoch — and it seemed Dallas Keuchel struggled a bit in the cold in the first few innings. He’s a feel pitcher, not someone who is going to blow hitters away, and it’s tough to get a feel in the cold.

Keuchel walked Aaron Hicks on four pitches in the first inning and Brian McCann on five pitches in the second inning. He walked two Yankees in 22 innings last innings, remember. Thirteen of his first 26 pitches were balls. That trademark Keuchel command was not there. He couldn’t paint the corners like he usually does, at least not early.

Carlos Beltran was able to squib a ground ball single through the shift — the team’s first hit of the season! — immediately prior to McCann’s walk. Chase Headley followed with what sure looked like a tailor made double play ball, but Correa bobbled the grounder and was only able to get the out at first. Headley almost beat it out.

With runners on second and third and two outs, Starlin Castro came to the plate for the first time as a Yankee, and he laced Keuchel’s second pitch of the at-bat down the line and into the left field corner for a two-run double. It barely stayed fair. Look:

Starlin Castro double

The ball got down quick and hugged the line, giving the Yankees their first two runs of the new season. Keuchel finished the afternoon having walked four batters in seven innings. (He went to two other three-ball counts as well.) His season high a year ago was four walks, done once.

It was cold — so much so some fan yelled “Hey Dallas, you think you need a sweater!” as a taunt — and Keuchel wasn’t especially sharp the first few innings. He settled down and held to the Yankees to only those two runs. The bats went silent after the second inning.

Battle of the Bullpens
First out of the bullpen this season: Chasen Shreve. He cleaned up Tanaka’s mini-mess in the sixth inning and got all three outs in the seventh inning as well. The eighth inning meant it was Dellin Betances time, and Betances started his outing by walking Jose Altuve on five pitches. Not ideal. Altuve predictably stole second. That’s what he does.

With Altuve on second, Betances quickly jumped ahead in the count 0-2 on Correa. After a ball, Correa nubbed a little grounder along the first base line, which Dellin picked up and shot-putted over Mark Teixeira‘s head at first base. The ball sailed into foul territory and Altuve came around to score to give Houston a 3-2 lead. Girardi popped out of the dugout to argue Correa interfered with the throw and, well, look (via @PinstripeAlley):

Carlos Correa Dellin Betances

You’re not supposed to run on the grass. You’re supposed to run either right down the line or along the 45-foot line in foul territory. Girardi argued, the umpires conferenced, and they ruled Correa safe anyway. And you know what? It’s the right call. Interference in that case refers to the first baseman’s ability to catch the throw, not the defender’s ability to make the throw. Dellin should have hit Correa right in the back with the throw. I’m serious! That’s how you get the call.

Anyway, Girardi continued to argue afterwards but was somehow not ejected. He protested instead. Don’t hold your breath expecting that protest to be successful. First of all, the umpires were not wrong. Secondly, only two protests has been successful over the last 30 years, and both involved the weather. That play is not reviewable, by the way.

So the Astros took the lead and the inning continued. Correa stole second — runners are 32-for-39 stealing bases against Dellin in his career — Betances walked Rasmus, and Luis Valbuena followed with a two-run single. Of course, Betances struck him out earlier in the at-bat (via Brooks Baseball) …

Dellin Betances Luis Valbuena

… but home plate umpire Dana DeMuth called the 2-2 pitch a ball, so the inning continued and Valbuena singled. The umpires did not help matters at all, but Betances kinda stunk, and Betances stinking is not part of the plan. Four of the six batters he faced reached base and two didn’t even have to take the bats off their shoulders.

With the 5-2 lead, Astros manager A.J. Hinch gave the ball to new setup man Ken Giles in the eighth inning, and Didi Gregorius immediately took him deep for a solo homer to cut the deficit to 5-3. Who had Didi hitting the first homer of the season? I thought it would be Brett Gardner for the third year in a row.

Anyway, Giles retired the next three batters and closer Luke Gregerson tossed a perfect ninth. Only one of the final 18 Yankees to bat reached base. That was Didi’s homer. Keuchel settled down and the Astros have a good bullpen. Ugly day for the offense aside from Castro’s double.

The Firsts
Since this was Opening Day, the Yankees had a lot of “first of 2016s” today. Here is a list of the notables:

  • First Hit: Beltran (ground ball single in the second inning)
  • First Home Run: Gregorius (solo homer in the eighth)
  • First Walk: Aaron Hicks (first inning against Keuchel)
  • First Run Driven In: Castro (two-run double in the second)
  • First Run Scored: Beltran (and McCann) on Castro’s double
  • First Stolen Base: A-Rod! (third inning against Keuchel)
  • First Strikeout: Tanaka, duh (Correa to end the first inning)
  • First Reliever Strikeout: Shreve (Marwin Gonzalez for second out of the seventh)

Johnny Barbato also made his big league debut out of the bullpen, and his first MLB pitch hit Tyler White in the hand. Probably not the debut he had in mind. Barbato did strike out the next batter he faced for his first big league out though, so that’s cool. He struck out two more in the ninth. Even cooler.

Leftovers
Castro had a very nice debut in pinstripes. In addition to the two-run double, he also made two nice defensive plays on weakly hit ground balls he had to charge then flip to first base. Not a bad afternoon for the new second baseman.

The Yankees had four hits: one each by Beltran, McCann, Castro, and Gregorius. Hicks, Alex Rodriguez, Teixeira, and McCann had the walks. The 1-4 hitters went a combined 0-for-13. Ain’t gonna win many games when that happens. That second inning was the only time the Yankees sustained any offense.

Gregorius got spiked in the left leg on Correa’s fourth inning stolen base. The throw actually beat the runner and the tag was applied, but the ball popped out of Didi’s glove. More importantly, Gregorius stayed in the game after hobbling around a bit. The homer is a pretty good indication he’s fine.

And finally, during the pregame show, YES noted the Yankees started the season with the roster’s average age under 30 for the first time since 1992. The average age of the 2016 Opening Day roster is 29 years and 99 days.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head over to ESPN for the box score and MLB.com for the video highlights. Here are the standings, if you must see them after one game. Also, our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages are back, so check those out too. Here is the ol’ WPA graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Game two of 162. The Yankees and Astros will be back at it tomorrow night at Yankee Stadium. Michael Pineda and Collin McHugh will be on the pitching bump. (I was planning to write pitching mound but apparently my brain switched to bump halfway through, so I’m just going to leave it.) RAB Tickets can still help you get in the door on the cheap even with print-at-home ticketing discontinued.

The Milestone Watch [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With another Yankee season underway, let’s take a look at some statistical milestones that a few of our boys in pinstripes can reach this summer.

Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod, of course, is on the verge of becoming the fourth player in major-league history with 700 homers. His pursuit of the home run record is well-documented, as he is 28 homers shy of passing Babe Ruth for third place all-time.

He is at 342 homers with the Yankees, just 16 shy of tying Yogi Berra for fifth-most in franchise history. He has a good chance to move into the top-10 of a couple more lists in the Yankee record books, too. With 14 runs scored, he’ll pass Don Mattingly for 10th place there, and with 35 more RBI, he’ll also jump ahead of Mattingly and into 10th place on that leaderboard.

Carlos Beltran

Beltran is approaching a few nice round numbers this season. With eight more home runs, he’ll be the fourth switch hitter to reach the 400-homer milestone. Beltran can join an even more exclusive club, too, when he hits No. 400. He’d be just the fifth player in MLB history with at least 400 homers and 300 stolen bases in a career, joining A-Rod, Andre Dawson, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays.

If he stays healthy, he should also reach two more benchmarks: 2,500 hits and 1,500 RBI. He is at 2,454 hits and 1,443 RBI entering Tuesday’s season opener. The only switch hitters in baseball with 2,500 hits and 1,500 RBI are Eddie Murray and Chipper Jones.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira is also nearing membership in the 400-homer club, and is just six away as he begins his 14th major-league season. The only other switch hitter to hit 400 homers that early into his career was Mickey Mantle. Eight other first baseman totaled 400 homers in their first 14 career seasons: Carlos Delgado, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Jeff Bagwell, Albert Pujols and Mark McGwire.

Starlin Castro
The 26-year-old enters 2016 needing nine hits to reach the 1,000-hit mark. His gap-to-gap power and ability to hit for average is underrated and rare for a player at his age and position. He would be just the seventh middle infielder to compile 1,000 hits, 175 doubles, 30 triples and 60 homers through his age-26 season. The others: Roberto Alomar, Robin Yount, Bobby Doerr, Arky Vaughan, Travis Jackson and Rogers Hornsby.

CC Sabathia
If Sabathia can hold onto his rotation spot, he can enjoy a few round-number milestones. First, he is just 11 1/3 innings pitched shy of 3,000 for his career. Only 10 other left-handers have gotten to that mark in their age-35 season or younger, as CC is about to do. And of that group of 10, only Steve Carlton and Mickey Lolich also had at least 2,500 strikeouts on their resume like Sabathia.

He’s also moving up the Yankee pitching lists. With two more starts, he’ll be the 17th guy to start 200 games for the Yankees, and he needs three wins to become the 17th pitcher with 100 wins for the franchise.

Game One: Opening Day

The baseball gods teased us yesterday. The Yankees and Astros were ready to open the 2016 season Monday, but it rained and was pretty nasty in New York all day, so we waited. One more day we had to wait. Today, the waiting is over. The Yankees return to action this afternoon, fittingly against the Astros, the same team that beat them in the AL wildcard game last year.

Over the winter the Yankees did not sign a single Major League free agent, and they only made four five trades that directly impacted the big league roster. They have a new second baseman, a new fourth outfielder, some new middle relievers, and a new closer. The closer, of course, is 30 days away from joining the team. So the Yankees do have some new faces this year. They also look pretty similar to last season.

The Yankees are 63-49-1 all-time on Opening Day — they’re 20-4 in their last 24 home openers — but they’ve lost four straight and six of their last seven Opening Days. This afternoon they’re trying to avoid their first five-game Opening Day losing streak since 1934-38. Crazy, huh? Here is manager Joe Girardi‘s first lineup of the new season:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Starlin Castro
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Like I said, the Astros are in town for the first series of the year this season. Here is their lineup.

Unlike yesterday, the sky is clear and it is nice and sunny this afternoon. It’s cold — temperatures are in the high-30s — and windy, so it’s not great baseball weather, but it’ll do. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Also, the MLB Extra Innings package is in a free preview this week, so all you have to do is find the channels. The road to the 28th World Series title in franchise history begins today, folks. Enjoy the game.

Update: Mitchell to miss at least four months following toe surgery

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

April 5th: Mitchell had surgery on his toe yesterday and will miss at least four months, Joe Girardi told reporters at Yankee Stadium today. Yikes. I’m not sure if that means four months until he’s back on a big league mound, or four months until he can resume baseball activities. Either way, it seems the best case scenario for Mitchell’s return is sometime in August.

March 31st: The Yankees are down another reliever. Earlier today the team announced Bryan Mitchell has suffered “Grade 3 turf toe on his left big toe and a fracture of the Sesamoid bone,” which is fancy talk for a broken toe. They didn’t give a timetable, but Jack Curry says Mitchell will miss a minimum of three months. He’ll see a specialist tomorrow and may need surgery.

“I felt something but definitely didn’t think it was this severe,” said Mitchell to Erik Boland this morning. He is on crutches for the time being. Mitchell, who was named to the Opening Day roster earlier this week, hurt himself covering first base in yesterday’s game. It was initially called a sprain, but apparently tests showed much more damage than expected. Rough.

The Yankees are already without Aroldis Chapman because of his suspension, and Andrew Miller suffered a chip fracture in his wrist in yesterday’s game, so it’s possible the team will be down three projected Opening Day relievers. Miller plans to pitch through his injury, but he has to see what the specialist says first. Chapman and Mitchell are definitely out for the start of the season.

Mitchell, 24, allowed one run on seven hits and three walk in 15.2 innings this spring. He struck out a dozen. The Yankees said they were holding a fifth starter competition, but apparently Mitchell was not included, because he would have won it with those numbers. He threw the ball very well in Grapefruit League play. Mitchell had a 6.37 ERA (4.75 FIP) in 29.2 big league innings last year, though he was very good before taking a line drive to the nose.

So, with Chapman and Mitchell out, the bullpen right now is Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve, Ivan Nova, and three open spots. It would become four open spots if Miller can’t go. The Yankees have only four bullpen candidates remaining in big league camp (Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa, Anthony Swarzak, Kirby Yates) but they could always call someone up from the minors. They have a ton of young relievers in Triple-A.

The Mitchell injury not only hurts the bullpen, but he was also a piece of rotation depth. He may have been as high as seventh on the rotation depth chart. The injury is unfortunate for the Yankees and it really sucks for Mitchell. This season was going to be a great opportunity for him to carve out a big league role and make a name for himself. Now it all has to be put on hold.

4/4 to 4/7 Series Preview: Houston Astros

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I guess it’s fitting the Yankees will begin the 2016 season the same way the 2015 season ended: at Yankee Stadium against the Astros. The Yankees and Astros are playing on Opening Day for the second time in three seasons — they also finished the 2013 season against each other — even though they are not AL East rivals. Kinda weird. Blame the computer that generates the schedule. Anyway, let’s get to the first series preview of the new season, one day later than originally scheduled.

What Did They Do Last Year?

The ‘Stros went 86-76 with a +111 run differential in 2015, good enough to earn the second wildcard spot. As you know, they shut the Yankees out 3-0 in the wildcard game. Houston was actually in first place for most of the season before coughing it up the AL West lead late to the Rangers. Manager A.J. Hinch’s squad limped to the finish with an 11-16 record in September. Also, they went 53-28 at home and 33-48 on the road.

Offense & Defense

Overall, the Astros ranked sixth in baseball with 729 runs scored last year. They were second with 230 homers and fourth with a team 105 wRC+. Houston added no one to their lineup this past offseason. Not one notable position player addition. They will have a full season of OF Carlos Gomez, who came over at the trade deadline last year.

The Astros are currently without DH Evan Gattis (hernia) and backup catcher C Max Stassi (wrist), both of whom recently had surgery. They’re both on the disabled list, so we won’t see either guy this series. Since the season is just starting, here is each player’s 2015 performance and 2016 ZiPS projection. There’s nothing else to look at right now:

2015 Performance 2016 ZiPS
C Jason Castro .211/.283/.365 (76 wRC+), 11 HR, 0 SB .231/.303/.389 (89 wRC+), 12 HR, 1 SB
1B Tyler White .328/.443/.509 (163 wRC+) at AA/AAA .251/.336/.381 (99 wRC+), 10 HR, 0 SB
2B Jose Altuve .313/.353/.459 (120 wRC+), 15 HR, 38 SB .309/.346/.432 (112 wRC+), 11 HR, 40 SB
SS Carlos Correa .279/.345/.512 (133 wRC+), 22 HR, 14 SB .273/.340/.492 (126 wRC+), 25 HR, 23 SB
3B Luis Valbuena .224/.310/.438 (105 wRC+), 25 HR, 1 SB .238/.330/.425 (107 wRC+), 18 HR, 1 SB
LF Colby Rasmus .238/.314/.475 (115 wRC+), 25 HR, 2 SB .244/.316/.461 (111 wRC+), 21 HR, 3 SB
CF Carlos Gomez .255/.314/.409 (96 wRC+), 12 HR, 17 SB .259/.317/.433 (105 wRC+), 17 HR, 23 SB
RF George Springer .276/.367/.459 (129 wRC+), 16 HR, 16 SB .248/.341/.459 (120 wRC+), 23 HR, 17 SB
DH Preston Tucker .243/.297/.437 (100 wRC+), 13 HR, 0 SB .246/.299/.414 (94 wRC+), 19 HR, 2 SB
BENCH
C Erik Kratz .192/.214/.269 (28 wRC+), 0 HR, 0 SB .228/.283/.394 (87 wRC+), 7 HR, 0 SB
IF Marwin Gonzalez .279/.317/.442 (108 wRC+), 12 HR, 4 SB .257/.295/.385 (85 wRC+), 8 HR, 4 SB
IF Matt Duffy .294/.366/.484 (127 wRC+) at AAA .242/.297/.388 (87 wRC+), 16 HR, 2 SB
OF Jake Marisnick .236/.281/.383 (80 wRC+), 9 HR, 24 SB .244/.292/.380 (82 wRC+), 11 HR, 24 SB

That’s too many numbers for Monday morning. Sorry. Duffy — that’s not the Giants’ Matt Duffy, it’s a different Matt Duffy — is going to play against lefties, either for Valbuena at third or Tucker at DH. Actually, Tucker probably isn’t married to that DH spot. Hinch will probably rotate players in and out at DH while Gattis is on the DL.

Altuve, Springer, Correa, Rasmus, and Gomez occupy the top five spots in the lineup, usually in that order. The 6-9 spots are a bit more up in the air. The Astros have a pretty strong lineup. They are very strikeout prone; this largely unchanged lineup had a 22.9% strikeout rate last year, second highest in baseball. Altuve, who is an extreme contact hitter, is the only regular ZiPS projects to strike out at a rate lower than the league average. They hit homers and they strike out. That’s what they do.

Defensively, the Astros are very good in the outfield but surprisingly questionable on the infield. Sean Dolinar at FanGraphs put together some really cool defensive visualizations recently, so here’s the ‘Stros:

Astros defense

Blue is good, red is bad. The numbers are the projected runs the player at that position is expected to save (or cost) the team this season. Pretty cool, no? The eye test tells me Altuve is better than the numbers, for what it’s worth. I have a hard time buying him as a below-average gloveman. Either way, don’t hit it to Gomez. He’s incredible in center. Hit it to someone else.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (1pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. HOU) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (vs. NYY)
Last season Keuchel was deservedly named the Cy Young Award winner after ranking either first or second in the AL in wins (20, 1st), innings (232, 1st), ERA (2.48, 2nd), ERA+ (162, 1st), WHIP (1.02, 1st), ground ball rate (61.7%, 1st), soft contact rate (25.2%, 1st), hard contact rate (21.3%, 1st), and bWAR (7.2, 1st). He was third in fWAR (6.1), fifth in FIP (2.91), seventh in strikeout rate (23.7%), and tenth in walk rate (5.6%). Keuchel also allowed zero runs in 17 innings this spring. Dude’s good, but you knew that already.

Keuchel, 28, is not going to blow hitters away. He sits right around 90 mph with his trademark sinker and a notch below that with his cutter. Sliders and changeups right around 80 mph are his two secondary pitches. Keuchel throws strikes with all four pitches, and like I said before the wildcard game last year, the best way to attack him may be swinging early in the count. (That’s worth doing a little more this season overall.) He’s not someone who will beat himself by falling behind in the count. The Yankees aren’t going to wait him out. Keuchel dominated the Yankees last season, but last season is last season. It means nothing now.

Wednesday (7pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Collin McHugh (vs. NYY)
The Astros grabbed the 28-year-old McHugh off waivers from the Rockies during the 2013-14 offseason, and he’s since turned into a very good rotation piece. He had a 3.89 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 203.2 innings a year ago, with strikeout (19.9%) and grounder (45.4%) rates that were about average. His walk (6.2%) and homer (0.84 HR/9) rates were good though. McHugh had a reverse split for the first time last summer and he didn’t add a pitch or change his pitch selection, so I’m inclined to believe it’s a one-year blip for now. He’s not a guy with a big fastball — McHugh averages 90 mph with his four-seamer and 87 mph with his cutter, which he throws a lot — but he keeps hitters off balance with a slow and loopy low-70s curveball. A while back Crawfish Boxes put together a cool look at how McHugh uses high fastballs and curveballs together:

Collin McHugh fastball curveball

The high heater and curveball look the same out of McHugh’s hand and come in on the same plane until the curve falls of the table. That’s the ol’ Ben Sheets approach and it can be really effective. That’s why hitters will look silly on 90 mph fastballs and loopy curves. The pitches look the same for so damn long.

Thursday (4pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Mike Fiers (vs. NYY)
Last year the Astros picked up Fiers from the Brewers as part of the Gomez deal. Fiers, 30, had a 3.69 ERA (4.03 FIP) in 180.1 total innings in 2015, including a 3.32 ERA (4.39 FIP) in 62.1 innings for Houston. He threw a no-hitter with the Astros as well. Overall, Fiers had a good strikeout rate (23.7%) and an okay walk rate (8.4%) last year, but he’s generally fly ball (37.6%) and home run (1.20 HR/9) prone. Like McHugh, he had a reverse split last season that was out of line with the rest of his career. We’ll see if it sticks going forward. Fiers is a three-pitch pitcher who throws five pitches. Let me explain. His main pitches are a four-seamer right around 90 mph, a low-80s changeup, and a low-70s curveball. He throws those pitches a combined 90% of the time or so. Fiers will also mix in a handful of mid-80s cutters and low-80s sliders per start. (I wonder if the cutter and slider are actually one pitch with a wide range of velocities.) Enough that hitters have to be aware of them. Generally speaking, fly ball prone righties and Yankee Stadium do not mix.

Bullpen Status

The Astros made only two notable additions this offseason. They signed veteran RHP Doug Fister, who won’t start this series, and they traded a huge prospect package to the Phillies for RHP Ken Giles. Giles is one of the best relievers in all of baseball. He’s not at the Dellin Betances/Andrew Miller level, but he’s not far off.

Hinch announced yesterday RHP Luke Gregerson, not Giles, will be his closer this season. That’s probably a smart move. Maybe suprising, but smart. Here is the club’s bullpen with their 2015 performance and 2016 ZiPS:

2015 Performance 2016 ZiPS
RHP Luke Gregerson 3.10 ERA (2.86 FIP), 24.7 K%, 4.2 BB% 3.36 ERA (3.34 FIP), 23.4 K%, 5.7 BB%
RHP Ken Giles 1.80 ERA (2.13 FIP), 29.2 K%, 8.4 BB% 2.75 ERA (2.70 FIP), 29.0 K%, 8.3 BB%
RHP Pat Neshek 3.62 ERA (3.94 FIP), 22..9 K%, 5.4 BB% 3.38 ERA (3.25 FIP), 24.8 K%, 4.6 BB%
LHP Tony Sipp 1.99 ERA (2.93 FIP), 28.7 K%, 6.9 BB% 2.96 ERA (3.02 FIP), 30.8 K%, 7.6 BB%
RHP Will Harris 1.90 ERA (3.66 FIP), 24.6 K%, 8.0 BB% 3.41 ERA (3.77 FIP), 24.5 K%, 7.9 BB%
RHP Josh Fields 3.55 ERA (2.19 FIP), 32.1 K%, 9.1 BB% 3.52 ERA (3.19 FIP), 28.1 K%, 9.2 BB%
RHP Michael Feliz 2.17 ERA (3.11 FIP) at AA 5.17 ERA (4.84 FIP), 17.8 K%, 9.1 BB%

The Astros have a very strikeout heavy bullpen. Gregerson also has a history of getting a lot of ground balls, though last season’s 60.4% ground ball was easily a career best. He gets a lot of grounders, but usually not that many.

The addition of Giles pushes Neshek and Sipp into middle innings roles regardless of whether he closes or sets up. Sipp added a splitter two years ago and is now much more than a lefty specialist. From top to bottom, this is a really good staff. There’s a reason the Astros allowed the fewest runs in the AL (618) last season. Giles (and Fister too, I guess) will only help that.