Spring Training Game Thread: A-Rod Returns

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It has been almost a year and a half since Alex Rodriguez last played in any sort of baseball game. Today, after sitting out all of last year with his suspension, A-Rod returns to the field and will make his Grapefruit League debut. It is only Spring Training, but Alex admitted yesterday he was nervous, and how could he not be? This is an awkward situation for everyone, including A-Rod.

Needless to say, way too much will be made of Rodriguez’s performance today. At least if he does poorly. If he goes 0-for-3, it’s because he’s washed up and can’t help the Yankees. But if he goes 3-for-3 with a homer, well it’s only Spring Training so who cares. Doesn’t mean anything. Feel free to build your own narrative around his performance. That’s what everyone else will do.

Today’s reason to watch: Aside from A-Rod, we’ll also get our first look at newcomers Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi is scheduled to throw two innings and 30 pitches or so. He and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have been working on elevating his fastball in strikeout situations, so I want to see if he does that today. Andrew Miller will also make his spring debut this afternoon.

Here is the starting lineup for this afternoon’s spring home opener at George M. Steinbrenner Field:

  1. SS Didi Gregorius
  2. DH Alex Rodriguez
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. 2B Stephen Drew
  7. RF Tyler Austin
  8. LF Ramon Flores
  9. CF Mason Williams
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

Available Position Players: C Gary Sanchez, 1B Francisco Arcia, 2B Nick Noonan, SS Cito Culver, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Jake Cave, CF Slade Heathcott, and RF Aaron Judge are all scheduled to come off the bench. C Eddy Rodriguez, C Trent Garrison, C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Greg Bird, 1B Kyle Roller, UTIL Jose Pirela, UTIL Jonathan Galvez, and 2B Rob Refsnyder are all available as well.

Available Pitchers: LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Kyle Davies, RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Wilking Rodriguez, LHP James Pazos, and LHP Tyler Webb are all scheduled to pitch. RHP Nick Rumbelow, RHP Jose Ramirez, and RHP Scott Baker are the extra arms.

Gorgeous weather in Tampa this afternoon. Nice and sunny with temperatures in the mid-80s. Perfect for some spring baseball. This afternoon’s game will begin just after 1pm ET and there are all sorts of ways to watch: YES locally and both MLB Network and MLB.tv nationally. The game will not air on MLB Network in the New York market, however. You’re stuck with YES or MLB.tv in market. Enjoy the game.

Thoughts following the first Grapefruit League game

Dread Judge. (Presswire)
Dread Judge. (Presswire)

The Yankees played their first Grapefruit League game of the year yesterday afternoon and boy was it great to see baseball back. Yeah, the game ended in a tie, but who cares. Here are some thoughts after the first organized game of 2015.

1. First things first: I already love the new pace of play rules. I thought the game was more crisp with batters required to keep one foot in the box after taking a pitch — a few players, including Edwin Encarnacion, forgot the new rules and stepped out of the box, but that’s why they’re using Spring Training as an opportunity to adjust — though the whole “two minutes and 25 seconds between innings” thing is very much a work in progress. There were more than a few occasions when pitchers weren’t ready to pitch when the clock struck zero, particularly when a reliever came out of the bullpen. I guess jogging in from the outfield and warming up in that short a time takes some hustle. They’re going to have to adjust though. The rules aren’t changing. Based on that one game, I’m a fan of hitters keeping their foot in the box. There was noticeably less downtime between pitches.

2. First thing I noticed about Aaron Judge: good gravy is he massive. Tall and thick but not fat. He’s a massive human being. Second thing I noticed: he stands really far off the plate. Take a look (screen cap via Pinstripe Alley):

Aaron Judge

I suppose that makes sense because Judge is huge and has those long arms, so he can stand a mile off the plate and still cover the outer half. It should also allow him to better cover the inner half. Teams will undoubtedly try to bust him inside because he’s so tall — they don’t want him to extend those arms because bad things will happen — and this seems to put him in a better position to get around on inside pitches. I do want to see what happens when Judge gets to the upper levels and pitchers are better able to locate fastballs on the outer half. That’s a lot of real estate to cover in a short amount of time.

3. Luis Severino‘s first inning of work could not have gone any better if you were a Yankees fan looking to be impressed. He struck out the first two batters — one looking, one swinging — then shattered a bat to get a weak ground ball for the final out. Severino’s second inning didn’t go as well but it wasn’t like he got knocked around. He allowed two ground ball singles back up the middle then two bloops to the shallow outfield, leading to a run. Just one of those innings. At least one scout was impressed — “Love his changeup … very high ceiling,” said the scout to Erik Boland while noting Severino sat 94-96 — and I’m guessing we’ll see Severino another few times before camp lets out. The first inning was drool worthy. The second wasn’t as good but those are the types of innings Severino will have to learn to battle through to limit the damage. It’s part of growing.

4. Jacob Lindgren‘s inning of work (actually 0.2 innings of work) didn’t go nearly as smoothly as Severino’s first inning thanks in part to a Rob Refsnyder throwing error. He allowed two soft hits and struck out one around Refsnyder’s error. Here’s a GIF of Lindgren’s much ballyhooed slider:

Jacob Lindgren slider

That pitch actually went through John Ryan Murphy‘s legs behind the plate and to the backstop. Murphy bobbled a few pitches and seemed to have a lot of trouble catching Lindgren’s slider. He’s not alone — Lindgren threw 18 wild pitches in 55.1 college innings last year and nine wild pitches in 25 pro innings. No, wild pitches are not passed balls, but they’re functionally the same thing. Lindgren’s slider appears to be hard to catch because it moves so much and so sharply. Also, yesterday’s look made it seem like Lindgren throws two sliders. One he buries in the dirt for swings and misses (like the one in the GIF) and a shorter slider he throws for strikes, almost like a cutter. He’ll be an interesting guy to look at once he gets to MLB and we get some PitchFX data.

5. And finally, this is Spring Training and these games aren’t all that important, but one thing that always seems to mean something is bullpen usage. The high priority guys — MLB pitchers, top prospects, etc. — always work on set schedules while the lower priority guys are the extra arms who may or may not be used that day depending on what happens in the game. The guys who serve as extra arms are usually those ticketed for the minors. Yesterday, lefty Chasen Shreve was one of those extra arms. He got into the game in the ninth after Judge’s game-tying homer but wasn’t scheduled like Severino, Lindgren, Nick Goody, and Branden Pinder. That makes me wonder if he is on the outside of the Opening Day roster picture at the moment. That could always change in the coming weeks, there’s plenty of Spring Training left, though this is something I will keep an eye on these next few weeks. Maybe the Yankees think three lefties in the bullpen is one too many even though Shreve — who looked pretty good yesterday — Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson can all get righties out.

Open Thread: March 3rd Camp Notes

The Yankees opened Grapefruit League play with a 5-5 tie with the Phillies today. They were one strike away from a 5-2 loss when top prospect Aaron Judge hit a two-out, two-strike, game-tying three-run homer off actual big leaguer Mario Hollands in the top of the ninth. Jose Pirela also plated a run with a Baltimore chop single in the first and Jake Cave infield singled in a run in the ninth. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury both went 0-for-3.

Adam Warren started and allowed one hit in two otherwise perfect innings. Luis Severino had a dominant first inning of work (two strikeouts, broken bat ground out) then got dinked and dunked to death in his second inning. Lots of weak hits, but that’s baseball. Diego Moreno balked in a run and Jacob Lindgren allowed two unearned runs thanks to Rob Refsnyder‘s throwing error. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest from Tampa:

This is your open thread for the night. This afternoon’s game will be rebroadcast on MLB Network at 9pm ET tonight, if you’re interested. Otherwise the Devils, Islanders, and Knicks are all playing, and there’s the usual slate of college basketball as well. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Update: Luis Torrens to miss 2015 due to shoulder surgery

(MLBpipeline.com)
(MLBpipeline.com)

Tuesday: Torrens was diagnosed with a torn right labrum and will have surgery tomorrow, the Yankees announced. He will miss the entire 2015 season. Dr. David Altchek at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York will perform the surgery. Bummer.

Monday: Luis Torrens‘ shoulder is acting up again. George King reported late last week that the young backstop was heading for tests on his right shoulder, and today assistant GM Billy Eppler told Chad Jennings the team is still gathering information and will know more in the next 24 hours. Earlier today reports were floating around that Torrens needs surgery and will miss the season, but the Yankees aren’t ready to commit to that yet.

Torrens, 18, missed two months last season with a right shoulder strain. He returned from the injury in mid-June and hit .270/.327/.405 (115 wRC+) with two homers in 48 games for Short Season Staten Island as one of the youngest players in the NY-Penn League, so if the shoulder was still bothering him, it didn’t show in his performance at the plate.

In 109 games across two minor league seasons, Torrens has thrown out 50 of 122 attempted base-stealers (41%), which is excellent. Especially considering he did not become a full-time catcher until the Yankees signed him out of Venezuela for $1.3M during the 2012-13 international signing period. Hopefully the injury does not compromise his arm behind the plate, because it is a weapon.

I ranked Torrens as New York’s sixth best prospect two weeks ago because he’s taken to the catcher position extremely well and shows offensive promise. Losing an entire season at age 18 (he turns 19 in May) or even just a chunk of it would be pretty serious though. He’s at a crucial stage in his development. Yeah, Torrens is still very young and will have time to recover, but this is crummy news. No other way to put it.

Armed with new mechanics, Masahiro Tanaka looks to be the exception after elbow injury

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since the very first day of Spring Training, Alex Rodriguez has dominated the headlines from Yankees’ camp. They’re inescapable. Hopefully that will start to change now that Grapefruit League play has begun, but I’m guessing that’s not the case. C’est la vie.

Despite A-Rod‘s presence, the single most important story in camp this year is the status of Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow. He faced hitters in live batting practice for the first time yesterday and so far everything is going well. Tanaka feels great and the coaching staff is pleased with how he is throwing. Can’t ask for much more at this point. So far, so good.

Tanaka admitted to slightly altering his throwing program over the winter — he threw with less intensity, basically — following last season’s elbow injury, but that’s not the only change he made. Jeff Passan recently managed to tear himself away from A-Rod long enough to learn Tanaka has altered his mechanics in hopes of keeping his elbow healthy. That … seems like a pretty big deal. From Passan:

“I don’t think (my mechanics) were solid (before the injury),” Tanaka told Yahoo Sports through interpreter Shingo Horie recently. “With the right mechanics, the right form, the right balance, you’re able to throw a solid pitch. It’s not about how much power you can put on the throw. It’s more about the mechanics. That’s what I believe.

“I’m never really satisfied. Your body is different every day. You’ve got to talk with your body and make small or, sometimes, big adjustments to get that pitch form right. It’s hard to get to a point where you’re completely satisfied with your mechanics.”

Passan doesn’t give many details about the mechanical adjustments but does say they “mostly (have) to do with ensuring his arm is in sync with the rest of his delivery, preventing excessive stress on the elbow.” It sounds not like some sort of mechanical overhaul, but minor tweaks to be more efficient and maybe incorporate his lower half more.

So will the new mechanics a) keep Tanaka healthy, and b) impact his performance in any way? There’s no possible way I could answer that and I’m guessing Tanaka and the Yankees wouldn’t be able to tell you with any certainty either. They clearly think these adjustments at least have a chance to help him stay healthy without hurting performance. Otherwise the adjustments wouldn’t have been made.

It’s easy to say Tanaka’s injury is the result of throwing so many splitters, and while that may very be true, it’s worth noting pitchers in Japan use the splitter a ton and have a way lower rate of Tommy John surgery than their MLB counterparts. Tanaka’s elbow may have started barking because his mechanics were a bit out of whack, which is what he is aiming to fix. Or maybe he hurt his elbow because sometimes pitchers just break. Who knows? Pitching ain’t natural.

Many pitchers have suffered partially torn UCLs like Tanaka and very few have been able to significantly delay surgery. Even fewer have been able to avoid it all together. Tanaka is trying to become one of those exceptions and stay healthy after getting hurt, and these mechanical changes are part of his efforts to stay on the mound. Everything in camp has gone well so far, and while I’m not sure I’ll ever truly feel confident in that elbow going forward, Tanaka seems to be, and that is important.

Spring Training Game Thread: Baseball Returns!

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

After five long months of offseason, Yankees baseball returns this afternoon. The team begins Grapefruit League play today with a quick trip over the causeway to Clearwater to play the Phillies. Yeah, I know it’s only Spring Training, but it’s baseball. And baseball is way better than no baseball in my book.

As always, the regulars in the starting lineup will not play the entire game. This is only the first of 34 spring games, remember. Starter Adam Warren is scheduled for two innings — or 30 pitches, based on previous springs — and the starting position players will get two or three at-bats before heading home.

Today’s reason to watch: Both Luis Severino and Jacob Lindgren are scheduled to pitch. Probably just one inning each, but they are the team’s top pitching prospect overall and top bullpen prospect, respectively. I’m certain we’ll see Lindgren in MLB this summer. Severino … maybe. Also, the new pace of play rules are in effect, so this will be our first look at them.

Here is the lineup that will start this afternoon’s Grapefruit League opener:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Chris Young
  4. 1B Garrett Jones
  5. 2B Jose Pirela
  6. C Austin Romine
  7. DH Kyle Roller
  8. 3B Jonathan Galvez
  9. SS Nick Noonan
    RHP Adam Warren

Available Position Players: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cito Culver, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Slade Heathcott, CF Jake Cave, RF Aaron Judge, and DH Mason Williams will come off the bench. C Kyle Higashioka, C Francisco Arcia, and 1B/OF Tyler Austin are also available if needed.

Available Pitchers: RHP Luis Severino, LHP Jacob Lindgren, RHP Branden Pinder, RHP Nick Goody, and RHP Diego Moreno are all scheduled to pitch. RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Kyle Davies, LHP Chasen Shreve, and LHP Tyler Webb are the extra arms.

It’s a perfect day for baseball in Clearwater. Temperatures in the upper-70s and low-80s, not many clouds in the sky, and no threat of rain. And humid as hell. That’s Florida for you.

This afternoon’s game is available on MLB.tv only — well, it’s also on CSN if you’re in the Philadelphia market — and traditionally there have been no MLB.tv blackouts in Spring Training, so you should be able to watch today’s game online. I can’t make any promises, they may have changed their policy this year, but hopefully that’s not the case. Yep, no blackouts. Enjoy the game, folks.

Teixeira’s Last Chance for Redemption [2015 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By the end of 2012, it was hard not to be sick of Mark Teixeira. Everything seemed rosy in 2009, the first season of his eight-year deal, but the good vibes didn’t last long. He still added pop to the lineup, but he lost a little something each season after that glorious Yankees debut.

At the end of 2012 everything fell apart. He’d produced the worst overall season since his rookie campaign, and had ended the year with a series of injuries. Then came the wrist injury that cost him 2013 — and, for all practical purposes, 2014.

The end result: a 106 OPS+ in just 1095 PA and 261 game in the last three years, compared to a 129 OPS+ in 2103 PA and 470 games in the first three years of his contract. At age 35, how can we expect anything changes in 2015?

There is perhaps one glimmer of hope. In 2014, while he was fresh, Teixeira produced a .930 OPS through his first 123 PA. There might be something left in his bat, although you wouldn’t know it by the rest of his season: a .642 OPS in 385 PA, including a .199 BA and .291 OBP.

The good news is that Teixeira focused on strength this off-season, knowing he had to provide some pop in the lineup. Which is ideal, because that’s exactly what the team needs.

Yankees Need: Power

Anyone who watched the 2014 Yankees for any decent stretch knows that they needed more power. True, they hit an above-average number of home runs, but they sorely lacked in the doubles department. The result was a .135 team ISO, 10th in the AL (though pretty close to average).

That might work for a team with decent on-base skills, but the Yankees ranked second-worst in the AL in OBP. It’s not as though the Yankees added a ton of offensive players who can get on base, so if they’re going to score more runs it’ll need to be through gappers and long balls.

Teixeira Can Provide: Power?

In theory a healthy Teixeira should be able to hit some baseballs over the fence. Even in 2012 he produced a .224 ISO, which was in line with his 2010 power. It’s tough to judge 2014, and impossible to judge 2013, because of his wrist injury. Add that to an admitted lack of strength training, and it might seem as though Teixeira can provide some pop this year.

Remember, Jose Bautista suffered a similar injury in 2012, which was a down year relative to Jose Bautista, as was his 2013. In 2014 he came roaring back to hit 35 homers and generally achieve Bautista levels of awesome. David Ortiz also suffered a similar injury in 2008 and it took him a few years to get back on track.

Both Bautista and Ortiz were close in age to Teixeira when they suffered the injuries, and they came back after some relative down time. So it is conceivable that Teixeira could start producing the power the Yankees need.

It’s just not something you go bet your life savings on.

Yankees Need: Infield Defense

One thing the Yankees did this off-season was dramatically improve the infield defense. It’s hard to imagine a worse infield D than Yangervis Solarte, Derek Jeter, and Brian Roberts, though the Yankees did put out some other putrid combinations throughout the year. That shouldn’t be the case in 2014.

While first base isn’t the most important of defensive positions, we’ve seen what a difference a quality first baseman can make. It was evident in 2009, when the Yanks went from Jason Giambi to Teixeira, from statue to vacuum cleaner. Teixeira might not be the most agile guy, but he makes all the plays he’s supposed to and then some.

In order to make the most of their defensive upgrades around the infield, the Yanks will need a solid first base anchor.

Teixeira Can Provide: Infield Defense

Again, he might not be the guy from 2009 who leaps to pick a surefire base hit out of the air. He might not be laying out to save every double down the first base line. But even in his seemingly hobbled state, Teixeira fielded a clean first base last year.

I’m not comfortable citing basically any defensive metric for first base, because a good first baseman has more than range. But the eye test says that he still has some chops around the first base bag. He doesn’t need to be spectacular. He just needs to field what’s hit his way and save a few infield errors.

Yankees Need: Base Runners

As mentioned earlier, the Yankees had the second-lowest OBP in the AL. Having few runners on base makes it difficult to score runs. If the 2015 Yankees are going to score more runs than the 2014 Yankees, they’ll need more runners on the base paths.

I don’t think this needs much more elaboration. Second-lowest OBP in the AL is pretty damning.

Teixeira Can Provide: No, Probably Not

It’s not that Teixeira doesn’t take walks any more. He doesn’t walk as much as he did from 2006 through 2008, but hey, he didn’t do that when he finished second in the MVP voting in 2009. Yet he still finished with a .383 OBP.

The difference, of course, is his ability to hit singles. He hasn’t done that since 2009, and it doesn’t appear that the skill will return to him. Which is fine, I guess, if he hits for power.

The problem is that Teixeira is almost certainly going to hit in the middle of the order. He needs to get on base when he’s not knocking balls over the fence, so that Chase Headley and guys hitting behind him have a chance. It’s hard to envision that happening for Teixeira, whose highest OBP in the last three seasons is .332.

Yankees Need: Health

The team isn’t that deep. Teixeira’s most promising replacement almost certainly won’t be ready until at least 2016. If they’re going to make a playoff run, they simply cannot afford the injury issues that buried the 2013 and 2014 teams.

Teixeira Can…Sorry

Counting on Teixeira to stay healthy is like counting on Joe Mauer to stay healthy. If you want a good laugh, ask a Twins fan about that.