The Yankees have won their last two games and the offense has started to click, but now it’s time to get the pitching staff in order. Andy Pettitte was masterful in his first start of the year, twirling eight innings of one-run ball against the Red Sox last week. The team needs a similar effort tonight because the middle relief crew is both shaky and a bit overworked from yesterday, plus it would be nice to see a starter complete six full innings for a change. It’s only happened twice so far this year. Here is the starting nine…
- CF Brett Gardner
- 2B Robinson Cano
- 3B Kevin Youkilis
- DH Travis Hafner
- LF Vernon Wells
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- SS Eduardo Nunez
- 1B Lyle Overbay
- C Frankie Cervelli
And on the mound is the three-time All-Star, Andy Pettitte.
Tonight’s game is scheduled to start a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.
The Yankees have re-signed lefty Clay Rapada to a minor league contact, the team announced. “I never wanted to leave (and I’m) pleased it all worked out to return,” said the southpaw to Dan Barbarisi.
Rapada, 32, was released before Opening Day to clear room on the 40-man roster for Lyle Overbay. Because he re-signed with the same team, he can’t return to the big leagues until May 3rd (30 days from the date of his release). Rapada missed the last few weeks of Spring Training because of shoulder bursitis, and I have no idea how his rehab from that is going. He will head to Tampa for now and join Triple-A Scranton at some point. · (14) ·
Via Andrew Marchand: Brian Cashman reiterated the team will indeed bring Curtis Granderson back as the center fielder once his fractured right forearm heals up. “I don’t think so,” said the GM when asked if there was a chance of keeping Brett Gardner in center.
I don’t the switch is as cut-and-dry as it seems, especially since there’s at least a small chance it could impact Granderson’s offense. This isn’t as simple as sticking Ichiro Suzuki in left last year because they weren’t putting anything at stake offensively. I definitely think they should reconsider though, because it will be a defensive upgrade (how much exactly? not sure) and the Yankees will need to squeeze every ounce of production from their roster if they plan to contend for a playoff spot. · (14) ·
The 2013 amateur draft will be held from June 6-8 this year, and between now and then I’m going to highlight some prospects individually rather than lump them together into larger posts.
Oscar Mercado | SS
Mercado was born in Colombia, but he and his family moved to the United States when he was eight years old. He plays for Gaither High School in Tampa — a straight shot on Dale Mabry Boulevard and about 20 minutes from George M. Steinbrenner Field — and is committed to Florida State.
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 175 lbs., Mercado’s calling card is his defense. He’s a no-doubt shortstop long-term because of his fast-twitch athleticism, quick reactions, soft hands, and strong throwing arm. The concern is his offense, as it’s unclear if he’ll hit enough in pro ball. Mercado, a right-handed hitter, is a line drive hitter without much power or much projection for future power. He can run and is a threat to steal, but he simply might not hit enough against better pitching. Here’s some more video.
Baseball America (subs. req’d) and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Mercado as the 30th and 34th best prospect in the draft, respectively, in their latest rankings. He’s one of the two best shortstops in the draft — California high schooler J.P. Crawford is the other, and he’s expected to be a top 10-15 pick — and the Yankees love raw-ish, up-the-middle athletes. Considering he plays right in their back yard in Tampa, it’s safe to say Mercado is at least on their radar and someone they could consider for one of their top three selections (26th, 32nd, 33rd).
Via Dan Martin: Left-hander Cesar Cabral pitched in a simulated game yesterday and is scheduled to pitch in an Extended Spring Training game on Friday. I do not believe that will start his 30-day rehab window — pretty sure it has to be with one of the six affiliates to start the clock — but don’t hold me to that.
Cabral, 24, almost made the team out of Spring Training last year before fracturing his elbow late in camp. The Yankees need to keep him on their active 25-man roster for at least 90 days this season to satisfy the Rule 5 Draft rules, but after that they’re free to option him back down to the minor leagues. Given how shaky Boone Logan has looked in the early going and the general sketchiness of the middle relief, Cabral could wind up giving the Yankees a nice lift if gets healthy and returns with stuff similar to what he showed in camp last year. · (23) ·
Outside of a short stretch last summer when the team was dealing with injuries, the Yankees have always boasted a strong and deep bullpen during the Joe Girardi era. Part of that is Girardi’s willingness to spread the workload around and keep guys fresh, and part of it is the front office’s shift away from expensive free agent relievers (Rafael Soriano notwithstanding) in favor of an abundance of low cost arms who miss bats. It’s easier to dump a cheap bad reliever than it is an expensive one.
So far this season, with an assist to some short outings from the rotation, the middle of the Yankees bullpen looks like a real Achilles heel that could be exposed in close games. Yesterday’s three-reliever, eight-base runner, three-run, 3.2-inning effort was the latest clunker from a relief corps that has allowed 21 runs and 52 base runners in 25.2 innings during the first six games. I think it goes without saying that the numbers are even worse when you remove Mariano Rivera and David Robertson from the equation.
The Yankees have already made one bullpen adjustment this year, shifting David Phelps into a full-time relief role in place of Cody Eppley, who has been getting knocked around since camp opened. Adam Warren‘s presence as the long-man — he allowed one run in 5.1 innings in relief six days ago, his only appearance of the year so far — potentially frees up Phelps for middle relief, where he could even be a multi-inning guy. That sounds wonderful in theory, but Girardi has been running things for six years now and outside of 2009 Al Aceves, he’s shown little inclination towards using a reliever in that way.
The good news is the Yankees have proven to be very adept at rebuilding bullpens on the fly. They’ve done it pretty much every year during the Girardi era — the bullpen at the start of the season has never looked like the one they’ve taken into the postseason. Pieces like Shawn Kelley, Warren, and Phelps can go to the minors without having to clear waivers while Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain have earned a little more rope. Joba can be maddening as hell, but there’s no doubt he can be one of the three best relievers on the team when he’s not pitching like a knucklehead.
Among the bullpen options in Triple-A are righties Mark Montgomery, Preston Claiborne, Jim Miller, and Sam Demel as well as southpaws Juan Cedeno and Josh Spence. None of those guys are on the 40-man roster, so something would have to give to get them in the big league bullpen. I don’t think Vidal Nuno or Brett Marshall should be ruled out as bullpen options either (especially the former), and you could argue the same is true for Dellin Betances. Point is, there are some internal options to cycle through before a trade(s) becomes necessary.
It would be nice if the Yankees had David Aardsma or (the currently injured) Clay Rapada still available, but the 40-man roster crunch was rather severe and it was either going to be a pair of 30-something relievers or a pair of 20-something kids (Melky Mesa? Corban Joseph? Zoilo Almonte?) who might be able to help the team in the long-ish term. I’m not sure they made the wrong decision there despite the obvious bullpen need. Considering both Aardsma and Rapada cleared waivers despite mid-six-figure salaries, it’s clear other teams didn’t value them highly either.
The season is still young and it’s not time to press the bullpen panic button just yet, but it’s clear the middle relief guys need to do a better job going forward. In fact, the best possible thing that could happen to the bullpen right now is the rotation finding its groove and providing more length going forward. I think Kelley specifically would benefit a ton from being a true one-inning guy rather than being counted on for multiple innings every time out because the starter struggled to get through five. The pitching staff as a whole has underperformed in the last week, but middle relief tends to be much easier to adjust on the fly than the rotation or late-inning relievers. It’s just a question of how long until some adjustments are made.
If you’re curious about which minor leaguers started the year on the DL (and there is a lot of ‘em), then check out this week’s minor league transactions courtesy of Matt Eddy. Meanwhile, Ben Badler listed RHP Rafael DePaula as a prospect who has seen his stock rise early in the year. Seems a little (way) too early to be adjusting prospect statuses, but to each his own.
Triple-A Scranton (4-2 win over Rochester)
- CF Melky Mesa: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 K — eleven strikeouts in 23 plate appearances so far
- 3B David Adams: 1-3, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K
- LF Zoilo Almonte: 0-4, 3 K
- C Austin Romine: 2-4, 1 R, 1 K — nice little 5-for-14 (.357) with three walks start
- 1B Corban Joseph: 1-4, 1 R
- RHP Chris Bootcheck: 5 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 5/2 GB/FB — 51 of 84 pitches were strikes (61%) … nice debut for the veteran journeyman
- RHP Cody Eppley: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K — 11 of 17 pitches were strikes (65%)
- RHP Preston Claiborne: 1 IP, zeroes, 2/0 GB/FB — nine of 14 pitches were strikes (64%)
It took a week, but the Yankees finally have their first set of back-to-back wins this season. A double-digit offensive outburst helped them overcome a starting pitcher who really labored and a middle relief corps that is as shaky as it gets.
Guess Who’s Back
Robinson Cano‘s back. After a rough 3-for-23 start to the season, Cano hit two homers (one to left-center, one to right-center) and a double off the top of the left field wall on Monday afternoon. He also worked a six-pitch walk in the first inning and scored four runs on the afternoon. After waking up with a .130/.200/.130 batting line, Robbie will go to bed with a much more respectable .222/.300/.481 line to his credit. Still got some work to do there though.
More than anything else, the most important thing about Cano’s big day is that he started to adjust and drive those outside pitches the other way. Teams have been feeding him offspeed stuff away since the playoffs last year, but he was rolling over on everything and grounding out softly to the right side. On Monday, he drove two outside pitches the other way for extra-base hits and pulled an inside pitch down the line. Perfect. The Yankees needed their second baseman to start hitting in the big way.
A Battle For #HIROK
Five days after taking a line drive off the tip of his right middle finger, Hiroki Kuroda was back out on the mound making his regularly scheduled start. Early on, it sure looked like the digit was bothering him — he said on Sunday he still wasn’t 100% but would try to work through any lingering pain and soreness — as he was missing his spots and leaving a lot of pitches up in the zone. Add in some bad luck (a ground ball hit the second base bag and bounced away from Eduardo Nunez) and bad luck defense (Lyle Overbay ranged to his right and deflected a ball away from Cano), and you’ve got a recipe for a three-run, 34-pitch first inning.
Kuroda continued to struggle with his location the rest of the game — first pitch strikes to 16 of 25 batters faced — yet he still held the Indians to just a single, a double, two walks, and zero runs over the next 4.1 innings on 77 pitches. It wasn’t the most efficient or aesthetically pleasing outing, that’s for sure, but it was effective nonetheless. How he managed to do it, I’ll never know. Kuroda really struggled in that first inning but he battled and gave the team a real nice lift on an afternoon when it looked like the bullpen would wind up throwing seven or eight innings.
In a way, that ability to grind through a start is a common trait for the Yankees’ top three starters. We saw CC Sabathia do it against the Tigers on Sunday and we’ve seen Andy Pettitte do it countless times over the last 17 years or so. It’s not quite the whole “he knows how to win idea,” but there’s definitely something to knowing how to pitch on days when things aren’t going right. Mike Mussina used to talk about it all the time. Pitches were up in the zone, ground balls were bouncing off bases, all sorts of unfortunate stuff was happening, yet Kuroda worked through it and gave the team some length and a chance to win.
Guess Who’s Back, Part Deux
The afternoon started with the Cleveland faithful giving Travis Hafner a standing ovation during the pre-game introductions, but by the end of the game they were probably cursing his name. The former Indian hit a three-run homer in the very first inning — his 100th dinger at Progressive Field — to give the Yankees a three-zip lead, and later on he added a single and a pair of walks. Hafner even went first-to-third on a single and slide head-first into third base. I didn’t think we’d see that at all this year. Well, I didn’t think we’d see him do it and actually get up, anyway. Hafner is up to .391/.481/.652 on the young season and has been an anchor in the middle of the lineup. Just awesome to see.
The Yankees started to break things open against the Tribe bullpen, scoring six runs in the fifth through seventh innings. Ichiro Suzuki plated two runs with a pair of singles (one an infield single) while Nunez had a sacrifice fly. Another run came around to score on a wild pitch. Brett Gardner had a single while Overbay contributed nothing on offense. Eleven runs on 13 hits and four walks is a pretty great day for the bats, who have strung together two excellent performances.
The non-David Robertson/Mariano Rivera portion of the bullpen continues to be a total nightmare, as a trio of relievers combined to allow three runs on four hits and four walks in 3.2 innings. Boone Logan at least retired two of the three left-handed hitters he faced, coaxing a double play ball from Lonnie Chisenhall and a strikeout from Jason Kipnis. Michael Bourn beat out an infield single. Shawn Kelley allowed three runs in 1.1 innings while Joba Chamberlain nibbled his way to two walks in a scoreless ninth.
According to the YES Network broadcast, Hafner invited the team to his Cleveland-area home to watch the NCAA Championship Game between Louisville and Michigan after the game. Pretty awesome.
The Yankees will look for their (gasp!) third consecutive win on Tuesday night, when Pettitte gets the ball against
noted jerk Brett Myers Carlos Carrasco. Pretty good opportunity to get back to .500.
Hooray for more offense. The Yankees housed the Indians on Monday afternoon, scoring a season-high eleven runs in the win. It was the first time they scored double digit runs since … the last regular season game of 2012. I thought it had been longer than that. Was really hoping for some dramatic effect there. Oh well.
Here is your open thread for the evening. The Mets are playing the Phillies (Halladay vs. must-see Matt Harvey), plus the Rangers
and Knicks are both are playing. Louisville and Michigan are also playing for the NCAA basketball championship. Talk about either game or anything else here. Have at it.
The Yankees are in Cleveland this afternoon to start a four-game series against the Indians, which means two reunions. First, the Yankees will see their former right fielder Nick Swisher play first base and bat cleanup for the Tribe after signing a four-year, $56M contract this offseason. He spent four very productive years in New York but was allowed to walk as a free agent.
The bigger reunion in the grand scheme of things is Travis Hafner‘s return to the Cleveland. He spent parts of ten years with the Indians, putting up some monster MVP-caliber seasons while also missing a ton of time due to various injuries. Hafner signed what is still the richest franchise in franchise history once upon a time, a four-year pact worth $57M. Swisher came in just under that total. I have to think Hafner will get a very warm reception this afternoon. Here’s the lineup…
- CF Brett Gardner
- 2B Robinson Cano
- 3B Kevin Youkilis
- DH Travis Hafner
- LF Vernon Wells
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- SS Eduardo Nunez
- 1B Lyle Overbay
- C Chris Stewart
And on the mound five days after taking a line drive to the finger tips is right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. It’ll be interesting to see if there are any lingering effects from the liner — Kuroda’s command disappeared after getting hit.
The game is scheduled to start a little after 4pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. This is the Indians’ home opener, so pre-game festivities may delay things. Enjoy the game.