Starters finally giving the Yankees innings and sparing the bullpen

Sabathia leads the Yankees in innings, just like the good ol' days. (Presswire)
Sabathia leads the Yankees in innings, just like the good ol’ days. (Presswire)

Heading into Spring Training, the Yankees had plenty of reasons to be concerned about their rotation. Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda all missed significant time with injuries last season, Nathan Eovaldi was making the NL-to-AL transition, Chris Capuano is Chris Capuano, and Adam Warren had never held down a full-time big league rotation spot. Question marks were abound.

The Yankees lost Capuano to a quad injury early in camp and they took it very easy on Tanaka and Sabathia this spring, bringing them along slowly for completely understandable reasons. They’re also hoping to give them an extra day of rest between starts this month whenever possible, even if it means using a spot sixth starter. So far so good — everyone has stayed healthy aside from Capuano and they’ve all shown flashes of effectiveness, if nothing else.

One thing the Yankees were not getting from their rotation in the early going this season is length. New York’s starters completed six innings of work just three in the first ten games of the season — Pineda did it twice (6 IP and 6.1 IP) and Sabathia did it once (7 IP) — and they were averaging only 5.3 innings per start, which is no good. It’s no surprise the team’s bullpen has thrown the fourth most innings in baseball this season (55.0). (The 19-inning game skews things but those innings happened and contributed to the bullpen workload.)

Only once has Joe Girardi allowed his starter to throw 100+ pitches this year — Eovaldi threw 101 pitches against the Orioles last week — though that is partially by design. Like I said, the team is trying to take it easy on everyone early in the season, so Girardi isn’t necessarily letting them pitch as deep as they normally would. Of course, some early season starts were ugly and leaving the starter out there for 100+ pitches wasn’t doable. They were getting knocked around.

Over the last five games though, the last turn through the rotation, the starter has completed seven innings of work three times and come within one out of completing six innings the other two times. Tanaka and Eovaldi both completed seven innings and Sabathia threw an eight-inning complete game. Pineda and Warren both labored in their 5.2-inning starts but still managed to take the ball deeper into the game than the rotation had averaged in the first ten games of the year.

The Yankees have gotten seven innings from their starting pitcher four times in the last eight games and six innings five times in the last nine games. After averaging 5.3 innings per start through the first ten games, they’ve raised their season average to 5.8 innings per start through 15 games. The AL average is 5.6 innings per start right now, so the Yankees are just above that mark and they’re trending in the right direction.

As we’ve seen so far this season, the Yankees have a pretty dynamic bullpen, particularly at the end of games with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Not many clubs are using relievers as good as David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve in mop-up innings like New York did last night. Pitchers like that are logging setup innings for many clubs around the league. I mean, how many teams could afford to send someone like Shreve to Triple-A for ten days to get a fresh arm?

As good as that bullpen is, Girardi and the Yankees don’t want to use it as much as they’ve had to so far this year. Miller has already recorded a four-out save and a five-out save, and they don’t want outings that long to become the norm. The longer the starters can go, the easier it is on the bullpen, and the more effective the club’s key relievers will be late in the season. The Yankees weren’t getting many innings from their starters the first two turns through the rotation, but this last turn though was much better and it’s lightened the load on the bullpen considerably.

The Yankees deflate Price in a 13-4 rout in Detroit

On the paper, the Adam Warren vs. David Price matchup didn’t sound sexy for the Yankee fans. However, the offense pounced on the former Cy winner to warrant at least a series tie in Detroit. New York has taken seven of their last ten and tied the Blue Jays for the second place in AL East (and a game behind the first-place Red Sox).

Petit! (Credit: Getty)

So, About That First Inning…:

Maybe David Price was looking forward to the snow too much, or the cold and snowy atmosphere really messed with him a lot, but he clearly did not have it tonight. He started the game off by plunking Jacoby Ellsbury and consistently missing spots. Chris Young singled, Alex Rodriguez struck out and Mark Teixeira walked. Brian McCann drove in the first run of the game with a single to Yoenis Cespedes. Carlos Beltran followed that up by striking out (sigh) but the fun started right after. Chase Headley drove in Young with a ground ball single to left field, giving Yanks a 2-0 lead. With two outs, bases loaded, Gregorio Petit came up.

Petit, who was hitting for an ungodly .111/.150/.111 line before tonight’s game, took Price’s slider down the middle into the gap for a bases-clearing double. Man, snow or no snow, you don’t see something like this every day. The Yanks led 5-0. Price proceeded to walk Didi Gregorius and allowed an RBI single to Ellsbury. By the way, that was the first run that Ells drove in this season and it took a very gutsy Rob Thomson call — Petit ran on Cespedes’ very strong arm and Avila couldn’t handle the throw properly. If he did, Ellsbury might have had to wait another day for the first RBI of 2015.

That was just the first part of the first inning saga for pitchers. In the bottom of the first, Adam Warren’s command also caught the David Price disease. Instead of allowing meatballs, the righty just couldn’t find the strike zone. Warren walked four (!!!) of the first five batters faced. One batter he did not walk – Ian Kinsler – lined out sharply to center. After walking in a run, Warren faced Cespedes. The Cuban outfielder hit a grounder to Didi, who made a nice diving stop and was in a good position to get a force out at third … but he went a much harder way and threw to second awkwardly. What? I honestly have no idea what prompted Gregorius to do that. Next batter, Nick Castellanos, hit a grounder to Gregorius. Didi, instead of quickly throwing overhand to turn a double play, did a slower underhand toss to second base for a force out and Castellanos was safe at first. The lead cut to 6-3. Argh.

This inning just screamed of not only the big league inexperience but just overall baseball inexperience for Didi, which shouldn’t be the case since he’s been playing at least since the teens. Given the way he seemed to field the ball in Spring Training, I predict that he’ll find his groove back at some point. He just seems to be in some kind of funk right now.

Oh, and after the force out, Warren allowed an RBI single to Alex Avila. A 6-0 laugher became a 6-4 nailbiter in a matter of half of an inning. Yeesh.

The 5th Starter:

(Credit: Getty)

Warren had not all that been inspiring in first two starts as the Yankee fifth starter (9 IP, 11 H, 5 ER, 4 BB and 3 K’s). Even before getting the second out of the first inning, he doubled his walk total of the season and it seemed like New York needed to score way more than six to earn a win. However, after a tumultuous first inning, Warren settled down nicely. For the next 4.2 innings pitched, Warren allowed only three hits, no runs, no walks and struck out three. Not bad. It was definitely suboptimal (and I’m putting that lightly) condition for pitchers in the beginning and unlike Price, Warren did a nice job rebounding from it. Props.

Warren’s line for the season now stands at 5.40 ERA/5.61 FIP and his walk rate (4.80 BB/9) is higher than his strikeout rate (3.60 K/9). But hopefully he’ll build from the latter portion of tonight’s start. I don’t want to be watching another game where the fans genuinely seem to yearn for Chris Capuano‘s return to the rotation.

No offense to you Detroit, but here’s our offense:

So, 13 runs. Not too shabby. Remember that Yankees’ big Achilles heel in 2013 and 2014 was the inability to score runs? Believe it or not: the Yankees are now second in the entire league in runs scored with 83, trailing only to the Blue Jays (87).

Five starters in the lineup had two or more hits tonight (Ellsbury, Young, McCann, Beltran, Headley) and the team totaled 15. Gregorio Petit, who hit an aforementioned bases-clearing double in the first inning, walked twice (including an intentional one, no kidding!). Teixeira, who now has a .202 batting average and a .925 OPS, hit a towering three-run homer in the seventh inning to pad his slugging percentage. He could use some love from the BABIP gods right now but it’s good to see him hit for good power in early in the season.

Chris Young: Fun to watch (Credit: Getty)

By the way, how fun is it to watch Chris Young right now? After a 3-for-6 performance, his 2015 line is .368/.442/.816 in 44 PA’s, which is ridiculous. For obvious reasons, I don’t expect him to keep that kind of production up for too long but it’s really fun to be in the moment for it. I still have a thread of hope that he could’ve found something that clicked and Jose Bautista’d his career with the Yankees … but that’s a pipe dream.

Extra Notes:

Bullpen was pretty solid tonight. Justin Wilson, David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve combined for 3.1 innings pitched, allowed only a hit and struck out six. That’s pretty nasty.

On the note of an excellent offensive showing, how about this? According to our Katie Sharp, the Yankees are the only team in the majors to score 13 runs or more multiple times so far in 2015. Here’s to many more for the rest of season. Hopefully. Not going to kid you, It’s fun to see this team score a lot of runs again.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings:

Here are the box score and video highlights.  Oh, and win probability chart.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next:

The Yankees look to take the four-game series in Comerica with their ace Masahiro Tanaka on the mound. The Nipponese righty shut down the Rays last time out and he’ll look to repeat that against the Tigers’ starter Anibal Sanchez. Oh, by the way, New York has a winning streak going again. Let’s hope it continues!

DotF: RailRiders win thanks to Heathcott’s four hits

Triple-A Scranton (3-2 win over Lehigh Valley) OF Ramon Flores didn’t play after being hit by a pitch last night

  • CF Slade Heathcott: 4-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI — got picked off first … ten hits in his last 24 at-bats (.417)
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4, 2 K
  • RF Tyler Austin: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 K — in a little 3-for-19 (.158) skid
  • C Austin Romine: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI
  • RHP Chase Whitley: 6 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 6/5 GB/FB — 53 of 74 pitches were strikes (72%) … I wonder when they’ll get him up to 90 pitches
  • RHP Danny Burawa: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — eight of eleven pitches were strikes
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren: 0.2 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 12 of 19 pitches were strikes (63%)
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 13 of 18 pitches were strikes (72%) … continues to be awesome

[Read more…]

Game 15: Adam’s Turn

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

The last turn through the rotation has gone really well for the Yankees. Michael Pineda labored a bit on Sunday, sure, but otherwise Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Nathan Eovaldi all chucked at least seven innings with no more than two runs allowed. Sabathia and Eovaldi did it against a tough Tigers lineup too.

Tonight will be Adam Warren‘s turn to have a strong start against that same Detroit lineup. Warren’s first start was pretty good (two runs in 5.1 innings) but his second start was a mess (four runs in four innings), which I guess isn’t surprising for a guy who is a full-time MLB starter for the first time. A win tonight would clinch at least a series tie against arguably the best team in baseball and push the Yankees over .500 for the first time in 2015. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Gregorio Petit
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Adam Warren

Once again, it’ll be a cold and rainy night at Comerica Park. There are some light showers and flurries (!) in the forecast later tonight but it shouldn’t be anything that will cause a delay or a postponement. They played through some heavy rain for an inning or two last night, remember. First pitch is scheduled for 7:08pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Welcome back, Matt Tracy. The Yankees claimed Tracy off waivers from the Marlins and optioned him to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. Miami designated Tracy for assignment yesterday to clear a 40-man roster spot for another call-up after claiming him off waivers from New York over the weekend. The 40-man roster is now full.

2015 Draft: Mariano Rivera III

(Iona)
(Iona)

Mariano Rivera III | RHP

Background
The Yankees selected Mo III a draft-eligible sophomore out of Iona College in the 29th round (872nd overall) of last summer’s draft, though he declined to sign and instead returned to school. “I think Mariano and the family feel like some more seasoning in the college ranks will benefit him more,” said Brian Cashman to Anthony Rieber following the signing deadline last July. Rivera has a 3.24 ERA with 76 strikeouts and 16 walks in ten starts and 58.1 innings this spring after pitching to a 6.02 ERA with 64/40 K/BB in 106 innings his first two years of college.

Scouting Report
Rivera is short and rail thin at 5-foot-11 and 155 lbs., and last year he sat mostly 89-92 mph with his fastball. He’s made significant strides this year and now sits 93-95 mph while throwing both a power low-80s curveball and a promising split-finger fastball he uses as a changeup. No, he doesn’t throw a cutter. Rivera is an excellent athlete with a loose arm like his father, though he’s quite raw and has to work to firm up his command and delivery. He made the jump from kinda sorta interesting last year to actual prospect this year.

Miscellany
Mariano III is not expected to be a high draft pick this year — neither Keith Law (subs. req’d), MLB.com, nor Baseball America ranked Rivera as one of the top 50 prospects in the draft this year. He’s more of an 11th to 15th round talent. Rivera has expressed a strong interest in finishing his education, however, so he may not be signable even though he took a big step forward developmentally this spring. Mo III isn’t his father and it’s incredibly unfair to put any sort of expectations on him because of his bloodlines. He has some ability though, and I think it’s safe to assume the Yankees know him better than any other team, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they popped Rivera again this year in case he does decide to turn pro.

Injury Updates: Nova, Pirela, Capuano, Ryan

Pirela. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Pirela. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

The Yankees and Tigers will play the third game of their four-game series a little later tonight. Until then, here are some injury updates via Marly Rivera, George King, Chad Jennings, and the Associated Press.

  • Ivan Nova (elbow) threw two innings of live batting practice yesterday. He threw 20 pitches, sat down for a few minutes, then threw 15 more pitches. Nova is scheduled to pitch in a simulated game on Friday, which will be his first game action of any sort since having Tommy John surgery last April. He’s on track to return in June.
  • Jose Pirela (concussion) went 1-for-3 with a hit-by-pitch in an Extended Spring Training game on Monday, which was his first game action since getting hurt. He played third base and stayed in the game after getting plunked. Pirela is scheduled to play seven innings at second base today.
  • Chris Capuano (quad) is scheduled to throw two innings in an Extended Spring Training game today. It’ll be his first game action since getting hurt in Spring Training. Capuano is looking at a mid-May return at the moment.
  • Brendan Ryan (calf) was able to field ground balls and take batting practice yesterday. I believe that is the first time he’s done any sort of baseball activity since getting hurt in Spring Training.

Bernie Williams to finally sign retirement papers at Yankee Stadium this Friday

(AP Photo/Doug Mills)
(AP Photo/Doug Mills)

More than eight years after playing in his final MLB game, Bernie Williams is finally ready to call it a career. Bernie will officially sign his retirement papers at a press conference at Yankee Stadium this Friday, the Yankees announced. It would be cool if he signs a one-day contract to retire as a member of the team, but I’m not sure if that will happen. He will throw out the ceremonial first pitch though.

The Yankees are set to retire No. 51 in Bernie’s honor later this season, on May 24th. The team will unveil a logo related to the number retirement at Friday’s press conference. There will also be an on-field ceremony to debut a souvenir pin honoring Williams this Friday, which will be sold by Hard Rock Cafe and benefit Hillside Food Outreach.

Williams, now 46, never did officially retire after last playing in 2006. He’s been back at Yankee Stadium a whole bunch of times over the years, for Old Timers’ Day, Mariano Rivera‘s and Derek Jeter‘s retirement ceremonies, all sorts of stuff. Signing the retirement papers is really just a formality at this point.

Bernie hit .297/.381/.477 (125 OPS+) with 449 doubles, 287 home runs, and 147 stolen bases in his 16-year career, all with the Yankees, and he helped them to four World Series titles. He was the fifth member of the Core Four and the first of the bunch to make his MLB debut. Williams was on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2012 and 2013 but didn’t receive enough votes to stay on the ballot.