DotF: Higashioka swats two home runs in latest rehab game

Triple-A Scranton‘s game was suspended due to rain in the middle of the fifth inning. They’re going to finish it tomorrow. Here’s the box score if you can’t wait that long.

Double-A Trenton (6-4 loss to Akron in eleven innings)

  • CF Jeff Hendrix: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB — 17-for-32 (.531) in his last eight games
  • 2B Nick Solak: 4-6, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 1 K — 17-for-52 (.327) in 12 games with Trenton
  • SS Thairo Estrada: 3-6, 2 RBI
  • 1B Ryan McBroom: 1-5, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RF Rashad Crawford: 0-5, 1 R, 3 K — in a 1-for-22 (.045) slump
  • RHP Will Carter: 3.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 5/3 GB/FB — 48 of 78 pitches were strikes (62%)
  • RHP Cody Carroll: 2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 25 of 42 pitches were strikes (60%) … 79/27 K/BB in 60.2 innings

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Game 118: Score runs for Sonny

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time as a Yankee, Sonny Gray will start a game at Yankee Stadium this evening. Perhaps the Yankees will even score runs for him. Gray has made two starts and thrown 12 innings since the trade, and during those 12 innings the offense has scored zero runs. Not one. They’ve scored one run total in the two games he’s started. That’s gotta change.

Of course, scoring runs might not be so easy tonight with Jacob deGrom on the bump for the Mets. He’s having a fantastic season: 3.21 ERA (3.52 FIP) with 29.2% strikeouts and 7.5% walks in 151.1 innings. The Yankees have been getting shut down by guys like Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez and Rafael Montero lately. What happens whey face a bonafide ace? It’s ugly. Hoping for the best tonight. Here is the Mets’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. DH Brett Gardner
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. C Gary Sanchez
  6. 1B Chase Headley
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 1B Todd Frazier
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Sonny Gray

Pretty crummy weather in New York today. Overcast and on-and-off rain all day. There’s no more rain in the forecast tonight, though it’s cloudy and cool and humid. Yuck. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on either WPIX or SNY. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Luis Cessa has been placed on the 10-day DL with a rib cage injury, the Yankees announced. He left last night’s start with the injury. Caleb Smith was called back up from Triple-A Scranton to replace him on the roster.

Injury Update: Joe Girardi indicated the plan right now is to have CC Sabathia (knee) return on Saturday, the first day he’s eligible to be activated. That lines him up perfectly to replace Cessa. Sabathia threw a bullpen session yesterday and will reportedly throw another one at some point this week … Greg Bird (ankle) remains on target to begin his minor league rehab assignment tomorrow. He hopes to be activated sometime next week.

How much do the Yankees need to limit Jordan Montgomery’s workload anyway?

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Last week the Yankees sent Jordan Montgomery down to Triple-A for one specific reason: to control his workload. Jon Morosi reported Montgomery would pitch on seven days rest going forward and have his innings capped within his starts. Five innings seems to be the organizational standard. It’s easier to manipulate a pitcher’s workload like that in Triple-A than MLB.

“We are going to shorten some outings down there just to cut back a little bit,” said Joe Girardi to George King last week, after Montgomery was sent down. “We do have somewhat of a concern that if he got over 180 innings, where he would be? There was no innings set, but the number was about 180 and the innings are always more stressful here.”

Plans change, of course. The Yankees lost both CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka to injuries last week, so they had to call Montgomery back up to fill out the rotation. The plan to control his workload had to be put on hold because the Yankees are fighting for a postseason spot and their pitchers keep getting hurt. Winning is the priority. Once Tanaka and Sabathia return, the Yankees will be in better position to cut back on Montgomery’s innings.

Here’s the thing though: how much do the Yankees really need to cut back on Montgomery’s workload? Obviously they know him better than we outsiders, so if they believe they need to take it easy on him the last few weeks of the season, I’m not going to doubt them. I’m more or less thinking out loud right now. Here are Montgomery’s innings totals over the years:

  • 2014: 107.2 innings (college and minors)
  • 2015: 134.1 innings (minors)
  • 2016: 152 innings (minors)
  • 2017: 126 innings and counting (minors and MLB)

Nice, steady progression. Montgomery is a very big and very durable guy — he’s never missed a start, not in high school or college or pro ball — and the Yankees want to keep it that way, so they’re not going to put him at risk of injury through overwork this year.

Now, that all said, let’s do the math here quick. Montgomery started Sunday night, in the 116th game of the season. If he were to start every fifth game from here on out, he’d make nine starts the rest of the season. If he were to average six innings in those nine starts, he’d finish the season at 180 innings on the nose, which is the cap the Yankees seem to have set for him. Convenient! A few things:

1. 180 innings is not a hard cap. The Yankees did not come out and say Montgomery will be limited to 180 innings this year. Girardi said there is “somewhat of a concern that if he got over 180 innings where he would be,” meaning would he be running on fumes and at risk of injury? I’m surprised Girardi threw out that 180 innings number, to be honest. The Yankees have steered clear of revealing workload limits the last few years because there’s nothing good that can come from it. Point is, things are going to be touch and go. The Yankees might want to get to Montgomery to 180 innings, but if he hits a wall at 160, he hits a wall at 160.

2. Averaging six innings per start isn’t easy. My little back of the envelope calculation has Montgomery getting to 180 innings by averaging six innings per start in his final nine starts of the season. Averaging six innings per start is hard! He’s averaging 5.50 innings per start now. Only ten times in 22 starts has Montgomery completed six full innings. The AL average is 5.58 innings per start. Sixty-five pitchers have made at least 20 starts this year and only 28 of them are averaging six innings per start. There’s some wiggle room in my little “six innings per start for nine starts” assumption.

3. What about the postseason, dummy? The Yankees have not played well the last few weeks overall, but they are still in postseason position and very much in the race. Heck, they’re still in the division race. It might not seem like it, but they are within striking distance (4.5 games back) with seven head-to-head games to go against the Red Sox. It’s doable. Unlikely, but doable. The Yankees have a lot to play for these final seven weeks.

Two things about the postseason and Montgomery’s workload. One, the Yankees have to actually get to the postseason before this is a problem. Can’t put the cart before the horse. If the Yankees need to max out Montgomery’s workload to get to the postseason and he’s not available for the playoffs, so be it. And two, I think the Yankees would take the reins off in October and let him pitch no matter what, as long as he’s still effective. Flags fly forever.

* *

On paper, it seems Montgomery’s workload might not be that big of an issue down the stretch. If the target is 180 innings, he figures to have innings to spare even if he starts every fifth game from here on out. The caveat here is that Montgomery might show signs of fatigue (i.e. ineffectiveness) before reaching 180 innings, and he might be completely unavailable for the postseason should the Yankees qualify. The Yankees will deal with that when the time comes.

As much as we and the Yankees are focused on the here and now, this is all about the future. Montgomery looks like a keeper and the Yankees want to keep him healthy and productive. Young mid-rotation starters are awfully valuable. Guys with Montgomery’s numbers will cost you about $15M a year in free agency. His health and workload will have to be monitored as we approach the end of the season, though right now, it’s entirely possible any restrictions might now be much of a factor after all.

Hicks’ and Frazier’s injuries show the Yankees can’t have too many outfielders

Hicks and Frazier (Elsa/Getty Images)
Hicks and Frazier (Elsa/Getty Images)

For a few weeks this summer, it seemed like the Yankees had a great problem on their hands: Too many outfielders.

Clint Frazier was lining extra-base hit after extra-base hit, Aaron Judge was, well, Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner was hitting home runs and Aaron Hicks was on his way back to the majors. That’s four guys for three spots, not to mention the presence of Jacoby Ellsbury, but with Ellsbury and Matt Holliday‘s respective struggles, playing time wouldn’t have been an issue.

With Frazier’s oblique injury, the Yankees’ outfield was cemented for the time being with Hicks, Gardner and Judge and a few too many Ellsbury starts. Oblique injuries take a while to heal, as evidenced by Hicks’ time away from the team, so the outfield overload is an issue the team can deal with when it actually comes to pass.

But the oblique injuries to Hicks and Frazier should be a warning to the front office not to deplete its outfield depth going into 2018.

It seems logical for the Yankees to pursue a trade for Ellsbury, who will have three years and about $68.5 million left on his deal after this season. The team would have to absorb some of that money and/or take back a bad contract, but it’d leave the Yankees with four outfielders for three spots. In theory, that can be an issue. But that’s only at the surface.

Yes, the team would have four men for three spots, but that’s assuming perfect health. Hicks has missed time with injuries each of the last two years. Frazier’s out now. Judge lost time in 2016 with a knee and oblique injury, respectively. While Gardner has placed at least 145 games each year since 2013, he’s been banged up plenty and the ability to give him days off in his age-34 season is important.

Performance-wise, there are concerns with each. Hicks and Judge each look like entirely different hitters from last season and how they can sustain their improvements will help define the 2018 OF. Gardner is getting older and has been off and on all season. Frazier is only 22 and didn’t exactly light the world on fire with a 92 wRC+ in 117 PAs.

That right there is enough of a reason to keep all four guys with concerns across the board, but the team will also have the ability to start all four plenty with the open DH role. Holliday is a free agent after this season and hasn’t hit his weight while dealing with injuries. He’ll be 38 come spring training next year and it looks unlikely he’ll be back in pinstripes.

The Yankees will surely seek out another veteran either via free agency or trade (Carlos Santana please!) that can take DH bats or act as Greg Bird/Gleyber Torres insurance. However, the team is also trying to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold next season so they can be even more competitive in the 2018-19 offseason. Adding a high priced veteran shouldn’t be in the cards, even if it means taking a chance on a cheaper option like Chris Carter was this year.

The counterargument to giving DH ABs to the four-man outfield (and Gary Sanchez, among others) would be the ability to flip one of the OFs at their peak value for another piece to the roster puzzle, whether a starter or infielder or otherwise. Only Gardner is close to free agency, but his one year of value is likely more valuable to the 2018 Yankees than the players he could get in return.

With Judge staying in place, that leaves Hicks and Frazier as potential trade chips. Maybe if the Yankees still had Dustin Fowler set to return for 2018 it would make sense to deal from this position of strength this winter. But the Yankees OF depth close to the majors is down to Jake Cave and Billy McKinney, neither of whom you can count on for significant contributions as rookies next year.

And if you want to win a championship, you need both depth and talent. Keeping the outfield together minus Ellsbury for 2018 is the best way to go about building a contender. If they need to acquire controllable starters via trade, they have plenty of prospects still in the minors to deal. But the current outfield is worth keeping together for another season.

Thoughts in the middle of the 2017 Subway Series

Make the entire team out of Aarons. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Make the entire team out of Aarons. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees won the first game of the 2017 Subway Series last night, and the two teams will play the second game tonight before the series shifts to Citi Field. I don’t like this home-and-home setup. I’d rather two three-game series. Give me a definite winner and bragging rights. Anyway, I have some thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.

1. How great is it to have Aaron Hicks back? I was planning to write that even before he hit the game-winning home run last night. Hicks is up to .284/.389/.518 (142 wRC+) with 12 homers in 65 games this season. It’s too bad he missed so much time with the oblique strain, but he’s back now, and he’s having an impact. On both sides of the ball. He shut the Red Sox down with arm Friday night, then made some real nice catches in center field Sunday night. Between that and the two clutch homers he’s hit the last few days, it’s safe to say Hicks has come back and not missed a beat. I’m all-in here. I think the first half version of Hicks is here to stay. He’s always had talent, the tools were so obvious last year even when he struggled, and now he’s putting it all together. It’s very exciting. He’s given the Yankees a nice little shot in the arm since returning from the disabled list last week. Welcome back, Hicksie.

2. Gary Sanchez has gone from being saddled with unrealistic expectations following last season to being underrated this year. He’s currently hitting .273/.350/.511 (128 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 84 games this season. Here is the full list of catchers who’ve posted a 120 OPS+ or better with 25+ home runs in a season at age 24 or younger: Johnny Bench (three times!), Gary Carter, Matt Nokes, Mike Piazza, and Rudy York. That’s it. Sanchez might not finish with either number, the 120 OPS+ or 25+ homers, but he’s certainly within striking distance, and those guys are the kind of company he’s keeping with this performance. Does Sanchez need to improve his defense, specifically blocking balls in the dirt? Absolutely. But he is a special hitter, especially relative to his position, and it seems an awful lot of people aren’t appreciating that. Sanchez has been getting vilified way way way too much lately, and the passed ball related benching sure hasn’t helped matters. Gary is a franchise catcher and he has the talent to hit in the middle of the order for a World Series contending team, and he’s established himself as exactly that with roughly one full year in the big leagues. Sanchez received gobs of attention and praise last year, and rightfully so. This year he’s not getting nearly enough.

3. I like Ronald Torreyes. When the Yankees acquired him, I said I was excited about his potential to be a high-energy utility infielder who excelled at getting the bat on the ball, and that is pretty much exactly what he’s become. At the same time, Torreyes has played in 83 of 117 games this season — he’s started 67 of those 117 games — and that is entirely too many. I understand Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro have missed long stretches of time with injuries, though Torreyes is still playing too much. I firmly believe Tyler Wade should have, at the very least, been starting at second base against righties these last few weeks. I know he’s looked terrible when he has played, but Wade is quite talented, and he was given no chance to settle in and get comfortable. Torreyes has gone 15-for-56 (.268) with no power and no walks (and no steals) since Wade had that disaster game against the Rays a few weeks back, when the big spot kept finding him. Torreyes isn’t good enough on either side of the ball to get as much playing time as he has. Hopefully when Castro returns, Joe Girardi goes back to using Torreyes as a once or twice a week utility infielder, though I’m not getting my hopes up. He seems to like getting him into the lineup fairly regularly.

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

4. As soon as it was reported Derek Jeter would be part of the group purchasing the Marlins — the first time he was going to buy the team, not the most recent time — I couldn’t help but wonder what it would mean for his relationship with the Yankees. It would be kinda weird to mingle with one franchise when you own another, right? Then I realized absolutely nothing is going to change because Jeter is never around the Yankees. I don’t mean for that be a knock against him. He just isn’t around much. Jeter has come back for some ceremonies over the years (1996 reunion, jersey retirements, etc.) and that’s it. This is the third season since Jeter retired and we’re still waiting for our first random “and look who’s here, that’s Derek Jeter at the game today” sighting. The Yankees-Jeter relationship is a two-way street. They both benefit. Even with Jeter now involved with the Marlins, I can’t see him cutting ties with the Yankees. There’s too much to lose by doing that.

5. That all said, there is one aspect of the Jeter-Marlins business that could impact the Yankees. Jeter could look to poach front office talent. Maybe he’ll take Randy Levine and/or Lonn Trost, but I’m not getting my hopes up. I’m talking about all the baseball people inside the organization he’s known for years. Two names immediately jump to mind: Gary Denbo and Rob Thomson. Denbo and Jeter have a very good relationship dating back to Derek’s minor league days, when Denbo was a coach in the farm system, so there’s trust there. He could be someone Jeter tries to lure to Miami. Denbo is the Yankees’ vice president of player development and he basically runs the farm system, a farm system that has produced some really exciting talent lately. Thomson, Girardi’s bench coach, has known Jeter forever and he’s worn all sorts of different hats with the Yankees over the years, including director of player development and vice president of minor league development. Usually when someone comes in and takes over a baseball operations department like Jeter reportedly will do with the Marlins, they bring in people they know and trust, and both Denbo and Thomson fit the bill. (So does Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield.) I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jeter try to nab some of the Yankees front office talent by offering higher profile positions with the Marlins once the sale goes final.

Aaron and Aaron lead Yanks to 4-2 comeback win over Mets

Good game. Needed a win like that. The Yankees rebounded from Sunday night’s brutal loss to the Red Sox with a come-from-behind win over the Mets on Monday. The final score was 4-2 in favor of the New York team that is actually in contention.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Return of the Aarons
For the first half of the season, the Yankees were carried by Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks. They had help from others like Starlin Castro and Matt Holliday, sure, but the Aarons were the stars of the show. Then Hicks landed on the disabled list and Judge slipped into his second half slump, and, not coincidentally, the Yankees stopped scoring runs consistently.

Monday night the A-A-Rons returned, for at least one night. Judge tied the game in the sixth inning with his AL leading 36th home run of the season, an opposite field shot that he definitely did not completely square up. It was one of those “he missed it a bit but it still landed eight rows deep” homers we saw a lot in the first half. Going the other way is a good sign too. I choose to believe that.

The score remained tied 2-2 into the eighth inning, and that’s when the other Aaron got in on the act. Hicks absolutely demolished a middle-middle fastball from Hansel Robles …

aaron-hicks-hansel-robles

… into the right field bleachers for a go-ahead solo home run. Gone right off the bat. There was no doubt about it. Hicks dropped his bat, watched the ball land in the bleachers, then started his jog. The Yankees definitely do not have enough guys who will pimp a homer. Glad Hicks did it on that one. It was a bomb and it gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. Gary Sanchez added a solo homer later in the inning for an always appreciated insurance run.

Won The Trade
Great start for Justin Wilson. He held the Mets to two runs on five hits and two walks in seven innings, and struck out nine. Can’t ask for much more than that. Of course, the role of Justin Wilson was played by Luis Cessa and Chad Green on Monday, the two guys he was traded for. Cessa started and Green replaced him out of the bullpen. Wilson is pretty awesome! But turning him into two big league arms, including one as good as Green, is a nifty little move.

Anyway, Cessa started Monday night and he held the Mets to solo homers by Curtis Granderson (of course) and Yoenis Cespedes before being forced to exit with an injury after 4.1 innings. Granderson has crushed the Yankees since signing with the Mets. As for Cessa, he has something up with his back and will go for an MRI on Tuesday, according to Joe Girardi. It’s not believed to be serious, so that’s good. Cessa was flexing his arm in that fifth inning and that’s always scary.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Also, holy cow, Cessa was pumping some serious heat in the first inning. Statcast says he ran his fastball up to 100.3 mph in the game. Who knew Cessa had that in him? He’s always had easy mid-90s velocity, but 100 mph? I didn’t see that coming. Aside from the two homers, which are an obvious problem, Cessa looked pretty strong Monday night. The Mets took 17 swings against his slider and missed seven times.

As for Green, he looked like himself, which means dominant. He fanned four and walked one in 2.2 innings. No hits or runs. Green now has a 1.95 ERA (2.13 FIP) with a 39.8% strikeout rate this season. He got seven misses on 17 swings against his fastball, same as Cessa’s slider. Nice night for the Justin Wilson trade.

Leftovers
With Aroldis Chapman apparently unavailable following his lengthy outing Sunday, David Robertson handled the eighth and Dellin Betances got the ninth. Robertson pitched around a walk and Betances pitched around an infield single. That’s my closer. The three relievers: 4.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K.

The Yankees scored their first run on a Sanchez sac fly in the fourth inning. That was one of those innings. The Yankees loaded the bases with one out and managed only one run in the least exciting way possible, and it felt like a miracle. I mean, scoring two runs in six innings against Rafael Montero is pretty bad. On par with getting shut down by Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez.

Two hits for Hicks and Sanchez, and one each for Judge, Brett Gardner, Todd Frazier, and Ronald Torreyes. Judge and Didi Gregorius drew the only walks. The Yankees went 1-for-3 with runners in scoring position. That’s good, right? Solo homers are better. Long live dingers.

And finally, here’s a weird one: Judge, Hicks, and Sanchez all hit their 40th career home runs in this game. Huh. Quickest to 40 homers in MLB history: Mark McGwire (110 games), Rudy York (129 games), Sanchez (139 games), and Judge (140 games). Yup.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, go to ESPN. For the video highlights, go to MLB.com. Make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload page too. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Game two of the Subway Series home-and-home. Pretty fun pitching matchup Tuesday night: Sonny Gray vs. Jacob deGrom. If you want to catch that game, or either of the two games at Citi Field, RAB Tickets can get you in the door.

DotF: Keller pitches well again in Tampa’s win

Some notes before we get to one of the slower days in the minors since the short season leagues started up in late June:

  • Eric Longenhagen posted his updated top ten Yankees prospects list. All the usual names are at the top, and up-and-comer RHP Jorge Guzman makes an appearance too. “Guzman is sitting 96-100 with relative ease and showing slider feel,” says the write-up.
  • RHP Juan De Paula was named the Short Season NY-Penn League Pitcher of the Week. He struck out five in six no-hit innings during his start over the weekend. De Paula, who the Yankees picked up in the Ben Gamel trade, has a 3.60 ERA (3.45 FIP) in 40 innings this year.
  • Short Season Staten Island will have an All-Star this year after all. IF Jose Polonia was added to the roster, the NY-Penn League announced. Polonia, 21, it hitting .269/.361/.269 (97 wRC+) in 18 games and 61 plate appearances with Staten Island. Yeah.
  • And finally, make sure you check out Josh Norris’ feature on RHP Matt Sauer, this year’s second round pick. Sauer said he and the Yankees will get together in Instruction League to determine whether he should move forward with his slider or curveball, or both.

Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton both had scheduled off-days.

High-A Tampa (4-2 win over Florida)

  • SS Hoy Jun Park: 2-5, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI — 9-for-31 (.290) in his last seven games … took him a few games to find his bearings after the promotion, but now he’s locked in
  • LF Trey Amburgey: 0-5, 1 K
  • CF Estevan Florial: 1-4, 2 K — he’s hit safely in eleven of 12 games with Tampa
  • 3B Angel Aguilar: 0-4, 1 K, 2 E (throwing, fielding)
  • RHP Brian Keller: 6 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 1 WP, 6/3 GB/FB — 66 of 96 pitches were strikes (69%), plus he picked a runner off first … 34/3 K/BB in his last four starts and 26 innings

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