Changeup was a big help for Pineda against the Athletics

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Tuesday night Michael Pineda turned in his best start of the young season, holding the admittedly offensively challenged Athletics to two runs in six innings. He had a long second inning thanks to some grounders that beat the shift, but otherwise the A’s didn’t put too much pressure on him. Big Mike had to grind through his previous starts against the Astros and Blue Jays.

“I thought he threw the ball pretty well tonight,” said Joe Girardi to Mark Feinsand after the game. “I thought he mixed his pitches. I thought his slider had good depth tonight. Sometimes too much, but that’s okay. I thought he threw the ball pretty well.”

As usual, Pineda attacked hitters with (cut) fastballs and sliders last night. That’s Pineda. He’s a fastball/slider guy. They’re his bread and butter. But, for the first time this season, Big Mike also leaned on his changeup Tuesday night, throwing eleven of them overall. He threw 12 changeups total in his first two starts.

“I’m feeling pretty good today on the mound,” said Pineda to Chad Jennings following his start. “I have better command today with my pitches. I’m doing good. The changeup is working good tonight and my slider too.”

Pineda threw ten of those eleven changeups to left-handed batters and he threw it to both start at-bats (two first pitch changeups) and finish hitters off (six when ahead in the count). The A’s put three of the eleven changeups in play (all outs) and only one went for a ball. That all sounds good, but look at the location (via Brooks Baseball):

Michael Pineda location

That’s a lot of blue dots out over the plate, and while it’s natural to think pitches in the zone are bad, that’s not necessarily the case. The entire point of the changeup is to disrupt timing. As long as the hitter is out in front and unable to square up the pitch, the changeup is effective. Sometimes they make contact and get a ball to dunk in for a hit. That’s just baseball being baseball.

Pineda threw those 12 total changeups in his first two starts and hitters took seven of them for balls. (Carlos Correa smashed another one off the damn restaurant in center field.) That’s not great. The changeup doesn’t help much if it doesn’t entice hitters to swing, not unless the plan is to sneak it by everyone for a called strike. I can’t imagine that would work long-term.

There is a balance to be struck here. Ideally Pineda would continue to use his changeup regularly and be able to get hitters to chase after it without throwing it over the heart of the plate. That’s hard! Command is not easy. If it was, everyone would have it. Pineda’s been working on his changeup since the Yankees acquired him — the shoulder injury threw a wrench into things — and he’s still working on it. It’s hardly a finished product.

After barely throwing his changeup in his first two starts, Pineda leaned on the pitch against the A’s last night, and it helped him have his best outing of the season. The change is never going to become his No. 1 weapon, his fastball and slider are too good, but using it often enough to keep hitters guessing could help Big Mike find some sustained success, something he continues to chase in pinstripes.

The Yankees are about to learn a lot about their ability to hit left-handed pitching

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Late last season, when the Yankees were struggling to get much going offensively, they were shut down by left-handed starters seemingly every other night. As a team they hit .248/.320/.345 with only eight homers in 470 plate appearances against southpaws last September. They dropped nine of 13 games when the opposing starter was a lefty in that final month.

“I think we struggled against left-handers,” said Joe Girardi after the wildcard game loss to Dallas Keuchel and the Astros. “We lost a big bat (in Mark Teixeira), and he was one of the guys we counted on to do a lot of damage to left-handers. And Greg Bird had one of our hits tonight and had a tremendous season for us, but we struggled against left-handers.”

So far this season the Yankees are 0-3 when facing an left-handed starter. They replaced Chris Young with Aaron Hicks and the lefty hitting Stephen Drew with the righty hitting Starlin Castro (you could argue Castro replaced the righty hitting Rob Refsnyder), but so far the team owns a .226/.320/.321 (86 OPS+) batting line against southpaws. The struggles of late 2015 have carried over into early 2016.

Of course, we’re talking about a sample of three games here, so you can’t make too much of this. The Yankees are about to begin a stretch that will tell us much more about their ability to hit southpaws though. Based on the upcoming schedule and pitching probables, the club has just started a stretch in which they will face six left-handed opposing starters in nine games. Here’s the list:

Tuesday, April 19th: LHP Eric Surkamp (loss)
Wednesday, April 20th: RHP Kendall Graveman
Thursday, April 21st: LHP Rich Hill
Friday, April 22nd: RHP Erasmo Ramirez
Saturday, April 23rd: LHP Matt Moore
Sunday, April 24th: LHP Drew Smyly
Monday, April 25th: LHP Cole Hamels
Tuesday, April 26th: RHP A.J. Griffin
Wednesday, April 27th: LHP Martin Perez

Obvious caveat: the upcoming starters may change for a variety of reasons. The further out you go, the more likely it is the opposing starter changes. We’re looking at a nine-day span here — we’re on day two already — so we aren’t looking that far ahead, but yeah, things can change. As always, pitching probables are just that. Probables.

With five lefties coming in the next eight games, Hicks is going to see a lot of playing time and for good reason. He’s a career .258/.347/.425 (139 OPS+) hitter against lefties. Hitting lefties is why the Yankees went out and got him. Well, that’s not true. The Yankees hope he develops into an everyday player at some point. At a bare minimum, they want Hicks to mash southpaws. They’ll be able to get him in the lineup consistently this next week or so, something they’ve been unable to do yet this year.

“We’re going to see a lot of lefties in the next nine or ten days,” said Girardi to Chad Jennings prior to last night’s game. “So Hicksie’s probably going to get a lot of at-bats because he’s been so good against left-handers in his career. It’s a day to keep those guys fresh and to keep him involved. I think he’s important to this team, especially against the left-handers.”

Castro didn’t hit lefties much last year (80 OPS+) — he didn’t hit anyone last year — but he is 3-for-11 (.273) with three doubles against southpaws in the early going. Even if he was 0-for-11, he would still be in the starting lineup every time the Yankees face a lefty this season. He batting second last night, after all. I supposed we could see the right-handed hitting Ronald Torreyes at some point, maybe to give Didi Gregorius a breather, but that’s about as far as lineup changes go.

More than anything, the Yankees need the regulars to step up and produce if they want to right the ship against left-handers. Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, Teixeira … those guys. They have to carry the offense regardless of whether there’s a righty or lefty on the mound. It hasn’t happened these last six games overall but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen going forward.

These next nine games will be a good litmus test for the offense’s ability to handle left-handed pitchers. They can’t be as vulnerable against southpaws as they were late last year. Not if they want to stay in the race and possibly return to the postseason. Castro and Hicks figure to help to some extent. Bottom line, it’s up to the regulars to lead the way.

Bats remain silent, Yankees drop series opener 3-2 to A’s in 11 innings

For the first time this season, the Yankees played extra innings Tuesday. And for the fifth time in the last six games, the Yankees lost Tuesday. The offense remained dormant in the series opening loss to the Athletics. The final score was 3-2 bad guys.

Imagine how the guys who aren’t hitting must feel. (Presswire)

Two Token Runs
Yeesh, this offense stinks right now. The Yankees were held to two runs (or less) for the fifth time in the last six games, and they’ve lost all five of those games. Things look pretty good in the first inning! The Yankees plated a run and hit some rockets off generic lefty Eric Surkamp in that opening frame, though it could have been better. Brian McCann struck out swinging at ball four with two men on base to end the inning.

The Yankees scored their other run in the fifth inning on a walk (Brett Gardner), a double (Starlin Castro), and a sacrifice fly (Carlos Beltran). Didi Gregorius opened the inning with a single, but was picked off first. Blah. Castro was stranded at third that inning as well. Mark Teixeira, who drew a walk after the sac fly, was left at first base. They only got the one run that inning and two token “we tried” runs in the game.

Of course, the Yankees had several opportunities to score between the first and fifth innings. Gardner lead off the third with a double, then the next three batters went down on ten total pitches. Alex Rodriguez started the fourth with a leadoff single, and then the next three batters went down on 12 pitches. The Yankees have had 57 leadoff base-runners this season and zero have scored. I just made that up, but it sounds like it could be true.

Adequate Mike
It would seem the rotation is starting to turn the corner. After the first two turns through the rotation featured high pitch counts and long innings, Masahiro Tanaka turned in a strong outing Sunday and Michael Pineda followed with six good innings Tuesday. Big Mike held the Athletics to two runs on seven hits and a walk in six those innings. He struck out seven and got 19 swings and misses out of 97 pitches.

The second inning got a little messy, and it looked like it was about to snowball out of control on Pineda. Two singles against the shift gave the A’s runners at first and second with two outs, then Marcus Semien jumped on a get-me-over 3-0 fastball …


… for a run-scoring single to left field. I am a big fan of swinging 3-0. Not all the time, of course, but that was a good time for Semien to hunt a 3-0 fastball, and it paid off. Pineda was able to get Billy Burns to ground out to first to end the inning, limiting the damage for one run. For a while it seemed the A’s were about to bust things open.

Oakland scored their second run in the sixth inning — they scored in the next half-inning both times the Yankees scored — thanks to a Beltran aided Danny Valencia leadoff triple. The ball was scalded over Beltran’s head, but he didn’t retrieve it quickly, allowing Valencia to get to third. Jed Lowrie punched a single through the drawn in infield to knot the game up.

Last time out Pineda walked three batters for the first time as a Yankee, and in this start he issued his first four-pitch walk as a Yankee. Josh Reddick drew the four-pitch free pass in the first inning. Pineda went to three 3-0 counts on the night overall — Reddick’s walk, Semien’s single, then again to Reddick later in the game (he flew out) — and his location doesn’t seem as sharp as usual. It happens. This was his best start of the season to date and hopefully he builds off it going forward.


Battle of the Bullpens
Walk-off wins are cool, and it appeared the Yankees were set up to win the game after Chase Headley singled through the shift to start the ninth inning. Jacoby Ellsbury came off the bench to pinch-run — after the first pitch of the at-bat for some reason, not sure what the delay was about — but he didn’t run right away. I hate when Gardner does that. Wait, what?

Gregorius tried to bunt Ellsbury up to second but failed miserably. I know Didi pushed a nice bunt the other day, but man, he did not look comfortable bunting there at all. Why try to force it when the guy is so uncomfortable? Gregorius didn’t do the job, then Ellsbury was thrown out by a mile trying to steal second. It was not close. Ellsbury is doing nothing well right now. He’s not hitting, his defense has been rough, and that’s the second time he’s been thrown out trying to steal in a big spot.

The final eight — and 15 of the final 16! — Yankees to bat in the game made outs. The Oakland bullpen allowed just the one hit — Headley’s leadoff single in the ninth — in 5.1 total innings. Yuck. The Yankees are blowing way way waaay too many opportunities right now. Some of it is bad luck — Yonder Alonso robbed Gardner of a two-run line drive single in the sixth with a jumping catch — but that excuse doesn’t last forever. Six games of this now is pretty terrible.

Johnny Barbato took the loss in his second inning of work when Mark Canha yanked an 0-2 fastball by Gregorius at shortstop with two outs in the 11th. Barbato was one strike away from escaping the jam. Lowrie set the rally up with a leadoff double into the right field corner. The pitching staff did its job Tuesday. Three runs on eleven hits, a walk, and 12 strikeouts in eleven innings should be good enough to win. At some point the offense has to do something.

It's not your fault, Johnny. (Presswire)
It’s not your fault, Johnny. (Presswire)

Teixeira drew two walks for the fourth straight game. The last Yankee to do that? Nick Swisher back in 2012. Gardner (double, walk), A-Rod (two singles), and Headley (two singles) all reached multiple time as well. McCann and Aaron Hicks both went 0-for-5. Womp wimp.

Gregorius had a fantastic night at shortstop, making two highlight plays in the seventh and another very good play in the ninth. He went 1-for-4 in the game but couldn’t get that bunt down in the ninth. For this team, failing to get that bunt down shouldn’t be a back-breaker offensively.

Both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller threw scoreless innings, and since they threw for the third time in four days, they might not be available Wednesday. Maybe Miller will be good to go because he only threw eight pitches. We’ll see. Joe Girardi usually doesn’t like to push his top relievers this early in the season.

Did I mention the offense sucks right now? Because the offense sucks right now. Geez. Snap out of it ya jerks.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights for the game, and the updated standings for the season. When I glanced at the standings before the game, 18 of the 30 clubs had between five and seven losses, so yeah. Everyone is still bunched close together. Anyway, check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Now here is the sad win probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Athletics continues this three-game series with the middle game Wednesday night. Nathan Eovaldi vs. Kendall Graveman is the pitching matchup. “Kendall Graveman” is such an A’s name, isn’t it? RAB Tickets can get you in the door for that game, or any of the other four remaining games on this homestand. You know, after this homestand the Yankees play only 13 of their next 35 games at home. Better see ’em while they’re in town.

DotF: Judge homers once, Estrada homers twice in wins

Triple-A Scranton (7-0 win over Buffalo)

  • LF Ben Gamel: 2-3, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB — 13-for-31 (.419) in his last seven games
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 K — Shane Hennigan says Judge’s second homer of the season went 419 feet and was pulled to left
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4, 1 R
  • C Gary Sanchez: 1-4, 1 3B, 1 RBI — Sanchez triple! … that’s his first regular season triple since he was in High-A back in 2012 … he did have one in the Arizona Fall League last year
  • DH Nick Swisher: 0-4
  • RHP Tyler Cloyd: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 8/5 GB/FB — 69 of 98 pitches were strikes (70%)
  • RHP Conor Mullee: 2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 18 of 26 pitches were strikes (69%) … 12/0 K/BB in 7.1 innings … really rooting for the 28-year-old three-time Tommy John surgery guy to get a call-up this year, even for a day or two as a shuttle reliever

[Read more…]

Game 12: Big Mike and the A’s


Maybe it’s just me, but mid-homestand off-days are a little weird. They just feel out of place, you know? The Yankees were off yesterday and they continue their nine-game homestand tonight with the first of three against the Athletics. The four-game losing streak came to an end Sunday. It would be nice to see the Yankees start a winning streak tonight.

Just as important as a win is Michael Pineda, tonight’s starter. The rotation work has been hit or miss so far, as have Big Mike‘s first two starts. He’s flashed brilliance like he always has, yet the results still don’t match the stuff consistently. The Yankees really need their starters to settle in and start giving them quality innings in bulk. Here is the A’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

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

Good gravy is the weather perfect. Impossible to be better. The sky is blue and the sun is out (for now), and it’s nice and comfortable in the low-70s. Great night to be at the ballpark. This evening’s game will start at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game, folks.

YES Update: FOX regional sports affiliates, including YES, can now be streamed on Sling TV. It’s $20 a month — there’s a free seven-day trial — so it’s not free, but it’s not too pricey either. You will be able to stream Yankees games on YES, even if you’re in-market and a currently dealing with the Comcast nonsense. Here’s the Sling TV link.

2016 Draft: Reggie Lawson

Reggie Lawson | RHP

Lawson, who turns 19 in August, attends Victor Valley High School in Victorville, which is not too far outside Los Angeles. So far this spring he has allowed six runs on nine hits and 12 walks in 18 innings while striking out 19. Last summer Lawson impressed on the showcase circuit, and he dominated out of the bullpen for Team USA’s 18-and-under squad last fall. He’s committed to Arizona State.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-4 and 190 lbs., Lawson is a classic projection high school right-hander. His spent most of his junior year topping out at 90 mph, but, by the end of the summer, his fastball was hitting 92-93 mph regularly and topping out at 95. He’s held that velocity this spring. Lawson’s breaking ball is a low-to-mid-70s curveball, and his changeup at this point is close to nonexistent. There are some concerns about his delivery, specifically the way he has shortened his stride, which has hindered his location and taken some of the snap away from his curve. Apparently that is considered fixable.

In their most recent rankings, both Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Baseball America ranked Lawson as the 26th best prospect in the 2016 draft. had him 37th. The Yankees hold the 18th overall pick this year and scouting director Damon Oppenheimer sure loves his Southern California players, but Lawson is probably going to have to show a little more this spring to play his way into consideration for the middle of the first round. He was so good last summer that it is definitely possible. Right now Lawson looks more like a late-first round prospect.

4/19 to 4/21 Series Preview: Oakland Athletics


The homestand continues this week with a three-game series against the Athletics. This is the first time the A’s have visited the Bronx in April since 2009. The Yankees are getting a bunch of home series against West Coast teams out of the way early, huh?

What Have They Done Lately?

Coming into the season, the Athletics were the one AL team that I thought had no chance to contend. They’ve gone 6-7 and have been outscored by six runs in the super early going. Oakland just wrapped up a six-game homestand, and they lost the first four games before rallying to win the last two. Yesterday was an off-day as they flew East.

Offense & Defense

Reddick. (Presswire)
Reddick. (Presswire)

Runs have been very hard to come by so far this season. The A’s are averaging only 2.85 runs per game with a team 77 wRC+, so they’ve been really struggling offensively. In fact, they’ve scored three or fewer runs in nine of their 13 games. Good gravy. Manager Bob Melvin has two injured players: IF Eric Sogard (knee) and OF Sam Fuld (shoulder). They’re both going to be out a while.

As always, the A’s have a lineup that is very heavy on platoons. The only constants are OF Josh Reddick (134 wRC+), 3B Danny Valencia (89 wRC+), and SS Marcus Semien (155 wRC+). Reddick and Valencia hit third and fourth, and after starting the season as the No. 9 hitter, Semien has seen some time in the two-hole of late. OF Billy Burns (96 wRC+) and OF Coco Crisp (61 wRC+) are sharing time in center field and at the leadoff spot.

UTIL Chris Coghlan (32 wRC+) has been sharing time at second base with IF Jed Lowrie (51 wRC+) and in left field with OF Khris Davis (21 wRC+). 1B Yonder Alonso (-21 wRC+) and 1B/OF Mark Canha (6 wRC+) are platooning at first, then you have DH Billy Butler (22 wRC+) soaking up at-bats. That was such a weird signing. Backup C Josh Phegley (154 wRC+) starts against lefties, so we probably won’t see him this series since CC Sabathia is not scheduled to start.

The A’s have an awful lot of underperforming players in the early going — again, they’re averaging 2.85 runs per game! — and I sure hope they don’t break out this series. Defensively, Melvin’s team is shaky pretty much everywhere but right field, where Reddick is a true stud with a rocket arm. Here is their runs saved projection visualization, via Sean Dolinar:

Athletics defenseIt’s weird, years ago the A’s were ahead of everyone when it came to the obsession with defense. They were the first team that was willing to accept a bad bat as long as it came with a good glove at positions that were traditionally offense-heavy, like left field and first base. These seem to have abandoned that. Weird.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (7pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. OAK) vs. LHP Eric Surkamp (vs. NYY)
Remember back when the Yankees seemed to get shut down by every finesse lefty they had never seen before? That was a long time ago. Surkamp, 28, was once a pretty good prospect with the Giants, but injuries have derailed him the last few years. He has 66 total big league innings under his belt, including nine innings in two starts this year. Surkamp has allowed four runs on nine hits and five walks while striking out only three in those nine innings. He’s gotten a grounder on only 28.6% of balls in play too. Not a whole lot of data to look at. Surkamp, in typical crafty lefty fashion, works with an 88-91 mph four-seamer and a mid-80s cutter. An upper-70s curve is his main non-fastball, though he’s also thrown some low-80s changeups this year as well. Surkamp is in the rotation because fifth starter Felix Doubront blew out his elbow earlier this month and needed Tommy John surgery, and also because Henderson Alvarez is still working his way back from shoulder surgery.


Wednesday (7pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. OAK) vs. RHP Kendall Graveman (vs. NYY)
The 25-year-old Graveman came over from the Blue Jays in that ridiculous Josh Donaldson trade two offseasons ago. It looked lopsided at the time and looks even worse now. Graveman is a serviceable big league pitcher, one who owns a 3.90 ERA (4.42 FIP) in 131.2 innings, almost all of which came last year. He’s a ground ball (51.8%) and low walk guy (7.3%). Graveman doesn’t miss many bats (15.6%) and he can be homer prone (1.09 HR/9), but he has had close to no platoon split during those 131.2 innings. He’s essentially a low-90s sinker/upper-80s cutter/upper-70s curveball pitcher, which is an unusual combination. Very A’s like, I’d say. Graveman will throw a few mid-80s changeups per start, and he has a straight low-90s four-seamer for get-me-over pitches. His two starts this season have been solid: two runs in 5.1 innings against the White Sox, one run in six innings against the Angels.

Thursday (7pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (vs. OAK) vs. LHP Rich Hill (vs. NYY)
Hill turned four dominant starts (1.55 ERA and 2.27 FIP!) with the Red Sox late last year into a one-year, $6M contract with the A’s. Good for him. The 36-year-old has a 4.15 ERA (3.26 FIP) in 13 innings across three starts this year, and he’s managed a 30.7% strikeout rate with a 52.9% grounder rate. His walk rate (8.1%) is about average. All throughout his career, even back in the day with the Cubs, Hill was always way more effective against lefties than righties. His pitching style is very unique. He throws his mid-70s curveball roughly 50% of the time, so more often than his low-90s four-seam fastball. Hill will drop down and throw his curve almost sidearm at times (GIF via Karl de Vries) …

Rich Hill curveball

… and last year he led all pitchers in curveball zone percentage, so he throws it for strikes. That pitch is his bread and butter. Hill will mix in a few mid-80s changeups as well, but really, he’s a curveball pitcher who throws some fastballs on occasion. Unusual. Not bad necessarily, just unusual.

Bullpen Status

The bullpen was a total disaster for the A’s last season. Their 4.63 ERA and 4.36 FIP were the third and fourth worst in baseball, respectively. Only a bunch of rebuilding clubs got worse relief work. So, in an effort to improve the bullpen, the A’s signed RHP Ryan Madson (three years, $22M) and RHP John Axford (two years, $10M), and traded stalwart swingman Jesse Chavez to the Blue Jays for setup man RHP Liam Hendriks. Here is the relief crew to date:

RHP Ryan Madson: 7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 0 HR
LHP Sean Doolittle: 5.2 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 3 HR
RHP Liam Hendriks: 6 IP, 13 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 0 HR
RHP John Axford: 7.2 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 0 HR
RHP Ryan Dull: 7.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 0 HR (!!!)
RHP Fernandez Rodriguez: 8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 0 HR
LHP Marc Rzepczynski: 4.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 0 HR

Doolittle started the season as the closer, but then he started giving up dingers in bunches, so Madson has since stepped into the ninth inning. Hendriks and Dull have reversed roles with their performances; Dull’s seeing late-inning work and Hendriks is getting low-leverage innings. Rzepczynski is the left-on-left matchup guy.

Like I said, the A’s had an off-day yesterday, so their bullpen is coming in fresh. The Yankees were off yesterday too, so Joe Girardi‘s bullpen is in good shape. You should check out our Bullpen Workload page anyway.