From the not-so-shocking news department: Derek Jeter experienced soreness in his surgically repaired/cortisone shot ankle following yesterday’s minor league game. Brian Cashman confirmed he is likely to start the season on the DL, and they are targeting an April 6th return. I’ll believe it when I see it. Eduardo Nunez will be the starting shortstop until the Cap’n returns according to the GM. · (26) ·
Via George King: Mariano Rivera has been battling “severe” headaches for two weeks and went for tests on Friday. “It was severe … When you have issues you want to make sure everything is OK. They said it seems like migraine headaches,” said Mo, who underwent a CAT-scan and blood test.
Rivera, 43, said the headaches haven’t impacted his pitching and he is expected to throw an inning today. The doctors still haven’t told him how he will be treated, so hopefully they get on that pretty soon. Brian Cashman said the team wasn’t concerned there is something more serious going on (concussion?), but obviously it’s good to know the tests didn’t reveal anything major. Still … getting pretty sick of this injury stuff. · (23) ·
The Yankees lost to the Tigers this afternoon despite leading by three runs at one point. Andy Pettitte allowed four runs in 6.1 innings of work, so he’s pretty much stretched out for the season. Just one more tune-up start to go. Cody Eppley faced five batters and allowed five hits, which is … uh … not good. Shawn Kelley allowed a run in an inning and a third.
Ben Francisco was the big star of the day, hitting not one but two homers. They both came off righties — Anibal Sanchez and Bruce Rondon — even though the team is looking at him as a lefty masher. Juan Rivera had three hits including a double while Brett Gardner, Eduardo Nunez (two), Ichiro Suzuki, and Chris Stewart all singled. Kevin Youkilis and Jayson Nix doubled. Here’s the box score and here’s the rest from Tampa…
- Brennan Boesch (stiff left ribcage) was checked out by the doctors today and he will not play this weekend. The Yankees are off on Monday and the plan is to get him back in a game Tuesday or Wednesday. [Andy McCullough & Bryan Hoch]
- Joe Girardi said he doesn’t expect to make any final roster decisions until the exhibition game against Army at West Point next Saturday. Fifth starter, first base, left field, bench, and Clay Rapada‘s vacant bullpen spot are all up for grabs. [Chad Jennings]
- David Adams played in his first minor league game of the year this afternoon. He had been battling a back injury that required an epidural and kept him out of big league Spring Training. [Josh Norris]
- Jose Campos pitched in a minor league game this afternoon and was sitting 89-91 mph with the fastball in the first inning. He missed basically all of last year with an elbow problem, so it’s good to hear he’s back on the mound. [Norris]
- The Yankees released a handful of minor leaguer pitchers today: righties Cory Arbiso, Pedro Guerra, Will Oliver, Matt Richardson and lefty Matt Bashore. Arbiso was the best of the bunch. [Norris]
- Adam Warren will start against the Rays when they come to Tampa tomorrow. That game will be on YES and MLB.tv (no local blackout).
Here is your open thread for the evening. The Devils, Knicks, and Nets are all playing, plus MLB Network will air a Spring Training game later tonight. Sounds like most people will get the Pirates and Red Sox. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here. Enjoy.
Via Mark Feinsand: Brett Gardner left today’s game after five innings due to a stomach bug according to Joe Girardi. Thankfully it’s nothing serious, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if the virus mutated into some kind of flesh eating disease that landed Gardner on the DL all season. It’s been that kind of Spring Training. · (20) ·
2:26pm: Jeter went 0-for-4 with four ground outs in his minor league game this afternoon. Afterwards he said his timing is off, but he believes there’s still enough time to be ready for Opening Day according to Bryan Hoch and Meredith Marakovits.
1:00pm: After successfully fielding ground balls and taking batting practice this morning, Derek Jeter is slated to DH and leadoff every inning in a minor league game this afternoon. He received a cortisone shot in his surgically repaired ankle two days ago.
“I will not address how anything feels anymore … It’s good. It’s not broken. Some things, you’ve got to work through, like I told you. It’s really pointless to sit here and say each and every day, ‘How’s it feel? Does it feel better?’ It’s pointless. Some days are good, some days are bad, but you’ve got to work through it. That’s what I’m going to do,” said Jeter to reporters. Pretty silly for the team captain to say he won’t talk about his major injury anymore, but whatever. As long as he’s healthy when the season starts, I guess. · (35) ·
Got two good reads for you this morning. Josh Norris interviewed minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson and special advisor Gene Michael earlier this week about a number of topics, including pitching mechanics, the important of genetics, evaluating players, and all sorts of neat stuff. Patterson rejoined the organization during the offseason in effort to get a top pitching prospect to actually reach his ceiling while Michael has been with the team for what feels like an eternity, including two stints as GM. Both interviews are relatively short and well worth the read, so check ‘em out. · (13) ·
The Yankees beat the Twins this afternoon, but Ivan Nova didn’t pitch all that well (five runs in 5.1 innings). After David Phelps got knocked around last night, I guess it was only fair for Nova to return the favor and keep the fifth starter’s competition close. Eduardo Nunez, Corban Joseph, and Thomas Neal all had two hits while Ronnie Mustelier had three. Robinson Cano and Chris Stewart both doubled as well. Here’s the box score and here’s the rest from Tampa…
- Derek Jeter took batting practice on the field this morning and his surgically repaired/cortisone shot ankle came through just fine. “It’s a day-to-day thing. Today was here. We’ll see what happens tomorrow,” said the Cap’n. He doesn’t know what the next step is, but Brian Cashman indicated he could play in a minor league game as soon as tomorrow. [Meredith Marakovits, Chad Jennings & Andy McCullough]
- Hiroki Kuroda threw 88 pitches in seven shutout innings in a minor league game this afternoon, the team announced. Phil Hughes threw 57 pitches in three innings of three-run ball in a separate minor league game, in case you missed it.
- Brennan Boesch was scratched from this afternoon’s lineup with what is officially being called a “stiff left ribcage.” He missed about two weeks with the Tigers earlier in camp because of a right oblique problem, which may or may not mean something. Cashman said Boesch was removed from the lineup as a precaution and won’t play until Sunday at the earliest. [Evan Drellich, McCullough & Bryan Hoch]
- Alex Rodriguez is still doing physical therapy following left hip surgery and hasn’t resumed baseball activities. That’s not much of a surprise. “I think he is doing a lot of work in the pool,’’ said Joe Girardi while Cashman added: “I am not sure when his actual rehab to field activity will take place … Once he does baseball activity we will get him (to Tampa).’’ [George King]
- The Yankees will be in Lakeland tomorrow to play the Tigers. Andy Pettitte will get that start, and he’ll be joined by projected big leaguers Stewart, Travis Hafner, Jayson Nix, Nunez, Brett Gardner, Juan Rivera, and Ichiro Suzuki on the road trip. That game will not be broadcast anywhere, unfortunately.
Here is your open thread for the evenings. The Knicks and Islanders are both playing, plus MLB Network is airing some Spring Training games. Talk about all of that stuff and more. Enjoy.
Via Andy McCullough: Brian Cashman isn’t looking to trade right-hander David Phelps even though teams are apparently calling about him. “I’m not looking to move him, I’m only looking to move the bad stuff,” said the GM. I laughed.
Phelps, 26, got knocked around pretty hard last night, but he remains one of the team’s most important assets going forward given the plan to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. I’m not necessarily opposed to trading Phelps (or Ivan Nova), but it would have to be as part of a package for an impact bat. It would have to be for a significant upgrade. · (11) ·
This isn’t much of a surprise, but Brian Cashman confirmed this afternoon that Clay Rapada (shoulder bursitis) will indeed start the year on the DL. The left-hander threw 15 fastballs from a mound this morning, but is still a ways off from returning to game action.
Meanwhile, Joe Girardi indicated Phil Hughes (bulging disk) is likely to start the season on the DL as well. That is not yet set in stone, however. Hughes threw 57 pitches in a minor league game today, but it’s unclear if he’ll be stretched out enough to join the rotation when the season begins. Like I said, not much of a surprise. · (30) ·
Our season preview series continues this week with the starting rotation, though the format will change just slightly. Since there’s no clear starter/backup/depth lineage when it comes to starting pitchers, we’ll instead look at each type of pitcher — ace, number two, back-end, etc. — at different levels.
Fifth starters are usually among the most discussed members of pitching staff because they tend to stink and we’re always talking about replacing them. A lot of Backup Quarterback Syndrome goes around as well — the guy in Triple-A can’t possible be any worse, right? Well, yeah. He can. Given how much the Yankees will rely on their pitching staff to keep them in the race this summer, they’ll need their fifth starter(s) to pitch like someone far better than typical back-end cannon fodder.
For the first time in a while, the Yankees have two legitimate fifth starter candidates. I’m not talking about guys who we think could be fifth starters, I mean guys who have actually pitched in the big leagues and have some kind of track record. Pretty much every team has some mid-20s college draftee in Triple-A who fans think could step right into the rotation and the Yankees are no different. Big league experience is a separator for New York this summer.
The more senior of the two fifth starter candidates is 26-year-old Ivan Nova, who followed up his strong rookie season (3.70 ERA and 4.01 FIP in 165.1 innings) with a nightmare sophomore campaign (5.02 ERA and 4.60 FIP in 170.1 innings) last summer. He led baseball in extra-base hits allowed (87) and was second among qualified starters in opponent’s ISO (.223) and OPS+ (130). Despite very promising improvements in the strikeout (8.08 K/9 and 20.5 K%) and walk (2.96 BB/9 and 7.5 BB%) rate departments, Nova’s performance suffered because every one of his mistakes were punished. His lack of deception led to pretty much every hittable pitch being hit and hit hard.
In an effort to correct that problem, Nova and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have worked on a new, shorter arm action this spring. Mariano Rivera has also been in Nova’s ear and making sure he knows he has work hard to remain in the show. The right-hander has pitched well in camp — five runs with nine strikeouts and two walks in 14 innings across four starts — but we all know that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. It is certainly better than getting pounded of course, especially since Ivan’s rough spring last year (8.06 ERA in 22.1 innings) was a sign of things to come.
The less experience of the two fifth starter candidates is 26-year-old David Phelps, who put up a solid 3.34 ERA and 4.32 FIP in 99.2 innings as a swingman last summer. He pitched to a 2.76 ERA in 22 relief appearances and a 3.77 ERA in 11 starts, but it’s worth noting he always seemed to be on a pitch count as a starter because he’d just been yanked out of the bullpen. Phelps posted strong strikeout (8.67 K/9 and 23.2 K%) and walk (3.43 BB/9 and 9.2 BB%) rates, but was a little fly ball (42.9% grounders) and homer (1.26 HR/9 and 13.6% HR/FB). Given the constant back-and-forth between the bullpen and rotation and the fact that he was a rookie pitcher in a small park in the AL East, there’s no doubt Phelps impressed last year.
The right-hander showed up to camp early and has been ahead of his fellow pitchers — and opposing hitters — pretty much all spring. Prior to last night’s shellacking he’d allowed five runs with a dozen strikeouts and four walks in 19 innings this spring, a performance that was basically right in line with Nova’s. If the Yankees are truly deciding their fifth starter based on Grapefruit League performance, there’s no clear-cut favorite right now. Of course, the Yankees have a history of fake Spring Training competitions and there’s a good chance all of this fifth starter stuff is a farce.
Based on nothing in particular, I believe the job is Nova’s to lose. The Yankees know he can handle starting every five days physically and have already seen what he can do when he’s commanding the ball. They should figure out whey Nova was unable to carry his success from the second half of 2011 over into 2012, and that’s probably not something he could do in the bullpen. Phelps was never in the rotation for more than one continuous months last year, so who knows what he’ll do over the a full season starting every five days. The Yankees need certainty from their rotation this year and Phelps is more of a question mark.
That said, both of these guys are going to get an opportunity — probably many, really — to start this year. Phil Hughes‘ back is already acting up and there’s a chance he’ll start the season on the DL. CC Sabathia is coming off offseason elbow surgery and Andy Pettitte hasn’t thrown more than 130 innings in four years. Almost no team ever makes it through the season with just five starters, so the smart money is on both Nova and Phelps making a whole bunch of starts this year. If Nova wins the job in camp but doesn’t pitch well during the regular season, I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate much to replace him. This fifth starter competition might be a year-long thing.
Knocking on the Door
The Yankees have a few back-end types slated for the Triple-A Scranton rotation, specifically righties Brett Marshall and Adam Warren and lefty Vidal Nuno. Marshall and Warren were discussed in earlier season preview posts, but the 25-year-old Nuno has opened eyes in camp by allowing one run in 17.1 total innings. The Yankees plucked him out an independent league two years ago and the left-hander told Chad Jennings the team’s minor league coaching staff with helping him develop a cutter and changeup, which he now considers his two best pitchers. Nuno is a soft-tosser without much margin for error, which can be a scary thing in a small ballpark, but he’s made a name for himself this spring and that’s pretty much the best thing he could have done. He never had any chance to make the team.
The Top Prospect
We’ve talked about most of them these past few days — Marshall, Warren, Nuno, Matt Tracy, Nik Turley, etc. — so there’s not much to add here. Most fifth starters tend to be prospects who fell short of a higher ceiling, so there is not such thing as a true “top” fifth starter prospects. It’s almost like being a DH. It’s a fallback spot more than anything. The Yankees have some nice rotation inventory in the upper level of the minors but few (none?) of those project to be real impact starters in the show. I guess that makes they fifth starter prospects by default.
The Deep Sleeper
I’m going to take this opportunity to highlight 20-year-old left-hander Chaz Hebert, who signed for $148k as the team’s 27th round pick in 2011. He didn’t crack my preseason top 30 prospects list, but he took step forward in his development last summer and posted a 2.52 ERA (2.44 FIP) with 30 strikeouts and just four walks in 25 innings for the rookie level Gulf Coast league affiliate. He’s a low-90s fastball guy with a hilariously slow A.J. Griffin-esque mid-60s curveball, something he’ll have to firm up to succeed at the higher levels. Hebert is more sleeper than legit prospect, but command of the fastball and a novelty breaking ball can get you pretty far in life.
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The Yankees are fortunate to have two legitimate fifth starter candidates at the big league level and plenty of back-of-the-rotation depth in the Triple-A. You’d rather have projected aces obviously, but New York is in a much *much) better place pitching-wise now that it was six or seven years ago. They haven’t had to scramble for a Shawn Chacon or Aaron Small type for a few seasons now and that doesn’t figure to change now. Phelps and Nova give the team some options and competition is generally a good thing — those two will hopefully push each other all season long.