Masahiro Tanaka named Opening Day starter, rotation order announced


As expected, Masahiro Tanaka was officially named the Opening Day starter by Joe Girardi this morning, according to the many reporters in Tampa. He will be followed in order by Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, and the fifth starter to open the season. Girardi declined to name the fifth starter but all signs point to it being Adam Warren.

Sabathia has started the last six Opening Days for the Yankees. The team’s last Opening Day starter before him was Chien-Ming Wang in 2008. Yeah, it’s been a while. It was clear Sabathia would not get the Opening Day nod when it was announced he is scheduled to start tomorrow’s game. The schedule doesn’t line up. Sabathia has played in 14 MLB seasons and has started Opening Day in eleven of them. That’s kinda nuts.

As for Tanaka, he is not only the team’s best pitcher, but starting Opening Day allows him to get an extra day of rest prior to his second and third starts of the season thanks to scheduled off-days on April 7th and 16th. The Yankees have said they would like to get him extra rest whenever possible, especially early in the season thanks to the whole elbow issue. The club won’t need to use a sixth starter to make that happen for at least a few weeks.

Believe it or not, Tanaka only started one Opening Day with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan, so this will be his second career Opening Day start and first in pinstripes. Hideo Nomo (2000 Tigers, 2003-04 Dodgers), Daisuke Matsuzaka (2008 Red Sox), and Hiroki Kuroda (2009 Dodgers) are the only other Japanese pitchers to start Opening Day in MLB history. Yu Darvish was slated to start Opening Day for the Rangers this year before blowing out his elbow.

The Yankees open the regular season at home against the Blue Jays on April 6th. Toronto has not yet announced their rotation but apparently Drew Hutchison is lined up for Opening Day. I’m guessing R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle will follow in some order. The Yankees play three games against the Jays then three games against the Red Sox at home before going out on a ten-game road trip through Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and Detroit to start 2015.

Mailbag: Betances, Pineda, Eovaldi, Sanchez, 26th Spot

I’ve got eleven questions for you in this week’s mailbag. Use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.


Dan asks: With all the talk about Dellin Betances‘ poor spring results, do you think it has anything to do with the fact that they’ve essentially put him on the Mariano Rivera spring routine, as if he’s a veteran who’s been doing this for years and only needs 6-7 appearances to get ready for the season, as opposed to a young pitcher with only one real year of experience?

I think that is very possible. Betances moved to the bullpen full-time in May 2013, so last year was his first Spring Training as a reliever, and he was trying to make the team. It wasn’t a normal “just get ready for the season” spring for him. The Yankees scaled back his in-game workload considerably this year — he’s thrown 5.1 innings with a week to go this spring after throwing 12.1 innings last spring, including four outings of multiple innings. Dellin had the same number of Grapefruit League innings on March 5th last year that he has on March 27th this year. He’s used to being a starter in Spring Training and getting a lot of work. That hasn’t happened this year and it could explain his velocity and command issues. We can’t say that for certain, but I do think it is potentially a factor.

P.J. asks: If Michael Pineda remains healthy all season and pitches even something close to the way he did in 2014 after he came back from the injury do you think the Yankees will talk early extension for him? Also is Nathan Eovaldi a candidate for an early extension at the end of the 2015 season?

I think teams are starting to go overboard with long-term contract extensions, specifically by locking up non-core players based on the concept of “protecting against a breakout.” (Looking at you, Adam Eaton. Gotta lock up those injury prone singles hitters who are under team control through 2018 as soon as possible!) Both Pineda and Eovaldi are scheduled to become free agents after the 2017 season, so the Yankees have some time to evaluate them, especially Pineda given his shoulder issues. I liked the idea of signing both to short bridge deals this past offseason, though I think I would hold off on a longer term deal until after 2016, with Pineda in particular. If he makes it through 2015 in one piece, great. Let’s see how that workload affects his shoulder in 2016 before committing. The Yankees can afford to pay these guys whatever they’re worth in a few years. They have the luxury of sitting back and waiting another year to minimize risk.

Vinny asks: Other than the gregarious Nick Swisher, what Yankees of recent vintage do you think we’ll see as analysts on the YES Network someday?

Swisher might be able to pull it off in Eric Byrnes way, but he did some television work during the postseason last year (I think it was TBS?) and was pretty bad. The first name that jumped to my mind was Curtis Granderson because he’s so charismatic and well-spoken, though Andrew Marchand disagrees and thinks he would be boring. Mark Teixeira showed his comedic side with Foul Territory last year and I think he’d be a good candidate for a more serious analyst role too. Brandon McCarthy comes off as smart on Twitter and that’s what I want in an analyst, but I have no idea how he is in front of a camera.

I crowdsourced this question on Twitter yesterday and a lot of people said Alex Rodriguez. (Mike Mussina was also mentioned.) I think A-Rod would be able to talk about the game and break it down at an incredibly high level — he gave Ken Rosenthal a must read scouting report on Didi Gregorius recently, for example — but he seems completely incapable of normal human interaction, which probably won’t work well on television. If you stuck a microphone in front of his face in a studio and asked him to break down tape, he’d be great. Ask him to sit in a booth and talk to a play-by-play guy about the game? Probably not going to go as well.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Carl asks: Chad Jennings brought up an interesting thing the other day regarding Gary Sanchez. He noted that Sanchez had been optioned to Double-A, and was legitimately playing with them, and also that Trenton added Michel Hernandez and P.J. Pilittere to the coaching staff, two former catchers. If Sanchez opens the season in Double-A, do you think this could mean that John Ryan Murphy opens in Triple-A, and the Yankees keep Austin Romine as the backup? Whatever the outcome regarding Murphy/Romine, do you see Sanchez opening the season in Trenton?

Matt Kardos says he’s heard Sanchez is likely to start the season back in Double-A as well for what it’s worth, and Brian Cashman told George King that Romine being out of options “will be a factor” in the backup catcher decision. I thought that was typical GM speak at first, Cashman not wanting to show his cards to teams looking to trade for Romine, though it’s starting to seem like there’s a chance Sanchez will remain in Double-A, Murphy will go back to Triple-A, and Romine will be Brian McCann‘s backup, at least to start the year.

If it’s a short-term thing, fine. But I wouldn’t like that to be a long-term situation this year. I’m not sure what Sanchez and Murphy stand to gain by spending even more time at Double-A and Triple-A, respectively — the Yankees could have easily brought in some catching coaches for Triple-A rather than leaving Sanchez in Double-A to work with Hernandez and Pilittere — and Romine hasn’t done anything to earn the backup catcher’s job. I understand wanting to keep catching depth, but not at the expense of holding back the development of two good prospects. Romine is far from irreplaceable.

Jerome asks: If the Yankees could somehow trade their owners and/or GM for anyone else in the league, who would you trade for?

This is tough to answer because how do we judge a good owner? Willingness to spend? How can we gauge that with small market owners like, say, Lew Wolff of the A’s? I’m sure he’d love to spend more money but simply can’t. Anyway, I think being a GM in a huge market is way more difficult than people realize, so the list is surprisingly short. Assuming I can’t mix and match owners and GMs from different teams, I think the only combos I would take over Hal Steinbrenner/Brian Cashman are Ted Lerner/Mike Rizzo (Nationals), Mike Ilitch/Dave Dombrowski (Tigers), and Bill DeWitt/John Mozeliak (Cardinals). I’d prefer the Dodgers and Red Sox owners to Hal but not the GMs. That’s about it.

Luke asks: In past years, at some point during the spring Joe Girardi has had a “fun day” of sorts (billiards, bowling, etc). Have I missed that this spring or has it just not happened yet?

No, it hasn’t happened this year and hasn’t in a while. Girardi surprised the team and took them to a pool hall in 2009 and then to an arcade in 2010, but as best I can tell the Yankees haven’t done anything like that since. I’m sure there’s a reason, I just don’t know what it is.

Joe asks: Why do you think the Yankees were not more involve with Hector Olivero? Seems he would be a valuable 2nd baseman.

Passing on Olivera at that price (six years, $62.5M) seems like a pretty easy call to me, especially since he has a small tear in the elbow ligament and will need eventually Tommy John surgery at some point. (If he has surgery, the Dodgers get a seventh year added on to his contract for only $1M, but it’s his age 37 season.) He could be a valuable second baseman, but what if he can’t hack it there? The Yankees couldn’t play him over Chase Headley at third base, meaning they’d have yet another DH on their hands. If the Yankees were going to give a six-year contract to a 30-year-old, they would have just signed Jon Lester. The annual salary doesn’t scare them, it’s the years.

Paul asks: Is this the first time the Yankee rotation (assuming Chris Capuano is healthy) last names all end in a vowel?

Nope! They not only had an “all last names end in a vowel” rotation just last season, they had an “all last names end in the same vowel” rotation last season with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka, and Pineda. Last year Diane at VORG did some research on rotations with pitchers whose names end in the same letter, vowel or otherwise, if you’re interested.

The good Upton. (Presswire)
The good Upton. (Presswire)

Adam asks: There are several elite free agents after this season (Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Johnny Cueto). If you could only pick one, who would it be and why?

Obligatory I’d be happy with any of those guys comment. But if you’re making me pick just one, I’d go Upton because the Yankees need a big bat more than they need another starter or defense first outfielder. I reserve the right to change my answer to Heyward if he has a monster 2015 season, though Upton is the superior hitter right now — it helps that he’s a righty too — and as bad as his defense is, he’d be an upgrade in right over Carlos Beltran. How do you fit Upton on the roster with Beltran and A-Rod still under contract? Beats me, though chances are one of them will get hurt before long. Upton is who I’d pick today, ten days before Opening Day 2015.

Mike asks: Do you think with the spring Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams have had that the Yankees can look at them as legit prospects again?

No, it’s only Spring Training. They’ve performed well, yes, but they’ve had something like 50 plate appearances combined. I do buy Heathcott being healthier right now that he has been at any point in the last two or three years, and that sort of raises his prospect stock, but the spring performance is meaningless. Let’s see Heathcott get a full healthy season under his belt and Williams not mope his way through another summer before we consider their prospect status repaired. Three weeks in Spring Training don’t erase those problems.

Ethan asks: If the 25 man roster were expanded to 26, how do you think most teams would use the extra spot?

I think most teams, including the Yankees, would use it for an extra reliever. I could see a team like the Athletics, who have a deep pitching staff and love platoons, using it on an extra position player though. The Red Sox might do that too since they have a million outfielders. I think the 26th roster spot would help usher in the age of six-man rotations over a period of several years. Some teams could swing a six-man rotation this year, the Nationals most notably and possibly the Yankees too if Adam Warren pitches well and Capuano gets healthy, though I think it’ll take a few years for all 30 clubs to buy in. Baseball has been gradually progressing towards using pitchers less and less for decades now. I think the 26th roster spot would make it even easier for teams to do that.

Open Thread: March 26th Camp Notes

The Yankees lost 6-5 to the Rays this afternoon. Adam Warren started and was good but inefficient — he needed 74 pitches to allow one run on four hits and a walk in only 3.2 innings. He struck out five. Despite the high pitch count, Warren all but locked up the fifth starter’s job with his start. Jose Ramirez (1.1 innings) and Chris Martin (one inning) both allowed two runs in the middle innings and Danny Burawa (one inning) allowed one run of his own.

Didi Gregorius went 2-for-4 with a double and John Ryan Murphy with 1-for-2. Brendan Ryan (three at-bats), Chris Young (four at-bats), and Garrett Jones (three at-bats) all went hitless. Rob Refsnyder, Slade Heathcott, and Ramon Flores all doubled. Flores also had a single, and Refsnyder committed his fifth error in 73 defensive Grapefruit League innings. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest of the day’s notes from Spring Training:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury (oblique) hit off a tee and soft toss and said everything “went great.” He plans to get back into games by Tuesday. Chris Capuano (quad) hopes to throw off a mound next week. He said he’ll need four weeks of “Spring Training” to get ready once healthy. Jose Pirela (concussion) feels better but is still experiencing dizziness. He’s scheduled for more tests tomorrow. Austin Romine was scratched from today’s trip with some kind of stomach bug. [Pete Caldera, Bryan Hoch, Marly Rivera, Brendan Kuty]
  • David Carpenter threw an inning in a minor league game after pitching yesterday, so this was his first set of back-to-back games. Nathan Eovaldi and Esmil Rogers both threw bullpen sessions. [Donnie Collins, Kuty]
  • Transaction! The Yankees announced they have released Jared Burton. He was on a minor league contract and suffered a lat strain a week or two ago. The Yankees released him rather than pay the $100,000 retention bonus before Opening Day.
  • And finally, Joe Girardi said he does plan to get Alex Rodriguez into a game at first base this spring. “It’s coming up. I didn’t have a chance to talk to him, but I have it on the board,” he said. [Chad Jennings]

Here is your open thread for the night. This afternoon’s game against the Rays will be replayed on MLB Network, but not until 9am ET tomorrow morning. MLB Network is showing the Athletics and Giants live later tonight. All three local hockey teams are in action and March Madness resumes tonight as well. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Site Note: Our Jay Gordon is participating in Walk MS to help raise money for research to fight multiple sclerosis and programs benefiting those dealing with MS. You can make a donation right here. Thanks in advance.

Forbes: Yankees worth an estimated $3.2 billion


Once again, the Yankees have been ranked as the most valuable franchise in baseball. Forbes released their annual franchise valuations yesterday, and New York claimed the top spot with an estimated value of $3.2 billion. This is their 18th consecutive year atop the Forbes rankings. The Dodgers are a distant second with an estimated value of $2.4 billion.

The Yankees generated an estimated $508M in revenue last year — the Dodgers were again second at $403M — again the most in baseball, though their $8.1M operating income ranked only 22nd out of the 30 clubs. The Cardinals ($73.6M), Cubs ($73.3M), and World Series champion Giants ($68.4M) had by far the highest operating incomes. From the write-up:

The New York Yankees are worth the most, $3.2 billion, and are tied with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys as the most valuable U.S. sports team (Spanish soccer club Real Madrid, worth $3.44 billion, is the most valuable in the world). The Yankees have been the most valuable baseball team each of the 18 years Forbes has valued MLB franchises since 1998. During the 2014 season, the Bronx Bombers generated a record $508 million of revenue after deducting PILOT bond payments of $78 million and the $90 million the team contributed to baseball’s revenue-sharing system. The team raked in over $100 million in local television rights payments, and Derek Jeter’s last season in pinstripes goosed ticket and merchandise sales.

The franchise value is up from $2.5 billion last year, according to Forbes. The Yankees were valued at $2.3 billion in 2013, $1.85 billion in 2012, $1.7 billion in 2011, and $1.6 billion in 2010. The huge jump in franchise value from 2013 to 2014 was thanks in part to baseball’s new national television deals, as well as the team’s deal to sell part of YES to News Corp.

Despite their continued reign atop the franchise valuations — to be fair, Forbes is only estimating — Hal Steinbrenner is content to throw away his team’s inherent market advantage by reducing payroll to get under the luxury tax threshold in two years or so. I understand why he wants to do it, luxury tax is wasted money, but as a fan I don’t like it all. The Yankees aren’t taking full advantage of the New York market and their on-field product both is and will continue to suffer.

Depth Arms: Miscellaneous 40-Man Roster Pitchers [2015 Season Preview]

The Yankees remade their bullpen this offseason — assuming Adam Warren is the fifth starter, the only player in the 2014 Opening Day bullpen projected to be in the 2015 Opening Day bullpen is Dellin Betances — and five of the seven spots are pretty well set. Betances and Andrew Miller will be the late inning guys, David Carpenter and Justin Wilson will be the middle inning guys, and Esmil Rogers figures to be the swingman.

That leaves two spots open and thus far the Yankees have not tipped their hand in Spring Training. There are no obvious favorites for those spots. The club has a bunch of options, both 40-man roster guys and non-40-man roster guys, and they can go in any number of directions. Two long men, two one-inning guys, two lefties, two righties, one of each, whatever. The depth is there and the Yankees will use all of it this year. That’s baseball. The pitching staff has to be fluid. Here are the team’s 40-man depth arms heading into the regular season.

Burawa. (Presswire)
Burawa. (Presswire)

Danny Burawa: Stuff, Not Strikes

Last winter the 26-year-old Burawa went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft. The Yankees didn’t roll the dice again. They added Burawa, a Long Island kid, to the 40-man roster in November despite his control problems because his stuff is vicious. He sits mid-to-high-90s with his running fastball and mid-to-upper-80s with his slider, and his crossfire delivery adds deception. Burawa has a great, great arm.

The problem is strikes, as I mentioned. Burawa walked 11.3% of batters faced last year and had to be demoted from Triple-A Scranton to Double-A Trenton at midseason. His career walk rate in the minors is 11.1%. The Yankees have three option years to help Burawa harness his stuff, and if that doesn’t happen, it’s hard to see him as anything more than an up-and-down arm. His stuff is so good the team will be patient though.

Jose DePaula: Lefty Long Man

The Yankees surprisingly signed DePaula to a one-year contract this offseason, adding him to the 40-man roster even though he has zero MLB experience and threw only 130 innings from 2012-14 due to oblique and shoulder issues. His shoulder started acting up again this spring — DePaula went for an MRI a week ago and everything came back clean, though it has limited him to mostly bullpens — which took him out of the running for a Opening Day roster spot. DePaula, 27, is a generic low-90s fastball, mid-80s changeup, mid-70s curveball strike-throwing lefty. He’ll work as a starter in Triple-A to start the year and could emerge as a spot starter or long relief option at some point this summer.

Chris Martin: Tall Up & Down Righty

Martin, 28, was the final link in a fringe reliever transaction chain. Preston Claiborne was designated for assignment to clear a spot for Gonzalez Germen, who was acquired from the Mets. Germen was then designated for assignment when the Yankees acquired Martin from the Rockies. New York acquired Germen because they felt he was better than Claiborne, and then they acquired Martin because they felt he was better than Germen.

Martin is basically the model Yankees reliever based on the team’s ostensible preferences. He’s super tall (listed at 6-foot-8), throws hard (PitchFX had him averaging 94.6 mph in 2014), and has a history of striking guys out (career 24.9 K% in Triple-A). His back story is pretty interesting too. Like Claiborne before him, Martin is slated to fill an up-and-down role this year, riding the bus back and forth between Triple-A and MLB whenever a fresh arm is needed. He’s not exactly a young prospect, so I’m not sure how much room for improvement there is.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Bryan Mitchell: Seventh Starter?

The fifth starter competition was basically a two-horse race between Warren and Rogers, with Mitchell as one of the guys on the periphery of the competition. The Yankees always seemed intent on sending him to Triple-A for more refinement, which makes sense at this point of his career. Mitchell has very good stuff, but he will turn only 24 next month and has only 51.2 career innings above Double-A. He’s also prone to bouts of wildness.

There’s a chance — albeit a small one — Mitchell can be the 2015 version of 2014 Shane Greene, coming up at midseason to solidify the rotation. He’s ahead of where Greene was at age 24 developmentally, though he still needs to iron out his control after walking 10% of batters faced between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014. The thin starting pitching depth chart means Mitchell may be pushed into MLB action this year, though if you gave the Yankees a truth serum, I think they’d admit they’d like him to get a full year in Triple-A before being a September call-up.

Branden Pinder: Bullpen Sleeper

The Yankees like Pinder enough to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft this past winter even though a groin injury limited him to 39.1 innings last year, mostly at Double-A and Triple-A. The 26-year-old Pinder is more of a high probability guy than a high upside guy despite sitting low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and low-80s with his slider. Pinder throws a ton of strikes (5.9 BB% in 2014) and that about sums him up. He’s a fastball/slider reliever who won’t walk the park. Pinder has already been optioned to Triple-A Scranton, though I definitely expect him to get called up at some point. He has sneaky staying power, the kind of guy who gets called up and before you know it, he’s making his 40th appearance of the season.

Jose Ramirez: The Perpetual Tease

So, will this be the year Ramirez stays healthy? The 25-year-old has tremendous stuff and has for years, but he’s can’t stay on the field and it’s been an issue his entire career. Last year a lat strain limited him to 22.1 innings between Triple-A and MLB. When he’s actually on the mound, Ramirez has filthy stuff, sitting mid-90s with his fastball and getting swings and misses with both his slider and changeup, so the potential to be an impact reliever exists. He just can’t stay healthy. Ramirez made his big league debut last summer and figures to see the Bronx again this year. Until he manages to get through a full season in one piece, he’s going to continue to be a tease.

Shreve. (Presswire)

Chasen Shreve: The Third Lefty?

Out of all the players in this post, Shreve may have been given the biggest opportunity to win a bullpen job in Spring Training. He leads full-time Yankees’ relievers in Grapefruit League innings and has faced a ton of righties as the team gave him a chance to show he can be more than a lefty specialist. Camp hasn’t gone well (seven runs in eight innings) and that may earn Shreve a trip to Triple-A to start the year, but the Yankees have made it pretty clear they want him in MLB at some point.

Shreve, 24, had an excellent minor league season with the Braves last year, pitching to a 2.67 ERA (1.92 FIP) with 35.5 K% and 4.9 BB% in 64 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He changed his approach last year and decided to simply air it out each pitch, which led to all that success last year. Shreve now sits in the low-90s and has both a slider and a promising split-changeup hybrid, which suggests he can be more than a lefty specialist. There’s still a chance Shreve will make the Opening Day roster, but, even if he doesn’t, I’m certain we’ll see him in the Bronx this year, sooner rather than later.

Chase Whitley: Depth & Versatility

If the fifth starter’s race was purely Spring Training performance based, Whitley probably would be considered the frontrunner for the job. He’s allowed just one run in eleven innings and has been efficient, though he hasn’t faced the best competition either. Whitley had a nice little run as a starter last season before the wheels fell off, which wasn’t entirely unexpected since he is a career reliever who converted to a starter last season. He has three pitches though, so the Yankees are keeping him stretched out because why not?

Whitley, 25, might have the best chance to make the Opening Day roster out of anyone in this post. He could assume something similar to the old David Phelps role, working one inning or four innings at a time, depending what the team needs that night. Rogers could fill that role as well, though the Yankees have indicated they would like to take it easy on their starters early in the season, so carrying two multi-inning bullpeners could make sense. Either way, we’ll see Whitley in MLB this season at some point. I’m sure of it.

Spring Training Game Thread: Warren’s Chance To Clinch A Rotation Spot


Barring something unforeseen, Adam Warren will be the fifth starter at the start of the season. Brian Cashman basically confirmed it yesterday without actually coming out and saying it. Warren has outpitched Esmil Rogers this spring and it seems none of the other rotation candidates (Bryan Mitchell and Chase Whitley, specifically) were given serious consideration. With a strong performance today, Warren will erase any lingering doubt about his not yet official status as the fifth starter.

Today’s reason to watch: I’m not going to lie, this has the look of one of those uninteresting Spring Training games that will leave you wondering why you’re watching come the third or fourth inning. Warren is pitching and that’s important, plus some interesting non-top prospects are scheduled to play, but that’s about it.

The Yankees are on the road this afternoon, making the two-hour bus trip down to Port Charlotte to play the Rays. Not many regulars made the trip at all. There’s a bunch of bench players masquerading as regulars to meet MLB’s minimum requirement today. Here’s the Rays’ lineup and here’s the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. SS Didi Gregorius
  2. 2B Brendan Ryan
  3. 1B Garrett Jones
  4. CF Chris Young
  5. C John Ryan Murphy
  6. DH Rob Refsnyder
  7. LF Slade Heathcott
  8. RF Ramon Flores
  9. 3B Cole Figueroa
    RHP Adam Warren

Available Position Players: C Eddy Rodriguez, 1B Jonathan Galvez, SS Nick Noonan, LF Ben Gamel, and CF Jake Cave are scheduled to come off the bench. C Kyle Higashioka, C/1B Francisco Arcia, IF Ali Castillo, and OF Michael O’Neill are also on the trip as extra players.

Available Pitchers: RHP Chris Martin, RHP Danny Burawa, and RHP Jose Ramirez will follow Warren. LHP Tyler Webb, RHP Nick Rumbelow, RHP Cesar Vargas, RHP Branden Pinder, and RHP Nick Goody are the extra arms.

It it hot, cloudy, and humid in Port Charlotte, but there’s no rain in the forecast. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET and you can watch on There is no YES broadcast and MLB Network is showing the game on a delay later, not live. won’t be blacked out in the Yankees’ home market and can watch on Sun Sports if you are in the Rays’ home market. Enjoy the game.

Dellin Betances’ rough spring and reduced velocity are a cause for some concern, but not yet panic


For the fourth consecutive appearance, ace righty reliever Dellin Betances allowed a run yesterday afternoon, this one on a home run by the generally powerless Juan Lagares. The homer came on a hanging breaking ball, and while it was Dellin’s second straight day on the mound — his first set of back-to-back games this spring — it continued his recent stretch of tough outings.

Betances has allowed four runs on seven hits and two walks in his 5.1 innings this spring, striking out four. All four strikeouts came his first two outings. He hasn’t struck out any of the last 18 batters he’s faced after going no more than 13 batters between strikeouts in 2014 as best I can tell. Dellin allowed one run on five hits and four walks in 12.1 last spring, striking out eleven, just for reference.

The circumstances this year are much different than last year, however. Betances was trying to impress last spring because he wanted to make the team. He had a strong showing in September 2013 after moving to the bullpen full-time in Triple-A, but Spring Training was his best opportunity to impress the decision-makers. Betances has a roster spot locked up this spring, so he could afford to take it a little easier in March.

Now, that said, Dellin’s struggles appear to go beyond something we could chalk up to a veteran just getting work in. There is no PitchFX in any Grapefruit League park, so while we don’t have an accurate measure of his velocity, it is clearly down a few miles an hour. Joe Girardi acknowledged it the other day, telling Chad Jennings that Betances “wasn’t throwing 97, 98 in Spring Training last year at this time. He wasn’t. And power pitchers usually take a little bit longer to get going.”

While true, PitchFX clocked Betances at 97.1 mph during his first regular season outing last year, on April 1st. First game of the year adrenaline? Maybe. He was at 95.4 mph in his second game and 96.6 mph in his third. Either way, Dellin hasn’t come close to that average fastball velocity this month. His breaking ball hasn’t had the same sharp bite either — it certainly isn’t buckling as many knees — and his overall location has been poor. Betances knows it too and he’s getting frustrated.

“I’m obviously frustrated. I mean, it’s been four outings where every time out, I’ve given up a run. Today I felt better, but you got to make a better pitch than that to Lagares. It’s frustrating, but I’m sure I got four more outings left and I’ll do whatever I can to be better for the season,” said Dellin to Jennings and Brendan Kuty following yesterday’s game. “A lot of those guys know who I am now. Last year, I was unknown. Right now I need to get a few more (mph on my fastball) and maybe attack the zone better.”

Three years ago we went through a similar situation with a pitcher showing reduced velocity, though I think Michael Pineda‘s situation in 2012 was much different than what Betances is going through now. Pineda was having a tough time cracking 90 mph — Jennings spoke to a scout who had Betances at 92-93 mph yesterday, for what it’s worth — and he seemed to be laboring physically. Dellin doesn’t give off that same vibe. It seems like it’s a mechanical issue more than a physical issue, but I’m neither a doctor nor a pitching coach.

Betances of course has a long history of mechanical issues. Very long. Basically his entire career sans 2014. He struggled with extreme control problems in the minors and things didn’t click until he went to the bullpen, and Dellin attributed the regular work to his improved mechanics. That could be part of the problem this spring — he’s thrown roughly 40% of the innings he did last spring with only a week to go in camp. Maybe he hasn’t seen enough game action to get up to speed.

Last season’s workload — 90 innings across 70 appearances — could certainly be a factor, though the innings total itself was not out of the norm for Betances. He threw 89 total innings in 2013, 131.1 innings in 2012, and 129 innings in 2011. That said, he was a starter in 2011 and 2012, and throwing that many innings as a starter is different than doing it as a reliever in so many more appearances. Dellin threw a ton of stressful innings last year. Of course the workload could be a factor.

I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t worried about Betances’ rough spring and his stuff not being as crisp as it was in 2014. Between that, his minor league history, and last year’s workload, I don’t know how some concern doesn’t creep into your mind. But full blown panic? No, not yet. I want to see what happens when Betances gets into the regular season and gets some more innings under his belt. If he’s still throwing low-90s with no feel for his breaking ball say, three weeks into the season, then I’ll be much more concerned than I am right now.

As I wrote in our Season Preview post earlier this week, Betances is unlikely to repeat last season’s overwhelming dominance because basically no one does that two years in a row. That doesn’t mean I expect to him bad though. I still expect him to be an elite reliever, the same way David Robertson never repeated his 2011 performance but remained elite from 2012-14. The good news is the Yankees have a deep bullpen and have the relievers to cover the late innings if Betances’ struggles carry over into the regular season. They can be patient and let him work it out.

But let’s not kid ourselves either. Dellin is a major piece of the 2015 Yankees, a team built to win close games on the back of a shutdown bullpen, a bullpen Betances was expected to anchor. If whatever is ailing him this spring continues deep into the season, it’s going to hurt the team’s chances of contending substantially. This isn’t some generic middle reliever we’re talking about. For now, I am a bit concerned about Betances and hope to see improvement over his final few Spring Training appearances. And if he doesn’t get straightened out a few weeks into the regular season, the Yankees could have a big problem on their hands.