Open Thread: March 29th Camp Notes

The Yankees played two split squad games this afternoon, but, thanks to rain, they only played nine total innings. They beat the Pirates 5-4 in five innings at home, and CC Sabathia allowed two runs on three hits and two walks in four innings. He fanned two. Carlos Beltran hit a two-run homer while Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Chase Headley, and Starlin Castro had one hit each. Here’s the box score and video highlights for that game.

Meanwhile, in Clearwater, the other half of the Yankees beat the Phillies 7-1 in four innings. Masahiro Tanaka allowed one run on seven hits and a walk in his four innings, striking out five. Dustin Ackley (three-run) and Miguel Andujar (two-run) both cracked homers. Aaron Hicks and Brian McCann also had base hits. Here’s the box score and video highlights for that game. Hard to top two wins in nine innings, eh? Here’s the rest of the day’s news from Tampa:

  • Joe Girardi said he felt today was Sabathia’s best outing of the spring, but he stopped short of naming him the fifth starter, citing the fact there are still five exhibition games to play. “I hope we have them all by Thursday,” said the manager, referring to decisions about the open roster spots. [Erik Boland, Chad Jennings]
  • The rotation for the rest of camp: Ivan Nova (Wednesday), Michael Pineda and Chad Green (split squad games Thursday, both on TV), Nathan Eovaldi (Friday), and Luis Severino (Saturday). Looks to me the regular season rotation with be Tanaka/Pineda/Eovaldi/Severino/Sabathia in that order, though Sabathia could start the third or fourth game instead. [Bryan Hoch]
  • Following last night’s game the Yankees reassigned Diego Moreno to minor league camp. They’re down to 37 players in big league camp, though it’s really 34 because Greg Bird (shoulder), Mason Williams (shoulder), and Aroldis Chapman (suspension) aren’t Opening Day roster candidates.
  • In case you missed it earlier, Bryan Mitchell has been told he will be on the Opening Day roster. He’s scheduled to pitch on three day’s rest tomorrow, so it seems like the team is preparing him for a relief role. (Duh.) [Jennings]
  • Today is Carlos Corporan opt-out date, but there’s no word on whether he is actually opting out. I guess that means he’s sticking around? /shrugs

This is tonight’s open thread. This afternoon’s home game will be replayed on YES following the Nets game, so figure it will start somewhere around 10-10:30pm ET. The road game won’t be replayed anywhere. MLB Network will show the Giants and Royals live a little later, then a bunch of other games on tape delay throughout the night. The Islanders, Devils, and Nets are all playing as well talk. You folks know what to do here, so have it.

Girardi announces Bryan Mitchell will be on Opening Day roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

No surprise here: Joe Girardi officially announced this afternoon that Bryan Mitchell will be on the Opening Day roster, according to the various reporters in Tampa. He did not specify a role, but we all know Mitchell will be in the bullpen. Girardi has been talking about Mitchell as a potential Adam Warren replacement since Spring Training opened.

Mitchell, 24, has allowed one run on six hits and one walk in 14.2 innings so far this spring. He’s struck out eleven. The Yankees said they were holding a fifth starter competition, but apparently Mitchell was not included, because he would have won it with those numbers. He threw the ball very well in Grapefruit League play.

Last season Mitchell had a 6.37 ERA (4.75 FIP) in 29.2 big league innings spread across two starts and 18 relief appearances. It really was a tale of two seasons though. He was very good (3.86 ERA and 3.28 FIP) in 21 innings before being hit in the nose with a line drive, then terrible (12.46 ERA and 8.33 FIP) in 8.2 innings thereafter.

Mitchell is a fastball/curveball/cutter pitcher with shaky command. The lack of command and the lack of a changeup — he uses the cutter against lefties — holds him back from a no-doubt future as a starter. PitchFX clocked Mitchell’s fastball at 96.7 mph on average last year (99.3 mph max), and the curve is a hammer, so he could be a real weapon his short relief. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does.

Mitchell will join Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve, and Ivan Nova in the bullpen, so two spots are still up for grabs. (One will eventually be filled by Aroldis Chapman.) My money is on Kirby Yates and Johnny Barbato getting those spots, but we’ll see. They’re going to be shuttle spots anyway.

The Coaching Staff [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once again, the Yankees made some changes to their coaching staff this past offseason. Not huge changes, but changes nonetheless. Two years ago Gary Tuck replaced Mike Harkey as bullpen coach. Last year the duo of Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell replaced Kevin Long at hitting coach, and Joe Espada took over as third base coach with Rob Thomson moving to bench coach and Tony Pena moving to first base coach.

This past offseason the Yankees replaced Tuck with Harkey — Tuck was reportedly let go due to a disagreement with the front office about the use of analytics — and promoted Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Marcus Thames to replace Pentland. Well, technically Cockrell was promoted to replace Pentland as the main hitting coach, with Thames replacing Cockrell as the assistant. Got all that?

It’s tough to preview or review the coaching staff because so much of what they do happens behind the scenes. Sometimes we can see the results of their work — Thames helped Ben Gamel add a leg kick last year, for example — but oftentimes we’re talking about adjustments the untrained eye won’t see. So rather than provide a rigorous analysis of the coaching staff, here is a more casual preview of the upcoming season.

The Manager

Can you believe this will be Joe Girardi‘s ninth season as manager? The Yankees have had two managers over the last two decades. They had eleven managers in the two decades before that, not counting the guys who were hired multiple times. I was still very young when George Steinbrenner was in his hiring and firing heyday, so I can’t really appreciate the continuity the Yankees have had the last 20 years.

Anyway, I have long believed the manager’s most important work takes place is in the clubhouse, where he has to manage 25 personalities (way more than that, really) day in and day out for eight months a year. That can’t be easy. The Yankees seem to have a very cohesive clubhouse — Alex Rodriguez referred to the veteran players as the “Board of Trustees” because of the way they oversee things — and that surely helps Girardi. Over the last few seasons the team has been largely distraction free and that’s a good thing. Girardi keeps the chaos to a minimum.

On the field, I think Girardi has two key responsibilities this year. One, don’t screw up the laughably great bullpen he’s been given. And he won’t. Girardi’s very good with his relievers. Yes, he makes moves that sometime backfire. That makes him like every other manager. We now have eight years worth of data telling us Girardi is good at a) turning marginal relievers into assets by putting them in good positions to succeed, and b) keeping his bullpeners fresh.

Managing this bullpen with the lead will be easy. Are the Yankees up in the late innings? Bring in Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, or Aroldis Chapman. Any of three will do. That’s the easy part of managing this bullpen. The tough part is all the other innings, when you’re trailing or deep into extra innings and the three big guys have been used. The Yankees are going to shuttle relievers in and out all year again, and it’ll be up to Girardi to get the most out of them.

The second key on-field responsibility this season is resting the regulars. Girardi and the Yankees seem to be all-in on this. They’ve been talking about it since the end of last season. They want to rest the veterans and try to avoid another second half offensive collapse. The versatile Aaron Hicks will make resting the outfielders easy. He can play any outfield position and he’s a switch-hitter. Hooray for that. The infield? Eh, things are a little up in the air there. Either way, keeping players fresh and productive will be very important in 2016.

Beyond all that, I’d like to see Girardi try a few more Hail Mary instant replay challenges this summer, which I discussed a few months ago. The team’s replay success rate may dip, but who cares? They don’t give out a prize for that. Girardi has to navigate this weird transition period as the “get younger and trim payroll but remain competitive” thing continues. I don’t think his job will be (or should be) in jeopardy if they miss the postseason, but who knows. After eight years, it’s pretty clear Girardi is an asset and one of the game’s better managers.

Cockrell and Thames (and Reggie). (Presswire)
Cockrell and Thames (and Reggie). (Presswire)

The Hitting Coaches

The Yankees are on their third hitting coach(es) in three years. They scored the second most runs in baseball last season, and outside of Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury, pretty much everyone in the lineup met or exceeded expectations. That seems to be the criteria by which fans judge hitting coaches. Did the team score a lot of runs? Did the players meet expectations? If the answers are yes, the hitting coach is doing a good job.

This summer the Cockrell/Thames tandem will be tasked not so much with keeping the veterans productive, though that’s obviously important. Given the team’s direction, the more important goal is helping the young players, specifically guys like Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. We could also lump Hicks and Gary Sanchez in there as well. The Yankee have put aside the present for the future, that couldn’t be any more clear, which is why the young guys are the priority. That’s … pretty much all I have to say about the hitting coaches. Go team.

The Pitching Coach

This year the Yankees did not give Larry Rothschild a project. Last season they dropped a shiny new Nathan Eovaldi into his lap and told Rothschild to turn him into a better pitcher. And he did! Rothschild taught Eovaldi a splitter and he was way more effective with that pitch. Based on that, the project was successful in the short-term. We’ll see what happens in the long-term.

In 2016, Rothschild’s pet project will be Luis Severino and perhaps Bryan Mitchell, assuming he’s in the Opening Day bullpen. Severino is very refined for a kid his age, but the Yankees do need to monitor his workload, and Rothschild is in charge of mapping that out. Mitchell has to improve his control and command and gosh, that’s a tough one. Rothschild can only do so much there. Baseball history is full of live arms who washed out because they couldn’t locate.

Rothschild is about to begin his sixth season as pitching coach — how the hell did that happen? didn’t they just hire him? — and in those five years the Yankees have had plenty of pitchers exceed expectations, and I’m talking about both veterans (Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda) and young pitchers (Betances, Adam Warren, even Ivan Nova). Most of their pitching failures have been injury related. How much credit does Rothschild deserve? We can’t say, exactly. After five years, I feel pretty good with him running the show.

The Other Coaches

Harkey left the Yankees two years ago to take over as the Diamondbacks pitching coach. Arizona canned him at the end of last season, which was inevitable. He was a holdover from the previous regime and it was only a matter of time until GM Dave Stewart and head baseball operations hocho Tony La Russa brought in their own guy. They gave Harkey a year, then moved on, so now he’s back with the Yankees as bullpen coach. It’s like he never left.

Thompson returns as bench coach and I have no opinion about that whatsoever. Pena returns as first base coach — his is Pena’s 11th season on the coaching staff, by the way — and I also have no opinion about that. Both guys have been around forever and they wouldn’t continue to be around if they weren’t quality baseball minds. All bench and first base coaches are cool with me because I’m don’t really know what they do or how much influence they have. Pena works with the catchers. I know that much.

Third base coaches generally get a bad rap. They’re either hated or unnoticed. Espada was conservative sending runners last year and at least part of that was out of necessity. The Yankees are not a fast team aside from Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. Also, the Yankees scored a lot of runs last year, and when you can hit for power like they did, it makes sense to hold a runner if you think there may be a play at the plate. Teams that struggle to score runs have to really push it. The Yankees aren’t one of those teams.

That said, Espada did appear to be overly conservative at times, perhaps due to poor reads or not knowing the scouting reports on the outfielder’s arm. (Guessing it was the former, not the latter.) That’s something that has to be cleaned up. Espada’s not a rookie third base coach — he was the Marlins third base coach from 2010-13 — so he has experience. Hopefully his second year in New York goes a bit more smoothly now that he’s seen the league and is more familiar with his personnel.

Spring Training Dual Game Thread: Tanaka & Sabathia

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

If you believe everything the Yankees have been saying about their rotation, today is the single most important day of Spring Training. CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka are starting a pair of split squad games. The former is trying to win a rotation spot, the latter is trying to show enough to earn the Opening Day start. That’s what the Yankees say, anyway. Consider me skeptical.

Both of today’s games will be televised, meaning we’ll get to watch two games at the same time. That’s always a treat. Sabathia and most of the regulars will be at home in Tampa to play the Pirates, who made the trip down from Bradenton. The other half of the team — Tanaka and a bunch of minor leaguers, basically — will be on the other side of the causeway playing the Phillies in Clearwater. Here is the Pirates’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup for the home game:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 2B Starlin Castro
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP CC Sabathia

Available Pitchers: RHP Nick Goody, RHP Branden Pinder, RHP Johnny Barbato, RHP Vinnie Pestano, and RHP Jonathan Holder are all available, but I’m not sure who’s actually going to pitch. Today would be back-to-back days for Goody and Barbato.

Available Position Players: C Gary Sanchez, 1B Billy Fleming, 2B Jonathan Diaz, SS Tyler Wade, 3B Vicente Conde, LF Trey Amburgey, CF Jake Skole, RF Juan Silva, and DH Dan Fiorito will be the second string off the bench.

Sabathia is the most important storyline to watch in the home game. He had a good start last time out — I can’t believe we’re so focused on Spring Training performance, good grief — but the few before that were rough. Ivan Nova‘s tough start last time out all but clinched the last rotation spot for Sabathia, though you still want to see the big man pitch well today, in his last start before the regular season. This start is important enough that Joe Girardi stayed behind to watch. Now here is the Phillies’ lineup and the Yankees’ lineup for the road game:

  1. CF Aaron Hicks
  2. SS Ronald Torreyes
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Carlos Corporan
  5. 1B Dustin Ackley
  6. 2B Pete Kozma
  7. RF Cesar Puello
  8. 3B Miguel Andujar
  9. LF Ben Gamel
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Available Pitchers: RHP Anthony Swarzak and RH Kirby Yates are also scheduled to pitch. LHP Caleb Frare, RHP Gio Gallegos, RHP Connor Mullee, LHP Caleb Smith, LHP Matt Tracy, and RHP Matt Wotherspoon are up from minor league camp and on the trip as well.

Available Position Players: C Eddy Rodriguez, C Francisco Diaz, 1B/OF Tyler Austin, IF Cito Culver, IF Jose Rosario, OF Dustin Fowler, OF Michael O’Neill, and OF Mark Payton are on the bench. Not sure who is scheduled to play though.

Again, the starting pitcher is the key here. Tanaka has not pitched well the last few times out and the Yankees have put some pressure on him to increase his intensity. It’s kinda funny the Yankees go to such great lengths to rest Tanaka and keep him healthy, but now they’re worried about his intensity during Grapefruit League games. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild will be on the road with Tanaka, and will surely report what he sees back to Girardi and the front office.

Both of today’s games will begin around 1pm ET, and the weather in Tampa and Clearwater is basically the same. It’s cloudy and cool, and the internet tells me there will be on and off rain all afternoon. (The chance of rain is higher in Tampa than Clearwater.) Hopefully nothing forces a delay or cancellation. The home game will be on YES and MLB.tv. The road game will be MLB Network and MLB.tv. There is no MLB Network blackout in the Tri-State Area for this one. Enjoy the games.

Update (1:28pm ET): The game is Tampa is underway, but the game in Clearwater is in a rain delay. The Phillies say the game is scheduled to begin at 1:40pm ET.

Mark Teixeira working to correct timing issue at the plate before Opening Day

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This has been a good Spring Training for Mark Teixeira. He missed the end of last season with a small fracture in his shin, and the rehab was pretty lengthy. Teixeira fouled the pitch into his shin in August, the fracture wasn’t found until September, and it wasn’t until January that he was cleared to run. So far this spring the shin has been a total non-issue and that’s pretty damn important.

This has not been a good Spring Training for Teixeira statistically. The shin is healthy, but he’s gone 5-for-39 (.128) at the plate with only two extra-base hits — he hit his first homer last night — and Opening Day is now less than a week away. At some point he would like to get going, even if for no other reason than to build confidence. Spring Training stats are ultimately meaningless, but that doesn’t mean players are happy hitting .128, especially when they’re a pending free agent like Teixeira.

“My timing has been off all spring and we found something (Friday) in the video. The first couple of weeks you are trying to knock off some rust. I keep grounding out and I did it twice today,” said Teixeira to George King over the weekend. Teixeira has 22 ground outs and only eight fly outs this spring, a 2.75 GO/FO ratio. He had a 0.92 GO/FO ratio last year, so he’s way off in limited time this spring. Then again, he had a 2.25 GB/FO last spring and mashed during the regular season, so who knows.

“There is a little thing in my swing that is making my timing off,” added Teixeira while talking to King. “We have another week to fix it and I feel really good we will do that. I am not getting into my legs on my timing mechanism. My whole timing is sinking back and getting under my back leg. Because of that I am jumping at the ball a little bit. I am swinging at good pitches and I should be getting better results.”

Here are the obligatory before and after GIFs. The GIF on the left is from earlier in Spring Training (April 19th, to be exact), and the GIF on the right is from this past Saturday, after Teixeira told reporters about his video work and mechanical flaw discovery.

Mark Teixeira before and after

The GIFs are synced up at the point when Teixeira picks up his foot to begin his little leg kick. You can see that in the GIF on the right, the one from this past Saturday, he begins to lean back a little earlier than he does in the GIF on the left. To use Teixeira’s words, he was “sinking back and getting under my back leg” a split second earlier Saturday.

I am no hitting coach or hitting guru, so what follows is speculation: by “sinking back and getting under my back leg” a bit earlier, Teixeira is putting himself in a better position to hit. He transfers his weight to his back leg, then can explode forward with his swing. When he’s “sinking back and getting under my back leg” a tad late, he has to rush into his swing. Teixeira’s timing is off, basically. That make sense? Am I in the ballpark you think?

Getting at-bats won’t be an issue even though Opening Day is only six days away. The Yankees could always send Teixeira over to minor league camp and let him get, like, ten at-bats a day. I don’t think that will happen though, not unless Teixeira feels he really, really needs the extra work. The team has five exhibition games remaining — well, they have seven games left, but he can’t play in both split squad games today and Thursday — and that might be enough.

Teixeira has started pretty well the last few seasons — remember when he was a slow starter? nowadays we’re happy when he’s healthy in April — even though his Spring Trainings haven’t been great. He didn’t hit his first homer until his very last Grapefruit League game last year, if I’m remembering correctly. Teixeira is obviously extremely important to both the offense and defense, so another hot start is more necessity than luxury. He’s identified some sort of mechanical flaw and is working to fix, and if last night’s homer is any indication, the results are already starting to come.

Open Thread: March 28th Camp Notes

The Yankees continue their Grapefruit League season tonight with a home game against the Tigers. Luis Cessa will be on the mound because the Yankees don’t want the Tigers to see one of their regular starters so close to the regular season. The Yankees will be in Detroit for the second series of the regular season next weekend. Anyway, there is no television broadcast of the game, so here is the Gameday link. Here are the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Masahiro Tanaka is indeed scheduled to pitch tomorrow, not Wednesday. That’s what I figured yesterday. It’s his normal turn and it lines him up to start Opening Day with an extra day of rest. “Our hope is that he’s really good tomorrow and it’s a non-issue,” said Joe Girardi when asked about the Opening Day start if Tanaka doesn’t pitch well tomorrow. [George King, Bryan Hoch]
  • Luis Severino struck out 12 in six innings in a minor league game this afternoon. He threw 91 pitches, so he’s pretty well stretched out. Austin Romine was behind the plate. That Severino pitched in a minor league game today instead of facing the Tigers tonight indicates he’ll start either the fourth or fifth game of the regular season. [Shane Hennigan, Chad Jennings]
  • Jacoby Ellsbury played yesterday and is in the lineup tonight, but he admitted he still has some lingering soreness in his wrist after being hit by a pitch last week. “There’s still bruising and a little swelling in there but I feel like I can do everything I need to,” he said. [Brendan Kuty]
  • In an effort to stay healthy, Nathan Eovaldi has cut back on his throwing between starts. “Last year, I feel like I threw a lot between starts. Been trying to cut back on that and trying to focus on my bullpens in between games,” he said. “I just felt like that was one part of my game where I could do better at really, with my routine and shoulder programs.” [Kuty]
  • Tomorrow is Carlos Corporan’s opt-out date. All signs point to Romine being the backup catcher, so the best case for Corporan with the Yankees is backing up Gary Sanchez in Triple-A. [Hoch]

This is tonight’s open thread. MLB Network will show the Rangers and Dodgers live later tonight, plus both the Knicks and Nets are playing. Talk about those games, the unwatchable Yankees game, or anything else right here.

Heyman: Yanks may look to add veteran middle relief help

"Joe, we need to talk about your nicknaming style." (Presswire)
“Joe, we need to talk about your nicknaming style.” (Presswire)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees may look to add a veteran reliever or two before Opening Day to improve their middle relief situation. The club has no shortage of bullpen candidates but very few have actually pitched well in Grapefruit League play. This spring was a chance for some of those shuttle relievers to stand out, though none of them really did it.

The out of options market doesn’t have much to offer. The Yankees could wait to see what Article XX(B) free agents become available in the the coming days. Article XX(B) free agents are players with at least six years of service time signed to minor league contracts. They get a $100,000 bonus if they’re sent to Triple-A and an automatic June 1st opt-out. Those who don’t make the team are usually released in the spring though, like Chris Denorfia.

Among this year’s Article XX(B) relievers are Burke Badenhop, Matt Belisle, Craig Breslow, Chris Capuano, Brian Duensing, Casey Janssen, Franklin Morales, Peter Moylan, Edward Mujica, Bobby Parnell, Manny Parra, and Jamey Wright. Quite a group there. Some have already been released (Janssen, Parnell) and some are actually going to make their team’s Opening Day roster (Mujica), so the availability varies.

Do any of those guys seem worth the trouble? Badenhop and Belisle could be serviceable, and Parnell could be interesting now that he’s further away from Tommy John surgery, otherwise I’m not sure I’d give any of those guys a big league roster spot over the shuttle relievers. There’s always something to be said for accumulating depth. I just see these Article XX(B) guys as warm bodies to soak up innings, not have a real impact.

The trade market is always pretty active at the end of Spring Training, though I wonder how many teams legitimately have an extra reliever to spare. Very few, I’m sure. In fact, the Yankees might have the most bullpen depth to offer in trades than any other team in baseball given all the shuttle relievers. I’m guessing Brian Cashman will get some calls about the team’s Triple-A bullpeners, if he hasn’t already.

Right now I don’t expect the Yankees to make a move for bullpen help. It’s not a huge priority. If anything, I could see Cashman & Co. trading a reliever, perhaps for a new utility infielder. The bullpen is certainly a position of depth, and hey, you can’t keep everyone, so trading an extra arm to fill a need elsewhere only makes sense.