Did you realize the Yankees are 5-1 in games immediately prior to a scheduled off-day this season? That doesn’t mean anything, it’s just kind neat. Off-days are always a little more enjoyable on the heels of a win. The bad taste of a loss can linger for a while. The one loss was the second game of the doubleheader against the Pirates, so the Yankees still had a win in the bank that day.
Anyway, here is your open thread for the off-night. The Mets are playing and MLB Network will air a game as well. Who you see depends on where you live. There are also NBA and NHL playoff games on, including the Rangers as they look to a clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals. Talk about those games or anything else you want right here.
Pat Connaughton | RHP
Connaughton is from just outside of Boston, and he turned down the Padres out of high school as their 38th round pick in 2011. He followed through on his commitment to Notre Dame, where he plays both baseball and basketball. Connaughton had a 2.42 ERA with a 69/49 K/BB in 92.2 innings during his freshman and sophomore seasons, and this spring it’s a 3.92 ERA with a 36/40 K/BB in 62 innings. Yes, more walks than strikeouts. He has been a three-year starter for the Fighting Irish basketball team but is not a serious NBA prospect.
Listed at 6-foot-5 and 214 lbs., Connaughton is a pure arm strength prospect who regularly touches 95 mph with his fastball. His curveball shows some potential but his changeup needs a lot of work. He’s clearly still a project after splitting so much time between two different sports. Connaughton’s delivery is pretty stiff and it hurts his command. Obviously he’s a very good athlete, that’s kinda necessary to play two sports at the Division I level, and he draws praise for his competitiveness and makeup.
Baseball America ranked Connaughton as the 128th best prospect in the draft class last week. He did not make either Keith Law‘s (subs. req’d) or MLB.com‘s most recent top 100 rankings. Connaughton told Andrew Owens the Yankees are one team he has spoken to “a lot” in recent weeks. He plans to return to school to play his senior basketball season and said clubs are open to letting him play both sports before focusing on baseball full-time in 2015. The Yankees don’t pick until the second round (55th overall), though Connaughton is a better fit as a roll of the dice with their third (91st overall), fourth (122nd), or even fifth (152nd) round pick.
- Mark Teixeira (wrist) will visit his surgeon in New York today and have an ultrasound. He hasn’t played since Sunday and an MRI is not planned unless other tests show something. “I was hoping I’d wake up this morning and feel nothing. There’s still some soreness in there,” said Teixeira yesterday. “Hopefully the extra day off tomorrow will help, and hopefully I’m back in there on Friday.”
- Michael Pineda (back/shoulder) is scheduled to pitch in an intrasquad game in Tampa on Sunday. He threw two innings in Extended Spring Training on Tuesday, so he’s on a regular five-day schedule. If Sunday’s outing goes well, Pineda could soon begin an official minor league rehab assignment.
- Carlos Beltran (elbow) will hit off a tee and soft toss with hitting coach Kevin Long at Yankee Stadium today. He rested yesterday after swinging a bat on Monday (fungo) and Tuesday (full-size bat).
- Shawn Kelley (back) played catch again yesterday and felt fine. He will get back on a mound and throw a bullpen session on Friday.
Update (3:17pm): Teixeira has only inflammation in his wrist and is day-to-day, the Yankees announced following his visit to the doctor this afternoon. The team also says Beltran took 25 swings from each side of the plate and felt no discomfort in his elbow. He will do the same thing tomorrow.
When the Yankees signed Brian McCann over the winter, I’m pretty sure they knew he would have to move to first base eventually. He turned 30 just as Spring Training started and he’s been an everyday catcher for a long, long time. McCann caught almost 9,000 innings with the Braves in the regular season alone. Eventually he’ll have to move out from behind the plate. That’s just the way it goes.
Now, that said, I don’t think the Yankees expected to start McCann at first base 52 games into his five-year contract. He had never played first base before this season, but Joe Girardi used him there for four innings (spread across three games) earlier this year in blowout games. Nothing crazy. Jorge Posada did that a bunch of times too. But starting a game at first, like he did last night? That was not the plan coming into the season.
“I was a little hesitant to do it,” said Girardi to Chad Jennings before last night’s game. “I saw him over there those couple of times and I’m a little more open to it, just because of some of the injuries. You know, there are a lot of things you don’t plan on doing during the course of the season that kind of go awry when some things happen. I never planned on playing Vernon Wells at third base last year. Never in my wildest dreams, but it happened. That’s where you have to be sometimes a little creative.”
First, shout-out to Girardi for reminding me Wells played third base last year. I completely forgot about that (even though I GIF’d it). He played second base at one point too. So did Mark Reynolds. Now let’s wipe that from our memories forever.
Anyway, the Yankees have essentially been forced to play McCann at first base on occasion because they never bothered to pick up a real backup first baseman over the winter. The backup first baseman was Kelly Johnson by default — “We felt that Kelly’d be able to handle it, and I still think that Kelly can handle it,” added Girardi — and he had 18 career innings at the position coming into the season. McCann, Johnson, Frankie Cervelli, and Scott Sizemore all started games at first this year. Brendan Ryan and Carlos Beltran have played there as well. Seven different players already.
Mark Teixeira will visit the doctor to have his surgically repaired right wrist examined at some point today. He missed the Cardinals series due to lingering soreness and inflammation, something that will apparently be the norm going forward. It’s going to act up from time to time — “[The doctor] was surprised I haven’t had more flare ups,” said Teixeira to Jennings — and they’ll have to manage it somehow. More days off, more time at DH, more treatment, whatever it takes. They don’t have much of a choice.
Because Teixeira’s wrist will continue to be an issue, the Yankees will have to keep forcing round pegs into the square hole at first base. McCann was fine last night but he wasn’t tested with any particularly tough plays. Johnson has been a mess over there recently — is it just me, or did he look much more comfortable over there while Teixeira was on the DL in April? what happened? — and that’s to be expected given his inexperience. Same goes with McCann, Ryan, Sizemore, and whoever else they throw over there.
The Yankees had the ideal backup first baseman in Nick Swisher a few years ago. A productive player who could play another position everyday and step right in at first base if need be. It was awesome. That’s much more preferable to a pure backup first baseman like, say, Lyle Overbay. Players who can play another position and slide over to first seamlessly are hard to find though. Kendrys Morales is still unsigned but he barely qualifies as a first baseman at this point of his career (59 games at first since destroying his ankle in 2010). Maybe Mitch Moreland becomes available if the Rangers continue to fall out of it. Who do you drop from the roster to make room for this player though? It’s tricky.
Looking back — and really, we don’t even need hindsight to say this — it was pretty silly to come into the season with no really backup plan at first base after Teixeira missed all of last season with a wrist injury, especially since he was told it would flare up during the season. Yeah, they did bring in Russ Canzler on a minor league contract, but that’s it. Keeping Mark Reynolds as a part-time corner infielder/DH would have been awesome, but it’s pretty clear he signed with the Brewers because they gave him a greater opportunity for playing time. Hopefully Teixeira’s soreness this week nudges the Yankees towards finding a suitable backup and soon.
The Yankees are off today following their nine-game road trip, and starting tomorrow they play 17 games in 17 days in three different time zones. On the bright side, they don’t have to travel back to the West Coast after that, and only two more times this season do they even have to go to the Central Time Zone. The team’s travel after this upcoming stretch as is easy as it gets. Here are some random thoughts on the off-day.
1. This weekend’s series against the Twins marks the end of what is probably the softest stretch of schedule for the 2014 Yankees in terms of the quality of their opponents: 19 straight games against the Mets, Pirates, Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals, and Twins. Only the Cardinals aren’t awful. The Yankees have won nine of the first 16 games during that stretch, with the last three against Minnesota still pending. That’s pretty damn good, but I can’t help but feel greedy and wish they could have stolen one or two more. That Adam Dunn walk-off homer game really stings. With the Rays and Red Sox falling behind the rest of the AL East a bit — Tampa is literally one game better than the Astros right now — the division race has opened up a little bit. The Yankees play the Blue Jays and Orioles a combined nine times next month and those games are the most important ones right now. Games against Boston and Tampa aren’t as crucial as they have been the last few years. (They’re obviously still important. You know what I mean.) This isn’t the AL East race we’re used to seeing.
2. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this at some point before, I but I can’t remember the last time the Yankees had a reliever like Dellin Betances. That overwhelmingly dominant flamethrower. Joba Chamberlain was excellent following his call-up in 2007, but even he did not have the kind of strikeout stuff as Betances — Joba had a 37.4 K% in 24 innings in 2007 while Betances is at 44.7 K% in 30.2 innings in this year. (Bet you didn’t realize David Robertson has a 41.5 K% strikeout rate this year, did you?) Mariano Rivera was outstanding in 1996 as John Wetteland’s setup man, but Mo’s dominance was always more surgical than overpowering. You know what I mean, right? Betances just comes out of the bullpen pumping 97+ with a knee-buckling breaking ball that hitters don’t even bother to swing at. They just bail on the pitch and it goes for a called strike. It’s amazing and so much fun to watch. Betances spent a very long time in the minors fighting control problems and battling injuries, and the decision to move him into the bullpen last year was basically a last resort. A desperate attempt by the team to get something out of him. The move into a relief role has worked out to the best case scenario and it saved his career.
3. Obviously the late-1990s Yankees were excellent for many reasons, one of them being their strength up the middle. Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams were among the best players at their positions, Jorge Posada was just starting to get the majority of the playing time behind the plate, and Chuck Knoblauch was very good until things started to fall apart in 2001. They were getting top notch production from the four most important non-pitcher positions on the field. That is not the case this year though. The Yankees have gotten a combined .266/.331/.379 batting line from their catchers, second basemen, shortstops, and center fielders this year, which is right in line with the .254/.323/.397 league average. Average isn’t bad! It is less than you would like to see though. The Yankees should be getting more production from those positions — neither Jacoby Ellsbury nor Brian McCann were hitting much prior to their big games last night (McCann was playing first, remember) — but it has not been there just about a third of the way through the season. Ellsbury and McCann are not going anywhere, but as the Yankees usher out of the Jeter era this winter, improving both middle infield spots should be a top priority. Along with having good pitching (duh), getting big production from those up the middle spots is one of the most surefire ways to contend. Just look at the World Series teams of the last, I don’t know, 25 years or so. All strong up the middle.
4. So, with that in mind, man how perfect would Chase Utley look in pinstripes? Someone asked about him in a mailbag a few weeks ago and I haven’t been able to shake the thought of trading for him since. It’s not going to happen for several reasons — his ten-and-five no-trade protection first of all, plus the Phillies would have to be willing to sell and trade their best and most popular player — but the fit is too perfect. Left-handed power and patience, no real platoon concerns, good defense at second base, big market and postseason experience, short-term contract … he’s perfect. The only negative is Utley’s injury history, particularly his knee problems, but 100 games of him and 62 games of a replacement level player is still one of the best second baseman in baseball. The Phillies are pretty bad and they’re only sinking further in the standings, especially with Cliff Lee hurt. Maybe that will push ownership to demand a rebuild. In the unlikely event it happens, the Yankees should be on the phone about Utley immediately. He’s exactly what they need on both sides of the ball.
The nine-game road trip through Chicago and St. Louis is over, and the Yankees are coming home with five wins. The jumped out to a big early lead against the Cardinals on Wednesday, then held on for dear life in the late innings for a 7-4 series clinching win. You didn’t think they would blow it, did you?
Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller came into Wednesday’s series finale with a low 3.18 ERA but an ugly 5.22 FIP due to ongoing control and homer problems. He’s taken a big step back from his stellar rookie campaign a year ago. The Yankees spurred on the ERA correction in this game, pounding Miller for seven runs in only five innings. At one point spanning the third and fourth innings, nine of 13 batters reached base. The Yankees were all over him.
The two-inning rally all started with a one-out walk by Brett Gardner in the third, a debatable one at that considering how close some of the pitches were. Yadier Molina didn’t frame them enough, I guess. Brian Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury followed with singles, Brian McCann drew a walk, then backup catcher/serial killer John Ryan Murphy poked a single into shallow center to plate two runs and give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. It’s really hard not to be impressed with Murphy. The single came on a nasty slider down and away. Ichiro Suzuki made it 4-0 when he beat out a would-be double play ball.
The fourth inning rally came almost entirely with two outs. Kelly Johnson led off the frame with a single, but Hiroki Kuroda popped up a bunt and Gardner flew out to center for two quick outs. Then Roberts doubled to left-center and Ellsbury singled back up the middle for two more runs. He stole second uncontested for the second time in the game (more on that in a bit), then McCann singled him in for the seventh run. Seven singles, two walks, one double, seven runs. That’s all why would get on the night and all they would need. (Miller exited the game with a 3.94 ERA and 5.11 FIP, in case you’re wondering. Getting closer.)
A Tale Of Two Starts
I thought Kuroda looked very sharp early in this game. He retired the side in order in the first, pitched around a ground rule double and an error in the second, then got two quick outs in the third. After that, ten of the final 18 batters he faced managed to reach base. That led to three runs, one each in the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings. It would have been worse had Dellin Betances not cleaned up a first-and-third, two outs situation in the sixth.
Kuroda’s night ended with those three runs allowed on nine hits and a hit batsman in 5.2 innings of work. He failed to complete six full innings for the fourth time in his last eight starts after doing it only eight times all of last season. (The Yankees as a team have 21 starts of fewer than six innings this season, the tenth most in baseball.) It was almost a quality start, which I guess is good for Kuroda these days, sadly. I keep waiting for everything to click like it did during his start in Anaheim a few weeks ago, but it’s becoming more and more obvious that just isn’t going happen.
Late Innings Machinations
The Yankees had a golden opportunity to blow the game open in the eighth inning, after two singles and an error loaded the bases with no outs. Gardner struck out and Roberts hit into an inning-ending double play though, squashing that opportunity. Roberts swung at a 3-0 pitch from soft-tossing lefty Randy Choate and I was totally cool with it. You know he’s going to throw something in the zone and you already have a four-run lead. Let it fly and try to do some real damage. Didn’t work. Whatever.
The bullpen usage was a little weird only because Joe Girardi used Betances for just one batter — he got Matt Holliday to fly out to end that first-and-third situation in the sixth (on the first pitch, no less). Usually Betances would stay in to pitch the seventh inning as well, but it seems like Girardi didn’t want to push him given his recent workload. Dellin’s worked hard of late, so one batter it was.
Adam Warren, who had each of the last two days off, got five outs in the seventh and eighth before David Robertson finished things off with a four-out non-save. It did get a little messy though. Warren allowed a double and Robertson a single to score a run in the eighth, then Robertson allowed a single and a four-pitch walk to bring the tying run to the plate with no outs in the ninth. Then he struck out the next three batters because that’s what David Robertson does. Game over. Nice and easy.
Ellsbury had a much-needed huge game, going 3-for-5 with two runs, two steals, and three runs batted in. He stole second base without a throw twice, and replays showed that he was basically getting a running lead against Miller. Ellsbury had his move down pat (maybe after doing his homework in advance of the World Series last fall?) and took advantage. Still, three steals in three attempts against Molina in one series is damn impressive.
Roberts, Brendan Ryan, and Johnson all had multiple hits in addition to Ellsbury, just as we all expected. Murphy singled, Gardner walked, and McCann singled twice and walked. The 12 hits were the Yankees’ most since the second game against the Cubs and only their third time with double-digit hits in the last 15 games. That dates back to the second game against the Mets. On the other hand, the Yankees struck out only three times in the game and ten times in the entire series (122 batters, so 8.2%).
Four bad defensive plays by the infield in this game: Ryan booted a routine ground ball in the second, both Kuroda and Matt Thornton mishandled comebackers in the sixth, and Roberts got eaten up by a ground ball in the seventh. All were hard hit except Ryan’s grounder, but geez. Make a somewhat difficult play once a while? Could be cool?
Remember the Yankees supposedly stopped shifting behind Kuroda? Yeah, forget it. They were shifting behind him five days ago against the White Sox and they did it again on Wednesday against the Cardinals. Maybe they’re just not shifting behind him as much as they shift behind the other pitchers?
The Yankees are off on Thursday, then they will return to the Bronx to open a three-game weekend series against the Twins. Vidal Nuno and Ricky Nolasco will be the pitching matchup. RAB Tickets can get you in the door if you want to catch that game or any game on the seven-game homestand.
OF Slade Heathcott took batting practice before tonight’s game but apparently left with some kind of injury, according to Josh Norris. He took batting practice, spoke to the coaches, then went into the clubhouse. Your guess is as good as mine.
Triple-A Scranton (6-5 win over Louisville)
- SS Dean Anna: 2-5, 1 K — five hits in ten at-bats the last two days
- LF Ramon Flores: 1-4, 1 BB, 1 K – not his biggest game, but he has rebounded very well following a disappointing 2013 season
- 1B Kyle Roller: 2-4, 2 R, 2 K
- 3B Scott Sizemore: 1-5, 1 R, 1 K
- RF Zelous Wheeler: 1-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — hit a go-ahead grand slam in the top of the ninth, plus he threw a runner out at first
- 2B Corban Joseph: 2-4, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
- C Austin Romine: 2-4, 2 K
- RHP Brian Gordon: 6 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 8/3 GB/FB — 58 of 87 pitches were strikes (67%)
- RHP Danny Burawa: 0.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 14 of 24 pitches were strikes (58%)
The nine-game road trip through the Midwest is finally over. Or at least it will be in a few hours. The Yankees have split the first eight games of the trip and were a David Robertson blown save away from winning five of eight (two opponent’s blown saves away from 2-6!). Tonight’s series finale against the Cardinals will determine if was a good trip or a bad one, relatively speaking. Not a whole lot of difference between 5-4 and 4-5, really.
With the off-day coming tomorrow and the non-Alfredo Aceves portion of the bullpen getting a rest yesterday, Joe Girardi is free to go nuts with his top relievers to nail down this win. Multiple innings for Dellin Betances and Adam Warren plus a four-out save from David Robertson? Girardi has done it before on this trip and I suspect he’ll do it again. Hopefully Hiroki Kuroda and the offense makes it a moot point. Here is the Cardinals lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- 2B Brian Roberts
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- 1B Brian McCann — yes, first base
- C John Ryan Murphy
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- SS Brendan Ryan
- 3B Kelly Johnson
- RHP Hiroki Kuroda
It’s another hot and humid day in St. Louis, plus there is some rain in the forecast later tonight. Same weather for all three games. The Yankees don’t visit the Cardinals again this year, so expect them to wait out the rain as long as possible if there’s a delay. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 8pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.
Update (7:53pm): The game is scheduled to start at 8:20pm ET now. There was a slight rain delay.
Chase Vallot | C
After growing up rural Louisiana, Vallot currently attends St. Thomas More High School in Lafayette. He has performed well in various showcase events over the years and is committed to Mississippi State.
Vallot is a bat first prospect with some of the best raw power in the draft class. He has a very quick right-handed swing and he explodes through the ball, though his approach isn’t great and it prevents him from fully tapping into his offensive potential. Vallot’s best defensive tool is his very strong arm. His overall receiving and footwork behind the plate need work, and there’s a chance he’ll wind up at first base long-term. He’s built like a catcher at 6-foot-1 and 205 lbs. Vallot is a good athlete and he has some speed, so the outfield could be a possibility as well.
Keith Law (subs. req’d), MLB.com, and Baseball America ranked Vallot as the 33rd, 50th, and 53rd best prospect in the draft class, respectively. Just yesterday Law said the Yankees are targeting a prep catcher early in the draft, mentioning Vallot by name. It makes sense, the Yankees love to stockpile not only catching prospects, but righty hitters with power. Vallot needs to work on his approach and defense, so he is definitely a project, but the unteachable skills (power and arm strength) are there. The Yankees don’t pick until the second round (55th overall) because of their offseason spending spree.
LHP Manny Banuelos is scheduled to pitch for Double-A Trenton tomorrow afternoon, according to Matt Kardos. He has been out a week or so with arm fatigue. After missing close to two full seasons and having Tommy John surgery, a little dead arm phase isn’t the most surprising thing in the world. I’m not sure if Banuelos will start or come out of the bullpen, but he’s been working short three and four-inning outings this year either way. Chances are they will take is slow his next few times out. · (11) ·