Game 40: Natitude


Coming into the season the Nationals had the best roster in baseball, at least on paper. Then they got off to a slow start (7-13), people called them overrated, and they’ve gone 15-4 since. Turns out they were pretty good the whole time. And, you know, it helps that Bryce Harper has turned into the best hitter on the planet. He’s hit nine homers in his last eleven games and will probably hit another one tonight. That’s just the way it is.

The Yankees have kinda done the opposite of the Nats. No one expected much coming into the season, they got off to a great start (21-12), but have since dropped five of their last six games. The good news is they are still in first place, and while it’s still crazy early, I’d much rather see the Yankees sitting near the top of the AL East right now than wondering how they’ll jump over three or four teams. A win or two against the Nats this week sure would be a nice confidence booster. Here is Washington’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Chris Young
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 2B Jose Pirela
  8. SS Stephen Drew
  9. RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It’s a little cloudy in Washington but otherwise the weather is fine. First pitch tonight is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and you can watch live on YES locally or MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Chase Whitley had his Tommy John surgery as scheduled earlier today. Joe Girardi told reporters his UCL was pretty shredded. “There were only a few fibers left, so he had a few more pitches left,” said the skipper … in case you missed it earlier, Masahiro Tanaka (wrist, forearm) will make his first minor league rehab start with Triple-A Scranton on Thursday.

Update: Tanaka to make first AAA rehab start Thursday

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Tuesday: Tanaka will make his first minor league rehab start with Triple-A Scranton on Thursday, the Yankees announced. The RailRiders will be at home playing Durham (Rays) that night. There’s no word on how many pitches or innings Tanaka is scheduled to throw yet. All of his bullpen sessions have been around 30 pitches, so perhaps he’ll throw three innings and 45 pitches Thursday. We’ll see. Tanaka told reporters he is scheduled to throw 45 pitches Thursday.

Monday: Earlier today, Masahiro Tanaka threw a 29-pitch bullpen session at Nationals Park, the Yankees announced. The Yankees have an off-day today and open a quick little two-game series with the Nats tomorrow. Today’s bullpen session was scheduled and is Tanaka’s third as he works his way back from a wrist and forearm issue.

“We just felt that it would be good for him to throw one more, because he hasn’t thrown in a while. We’ll make sure he’s sharp, then he’ll go down and make a rehab start,” said Joe Girardi to Mark Feinsand over the weekend, following Tanaka’s second bullpen session. Apparently Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild mentioned Thursday as a possible rehab start date if today’s bullpen session went well, which it did by all indications.

Both Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton are home Thursday, making them the likely destinations for the rehab start. Unlike Chris Capuano, who basically had to go through an entire Spring Training, Tanaka only needs a tune-up and could make just one or two rehab starts. Not four or five like Capuano, who was pitching in Extended Spring Training for a few weeks before joining one of the minor league clubs.

“I think you have to see where he’s at and how many pitches he gets to (in the first start). The one thing you don’t want is to have to be in a situation where he can only give you three or four innings,” said Girardi to Feinsand. Obviously the Yankees will play it safe with Tanaka, but everyone has insisted the injury was minor from the start, so his rehab could be quick. The Yankees could use him as soon as possible, that’s for sure.

2015 Draft: James Kaprielian

James Kaprielian | RHP

Kaprielian, 21, was a second or third round talent out of high school in 2012, but he was very strongly committed to UCLA. The Mariners rolled the dice in the 40th round but couldn’t sign him. Kaprielian spent his freshman season in the bullpen (1.55 ERA in 40.2 innings) before moving into the rotation as a sophomore and taking over as the staff ace. He had a 2.29 ERA with a 108/35 K/BB in 106 innings last year and has a 1.94 ERA with a 105/27 K/BB in 92.2 innings so far this year.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 200 lbs., Kaprielian was a classic projectable high school pitcher, and he’s developed into basically the opposite of what was expected. Instead of filling out and adding velocity, he’s become a much more well-rounded pitcher with the Bruins, one who throws four pitches for strikes. His fastball sits mostly 89-92 mph and he will show some 94s on occasion. Kaprielian’s best secondary pitch depends on the day – some days it’s his changeup, some days it’s his slider, and other it’s his curveball. The changeup is his most consistent offspeed pitch and he’ll throw it in any count, to both lefties and righties. Kaprielian has a great feel for setting hitters up and his command is better than solid thanks to his ultra-repeatable delivery. He’s as close to a finish product as you’ll find in this draft.

Baseball America, Keith Law (subs. req’d), and ranked Kaprielian as the 19th, 27th, and 28th best prospect in the draft class in their latest rankings, respectively. For what it’s worth, Kaprielian has been connected to the Yankees in Baseball America’s first two mock drafts, which makes sense since he’s a Southern California pitcher and scouting director Damon Oppenheimer loves SoCal pitchers. Kaprielian doesn’t offer a ton of upside but he should climb up the minor league ladder in a hurry, and is a safe bet to carve out a career as a workhorse starter, pending good health. The Yankees pick 16th and 30th this year and I don’t think Kaprielian will last long enough to take him with that 30th pick. It’s 16th or bust.

5/19 to 5/20 Series Preview: Washington Nationals

(Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
(Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Time for another round of interleague play, except this time the Yankees are on the road in Washington and will lose the DH. They got to keep the extra real hitter when the Mets came to the Bronx for the Subway Series a few weeks ago. The Yankees and Nationals are playing just two games this week. Quick little series.

What Have The Nationals Done Lately?

The Nats just wrapped up a successful West Coast trip, winning five of seven games against the Diamondbacks and Padres. They outscored San Diego 24-5 in the final three games of their four-game set. The Nationals and Yankees have identical 22-17 records, but Washington has the run differential edge (+27 vs. +15).

Offense & Defense

With an average of 4.97 runs per game, the Nationals are one of the highest scoring teams in baseball despite a league average-ish 101 wRC+. They’re banged up right now, most notably with 3B Anthony Rendon yet to play this season due to a knee issue. He actually went out on a rehab assignment, then pulled an oblique muscle. OF Nate McLouth and OF Reed Johnson are out with long-term injuries.

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Washington is led by OF Bryce Harper (215 wRC+!), who is coming into this series riding an utterly insane hot streak. He’s gone 22-for-39 (.564) with nine homers, ten walks, and three strikeouts in his last eleven games. Bonkers. Harper’s going to mash and there’s nothing the Yankees can do about it. They just have to keep everyone in the lineup in front of him off base and hope to limit the damage. What else could they do?

The best of the rest of the Washington lineup right now is OF Denard Span (144 wRC+) and IF Danny Espinosa (130 wRC+). Espinosa stopped switch-hitting for a while but went back to it a few weeks ago. IF Yunel Escobar (114 wRC+) has been hitting but the three big names — 1B Ryan Zimmerman (88 wRC+), SS Ian Desmond (76 wRC+), and OF Jayson Werth (62 wRC+) — have not. Werth is currently day-to-day after taking a pitch to the wrist over the weekend.

C Wilson Ramos (97 wRC+) has an 18-game hit streak going, the longest active streak in baseball. OF Michael Taylor (94 wRC+) is the outfield rover — he played center when Span was injured earlier this year and he’s been playing left while Werth is banged up. C Jose Lobaton, IF Dan Uggla, UTIL Tyler Moore, and UTIL Clint Robinson are the four bench players manager Matt Williams has at his disposal.

The Nats have a good team defense with some sore spots. Span, Harper, and Taylor are all very good outfield defenders but Werth has lost some range in recent years, and he also looks a little lost in left field after spending most of his career in right. Desmond had some major error issues early in the season has settled down. Espinosa, Zimmerman, Escobar, and Ramos are each at worst average but mostly a tick above.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday: RHP Nathan Eovaldi (Career vs. WAS) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (Career vs. NYY)
The Yankees caught a bit of a break this week and won’t have to face any of the Nationals top starters. I mean their top top starters. Gonzalez, 29, was a low-level ace during his first year in Washington but has gradually slid backwards in recent years. He has a 4.25 ERA (2.75 FIP) in seven starts and 42.1 innings, with strikeout (22.7%) and walk (8.7%) rates in line with his career norms. Gio is getting way more ground balls (58.2%) and keeping the ball in the yard (0.21 HR/9) better than ever before despite no substantial change in his pitch selection. He’s throwing more low-90s two-seamers than last year, but his two-seamer usage is the same as pre-2014. Weird. Low-90s four-seamers, a low-80s changeup, and a big breaking upper-70s curveball round out his repertoire. Gonzalez has been hit harder by righties (.366 wOBA) than lefties (.298 wOBA) this year but historically has no platoon split.

Gio. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Gio. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Wednesday: RHP Adam Warren (Career vs. WAS) vs. TBA
The Nats have not yet announced tomorrow’s starter but it is expected to be right-hander A.J. Cole, who is stepping in for Doug Fister. Fister has lost close to two miles an hour off his fastball this year, and he recently landed on the DL with a flexor tendon injury in his elbow. That’ll put a dent in the free agency push. The 23-year-old Cole has appeared in two games for Washington this season. He gave up nine runs (four earned) in two innings in his MLB debut, a start against the Braves. He then threw three shutout innings out of the bullpen against the Padres on Friday. Cole had a 3.43 ERA (4.48 FIP) in Triple-A last season. He’s a low-90s fastball guy whose best pitch is a mid-80s changeup. Cole also throws a low-90s cutter, a low-80s slider, and a mid-70s curve, but those are distant third, fourth, and fifth pitches. The fastball/changeup combo is what got him to MLB.

Bullpen Status
The Nationals came back from the West Coast yesterday, so they had an off-day like the Yankees, and the bullpen is rested. Former Yankees draft pick RHP Drew Storen (1.58 FIP) is the closer and he’s set up by RHP Aaron Barrett (1.45 FIP) and former Yankees LHP Matt Thornton (3.25 FIP). RHP Tanner Roark (4.48 FIP) has been a multi-inning middle reliever this year after getting bumped from the rotation by the Max Scherzer signing.

RHP Blake Treinen (3.65 FIP), LHP Matt Grace (2.80 FIP), and LHP Sammy Solis (5.82 FIP) round out the bullpen. Grace and Solis were called up not too long ago and don’t have many big league innings under their belt. As good as the Nats are and were projected to be coming into the season, the bullpen is a tad bit shaky. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s relievers, then check out Federal Baseball for everything you need to know about the Nationals.

Thoughts following the much-needed off-day


The Yankees had a much-needed off-day yesterday after playing 30 games in the previous 31 days. They have played just four of their last 17 games at home and will play two more games on the road today and tomorrow, against the Nationals. Then they’re off again Thursday. Anyway, here are some thoughts.

1. The middle of the bullpen has been pretty shaky — the non-Andrew Miller/Dellin Betances relievers have a 3.76 ERA (3.61 FIP) in 88.2 innings — and I’m wondering when the Yankees will start to make some changes. Not even personnel changes, just role changes. Will Chasen Shreve get a chance in high-leverage spots at some point, or will he continue to be the last man out of the bullpen? What about Branden Pinder? I think Justin Wilson has been better than the numbers (5.56 ERA and 3.33 FIP) — his disaster outing this weekend really skewed things — but there’s no reason for Joe Girardi to trust David Carpenter or Esmil Rogers right now. How long is the leash there? The Yankees should give Carpenter some more time to see if he gets back to being the reliever he was the last two years, but they can’t wait forever either. Jacob Lindgren is ready in Triple-A and Adam Warren could be a bullpen candidate once Masahiro Tanaka and/or Ivan Nova return, so the team has options. If the non-Miller/Dellin relievers don’t right the ship and really soon (like, before the end of the month), the Yankees should dip into their depth and try to find something that works. That’s why they built it up in the first place.

2. Exit velocity is all the rage these days and it’s easy to understand why. How hard a batter hits the ball is really important because yes, the harder a ball is hit, the more likely it is to drop in. That makes sense intuitively and the data backs it up as well. From Rob Arthur:

Exit Velocity BABIP cropSo yes, exit velocity is very important. I also don’t think it’s the be all, end all statistic either. Batted ball direction (opposite, pull, etc.) and angle (grounder, pop-up, etc.) are also important, especially the latter. Hitting the ball hard is good, but hitting the ball hard in the air is better than hitting it hard on the ground. At least I think it is. MLBAM made all this batted ball data available this year and it’s a frickin’ gold mine, but we’ve only scratched the surface and don’t fully understand it yet. This stuff is simple yet complicated — hitting the ball hard is good, but is hitting the ball hard in X direction and Y angle as good as hitting it slightly less hard at X direction and Z angle? That’s something that still has to be investigated. By the way, Garrett Jones has the second highest average exit velocity on the Yankees.

3. We’re now 669 plate appearances into the Brian McCann era and he’s hitting .233/.287/.405 (94 OPS+) with the Yankees. His production this year (92 OPS+) is basically the same as last year (94 OPS+), except he’s walking less (5.9% vs 3.8 %) and hitting for a little less power (.174 vs. 161 ISO). That’s … not encouraging for a 31-year-old catcher. McCann’s defense has appeared to slip a little as well, at least when it comes to blocking balls in the dirt, and he acknowledged that the other day. “Absolutely. Definitely, I take pride in what we do. It has to get better,” he said to George King when asked his passed ball/wild pitch issues. I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. I was all for signing McCann two offseasons ago, the Yankees needed power and they needed a starting caliber catcher, and he was by far the best available option at the time. But so far he’s been a disappointment with the Yankees. The offense hasn’t been there (especially away from Yankee Stadium) and now there are signs the glovework is slipping as well. It’ll never happen, Girardi seems content to ride McCann as hard as possible, but giving John Ryan Murphy a little more playing time could help. McCann may benefit from the extra rest at this point of his career.

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

4. Aside from all the spring injuries (Luis Torrens, Ty Hensley, Domingo German, Ian Clarkin, etc.), things are going pretty well in the farm system so far this year. Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo are mashing, Tyler Wade is breaking out, Jorge Mateo is holding his own following an aggressive assignment to Low-A Charleston, and both Rob Refsnyder and Gary Sanchez rebounded from slow starts in April. Luis Severino has been up and down, which could be the result of his blister, but either way it doesn’t make him unique among 21-year-old pitchers. They’re all up and down. Those are the guys the Yankees needed to take a step forward this year. The only top prospect having a subpar year is Greg Bird, who hit an un-Bird-like .226/.351/.419 (121 wRC+) before landing on the DL with a shoulder issue, but what are you going to do. Not every prospect is going to have a great year, and if the one who disappoints is the no-defense first baseman, so be it. Not the end of the world. I don’t know if the Yankees will have a top ten farm system at the end of the year, but they’re definitely moving in that direction, especially if they actually take first round players with their two first round picks this year. We should start seeing some of these top prospects soon, within the next calendar year, with Refsnyder first in line.

5. Tommy John surgery really sucks for Chase Whitley. The success rate of elbow reconstruction is going down and it hurts guys like Whitley the most. The fringe players. Others like Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg have much more margin for error, so even if the surgery robs them of some stuff, they can still be really good pitchers. Whitley is starting from a much lower baseline. He’s more like, say, Scott Baker, someone with a useable pitch mix and command who is living on the edge more often than not. Whitley’s a marginal big leaguer who had a tough time cracking the MLB roster as it is. Now he’s going to spend a year, year and a half away from the game rehabbing, which is long enough to fall out of the picture. If one day Masahiro Tanaka needs Tommy John surgery, he won’t need to worry about his job when he comes back. Whitley doesn’t have the same luxury. This is potentially much more than a speed bump in his career.

DotF: Wade hits rare homer in Tampa’s loss

2B Rob Refsnyder was named the Triple-A International League Offensive Player of the Week after going 12-for-30 (.400) with four doubles and two homers in seven games last week. Also, I missed this John DeMarzo article on OF Aaron Judge the other day, so check that out too. It’s a bit of a puff piece.

Triple-A Scranton (3-0 win over Charlotte)

  • CF Slade Heathcott: 0-4, 3 K — in an ugly 8-for-49 (.163) slump
  • RF Ramon Flores: 2-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 CS
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-2, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 BB, 1 K — extends his on-base streak to 20 games
  • DH Tyler Austin: 0-2, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 6 K, /2 GB/FB — 53 of 94 pitches were strikes (56%) … been a busy for days for him thanks to the brief trip to Kansas City
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 19 of 26 pitches were strikes (73%) … inherited runners on first and third with no outs from Mitchell, then struck out the side
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K — seven of 12 pitches were strikes
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 3/0 GB/FB — 14 of 30 pitches were strikes (47%)

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Monday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have an off-day today and they really need it. They just played 30 games in 31 days and only four of their last 17 games have been at home. Heck, just ten of their last 33 (!) games have been at home. That’s rough. Lots of baseball and lots of travel. It’s no surprise then that several Yankees told Dan Barbarisi they were looking forward to today’s off-day just to rest. They looked sluggish in Kansas City this weekend, that’s for sure.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. Really light baseball schedule tonight, just seven games, but the Mets are playing and Matt Harvey is pitching. That game will be on ESPN as well as SNY. The (hockey) Rangers are playing Game Three of their third round matchup with the Lightning as well (8pm ET on NBCSN). No NBA playoffs tonight though. Talk about whatever here.