Stephen Drew quickly emerges as backup third baseman as Yankees look for ways to keep A-Rod in the lineup

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Even prior to last season’s suspension, staying on the field has been a bit of a problem for Alex Rodriguez later in his career. He played 664 of 972 possible games from 2008-13 — he hasn’t played more than 140 games in a season since 2007 — due to a variety of injuries, ranging from the very minor (pulled calf in 2010) to the very major (hip surgery in 2009 and 2013).

The Yankees and Joe Girardi have limited A-Rod to mostly DH duty this season — he’s started 27 games at DH, two at third base, and one at first — knowing his 40th birthday is two months away and those two hip surgeries are not far in the rear-view mirror. And yet, Rodriguez is still dealing with a minor hamstring issue, suffered when he legged out that triple over the weekend. His bat is too valuable and they have to do what they can to keep him healthy.

So, in an effort to keep A-Rod in the lineup, he is no longer being considered Chase Headley‘s backup at third base. Stephen Drew spent some time working out at the hot corner in recent days and was thrown into the fire last night, getting the start at the hot corner. Girardi confirmed this is all because they’re looking to scale back Rodriguez’s time in the field. “We’re just thinking of keeping him at DH mostly,” said the skipper to Mark Feinsand.

Drew had never played third base as a pro before last night but didn’t seem too concerned about manning the hot corner — “I’ll be fine. You’ve got to do it sometime, right?” he said to Feinsand — after all, he had never played second base until the Yankees ran him out there last summer. He spent a few days taking ground balls at third and wasn’t really tested last night. Had one kinda sorta tough play. That was it.

Didi Gregorius played ten innings at third base last year, his only time at the hot corner in his career, but I understand why the Yankees didn’t try him at third. He’s settled in nicely at shortstop after a rocky start and he could possibly be a long-term solution there. Drew’s the guy you move around, the guy on a one-year contract trying to hang on. Jose Pirela, the other third base candidate on the roster, has played only 14 career minor league games at third.

There’s nothing wrong with having Drew or anyone else take ground balls at third base before games — guys work out at other positions all the time — though it was a surprise to see him start a game at the position so soon. The real issue is A-Rod’s lack of flexibility. He’s hitting very well, so the Yankees want him in the lineup every day, but the only real way to do that is by keeping him at DH. That means fewer DH days for the defensively challenged and also old Carlos Beltran, for Brian McCann, for everyone.

Only a handful of teams have full-time DHs these days. It’s basically just the Yankees, Red Sox (David Ortiz), Tigers (Victor Martinez), Athletics (Billy Butler), and Royals (Kendrys Morales). Everyone else uses a rotating DH and MLB seems to be moving in that direction. The Yankees did it the last three or four years in fact. They can’t do it now because of A-Rod, and now his apparently inability to play third even part-time gives Girardi even less maneuverability.

That said, if eliminating Rodriguez’s time in the field is the best way to keep him in the lineup on a regular basis, then that’s what they have to do. A-Rod has very quickly re-established himself as a core piece of the offense. If using Drew at third base is the best way to keep Alex healthy and in the lineup, so be it.

Yanks let another game slip away, waste Warren’s effort in 3-2 loss to Rays

For the first time since April 14-15, the Yankees have lost consecutive games. T’was a good run. Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Rays was very similar to Tuesday’s loss — the Yankees took the lead early, never added on any more runs, and couldn’t hang on. Grumble grumble.

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

Score Early, Not Often
Once again, the Yankees took control of the game early with a pair of first inning runs. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner started the game with walks and eventually came around to score on singles by Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann in the first inning. Nice early 2-0 lead! Carlos Beltran struck out looking and Stephen Drew flew out to center, so the score remained 2-0.

The Yankees never did score again even though Nathan Karns didn’t settle in like Chris Archer did Tuesday. Two runners were stranded in the second, one runner was stranded in the fourth, another two were stranded in the fifth, and one runner was left on base in the sixth, seventh, and eighth. The opportunities were there! The biggest came in the fifth, when Teixeira was thrown out at the plate on Beltran’s single. That was a questionable send by third base coach Joe Espada and not just in hindsight. Kevin Kiermaier’s got a great arm and Teixeira’s … well … Teixeira.

Every starter reached base at least once aside from Drew, who played third base and had one misplay. I wouldn’t even call it a misplay, just a hard play he didn’t make. (But Chase Headley probably does.). Ten hits for the Yankees but none for extra bases. Tough to score when you have to string together singles. We learned that the last two years, eh? The dozen strikeouts and home plate umpire Dan Iassogna’s bottomless strike zone didn’t help either. Seriously, look at the strike zone plot. Very low zone. Ain’t all Iassogna’s fault though.

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

Seven Strong
This one started off really shaky for Adam Warren. Steven Souza Jr. hit his fourth pitch of the night over the fence in center field for a solo homer and four of the first eight batters he faced reached base. Doubles by new Yankees killer Logan Forsythe and Asdrubal Cabrera knotted game up 2-2 in the second, and a Joey Butler bloop single plated the third run. I thought it was catchable, but with Beltran and Jose Pirela trying to run it down … eh.

Back-to-back two-out singles followed in the third inning, then it was a one out walk and single in the fourth, so Warren was again teetering on the edge of a big inning. He’s a capital-B battler though. Say what you will about Warren’s effectiveness as a starter. There’s no denying he’s a bulldog though. Warren was able to bear down, escape the third and fourth innings, then retired all nine batters he faced in the fifth through seventh innings.

Warren set new career highs with seven innings pitched — he hadn’t even complete six innings in any of his first six starts of the season — and seven strikeouts. Three runs on seven hits and a walk in seven innings is much better than what Warren had been giving the Yankees and is perfectly acceptable for what amounts to the team’s sixth starter. Too bad the offense didn’t give him more help. Warren did a helluva job.

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

Leftovers
This sounds completely ridiculous given the last three weeks or so, but Andrew Miller pitched the eighth inning because he needed the work. He hadn’t pitched since last Friday. Miller struck out the side on ten pitches. Ten pitches? Guess he was rusty.

Didi Gregorius was awarded a stolen base but it was pure luck — catcher Bobby Wilson tried to catch him taking too big a lead off second, so Didi took off for third and Cabrera’s throw to Evan Longoria at the bag was off-line. Run didn’t score though.

I understand why Joe Girardi pinch-hit Headley for Pirela rather than Drew in the eighth inning — replace the rookie, not the veteran, blah blah blah — but I didn’t like it. Drew’s not hitting, Pirela kinda is. Better chance to score by having Headley and Pirela hit than Drew and Headley in my opinion.

And finally, sorry for the late recap. I was sorta busy watching something else.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages are things that exist as well. Here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The four-game series finally concludes Thursday night, when Chase Whitley and Erasmo Ramirez will be on the mound. Apparently Ramirez is starting despite throwing two innings out of the bullpen on Monday. These aren’t your older brother’s Rays, the team that seemed to run a great young starter out there every day.

DotF: Jagielo, Sanchez have huge games in Trenton’s win

RHP Luis Severino has been placed on the Double-A disabled list with a right middle finger injury, according to Matt Kardos. Severino had to leave his last start after only two innings with a blister. No real cause for concern. Blisters happen. The Yankees are playing it safe — and giving the Thunder a full roster — and hopefully Severino won’t miss much time.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 loss to Norfolk)

  • LF Ramon Flores: 2-5, 1 K — 16-for-52 (.308) in his last 13 games
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-4, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — had a bit of a slow start in each of his three pro seasons so far, so maybe he’s just that type of hitter, like Mark Teixeira most of his career
  • DH Kyle Roller: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RF Tyler Austin: 0-4, 2 K
  • LHP Matt Tracy: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 6/6 GB/FB — 50 of 92 pitches were strikes (54%)
  • RHP Jared Burton: 2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 21 of 34 pitches were strikes (62%)

[Read more…]

Game 35: Bounce Back

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

Last night’s loss was rather disappointing. It’s tough to swallow a loss like that when a) the Yankees had Chris Archer on the ropes in the first inning, b) Nathan Eovaldi pitched so well, and c) the only reliever used was Dellin Betances. When all three of those things happen, it should typically result in a win. Last night, it didn’t. That’s baseball.

Thankfully, the Yankees have a chance to move on and get back in the win column tonight. They haven’t lost consecutive games in almost exactly a month now, since April 14-15 against the Orioles in Camden Yards. Last night’s loss notwithstanding, the Yankees are kicking some major butt right now, and good teams shake off a loss and don’t let it spiral into a three or four-game losing streak. Here is Tampa Bay’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Stephen Drewlet’s get weird
  8. 2B Jose Pirela
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Adam Warren

Another night of rain is in the forecast for St. Petersburg. Good series to play indoors so far. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:10pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy the game, folks.

Injury Updates: Masahiro Tanaka (wrist, forearm) will throw his next bullpen session on Friday. He had no issues today after throwing yesterday … Chase Headley is “pretty beat up” according to Joe Girardi, hence the day off.

2015 Draft: Drew Finley

Drew Finley | RHP

Background
Finley, 18, attends Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego, and he set the state’s single-game record with 20 strikeouts last month. Rancho Bernardo consistently produces high-end talent, including Alex Jackson (last year’s sixth overall pick) and Cole Hamels back in the day. The Yankees selected Gosuke Katoh out of Rancho Bernardo two years ago. Finley’s father David is currently the Dodgers’ vice president of amateur and international scouting after previous stints with the Marlins and Red Sox.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs., Finley is a classic projectable high schooler, one with an 88-91 mph fastball that is expected to add some oomph as he fills out. His best pitch is a 12-to-6 curveball with tight spin that is easy to project as an out pitch down the road. Finley also throws an advanced changeup — advanced by high school pitcher standards, anyway — with some fade down and away from lefties. His delivery is smooth and he has no issues throwing strikes.

Miscellany
Finley was ranked as the 24th, 57th, and 61st best prospect in the draft class by Keith Law (subs. req’d), MLB.com, and Baseball America in their latest rankings, respectively. For what it’s worth, in last week’s chat Law said he’s heard the Yankees are “big on Drew Finley for one of their extra picks,” which makes total sense. Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer is a Southern California guy who’s shown an affinity for Southern California pitchers over the years (Ian Kennedy, Gerrit Cole, Ian Clarkin, etc.). Finley doesn’t have ace upside, not unless his fastball jumps two grades as he fills out, but he throws strikes with three pitches, giving him long-term rotation ability.

Sherman: Tulowitzki mulling trade request, Yanks unlikely to be in the mix

(Harry How/Getty)
(Harry How/Getty)

The Troy Tulowitzki song and dance continues. According to Joel Sherman, Tulowitzki will meet with his longtime agent Paul Cohen later this week to discuss whether to ask the Rockies for a trade. Jon Heyman reported last July that Tulowitzki gave the team a “subtle blessing” to pursue trades. Seems like now he could/will make an outright request.

“To say that it is not a possibility would be silly,” said Cohen to Sherman, regarding a possible trade request. “It could get to the point for [owner] Dick Monfort and GM Jeff [Bridich] that the storyline every day with the team is when is Tulowitzki being traded. That is negative for the franchise as the idea of trading the face of the franchise. They are smart enough to recognize they don’t want that going forward.”

At this point it seems like a matter of when Tulowitzki will asked to be traded, not if. The Rockies are bad (11-18), they’ve been bad for years (haven’t finished higher than fourth in the NL West since 2010), and it doesn’t look like they will stop being bad anytime in the near future. And publicly weighing a trade demand is just as bad as actually demanding a trade, right? The cat’s out of the bag. There’s no going back now.

Tulowitzki, 30, is hitting .298/.306/.481 (94 wRC+) with two homers in 108 plate appearances this year, including .295/.302/.475 (107 wRC+) away from Coors Field. His walk rate (1.9%) has plummeted and, not coincidentally, he’s swinging at more pitches both in (65.2%) and out (32.1%) of the zone (57.6% and 27.6% career, respectively). Could be permanent decline, could be a blip. Swing rates do tend to stabilize very quickly, for what it’s worth. I think there’s a chance Tulowitzki is frustrated with the team and it’s showing up in his offense though.

Anyway, even with Tulowitzki set to hit the trade block soon, the Yankees are “emphasizing defense and limiting long-term risk” and are unlikely to be involved in the bidding, according to Sherman. That fits everything we heard all offseason. The Yankees are steering clear of long-term contracts with ugly back-ends now that they’re getting burned by the deals they already have on the books. Paying twice — once in prospects and once in big salary — is not something the club has done all that much in recent years either.

Tulowitzki’s contract isn’t bad — he’s owed $118M through 2020 — relative to what he’d get as a free agent these days, when teams have more money than ever before and fewer and fewer elite players are hitting the market. Tulowitzki would be a big upgrade at shortstop for the Yankees this year, but he may already be in decline on both sides of the ball, and his injury history is really scary. He had the Alex Rodriguez hip surgery last August, for example.

That said, there’s always a price at which acquiring Tulowitzki would make sense for the Yankees. Perhaps the Rockies are willing to eat a bunch of money, or maybe they’ll take second tier prospects just to shed the contract. Who knows. It never hurts to hear what the other team has to say. The Yankees could offer a young shortstop in Didi Gregorius and a smorgasbord of prospects. Pitching, MLB ready outfielder, high-upside lower level infielders. It’s just a question of what they’re willing to give up.

I do think Colorado missed their chance to get the best possible trade return for Tulowitzki — that was probably two or three years ago — but there’s nothing they can about it now. The Rockies have to make the best possible trade they can and, given New York’s newfound commitment to avoiding killer long-term deals, the Yankees don’t seem to be much of a trade match for Tulowitzki. As good as he is, Colorado’s already received his best years.

Should we believe in Carlos Beltran’s breakout May?

Is Beltran's hot streak for real? (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Is Beltran’s hot streak for real? (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

To say Carlos Beltran had a slow start to the season would be a massive understatement. There is no sugar-coating the fact that for the first month of 2015, Carlos Beltran looked every bit like a struggling 38-year-old veteran in decline. He was unable to catch up to fastballs, repeatedly chased breaking balls out of the zone and was essentially a near-automatic out almost every time he stepped to the plate.

His numbers in April were just plain ugly — 11-for-68 (.162), seven RBI, 21 strikeouts, five walks — which ranked him among the bottom-10 players in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS. According to weighted runs created — a statistic that attempts to quantify a player’s total offensive value — Beltran was 76 percent worse than the league average hitter, ranking 181st out of 186 qualifying players in the month.

He was a black hole in the Yankees lineup, and scouts around the league were calling for him to become a platoon/DH-type player, citing how slow and un-athletic he looked in the field and at the plate. Yet Joe Girardi kept running him out there nearly every day, insisting that he’d find his swing again.

Two weeks into the month of May, and it looks like Beltran may finally be breaking out of his slump. Sure, Girardi hinted that Beltran was better than his numbers showed in April because of his high “exit velocity” — but who could have predicted this outburst? Beltran already has more hits and RBIs this month than all of April and, after going homerless in his first 98 at-bats of the season, he hit two homers in a span of four at-bats on May 10 and 11.

What has been the key to Beltran’s breakthrough? His recent hot streak is obviously a very small sample of less than a dozen games, so we can’t suddenly say that Beltran is completely fixed and back to being the highly productive middle-of-the-order bat who excelled with the Cardinals in 2012 and 2013. But are there signs that he’s turned the corner and on the verge of being at least a capable hitter in the Yankees lineup for the rest of the season?

**********
First, let’s take a glance at his traditional batting stats.

CARLOS BELTRAN THIS SEASON

Month PA AB H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
April 74 68 11 0 7 5 21 0.162 0.216 0.265 0.481
May 43 41 13 2 8 2 4 0.317 0.349 0.561 0.910

Bravo! Everything is looking good here: he’s getting on base more, he’s hitting for power and he’s significantly cut his strikeout rate. Remember earlier when we said that Beltran in April was 76 percent worse than league average in terms of his overall offensive production … this month, he is 50 percent above league average in that same stat.

Beyond those basic numbers, Beltran also appears to have made fundamental changes to his plate approach. Although his walk rate remains below-average, he’s become more aggressive swinging at pitches within the strike zone (that’s good!), and is making more contact overall (90 percent in May vs. 81 percent in April). He has cut his swinging strike rate from 9.3 percent to 6.7 percent, and has whiffed on just one pitch in the strike zone in May:

image (4)

His monthly batted ball profile also makes you optimistic that Beltran has become a different – and better – hitter in May. Most significantly, he is hitting the ball harder and is really starting to show his pull-side power stroke at the plate.

Beltran has doubled his line drive rate over the last two months, while increasing his percentage of hard-hit balls from 23 percent in April to 35 percent in May. Last month, only one of every three balls he put into play were pulled; this month, 60 percent of his batted balls have been hit to his pull side.

Another encouraging sign is that Beltran’s bat speed appears to have returned — he has had little trouble handling above-average velocity fastballs in May. He was just 1-for-13 in at-bats ending in a pitch 93 mph or higher during the first month of the season; this month, he has six hits in 10 at-bats ending in 93-plus mph pitches. After whiffing or fouling off 39 percent of those 93-plus mph pitches in April, he’s chopped that rate to just 19 percent in May.

Here’s what the “May” Beltran can do to a 94 mph fastball in his hitting sweetspot:

ezgif.com-gif-maker (2)

If there is one concern about Beltran’s recent hot streak, it’s that the entire thing has come against right-handed pitchers. Literally. He is 0-for-9 against lefties in May and 13-for-32 (.406) against righties. That’s not a serious problem yet because he’s had so few plate appearances against them – but given the fact he was awful against southpaws in April (3-for-20), too, you’d like to see him get a few hits from the right side of the plate this month before declaring him completely back.

Despite the small sample of his empty at-bats against lefties this month, there is a lot to like about what Beltran is doing at the plate in May. The improvement in his peripheral batting stats – i.e. the decline in his strikeout and whiff rates – combined with a better approach at the plate and real increases in his ability to hit the ball with power, indicate that Beltran’s performance in May just might be sustainable for a few more months.

If Beltran can remain healthy the rest of the season, the Yankees may have added yet another dangerous bat to a lineup that already was among the best in the league, giving them even more firepower to remain atop the AL East and on track for a deep playoff run in October.