Defending putting Bryan Mitchell at first base

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Yankees nearly won in the ninth inning on Sunday thanks to a crazy ninth inning comeback capped off by a two-run single by Didi Gregorius, but Chris Carter struck out with the winning run on third.

And then things went from exciting to downright bizarre. Bryan Mitchell, who pitched the ninth inning, moved to first base and Aroldis Chapman came into pitch the 10th. Chapman replaced the DH, Matt Holliday, in the lineup, batting third, while Mitchell was inserted into the lineup in the place of Carter, batting eighth. If you’re interested in the mechanics of how the lineup move worked, here’s the relevant rule.

The move didn’t quite work out. Mitchell missed a pop up in foul territory, but the error didn’t lead to a run in the 10th. Neither did the lineup decision hurt the Yankees in the bottom of the inning with Greg Bird getting hit by a pitch in Holliday’s vacated No. 3 spot.

But after a long time in between pitching the top of the 9th and the top of the 11th, Mitchell came back in and gave up three runs en route to taking the loss. It was the first time since 1989 that a pitcher threw an inning, moved to first base and then moved back to the mound in the same game. Wacky? Yes. But the wrong move? No. Here’s why:

1. A rusty Mitchell is likely better than Tommy Layne: With Jordan Montgomery lasting 5+ innings, the Yankees had already used Jonathan Holder, Tyler Clippard and Dellin Betances before Mitchell came in for the ninth. Adam Warren threw 36 pitches over 2 2/3 on Saturday, so he was likely unavailable. That left Mitchell and Tommy Layne for the 11th.

Mitchell hasn’t been masterful this season, but he’s shown signs of becoming a competent middle reliever, particularly one who can get quality outs and go multiple innings. The best example was his two innings vs. the Pirates a week ago, when he work through two walks to throw two shutout innings. This is a 26-year-old pitcher with a mid-90s fastball, a plus curveball and a potential splitter. Even with his occasional control issues, there’s promise with Mitchell.

And yes, Mitchell was clobbered by the Orioles on Friday. But perhaps the best argument for Mitchell as a reliever was how he bounced back in the ninth yesterday. He even struck out Manny Machado after he tormented the Yankees all weekend.

If you want to go to Layne in the 11th, that means going with your LOOGY against a lineup constructed of only right-handed hitters. J.J. Hardy and Joey Rickard are 0 for 6 vs. Layne but Machado and Adam Jones are both 1 for 2 and both were locked in at the plate on Sunday. Layne holds lefties to a .515 OPS in his career while righties bat .282/.386/.449 off the southpaw.

So sending Layne out there, particularly with 9-1-2 coming up in the 11th, would likely end in defeat. Mitchell gives you more of a fighting chance and has the ability to last deep into games.

2. The move pushes need for position player/starter to 14th at the earliest: This was another option for the Yankees. Don’t want to keep using Mitchell or throw Layne in vs. the O’s? Fine, then you can put in a tired Warren, use a position player (Aaron Hicks?!?) or one of the starting pitchers, presumably Luis Severino, who is scheduled to start on Monday.

That seems silly and shortsighted. Let’s disregard a tired Warren. A position player is waiving the white flag. Why do that so early in extras? Going to Severino is risky in two regards. First, you risk losing tomorrow’s game because of your actions today. Luis Cessa would be on turn to pitch Monday and could be called up, but that’s less desirable than Severino on normal rest while on a roll. The second risk is injury to Severino. He didn’t go into Sunday expecting to pitch. Throwing your next day’s starter in doesn’t guarantee a win and can lead to some poor results.

Mitchell can take you through at least the 12th if not the 13th or, stretching him a bit thin, the 14th. Layne is good for two innings if he doesn’t lose it for you after one. Utilizing both to the max is the best plan, even if it goes awry. A few more scoreless innings should have opened the door for the Yankees to win.

Your other option is to save Chapman for whenever Mitchell is done, but you have to go to your best options right away in extras. Saving Chapman while Mitchell struggles through the lineup would have been a flat-out wrong call by Girardi. And losing the DH to keep Mitchell in the game for later didn’t change the result on Sunday.


3. Move hurt lineup but not immediately and not in a way that affected the game: Inserting Mitchell in the lineup for a hitter, even one who is struggling like Carter, isn’t ideal. Putting Mitchell at first while bringing Chapman pokes two holes in your lineup at once and you can only plug up one (Bird pinch hitting).

However, putting Mitchell and Chapman into the lineup didn’t affect the game and wouldn’t have for a few innings. Bird easily pinch hit for Chapman and was hit by a pitch. Holliday would have been intentionally walked with runners on second and third and one out. Mitchell wasn’t going to bat until the 11th and you could pinch hit for him if you fell behind or allowed him to hit or bunt if you’re tied. You still have Ronald Torreyes, who’s provided better ABs than Carter this year.

4. Mitchell didn’t lose the game so much as the RISP-fail did: It really shouldn’t have come down to Mitchell pitching the 11th and beyond. Carter had his shot in the ninth. Castro and Judge blew their opportunity with the bases loaded in the 10th. The team went 3-for-13 with RISP and blew a lead with a rookie reliever in the sixth. That’s worth questioning. Meanwhile, there weren’t really better options than Mitchell in the 11th and it’s dubious as to whether Layne could have done any better. Simply put, the offense needed to come through more often on Sunday.

Watching Bryan Mitchell play first base was downright fun. Sure, he gave the team a heart attack and missed a pop-up before making up for it two batters later, but watching a guy grin ear-to-ear in the middle of an extra inning game is infectious. I enjoyed the heck out of Mitchell’s inning in the field.

And the decision was quite close to working out. The Cubs won after a similar decision last year. A bad J.J. Hardy throw on Starlin Castro‘s grounder or a hit from Castro/Aaron Judge would have given the Yankees a win and made this a memorable moment in a great winning streak. Quibbling with the choice to keep Mitchell in simply isn’t worth it because it likely didn’t change Sunday’s result.

Fan Confidence Poll: May 1st, 2017

Record Last Week: 4-1 (36 RS, 23 RA)
Season Record: 15-8 (128 RS, 85 RA, 16-7 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: vs. Blue Jays (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Cubs (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

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Yankees lose a wacky 11-inning battle to the Orioles 7-4

Source: FanGraphs

Without any sort of exaggeration, I can say this was one of the weirdest baseball games I’ve ever watched. Anyways, this seemed like a sluggish Yankees loss until the bottom of ninth. Then … well, everything happened. It did end up being a 7-4 Yankee loss but with a lot of wacky and frustrating twists in between. Here are things that happened in bullet point form:

  • Montgomery’s imperfect outing: After retiring the first seven hitters, Jordan Montgomery got into a jam in the third after allowing an infield single to Craig Gentry and walk to J.J. Hardy. He struck out Joey Rickard, but Adam Jones hit a bloop single right in front of Aaron Judge‘s reach to tie the game 1-1. It seemed like Montgomery was nibbling a bit that inning until the at-bat against Mark Trumbo — the battle he won throwing a 93 mph fastball past him. Monty cruised along until the sixth when he issued free passes to Manny Machado and Trumbo to begin the frame. The Yankees had a 2-1 lead at the time, but Jonathan Holder allowed both runners plus one of his own to score, giving Baltimore a 4-2 advantage. While Montgomery ended up with 3 ER in 5 IP, he did strike out 7 hitters. I was wondering how he would fare against the powerful O’s lineup and to be honest, it was just along the lines of my expectations. Sure, he could have pitched better but …
  • LOB’d to death: … the Yankee hitters weren’t doing themselves any favors. In the entirety of the game, they left a whopping 16 (!) runners on base. For the first eight innings, before the ninth-inning comeback, they stranded 11. Really hard to win a ballgame that way. Wade Miley seems to approach hitters very differently this season. After being hit hard last year (5.37 ERA in 30 GS), he seems to throw much more out of the zone this season. He’s been walking tons of hitters (5.52 BB/9 after today) but also striking out a lot more (11.03 K/9) and limiting damage in general (2.32 ERA/3.74 FIP after today). For what it’s worth,the  Yankees faced Miley earlier this month and left 12 guys on base. Today the Yankees got 13 runners on base against the lefty and only scored two. Two! One of them was on a Matt Holliday solo homer in the 1st inning and another was on a Chase Headley RBI single in the 3rd after Miley walked Starlin Castro and Judge. That was all the Yankees scored until the ninth. New York had runners in scoring position three other times before the ninth and failed to cash in. It was just cringeworthy in the 2nd inning when they had Didi Gregorius and Chris Carter on second and third bases with no outs, and the next three hitters struck out swinging to let Miley off the hook. Anyways, we have more LOB fail to go later in the game. But before that …
  • Tying it up: Without their super closer Zach Britton on the roster, the Orioles had Darren O’Day to try to close out the game in the ninth. He got Aaron Hicks to pop out, then allowed a single to Holliday. The game looked to be in the reach when Castro grounded out on a fielder’s choice (just barely beating out a double play along the way). However, Judge worked a walk to reach first base and both runners got to advance on a very, very confusing balk call when O’Day tried to pick off Castro. Buck Showalter got ejected arguing with the umpire and the Yankees had two runners in scoring position, shifting the momentum the New York way. After O’Day allowed Headley to walk, Baltimore brought in the LOOGY Donnie Hart to face Gregorius with bases loaded. Didi send a dramatic, two-RBI single up the middle to tie the game up and put Bronx into an absolute bedlam. I mean, geez, after being so silent with RISP all game, the team comes through on a very, very crucial spot – how could you not love it? However, Hart struck out Carter (of course) to send the game into #freebaseball territory. This is where things got really, really weird.
  • El Viaje Misterioso De Nuestro Bryan: As top of the 10th began, Bryan Mitchell, who pitched in the 9th, moved over to the first base (???) as Aroldis Chapman came into pitch. The strategy here was that Mitchell can later go back to pitch if the game goes long. But don’t kid me here – it was an idea that not a lot of us would’ve seen it coming. Well, it almost worked. Chapman threw a scoreless inning and the offense got the bases loaded with one out against Logan Verrett. The two of the team’s hottest hitters, Castro and Judge were coming up so New York was going to walk it off, right? Not so quick. Verrett got Castro to force out at home and Judge to strike out swinging to escape. That would’ve been like a hell of a move if the Yankees won right there. Instead, they had to play without the DH (because of this rule), Chapman got sub’d out of the game when Greg Bird pinch-hit for him in the tenth, and Mitchell was back on the mound in the top of 11th as a position swap with Birdie. And, of course, Mitchell (and the sloppy Yankee defense) allowed three in that frame to give the Orioles a 7-4 lead. Verrett held on to it to win it for Baltimore. That was some teaser right there. The Yankees did win the series, but I feel like they lost more than just one game. Oh well.

Here are the box score, updated standings and WPA graph. The Blue Jays are coming to town next for a three-game series. Marco Estrada and Luis Severino are Monday’s starters.

DotF: Fowler hits walk-off home run to complete the cycle

Triple-A Scranton (7-6 win over Indianapolis in eleven innings, walk-off style)

  • LF Tyler Wade: 0-5, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K — first game in the outfield this year … he started moving around as soon as Didi Gregorius returned, so I guess they were keeping him ready at short the last few weeks in case Ronald Torreyes got hurt or something
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 5-6, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 CS — walk-off home run to finish the cycle, which is pretty much the coolest thing ever … this is the first cycle for the RailRiders since Ramon Flores‘ Opening Day cycle in 2015 … I do believe that was the last cycle in the farm system overall
  • RF Clint Frazier: 1-2, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 3 BB — three homers in his last 12 games
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder & DH Mason Williams: both 1-5, 1 K — Williams drove in a run and stole a base
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 3.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 2/5 GB/FB – 37 of 67 pitches were strikes (55%)
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 2.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 3/2 GB/FB — 18 of 34 pitches were strikes (53%)
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0/1 GB/FB — seven pitches, five strikes
  • LHP Chasen Shreve: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — nine of 15 pitches were strikes … 12/0 K/BB in 6.1 innings down here
  • RHP Ben Heller: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 1/1 GB/FB — 19 of 34 pitches were strikes (56%) … 13/5 K/BB in 10.2 innings so far
  • RHP Ernesto Frieri: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K — 23 of 35 pitches were strikes (66%) … he’s been pretty much classic Ernesto Frieri so far

[Read more…]

Sunday Open Thread

I missed this yesterday, but make sure you check out Joe Posnanski on the rise of the Yankees. It is still ridiculously early in the season, and I know today’s loss was stupid, but I it’s tough not to feel like this Yankees team is different than the 2013-16 teams. There’s a very different vibe around the club and, most importantly, they’re playing much better on the field. On both sides of the ball. They’re fun and they’re exciting.

Anyway, here is an open thread for the rest of the weekend. The Cubs and Red Sox are the ESPN Sunday Night Game (Hendricks vs. Rodriguez), plus you’ve got some NBA and NHL playoff games on as well. Talk about those games, the Posnanki article, this afternoon’s loss, or anything else right here. Just not politics or religion. Thanks in advance.

Rangers claim Pete Kozma off waivers from Yankees


Earlier today the Rangers claimed Pete Kozma off waivers from the Yankees, the team announced. Kozma was designated for assignment Friday when Didi Gregorius returned from the disabled list. Texas needed a backup infielder, apparently.

Kozma, 29, went 1-for-9 (.111) at the plate and played 34 innings in the field, all but one at shortstop, during his short time in pinstripes. He was on the roster as the backup infielder while Gregorius was on the disabled list and that’s pretty much it. That was the only reason he was around.

With Kozma gone and Donovan Solano out long-term with a calf injury in Triple-A, the Yankees lost some infield depth this week. They still have Tyler Wade and Ruben Tejada in Triple-A, plus Rob Refsnyder as well, so maybe it’s not a big deal.

Game 23: Finish the Sweep

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

So the last two games have gone well, eh? The last four games, really, but especially the last two. The Yankees have punished the Orioles so much the last two days that Baltimore had to send out two relievers (Jayson Aquino and ex-Yankee Vidal Nuno) and call up two others (Logan Verrett and ex-Yankee Richard Bleier) just to make sure the bullpen was fresh today. Allowing 26 runs in the span of 24 hours will do that to a team.

This afternoon’s series finale is a chance to clinch the series sweep over the O’s and gosh, that sure would be fun. The Yankees have not swept the Orioles since a three-game set at Yankee Stadium in July 2015. They are 13-17 against Baltimore since then, and that includes the last two games. The series win has been clinched. Now it’s time to get greedy and start padding that lead in the AL East. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 1B Chris Carter
  9. C Kyle Higashioka
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

It is cool and cloudy in New York this afternoon. Not the most pleasant baseball weather, but plenty playable. This afternoon’s series finale will begin a little after 1pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.