The start of the season has a way of magnifying things. We can’t help it. We’ve been baseball starved for months and while Spring Training is fun in its own way, it can’t compare to meaningful games. Once the season starts and we see new faces in new uniforms, we get excited and look at things a little too deeply. I did it just this morning. If that CC Sabathia start happens any other day of the year, I probably wouldn’t think twice about it.
That same idea applies to the offense. The Yankees haven’t hit a lick these last two days, especially against Astros starters Scott Feldman and Jarred Cosart (combined 11.2 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K). New York’s offense went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position last night and 2-for-8 in those spots on Opening Day. Few things are are frustrating as stranding runners. The much-hyped outfield is hitting a combined .103 with a .212 OBP while the oft-criticized infield has hit .278 with a .350 OBP. Up is down, black is white, nothing makes sense anymore.
That’s because the season is two games old. The Yankees as a team have had 73 plate appearances so far. That’s a small amount for a single player, nevermind an entire team. If these last two games happened in the middle of June — and trust me, they’ll stop hitting for a few games several times this year, that’s baseball — we’d notice but not think much about it. Because it’s the start of the season, it’s a Really Big Deal.
“We’re going to be fine, man. We haven’t been able to put anything together offensively, but we have what it takes to play better and win ballgames. We don’t need to worry about it,” said Carlos Beltran to Mark Feinsand after last night’s game. “That’s part of when a team is cold. Sometimes you put a few guys in scoring position and you have difficulties getting those guys in. It’s just the second game of the season. It’s important to win and every win counts, but we’ve had good pitching from them, so you have to give credit for what they’ve been doing.”
I mean, of course there’s a chance the Yankees really do stink offensively despite all the new additions. That’s always possibility but I find it very hard to believe. Jacoby Ellsbury (calf) and Alfonso Soriano (flu, shoulder) were behind the other position players in camp because of injuries, Mark Teixeira (wrist) and Derek Jeter (legs) are coming back from lost seasons, so it’s no surprise they look rusty. The offense has positively stunk these last two games, but it has been just that, two games. It’s annoying but hardly a cause for concern at this point.
The Yankees designated Eduardo Nunez for assignment on Tuesday, giving them ten days to trade him, release him, or slip him through waivers. That is down to eight days now, and considering the waiver process takes three days, it’s really more like five days. This situation could be resolved before the start of next week.
According to Marly Rivera, the Astros and Mariners* are among the teams with interest in Nunez. The middle infield bar is pretty low around the league right now, especially at shortstop, so I figured there would be some interest. That the Yankees couldn’t work out a trade before designating him suggests interest isn’t that high though. For what it’s worth, George King hears Nunez is expected to wind up elsewhere, either through a trade or waivers.
* As you surely remember, the Mariners wanted Nunez as part of the failed Cliff Lee trade a few years ago, so their interest now is not surprising.
Since he’s been designated for assignment, Nunez has pretty much zero trade value. He had very little trade value before being removed from the 40-man roster, but this clinches it. The Yankees forced their own hand with the move and other teams know they have to move him. That’s the way the DFA game has been and always will be. If they were to ship him to the Astros or Mariners, the likely return would be a nondescript non-40-man minor leaguer, cash, or a player to be named later. Don’t get your hopes up.
Nunez, 26, has hit .267/.313/.379 (86 wRC+) in parts of four seasons, in a league where the average shortstop put up a … wait for it … 86 wRC+ from 2010-13. His offense isn’t the problem, especially since he can steal bases on top of the league average-ish production. The issue has been and always be his defense, which hasn’t improved after years and years of work. This has been a career long problem and his career started in 2005.
The Yankees are short on shortstops right now, especially with Brendan Ryan hurt. Derek Jeter appears to be healthy and is moving fine in the field, but at age 39, he’s not someone who can play the position day after day. Joe Girardi‘s going to mix in some DH days every once in a while. He has to. Dean Anna is the backup shortstop, Yangervis Solarte the emergency backup, and the Triple-A starter is Carmen Angelini according to Chad Jennings. (Addison Maruszak was released yesterday according to Donnie Collins.) The 25-year-old Angelini had a 73 wRC+ at Double-A Trenton last year, so yeah.
Even though his defense is nightmarish, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Nunez slipped through waivers and went to Triple-A (he can’t elect free agency since it would be his first outright assignment), at least until Ryan returns. The Astros and Mariners and whoever else probably won’t give up anything of value for him in a trade, so keeping Nunez around as an emergency backup plan is better than losing him for nothing. Especially with no shortstop at Triple-A. If he doesn’t stick around, they’ll have to find someone just like him to stash in the minors.
The Yankees dropped their season-opener to the Astros on Tuesday for more than a few reasons, including a rebuilt offense that didn’t show up until about the seventh inning. CC Sabathia shoulders most of the blame because he was awful, allowing six runs in six innings. Doesn’t matter who you’re playing, climbing out of a 6-0 hole is tough for any lineup.
That game really was a tale of two Sabathias. He was abysmal in those first two innings, allowing all six runs on six hits, including two homers and two doubles. Over his final four innings, Sabathia kept Houston off the board and held them to a walk and two singles, one of which didn’t leave the infield. Five of his six strikeouts came in those final four innings and only one of the 14 batters he faced after the second hit the ball in the air. Sabathia was terrible the first two innings and pretty damn good the final four.
As I mentioned yesterday, the mid-start turn-around was so drastic that you have to think some kind of adjustment was made. Maybe Sabathia did it on his own, maybe pitching coach Larry Rothschild pointed something out, maybe it was Brian McCann. We’ve seen CC struggle early in a start before figuring it out before, so Opening Day wasn’t that unique, but it was especially noticeable on Tuesday. For what it’s worth, Sabathia chalked it up to adrenaline.
“It got out of hand early,” said CC to Chad Jennings after the game. “That’s been the toughest thing for me. I do get so excited. I feel like I’m a kid again. I would sleep in my uniform if I could the night before Opening Day. I think it’s just the nervousness, the jitters, wanting to start the season off good so bad, I end up pitching bad.”
It’s very possible Sabathia’s adjustment was simply calming down, but whatever it was, it should show up in the results somewhere. His velocity held steady all game — his fastball averaged 89.7 mph on Tuesday, down from 90.3 mph on Opening Day last year — and while Sabathia said he starting throwing his new cutter in the later innings, PitchFX didn’t pick any up. Maybe the system is broke, maybe the cutting action was so big they were classified as sliders. Who knows?
Whenever Sabathia struggles, it seems like it’s because he misses his location. That sounds obvious, I know. Sure, he gives up the occasional hit on a pitcher’s pitch like everyone else, but the Astros punished him early because he was missing out over the plate. I’m going to point this out again:
Those are the homers by Jesus Guzman (left) and L.J. Hoes (right). Dexter Fowler swatted a similar pitch to center, leading off the game with a double. Belt high offerings right out over the plate. That’s no way to pitch.
So did Sabathia’s location improve in innings three through six? To the PitchFX data:
Just to be clear, that is looking from the catcher’s perspective.
I was hoping there would be a big blob of blue pitches over the middle of the pitches and a bunch of red on the edges, but no dice. That would have been cool. Sabathia threw 99 pitches in the start, including 50 in the first two innings and 49 in the final four, so the sample is split right down the middle. That’s convenient. There are two things going on in this graph that I want to look at specifically, so let’s make life easy:
Like I said, two things I want to look at, hence the colored ovals. To the details:
Yellow Oval: The Astros had eight right-handed or switch hitters in the lineup, so these pitches are more or less in the wheelhouse. Belt high and right out over the plate. Sabathia threw seven pitches in this general area in the first two innings, resulting in the two homers, Fowler’s double, Jason Castro’s run-scoring fielder’s choice, a foul ball, a called strike, and a swing and a miss. In innings three through six, he threw only two pitches in this area, getting a foul ball and a swing and miss. If you want to count that one extra pitch at the top of the zone that’s hiding under the yellow oval, that’s another swing and miss. So yes, Sabathia did a better job of staying out of the danger zone in those final four innings.
Blue Oval (or cyan, whatever): I’m not going to count pitches and look at individual results here. I’m pointing this part of the strike zone out because it’s the outer half of the plate and generally the bottom half of the zone. With those eight righty bats in the lineup, that where you’d want a left-hander to pitch, down and away. Sabathia didn’t throw too many pitches down there in the first two innings — he was really all over the place in those two innings, geez — but he did a much better job of locating the ball down and away in his final four innings. Getting the ball out of the wheelhouse and instead burying it down there is a surefire way to improve performance.
Location is very important but it is just one piece of the pitching pie. I also want to look at whether Sabathia changed up his pitch mix as the game progressed, so here’s the breakdown:
|Batters Faced||1st Pitch FB||FB%||CH%||SL%|
That is … the exact opposite of what I expected. I thought Sabathia would have thrown fewer fastballs and particularly fewer first-pitch fastballs in those last four innings. Instead, he threw more fastballs than he did earlier in the game. He really pounded the zone with his heater late. Very surprising, at least to me. I guess he just got into a groove and was better able to drive the ball down and away to all those righties.
At some point between the second and third innings, something happened that helped Sabathia better locate his pitches, particularly his fastball. The PitchFX data confirms this. We have Point A (innings 1-2) and Point B (innings 3-6), but no knowledge of Sabathia got there. Maybe he did just calm down. Maybe it really is that simple. I can’t help but think some kind of mechanical adjustment was made, something that helped him get the ball down and get it on the outer half of the plate against righties.
“I just think it was a matter of relaxing. I didn’t want to go out and overthrow and be all over the place, but I think backing off didn’t help either so I got to find a place in the middle where I can pitch good,” said Sabathia to Jennings and Jorge Castillo. “I’ve got 34, hopefully, more starts left. I’m definitely not going to pitch like I did tonight in the first two innings. I know I can pitch, and I know I can get guys out. I feel great. I’m not going to beat myself up about this.”
Sabathia has always been super-accountable and when he struggled last year, he crushed himself after every start. Tuesday though? Eh, no big deal, I’ll be fine. I wonder if that is a function of knowing the problem and knowing how to solve it. Sabathia stunk last year and he always seemed to be looking for a fix. There were no answers and he as clearly frustrated. This year, it seems like he knows what was wrong in those first two innings and knows the solution. He found it in the middle of the start. That he didn’t tear into himself after the game may be an indication that is the case.
Let’s not try to soften the blow here, Sabathia was terrible overall on Opening Day. He didn’t give the Yankees much of a chance at all. That he turned it around literally between innings and settled down is encouraging. We don’t know what changed, but something did. I guess there’s always a chance nothing changed too. We are talking about the Astros. It’s early in the season though and this is the time for optimism, so let’s say he fixed something. Sabathia has a big test against the Blue Jays on Sunday, so we ‘ll get to see if whatever adjustment was make between the second and third innings on Tuesday is a sustainable formula for success.
The dream of 0-162 is still alive. The Yankees dropped their second game of the season on Wednesday night, losing 3-1 to the Astros. Houston is 2-0 for the first time in eleven years. Really glad the Yankees are taking advantage of his soft early-season schedule, you guys.
Who Needs Runs When We Have Each Other?
Believe it or not, the Yankees had a bunch of chances in this game. They just couldn’t capitalize on any of ‘em. Their only run scored on a double play (more on that in a bit) and they stranded a runner on second in the third, a runner on first in the fourth, runners on the corners in both the fifth and sixth, and runners on second in both the seventh and eighth. Jacoby Ellsbury flew out and grounded out to end the third and fifth inning rallies, respectively.
The Yankees went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and the biggest RISPFAIL came in the eighth, after Carlos Beltran led off the inning with an opposite field double. The next three batters, the 4-5-6 hitters, all struck out. Brian McCann went down on five pitches, Mark Teixeira on four pitches, and Alfonso Soriano on six pitches. Matt Albers got eight (!) swings and misses out of the 15 pitches he threw those guys. I don’t even.
The early-season offensive ineptitude reminds me of the 2002-ish through 2008 Yankees, who never seemed to hit in April. I remember there used to be columns written pretty much every year about trading for Ken Griffey Jr. to improve the offense. Eventually those teams hit and hit a ton, and I suspect this offense will do the same at some point. Right now though? These last two games have been a hot mess. When Brian Roberts (3-for-4 on Wednesday) has been your most productive hitter, you’ve got issues.
Death By Dexter
Poor Hiroki Kuroda. He must have feel 2013 never ended. The Yankees gave their ace only 3.19 runs of support per start last season, the third lowest among qualified starters. They couldn’t buy a run for him on Wednesday* even though he held up his end of the bargain. Kuroda held the Astros to two runs on three hits and one walk in six innings, striking out five. He got seven ground ball outs and six fly ball outs.
* Well, they did score the one run. Wouldn’t want to sell them short.
Unfortunately, all three of those hits were extra-base hits, including a solo homer by Dexter Fowler to lead off the game. Two innings later, he tripled to center and scored on Robbie Grossman’s ground out. Fowler’s killed the Yankees these last two games. Four total hits, all for extra bases. Kuroda pitched around a Grossman one-out triple in the sixth, his final inning. Two triples and homer with no other hits allowed. It’s the first time a pitcher has done that since … Felix Doubront against the Yankees last September. Lame.
Aside from some long at-bats, Kuroda looked like vintage Hiroki Kuroda, mixing sinkers with splitters and sliders and whatever else he has in that bag of tricks. I chalk the long at-bats up to early-season rust. Joe Girardi told Chad Jennings before the game that they plan to treat Kuroda like Andy Pettitte this year, meaning they won’t push him deep into the game or much beyond 100 pitches. That’s why his night ended at six innings and 91 pitches. Sounds like a plan to me.
So about that run-scoring double play? It was Yangervis Solarte‘s first career at-bat. He pinch-hit for Kelly Johnson against the left-handed Kevin Chapman with runners on the corners and no outs in the seventh. Yeah, it scored a run, but that double play took the wind right out of the Yankees’ sails. I know he had a great spring, but Solarte isn’t exactly a weapon off the bench. He shouldn’t pinch-hit for anyone in a big or semi-big spot.
David Phelps really doesn’t look right. He was sitting 87-88 mph all spring and he was throwing max effort to hit 90 in this game, giving up a solo homer and putting two other guys on base in his 1.1-inning outing. Phelps missed more than two months with a pair of forearm strains in the second half last season and I dunno, he doesn’t look so hot right now. Maybe keep him out of close games for a little while. Matt Thornton (one ground out, one intentional walk) and Shawn Kelley (ground out) cleaned up Phelps’ mess in the eighth.
Roberts and Brian McCann (2-for-4) combined for five of the team’s seven hits. Beltran (double) and Brett Gardner (single) had the others. Gardner, Ellsbury, and Derek Jeter each drew a walk. Teixeira built upon his strong Opening Day by going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Soriano looks like a mess right now and has gone 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in each of the first two games. He did miss a ton of time of camp with the flu, so maybe he’s just behind. Same with Ellsbury and his calf. Maybe.
The Astros had a pre-game ceremony for Jeter before the game, giving him a set of golf clubs and a pair of fancy cowboy boots. Former Yankees (and Astros) Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens were both on hand. The Astros then came out of the dugout to give Jeter a standing ovation before his first at-bat, which was kinda weird considering they still have another game tomorrow.
Adam Warren has warmed up in each of the first two games, and given how Girardi always makes sure his guys are rested, he might not be available tomorrow. He’s almost certainly a better late-inning option over the current version of Phelps. That reminds me: don’t forget about our Bullpen Workload page now that the season has started.
If you’re looking for a good omen, the Yankees have been held to two runs or less in their first two games of the season for the first time since … 1998. That turned out okay.
Hilariously, the Yankees will try to avoid being swept (!) by the Astros (!!!) on Thursday night. That’s another 8pm ET start. Those are the worst. Give me 7pm or 10pm, nothing in between. Ivan Nova and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer will be the pitching matchup.
Opening Day did not go according to plan last night, but that is nothing new for the Yankees, really. They’ve now lost three straight Opening Days and five of their last six. None of those previous losses crippled their season either. It sucks, get over it. There’s another game tonight.
While the offense did not show up until Scott Feldman was out of last night’s game, they will be facing a very different pitcher tonight. Jarred Cosart is a young power arm with both a huge fastball and huge strike-throwing problems. He walked more batters (35) than he struck out (33) during his MLB debut last summer — he did have a 16/5 K/BB in Spring Training, for what it’s worth — and if he has trouble finding the zone tonight, the Yankees have the kind of lineup that can take advantage. Alfonso Soriano is only true swing at everything hacker among the regulars.
Hiroki Kuroda is making his first start of the season and we really didn’t see all that much of him this spring. He only threw 11.1 innings during Grapefruit League play, instead doing a bunch of work in minor league games. With CC Sabathia still an unknown the three unpredictable younger guys at the back of the rotation, Kuroda needs to be the staff ace again, someone who Joe Girardi & Co. can count on for a quality outing every fifth day. Tonight he will be charged with getting the team their first win of 2014 and stopping a losing streak before it even begins. Here’s the lineup, which is the same as last night’s:
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- SS Derek Jeter
- RF Carlos Beltran
- C Brian McCann
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- DH Alfonso Soriano
- LF Brett Gardner
- 2B Brian Roberts
- 3B Kelly Johnson
RHP Hiroki Kuroda
Another hot and humid day in Houston, with on and off showers all day. The retractable roof at Minute Maid Park means we don’t have to worry about any of that. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 8pm ET and you can watch live on YES. Enjoy the game.
6:00pm: Baseball America (no subs. req’d) has the individual slot values for the draft and international pools. The international slots are for used in trades. The Yankees are slotted for $1,018,700 for that 55th overall pick. Their third rounder falls all the way to $585,100.
12:00pm: Via Jim Callis: Bonus pools for the draft and international free agency have increased 1.7% this year. The Yankees have been slotted $3,202,300 for the 2014 draft, the second smallest pool, ahead of only the Orioles. They have also been slotted $2,193,100 for international free agency, which is more middle of the pack (17th most).
The Yankees forfeited their top three draft picks — their first rounder and the compensation picks for Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano — to sign free agents last winter, so their first selection is in the second round, 55th overall. That may change slightly if Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales ever get around to signing. That $3.2M pool still gives them enough cash to sign a big money prospect or two, as long as they grab cheap college seniors in rounds five through ten to compensate. They’ve done that the last two years.
Based on what we heard over the winter, the international spending pool is meaningless this year. The Yankees are said to be planning a huge spending spree, upwards of $15M on prospects and then another $15M in penalties. They reportedly have some agreements already in place. If they do spend huge like that, they will not be allowed to sign anyone to a bonus larger than $300k the next two years. That might not matter with an international draft looking more and more likely. The international signing period opens July 2nd. · (31) ·
The minor league season starts tomorrow and the Opening Day rosters for the various full season affiliates are now available: Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston. Not sure why OF Aaron Judge is listed as a first baseman with the River Dogs, but it’s probably just a mistake. As always, the rosters are subject to change. Here are some more notes on the final day of the minor league offseason:
- The upcoming Triple-A Scranton rotation will be RHP Bruce Billings, RHP Chase Whitley, RHP Graham Stoneburner, RHP Brian Gordon, and then TBA. RHP Shane Greene is with the club and will eventually fill a rotation spot, but he is not stretched out after pitching in relief during Spring Training. [Donnie Collins]
- Neither C Austin Romine nor C John Ryan Murphy were told how their playing time will be split, though it sounds as though Murphy will be the priority, as he should. OF Ramon Flores and 2B Jose Pirela will be everyday players and RHP Matt Daley is the closer according to manager Dave Miley. [Donnie Collins]
- The Double-A Trenton rotation will be, in order, RHP Bryan Mitchell, LHP Jeremy Bleich, RHP Zach Nuding, RHP Joel De La Cruz, and LHP Matt Tracy. Manager Tony Franklin confirmed the top four hitters in the lineup will be OF Mason Williams, 2B Rob Refsnyder, 3B Rob Segedin, and C Gary Sanchez. [Nick Peruffo]
- In order, the Low-A Charleston rotation will be RHP Rookie Davis, RHP Luis Severino, RHP Gio Gallegos, RHP Brady Lail, and LHP Caleb Smith. Still no word on High-A Tampa’s starter for Thursday. [Josh Norris]
- The Yankees have released another five players, according to Matt Eddy: RHP Kenedy Agramonte, RHP Zach Arneson, RHP Adam Smith, RHP Zach Varce, and RHP Derek Varnadore. Arneson, a hard-throwing but very wild reliever, was the team’s ninth round pick in 2011 and the best prospect of the bunch.
Update: According to Collins, UTIL Addison Maruszak has been released. Between that and Eduardo Nunez being designated for assignment, I have absolutely no idea who will play shortstop for Triple-A Scranton.
Two years ago it was OF Mason Williams, last year it was OF Tyler Austin, and this year it will be 3B Eric Jagielo. The Yankees’ first first round pick in last summer’s draft won our Prospect Watch vote convincingly, receiving nearly 29% of the over 5,400 votes submitted. That’s way more votes than I expected, so thanks to everyone for taking the time to click.
Here are the full voting results:
- 3B Eric Jagielo, 28.7%
- C Gary Sanchez, 22.2%
- OF Aaron Judge, 17.4%
- LHP Manny Banuelos, 12.1%
- OF Slade Heathcott, 8.6%
- 1B Greg Bird, 7.4%
- OF Tyler Austin, 1.9%
- OF Mason Williams, 1.8%
No love for Austin or Williams, huh? Cold. I guess they’ve already had their moment in the Prospect Watch sun though. Same with Banuelos. I suspect Bird and Judge will have their time in the sidebar in a year or two. With Heathcott already on the 40-man roster and heading to Triple-A this year, it’s possible he will go his entire minor league career without being part of the Prospect Watch despite being a first round pick. Weird.
Jagielo, 21, was the 26th overall pick in last year’s draft, and he signed quickly for a $1,839,400 signing bonus, which was exactly slot money. The third baseman out of Notre Dame hit .266/.376/.451 (153 wRC+) with 14 doubles and six homers in 218 plate appearances for the Short Season Staten Island Yankees after turning pro. He will open 2014 with High-A Tampa and a promotion to Double-A Trenton at midseason is very likely if he hits like he did with the Baby Bombers. For more on Jagielo, check out his Prospect Profile.
The Prospect Watch will be up in the sidebar tomorrow afternoon. Jagielo and his Tampa Yankees teammates open the season tomorrow night, as do the other three full season affiliates. Austin was a bit of a dud last year because of his nagging wrist injury, but Williams had a very strong year in 2012 and Banuelos was solid in 2011. Barring injury, Jagielo should have no trouble putting up big numbers in Single-A. If we doesn’t, well, that will only add fuel to the Curse of the Prospect Watch fire.
I know I just did a thoughts post yesterday, but there’s a bunch of stuff going on after Opening Day and none of it is worth a full post. This is the worst time of the season because we know the samples are still way too small to mean anything, but what else are we supposed to talk about? Baseball, man. It can be cruel.
1. I’m really curious to know what adjustment CC Sabathia made after the second inning last night. There had to be something, he looked like a completely different pitcher in his last four innings than he did his first two. Joe Girardi told Dan Barbarisi his pitches were cutting early and Sabathia told Bryan Hoch he was too amped up, but that doesn’t help us any. If there was a tangible adjustment made, that’s good. You want to be able to point to something specific for the improvement, something real. Everything gets magnified on Opening Day, that’s just the way it is, and Sabathia was far from impressive on Tuesday. I am looking forward to seeing his next outing though. Something changed after that second inning.
2. The offense was mostly a no show on Opening Day, but I thought Mark Teixeira looked really good. He hit a ball to the warning track in his first at-bat, ripped a line drive to right that sliced just foul in his second time up, then slapped a single the other way later in the game. He also drew a walk and saw 18 total pitches in four trips to the plate. Teixeira said he is still a little apprehensive about his surgically repaired wrist at the end of camp, which is a concern for obvious reasons, but he didn’t show it last night. He swung hard, made some solid contact, and he’s seeing the bell wall. Does that mean he’ll be fine going forward? Who knows. This one game, those four at-bats, were encouraging.
3. I’m fully on board with batting Brett Gardner seventh after being on the fence about it at first. Yeah, he would serve as the second leadoff man by batting ninth, but I think batting him seventh does a better job of helping the middle of the order. Gardner’s whole thing is not making outs, and by batting him closer to the middle of the lineup, he’ll get more of an opportunity to extend rallies and cap them off. The middle of the order is the key to everything; Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson aren’t going to generate much offense no matter where they slot into the lineup. Batting Gardner two spots higher to get that one extra good hitter behind Teixeira and Alfonso Soriano gives them more of a chance to turn rallies into runs. Instead of being a leadoff guy, he’ll be expected to drive in some runs. Plus he might get an extra at-bat once in a while.
4. I am wrong all the time, about everything, yet I’m still surprised at how wrong I’ve been about this last bench spot stuff. Literally every step of the way. I thought they’d take Scott Sizemore, then when it was clear he was out of the running, I thought they’d take Eduardo Nunez. When they didn’t take Nunez, I thought they’d keep him in Triple-A as insurance. Instead, he was designated for assignment yesterday to make room on the roster for Yangervis Solarte. Wrong, every step of the way. Even by my terrible standards, that’s amazing. The Yankees don’t have much shortstop depth now — Addison Maruszak figures to be the starter in Triple-A with Nunez gone — especially with Brendan Ryan out for a few weeks, so they’ll probably have to keep an eye on the waiver wire for an extra body.
5. Dellin Betances is going to be my favorite sidebar this season. He was great in relief last year, very good in Spring Training, and just electric last night. Betances has been in the farm system for an eternity and he’s had a ton of ups and downs, and we’ve watched them just about every step of the way. It’s great to finally see him find some sustained success and a niche in the bullpen. His stuff is obviously excellent, and now that he’s throwing strikes regularly, Betances can be a late-inning force. There is plenty of opportunity in the bullpen with a clear path to higher leverage seventh and eighth inning work, so this is a good time for everything to be clicking. Very much looking forward to seeing more.
6. As a team, the Yankees saw 138 pitches in last night’s game. That isn’t a huge number, but out of their 150 nine-inning games last year, they saw 138+ pitches only 72 times. Less than half the time. The 2014 offense had a bad day on Opening Day and yet they still saw pitches at a higher rate than last year’s squad. Roberts did the heavy lifting with 20 pitches in his four trips to the plate while Gardner, Teixeira, and Soriano saw 18 apiece. That was by far the worst part of the 2013 offense. They made a ton of outs and they were mostly quick outs, two or three pitch at-bats. This group isn’t like the 2004-12 lineups or anything, but they make the pitcher work for whatever he gets. It’s refreshing.
See what happens when you designate Eduardo Nunez for assignment? You lose to the Astros on Opening Day. The Yankees dropped their first game of the season 6-2 on Tuesday, and it sure looked like the score would be much more lopsided early on. Losing on Opening Day really sucks, especially to an awful team like the Astros, but that doesn’t mean it’s a harbinger for the rest of the season.
Which Trend Continued?
Coming into Tuesday’s start, CC Sabathia had a history of terrible Opening Day starts and an awful 2013 season in the rear-view mirror. Which trend continued in the first game of the 2014 season? I hope it was just the former but eh, it was probably the latter. The Astros roughed Sabathia up for six runs on eight hits (four for extra-bases) and one walk in six innings, forcing him to throw 50 pitches in the first two innings. That’s … a lot. The details of his 99 pitches:
- 47 fastballs, averaging 89.7 mph.
- 22 changeups, averaging 84.3. Some more separation from the fastball wouldn’t hurt.
- 30 sliders, averaging 80.8 mph.
- Nine swings and misses and 15 foul balls, including six with two strikes.
Sabathia showed the same problems as last year, meaning he struggled to put guys away — the Jason Castro at-bat in the first inning was a perfect example, Sabathia used to eat up lefty hitters but instead Castro fouled off two two-strike sliders before driving in a run with a fielder’s choice — and his command was terrible, especially in the first two innings. The evidence:
Those are the homers hit by Jesus Guzman (left) and L.J. Hoes (right). Both pitches were pretty much belt high, right over the plate. You can get away with that when you’re throwing 93-95 mph. But at 88-91 mph? Not as often. Just for the record, Guzman hit his dinger off a fastball, Hoes hit his off a changeup.
Anyway, the Yankees were down six-zip after the second inning and while Sabathia settled down wonderfully after that — he retired 12 of the final 15 men he faced — it doesn’t matter how many lineup additions you make over the winter down that many runs. It’s tough to come back and win that game, even against Scott Feldman and the Astros. Sabathia did not give the Yankees much of a chance on Opening Day and, unfortunately, he really didn’t do much to suggest he will be more productive than last season. Hopefully things go better in five days.
New Lineup, Just Like The Old Lineup
Four new regulars, including seven new starters from Opening Day last year, but the result did not change. The 2014 Yankees offense paid homage to the 2013 Yankees offense by playing just like them, being held to two runs on five singles, one double, and three walks. They didn’t have a runner reach third base until there were two outs in the seventh, and 19 of the first 22 men they sent to the plate made outs.
The Yankees rallied for two runs in the eighth — Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira both went the other way for RBI singles — but their best chance to realistically get back in the game came on inning earlier, when Feldman started to run out of gas. Teixeira singled with one out then Brett Gardner (hit-by-pitch) and Brian Roberts (walk) reached to load the bases with two outs. Astros manager Bo Porter went to Kevin Chapman, his only lefty reliever, to face Kelly Johnson, who hit a weak ground ball back to the pitcher to end the rally.
I thought maybe that Johnson at-bat would have been a good opportunity to use Frankie Cervelli as a pinch-hitter against the lefty. It burns the backup catcher, but Cervelli has always hit lefties and the left field porch at Minute Maid Park is tiny. If there was ever a time to take a shot at making this a game, that was probably it. That said, it is the first game of the season and the score was so lopsided that sticking with Johnson was fine. Nothing wrong with showing some confidence in him there.
It wasn’t until Feldman was out of the game that the offense put up a fight, so perhaps the Houston right-hander was just sharp in the season-opener. Eight of the final 15 Yankees reached base — six of eight reached at one point — but by this point, the deficit was just too big. Alfonso Soriano really killed them, striking out to end the fourth with two men on base and grounding into a double play to end the eighth with two on. At -0.084 WPA, he’s the easy goat.
Dealin’ Dellin and the Vidal Nunos
It might not seem like a big deal with three long relievers on the roster, but Sabathia did save the bullpen some by following up those disastrous first two innings with four scoreless ones. The Yankees open the year with 13 games in 13 games and you know they want to take it easy on Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda if at all possible. Saving the bullpen a few innings was a silver lining to an otherwise forgettable game.
Dellin Betances was electric in the seventh, facing the top three hitters in Houston’s lineup and completely overwhelming them. He struck out Dexter Fowler on five pitches, struck out Robbie Grossman on three pitches, and got Jose Altuve to ground out weakly to second base on the second pitch. Betances topped out at 99.3 mph (!) according to PitchFX. Dynamite. Vidal Nuno faced four batters in the eighth, striking out three and getting a weak ground ball that slithered passed Derek Jeter and Johnson. Too bad we can’t erase those first two innings, the pitching was pretty excellent after that.
Jeter’s final Opening Day started with a hit-by-pitch. He took a Feldman fastball off what initially looked like the left wrist, but replays showed it got him off the left forearm. That woulda been some way to start the season, wouldn’t it? Jeter struck out looking in his second at-bat, grounded back to first in his third at-bat, then slashed a Jeterian single to right field in his fourth at-bat. The same hit we’ve seen about a couple thousand times these last 19 years.
The Yankees played some hilariously sloppy defense in the first inning, particularly on Castro’s fielder’s choice. Teixeira fielded it cleanly and tried the cut runner down at home, but he threw the ball in the dirt and it bounced to the backstop. After McCann picked it up, he tried to get the runner at third base, but instead airmailed the throw into left field. Gardner did a good job backing up the play and preventing the runner from scoring. Teixeira was clearly trying to do too much in his first game after such a long layoff. He’s gotta take the out at first there.
Carlos Beltran picked up the team’s first hit of the season, singling to left field on a soft line drive with one out in the fourth. He also slide head-first into first base down six runs in the eighth inning. Silly. I know he wants to win and help his new team and all that, but he’s asking to get hurt by doing that. Ellsbury went 0-for-4 with a walk, McCann went 1-for-4, and Teixeira went 2-for-3 with a walk. Johnson doubled with two outs in the ninth for the team’s first extra-base hit of 2014.
Same two teams Wednesday night, though that one is an 8pm ET start. Stupid time zones. Hiroki Kuroda and Jarred Cosart will be the pitching matchup for that one.