CC Sabathia doesn’t need knee surgery, open to pitching out of the bullpen in September

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

One day after being placed on the 15-day DL with right knee inflammation, CC Sabathia went for a second opinion today, which confirmed he has no new damage in the knee. It’s simply some arthritic stuff that requires rest. Sabathia does not need surgery, neither now nor in the offseason.

Sabathia told reporters he hopes to return to the team after his 15 days are up, and added he is willing to pitch out of the bullpen should the Yankees ask. “Helping the team any way I can,” he said. For what it’s worth, Joe Girardi said moving Sabathia to the bullpen is something they won’t discuss until CC is actually healthy enough to pitch again. Makes sense.

The overall numbers are ugly this year (5.27 ERA and 4.82 FIP in 138.1 innings) but there is reason to think the 35-year-old Sabathia could be effective in relief. For starters, he still destroys lefties, holding them to a .180/.209/.291 (.218 wOBA) batting line with a 30.4% strikeout rate this year. Secondly, Sabathia is at his best the first time through the lineup (via Baseball Reference):

Split G PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip sOPS+
1st PA in G, as SP 24 215 21 51 8 0 8 15 42 2.80 .258 .313 .419 .732 .291 108
2nd PA in G, as SP 24 209 30 60 5 2 7 11 44 4.00 .314 .351 .471 .822 .368 126
3rd PA in G, as SP 22 167 25 51 4 2 11 9 24 2.67 .331 .370 .597 .967 .333 150
4th+ PA in G, as SP 7 12 1 2 0 0 0 2 3 1.50 .222 .333 .222 .556 .286 53

Righties have crushed Sabathia this season (.388 wOBA!), but, if he’s limited to facing mostly lefties in one or two innings bursts, it’s possible he’ll be an effective reliever. Not just effective, maybe even really good. A late-inning weapon.

Sabathia has made just one career relief appearance and that was in Game Five of the 2011 ALDS, when Ivan Nova got hurt and had to leave after two innings. CC allowed a run in 1.1 innings. Moving to the bullpen — if it happens, of course — would take a bit of an adjustment on his part, though September is a good time to work through those issues thanks to expanded rosters.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Sabathia was just placed on the DL yesterday, so he’s at least two weeks away from being activated. That assumes his knee heels up quickly. We’re just going to have to wait and see. Hopefully Sabathia gets healthy soon and the team has to make a decision about his role because everyone else on the staff is healthy and pitching effectively.

Cashman confirms Yankees unlikely to make a last minute August waiver trade

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This isn’t a surprise, but over the weekend Brian Cashman confirmed to reporters the Yankees are unlikely to make a last minute August waiver trade. A player must be in the organization by 11:59pm ET next Monday, August 31st, to be eligible for the postseason roster. That’s a hard deadline and there are no exceptions.

“Nothing that’s gotten to me. I’ve done a lot of claims. I’ve never been awarded any of them,” said Cashman to Dan Martin when asked about claiming players on trade waivers. Every team claims lots of players in August — Peter Gammons hears there have been more claims this month than ever before — but trade waivers are revocable, and the vast majority who are claimed get pulled back. Usually only players with favorable contracts get claimed.

It’s important to note circumstances have changed in recent days. Cashman told reporters the Yankees are unlikely to make an August trade before CC Sabathia‘s potentially season-ending knee injury further thinned out the team’s rotation depth. They may have since changed course and started scrounging for an extra arm or two since Cashman’s comments. These things can change in an instant. Either way, the GM doesn’t regret his trade deadline inactivity.

“I wouldn’t say vindicated,” said Cashman to George King when asked about the performances of Greg Bird and Luis Severino. “The criticism comes either way. Just do what you think is right and hope it works out that way. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m very comfortable with the positions we took and why we took them. I wish I could have improved us. I certainly tried, but we were unable to.

“If it was going to cost us Severino or Judge or Bird or Warren or Mitchell or Wilson or Shreve, those were all the guys, combinations that people were like, ‘You’re not going do Severino or Judge or Bird? Well, I need Wilson and Mitchell or Wilson and Shreve.’ None of it was working. So I felt like it dictated the position we took, which is ‘We have a good team, we’re trying to improve it.’ Just felt like nothing made sense under those circumstances.”

If you’re interested, MLB Daily Dish has a full list of players reportedly placed on trade waivers this month. Guys who clear can be traded, guys who have been claimed can only be traded to the claiming team, and guys who have been claimed and pulled back can’t be traded at all. (Well, they can be placed on trade waivers again, but they’re irrevocable the second time around.) There’s really not much to see. Not many exciting names.

The Yankees have not been very active in the waiver trade market in recent years. They acquired Chad Gaudin in August 2009, Steve Pearce in August 2012, and Brendan Ryan in September 2013. That’s about it. Spare parts for depth, not any sort of difference maker. Significant upgrades after July 31st are pretty rare. The Yankees could make a small tweak following Sabathia’s injury but I doubt it. And, even if they are planning to make a move, there’s no reason for Cashman to say so. Nothing to gain.

Taking stock of Ivan Nova’s post-surgery performance

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

It’s often said pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery are vulnerable to erratic performances as they regain arm strength and command of their pitches. When you combine that thinking with the notion that Ivan Nova’s career has largely been defined by periods of brilliance mixed in with extended stretches of mediocrity, it was probably inevitable that Nova was not going to be a model of reliability when he rejoined the pitching staff in late June.

Nova flashed signs of being that near-dominant pitcher in his season debut when he fired 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Phillies, but two starts later was perhaps at his worst this season when he gave up four runs and had just one strikeout versus the Rays. And most recently against the Indians last week he put together another uninspiring start, allowing three runs before being pulled after five innings of work.

To his credit, Nova acknowledged that he’s had his ups and downs this season. “You’re going to have days like this,” Nova told the Associated Press after his dud on August 20. “Not going to feel perfect every time you go out there.”

Despite battling through bouts of inconsistency and posting a 3.72 ERA that is just barely above league-average (and a below-average 4.12 FIP), there are still a bunch of encouraging signs from Nova’s first 10 starts. Digging deeper into his numbers, there is a hint of optimism that he can be a viable starter for the Yankees as they battle for a playoff spot and the division crown in the final six weeks.

***************************

The first thing you typically look for in a pitcher trying to come back from Tommy John surgery is changes in velocity and throwing mechanics. Nova passes that test with flying colors, as his velocity is on par with previous seasons and the release points on his pitches are unchanged. He’s averaging 93.3 mph on his four-seamer and sinker, nearly the same as his rookie season (93.4) in 2011 and his last healthy season (93.9) in 2013.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (3)

His signature curveball has also been really sharp, with a top-20 whiff rate (37 percent) and top-10 marks in both batting average against (.143) and slugging (.196). Maikel Franco is one of the top rookies in the NL this season, but he had no chance on this two-strike hook from Nova back on June 24:

q0kvn

Pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery often struggle with their control but that hasn’t been the case with Nova. His walk rate of 7.5 percent this season is identical to what he did from 2011-13 (7.7 percent), and although he’s throwing pitches out of the strike zone at a career-high rate of 58 percent, he’s also locating pitches in the heart of the zone at the lowest rate of his career (18 percent). It seems like he is still trying to get comfortable pitching on the edges of the zone, but he’s done a good job of avoiding mistakes and grooved pitches right down the middle.

Another good omen for Nova is that he’s back to being a ground ball machine, with a ground ball rate of 52.5 percent that almost matches his 2013 mark. His hard-contact and soft-contact rates are also his best since 2011, and he’s generating popups at a rate that is nearly double his previous career best.

nova contact

Despite those positive trends, one concern is that Nova’s strikeout rate is below his peak 2012-13 levels, and he seemingly hasn’t yet regained the feel for his four-seam fastball this season. Opponents are hitting .309 and slugging .546 in at-bats ending in his heater, and have whiffed on just seven percent of their swings against it.

Perhaps realizing its ineffectiveness, Nova has ditched his four-seam fastball recently in favor of the much more effective sinker that ranks fifth among starting pitchers in ground ball rate (68 percent).

Brooksbaseball-Chart (2)

The fact Nova has been able to make these adjustments mid-season is an excellent indicator that he’s evolving as a pitcher and getting closer to reaching his potential.

Another sign of his maturity is the way that he’s been able to get out of jams and pitch under pressure this season. Batters have a .151/.230/.236 line against him with runners in scoring position and he’s stranded nearly three-quarters of his baserunners so far.

Although Nova is far from a finished product and is still clearly trying to find his pitching rhythm post-surgery, he’s shown a lot of promise in his first 10 starts this season. He’s keeping the ball on the ground with his sinker, mixing in a nasty curveball when ahead in the count, and pitching with confidence and poise from the stretch.

There’s still one hurdle, however, that Nova has yet to overcome: the inconsistency that has defined not just this season, but his entire career. Sure, he can’t shed that label in single game. But a strong performance tonight against the Astros would not only be an encouraging sign of progress in Nova’s return from Tommy John surgery, but also a key step forward in his long-term development from a talented yet unpredictable pitcher into a reliable top-of-the-rotation starter.

Injuries have caught up to the offense, but there are signs things may soon improve

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Even including last night’s win, the Yankees are now 11-11 in August and have seen their six-game AL East lead disappear. They’re now tied with the Blue Jays. The combination of Toronto getting insanely hot and the Yankees playing decidedly mediocre ball have turned a comfortable division lead into a legitimate race. Races are fun! That’s why we watch. It also would have been nice to see that big lead last more than three weeks, but alas.

The Yankees have faded a bit this month — August is not their worst month of the season, they went 13-16 in May but rebounded to go 15-12 in June and 17-7 in July — for many reasons, some of which were not entirely unpredictable. First and foremost, they’ve been bit by the injury bug. They lost Michael Pineda (forearm) and CC Sabathia (knee) to injuries after both guys came into the season as health risks. Seeing them land on the DL wasn’t a total shock.

Other injuries have been somewhat fluky. Mark Teixeira fouled a ball off his shin and has been out a week, hurting the Yankees on both sides of the ball. (I love Greg Bird as much as anyone, but the Yankees miss Teixeira. It’s obvious.) Brian McCann pulled a little something in his left knee chasing after a ball in the dirt a few weeks ago, and while he’s stayed in the lineup, he’s clearly not 100%. He’s wearing a brace and has altered his batting stance to take pressure off the knee:

McCann downplayed the batting stance change but come on. It looks like he’s about to fall over trying to take his weight off that left knee. McCann hurt his knee on August 4th and has gone 12-for-57 (.211) with a 22.6% strikeout rate since. He has hit four home runs during that time, so his power is still there, but he had an 18.8% strikeout rate before the injury. His timing seems to be off slightly following the knee injury, maybe due to that weird stance.

Then there’s Alex Rodriguez, who as far as we know isn’t hurt. Either way, he is not producing like he did earlier in the year. That’s not really a surprise, I suppose. As great as Alex is, it was probably unrealistic to think he’d hit like an MVP candidate all season as a 40-year-old with two surgically repaired hips who didn’t play at all last year and barely played the year before. A-Rod‘s gone 11-for-84 (.131) with two homers this month, though it worth noting the two homers both came within the last week.

Joe Girardi gave Rodriguez both Saturday and Sunday off, saying he wanted to “refresh” him. The Yankees have an off-day Thursday, so that’s another day to rest, and they’ll be in Atlanta for an interleague series this weekend. The team has committed to A-Rod at DH this year and there’s no reason to think he’ll play third (or first) base against the Braves. Assuming he starts tonight and tomorrow, Alex will still get six days off in a nine-day span. Hopefully that gets him going.

The Yankees built that big lead in the AL East thanks in large part to Teixeira, A-Rod, and McCann. Those guys were forces in the middle of the lineup for much of the season and are a huge reason why the team still ranks second in baseball with an average of 4.73 runs per game. That’s even after scoring 61 runs in their last 19 games, or 3.21 per game. They were that good for most of the season. Now? Not so much. McCann and Teixeira are banged up and A-Rod’s in a cold spell, perhaps due to fatigue.

The good news is things may be starting to change for the better. McCann had a great game last night, going 3-for-3 with a walk. Also, Teixeira was on deck ready to pinch-hit last night when Beltran hit his walk-off sac fly, which is an indication he is moving closer to returning to the starting lineup. A-Rod? Eh, aside from his two big homers last week — big as in long distance, they were bombs — I’m not sure if there are any positive signs there. Two outta three ain’t bad, I guess.

Let’s not beat around the bush: without Teixeira, McCann, and A-Rod producing at an above average clip, the Yankees have close to no chance to beat out the Blue Jays for the division title. The Yankees need to fire on all cylinders to keep pace with Toronto, and those three key middle of the order bats are hitting a combined .189/.270/.388 in 218 plate appearances this month. Yikes. Carlos Beltran can’t do it all himself. Those three need to start helping out again.

The pitching has been solid this month but the offense has been a big letdown of late. These nagging injuries Teixeira and McCann are dealing with are part of baseball, and hey, when you have a 40-year-old player playing everyday, you run of risk of him hitting a wall down the stretch. Unfortunately all of this is happening at once. Hopefully McCann’s big night, Teixeira being on deck, and A-Rod hitting two homers last week are signs these guys are close to getting back to where they need to be. The sooner they get going, the better the Yankees’ chances of winning the AL East.

Eovaldi brilliant as Yanks walk-off with 1-0 win over Astros

That was the best worst game ever. Or maybe the worst best game ever? Not sure. A win? Yes. Exciting? Also yes. Frustrating at times? Definitely. When it was all said and done, the Yankees walked off with a 1-0 win over the Astros in their series opener Monday night.

Game One Starter. (Presswire)
Game One Starter. (Presswire)

DomiNATE
Oh baby. You can teach a guy to pitch but you can’t teach him to throw hard, and on Monday night Nathan Eovaldi showed off both his pitchability and his unmatched arm strength. Eight shutout innings, seven strikeouts, a season-high 19 swing and misses — by far too, his previous high was 13 done twice — and just four singles allowed. Dominant. This was ACEovaldi, at least for one start.

Eovaldi struck out three batters in the first, all on three pitches, and he fanned five of the first nine batters he faced. In the fifth, when he ran some long counts and issued two of this three walks, he escaped with a pop-up and two ground balls. When he allowed a single and a walk to the first two batters in the sixth, Nate escaped with a free out (a bunt), a fielder’s choice (Greg Bird made a great play to look the runner at third back and get the runner at second), and a fly out.

Heck, Eovaldi had to overcome his own defense a few times. Stephen Drew flubbed a potential double play ball in the fifth — he settled for one out at first, after the play was reviewed — and Chase Headley made a throwing error in the eighth. Both times Eovaldi escaped. He faced a career-high tying 32 batters and seven (7) hit the ball out of the infield. Oh, and Nate averaged 98 mph with his four-seamer and topped out at 102 according to PitchFX. Starters are not supposed to throw that hard.

Is Eovaldi going to pitch this well every time out? No, probably not. But man, look at how far this guy has come since April. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild didn’t just teach Eovaldi a splitter, he taught him a splitter he trusts and will throw to both righties and lefties. He has that second pitch hitters have to respect, and, as a result, his high-octane heater is playing up. Eovaldi got eight swings and misses on 45 four-seamers this game. There were times he didn’t get eight swings and misses in an entire start earlier in his career. Great game and great development. This is something else.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Walked Off … Eventually
The game-winning ninth inning rally was sorta dopey and anti-climatic, but a win is a win is a win. The Yankees didn’t even had a hit in the inning. Oliver Perez walked Brett Gardner on five pitches leading off the inning, advanced him to second with a wild pitch, intentionally walked Alex Rodriguez, then unintentionally walked Brian McCann on five pitches to load the bases with no outs. Perez threw 15 pitches. Three were strikes.

Once the bases were full, Astros manager A.J. Hinch went to ex-Yankee Chad Qualls, hoping Carlos Beltran would hit a ground ball right at someone. Instead, Beltran lifted Qualls’ first and only pitch of the night into deep center field for the walk-off sac fly. Walk-off sac flies are weird. Yeah they get the job done but they’re sorta no fun. As soon as you see the outfielder retreat far enough back, you know the game is over. Carlos Gomez would have had no shot to throw Gardner out at the plate had he tried. Whatever. I’ll take it.

The Yankees did have some opportunities to score against Scott Feldman earlier in the game — Feldman allowed six hits in eight shutout innings [/facepalm] — but Never Got The Big Hit, as the kids say. McCann’s leadoff single in the second was wasted by a strikeout and two fly balls. Back-to-back leadoff singles by Didi Gregorius and Drew in the third were wasted by a fielder’s choice, a strikeout, and a fly ball. McCann was erased by a double play following his leadoff single in the fourth.

Then, in the seventh, the Yankees were in business thanks to McCann’s third leadoff single of the night. Beltran followed with a double to right — he smashed the ball off the wall, one of those “he hit it so hard he held himself to a single” hits — to put runners at the corners with no outs. Greg Bird struck out, rather feebly too, then Chase Headley lifted a fly ball to shallow center. It wasn’t deep at all, and McCann isn’t running well these days, so Gomez threw him out at the plate despite making a poor throw that hopped about ten times. Blah. That was deflating.

In the end, the Yankees got just one run and it was all they needed thanks to Eovaldi. The offense continues to sputter though — they had six hits (all singles) and three walks (one intentional) in the game, which isn’t enough to win most of the time — and it’s something that needs to get fixed soon. The top three hitters in the lineup going 0-for-10 with three walks isn’t good enough and three hits by non-McCanns isn’t good enough either. The Yankees are averaging 3.21 runs per game in their last 19 games. Yikes.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
For a very brief moment, exactly one plate appearance, Drew was hitting .200. Exactly .200 too, no rounding in either direction. He beat out an infield single in his first at-bat to get to .200, then grounded out next time out to ruin the fun. Drew went 1-for-3 on the night and is hitting .19878. He’s yet to finish a game with a .200+ batting average this season.

Andrew Miller replaced Eovaldi and pitched a scoreless ninth inning. He allowed a leadoff single to Evan Gattis but pinch-runner Jake Marisnick was erased on a strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play. After CC Sabathia‘s injury shortened start Sunday, Eovaldi gave the bullpen a nice breather Monday.

Mark Teixeira made an appearance! Well, sorta. He was on deck to pinch-hit for Bird when Beltran hit the walk-off sac fly. Teixeira has not played since fouling a ball of his leg a week ago. That he was available to pinch-hit is a good sign. Progress.

And finally, Beltran played in his 1,000th AL game Monday night. He is the sixth player to play 1,000 games in each league, joining Frank Robinson, Vlad Guerrero, Dave Winfield, Bob Boone, and Fred McGriff. Pretty cool.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights for the game. Here are the updated standings and postseason odds for the season. Also check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages, because they exist. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Astros continue this three-game set with the middle game Tuesday night. Ivan Nova and Dallas Keuchel is the scheduled pitching matchup. Keuchel’s a tough assignment for a struggling offense. Head over to RAB Tickets if you want to catch that game or Wednesday’s series finale at Yankee Stadium.

DotF: Sanchez homers again; Amburgey stays crazy hot

OF Trey Amburgey and RHP Domingo Acevedo were named the Short Season NY-Penn League Offensive Player and Pitcher of the Week, respectively. Also, LHP Chaz Hebert was named the High-A Florida State League Pitcher of the Week. Congrats to all of those games.

The minor league regular season ends two weeks from today for most affiliates, so here’s a standings update.

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 loss to Pawtucket) they’re 73-56 and 6.5 games up in the North Division … their magic number is nine

  • LF Ben Gamel & 2B Rob Refsnyder: both 0-4 — Gamel struck out twice
  • 3B Jose Pirela: 1-3
  • C Gary Sanchez: 1-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K — ties his career high with 18 homers
  • CF Aaron Judge: 0-3, 1 K
  • 1B Austin Romine: 2-3
  • LHP Eric Wooten: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 6/1 GB/FB — 50 of 77 pitches were strikes (65%)
  • RHP Chris Martin: 1.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 26 of 41 pitches were strikes (63%)
  • RHP Nick Goody: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 14 of 20 pitches were strikes (70%) … 79/21 K/BB in 58.1 innings

[Read more…]

Game 124: Home Field Disadvantage

They need the rally pigeon back. (Al Bello/Getty)
They need the rally pigeon back. (Al Bello/Getty)

That weekend series against the Indians was pretty rough. One win in four tries and two of the losses were one-run losses. Blah. The Yankees have been much better at home (36-24, +52 run differential) than on the road (32-31, +15 run differential) overall this year, but not this month. They’ve won one six of 13 home games this month. That ain’t gonna cut it. The Yankees need to clean up at home the rest of the way.

The Astros, who are in the Bronx for a three-game series this week, are another team with a drastic home/road split. They’re 45-21 with a +71 run differential at home but only 24-35 with a +11 run differential on the road. This series is in Yankee Stadium and the Yankees are great at home while the Astros stink on the road. What could go wrong? Here is Houston’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

Pretty nice night for a ballgame in the Bronx. It’s a little cloudy out and there is a tiny little chance of rain, but nothing serious. I’m not worried about it. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin just after 7pm ET and you can watch on WPIX locally and MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy.

Injury Update: Mark Teixeira (leg) said he thinks he could pinch-hit today, but running is still an issue. He took batting practice right-handed today and the Yankees will face the lefty Dallas Keuchel tomorrow, which probably isn’t a coincidence … Dustin Ackley (back) also took batting practice today. He could begin a minor league rehab assignment later this week.

Roster Update: In case you missed it earlier, CC Sabathia was placed on the 15-day DL and Chris Capuano was brought back.