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I can’t remember the last time I looked forward to a regular season game as much I did Friday’s. Maybe Jesus Montero‘s debut a few years ago? I’m not sure. The Yankees got their first look at Masahiro Tanaka on Friday and he helped them to a 7-3 win in the series opener against the Blue Jays.
Masahiro My Hero
The start was not good. Tanaka began his Yankees career by serving up a homerun on his third Major League pitch, a hanging splitter to Melky Cabrera leading off the first inning. Not ideal. Tanaka rebounded to retire the next three batters, including strikeouts of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The Blue Jays pushed across two runs in the second inning with ground balls — one through the right side of the infield, one up the middle, and one through the left side. Mark Teixeira also made an error when he threw the ball away trying to get a force at second.
The first time through the lineup, the Blue Jays scored three runs and put four of nine men on base. After that, Tanaka allowed just two base-runners and retired 16 of the final 18 men he faced, including eight in a row at one point. We’ve been hearing about his makeup and all that for months, but we saw it in action in this game. Things were going poorly early on, but Tanaka didn’t get rattled at all. He settled down, got a groove, and cruised for his final five innings.
Tanaka’s final line was those three runs (two earned) on six hits and no walks in seven innings. He struck out eight (including Bautista twice) and got eight ground ball outs compared to five in the air. Sixty-five of his 97 pitches were strikes, including 13 swings and misses. Here is the pitch breakdown, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
- 45 fastballs, 29 strikes, two swings and misses
- 23 sliders, 15 strikes, three swings and misses
- 12 splitters, nine strikes, six swings and misses
- 11 curveballs, eight strikes, one swing and miss
- six cutters, four strikes, one swing and miss
Outside of sheer dominance, this was probably the next best thing. Tanaka showed the ability to shake off a bad start to the game and still give the team a quality outing, against a good lineup at that. It’s obvious he’s no Kei Igawa, right? If you were worried about that, you don’t need to be anymore. Hell of a first impression. Tanaka was pretty much as advertised and that’s very, very good. Can’t wait to see him in five days.
The Yankees jumped all over Blue Jays starter Dustin McGowan in the first inning, scoring two runs on five hits, all within the first six batters. Ichiro Suzuki struck out and Yangervis Solarte fouled out with the bases loaded, so they didn’t do as much damage as they could have in the inning. Such is life. Two runs is better than no runs.
Two innings later, the first official use of the new instant replay system in Yankees history contributed to a two-run rally. Ichiro appeared to beat out an infield single with two outs, but first base umpire Dana DeMuth called him out. Joe Girardi challenged — after the team’s video people gave him the thumbs up, of course — and the call was overturned. Solarte made the Jays pay by following the replay with a two-run double on a ball that I thought was a pop-up off the bat. It just kept going and going and going until it clanked off the wall. Hooray technology! It certainly helped the Yankees in this one.
The $153 Million Man
What a game for Jacoby Ellsbury. New York’s new leadoff hitter went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a walk, and two stolen bases, plus he robbed Dioner Navarro of a base hit with a nice sliding catch to end the sixth. The one out he made was a line drive back to the pitcher that Steve Delabar knocked down and threw over to first. Ellsbury took over the game and we’ve seen what that’s like from the other side. It’s much more fun when he does it wearing a Yankees uniform, no doubt about it. Great game by him.
Dellin Betances‘ control problems reared their ugly head as only three of his 13 pitches were strikes. He walked two of three batters faced. Matt Thornton retired both men he faced before that (struck out the only lefty) and David Robertson retired all three men he faced after that. Would have been nice for Betances to get those last three outs, but he was very wild and Girardi couldn’t take his chances. So it goes.
In case you missed it earlier, Teixeira left the game in the second inning with a right hamstring strain. Apparently he caught a spike in the turf while going after a foul ball. There is no word on the severity and if he has to miss more than a few days, the Yankees will be in some trouble. They don’t have a true backup first baseman on the roster and their Triple-A options (Russ Canzler, basically) aren’t great either.
The Yankees scored insurance runs in the eighth (Gardner single) and ninth (Solarte double). Gardner went 2-for-4 with a walk and stolen base while Solarte went 2-for-5 with two doubles off the wall. Something tells me he’s going to get another start on Saturday. Kelly Johnson went 2-for-5 with a triple, Ichiro went 3-for-5 with two infield singles, and Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Teixeira all singled in a run. Dean Anna went 1-for-4 with a walk in his first career game, so congrats to him. Sixteen hits and four walks overall. Total team effort.
Because the first challenge was successful, Girardi got another one and he used it in the eighth to challenge Delabar’s play on Ellsbury. The replay confirmed he was out, but I liked the challenge there because there was a man on base and a chance to put together a big inning. That late in the game, it was unlikely to be needed later. I’d rather see Girardi roll the dice on a play like that than not use it.
The Yankees still have not hit a homerun yet this season. It’s the first time they failed to hit a homer in the first four games since 1990, when they didn’t hit their first longball until their eighth (!) game. I sure hope this team doesn’t wait that long to hit a dinger. I’ve been waiting for ‘em all winter.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings. The Yankees went from last place to third place today, so that’s cool.
Same two teams on Saturday afternoon, in the middle game of this three-game set. Michael Pineda will finally make his first start for the Yankees, more than two years after the trade that originally brought him to New York. He’ll be opposed by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
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.
Jose Ramirez | RHP
Ramirez is from the relatively small town of Yaguate, which is Michael Pineda‘s hometown and roughly 30 miles outside San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic. The Yankees signed him as a 17-year-old in 2007 to an unknown but small bonus. The size of the bonus wouldn’t be unknown if it was anything substantial. He was a low-profile signing.
The Yankees kept Ramirez in the Dominican Summer League for his first pro season in 2008. He managed a 4.15 ERA (3.25 FIP) in 39 innings while walking 18 and striking out 39. The club brought Ramirez stateside in 2009 and he pitched to a 1.41 ERA (3.07 FIP) in 64 innings for their Rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate. He struck out 55 and walked 16, and even made a one appearance cameo with High-A Tampa.
Assigned to Low-A Charleston to begin the 2010 season, Ramirez posted a 3.60 ERA (3.04 FIP) with 105 strikeouts and 42 walks in 115 innings before being shut down due to shoulder fatigue in August. He simply ran out of gas. The Yankees moved him up to High-A Tampa to open 2011 but that was a disaster (8.14 ERA and 4.23 FIP in 24.1 innings), so he returned to Charleston for the remainder of the season. Ramirez had a 4.78 ERA (4.17 FIP) with 74 strikeouts and 32 walks in 79 innings in his second tour of duty with the River Dogs and was again shut down in August, this time with an elbow/forearm problem.
Eric Jagielo | 3B
Jagielo (pronounced “ja-guy-low”) is from the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, where he lettered all four years in baseball at Downers Grove North High School. He hit .585/.676/1.137 with 17 doubles, 16 homers, 47 runs driven in, and 52 runs scored — school records across the board — with only four strikeouts as a senior and was named First Team All-State. Despite the production, Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank Jagielo as one of the 30 best prospects in the state for the 2010 draft. The Cubs selected him in the 50th round with the 1,510th overall pick, the 15th to last pick in the draft.
Jagielo declined to sign and instead followed through on his commitment to Notre Dame. He started all 53 games as a freshman for the Fighting Irish and was something of a super utility man, starting 30 games in left field, 15 in center field, six at first base, and two at third base. Jagielo hit .269/.355/.418 with 13 doubles, five homers, five stolen bases (in ten attempts), 25 walks, and 30 strikeouts that year, becoming the first freshman to hit third on Opening day for Notre Dame since 1988.
Greg Bird | 1B
Bird hails from Grandview High School just outside of Denver, where he played with current Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman. As scouts flocked to Colorado to see Gausman, Bird benefited from the increased exposure. He was named the state’s High School Player of the Year after hitting .533 with a dozen homeruns as a senior. Bird committed to Arkansas.
Prior to the 2011 draft, Baseball America (no subs. req’d) ranked Bird as the best prospect in Colorado but not as one of the 200 best draft prospects in the class. He was generally considered the type of player who would benefit from three years in college before turning pro. The Yankees felt differently and selected Bird with their fifth round pick, the 179th overall selection. They bought him away from the Razorbacks with a $1.1M bonus on signing deadline day, the largest bonus they gave to a draftee in 2011.
It has now been two full seasons since the trade, and Michael Pineda has yet to throw a single meaningful pitch for the Yankees. A torn labrum required surgery in May 2012 and sidelined him until July 2013, when he was activated off the DL and optioned to Triple-A for more seasoning. He was sidelined with shoulder stiffness a handful of starts later and was shut down for the year. That labrum injury is a career-changer.
“Michael Pineda finished healthy,” said Brian Cashman during his end-of-season press conference. “The biggest and most important thing [was] to allow Michael after, say, a 13-month rehab — or between rehab and pitching and stuff for well over a year straight plus — that the rest was the biggest thing that he’d benefit from. So obviously we shut him down as a healthy player in the end.”
Pineda will turn 25 in January and at this point, the Yankees have absolutely no idea what he can provide at the big league level. Andy McCullough spoke to a scout who saw Pineda in the minors this year and labeled him a “back-end” starter with a “sluggish demeanor” and “unreliable command and mechanics.” Was that the result of being exhausted after pitching and rehabbing for a year straight? I hope so, but I’m not very optimistic he will be able to get back to the form that allowed him post historically great strikeout and walk rates for a rookie pitcher in 2011.
“I was very happy with everything he did, so I certainly see him being able to [contribute in 2014],” said minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, who watched over Pineda’s rehab this summer, to McCullough. “I was happy with the way he located his fastball, with some life on it. He threw some good, sharp breaking balls. [He threw his] changeup with good depth and hand speed.”
In ten minor league games this year — two with High-A Tampa, two with Double-A Trenton, six with Triple-A Scranton — Pineda struck out 41 (23.8%) and walked 14 (8.4%) with a 3.32 ERA (~3.75 FIP) in 40.2 innings. Promising, no doubt about it, but you can’t really take too much from minor league games for a rehabbing pitcher. As the scout said to McCullough, Pineda often had to lean on his slider quite a bit to put away minor leaguers. If you want to see what he looks like these days, here’s video of his July 6th start with the RailRiders, his first start after being activated off the DL and officially optioned to the minors:
Minor league video isn’t exactly plentiful, so that’s the best we have. Here’s the rest of his 2013 video archive if you’re interested — it’s mostly interviews and fielding plays and one-batter clips. Still better than nothing I suppose. Pineda did throw a few nice sliders in the video above, for what it’s worth. Not much really; definitely not enough to make me feel any more confident in his ability to help the big league team next season.
“He’ll compete for a job in Spring Training.” added Cashman. “He’s got options and I don’t think it’s healthy for anybody to guarantee anything, so I’m not going to sit here just because he’s Michael Pineda and we have high hopes and say ‘hey, we can pencil him into our rotation.’ He’s got to obviously show that he can stay healthy, and that he’s effective while he’s pitching. We certainly hope that’s going to be the case, but I’m not going to sit here and guarantee anything on that either. It certainly would go a long way towards solving some problems if that was the case.”
Given the injury and how he finished the season, I think the Yankees have to go into next season expecting nothing from Pineda and taking whatever he gives them as a bonus. That was pretty much the case this year — it would be nice if threw a ton of innings and was effective, but they shouldn’t count on him to provide that. It seems likely the club will have at least one rotation spot up for grabs in camp, with guys like Pineda and Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren all competing for the job. If Pineda wins it, great. But he can’t stop them from looking for pitching help or be considering any kind of solution at this point.
Gary Sanchez | C
Raised in Santo Domingo, the largest city and capital of the Dominican Republic, Sanchez signed with the Yankees for $3M on the first day of the 2009 international signing period. He was 16 years old at the time, and it remains the largest signing bonus New York has ever given to an internationally signed amateur. Thanks to the spending restrictions implemented by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Sanchez figures to hold the record for the foreseeable future.
The Yankees skipped Sanchez over the Dominican Summer League and brought him stateside for his pro debut in 2010. He hit .353/.419/.597 (188 wRC) with six homers in 136 plate appearances with the rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate after a stint in Extended Spring Training, earning him top prospect honors in the circuit according to Baseball America. The Yankees bumped him up to Short Season Staten Island very briefly at the end of the season, and he played 30 of 47 total games at catcher. Both Baseball America (#30) and Keith Law (#68) ranked Sanchez as one of the 100 best prospects in baseball the next spring.
Blowing leads in the ninth inning is never a fun way to lose a game, especially when a pitcher throws away what would have been a double play ball. What is it with pitchers and throwing to second? They’re usually okay when going to first but I feel like the success rate when they go to second is like, 50%. Maybe less. Anyway, the five-game winning streak is over.
Mix & Matched
I didn’t particularly care for Joe Girardi‘s explanation about why David Robertson did not start the ninth inning — he was trying to stay away from him as long as possible after he pitched on Wednesday — but the bottom line is that Clay Rapada got a tailor made 1-6-3 double play ball and he threw it into center field. The pitching part of Girardi’s mixing and matching worked fine there, but the fielding part failed. It happens. It’s annoying, but what can you do.
Anyway, Robertson ended up recording three outs and throwing 15 pitches anyway, but not before he missed out and over the plate with a fastball that Dayan Viciedo hit for a go-ahead three-run homer. Girardi’s strength as a manager is his bullpen management, but there were just some weird decisions made in this one. If Robertson was available then use him to start the inning so he has a clean slate. He’s been off the DL for two weeks now, if they still have reservations about using him on back-to-back days then they should probably ask themselves if they rushed him back before he was ready.
Ivan Nova‘s pitching line — 7.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 6/9 GB/FB — looks an awful lot better than how he actually pitched. The White Sox made a ton of hard contact against him, especially early in the game. Nova escaped a first and third with no outs situation in the fourth because A.J. Pierzynski scorched a line drive right at Robinson Cano for a double play, Mark Teixeira made a diving stop to end the third, and Derek Jeter made a nice leaping catch in the fifth. If you watched the game on television, you saw an awful lot of 14 because Curtis Granderson had his back turned and was running down balls hit to deep center all night.
That said, sometimes a starting pitcher won’t have his best stuff and he has to fight through it. This was one of those games for Nova and he got some serious help from his defense. You need that sometimes during a 162-game season. Outside of Alejandro De Aza, who went 4-for-4 with a solo homer off Nova, Ivan kept the Yankees in the game and made pitches when he had too. Not everything needs to be micro-analyzed, Nova got lucky a number of times and that’s that.
The Yankees scored their first two runs on back-to-back doubles by Alex Rodriguez and Cano in the fifth before Teixeira plated an insurance run with a solo homer in the eighth. It wasn’t enough insurance, unfortunately. Scoring two runs in seven innings off some guy named Dylan Axelrod is quite annoying.
The top five hitters in the lineup went a combined 6-for-20 with three doubles and a homer while the other four hitters mustered just two singles and two walks in 16 trips to the plate. Granderson stole a base early in the game but I through Dewayne Wise waited to long to steal in the ninth. When you lead off the inning with a single down a run, you have to get to second as soon as possible so everyone else has as many chances to drive you in as possible.
Robertson and Rapada really blew it in the ninth, but Boone Logan — three-pitch strikeout of Adam Dunn — and Cody Eppley — four-pitch strikeout of Paul Konerko — really took care of business with the tying run in scoring position in the eighth. Eppley did allow a leadoff single to Alex Rios in the ninth, but Rapada muffed the double play ball.
The video isn’t up on MLB.com yet, but the Yankees visited a nursing home with Glamour Gals for Thursday’s HOPE Week event. Glamour Gals is an organization of volunteers who visit and spend time with seniors in nursing homes, building relationships with people who are easily neglected. Here’s the HOPE Week video archive, I’m sure the clip will be posted sometime overnight.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score, and ESPN the updated standings. The good news is that every AL East team other than the Red Sox lost on Thursday, so the Yankees didn’t see their lead in the division shrink. Boston is playing the Mariners out on the West Coast and is six back in the loss column anyway.
Game two of this four-game set will feature two pitchers who spent last season in the Yankees’ farm system. Adam Warren will make his big league debut for New York against the left-handed Jose Quintana, who signed with the ChiSox as a minor league free agent this past offseason. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to head up to the Stadium on Friday night.
As I said earlier, Joe Posada’s retirement press conference was nothing but first class today. The Yankees really did a wonderful job. The video above if Jorge’s statement on his retirement, but that was just a small part of the day. You can see basically the entire event — albeit broken up into small clips — at the YES Network’s site. Here’s the video archive.
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Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils are all playing tonight, but Time Warner customers like myself are still without MSG. Anyway, talk about whatever you want here. Except politics, that always gets messy.
Good times, good times. Here’s a link to the video archive, so you can relive all the glory of Game Six. Once you’re done with that, use this as your open thread. Game Three of the Taiwan All-Star Series will be on MLB Network at 9pm ET, but the game is on a delay and I can’t find a recap, so I have no idea what happened. Hopefully no one got hurt. Talk about whatever you like here, the thread is yours.
Discussion Topic: Rank the 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009 World Championships by awesomeness.