Game 82: Independence Day

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Happy birthday, America. What better way to celebrate our nation’s independence than by beating the one MLB team not stationed in the good ol’ US-of-A? The Yankees beat the Blue Jays in last night’s series opener and now they’re trying to win back-to-back games for the first time in three weeks. It’s been far too long.

Anyway, the Yankees are starting to get healthier, folks. CC Sabathia and Adam Warren are both back from the disabled list. Sabathia is starting this afternoon’s game and Warren is available in the bullpen. The Yankees could really use the pitching help. Getting Warren back will be particularly helpful given the recent bullpen issues. Beat the Blue Jays. It’s the American way. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. DH Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. 1B Chris Carter
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. RF Clint Frazier
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s a lovely day for baseball in New York. Nice and sunny with only a few clouds in the sky. Not exceedingly hot either. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Starlin Castro (hamstring) took ground balls and hit in the cage today. He is making progress but is unlikely to return before the All-Star break … Matt Holliday (illness) is feeling better.

Roster Moves: To make room for Sabathia and Warren, the Yankees sent Domingo German and Bryan Mitchell down to Triple-A Scranton. Luis Cessa remains as with the team as the stretched out long man. German needs to pitch. He hasn’t been doing much of that the last few weeks.

Final Vote Update: Gregorius is currently third in the Final Vote voting, MLB announced this morning. Mike Moustakas is the leader (duh) and Xander Bogaerts is in second. Here’s the ballot. Voting ends Thursday afternoon.

Game 80: Win the series, please

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

Just imagine. If not for a pair of Dellin Betances meltdowns, the Yankees would be coming into today’s road trip finale with a 5-1 record in the first six games, and they’d be trying for a sweep of the first place Astros. Alas. The bullpen has been a mess for a solid month now, and now even Betances is having problems.

Last night’s loss stunk, though the Yankees still have a chance to clinch a series win today, and they have their best pitcher on the mound. The Yankees haven’t won a series — or back-to-back games! — since annihilating the Orioles at Yankee Stadium three weeks ago. It’s been far too long. Gotta start picking up those series wins to get anywhere. Here is the Astros’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. DH Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 1B Chris Carter
  8. 2B Tyler Wade
  9. LF Clint Frazier
    RHP Luis Severino

It’s a hot one in Houston and that means the Minute Maid Park roof will be closed yet again. This afternoon’s series finale will begin at 2:10pm ET. YES and MLB Network will have the broadcast. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Adam Warren (shoulder) threw a simulated game today and everything went well. He could be activated Tuesday. Hopefully that means Domingo German will go to the minors and actually pitch once in a while.

Game 76: Save Us, Masahiro

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Five days ago Masahiro Tanaka chucked his second best start of the season. He struck out nine Rangers in eight scoreless innings, and looked like the Masahiro Tanaka we saw most of last season. It was awesome. We haven’t seen enough of that guy this year. The Yankees are going to need him tonight, because the lineup is short and the bullpen is taxed (again). The Yankees are capital-R Reeling. Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. 1B Austin Romine
  7. DH Miguel Andujar
  8. LF Tyler Wade
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cloudy in Chicago and there’s a bunch of rain in the forecast too. The rain is supposed to start right about now, and continue for a little while. We might be looking at a delay or two here. That’s not good. Hopefully the forecast is wrong. Tonight’s game is scheduled to start a little after 8pm ET. You’ll be able to watch on YES. Try to enjoy.

Injury Updates: Matt Holliday was placed on the 10-day disabled list with what the Yankees are calling a viral infection. He’s going back to New York for tests. The move is retroactive to Sunday, so Holliday can return as soon as next Tuesday … CC Sabathia (hamstring) will throw a simulated game tomorrow. If it goes well, I wonder whether he’ll be activated right away, or throw one more simulated game … Adam Warren (shoulder) threw 20 pitches in the bullpen. He’ll do that again in the coming days, and it’s possible he could be activated without going on a minor league rehab assignment … Tyler Austin (hamstring) could be headed to the disabled list … Greg Bird (ankle) worked out with Triple-A Scranton today, though he still has soreness and swelling. Joe Girardi acknowledged there is concern Bird may not make it back this year.

Roster Move: As expected, Andujar was called up. Duh. He’s in the lineup. He replaced Holliday on the roster. Told you this would happenChris Carter cleared waivers and accepted his outright assignment to Triple-A, the Yankees announced. So he’s still in the organization as a non-40-man roster player.

A calm, rational discussion about the Yankees’ dumpster fire of a bullpen

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In a season full of ugly bullpen meltdowns, the Yankees hit a new low last night. Three relievers combined to walk six of 13 batters faced, and another was hit by a pitch. Dellin Betances, working for the third straight day, couldn’t protected a one-run lead against the bottom of the lineup. Why was he working for the third straight day? Because he had to bail out Jonathan Holder with a five-run lead (!) Monday night.

Holder was sent down prior to yesterday’s game, though by then the damage had been done. Betances had to pitch Monday night and Holder himself has helped blow a few games these last few weeks. He’s not the only problem though. Hardly. He’s part of the problem. Not the problem. Here is the bullpen in June:

4.56 ERA
4.55 FIP
25.2 K%
12.3 BB%
1.29 HR/9

Can’t win like that. Can’t be done. Not with starters throwing fewer and fewer innings each passing season. Bullpens are far too important to get that performance for a month and come out unscathed. The Yankees were four games up in the AL East as recently as 16 days ago and now they’re one game back, and they’re lucky they’re still that close. June has been a terrible month for the Yankees overall and especially the relief crew.

So what do the Yankees do now? It’s easy to say they should designated this guy for assignment, send down that other guy, and call up those two prospects I really like. I wish it were that easy. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman surely wish it was as well. Want to get this bullpen on track? Here are some possibly fixes.

1. Eight is too many. The Yankees have been carrying eight relievers for weeks now and I think it’s that’s too many. Even with a seven-man bullpen, that last guy gets used maybe once a week. Domingo German was brought into the eighth inning of a two-run game last night after pitching once in the previous nine days. How could you expect a kid who has never been a reliever before to be sharp after that layoff?

Removing an arm from the bullpen seems counterintuitive when no one can protect a damn lead, but less is often more. Shorten the staff to your seven best arms and make sure they each get enough work to stay sharp and ready to go. There’s a fine line between regular work and overwork, but Girardi is generally pretty good at toeing that line. Pick your seven best arms and let them carry the load. Eighth relievers only get used in blowouts, and in situations they’re unqualified to pitch, like German last night.

2. Get Betances to go back to the fastball. En route to blowing that game last night, Betances threw 21 pitches, and 13 of them were curveballs. Only six of the 13 were strikes too. Dellin has a great curveball! He’s also been leaning on it way too much lately. From Brooks Baseball:

dellin-betances-pitch-selection

This is something that goes back to last year. It’s not necessarily new. Throwing all those curveballs is fine when Betances can drop it in for strikes, but lately throwing it for strikes has been a problem, and he’s not adjusting. He’s been trying to force it in there anyway. Not good!

“I have to be able to rely on my fastball more. Probably got too breaking ball happy,” said Betances to Erik Boland following last night’s game, so he’s aware that all these curveballs can be a problem. Dellin has a great fastball. He was working for a third straight night last night and the pitch still averaged 97.5 mph and topped out at 98.2 mph.

Betances doesn’t have to shelve the curveball entirely. That would be silly. But I think he needs to start using his fastball more often — he’s at his best when he has close to a 50-50 mix a la 2014 and 2015 — because a) his heater is so good he’ll get swings and misses with it, and b) it’ll help keep hitters off the breaking ball.

3. Give Webb a shot. The Yankees have been trying to dig up a reliable left-handed middle reliever since last season and, for a while, Tommy Layne did the job. Chasen Shreve has been the guy last few weeks and he’s had his moments. He hasn’t been able to get back to where he was in the first half of 2014 and chances are he never will, though he has been better this season. Good, not great.

Webb is by no means a budding shutdown reliever — or maybe he is! — though the tools are there for him to contribute, and as something more than a left-on-left matchup guy too. He’s low-90s with the fastball and he throws both a slider and changeup regularly. It’s a starter’s repertoire in the bullpen. Webb throws strikes — he has a 34.1% strikeout rate and a 2.2% walk rate in Triple-A this year — and what more could you ask? Girardi would have killed for a reliever who could throw strikes last night.

Layne fizzled out and Shreve isn’t good enough to keep a middle relief spot uncontested. Webb did everything he had to do at Triple-A over the last four years, and the Pirates saw enough to give him a look in Spring Training as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Given the bullpen issues, the time to give the 26-year-old a chance is now. If it works, wonderful. If not, then you move on to the next guy. The Yankees have been there, done that with Layne and Shreve.

4. Consider Adams. I’m ready for the Yankees to stick Chance Adams, their top Triple-A pitching prospect, in the big league bullpen. I made this argument last week. Adams was a reliever in college and in his first partial season of pro ball, so he’s familiar with the role. He misses bats and he’s said to be a tough as nails competitor, and that’s never a bad thing. Adams has had success at Triple-A and there are plenty of reasons to believe he’s ready to help in some capacity.

Adams. (Presswire)
Adams. (Presswire)

I get that people are squeamish about putting a top starting pitcher prospect in the bullpen, but it’s really not that big a deal. Teams have been breaking in their young arms as relievers for decades. I know the Yankees seemed to botch things with Joba Chamberlain, but Luis Severino was in the bullpen last year, and look at him now. Severino doesn’t become the pitcher he is today without that stint in the bullpen last season. I absolutely believe that.

Putting Adams in the bullpen allows him to get his feet wet at the MLB level and learn how to get big leaguers out. That’s valuable experience! That will help a) the Yankees win games right now, and b) Adams succeed as a starter going forward. The Yankees could break him in as a reliever this year and consider him a rotation candidate next season. That is a perfectly reasonable development plan.

5. Be patient. Okay, this won’t be easy, but the Yankees have to remain patient and not completely tear things down because of a bad month. Overreacting is never good. The bullpen isn’t actually this bad. At least I don’t think it is. The relievers are in a collective funk right now. It happens. They can make some changes (Webb, Adams, etc.) though overall, they still need Betances and Aroldis Chapman to be their rocks, and Tyler Clippard to be not awful.

Adam Warren is expected back from the disabled list next week and he’ll going to help as long as his shoulder stays healthy. That’s tricky, but Warren has never not been solid for the Yankees. Also, Chad Green seems to be coming into his own as a reliever, so within a few weeks he could really find his footing and take off as a dominant bullpen arm. Making tweaks at this point makes sense. There’s also something to be said for trusting the guys in the bullpen to sort things out soon. We know these guys can be reliable because they were just a few weeks ago.

* * *

The Yankees are 11-14 overall in June — they’ve outscored their opponents by 39 runs this month, underscoring the general stupidity of baseball — and the bullpen is a big reason why. It’s not the only reason. Definitely not. But it is the reason that is most smacking us in the face. The offense has vanished for long stretches of time and the starters haven’t been great either. Don’t get me started on the baserunning either. Goodness. Those outs on the bases added up.

The bullpen situation, however, is not getting better. It’s getting worse. Just when you think they can’t sink to a new low, they go out and do what they did last night. The Yankees aren’t going anywhere with the bullpen performing like this. Changing some personnel, changing some roles, and changing some pitch selection could go a long way to getting things straightened out. And, if it doesn’t, the Yankees will have no choice but to really shake things up and go outside the organization for help.

Game 74: Split vs. Reverse Split

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Tonight the Yankees open a four-game series with the White Sox in Chicago, where they are undefeated so far this season. They swept three games from the Cubs back in May. Remember that? It was awesome. Brett Gardner hit that insanely clutch ninth inning home run in the first game and the Yankees outlasted the defending World Series champs during the 18-inning game on ESPN in the last game. Good times.

Tonight left-hander Jordan Montgomery will face baseball’s very best hitting team against left-handed pitchers. Their combined batting line: .307/.370/.474 (125 wRC+). Big right-handed power bats like Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Matt Davidson, and Avisail Garcia explain that. Montgomery, however, has a reverse split. He has a 3.43 FIP against righties and a 6.72 FIP against lefties. The best lefty hitting team in baseball against a lefty who gets righties out. Intrigue! Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Gary Sanchez
  5. 1B Tyler Austin
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

It is cloudy and cool in Chicago this evening, and, of course, windy. Lots of wind. Tonight’s series opener will begin at 8:10pm ET and WPIX will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: As you can see, Ellsbury is back. He was activated off the disabled list earlier today. The Yankees also officially placed Aaron Hicks on the 10-day DL with an oblique strain and sent down both Mason Williams and Tyler Webb. Ronald Herrera and Rob Refsnyder were called up. So that’s Hicks, Williams, and Webb out, Ellsbury, Herrera, and Refsnyder in.

Injury Update: Matt Holliday (allergic reaction) was sent to see a doctor and is not available tonight … Greg Bird (ankle) is with Triple-A Scranton. He’s going to take batting practice with them the next few days. I imagine he’ll begin another minor league rehab assignment with the RailRiders if things go well … Castro (wrist) is feeling better after his cortisone shot. He said he originally hurt the wrist on multiple check swings … Adam Warren (shoulder) played catch over the weekend and is tentatively scheduled to throw a bullpen later this week. He hopes to be back in time for the homestand next week.

All-Star Voting Update: MLB released their final fan voting update earlier today and Judge remains the leading vote-getter in the AL. His 3,442,597 votes are second only to Bryce Harper’s 3,617,444 among all players. Pretty cool. Sanchez (second), Castro (second), Didi Gregorius (third), Matt Holliday (fourth), and Gardner (ninth) are also getting votes at their positions. Here’s the ballot. Voting ends Thursday and the All-Star rosters will be announced Sunday. Also, Judge said he still hasn’t decided whether to participate in the Home Run Derby. (It’s an easy yes, dude.)

Game 72: Mess with Texas

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

Hey, the Yankees have won two of three! And they could have won the third game too! Things are looking up. They’re still in first place, Masahiro Tanaka pitched well last night, Tyler Austin has arrived … it could be worse. Hopefully Austin rakes right away. Would be nice to add a little more length to the lineup.

Anyway, this afternoon the Yankees have a chance to do something they haven’t done in two weeks: win a series! The last series win was that depantsing of the Orioles. Winning series is the name of the game. Keep winning series and things will work out. Get the series win today, go for the sweep tomorrow. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Mason Williams
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 1B Tyler Austin
  8. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  9. C Austin Romine
    RHP Luis Cessa

The rain came and went this morning, and now there’s a bright blue sky above New York. Nice afternoon for a ballgame. Today’s game will start at 1:05pm ET and both YES and MLB Network will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury (concussion) will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Triple-A Scranton tonight … Adam Warren (shoulder) played catch for the first time since being placed on the disabled list and everything went fine.

Roster Update: Chance Adams was in the clubhouse this afternoon … to pick up a passport. He’s not being added to the roster. There are no Canadian teams in the Triple-A International League and the Yankees don’t visit the Blue Jays again until mid-August. Minor leaguers need their passports at all times though. You never know when you’ll get traded and have to show up in Toronto. I’m kinda surprised Adams didn’t have one already.

Game 71: Win a game this isn’t funny anymore

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Okay, I’m sick of this losing business. It’s been going on too long. Yeah, the Yankees won two days ago, but they let another winnable game slip away last night, and that’s been happening far too often the last two weeks. The Yankees have been beating themselves too much. Last night it was the errors. Last week it was the bullpen. Stop it, dudes. You’re better than this.

Anyway, Masahiro Tanaka is back on the mound tonight as the Yankees try to figure out why he’s pitching like Javy Vazquez and not the Masahiro Tanaka we saw from 2014-16. I’ll settle for “pitch well enough to win” tonight. Can Tanaka just do that, please? Man, I hope so. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. C Gary Sanchez
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 1B Chris Carter
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cloudy and humid in New York, which usually means rain. The heaviest stuff isn’t coming until early tomorrow morning. There are some showers on the way later tonight, though it doesn’t look like it’ll be anything heavy enough to delay the game. We’ll see. Tonight’s series opener will begin at 7:05pm ET and both YES and MLB Network will have the broadcast. Try to enjoy.

Injury Updates: Chase Headley (back) received an epidural and will be out a few days. Until then, Austin Romine is the backup infielder … Jacoby Ellsbury (concussion) passed the concussion protocol. He’s been taking batting practice and the Yankees are planning his rehab assignment … CC Sabathia (hamstring) threw a bullpen session today for the first time since going on the disabled list … Adam Warren (shoulder) will begin throwing tomorrow.

Update (6:51pm ET): The game will not start on time. Stupid rain. The new start time is TBA.

Update (8:05pm ET): The game is scheduled to begin at 8:40pm ET, so says the Yankees.