Game 41: Slade’s Debut

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This day has been a long-time coming. The Yankees selected Slade Heathcott out of a Texas high school with the 29th pick in the 2009 draft — the compensation pick they received for failing to sign Gerrit Cole in 2008 — and tonight he can finally say he’s a big leaguer. To say the road from Texarkana to the Bronx was rocky would be a massive understatement.

Heathcott, now 24, had a turbulent upbringing and hit rock bottom soon after being drafted, when he battled alcoholism and even missed a flight to Instructional League because he’d been out drinking. The Yankees sent Heathcott to Alcoholics Anonymous in April 2010, and while that helped him deal with his substance abuse issues, Slade’s body started to betray him. Multiple knee and shoulder surgeries limited Heathcott to 306 minor league games from 2010-14. He played nine last year due to knee problems.

Now, after being non-tendered in the offseason and returning to the organization on a minor league contract, Heathcott is with the Yankees, having impressed in Spring Training and again during his stint with Triple-A Scranton. It has been almost six years since the Yankees drafted Heathcott, and during those six years he went from multimillionaire first round pick to an underdog. Tonight, all the hard work finally pays off. He’s in the show. Give ’em hell, Slade.

Here is the Nationals lineup — Jordan Zimmermann is starting for Washington, not A.J. Cole, so boo to that — and here is the Yankees lineup. Heathcott is on the bench for his first game:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Carlos Beltran
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. 2B Stephen Drew
  7. CF Chris Young
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. RHP Adam Warren

It’s cloudy and cool in Washington, so not perfect weather, but there won’t be any rain. That’s coming tomorrow. The Yankees are getting out of town just in time. Tonight’s game will start a bit after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Moves: As expected, Chase Whitley (elbow) was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for Heathcott, the Yankees announced. The team still has another 60-day DL candidate in Brendan Ryan (calf, hamstring) should they need another 40-man spot.

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) said the injury is to the outside of his knee and he is wearing a brace. He’ll see the team doctor on Friday and they won’t know his timetable until then. For what it’s worth, Joe Girardi said the injury is “not something that requires surgery” … Ivan Nova (elbow) threw four innings and 42 pitches in an Extended Spring Training game on Monday. He’ll make another ExST start on Saturday and could begin an official 30-day minor league rehab stint after that … Ryan has resumed baseball activities in Tampa.

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Injury Updates: Tanaka, Nova, Capuano, Ryan, Lail

Same. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Same. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

The Yankees and Rays continue their four-game series with the second game at Tropicana Field later tonight. Until then, here are some updates on injured Yankees, courtesy of Chad Jennings, George King, and Bryan Hoch.

  • Masahiro Tanaka (wrist, forearm) threw a 30-pitch bullpen session as scheduled this afternoon. It was his first time throwing off a mound since landing on the DL two weeks ago. Tanaka threw all of his pitches and everything went well. The Yankees are going to see how he feels tomorrow before determining the next step.
  • Ivan Nova (elbow) threw 33 pitches in an Extended Spring Training game earlier today. Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild were among those in attendance at the team’s complex in Tampa. “I was a little bit excited. It felt like I was doing too much. I guess I was trying to impress the manager and the pitching coach. I don’t know why,” said Nova, who will pitch in another ExST game on Monday.
  • Chris Capuano (quad) is scheduled to throw six innings and 90 pitches for Triple-A Scranton tonight. It’ll be his third and maybe last minor league rehab game. “We shouldn’t really need to see much more than that,” said Girardi. “We’ll make that determination on how he feels, but it’s possible (he could be activated for his next start), yeah.”
  • Brendan Ryan (calf, hamstring) was able to take batting practice yesterday. There’s still no firm timetable for a rehab assignment, let alone a return from the DL. Ryan started the season on the DL with a calf injury before pulling his hamstring a few days ago.
  • Brady Lail, who was hit in the head by a line drive in last night’s Double-A Trenton game, said he is fine on Twitter. Seems like he escaped with no major injuries, which is a minor miracle. Great news. That was scary.

Injury Updates: Nova, Pirela, Capuano, Ryan

Pirela. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Pirela. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

The Yankees and Tigers will play the third game of their four-game series a little later tonight. Until then, here are some injury updates via Marly Rivera, George King, Chad Jennings, and the Associated Press.

  • Ivan Nova (elbow) threw two innings of live batting practice yesterday. He threw 20 pitches, sat down for a few minutes, then threw 15 more pitches. Nova is scheduled to pitch in a simulated game on Friday, which will be his first game action of any sort since having Tommy John surgery last April. He’s on track to return in June.
  • Jose Pirela (concussion) went 1-for-3 with a hit-by-pitch in an Extended Spring Training game on Monday, which was his first game action since getting hurt. He played third base and stayed in the game after getting plunked. Pirela is scheduled to play seven innings at second base today.
  • Chris Capuano (quad) is scheduled to throw two innings in an Extended Spring Training game today. It’ll be his first game action since getting hurt in Spring Training. Capuano is looking at a mid-May return at the moment.
  • Brendan Ryan (calf) was able to field ground balls and take batting practice yesterday. I believe that is the first time he’s done any sort of baseball activity since getting hurt in Spring Training.

Injury Updates: Gardner, Nova, Capuano, Pirela, Ryan

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

The Yankees and Rays continue their series later tonight, so, until then, there are some updates on various injured Yankees courtesy of Chad Jennings, Bryan Hoch, and the Associated Press:

  • Brett Gardner (wrist) was going to stay in last night’s game to hit after pinch-running, if necessary. “I was prepared if my spot came up in the ninth to get a normal at-bat and get up there and swing the bat,” he said. Gardner came through several rounds of batting practice just fine and should return to the lineup today.
  • Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) threw 20 pitches in his second live batting practice session yesterday. “I’m getting closer. Feels awesome,” he said. Nova expects to throw batting practice two more times next week before getting back into games. Joe Girardi said they’re shooting for May 1st for Nova’s first minor league rehab start.
  • Chris Capuano (quad) threw live batting practice Thursday and will do so again tomorrow. Girardi said Nova and Capuano are “pretty close” with regards to their timetable, but Capuano is “slightly ahead.”
  • Jose Pirela (concussion) is going through all drills and hit against Capuano on Thursday. He’ll play in an Extended Spring Training game on Monday. Girardi was noncommittal when asked if Pirela will join the big league team once healthy.
  • Brendan Ryan (calf) “might” go to Tampa next week to begin going through baseball workouts. It depends how he feels in the coming days.

Game Seven: Big Mike in Baltimore

BIG MIKE IS HERE

The Yankees needed last night’s win in the worst way and they have the right guy on the mound tonight to help turn that singular win into the start of a winning streak. With Masahiro Tanaka not pitching like 2014 Masahiro Tanaka at the moment, Michael Pineda is the staff ace, the one starter with no real performance concerns. It’s all health with him.

Alex Rodriguez is making his first start of the season at third base and I like that Joe Girardi is sending him out there during a Pineda start. Big Mike is not a ground ball pitcher (career 37.4% grounder rate), he’s a pop-up pitcher, so A-Rod‘s lack of range won’t be as much of an issue with him on the mound. I’m sure Buck Showalter will have one of his guys bunt towards third though. Maybe even Alejandro De Aza leading off the game. Here’s the starting lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. 3B Alex Rodriguez
  6. RF Chris Young
  7. C John Ryan Murphy
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Gregorio Petit
    RHP Michael Pineda

The Yankees are in Baltimore to start a three-game series with the Orioles. Here is the O’s lineup.

It is on the cool side (mid-60s) and, as always, humid as hell in Baltimore. There is some rain in the forecast but not until later tonight, after midnight or so. It shouldn’t be an issue unless they play another 19 innings or something. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and you can watch on WPIX locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the game.

Daily Roster Move: RHP Kyle Davies was designated for assignment and RHP Joel De La Cruz was called up, the Yankees announced. De La Cruz threw three innings for Double-A Trenton on Friday and should be good for a few innings of long relief today, if necessary. He’s the guy the Yankees tried to send to the Cubs for Alfonso Soriano rather than Corey Black two years ago.

Injury Update: Jose Pirela (concussion) has been cleared to resume baseball activities and should begin playing in games next week. Brendan Ryan (calf) is making progress and hopes to return to the team in early May. [Ryan Hatch, Dan Barbarisi]

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster with latest round of roster moves

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

3:25pm: The Yankees have officially announced their Opening Day roster. It is exactly as presented below. No surprises.

10:00am: The Opening Day roster has been slowly coming together over the last several weeks, and yesterday afternoon the Yankees made the roster all but official with their latest round of moves, including Austin Romine being designated for assignment. Here is the 25-man roster the Yankees will take into the regular season tomorrow:

CATCHERS (2)
Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy

INFIELDERS (7)
Stephen Drew
Didi Gregorius
Chase Headley
Garrett Jones
Gregorio Petit
Alex Rodriguez
Mark Teixeira

OUTFIELDERS (4)
Carlos Beltran
Brett Gardner
Jacoby Ellsbury
Chris Young

STARTERS (5)
Nathan Eovaldi
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Masahiro Tanaka
Adam Warren

RELIEVERS (7)
Dellin Betances
David Carpenter
Chris Martin
Andrew Miller
Esmil Rogers
Chasen Shreve
Justin Wilson

DISABLED LIST (4)
Chris Capuano (quad) — retroactive to March 27th
Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) — retroactive to March 27th
Jose Pirela (concussion) — retroactive to April 2nd
Brendan Ryan (calf) — retroactive to April 1st

Pirela was placed on the 7-day concussion DL while Capuano, Nova, and Ryan were all placed on the regular old 15-day DL. Petit takes Romine’s spot on the 40-man roster, which is full. The Yankees can transfer Nova to the 60-day DL whenever they need another 40-man spot since he’s not expected to return until June. Romine, Petit, and the DL assignments were the moves announced yesterday.

Despite those injuries, the Yankees made it through Spring Training as the healthiest team in the AL East, just as we all expected. The rest of the roster is pretty straight forward. Warren was named the fifth starter a few days ago and it was clear Shreve and Martin were going to make the Opening Day roster once Chase Whitley was optioned to Triple-A. Joe Girardi is planning to use Betances and Miller as co-closers to start the season, which is pretty cool. Hopefully it works as planned. Carpenter and Wilson figure to be the sixth and seventh inning guys.

As always, the 25-man roster is going to change throughout the course of the season. Quite a bit too. Petit figures to be replaced by Pirela or Ryan, whoever gets healthy first, and those bullpen spots belonging to Shreve and Martin could be revolving doors given the team’s relief pitcher depth. That includes Capuano, who could wind up working in relief if Warren fares well as the fifth starter. For now, this is the group of Yankees to start the new season.

Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela injuries don’t leave Yankees many backup infielder options

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By and large, the Yankees have made it through Spring Training without any major injuries to significant players. Chris Capuano will miss a few weeks with a quad strain, and while it’s never a good thing to lose pitching depth, he is replaceable. Brendan Ryan suffered a Grade II calf strain yesterday and had to be literally carried off the field. He’s not going to be ready in time for Opening Day, which is now only four days away. Not by a long shot.

Losing Ryan in and of itself is not a big deal, but the middle infield injuries are starting to pile up. Didi Gregorius has missed the last few days with a wrist sprain and is scheduled to return to game action this afternoon, so at least he’s on the mend. Jose Pirela has not done anything more than ride a stationary bike after crashing into the outfield wall ten days ago and suffering a concussion. Thankfully everything seems to be going well with Didi’s wrist, but Ryan and Pirela being hurt at the same time means the Yankees need a new backup infielder. Their options are pretty limited with Opening Day right around the corner. Let’s run ’em down.

A-Rod at Shortstop?

A-Rod mustache

Nope. Moving on …

The Stephen Drew/Rob Refsnyder Option

The Yankees have insisted Drew is a second baseman, so much so that he’s played zero innings at shortstop during Grapefruit League play. That’ll change today though. Drew is slated to play shortstop during one of the team’s split squad games this afternoon — for what it’s worth, he said he feels he could pick shortstop back up quickly — just so he could be an option in case Didi’s wrist issue lingers.

Following Ryan’s injury yesterday, Joe Girardi told reporters the Yankees could go into the season with Drew as their backup plan at shortstop and carry a second baseman as the backup infielder. That’s about as close as Girardi could come to saying Refsnyder is a candidate for the backup infielder’s job without actually saying it.

“Things can happen quick,” said the skipper to Chad Jennings. “I think a lot of clubs hold their breath this time of year that you leave camp the way you are. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you’ve got to deal with it … Didi and Drew are healthy, so we’re going to have to look at probably more of a second baseman in a sense. You could look at a second baseman more than a shortstop because you have two shortstops.”

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Refsnyder’s bat would be a welcome addition to the bench, but, as we’ve seen this spring, his defense is far from MLB ready. I don’t think the Yankees want to go through the hassle of adding Refsnyder to the 40-man roster* only to have him sit on the bench four out of every five games either. That doesn’t help his development or the team. And no, like it or not Refsnyder wouldn’t take over as the starting second baseman. They’ve made that very clear.

So yes, using Drew as the backup shortstop and carrying Refsnyder as the backup second baseman is an option, but not an ideal one. The 40-man issue is not insignificant — once Refsnyder is added he won’t come off, so flexibility would be hurt — and the Yankees would need to feel confident in Alex Rodriguez as Chase Headley‘s backup at third base. At this point of his career, I don’t see what good being a part-time player does for Refsnyder.

* The 40-man roster is indeed full. The official site shows 39 players but is missing Tyler Austin for whatever reason. Ivan Nova is a 60-day DL candidate, so that’s one easy-to-open spot.

Other Internal Candidates

Beyond Refsnyder, the Yankees’ other internal backup infield options are Nick Noonan, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, and the recently acquired Gregorio Petit, the first three of whom were signed to minor league contracts for this exact reason. To be depth in case guys like Ryan and Pirela got hurt. Galvez hasn’t played the middle infield since the 2013 season, so he’s not a good reserve infielder candidate. The Yankees need someone who can play at least second base on the bench.

Figueroa is a contact machine, his bat-to-ball skills are top notch (10.0 BB% and 6.8 K% in nearly 1,200 Triple-A plate appearances), but he has zero power and isn’t much of a defender. Noonan can’t hit but he can defend, all around the infield too. Same with Petit. Figueroa and Noon are left-handed hitters, which isn’t ideal, but there’s nothing the Yankees can do about that. When it comes to this bench spot, I think the club would be better off with Noonan’s or Petit’s glove than Figueroa’s ability to put the ball in play.

Figueroa, Noonan, and Petit would have to be added to the 40-man roster, though, unlike Refsnyder, they don’t have to stay there. They could be designated for assignment whenever Pirela or Ryan gets healthy. These guys aren’t part of the long-term plan and wouldn’t hurt flexibility. There’s a big picture element to all of this the Yankees can’t ignore.

Florimon. (Presswire)
Florimon. (Presswire)

The Out of Options Market

We’ve reached the point of spring where players who are out of minor league options are starting to get traded (Sandy Leon) or placed on waivers (Cesar Puello). It figures to happen with Austin Romine soon too. There are very few out of options infielders for the Yankees to consider as temporary bench players. In fact, of all the infielders on MLBTR’s out of options list, only one is not expected to make his team’s Opening Day roster: Pedro Florimon.

The Pirates are expected to waive Florimon soon, and while he’s a quality defender at short, he has basically no experience at second (nine games in the minors) or third (eleven games in the minors) bases and absolutely can not hit. He’s Ryan without the versatility, basically. The Rays just released Alexi Casilla to avoid paying him the $100,000 retention bonus as an Article XX(B) free agent, so perhaps he’s an option. Casilla’s a more versatile, less defense-y version of Florimon.

Point is, there aren’t many readily available infield options for the Yankees to consider during Ryan’s absence, hence the Petit trade. The Yankees didn’t get someone better because no one better is available. There’s a real dearth of quality infielders in baseball these days. Even replacement level guys are hard to find right now. The Yankees could pick up Florimon and/or Casilla for depth, just to have the extra body around, but they aren’t any sort of upgrade over what they have in house right now.

* * *

As fun as it would be to see Refsnyder on the Opening Day roster, I don’t see the point in carrying him as a bench player. He needs to play to improve his defense. Taking extra ground balls before games won’t help much either. Refsnyder needs game reps. Since Pirela seems to be on the mend, the Yankees can focus on a short-term replacement. I’d prefer Petit or Noonan but if they want Figueroa or Florimon or Casilla, fine, whatever. Either way, this player won’t see much playing time. Or shouldn’t, anyway. The Yankees only need a band-aid right now. Nothing more.