Choosing to anticipate good things from Nathan Eovaldi and CC Sabathia

Ed. Note: In addition to Katie and Sunny, we’ve also added Matt Imbrogno to the RAB roster. You know him from IIATMS. He’ll be contributing an article every Sunday. So think of him as a specialist. RAB’s LOOGY.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Just as much as any sport, if not more than any sport, baseball is one of anticipation; the action in the moment may not be constant and is over relatively quickly. In those hanging instants just before and just after contact, infinite possibilities exist. It’s those instants that bring us to the edge of our seats, bring our hands to our faces in excitement. They ready us for the joy or for the agony and they are where the beauty of baseball lies. In games, those instants are obviously short, fractions of a second. Even during the season, the anticipatory moments are relatively quick since teams play just about every day. Those simple facts of the game make the offseason seem even longer, giving us long, cold, miserably snowy months to build anticipation bit by bit. That anticipation is generally focused on new things: the new season, new players, new prospects. Such was the case regarding Nathan Eovaldi’s first start in pinstripes on Friday night.

Eovaldi carried with him from Miami and Los Angeles a reputation for being a bit of a project and that was definitely on display Friday; though he lit up the radar gun, he registered just one strikeout and five swings-and-misses and, as he’s done with some frequency in his career, gave up more hits than innings pitched. The non-fastballs he threw, as advertised, were certainly a work in progress as well. His performance didn’t change the fact that before the game, I was certainly feeling that aforementioned anticipation.

He came into that game as a new thing among new things. While we’d gotten used to his presence during Spring Training, he came to the Bronx as a relative stranger. He’d spent all of his career in the National League, either out on the West Coast with the Dodgers or in the relative obscurity with the Marlins, and did not face the Yankees in any interleague matchup. Aside from that “demographic” newness, Eovaldi’s the type of player you can dream on — a big, seemingly strong guy with a dynamite fastball (even if he does look like Carl Pavano). The anticipation I felt for him on Friday night will continue as the season wears on: Will he harness the breaking stuff? Will he stop giving up such hard contact? Will he put batters away and thus prevent Twitter from making Phil Hughes flashback jokes? Eovaldi has just as many questions around him, even if for different reasons, as does another pitcher whose 2015 debut I was anticipating highly: CC Sabathia.

Of course, the anticipation I felt for Sabathia on Thursday night was completely different than the anticipation I felt for Eovaldi on Friday night. Going into the game, I still felt a familiar optimism that I get when Sabathia pitches. It may not be deserved at this point, but for some reason, I still believe in CC. I liken it to the feeling I get when an even-slightly-diminished Alex Rodriguez comes to the plate: when he’s up there doing his thing, there’s the potential for something special to happen. Maybe this anticipation is a bit of misplaced nostalgia that will come crashing down on me as CC repeats his mostly disastrous last two seasons of pitching. But, on the other hand, however small that hand may be, I’m still anticipating a repeat of 2009-2012.

While we can’t repeat the past with Sabathia and we can’t tell the future with Eovaldi, this is the most anticipatory time in a sport driven by anticipation. I choose to anticipate good things for both Sabathia and Eovaldi.

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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.

The Summer of A-Rod: Looking At Upcoming Milestones [2015 Season Preview]

As Yankees fans, we’ve been fortunate to see a lot of historic moments over the years. Derek Jeter seemed to pass someone on some all-time list every other game last season. Mariano Rivera rewrote the record book for closers and others like Roger Clemens and Ichiro Suzuki had historic moments while passing through the Bronx.

The 2015 season is shaping up to be a good but not great milestone season for the Yankees. Some players will hit a few nice round numbers but we’re not going to see anything like we did with Jeter and Mariano the last few seasons. Well, that’s not true. The Yankees do have one all-time great close to reaching not one, but three historic milestones. The problem is everyone hates the guy.

As we get closer to wrapping up our season preview series, let’s look at some notable upcoming milestones. We’re only going to focus on the major, somewhat historical milestones though. No one really cares Andrew Miller is ten strikeouts away from 500 for his career, right? Right. Let’s get to it.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Summer of A-Rod

3,000th hit: 61 away
2,000th RBI: 31 away
660th home run: six away

Now that his suspension is over, Alex Rodriguez is able to continue his pursuit of some seriously historic milestones. With good health, he can become the 29th player in history with 3,000 hits and only the fourth ever with 2,000 RBI this season. He can also tie Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time homer list, triggering the first of his five $6M bonuses. Needless to say, the health part is far from guaranteed. Alex wasn’t particularly durable in the years immediately prior to the suspension, remember.

Here’s the coolest part: A-Rod could reach all three milestones on the same swing. It’s extremely unlikely to happen, but the math suggests it’s possible. One swing … bam. He gets his 3,000th hit, 2,000th RBI, and 660th homer all at once. It would be amazing. Jeter and Wade Boggs are the only players to go deep for their 3,000th hit, which is kinda funny since neither was a home run hitter, and it’s been almost a half-century since a player reached the 2,000th RBI plateau. Hank Aaron was the last to do it in 1972. (Babe Ruth and Cap Anson are the other members of the 2,000 RBI club.)

Should A-Rod reach the three milestones at some point this year, all on one swing or otherwise, I don’t think they’ll come with the usual celebration from fans and the Yankees. Announcers will mention it and writers will write about it, but I don’t think we’ll sit through some kind of massive chase like when Jeter was going after his 3,000th hit. That got non-stop, wall-to-wall coverage. That’s fine. Alex made his own bed and he has to sleep in it. I’m still rooting like hell for him though.

CC Sabathia

3,000th inning: 178.2 away
2,500th strikeout: 63 away

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once upon a time, we would laugh at the idea of Sabathia throwing “only” 178.2 innings in a season. This is a guy who averaged 215 innings a year from 2001-11, which is bonkers. But, between last year’s knee surgery and his natural age-related decline, getting to 178.2 innings is hardly a guarantee for Sabathia. Should he get there, he’d be the 135th pitcher in history to reach 3,000 innings and only the 32nd lefty to do so.

Getting to 2,500 strikeouts is a much bigger deal, historically. Sixty-three more punch outs would move Sabathia into 31st place all-time and make him only the ninth lefty in history with 2,500 strikeouts. That’s not a “stop the game so his teammates can run on the field to congratulate him” type of milestone, but it’s still pretty cool. That kind of longevity and effectiveness is quite an accomplishment.

Carlos Beltran & Mark Teixeira

400th home run: Beltran is 27 away, Teixeira is 37 away

Both of these seem pretty unlikely, though I suppose they aren’t completely impossible. Four hundred dingers is a nice round number and one heck of an accomplishment, but remember, these two are switch-hitters. Only three switch-hitters in history have hit 400+ dingers: Mickey Mantle (536), Eddie Murray (504), and Chipper Jones (468). Beltran is fourth all-time in homers by a switch-hitter and Teixeira is sixth. (Lance Berkman is fifth with 366.) If they don’t get to 400 this year, hopefully both do it before their contracts expire following next season.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Joe Girardi

1,272nd game managed with Yankees: 138 away
1,340th game managed overall: 44 away

When the Yankees play the Orioles at home on September 9th, Girardi will manage his 1,272nd game with the Yankees, jumping over Ralph Houk and into fifth place on the team’s all-time games managed list. Fifth place! It feels like Girardi was just hired yesterday, doesn’t it? My goodness. He has a long way to go before moving into fourth place — Miller Huggins managed 1,796 games in pinstripes — so after Girardi passes Houk, he’ll sit in fifth place for a few years.

If you’re wondering about wins, Girardi has managed 648 of those with the Yankees, the fifth most in franchise history. Huggins is fourth with 1,067 wins. So yeah, it’ll be a while before Girardi moves up a spot on that list. The Yankees have missed the postseason the last two years and could very well miss the playoffs again this year, though I don’t think Girardi is in danger of being fired. Hal Steinbrenner seems to like him very much and that’s the guy you want in your corner. Besides, I don’t see any reason why Girardi should be on the hot seat. If anything he’s helped prop the team up higher than their true talent level the last two years.

Anyway, Girardi will manage his 1,340th career game overall on May 24th, at home against the Rangers, which will move him into the top 100 on the all-time games managed list. Baseball-Reference says 686 men have managed at least one game in the show — I would have guessed more, though that doesn’t include bench coaches who took over in a particular game after the manager was ejected — and Girardi is close to joining the top 100 in games managed just a few months after his 50th birthday. That’s impressive. Joe’s still got a lot of managing left ahead of him.

Masahiro Tanaka named Opening Day starter, rotation order announced

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, Masahiro Tanaka was officially named the Opening Day starter by Joe Girardi this morning, according to the many reporters in Tampa. He will be followed in order by Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, and the fifth starter to open the season. Girardi declined to name the fifth starter but all signs point to it being Adam Warren.

Sabathia has started the last six Opening Days for the Yankees. The team’s last Opening Day starter before him was Chien-Ming Wang in 2008. Yeah, it’s been a while. It was clear Sabathia would not get the Opening Day nod when it was announced he is scheduled to start tomorrow’s game. The schedule doesn’t line up. Sabathia has played in 14 MLB seasons and has started Opening Day in eleven of them. That’s kinda nuts.

As for Tanaka, he is not only the team’s best pitcher, but starting Opening Day allows him to get an extra day of rest prior to his second and third starts of the season thanks to scheduled off-days on April 7th and 16th. The Yankees have said they would like to get him extra rest whenever possible, especially early in the season thanks to the whole elbow issue. The club won’t need to use a sixth starter to make that happen for at least a few weeks.

Believe it or not, Tanaka only started one Opening Day with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan, so this will be his second career Opening Day start and first in pinstripes. Hideo Nomo (2000 Tigers, 2003-04 Dodgers), Daisuke Matsuzaka (2008 Red Sox), and Hiroki Kuroda (2009 Dodgers) are the only other Japanese pitchers to start Opening Day in MLB history. Yu Darvish was slated to start Opening Day for the Rangers this year before blowing out his elbow.

The Yankees open the regular season at home against the Blue Jays on April 6th. Toronto has not yet announced their rotation but apparently Drew Hutchison is lined up for Opening Day. I’m guessing R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle will follow in some order. The Yankees play three games against the Jays then three games against the Red Sox at home before going out on a ten-game road trip through Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and Detroit to start 2015.

Knee holds up as Sabathia allows two runs in two innings in spring debut

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time since last May, CC Sabathia pitched in an actual game Tuesday night, making his Grapefruit League debut against the Blue Jays at home in Tampa. He allowed two runs on four hits in two innings of work, striking out two. Twenty-two of his 31 pitches were strikes (71%).

Sabathia retired the side in order in the first (two grounders and a strikeout) before running into some trouble in the second. More importantly, scouts clocked his fastball at 90-92 mph in the first inning and 89-92 mph in the second inning, according to Mark Feinsand. That’s in line with the 90.6 mph he averaged last year and it’s only March 17th.

“I felt pretty good,” said Sabathia during a YES Network interview after his outing. “I was just telling the guys I was really nervous in the bullpen. Just wanted to get out there and be healthy. Felt good throwing the ball — made a couple bad pitches but I still wanted to get out there and get the game feel and get after it, and I did that.”

I thought Sabathia looked pretty good considering it was his first outing a) in ten months, and b) after knee surgery. His location was okay with most misses way off the plate, so hopefully he irons that out as camp progresses. It would have been nice to see him go six up, six down, but whatever. Sabathia didn’t come out with Jamie Moyer velocity and his mechanics seemed fine. That’s good enough for me in mid-March.

Recalibrating Expectations for CC Sabathia [2015 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

After four truly excellent seasons (3.22 ERA and 3.28 FIP) from 2009-12, we’ve officially entered the “oh please just let it be over already” phase of CC Sabathia‘s stint in pinstripes. (That makes me sad.) The big man was bad in 2013 (4.78 ERA and 4.10 FIP) and both bad (5.28 ERA and 4.78 FIP) and hurt in 2014. He’s now working his way back from surgery to treat a degenerative knee condition that will require regular maintenance, specifically having fluid drained.

As the old saying goes, the Yankees took the elite years from Sabathia up front and have to live with the ugly years on the back-end of his contract. His days as a front of the rotation arm are almost certainly over and the team is now looking to salvage whatever they can from their erstwhile ace, who is signed through 2016 with a vesting option for 2017 based on the health of his shoulder. Sabathia is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut this evening. Now let’s see what the team needs from him this summer.

Yankees Need: Innings. Lots Of Innings.

Sabathia was once the game’s preeminent workhorse, averaging a mind-blowing 213.1 innings per season from 2001-13. I mean, take a second to wrap your head around that number. It’s staggering. And even during his bad starts with the Yankees from 2009-12, Sabathia was still pretty good. Four runs in six innings was a bad Sabathia start. There were no “seven runs in two innings” kind of clunkers those four seasons.

In fact, Sabathia started 129 games from 2009-12, and only four times did he fail to complete five full innings of work. One of those four was the result of a lengthy rain delay at Fenway Park. Sabathia went at least six innings in 116 (!) of those 129 games as well. Heck, even though he was so very ineffective in 2013, he still averaged 6.2 innings per start. He completed five innings in seven of his eight starts last year and six innings in five of the eight.

When he’s taken the ball, Sabathia has routinely pitched deep into the game. That’s not really the issue. The issue is being able to stay healthy enough to start every fifth day from April through September. I think the Yankees would happily live with Sabathia averaging 5.9 innings per start (the AL average in 2014) if it means getting 32 starts out of him. Taking the ball deep into the game would be nice, but the team has the bullpen to compensate if he can’t. Not missing a start is more important.

Sabathia Can: Maybe Throw Innings?

The good news is Sabathia’s arm is healthy. The bad news is we are flying blind with his now three-time surgically repaired right knee. (Two meniscus procedures and the clean out last year.) Sabathia has not pitched since last May and we have no idea how that knee is going to hold up, not within an individual game and definitely not over the course of a full season. This is uncharted territory.

Sabathia has been wearing a brace during his throwing sessions this spring for extra support — from what I understand it is more of a sleeve than some sort of clunky brace — and he will continue to wear it during the season. Basically from now through the end of his career. The knee issue is degenerative and will need regular maintenance. Sabathia’s a total gamer. He’s shown he will pitch through injury over the years. I have no reason to doubt his effort. The knee simply might not be up for 32 starts, however.

Yankees Need: Respectability

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees aren’t stupid. They know Sabathia’s best years are behind him and aren’t counting on him to be the staff ace anymore. They signed Masahiro Tanaka to be the ace last offseason and saw glimpses of Michael Pineda being that type of pitcher last year. (Obviously those two have physical issues of their own, but I digress.) The Yankees would love Sabathia to turn back into an ace but aren’t expecting it at all.

Instead, the Yankees simply need Sabathia to be respectable this year. How about league average? That’s a modest goal. Can Sabathia be league average this year despite playing in a hitter friendly park? I think the Yankees would consider 180 innings of league average pitching — the league average AL starter had a 3.92 ERA and 3.85 FIP last season, for what it’s worth (I miss offense) — a win given the state of Sabathia’s knee. Expectations are pretty low but the need to get some production from the lefty does exist.

Sabathia Can: Maybe Be Respectable?

In terms of plain ol’ run prevention, Sabathia stunk the last two years. He allowed 4.87 earned runs per nine innings pitched in 257 innings from 2013-14 and that’s bad. Very bad. One hundred and thirty six pitchers threw at least 200 innings the last two seasons and only eight have a higher ERA than Sabathia. Bad. Very, very bad.

If you want to squint your eyes and see some positives, they do exist. Even while pitching on that bad knee early last season, Sabathia did post very good strikeout (9.39 K/9 and 23.0 K%), walk (1.96 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%), and ground ball (48.3%) rates. If you strike out a lot of guys, limit walks, and get hitters to beat the ball into the ground, you should fare pretty well, especially now that the Yankees have such a strong infield defense. Hopefully Sabathia can do that stuff again this summer.

On the downside, Sabathia was incredibly homer prone (1.96 HR/9 and 23.3 HR/FB%) last year. That’s almost unsustainably bad, even in tiny Yankee Stadium. Then again, Hit Tracker classified eight of the ten homers Sabathia allowed last season as either “plenty” or “no-doubt,” meaning they were not cheapies, so who knows. Maybe Sabathia’s true talent level at this point of his career is nearly two homers per nine innings with a quarter of his fly balls leaving the yard? I’m not sure anyone is really that bad though. Home runs are hard to hit.

It has now been two full seasons since Sabathia was last even an average big league starter. The prospect of a healthy knee gives us hope he will rebound and be, well, respectable this coming season, but we haven’t even seen him pitch in a Grapefruit League game yet. We have no idea how his location looks, no idea if he slider is moving the way it’s supposed to move, no idea if his changeup is changin’ up. The combination of age, wear-and-tear, and the knee injury make it damn near impossible to project Sabathia’s performance this year. This is a total wait and see situation.

Yankees Need: Leadership

With Derek Jeter retired and Alex Rodriguez persona non grata, Sabathia is the elder statesman in the clubhouse. He’s been with the team longer than Carlos Beltran and has accomplished more in his career than Mark Teixeira. Sabathia is one of those “instant respect” guys as a former Cy Young winner and World Series champ, not to mention his oh so obvious willingness to leave it all out on the field. Players notice that. The Yankees will count on Sabathia to lead the clubhouse this summer and be a mentor to a surprisingly young pitching staff.

Sabathia Can: Be A Leader

Sabathia doesn’t need to be healthy to be a leader. He just needs to be around. Chad Jennings shared this story the other day and I think it’s important:

Tanaka is the best pitcher on this team, but it’s hard to be in the Yankees clubhouse and not see CC Sabathia as the clear ace. Pitchers still look to him for advice. They look to him for leadership. And the big man provides. I have no clue whether he can be a great big league pitcher again. I don’t even know if he can be a solid No. 3. But I don’t think his role in the clubhouse has changed from what it was three years ago. Even veteran guys will gather around near his locker to talk to him about anything and everything.

The Yankees have a very young pitching staff, especially now that Chris Capuano is hurt. (The second oldest pitcher on the projected Opening Day roster is Andrew Miller, who turns 30 in late-May.) Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi are pups and even Tanaka is still relatively young, having turned 26 in November. When these guys need guidance, they’re going to turn to Sabathia. Considering how popular he’s been in the clubhouse since the day he arrived in New York, we know CC will be there to help.

CC Sabathia scheduled for simulated game on Thursday, setting up Opening Day options for Joe Girardi

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier this morning, CC Sabathia told reporters he is scheduled to throw a 30-pitch simulated game on Thursday, which will be his first action in any kind of game situation since last May. He threw live batting practice over the weekend and reiterated that he feels great following knee surgery. Now he just needs to get stretched out and develop feel for his pitches before the start of the regular season.

Sabathia is pitching in a simulated game instead of the day’s actual Grapefruit League game for two reasons. One, the Yankees can better control the simulated game. They can end innings if they start to go too long, stuff like that. Two, Masahiro Tanaka is already scheduled to pitch and make his Spring Training debut that day, and I doubt the Yankees want to have either guy come out of the bullpen for their first spring appearance.

Clearly the most important thing is Sabathia and Tanaka getting their work in, and the Yankees have a plan to do that. More interestingly though, Thursday’s outings line up both guys to start Opening Day, assuming they stay on a normal five-day schedule the rest of spring. By having them both lined up to start Opening Day, Joe Girardi can make the call later in camp based on who’s healthy, who’s throwing the best, stuff like that. It gives him some options.

The Opening Day start doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but it is a neat little honor. Sabathia would be the first Yankees pitcher ever to start seven straight Opening Days — Mel Stottlemyre, Ron Guidry, and Whitey Ford all started seven Opening Days in pinstripes but not consecutively — and it would be his 12th Opening Day start overall, which would be the seventh most in history. That’s pretty neat. Tanaka, obviously, would be making his first Opening Day start for the Yankees.

Hopefully Girardi gets to actually make this decision and Tanaka’s elbow or Sabathia’s knee doesn’t make it for him. I know a lot of people consider the Opening Day starter a big deal and all that, but it really isn’t. It’s just one of 162 games. If Girardi goes with Sabathia because he’s the “been there, done that” veteran, fine. If he goes with Tanaka because he’s the best pitcher on the team (arguably!), that’s cool too. Both being healthy is by far the most important thing here.