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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Game 40: Natitude

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Coming into the season the Nationals had the best roster in baseball, at least on paper. Then they got off to a slow start (7-13), people called them overrated, and they’ve gone 15-4 since. Turns out they were pretty good the whole time. And, you know, it helps that Bryce Harper has turned into the best hitter on the planet. He’s hit nine homers in his last eleven games and will probably hit another one tonight. That’s just the way it is.

The Yankees have kinda done the opposite of the Nats. No one expected much coming into the season, they got off to a great start (21-12), but have since dropped five of their last six games. The good news is they are still in first place, and while it’s still crazy early, I’d much rather see the Yankees sitting near the top of the AL East right now than wondering how they’ll jump over three or four teams. A win or two against the Nats this week sure would be a nice confidence booster. Here is Washington’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Chris Young
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 2B Jose Pirela
  8. SS Stephen Drew
  9. RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It’s a little cloudy in Washington but otherwise the weather is fine. First pitch tonight is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and you can watch live on YES locally or MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Chase Whitley had his Tommy John surgery as scheduled earlier today. Joe Girardi told reporters his UCL was pretty shredded. “There were only a few fibers left, so he had a few more pitches left,” said the skipper … in case you missed it earlier, Masahiro Tanaka (wrist, forearm) will make his first minor league rehab start with Triple-A Scranton on Thursday.

Update: Chase Whitley to undergo Tommy John surgery

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Monday, 4:36pm: Whitley will indeed undergo Tommy John surgery, the Yankees announced. Team doctor Chris Ahmad will perform the procedure tomorrow. Not unexpected, but damn. Sucks. See you next year, Ace Whitley.

Friday, 6:05pm: Whitley does have a torn UCL, Girardi told reporters this afternoon. No decision has been on surgery yet. He’ll see another doctor in New York first. Capuano will start Sunday and push everyone else back a day.

5:51pm: As expected, the Yankees placed right-hander Chase Whitley on the 15-day DL this afternoon. He has a right elbow sprain, the team announced, which means his ulnar collateral ligament has been compromised somehow. Whitley went for tests today and Jon Heyman hears the initial diagnosis is indeed a UCL tear, so Tommy John surgery is a real possibility. The Yankees haven’t said anything about the exact nature of the injury yet.

Whitely, 25, left last night’s start in the second inning with an elbow injury. He told reporters after the game that his elbow had been bugging him for a while now, but he didn’t tell anyone and tried to pitch through it. “Tonight (the discomfort) just carried over to the game. I’ve been able to get through it in the game, and tonight obviously you could pretty much tell,” said Whitley to Chad Jennings.

If Whitley does indeed need Tommy John surgery, he would be the second Yankees starter to blow out his elbow on the Tropicana Field mound within the last 13 months. Ivan Nova tore his UCL in a start at the Trop last April and had Tommy John surgery soon thereafter So I guess we can blame the Rays, right? Heyman says Whitley will likely seek a second opinion before having surgery. I’d ask for a second opinion before having my moneymaker cut open too.

In four starts this year Whitley had a 4.19 ERA (4.59 FIP) in 19.1 innings. One start was good, one start was great, one start was bad, and one start was cut short by the injury. Whitley nearly made the team out of Spring Training, but the Yankees opted to send him to Triple-A so they could use him as an occasional spot starter to rest everyone else in the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka‘s wrist/forearm injury pushed Whitley into the rotation full-time.

Joe Girardi confirmed Chris Capuano will replace Whitley in the rotation following last night’s game. Capuano threw six innings in his latest minor league rehab start earlier this week as he works his way back from a quad injury, so the timing worked out well. It’s unfortunate he’s coming back under these circumstances though. Girardi isn’t sure when Capuano will make his first start just yet. The Yankees have two off-days next week and don’t need their fifth starter again until May 26th.

For the time being, righty reliever Jose Ramirez has been called up from Triple-A to give the bullpen an extra arm. Presumably he or someone else (Branden Pinder?) will be sent down once Capuano is ready to be activated. There’s no need to activate Capuano just yet, so the Yankees get to carry an extra reliever for a few days. Ramirez, 25, has a 2.95 ERA (2.71 FIP) in 18.1 innings for the RailRiders this year.

Update: Chase Whitley exits Thursday’s start with elbow injury

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

10:05pm: Following the game, Joe Girardi told reporters Whitley has been dealing with an elbow issue for a while now. He didn’t tell anyone and tried to pitch through it. Ugh. Hate that. No shame in speaking up if you’re hurt, especially if you’re a pitcher and it’s your arm. That’s the moneymaker, man.

8:48pm: Whitley left the game with a right elbow injury, the Yankees announced. He’s being looked at by a doctor and will go for tests in the morning. YES showed Whitley winching in pain after throwing several pitches in that second inning. Ominous, this is.

8:03pm: Right-hander Chase Whitley left tonight’s start against the Rays in the second inning with an unknown injury. There was nothing obvious — Whitley didn’t appear to be favoring anything from what I saw — before Joe Girardi and trainer Steve Donohue came out to the mound. Whitley exited the game without even attempting a test pitch. Here’s the video.

Whitley walked his final batter on four pitches, none of which were particularly close. He made several other pitches that were well off the mark as well, including one that went to the backstop, which was the only indication something was wrong. The Yankees have not yet given any sort of update on the injury, so stayed tuned.

Injuries are never good, especially to pitchers, but the timing isn’t disastrous for the Yankees. Chris Capuano threw six innings in his third minor league rehab start earlier this week and will presumably be able to step right into Whitley’s rotation spot, if necessary. These things always work themselves out, don’t they?

Poll: Chris Capuano’s imminent return gives Yankees lots of options

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In his third minor league rehab start last night, left-hander Chris Capuano allowed two runs on seven hits and no walks in six innings with Triple-A Scranton. He stretched out to 76 pitches, which is the most important thing, not the results. Capuano is basically going through Spring Training right now, working to gain a feel for his pitches and delivery. Outs aren’t the priority.

Joe Girardi told reporters earlier this week the Yankees “shouldn’t really need to see much more than that,” referring to Capuano throwing six innings in his third rehab starter. “It’s possible (he could be activated for his next start), yeah,” added Girardi. By no means is Capuano some kind of rotation savior, but he’s a perfectly serviceable big league pitcher, and pitching depth is never a bad thing. His return may not have a big impact but it is welcome.

When the time comes the Yankees will have to decide how exactly to use Capuano and where to slot him into the pitching staff. I suspect they’ll use his first outing back as a way to give everyone else in the rotation an extra day. One of spot sixth starter things the Yankees have been talking about since before Spring Training. After that though, Capuano’s return gives the team plenty of options.

Option No. 1: Capuano to the rotation, Whitley to the bullpen, Pinder to Triple-A

Branden Pinder came up when Chris Martin hit the DL a few days ago and he feels like nothing more than a placeholder. He could go back to Triple-A pretty easily to clear a spot for Capuano. Chase Whitley has made three starts for the Yankees this year — one good, one bad, one great — but is a reliever by trade, and his long-term future likely lies in the bullpen. Plus his ability to go multiple innings could help lighten the load on the team’s other bullpeners. This would be the simple and straightforward “Whitley and Pinder are lower than Capuano on the pitching totem pole, so they get bumped down a notch” move.

Option No. 2: Capuano to the rotation, Pinder in the bullpen, Whitley to Triple-A

A few weeks ago Girardi kinda sorta admitted the plan all along was to stash Whitley in Triple-A early this season so he could come up every so often to make spot starts, giving the rest of the rotation rest. Masahiro Tanaka‘s injury then forced Whitley into the rotation full-time. With Capuano set the return, the Yankees could simply go right back to that original plan and send Whitley down so they can bring him up periodically when the other starters could use an extra day. Pinder would stick around as the last reliever in the bullpen in that case.

Option No. 3: Capuano to the rotation, Warren to the bullpen, Pinder to Triple-A

Through six starts, Adam Warren has looked very much like a reliever miscast as a starter. He hasn’t been bad per se — a 4.65 ERA and 4.31 FIP from your sixth starter is fine in moderation — but his effectiveness drops off considerably once the lineup turns over and his velocity isn’t close to what it was last year. He also seems to tire out around the 80-pitch mark. Warren went from 23.5 K% and 7.4 BB% as a reliever last year to 12.0 K% and 9.8 BB% as a starter this year. See what I mean? It all points to reliever.

With Capuano coming back, the Yankees have the option of sticking Warren back in the bullpen and leaving Whitley in the rotation until either Tanaka or Ivan Nova comes back in a few weeks. Warren would be able to step right back into that “trusted third reliever” role behind Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, giving Girardi a third option for high-leverage spots. The role Warren filled last year, basically. And since he’s stretched out, he could go two or three innings at a time if necessary. That’s valuable.

Option No. 4: Capuano to the bullpen, Pinder to Triple-A

This option seems unlikely, especially since Brian Cashman just told Lou DiPietro that “when I signed (Capuano), I signed him to be part of the rotation” the other day. Capuano does have bullpen experience though, including just last year with the Red Sox, when he had a 4.55 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 31.2 innings before being released. Rather than rearrange the rotation, the Yankees could simply stick Capuano in the bullpen and use him … somehow. I’m not sure what role he would fill (long man? lefty specialist? one-inning reliever?) but that would sort itself out in time. Always does. Option No. 4 is the most unlikely option. I don’t think it’s completely off the table though.

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The Yankees are going to have to make a decision once Capuano is ready to be added to the roster, which figures to be just a few days away now. This won’t be a particularly impactful decision — whatever option they choose could be reversed pretty easily — but it is a decision nonetheless. I think the Yankees will go with Option No. 2 and send Whitley down so he can again serve as the sixth starter. Whether that is a best option is another matter. What do you think the Yankees should do when Capuano returns?

What should the Yankees do when Capuano returns?

Game 21: Spot Start

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
The return of Ace Whitley. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

The Yankees have won 12 of their first 20 games for the first time since, well, last season. They went 12-8 to start the 2014 season too. But wait! Last year’s team scored 84 runs and allowed 87 runs in those first 20 games. This year’s team has scored 103 runs and allowed only 79 runs. That’s much better. That matches what my eyes are telling me, that the 2015 Yankees are different and more well-rounded than the 2014 Yankees.

Anyway, for the first time this season the Yankees are turning to a spot sixth starter to give the regular members of their rotation an extra day of rest. Chase Whitley has been called up from Triple-A to make the spot start and I was surprised when he didn’t make the team out of Spring Training. He was awesome in camp. Apparently the plan all along was the keep Whitley stretched out in Triple-A for this exact reason though, to make occasional spot starts. Hopefully it pays off. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. DH Garrett Jones
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Chase Whitley

It’s been a damn near perfect weather day in New York today and it’ll continue tonight. Great night for baseball. Tonight’s game is set to begin at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and, depending on where you live, MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Gregorio Petit was optioned to Triple-A Scranton to clear a spot for Whitley, the team announced. So no backup infielder tonight. I guess this means Whitley will be sent down tomorrow and Jose Pirela (concussion) will be activated off the DL. Pirela’s been on a minor league rehab assignment these last few days and, for what it’s worth, he told Dan Pfeiffer he doesn’t feel his swing is all the way back yet. We’ll see.

Game 19: Rubber Game

(Nate Shron/Getty)
(Nate Shron/Getty)

The Yankees and Mets split the first two games of the Subway Series and the games were pretty similar — one team beat up on the other team’s starter and put the game out of reach early. My guess is we’ll see a much closer game tonight. Just a guess. Here is the Mets’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. C John Ryan Murphy
  8. SS Stephen Drew
  9. 2B Gregorio Petit
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It was really nice out in New York earlier today but it got pretty cloudy by the late afternoon. There’s no rain in the forecast or anything like that though. Tonight’s game will begin just after 8pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (hip tightness) is feeling better but Joe Girardi told reporters he wants to give him an extra day. They’re planning to have him back in the lineup tomorrow … Brendan Ryan (calf) will begin playing in Extended Spring Training games next week.