The Miscellaneous Relievers [2017 Season Review]

Heller (and Gary). (Rich Gagnon/Getty)
Heller (and Gary). (Rich Gagnon/Getty)

Every season, without fail, teams cycle through a parade of relievers as injuries and poor performance force roster changes. The average MLB team used 22 different relief pitchers this year. The Mariners led the way with 34. The Yankees used 18, third fewest in baseball, if you can believe that. Only the Nationals and Indians used fewer relievers this year. They used 17 apiece.

This season the Yankees put an end to the bullpen shuttle they’d used so extensively from 2015-16. The days of calling up reliever, using him for an inning or two, then sending him down the next day for a fresh arm came to an end. We saw relievers stick around even after extended outings, the type of outings that usually land them back in Triple-A. It was a refreshing in a way. Here are the miscellaneous relievers the Yankees used this season. Weirdly enough, three of these dudes were on the Opening Day roster.

Gio Gallegos

A dominant minor league season in 2016 earned Gallegos a spot on the 40-man roster last winter, and he received his first MLB call-up in mid-May. He had one great three-inning outing against the Astros on May 14th, allowing just one unearned run and striking out three, but he then allowed seven runs in his next six appearances and 7.1 innings.

On June 15th, in the tenth inning of a game in which Joe Girardi had already used all his top relievers, Gallegos was brought in to protect a one-run lead in Oakland. The inning went ground out, strikeout, single, double, intentional walk, two-run walk-off bloop single. You remember that one, don’t you?

Gallegos had four different big league stints this season, during which he threw 20.1 innings with a 4.87 ERA (3.65 FIP) and 25.0% strikeouts. He also threw 43.1 innings with a 2.08 ERA (2.18 FIP) and 40.8% strikeouts in Triple-A. Gallegos did survive the 40-man roster purge last month, though I’d say his grip on a spot is tenuous. There’s no guarantee he makes it through the offseason on the roster.

Domingo German

Little Sunday (Domingo Acevedo is Big Sunday) made his MLB debut on June 11th under unusual circumstances. He was pitching well in Triple-A and lined up perfectly to make the spot start when the Yankees decided to push Masahiro Tanaka back a day, but they gave the start to Chad Green, who wasn’t stretched out. German wound up pitching in long relief anyway. Weird.

German, who returned to the 40-man roster last offseason after completing his Tommy John surgery rehab, made seven relief appearances with the Yankees this season, throwing 14.1 innings with a 3.14 ERA (3.44 FIP). Those 14.1 innings featured lots of strikeouts (29.0%) and lots of ground balls (54.5%). German also had a 2.83 ERA (3.17 FIP) in 76.1 Triple-A innings and was especially great down the stretch, as the RailRiders made their postseason run.

It seems German is in position to take on a larger role next season, either as a Green-esque multi-inning reliever or spot starter. He’s shown he can handle Triple-A and his stuff is quite good. I think he’s got a chance to have a real impact in 2018. The Yankees acquired German in the Nathan EovaldiMartin Prado trade three years ago and he’s on the cusp of paying dividends.

Ben Heller

Heller is a personal favorite. He came over in the Andrew Miller trade and he made his MLB debut last season, and going into Spring Training, I thought he had a chance to win a bullpen spot. Instead, he went to Triple-A, and it wasn’t until mid-June that he was was called up. And that was for only one appearance. In that one appearance, Heller allowed a walk-off single off his butt.

Heller was called back in mid-July and again, it was only one appearance. That one appearance was memorable for a good reason, thankfully. Remember the 16-inning game at Fenway Park? When Matt Holliday took Craig Kimbrel deep to tie it up in the ninth? Heller was the last guy out of the bullpen. He tossed a scoreless 15th inning, the Yankees scored three runs to take the lead, then he closed it out with a 1-2-3 16th inning.

The Yankees brought Heller back in September and he was the one September call-up reliever who got regular work, appearing in seven games and throwing 8.2 innings in the season’s final month. He was great too, allowing just one run in those 8.2 innings. All told, Heller, had a 0.82 ERA (3.16 FIP) with 20.9% strikeouts in eleven big league innings and a 2.88 ERA (3.09 FIP) with 36.8% strikeouts in 56.1 Triple-A innings in 2017.

Heller is in the same camp as German for me. I think he’s in position to take on a larger role next season and have a real impact. He has some of the best stuff on the 40-man roster. His fastball sits in the upper-90s and the ball runs all over the place, and his slider has been a wipeout pitch at times. It’s tough to see where Heller (and German) fit right now, but like I said, the average team used 22 relievers this year. The opportunity will come.

Ronald Herrera

Boy, that series in Anaheim did not go well. That’s when Holliday first came down with his illness, Heller allowed the walk-off single off his rear-end, then Herrera made his MLB debut in the seventh inning of a tie game. The first batter he faced? Albert Pujols. One of best hitters in history. Herrera allowed a solo home run to Andrelton Simmons that inning and wound up taking the loss. Womp womp.

Herrera made one more big league appearance later in June, then he went to the minors and dealt with a nagging shoulder injury most of the rest of the season. He did get healthy in time for the Triple-A postseason, though the Yankees did not give Herrera a September call-up. That was a good indication he wouldn’t be around much longer. Sure enough, the Yankees traded him to the Rangers for a pitching prospect last month. Herrera allowed two runs in three big league innings this year, and had a 1.91 ERA (3.20 FIP) in 75.1 minor league innings.

Jonathan Holder

Holder. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Holder. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Holder is the first of the three relievers in this post who was on the Opening Day roster. He pitched in low-leverage situations and did see some sixth and seventh inning worth when the top relievers weren’t available, and for the first few weeks, things went fine. Holder then allowed ten runs on 19 hits (including five homers) and five walks in 14.2 innings from May 23rd to June 26th, earning a demotion to Triple-A. Opponents hit Troutian .322/.385/.644 against him during that time. Ouch.

The demotion to Triple-A was more or less permanent. Holder returned for a quick stint in mid-July and again as a September call-up, otherwise he was a RailRider in the second half. He threw 39.1 innings with a 3.89 ERA (3.62 FIP) and 23.4% strikeouts with the Yankees, though his performance was uneven. He was great for the first few weeks before things collapsed. It should be noted Holder had two appearances of three shutout innings. Once in the 18-inning game at Wrigley Field and once in the 16-inning game at Fenway Park. Well done.

Down in Triple-A, Holder threw 16 innings with a 1.69 ERA (3.21 FIP) and 30.0% strikeouts. The Yankees really seem to like him — they added him to the 40-man roster and called him up way earlier than necessary for Rule 5 Draft purposes — probably because his overall minor league performance has been great and he’s a spin rate darling, so I doubt Holder goes anywhere this offseason. I do wonder whether German and Heller have jumped him on the depth chart, however.

Tommy Layne

Another member of the Opening Day roster. The Yankees picked Layne up off the scrap heap last season and he did fine work, securing a bullpen spot this season. Then he went out and allowed 12 runs on 16 hits and eight walks in 13 innings this year. Lefties hit .304/.407/.391 against him. Not great, Tommy. He was designated for assignment on June 10th, clearing a roster spot for German.

Layne cleared waivers and spent some time with Triple-A Scranton before being released on July 5th. The Yankees had too many quality arms in Triple-A and needed the roster spot, so away went 33-year-old journeyman. Layne hooked on with the Dodgers a few days later, but didn’t make it through August with them. He had a 7.62 ERA (4.85 FIP) in those 13 innings with the Yankees, and he allowed two runs in 6.2 innings with the RailRiders. Relievers, man. Great one year and unrosterable the next.

Bryan Mitchell

The third and final Opening Day bullpen member in this post. Seriously. Holder, Layne, and Mitchell were all on the Opening Day roster. Mitchell would’ve been on the Opening Day roster last year had he not managed to break his toe covering first base at the end of camp. This year he made it through Spring Training in one piece and started the season as a low-leverage reliever.

Mitchell allowed one run on one hit and one walk in his first six outings and 6.2 innings of the season, but the wheels came off in late-April, when he allowed seven runs on nine hits and three walks in 2.2 innings across two appearances against the Orioles. That was the series in which he played first base, which is a real thing that happened.

That was way too cute a move by Girardi. The best case scenario there was putting Mitchell back into the game after a 20-30 minute break, which usually leads to bad things for control challenged pitchers. Mitchell blew the game in the next half-inning and that was that.

Amazingly, Mitchell was called up and sent down at least once in every single month this season. He made two big league appearances in May, one in June, and one in July before resurfacing for an extended period of time in August. Mitchell finished the season with a 5.79 ERA (4.20 FIP) and 11.1% strikeouts (not a typo) in 32.2 MLB innings, and a 3.24 ERA (4.23 FIP) and 25.4% strikeouts in 63.2 Triple-A innings.

Mitchell somewhat surprisingly survived the 40-man roster purge last month. He hasn’t been good in the big leagues and he’ll be out of options next year, meaning he can’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers, and I thought the Yankees would cut bait. They still might at some point this winter. The kid has a good arm, but with his 27th birthday four months away, it’s past time for potential to turn into production.

Tyler Webb

Although he didn’t reach Colter Bean status, Webb was the “why aren’t they calling this guy up???” guy the last few seasons. The Pirates took a chance on Webb as a Rule 5 Draft pick, and while he pitched well enough in Spring Training (13 IP, 13 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 11 K), they couldn’t find room for him on the roster, and back he came to the Yankees.

Webb continued to do what he’d been doing for a few years now, and that’s dominate Triple-A hitters. The Yankees gave him his first MLB call-up in late-June and he stuck around for a little while, allowing three runs on three hits and four walks in six innings across seven appearances. With the first base situation a total mess, the Yankees traded Webb to the Brewers for Garrett Cooper on July 13th.

Milwaukee kept Webb around for two appearances before sending him down to Triple-A, where he remained the rest of the season. Didn’t get a September call-up. Ouch. Webb is still on the 40-man roster though, so he has that going for him. He allowed three runs in six innings with the Yankees, and had a 3.24 ERA (2.14 FIP) in 33.1 innings with Scranton before the trade. Those “why aren’t they calling this guy up???” guys have a way of show why they weren’t getting called up, don’t they?

Game 133: The Biggest Series of the Season (For Real)

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

So this is it. The most important series of the season. Truly. These four games with the Red Sox will determine whether the Yankees have any chance at winning the AL East, or will have to shift gears and begin focusing on the wildcard. And, truth be told, the Yankees probably need to sweep this series to have a shot at the division title. They’re 5.5 games back. A split accomplishes nothing. Winning three of four gets the Yankees to within 3.5 games with 26 to play, but no head-to-head games against the Red Sox. One game at a time though.

The Yankees just got swept by the Indians and it was abundantly clearly which team went to the World Series last year and which team is hoping to get to the postseason for only the second time in five years. The Yankees have to treat these four games like postseason games. They really do. Because this is their postseason. The wildcard race is tight and the division title is becoming more and more unrealistic. Win tonight, move on to the next one. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. DH Chase Headley
  8. 1B Greg Bird
  9. 3B Todd Frazier
    LHP CC Sabathia

Cool and cloudy in New York today. Damn near autumnal. Tonight’s series opener will begin a little after 7pm ET And you’ll be able to watch on WPIX locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Clint Frazier (oblique) continues to progress and started throwing today. Now that he’s throwing and swinging a bat, I imagine it won’t be too long before he begins a minor league rehab assignment.

Roster Moves: The Yankees have sent Caleb Smith and Jordan Montgomery to Triple-A Scranton, and called up Gio Gallegos, the team announced. Gallegos replaces Smith. Montgomery was the 26th man for yesterday’s doubleheader and had to go back down after the game.

Appeals Update: MLB has scheduled Sanchez’s and Austin Romine‘s appeal hearings for tomorrow, reports Mike Mazzeo. The ruling will not necessarily come tomorrow, however. Hunter Strickland had to wait six days between the hearing and the ruling after throwing at Bryce Harper earlier this year, though that was unusually long. Sanchez and Romine probably won’t have to wait that long. Either way, the Yankees picked up Erik Kratz earlier today for extra catcher depth.

Previewing the Yankees’ upcoming September call-ups

Matty H. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
Matty H. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

This coming Friday, on September 1st, all 30 big league teams will be allowed to expand their active rosters from 25 players up to 40 players. Most teams end up going with 30-35 players in September. Maybe two or three clubs a year actually go with the maximum 40 players. Either way, rosters are going to expand in a few days and every club has reinforcements coming.

The Yankees have been fairly aggressive with September call-ups in recent years. Aggressive in the sense that they call up a lot of extra players in general, especially on September 1st. Last year they called up six players on September 1st. The year before it was seven players. The year before that it was nine players. Nine call-ups on September 1st! Good gravy. The Yankees tend to call up plenty of help the first day possible. I’m surprised more teams don’t do the same.

So, with September call-ups only a few days away, there’s no better time to look ahead at who the Yankees could bring to the big leagues once rosters expand. Let’s take a trip through the organizational depth chart. Come with me, won’t you?

The Injured Guys

Might as well start here. The Yankees currently have five players on the MLB disabled list: Luis Cessa, Garrett Cooper, Clint Frazier, Matt Holliday, and Michael Pineda. Pineda’s done for the season following Tommy John surgery. I’m not really sure what’s up with Cessa. We haven’t heard any updates on him since he was sidelined by rib cage issue on August 15th. Should Cessa get healthy before the end of the season, he’ll join the Yankees, I’m sure.

Both Holliday and Cooper are on minor league rehab assignments right now and in all likelihood both will be activated Friday, the first day rosters expand. Frazier recently started taking swings and going through some other baseball activities, so he’s a little further behind Cooper and Holliday. Once he gets healthy and goes through the requisite minor league rehab assignment — assuming there are still minor league games being played at that time — Frazier will be activated and join the Yankees for the rest of the season. Pretty straightforward here.

The September Locks

Monty. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)
Monty. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)

As always, the safest bets for September call-ups are guys who were up earlier this season. There are eleven such players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues right now: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Gio Gallegos, Domingo German, Ben Heller, Ronald Herrera, Kyle Higashioka, Jonathan Holder, Bryan Mitchell, Jordan Montgomery, and Tyler Wade. All eleven of those guys have seen big league time this year. Some more than others.

Like I said, the Yankees have been fairly aggressive with their September 1st call-ups in recent years, so I expect several of these players to join the Yankees on Friday. Montgomery is an absolutely lock. He’s going to get a September call-up and step right back into the rotation, I suspect. Mitchell, Holder, and Gallegos have been the primary up-and-down relievers this season, and since the Yankees like to load up on pitching reinforcements whenever possible, my money is on all three guys showing up to Yankee Stadium this Friday.

Austin and Wade are all obvious September call-ups candidates as well, though there is a catch here. They were both sent down recently and need to wait out the ten-day rule first. Wade was sent down Friday, when Starlin Castro was activated, so he can’t come back up until Monday. Austin was sent down Saturday to make room for Greg Bird. He can’t come back until Tuesday. The ten-day rule is a bit of a hassle. It is what it is.

The Guys Who Might Have To Wait

As noted, there are eleven players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues right now. I expect four to be called up on September 1st: Mitchell, Montgomery, Gallegos, and Holder. That’s all. The other seven will have to wait a little bit for different reasons. Austin and Wade have to wait because of the ten-day rule. Here’s my thinking on the remaining five guys.

1. Higashioka and Herrera are both hurt. Pretty good reason for not calling them upright away, I’d say. Herrera is currently pitching in rookie ball rehab games and is expected to join the Double-A Trenton rotation (or maybe Triple-A Scranton rotation) for the postseason next week. Herrera was called up twice this year as an emergency fill-in. It was one of those “crap we need a long man and he’s the only guy lined up” situations. Well, two of those.

Higashioka, meanwhile, is currently out with a shoulder injury that is not believed to be serious. There’s even some talk he could be ready to go by time rosters expand Friday. That would be cool. A third catcher is a September staple, and keep in mind Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine have suspensions pending. They’re appealing, though at some point they’re going to have serve at least part of their suspensions, and having Higashioka on the active roster will make it much easier to get by without those guys. He has to get healthy first though.

2. The Yankees have mostly avoided Andujar and Heller. There have been plenty of opportunities to call up both guys this year, and they have seen big league time. Andujar had the one great game against the White Sox. Heller has made two appearances with the Yankees this season, most notably throwing two scoreless innings in the 16-inning win at Fenway Park right after the All-Star break.

Andujar. (Times Leader)
Andujar. (Times Leader)

The Yankees could have easily — and justifiably — called up Andujar and/or Heller on several other occasions this season, but choose to go in another direction. With Andujar, he’s a bonafide prospect who needs to improve his defense, so keeping him in Triple-A to work at the hot corner rather than play sporadically at the MLB is understandable. Heller? I’m not sure. The Yankees seem to prefer Gallegos and Holder for whatever reason. I’m a Heller guy. The Yankees aren’t.

Point is, because these two have been passed over for call-ups these last few weeks, I don’t think they will be September 1st call-ups when rosters expand. Both will likely have to wait until the Triple-A postseason ends, which could be as early as next weekend or as late as September 19th. There aren’t going to be many at-bats available for Andujar, and with Heller, how many mop-up relievers does a team need? I think both will have to wait until the RailRiders are done playing.

3. German needs to pitch. From June 6th through July 28th, a span of 52 days, German made eight appearances and threw 350 total pitches. That’s all. This kid’s a starter! But he spent so much time with the Yankees as their seldom used eighth reliever that it took a few Triple-A outings to get stretched all the way back out. German has thrown 115 total innings this season and that’s not much at all. This is his first full season since Tommy John surgery, so I imagine the Yankees are monitoring his workload closely. I still think they want German to log more innings this season. That’s why I think he’ll stay with Scranton, start every fifth day through the end of their season, then come up to sit in the bullpen.

Non-40-Man Roster Guys

Every once in a while the Yankees will take a player who will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, add him to the 40-man roster, and call him up September. Rather than wait to add the player to the 40-man at the November deadline, they get a head start on things and call him up in September. Romine received his first taste of the big leagues that way in September 2011. The Yankees did the same thing with James Pazos in 2015.

That does not happen often, however, and I do not think the Yankees will do it this September. Gleyber Torres is hurt, Domingo Acevedo has been shut down due to his workload, and Albert Abreu missed a big chunk of the season with injuries and has yet to pitch above High-A. They’ll all be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and the Yankees will add them to the 40-man roster prior to the November deadline, no doubt. Not a second earlier, however. Torres and Acevedo are unavailable and Abreu is a Single-A kid. Calling them up would be pointless.

Other 40-man roster hopefuls like Jake Cave and Billy McKinney wouldn’t have a defined role in September. Romine was the third catcher. Pazos was the third lefty. Cave and McKinney would be … the seventh and eighth outfielders? Not exactly a big priority. I suppose the Yankees could add Cave to the 40-man roster — he’s going to be a minor league free agent this winter, so the Yankees will have to add him to the 40-man pretty much right after the World Series to avoid losing him — as a reward for his great season, but nah. Roster space is at a premium.

E-Rod. (Scranton Times Tribune)
E-Rod. (Scranton Times Tribune)

Now, that all said, there are two non-40-man players who I think could get a September call-up. One is Eddy Rodriguez, and he will only get called up if a) Higashioka doesn’t get healthy reasonably soon, and b) both Sanchez and Romine have their appeals heard and must serve their suspensions. So basically only if the Yankees run out of eligible catchers. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. If it does, the Yankees will have no choice but to clear a 40-man roster spot to call up Rodriguez.

The other non-40-man call-up candidate? I don’t know. It’ll be the designated September pinch-runner, whoever that ends up being. Last year it was Eric Young Jr., the year before it was Rico Noel, and the year before that it was Antoan Richardson. Back in 2009 it was Freddy Guzman. Guzman was on the postseason roster all three rounds that year. True story. The Yankees have made it clear they value the designated September pinch-runner.

Jorge Mateo has been traded and I don’t think the Yankees would use Jacoby Ellsbury as their designated pinch-runner — besides, he’s starting to hit a little bit now, so I imagine he’ll find himself in the starting lineup a little more often going forward — so they don’t have an obvious in-house candidate for that role. If the Yankees are willing to open a 40-man roster spot, they’ll likely go out and get someone to come off the bench and run in September. Not a big trade — they got Young for cash last year — but a trade nonetheless.

* * *

As is often the case, this year’s batch of September call-ups is fairly straightforward. Holliday and Cooper will return from the disabled list Friday while Montgomery, Mitchell, Holder, and Gallegos figure to came up from Scranton, giving the Yankees six extra players on the first day rosters expand. Others like Andujar, Austin, German, Heller, and Wade are likely to come up shortly thereafter. Cessa, Frazier, and Higashioka will join the Yankees once they’re healthy, and if Higashioka doesn’t get healthy soon, Rodriguez figures to come up instead. Herrera and a pinch-runner are other possibilities.

I am pro-September call-ups — there are a lot of weirdos out there who don’t like expanded rosters — and it’s always fun to see the young guys come up, but here’s something to keep in mind: the Yankees are fighting for a postseason spot. They’re not going to play Andujar (or Cave) for the heck of it. Joe Girardi is going to stick with his regulars because the Yankees need to win, and the regulars give them the best chance to do that. The call-ups are around for blowouts and emergencies. That’s about it.

Game 116: Rubber Game

Bat Gary 1-9 and maybe no one will notice. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Bat Gary in all nine spots and maybe no one will notice. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox have split the first two games of this game three-game series, which means tonight’s series finale is the difference between being 3.5 games back in the AL East or 5.5 games back in the AL East come Monday morning. There are still 46 games to play after tonight, but at some point the Yankees have to stop treading water, you know? The division title is within reach. It’s not going to win itself though.

Now, the bad news: tonight the Yankees are facing Chris Sale, who has been the best pitcher in the AL all season. His numbers are insane: 2.57 ERA (1.98 FIP) with 36.5% strikeouts and 4.6% walks. HOWEVA, the Yankees have won both times they faced Sale this season. Don’t get me wrong, he pitched great (two earned runs in 15.2 innings), but eking out a win is possible against him. Here is the Red Sox lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Gary Sanchez
  5. 3B Todd Frazier
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 1B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

The weather was pretty much perfect for baseball all afternoon. Too bad this game had to be played tonight. It’s a little cloudy in New York right now, though there’s no rain in the forecast, and that’s the most important thing. Tonight’s game will begin at 8pm ET and ESPN will have the broadcast. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Greg Bird (ankle) will begin a minor league rehab assignment Wednesday while Starlin Castro (hamstring) will begin one Friday … Matt Holliday (back) took batting practice today. I guess that means he’s inching closer to a return.

Roster Move: The Yankees sent down Gio Gallegos and called up Caleb Smith, the team announced. Smith was scheduled to start for Triple-A Scranton today, so he’s available for very long relief, which I hope is not necessarily. Joe Girardi said Luis Cessa is tentatively scheduled to start in Masahiro Tanaka‘s place tomorrow.

Shoulder inflammation sends Masahiro Tanaka to 10-day DL

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

1:03pm ET: Joe Girardi described the injury as fatigue, or a dead arm. There’s no structural damage and the Yankees are essentially planning to give Tanaka a ten-day break. He won’t throw for five days before getting back to it. That’s not so bad, as long as that’s all it really is.

12:24pm ET: The Yankees are down another starting pitcher. Masahiro Tanaka has been placed on the 10-day DL with shoulder inflammation, the Yankees announced. Gio Gallegos was called up to fill the roster spot for the time being. The Yankees are already without CC Sabathia (knee) and Michael Pineda (elbow). Pineda is done for the season with Tommy John surgery.

Perhaps the shoulder issue explains Tanaka’s rough start in Toronto three days ago, when he allowed three runs (two earned) in four innings plus two batters. Overall, this has been a poor season for Tanaka (4.92 ERA and 4.65 FIP), though he’s been much better over the last two months or so. He has a 3.33 ERA (3.64 FIP) in his last eleven starts after pitching to a 6.55 ERA (5.68 FIP) in his first 12 starts.

Tanaka’s next start was scheduled for Monday against the Mets, and the Yankees do have plenty of options to replace him. Bryan Mitchell is already stretched out and on the 25-man roster. Caleb Smith and Luis Cessa are sitting in Triple-A, as is Domingo German. All three of those guys are on the 40-man roster and eligible to be called up. None are within the ten-day send down window.

Chance Adams is a possibility as well, though he just started for Triple-A Scranton last night, so he’s not an option for Monday. The Yankees have an open 40-man roster spot. Adding Adams and calling him up at some point in the future would be a piece of cake. For what it’s worth, Smith is lined up to start tomorrow for the RailRiders and Cessa is lined up for Monday. That’s convenient.

There’s no word on how long Tanaka will be sidelined yet. I imagine he’s already had an MRI and all that. Sabathia received cortisone and lubrication injections in his troublesome right knee yesterday, and he’s scheduled to throw a bullpen session tomorrow. It’s possible he could be activated as soon as his ten days on the DL are up, meaning the Yankees would only need someone to make one spot start to fill in for Tanaka before Sabathia returns.

The Yankees called Jordan Montgomery back up yesterday and he’s going to replace Sabathia. Montgomery is on a 180-ish innings limit this year, giving him roughly 60 more innings to go this year. That seems like plenty to get through the season, no? Hopefully. For now, the Yankees are down yet another starting pitching. Good thing they got two at the trade deadline, huh?

2017 Midseason Review: Holliday and the Rest of the Roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So far this season the Yankees have used 43 different players — 23 position players and 20 pitchers — which is the seventh most in baseball. The Mariners lead the way with 47 players and both the Indians and Diamondbacks have been lucky enough to use only 35 players. The Yankees used their fair share of shuttle arms in the first half, though position player injuries also forced them to dip into their farm system more than expected.

We’ve already covered most of those 43 players as part of our Midseason Review. Now it’s time to wrap things up and cover whoever has been left behind. Among them is one regular because I am bad at scheduling. Time to finish off the Midseason Review.

Matt Holliday: As Advertised

When the Yankees signed Holliday in November, he came billed as a good clubhouse guy and a professional hitter with some bounceback potential given his exit velocities and things like that. Nothing was guaranteed, of course. Holliday did turn 37 in January and he very easily could have been at the end of the line. The Yankees bet $13M on a rebound and so far he’s been worth every penny.

Holliday, as the team’s regular DH and occasional first baseman, is hitting .262/.366/.511 (132 wRC+) with 15 homers in 68 games so far, and he’s the No. 1 reason the Yankees have the most productive DH spot in the baseball.

  1. Yankees: 137 wRC+
  2. Mariners: 129 wRC+
  3. Indians: 127 wRC+

Oddly enough, Holliday’s strikeouts are way up this year. His 25.7% strikeout rate is on pace to shatter his previous career high (19.6% as a rookie in 2004). I think there’s a chance Holliday is selling out for power, which might partially explain the strikeouts. Holliday has also been pretty streaky. That’s alright though. He’s been productive more often than not, and day-to-day consistency in baseball is a myth anyway.

Beyond the on-field production, Holliday has also been a positive on all the young players the Yankees are incorporating into their lineup. Aaron Judge went out of his way to praise Holliday at the All-Star Game media day Monday. Here’s what Judge told Brendan Kuty about Holliday earlier this month:

“I just pick his brain on what he does,” Judge said he often asks Holliday. “‘What are you doing in a situation, with a certain pitcher? What are you doing with this guy? He’s a sinkerball pitcher, what do you try to do with those guys?’ I’ve picked up a couple little things.”

“He’s just really committed to his plan,” Judge said. “That’s one thing I’ve noticed. I’ll talk to him (in the early afternoon) and I’ll say, ‘Hey, what are you doing this game? What are you trying to do against this guy?’ Every single time I ask him, ‘What are you working on?’ He’ll say he’s trying to stick to his plan and drive the ball to right field. That’s why he’s so successful. He just sticks to it, no matter the situation.”

An illness, which was recently confirmed as Epstein-Barr, has had Holliday on the shelf since June 24th and holy cow did the Yankees miss his bat these last few weeks. He did play a pair of rehab games last weekend and is tentatively scheduled to rejoin the Yankees for the second half opener tomorrow. That’s huge. Holliday has been everything the Yankees could have expected and more.

The Extra Position Players

Among all the random position player call-ups the Yankees have made this year, whether it was an injury fill-in or a one-day audition, the leader in plate appearances is … catcher Kyle Higashioka. He served as the backup catcher in April when an injury forced Gary Sanchez to the 10-day DL and Austin Romine into the starter’s role. Higashioka went 0-for-18 and started only five games. If that changed your opinion of him, you’re thinking too hard.

Another April injury fill-in was veteran Pete Kozma, who served as the backup while Didi Gregorius was hurt and Ronald Torreyes started at shortstop. Kozma went 1-for-9 with the Yankees and had nothing resembling a signature moment. The Yankees lost him to the Rangers on waivers when Gregorius returned and Kozma is still on their bench because Jurickson Profar played his way down to Triple-A.

Last month the Yankees finally got sick of Chris Carter and finally called up Tyler Austin, who missed the start of the season after fracturing his ankle with a foul ball early in Spring Training. Austin mashed with Triple-A Scranton before the call-up, hitting .300/.366/.560 (151 wRC+). He came up, went 2-for-13 with a home run and six strikeouts at the plate, then landed on the 10-day DL with a fairly significant hamstring strain. The Yankees can’t have nice things at first base.

The final two position players both played only one game in the big leagues this year, for very different reasons. After Holliday landed on the disabled list, the Yankees called up third base prospect Miguel Andujar for a day, and he went 3-for-4 with a double in his MLB debut. He became the first player in franchise history to drive in four runs in his big league debut.

The Yankees sent Andujar down to the minors the next day because they didn’t have regular at-bats to give him and there’s no point in making the kid sit on the bench. Andujar is really breaking out in the minors this year — he’s hitting .302/.336/.476 (121 wRC+) between Double-A and Triple-A — but he needs to work on his third base defense, so that’s what he’s doing. I’m glad the Yankees have resisted the temptation to move him to first to plug a short-term hole.

The other one-game position player in the first half was outfielder Dustin Fowler who gave us, hands down, the saddest moment of the season. In the first inning of his first big league game, Fowler crashed into the side wall in foul territory chasing a pop-up, which ruptured his right patella. It was an open rupture, meaning it broke through the skin. Yikes. Fowler had emergency surgery that night and is done for the season.

Fowler came up to replace Andujar after hitting .293/.329/.542 (137 wRC+) down in Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees called him up before Clint Frazier. They like him that much. Fowler’s injury is so sad. I feel terrible for the kid. The good news is he is expected to make a full recovery in time for Spring Training. Plus he’s on the big league disabled list collecting service time and big league pay, so his bank account is doing better. But still, you know Fowler wants to play. What a terrible and sad moment.

The Extra Pitchers

For the first two months or so of the season, the Yankees did away with the bullpen shuttle. The days of calling up a new reliever every day to make sure Joe Girardi had a fresh arm in the bullpen were over. The Yankees stuck with their guys. Then the bullpen melted down and started blowing leads left and right, and the Yankees started shuttling guys in and out regularly. Such is life. The shuttle returned last month.

The one shuttle reliever who made the Opening Day roster is Bryan Mitchell. Back-to-back rough outings (seven runs in 2.2 innings) earned him a demotion to Triple-A at the end of April. He came back up briefly at the end of May and again at the end of June. So far this season Mitchell has a 5.06 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 16 big leagues innings and a 3.60 ERA (2.27 FIP) in 35 Triple-A innings. He’ll be back at some point in the second half, I’m sure of it. Mitchell’s time to carve out a long-term role with the Yankees is running out though.

Luis Cessa, who was in the running for an Opening Day rotation spot, has made three starts and three relief appearances for the Yankees this year. The three starts came when CC Sabathia was on the disabled list and they did not go well (eleven runs in 13.2 innings). The three relief appearances were better (two runs in eleven innings). The end result is a 4.18 ERA (4.50 FIP) in 23.2 innings. I like Cessa — I seem to the be the only one who likes Cessa — and hope we see more of him going forward.

Four shuttle relievers have made their MLB debut this season: Gio Gallegos, Domingo German, Ronald Herrera, and Tyler Webb. They’ve combined for the the following line: 31 IP, 32 H, 20 R, 18 ER, 16 BB, 30 K. Replacement Level ‘R Us. German showed the most potential among those four. By far, I think. He also returned from Tommy John surgery a little more than a year ago and needs to pitch, not sit in the big league bullpen as the eight reliever. He’s in Triple-A where he belongs. Also, Ben Heller spent a day with the Yankees. He faced three batters: grounder, walk, walk-off single off his butt. He does have a 2.68 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 37 Triple-A innings though.

* * *

The Yankees have used 43 players this season and over the last four years they’ve averaged 56 players per season, so recent history suggests we’re going to see several new faces in the second half. New faces from outside the organization or the farm system. Probably a little of both.

DotF: Mateo stays hot, Sheffield hurt in Trenton’s win

Some notes to get us started:

  • So long, Tommy Layne. He has been released, the Yankees announced. Layne was pitching well with Triple-A Scranton, but the Yankees need roster space as players get healthy and get promoted, so the 32-year-old journeyman gets the axe.
  • The Yankees have acquired IF Jonathan Diaz from the Blue Jays, the team announced. Diaz spent all of last season with the RailRiders. Scranton is short on position players due to injuries and all the recent call-ups. Diaz is just a warm body to fill out the roster.
  • 1B Mike Ford was bumped up from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A Scranton, it was announced. IF Billy Fleming and LHP Daniel Camarena were sent the other way. Also, RHP Gio Gallegos has been activated off the disabled list. Whatever was bothering him couldn’t have been that bad.
  • Great stuff from Michael Peng on RHP Jorge Guzman, one of the players who came over in the Brian McCann trade. “We are teaching him not to throw but how to actually pitch, how to read hitters and how to throw different pitch sequences. And to me, seeing him learn these different things has been the biggest adjustment he has made. He seems seems to pick on the things we’re trying to teach him,” said Staten Island Yankees pitching coach Travis Phelps.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 win over Buffalo)

  • LF Jake Cave & 2B Donovan Solano: both 1-4, 2 K
  • 1B Mike Ford: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
  • DH Miguel Andujar: 0-3, 1 BB
  • RF Billy McKinney: 1-3, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K, 1 HBP — 8-for-22 (.364) with one double, two triples, and three homers in six games at Triple-A … he’s hit seven homers in his last 21 games after hitting four homers in 123 games last year and seven homers in 106 games the year before
  • SS Cito Culver: 1-3, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 E (fielding) — he’s hitting .262/.332/.492 this year, you know
  • 3B Abi Avelino: 0-3, 1 CS
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 12/1 GB/FB — 60 of 85 pitches were strikes (71%) … Good Bryan showed up tonight

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