Game Eight: Montgomery’s Debut

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The fifth starter competition is officially over, just a little earlier than everyone expected. The Yankees were planning to wait until April 16th to use their fifth starter, but after Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia had to work hard in their starts over the weekend, the club decided to give them an extra day. Jordan Montgomery arrives today as the fifth starter. It will be his MLB debut.

Montgomery wasn’t exactly a prime contender for the fifth starter’s spot in Spring Training, but he outpitched everyone ahead of him in the pecking order, which is why he’s getting a shot today. The Yankees still have Chad Green and Luis Cessa in Triple-A, plus Bryan Mitchell is in the bullpen, so Montgomery will have to pitch well to keep this rotation spot. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 1B Chris Carter
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. RF Aaron Judge
  8. C Kyle Higashioka
  9. SS Pete Kozma
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

Not the best weather in the Bronx this afternoon. It rained on and off for much of the morning, though that’s cleared out now. It’s still cloudy and windy though. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1pm ET — I have no idea why this is a 1pm ET start, it’s not a getaway day for either team — and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Greg Bird (ankle, flu) is doing much better. He’s out of the lineup today because the Rays are starting a left-hander, not because he’s still hurting or sick … Didi Gregorius (shoulder) started taking swings recently, so he’s progressing with his rehab … James Kaprielian (elbow) had his visit with Dr. Neal ElAttrache yesterday. Still no update though.

Roster Move: To get Montgomery on the 40-man roster, the Yankees have … done nothing yet. Still no announcement. They’re waiting until the last minute, apparently. designated Johnny Barbato for assignment, the team announced. Chasen Shreve was sent down Monday to get Montgomery on the 25-man roster.

Five things we’ve learned about the Yankees one week into the 2017 season

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

For the third time in the first nine days of the 2017 season, the Yankees have an off-day today. This one is a happy off-day. They won the home opener convincingly yesterday, one day after rallying late to beat the Orioles in Camden Yards. The Yankees are 3-4 through their first seven games of the new season. Not great, but considering they were nine outs away from a 1-5 record through six games fewer than 48 hours ago, I’ll take it.

The first week of the season is the best time to watch baseball because woo baseball’s back! We’ve been waiting all winter for this. The first week is also the worst time to analyze baseball because the sample sizes are tiny. Our eyes lie to us these first few days. Not everything needs a large sample size though. We can make some observations after only seven games, and I’m going to do that right now. Here are five things, in no particular order, we’ve learned about the 2017 Yankees through the first week of the new season.

The new Sabathia is sustainable

Seven games into the season, CC Sabathia has been unquestionably the best starter in the rotation, allowing three runs total in eleven innings in his two starts. He chucked five shutout innings in his first start and allowed three runs in six innings next time out, and both starts were reminiscent of last season. Sabathia danced in and out of danger and did a nice job limiting hard contact. The Orioles got to him with a bunch of soft line drives to the shallow outfield Sunday.

Last year the 36-year-old Sabathia reinvented himself after being wholly ineffective from 2013-15, mostly by adding a cutter and doing a better job neutralizing right-handed batters. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. Sabathia is having more success against righties because of the cutter. He’s always been good against lefties — he’s not as effective as he once was against them, but he’s still able to keep them in check — but righties hit him hard the last few years. We’re talking .304/.363/.502 (.370 wOBA) in 2015. Yikes.

MLB switched from PitchFX to Trackman this season and there have been some pitch classification issues early on — I had an entire Dylan Bundy post at CBS get borked by classification issues — so for some reason Sabathia’s cutters are being classified as four-seamer fastballs. Watching the games though, you can see he’s throwing a cutter, not a straight four-seamer. Here’s how he’s pitched righties through two starts, via FanGraphs (view is from the catcher’s perspective):

cc-sabathia-vs-rhb

Cutters — four-seamers according to Trackman, but nah — inside and everything else outside. Same as last year. And it’s working too. Sabathia has had two solid starts and he’s held righties to a .212/.333/.212 (.266 wOBA) batting line early on. (He won’t be that good against righties all season, obviously.) That Sabathia has already been able to carry over last season’s approach and success is encouraging. His days as an ace are over. We know that. Based on last season and the first two starts this year, Sabathia can still be a serviceable big league starting pitcher.

Gardner will be more aggressive on the bases

Over the last four seasons Brett Gardner‘s stolen base totals have fallen from 24 to 21 to 20 to 16. His stolen base attempts have declined from 32 to 26 to 25 to 20. Gardner is 33 now and players that age typically don’t run as much as they did earlier in their careers, but you can’t help but shake the feeling he (and Jacoby Ellsbury, for that matter) is capable of more on the bases.

“I definitely think we should be more aggressive and I need to be more aggressive. Not only hopefully do a better job of getting on base but when I do, I’m going to run a little more often, for sure,” said Gardner to Brendan Kuty back in Spring Training. And through seven games, Gardner has five steals in five attempts. He didn’t steal his fifth base until the team’s 27th game last year, and it wasn’t until the 36th game that he stole his sixth base.

Furthermore, Gardner is running early in the count. He’s had an annoying tendency to wait and wait and wait before stealing a bag, rather than going early and giving the hitter a better chance to drive him in. Gardner has stolen all five bases on the third pitch of the at-bat this year. You’d like him to go first or second pitch, but going on the third pitch is better than going fifth or sixth pitch, you know? He said he was going to be more aggressive on the bases and we’ve seen it so far.

“I talked to (Gardner) in Spring Training. Gave him a goal, basically,” said Joe Girardi following yesterday’s game. “Your job is to score 100 runs, and I don’t care how you get to the next base, but your job is to score 100 runs. If you do that, and Ells can do that, we’re going to have a pretty good offense. He’s run a lot, he’s swung the bat extremely well, he’s played defense extremely well, so he’s off to a great start.”

Ellsbury, meanwhile, has only one steal so far, but it was kind of a big one. He pinch-ran for Matt Holliday in the ninth inning of a tie game Sunday, and stole second on the very first pitch. Again, Gardner and Ellsbury are both 33 and will soon be 34. Their days of stealing 40+ bases a year are probably over. Speed typically doesn’t age well. They do seem to be capable of more than their 36 combined steals last season though, and they’re off to a nice start on the bases in 2017, especially Gardner.

Judge is adjusting to MLB pitching

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The overall numbers are pretty awesome thus far: .261/.320/.565 (150 wRC+) with a double and two home runs. It’s still early, of course. More important than the raw numbers these first 25 plate appearances is how much more comfortable Aaron Judge looks so far this year compared to last year. Last season, when he fell into a two-strike count, Judge was basically in survival mode. Pitchers picked him apart and the result was a 44.2% strikeout rate.

So far this year Judge has struck out six times in 25 plate appearances, a 24.0% rate, and his approach looks so more better. He’s not chasing out of the zone as often. He’s doing a much better job laying off those breaking balls down and away, the pitch that gave him such a hard time time in 2016. Judge also isn’t swinging and missing at pitches in the strike zone nearly as much. Here are the quick numbers, which come with big ol’ sample size warnings:

  • Judge in 2016: 34.9% chase rate and 74.3% contact rate in the zone
  • Judge in 2017: 25.5% chase rate and 92.3% contact rate in the zone
  • MLB averages 2016-17: 30.8% chase rate and 86.4% contact rate in the zone

All throughout his career Judge’s tendency has been to struggle initially when he gets to a new level, then adjust and have success. He struggled big time last season after being called up. Sure, he mashed some long home runs, but the strikeouts piled up and were a major concern. How could they not be? We’ve yet to see that version of Judge this year, the one who can’t make contact. He’s provided some nice punch from the bottom third of the lineup.

“I think it’s important he contributes,” said Girardi yesterday. “Being a young player can be difficult at times, when you get off to slow starts. Maybe you’re not swinging quite as well as people think you should. There’s a lot of expectations placed on you. Anytime you’re able to contribute — and he’s contributed pretty big the last two days — I think it helps them relax a little bit.”

Seven games doesn’t tell us anything definitive about Judge this season. He could slip into a 4-for-40 with 25 strikeouts slump tomorrow. Early on though, he looks more comfortable at the plate, especially in two-strike counts, and that is really encouraging. He’s worked hard to make changes and put himself in the best position to succeed. We’re starting to see the results of that work now that he’s swinging and missing less often.

Yes, there will be growing pains with the kids

Spring Training sure was fun, wasn’t it? Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez hit the snot out of the ball and it was hard not to get excited about them hitting second and third in the regular season. Naturally, both have started the regular season slowly. Bird was off to a 1-for-16 (.063) start — the one hit was a bloop just inside the foul line — before getting sick over the weekend and sitting out a few games. Sanchez went 3-for-20 (.150) with a homer before landing on the disabled list with a biceps issue.

Fair or unfair, the combination of their first impressions — Bird in the second half of 2015 and Sanchez in the second half of 2016 — and dynamite springs raised expectations. The Yankees certainly expect Bird and Sanchez to be key contributors this year given their lineup positions. The first week of the season was a harsh reminder that yeah, these are two kids in their first full MLB season, and there will be bumps along the way. They’re better than they’ve shown so far. Much better. Ups and down come with the territory with young players though.

Carter is an imperfect bench piece

The Yankees were smart to pick up Chris Carter on the cheap at the end of the offseason because hey, 40-homer bats don’t grow on trees, plus no one knew what to expect from Bird. We still don’t know what Bird can do this season. I think he’ll be good, but I don’t know that. Adding Carter as a safety net was a nifty little low-cost addition. Dingers are cool. I like dingers.

At the same time, Bird showed his shoulder is sound in Spring Training and the Yankees are committed to playing him, which leaves Carter on the bench. Before Bird’s recent illness, Carter pinch-hit twice in the first four games of the season, and that’s it. He can’t do much else. He’s a first baseman (and designated hitter) only, so he offers no versatility, and given his splits, ideally he’d hit against lefties. There’s a very specific set of conditions that have to be met for Carter to play.

Bird is out sick now (and his ankle is acting up), so the Yankees are happy to have Carter as a temporary fill-in. When Bird is healthy though — and especially once he starts hitting, which is only a matter of time — Carter’s usefulness is limited. He basically gets to pinch-hit against lefties in the late innings, and even then he’s only going to pinch-hit for certain batters. Ronald Torreyes and Austin Romine, essentially. That’s about it. Meh.

Game Seven: Home Opener

Yay baseball. (RAB)
Yay baseball. (RAB)

After six months and six road games, baseball returns to Yankee Stadium today. Can you believe this is already the ninth year of the new Stadium? It still feels like the place just opened. Based on the way teams are going through ballparks these days, the Yankees are due for a new park in eleven years or so. The Yankees are 4-4 in home openers at the current incarnation of Yankee Stadium.

“You feel like the season is in full swing once you come home,” said Joe Girardi this morning. “Obviously you’re aware that it starts. I think everyone always looks forward to their home opener. You feel that there’s that advantage playing at home. You feel that your team is built for ballpark. You get to sleep in your bed and do those types of things. You feel like the season is underway.”

The Yankees are coming off a pretty excellent win over the Orioles yesterday and now they’re sending Michael Pineda to the mound, and gosh, who knows what he’s going to do from start-to-start. His first start last week did not go well at all, but Pineda is the kind of guy who can get hammered one day and strike out ten in seven scoreless innings five days later. Hopefully the good version of Big Mike shows up this afternoon. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 1B Chris Carter
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. RF Aaron Judge
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Michael Pineda

The weather is spectacular in the Bronx today. Bright blue sky and temperatures in the mid-70s. Can’t beat it. The pregame ceremonies will being at roughly 12:40pm ET and I’m sure YES will have them. Joe Torre, Willie Randolph, and Tino Martinez are throwing out the ceremonial first pitches and will be honored for their roles in Team USA’s World Baseball Classic championship. Torre was the general manager and Willie and Tino were on the coaching staff. I wonder whether Tyler Clippard, who was in the USA bullpen, will be honored too. We’ll see. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Greg Bird (ankle, illness) is available off the bench today, if necessary. He was available yesterday too, but Girardi said once the lead stretched to four runs, they decided to take it easy on him. Girardi also said Bird is sitting today more because of the illness than the ankle … Gary Sanchez (biceps) will see a doctor today and the Yankees will get a better idea about his timetable then. Girardi said Sanchez is feeling better and he’s more optimistic about the injury now than he was at the time it happened.

Game Six: Avoid the Sweep

The start of the season in picture form. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
The start of the season in picture form. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

So this series — and the season, really — isn’t going too well right now. The last two days the Yankees have blown the types of games they really can’t afford to blow this season. Their margin for error isn’t big enough to cough up three and four-run leads. Hopefully that ends today.

CC Sabathia, who started New York’s only win of the season last week, is on the mound today. The Orioles have stacked their lineup with righties — Chris Davis is the only lefty in the starting lineup — and that almost kinda plays to Sabathia’s strength nowadays. He pounds righties inside with his cutter and gets them to chase soft stuff away. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 1B Chris Carter
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. RF Aaron Judge
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s a wonderful day in Baltimore. Sunny and on the cool side. Pretty much perfect baseball weather, as far as I’m concerned. This afternoon’s series finale will begin at 1:35pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: As expected, Kyle Higashioka has been officially called up to replace Gary Sanchez (biceps). He’s wearing No. 38. Congrats to Higashioka for getting to the big leagues after grinding through 9+ years in the minors. Sanchez was placed on the 10-day disabled list following yesterday’s game. He’s going to see the team doctor in New York tomorrow.

Injury Update: Greg Bird (ankle) feels better, though now he’s sick. He had the flu or food poisoning or something like that last night. The Red Sox and Orioles have had the flu go through the clubhouse early this season. Hopefully the Yankees aren’t next.

The Gary-less Lineup

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

If you haven’t heard by now–though the collective worried gasp of Yankee fans everywhere yesterday afternoon probably gave it away–Gary Sanchez is injured, and will be going on the 10-day disabled list with a right biceps issue.

This leaves the Yankees with a gaping hole at what is the most important defensive position on the field–where Sanchez has shown great skill–and arguably the most important position in the lineup; slotting Sanchez in second made sense and was a big show of confidence in him by Joe Girardi and the coaching staff. Now, that’s for naught–at least for the next ten days. So, what can the Yankees do in Sanchez’s lineup absence?

My first thought was one I suggested previously, using DH Matt Holliday as the second hitter thanks to his combination of skills. However, without Sanchez to be in the clean up spot–and no one yet reliable enough to take his place–I don’t think that idea works. Holliday should stick at fourth, which is just as important as the second spot. But, since the route they’ll likely take is sticking Jacoby Ellsbury–who’s off to a good start–back into the second slot, giving the Yankees a more traditional look at the top of the lineup, that would mean three lefties–Gardner, Ellsbury, and Greg Bird stacked together, and that could lead to matchup problems late in games. So, I assume Girardi will split the lefties and have Holliday bat third with Bird cleaning up.

The team can go one of two ways with the fifth spot. The first way is to bump Chase Headley up a spot, rewarding him for a hot start. I’d be totally fine with that. The other would be to give the spot to Aaron Judge. This could show faith in him, challenge him, and give him an opportunity to hit behind better players, increasing the likelihood of him batting with men on base. That second option probably isn’t going to happen, but I think that’s the one I’d like, if only to keep up the ‘give the kids a shot’ theme that this season is likely to have.

Best hi-five ever (Source: AP)
Best hi-five ever (Source: AP)

So, the combination of the most likely scenario/what I’d want to see would look like this:

  1. Gardner, LF
  2. Ellsbury, CF
  3. Holliday, DH
  4. Bird, 1B
  5. Judge, RF
  6. Castro, 2B
  7. Headley, 3B
  8. Romine, C
  9. Torreyes, SS

You could flip Castro and Headley if you like, and I might do the same. But the main takeaway here is that without Sanchez, this lineup seems a whole lot shorter and a whole lot thinner than it did just 24 hours ago. Losing a big bat at a premium position always hurts, and that goes double when a backup quality player–Torreyes–is already in the every day lineup. Get well soon, Gary; the lineup needs you.

Game Five: Take Two for Masahiro Tanaka

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

The Yankees are having a Murphy’s Law start to the season. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. When they need the bullpen to be great, they blow a lead. When they need the offense to score some runs, they bang into a double play. The result so far is one win and three losses. Not the best start in the world, but hey, it happens. Every team goes 1-3 during some random four-game stretch each season. The Yankees just so happened to do it at the start of the season.

Anyway, Masahiro Tanaka is making his second start this afternoon, and gosh, his first was terrible. Arguably his worst as a Yankee. Afterwards both Tanaka and pitching coach Larry Rothschild chalked it up to adrenaline, which I can kinda sorta buy because Tanaka’s location was so bad. That’s not him. It looked like he was overthrowing. Hopefully he’ll be over that Opening Day adrenaline rush today and pitch like the Yankees need him to pitch, which is ace-like. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

It’s a wonderful day in Baltimore, per the internet. Sunny and on the cool side. It’s still too early for that sticky summer humidity in the mid-Atlantic. Today’s game will begin at 4:10pm. You can watch on YES locally and FOX Sports 1 nationally. Try to enjoy.

Injury Update: Greg Bird (ankle) is still having some discomfort. He fouled a pitch off the ankle in the final week of Spring Training. X-rays came back negative and he’ll see a doctor today. The Yankees hope to have him back in the lineup for the home opener Monday. For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman said his level of concern is “low.” My dumb take: the disabled list is ten days now, so just sit him out the week and a half and let it heal.

Injury Update II: The Yankees saw Bird saw a doctor today who determined no further tests are required. He is day-to-day. Good news.

Game Four: Escape from Florida

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

The Yankees are finally (finally!) out of Florida. They’d been stuck in the Tampa area for all but one day since Spring Training started in mid-February. Now they’re in Baltimore for a three-game weekend series with the Orioles. After that, it’s back to the Bronx for the first homestand of the season. Can’t wait. I’ve thoroughly missed baseball at Yankee Stadium.

Tonight Luis Severino will made his first start of the season, and I think this much is true: barring injury, he’ll make 25-30 starts this season. I just don’t know how many will be in MLB and how many will be in Triple-A. Severino was very bad as a starter last season and he didn’t exactly wow anyone in camp either. Hopefully he takes it to another level during the regular season. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. 1B Greg Bird
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Severino

Not the greatest weather in Baltimore today. It rained earlier in the afternoon and it’s cold and cloudy now, but at least the rain stopped. They shouldn’t have any trouble getting the game in tonight. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Bird is nursing a nagging right ankle injury, according to Bryan Hoch. He fouled a pitch off the ankle during the final week of Spring Training and has been icing it heavily since. Obviously it’s not bad enough to keep him out of the lineup though.