Game 80: Tanaka Time vs. Tampa

(Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)
(Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)

This weekend’s series with the Rays is pretty important. I mean, all games against AL East rivals will be important going forward because the division is so tight. Every single game matters. Each win in July is one less you need in September.

Masahiro Tanaka will be on the mound tonight following two really shaky starts that featured six total home runs allowed. Three in each start. The Yankees might be tied for first today, but it’s hard to see them staying atop the division if Tanaka doesn’t straight himself out. Here is Tampa Bay’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Garrett Jones
  7. LF Chris Young
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Absolutely flawless weather in New York today. Beautiful blue skies, just enough clouds, temperatures in the high-70s/low-80s, and a nice cool breeze. Just perfect. This is what I want the weather to be for the rest of my life. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB nationally. Enjoy the game, folks.

Rotation Update: Ivan Nova will start Sunday on normal rest, Joe Girardi told reporters. CC Sabathia is being pushed back to Wednesday to give him extra rest, and also extra time to work on things in the bullpen. Also, pushing him back means Sabathia will a) make just one start before the All-Star break instead of two, and b) not face the division rival Rays and Red Sox these next ten days.

Injury Update: Looking for a timetable for Jacoby Ellsbury‘s return? Well we’re not getting one. Girardi basically said he’ll be back when he’s back. Ellsbury (knee) has played two minor league rehab games this week but has had to sit out two others with fatigue. He is not playing for High-A Tampa tonight.

Roster Updates: In case you missed it earlier, Carlos Beltran was placed on the 15-day DL with an oblique strain. Taylor Dugas was sent down as well and both Ramon Flores and Gregorio Petit were called up.

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Game 72: The Return of Ivan Nova

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

For the first time since April 19th of last season, Ivan Nova will be on the mound for the Yankees this afternoon. The real Yankees too. Not the Tampa Yankees or another minor league affiliate. His rehab from Tommy John surgery is complete and today he returns to the rotation. What to expect? Who knows. Nova was unpredictable even before having his elbow rebuilt.

The Yankees are getting Nova back today but, more importantly, they have to avoid being swept by the Phillies. The Phillies! The worst team in baseball. The worst offense in baseball has scored eleven runs in each of the first two games of the series — the Phillies went from averaging 3.10 runs per game to 3.32 runs per game thanks to the Yankees — and today they’re sending ace Cole Hamels to the mound. Good grief. Here is the Phils’ lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. LF Chris Young
  7. C John Ryan Murphy
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Jose Pirela
    RHP Ivan Nova

It’s a gorgeous day in New York. Nice and sunny with temperatures comfortably in the upper-70s/low-80s. Just a perfect afternoon for a ballgame. Today’s series finale will begin 1:05pm ET and you can watch live on YES locally and, depending on where you live, MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Teixeira (neck) took batting practice and felt good, so he’s back in the lineup … Andrew Miller (forearm) played catch today for the first time since being shut down. He made 25 throws and everything went well … Brendan Ryan was placed on the 15-day DL with an upper-back strain. One thing after another with that guy.

Roster Move: Jose DePaula was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot for Nova, the Yankees announced … Ryan to the DL cleared the 25-man roster spot.

Thoughts prior to Ivan Nova’s return to the rotation

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Yesterday afternoon Joe Girardi announced Ivan Nova will make his (hopefully) triumphant return to the rotation tomorrow afternoon, in the Yankees’ series finale with the Phillies. Nova had Tommy John surgery late last April, so his rehab lasted 14 months or so. I have thoughts on this development. Time to share.

1. It goes without saying Nova’s return is a good thing. Getting a healthy pitcher back and beefing up the depth chart is never bad. That said, I really have no idea what to expect from Nova. Heck, even when he was healthy it was tough to know which Nova would show up from start to start. He’d have rough stretches and dominant stretches, which isn’t uncommon for talented young pitchers. Command was never really his strength though — he seemed to lack command all through 2012 and the result was the most extra-base hits allowed in baseball — and that’s usually the last thing to return following Tommy John surgery. Nova’s return could be a little rocky at first, and, if it is, there’s nothing the Yankees can do other than ride it out and wait for him to adjust to his new elbow.

2. So yes, while Nova’s return is a good thing, it does create some roster headaches. Girardi told reporters the Yankees will use a six-man rotation for the time being, something they’ve been talking about since before Spring Training even started. They want to give everyone, particularly guys with health questions like Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) and Michael Pineda (shoulder) an extra day of rest whenever possible, and the six-man rotation allows them to do that during this 20 games in 20 days stretch that is a little more than halfway complete. (Tonight is Game 12.) My guess is the Yankees figured the crowded rotation would take care of itself, either by someone getting hurt or Adam Warren pitching himself back into the bullpen, but that didn’t happen. The six-man rotation both gives the starters extra rest and gives the team time before deciding who to remove from the rotation.

Warren for 2B. (Presswire)
Warren for 2B? (Presswire)

3. I don’t think anyone expected Warren to pitch this well as a starter — 3.62 ERA (4.25 FIP) overall and 2.93 ERA (4.23 FIP) in his last seven starts — including the Yankees. Remember, he was only in the rotation to start the year because Chris Capuano got hurt in Spring Training. I think the Yankees figured Warren would simply hold down the fort, be serviceable but not really excel, and then slide back into the bullpen whenever someone got healthy. That didn’t happen. Warren complicated things (in a good way!) by pitching well. He took Capuano’s rotation spot — that was the easy part — and is now going to have to show he belongs in the rotation ahead of … who? Tanaka, Pineda, and CC Sabathia won’t lose their spots and Nathan Eovaldi is unlikely to as well. It’s either Warren or Nova, and my guess is Nova will be given a lot of rope coming off elbow surgery. Barring an injury, it’s hard to see how Warren remains in the rotation beyond next week. For shame.

4. When the time comes to activate Nova tomorrow, I have no doubt the Yankees will send Ramon Flores down to Triple-A Scranton and play with a three-man bench. Everything they’ve done the last few years says they will not play with a six-man bullpen. And, not for nothing, they need all the arms they can get right now. They’ve had some problems keeping the other team off the board the last week or so. Going with a six-man bullpen is not a good idea right now. So Flores goes down, Garrett Jones and Chris Young share a quasi-platoon in left, and John Ryan Murphy and Brendan Ryan are on the bench. The roster stays like that until … who knows. Until a starter is moved into the bullpen or Jacoby Ellsbury returns. This is another one of those “deal with it when the time comes” situations. Either way, like I said, I have no doubt Flores is going down and the Yankees will use a three-man bench while using the six-man rotation.

5. Opening a 40-man roster spot for Nova will be a bit more interesting. The Yankees could call up Jacob Lindgren (elbow) and slide him to the 60-day DL, which would allow him to accrue service time, which the team wants to avoid. They’ve been hesitant do that “call up then 60-day DL” thing with other prospects in the past. That means someone will be designated for assignment, with Gregorio Petit and Jose DePaula standing out as candidates. Diego Moreno is another candidate as well. The Yankees have added three pitchers to the 40-man in recent weeks (Moreno, Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow) and could opt to jettison DePaula or Moreno while keeping the extra infielder. This isn’t a critical move, whoever they cut can be replaced relatively easily, but this stuff always interests me. Nova’s return means someone else has to go.

Nova to make season debut Wednesday, Yankees going to six-man rotation for time being

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s official: Ivan Nova will return to the rotation and start Wednesday’s series finale against the Phillies. Joe Girardi told reporters the news this afternoon. Adam Warren, who is also lined up to start Wednesday, will start Thursday instead. Everyone else is getting pushed back a day and the Yankees will use a six-man rotation for the time being. Girardi said he doesn’t anticipate that lasting beyond next week, however.

Nova, 28, had Tommy John surgery last April and the team took a conservative approach with his rehab, partly because so many other pitchers around the league have needed second Tommy John surgeries the last year or two. Some, including Dr. James Andrews, have speculated the recent spike in second elbow reconstructions stems from an overly aggressive rehab following the first Tommy John surgery.

After making a bunch of Extended Spring Training starts, Nova pitched to a 4.02 ERA in three official minor league rehab starts, one with High-A Tampa and two with Triple-A Scranton. Reports said he looked good even though his last start (five runs in five innings) was rough. Command is the last thing to return following Tommy John surgery and it was never Nova’s strong suit anyway. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about his first few starts back.

The Yankees don’t have an obvious candidate to remove from the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and Warren have all pitched well, CC Sabathia isn’t going anywhere because of his contract, and Nathan Eovaldi will stay in the rotation for developmental reasons. Heck, who’s to say Nova isn’t the team’s sixth best starter right now?  These things have a way of working themselves out. For now, a six-man rotation it is.

Yankees facing tough but welcome roster decisions this month

(Scranton Times Tribune)
(Scranton Times Tribune)

At some point very soon — likely next week — the Yankees will welcome Ivan Nova back to the rotation. He allowed one run in six innings in his second Triple-A rehab start over the weekend, but apparently he had issues with his command and wasn’t as sharp as he had been in previous rehab starts. Joe Girardi confirmed yesterday Nova will make one more minor league rehab start later this week.

“We just feel we want to make sure that he’s finished off,” said the skipper to Chad Jennings. “It’s not something that’s easy to make an adjustment if you say, we wish we would have had one more start, so we talked about it for a couple days and we just think it’s better that we know that he’s ready to go and ready to handle the rigors of throwing every fifth day and all that … We waited a long time and to give him one more start and to make sure that he’s ready is probably the best thing to do.”

Once Nova is deemed ready to rejoin the Yankees, the team will have to figure out a way to squeeze him back into the rotation, unless of course they decide to use a six-man rotation. Sunday’s subpar start by Adam Warren seems like the excuse the Yankees have been waiting for to plug him back into the bullpen after his recent run of strong starts. Girardi’s somewhat quick hook was telling.

Soon after Nova returns, Jacoby Ellsbury is expected back from his knee problem. Cashman told Erik Boland the team expects Ellsbury back before the All-Star break (which is less than a month away now) and that he could return later this month. Once he does return Ellsbury will slide right back into his usual center field/leadoff hitter slot and the rookie outfielder du jour (Mason Williams, currently) will be send down.

Last week the Yankees had to send Jose Pirela to Triple-A to make room for Brendan Ryan even though Pirela has gone 14-for-27 (.519) against lefties in his very brief MLB career. Jacob Lindgren was dropped in favor of Sergio Santos partly because the Yankees wanted another righty reliever and partly because Lindgren gave up three dingers in his seven innings. Ramon Flores was swapped out for Williams despite his solid showing.

Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

In this recent stretch of games the Yankees have had to make some tough roster decisions and they have some more tough decisions on the way. Keeping Pirela, Flores, and Lindgren around would have easily been justifiable. Warren may move to the bullpen but chances are the Yankees wish they could keep him in the rotation to see what happens. His last six starts as a whole has been very impressive, even including Sunday.

The Yankees suddenly have depth and extra players who belong on the roster. Too many times in the last two seasons the club was left scrambling for players, whether it was shortstops like Luis Cruz and Reid Brignac in 2013 or pitchers like Alfredo Aceves and Matt Daley in 2014, there was always someone on the roster that needed to be replaced. Obviously injuries played a part in that, but the Yankees have had injuries this year too. This season’s crop of replacements has been much more productive.

Right now, Santos is probably the only guy on the roster the Yankees would drop in a heartbeat if a better option presents itself. If Ryan or another outfielder gets hurt, Pirela and Flores are capable replacements. Those internal replacements rarely existed from 2013-14 and Hal Steinbrenner made it clear he viewed that as a problem in the last two offseasons. I know we’re all looking for stars from the farm system, but getting capable fill-ins like Pirela and Flores is very important too. It prevents the Brignacs and Daleys from even being needed.

When the time comes to activate Nova and Ellsbury, the Yankees will have tough decisions to make and that’s a good thing. Having more quality players than roster spots is a plus. The lack of depth and general lack of production from the farm system helped sink the Yankees the last two seasons. Now they have multiple young outfielders and a young infielder waiting in Triple-A, and will probably move a capable starter in Warren to the bullpen to make room for Nova. Figuring out who has to go isn’t so easy anymore. That’s a good thing.

Game 63: Tanaka Takes Miami

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

The Yankees are in Miami for the start of a four-game home-and-home series with the Marlins. Two games at Marlins Park, then two games at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have never played a regular season game in Marlins Park, though they did play two exhibition games there prior to the park’s opening in 2012. So, technically, the Yankees played the first two games at Marlins Park.

Anyway, Masahiro Tanaka will be on the mound this evening making his third start off the DL. His first two were identical in that he allowed one run in seven innings each time, though he only fanned six Nationals last time out after striking out nine Mariners six days earlier. Slacker. Tanaka’s been really great this season (2.48 ERA and 2.61 FIP) so please oh please just stay healthy. Please please please. Here is Miami’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Garrett Jones
  6. 2B Stephen Drew
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. CF Mason Williams
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It’s hot and humid with very few clouds in Miami this evening. I’m not sure if the Marlins Park roof will be open tonight — they could close it because of the heat. We’ll find out soon enough, I guess. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and can be seen on WPIX, not YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) took batting practice for the first time today but still has some discomfort. “It’s been pretty good but still not where it needs to be. There is a little feeling he needs to get rid of. I wouldn’t call it pain,” said Joe Girardi to reporters over the weekend … Ivan Nova (elbow) will make one more Triple-A rehab start … Carlos Beltran has a minor hamstring injury and is available tonight if necessary.

Roster Update: Esmil Rogers has accepted his outright assignment to Triple-A Scranton, so he’s still in the organization as a non-40-man roster player.

All-Star Voting Update: Mike Trout and the Royals are still on pace to start for the AL All-Star Team according to the voting update released by MLB today. No Yankees are close to starting. Alex Rodriguez is probably the closest and he dropped to fifth among DHs.

Nova’s return coming at just the right time for the Yanks

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Nothing is set in stone yet, but all signs point to Ivan Nova rejoining the Yankees after making his second minor league rehab start with Triple-A Scranton later today. The Yankees do need to see how he feels after that start, how his arm bounces back, all that stuff, but so far his rehab has gone very well and by all indications Nova will be activated off the DL very soon.

“We’re pretty encouraged with where he’s at right now. The sink on his fastball, his changeup, his curveball, we’re pretty encouraged. I didn’t say he would be ready after (today). I said we would evaluate him,’’ said Joe Girardi to George King earlier this week. “I think you evaluate where he is after each start, how built up he is. He should be able to give you 90 pitches the next time, 85 to 90 pitches, and then you just look at his stuff.”

Fitting Nova back onto the roster is one of those problems that isn’t a problem because there’s no such thing as too much pitching. The Yankees don’t have an obvious candidate to take out of the rotation because the five guys in the rotation have been pretty good for a few weeks now. The easy move would be sticking Adam Warren back in the bullpen, especially now that Andrew Miller is on the DL, but man, he’s been so good as a starter of late. I’d hate to see them pull the plug on Warren in the rotation when he’s pitching so well.

There’s also the six-man rotation option, which the Yankees have been talking about since before Spring Training and might now have the necessary pieces to pull it off. We weren’t even sure if they had five viable starters back in March. Remember that? Four of their five starters have been league average-ish or better and the fifth has a massive contract that ensures he’ll remain in the rotation until his arm falls off. Like it or not, CC Sabathia is not losing his rotation spot to Nova.

The Yankees started a stretch of 20 games in 20 days yesterday, and they’ve already skipped Michael Pineda once this season to control his innings. Warren’s innings have to be monitored as well and, as good as he’s been, the Yankees still have to be careful with Masahiro Tanaka. Giving him an extra day whenever possible is a good idea, and now the Yankees can possibly do that thanks to Nova’s return.

“We know that we’re going to need to insert a starter somewhere. We know that,” said Girardi to Chad Jennings earlier this week when asked about using a sixth starter to give the other starters extra rest during this stretch of 20 games in 20 days. “Do you do it twice? Maybe. Maybe we have to do it twice. We just have to see how the guys are doing and how they’re responding.”

Assuming Nova comes back well and a six-man rotation is a viable strategy during this stretch of games, the only concern would be making it work with the roster. The Yankees aren’t going to shed a reliever and use a six-man bullpen, everything they’ve done over the last few years shows they prefer having extra arms, which means a three-man bench. A backup catcher (John Ryan Murphy), a backup infielder (Brendan Ryan), and a backup outfielder (Garrett Jones or Mason Williams).

Williams has minor league options, Jones doesn’t, and that’s pretty much the deciding factor there. The Yankees don’t figure to cut Jones for Williams no matter how well Williams performs in the next week or so before Nova returns. Jones has started hitting of late after that brutal April. A three-man bench is less than ideal, though it might only be temporary until the Yankees get through these next 20 days.

“We just know we have a number of different guys that we’ve got to find ways to protect,” said Brian Cashman to Maria Guardado. “There’s other avenues to do it. If everybody’s healthy, you could always play with a six-man rotation, if Nova’s back and everyone’s in line. But we’re just trying to find ways to manage it properly so everybody keeps that full tank of gas and doesn’t have fatigue set in too easily, because when fatigue sets in, injuries can happen.”

Either way, Nova’s return is imminent and that’s a positive. The Yankees have some workloads to control this year and having him around to chew up innings will come in handy. And if the Yankees do stick Warren in the bullpen to replace Miller, as unfair as that would be, they have Nova ready to step in to the rotation spot. The rotation hasn’t been a weakness, but Nova’s return comes at a very convenient time for the Yankees. He gives them some options going forward, including a six-man rotation.

“There’s no strict plan as much as find ways at times to give people blows is basically what we’re going to try to do,” added Cashman. “But how we’re going to do it, we’re not sure just yet.”