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.

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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.”

Game 59: Take Two

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees and Nationals are going to play their two game-series in the span of 24 hours or so. The Yankees won the opener last night and will try to get a little revenge for getting swept in that two-game series in Washington a few weeks ago. Sweeping a two-game series is always cool.

More importantly, the Yankees have won seven straight games — and 11 of their last 14! — for the first time since September 2012. The last time they won eight straight was June 2012, when they won ten straight. The Yankees are close to firing on all cylinders now that the bottom of the lineup has been something better than awful. Keep it going this afternoon. Here is Washington’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 Carlos Beltran
  7. LF Chris Young
  8. 2B Jose Pirela
  9. SS Brendan Ryan
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It’s a very nice afternoon for baseball here in New York. Sunny, blue skies, and not unbearably humid. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Move: As you can tell by the lineup, Ryan (hamstring, calf) was activated off the 60-day DL today. Ramon Flores was optioned to Triple-A. The Yankees had an open 40-man spot, so no other move was needed to accommodate Ryan.

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) ran the bases today and has been hitting off a tee. Running the bases is a pretty significant rehab milestone for a speed guy with a knee injury … Ivan Nova (elbow) threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium today and will make another rehab start with Triple-A Scranton on Friday. Sounds like he could be activated after that.

Game 58: Tanaka Tuesday

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Oh man, there is a lot going on tonight. For starters, Masahiro Tanaka is making just his third home start of the season and his first in almost exactly two months due to his wrist/forearm injury. Secondly, Tanaka is squaring off against Max Scherzer in what will probably be the best pitching matchup of the season. Third, the Yankees have a six-game winning streak and need to keep that sucker going.

And finally, future Yankee Bryce Harper is playing his first game in his future home ballpark, Yankee Stadium. He’ll get to take aim at that short right field porch and then go to bed tonight dreaming about all those future home runs he’ll hit. Harper’s not as stupidly hot as he was the last time these two teams played, but he can still flick his wrists and hit the ball into the second deck. Hopefully it doesn’t happen these next two days. Here’s Washington’s lineup and here’s 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 Carlos Beltran
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. LF Ramon Flores
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It has been cloudy and kinda rainy most of the day, but the sun came out not too long ago and it’s turned into a nice night. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Ivan Nova (elbow) is going to travel to New York to throw a bullpen session for pitching coach Larry Rothschild, then he’ll make a rehab start with Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees will then determine if he’s ready or needs another rehab outing.

All-Star Voting Update: MLB released their weekly All-Star Game voting update yesterday, and no Yankees are close to leading their respective positions. A-Rod is third among DHs and he’s closest. Fans in Kansas City are stuffing the ballot box, so unless MLB steps in or there’s a sudden shift in the voting, the All-Star Game will be Mike Trout and the Royals against the NL.

Game 55: Back from the West Coast

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

That was a really uneven seven-game trip to the West Coast. The Yankees played poorly in losing two of three to the Athletics then had basically the best series ever while sweeping the Mariners. They pounded Felix Hernandez in the first game, had a dramatic ninth inning comeback in the second game, and watched Masahiro Tanaka dominate in his return from the DL in the third game. How could it get any better?

Thankfully, the Yankees are back home in the Bronx for a quick five-game homestand, starting tonight with the first of three against the Angels. The Halos had the best record in baseball a year ago but are kinda scuffling along this year. In fact, they have almost the same record as the Yankees. The Yankees are 29-25 and the Angels are 28-26. Anyway, here is Anaheim’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. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. LF Ramon Flores
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

The weather is kinda crummy in New York. It’s been raining on and off all day, though there’s nothing more than some drizzle in the forecast tonight. That’s good. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally, depending where you live. Enjoy the game.

Rotation Update: The Yankees are skipping Michael Pineda‘s next start to control his workload. He isn’t hurt and will start next Friday. CC Sabathia will start on normal rest Sunday in Pineda’s place. The Yankees had an off-day yesterday and have off-days coming up on Monday and Thursday, so they can skip Pineda without needing a spot starter. Big Mike has already thrown 70.1 innings this year and is on pace for about 220 innings. He threw 76.1 innings last year and a career-high 171 innings back in 2011, before shoulder surgery.

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) ran some sprints, took dry swings, and played catch today, the first time he’s performed any baseball activity since getting hurt … Ivan Nova (elbow) will make his first official minor league rehab start with High-A Tampa on Monday, the team announced. He is scheduled for 80-85 pitches and will make at least one more start after that before returning to the team … Carlos Beltran (foot) is still day-to-day after fouling that pitch off his foot in Seattle. He may be available to pinch-hit tonight … McCann (foot) got some new orthotics and tested his foot in the bullpen this afternoon. He’s fine and back in the lineup.

Game 53: CC For The Series Win

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Fun Fact: The Yankees have won just one of their last six series. That was the sweep of the Royals last week. Their last series win before that came against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium back in early-May. It’s been a while. Last night’s series opening win against Felix Hernandez gives them two chance to win this series with the Mariners, but I hope they take care of business tonight.

Rookie left-hander Mike Montgomery will be on making him MLB debut for the Mariners, and although it seems like the Yankees stink against pitchers they’ve never seen before, they’re actual 7-1 against pitchers making their MLB debut dating back to 2011. The whole “they can’t hit pitchers they’ve never seen” thing stems from way back, like 2007-08. Anyway, just go win tonight. Two wins a row would be cool. Here is Seattle’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 2B Jose Pirela
  8. C John Ryan Murphy
  9. SS Stephen Drew
    LHP CC Sabathia

Typical Seattle weather tonight, so it’s cloudy and rainy. Looks like the Safeco Field roof will be open for at least the first few innings. Tonight’s game will begin at 10:10pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Ivan Nova threw five innings — three outside then two inside because it started raining — in an Extended Spring Training game today. His next start will be an official minor league rehab start with one of the affiliates, starting his 30-day clock.