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 50: Late Night on the West Coast

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The only thing that sucks worse than a Yankees loss is waiting until late at night for a Yankees loss on the West Coast. The Yankees have dropped the first two games of this four-game series to the Athletics — which team is in first place and which one has the worst record in the league again? — and we’ve had to wait until the wee hours of the morning for both games to go final. Blah.

Anyway, the Yankees have lost two straight and 12 of their last 16 games, yet they somehow aren’t buried in the AL East. Quite the opposite in fact. The division is just that bad. Still, the Yankees can’t keep losing at this pace. The offense, the defense, and the pitching has let them down in not so equal parts. Start righting the ship with a win tonight, mmmkay? Here is the A’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ 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 Ramon Flores
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Jose Pirela
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It’s cool and foggy in Oakland tonight, though there is no rain in the forecast. First pitch is scheduled for 10:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy the game.

Roster Move: As expected, Slade Heathcott (quad) was placed on the 15-day DL and Flores was called up from Triple-A Scranton.

Injury Updates: Jacob Ellsbury (knee) is working out in a pool and getting treatment. That’s about it … Garrett Jones is dealing with plantar fasciitis but it’s manageable … Gregorio Petit (hand) has started taking batting practice … Brendan Ryan (calf, hamstring) has started playing in Extended Spring Training games.

Game 46: Build on the Blowout

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

The Yankees snapped their ugly six-game losing streak with a 14-1 blowout win over the best team in baseball yesterday afternoon. That was a game everyone needed. That sort of win is an anomaly though, especially against a club like the Royals. It’ll never be the norm.

The good news is a win like that can be major confidence booster. Hopefully it’ll springboard the club towards another extended stretch of winning. The 2015 Yankees seem to be pretty streaky — they started terribly, got crazy hot, then went cold in an instant — and it’s time for another round of winning. I hope it is, anyway. Here is Kansas City’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

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

It’s starting to feel like summer around here. The temperate is again in the 80s today and there are only a few clouds in the sky. Nice night for baseball. Tonight’s game will begin just after 7pm ET and you can watch live on WPIX. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) is still getting treatment and has not yet resumed any sort of baseball activity. “He’s walking around in a brace every day and doing treatment. We have not progressed past that yet,” said Joe Girardi to George King yesterday.

All-Star Voting Update: MLB released the first AL All-Star Game voting update today and boy oh boy are Royals fans stuffing the ballot box. See it here. No Yankees lead at their positions but McCann (fourth), Teixeira (third), A-Rod (third) are among the top five at their respective positions. Ellsbury (7th), Gardner (11th), and Beltran (12th) are among the top 20 outfielders. A-Rod needs more support, folks. He’s nearly a million votes behind Nelson Cruz! Here’s the ballot. The last All-Star Game without a Yankee in the starting lineup was 1999, by the way.

Start Times Updates: The Yankees announced their games on June 21st (Tigers), August 23rd (Indians), and September 27th (White Sox) will all start at 1:05pm ET. They had been listed at TBA. They’re all Sunday games, so ESPN didn’t flex them into the 8pm ET slot, basically. Hooray for that.

Jacoby Ellsbury likely to miss more than 15 days with knee sprain

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Following last night’s game, Joe Girardi told reporters Jacoby Ellsbury is likely to miss more than the minimum 15-day DL stint due to his right knee sprain. Ellsbury suffered the injury when he caught a cleat on a swing and said the injury is on the outside of his knee. Girardi added surgery will not be required. That’s all we know at this point.

“It’s basically, he’s on the 15-day DL. Do I think we’ll get him back in 15 days? No. Do I think it’ll be a long DL stint? No,” said Girardi, according to Brendan Kuty. “But, as I’ve said all along, it’s going to depend on how he responds to the treatment and with the speed being a big part of his game, we’ll just have to see what he’s doing.”

Depending on the severity, a knee sprain could require anywhere from two weeks to two months to heal. Maybe longer. We’re just going to have to wait and see. Since Ellsbury is a speed player and this is a leg injury, the Yankees have to make sure he’s 100% before returning. I mean, that’s always true, but you catch my drift.

Slade Heathcott figures to play quite a bit in Ellsbury’s absence, at least against righties with Chris Young playing against lefties. Brett Gardner has slid into the leadoff spot with Carlos Beltran taking over as the number two hitter. Problem is Stephen Drew and Didi Gregorius are batting seventh and eighth instead of eighth and ninth now, respectively.

Ellsbury is the Yankees’ best all-around player and one of their best hitters, so losing him for any length of time is really bad. Even the minimum 15 days was going to be tough. I have no idea what Girardi means when he says Ellsbury will be out longer than that, but hopefully it’s not much longer. I’m as excited to see Heathcott as anyone, but geez, no Ellsbury is a huge blow.

Game 42: Big Mike Back Home

BIG MIKE IS HERE

The Yankees are finally back home in the Bronx. They played 15 of their last 19 and 25 of their last 35 games on the road — not surprisingly, they’ve played the most road games in MLB — but are now home for a six-game homestand, which starts tonight against the Rangers. Nineteen of their next 31 games will be at Yankee Stadium.

It’s good to be home, but geez, the Yankees really need to win tonight. They’ve lost seven of their last eight games and haven’t won a non-CC Sabathia start since Michael Pineda struck out 16 Orioles nearly two weeks ago. Big Mike is on the mound tonight and he is the undisputed staff ace while Masahiro Tanaka is on the DL. Time for the ace to end the three-game losing streak and start the homestand off right. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Carlos Beltran
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 2B Stephen Drew
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. CF Slade Heathcott
    RHP Michael Pineda

It was absolutely gorgeous in New York earlier today, but some clouds have rolled in and it’s pretty gloomy right. There’s a very tiny little bit of rain in the forecast but nothing that will impact the game. First pitch is set for 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: No timetable yet for Jacoby Ellsbury (knee), who will see the team doctor tonight … Masahiro Tanaka (wrist, forearm) will throw 65 pitches in his next Triple-A rehab start on Wednesday … Chris Martin (elbow) is playing catch and getting close to throwing off a mound … Gregorio Petit (hand) still is unable to swing a bat.

Game 41: Slade’s Debut

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This day has been a long-time coming. The Yankees selected Slade Heathcott out of a Texas high school with the 29th pick in the 2009 draft — the compensation pick they received for failing to sign Gerrit Cole in 2008 — and tonight he can finally say he’s a big leaguer. To say the road from Texarkana to the Bronx was rocky would be a massive understatement.

Heathcott, now 24, had a turbulent upbringing and hit rock bottom soon after being drafted, when he battled alcoholism and even missed a flight to Instructional League because he’d been out drinking. The Yankees sent Heathcott to Alcoholics Anonymous in April 2010, and while that helped him deal with his substance abuse issues, Slade’s body started to betray him. Multiple knee and shoulder surgeries limited Heathcott to 306 minor league games from 2010-14. He played nine last year due to knee problems.

Now, after being non-tendered in the offseason and returning to the organization on a minor league contract, Heathcott is with the Yankees, having impressed in Spring Training and again during his stint with Triple-A Scranton. It has been almost six years since the Yankees drafted Heathcott, and during those six years he went from multimillionaire first round pick to an underdog. Tonight, all the hard work finally pays off. He’s in the show. Give ’em hell, Slade.

Here is the Nationals lineup — Jordan Zimmermann is starting for Washington, not A.J. Cole, so boo to that — and here is the Yankees lineup. Heathcott is on the bench for his first game:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Carlos Beltran
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. 2B Stephen Drew
  7. CF Chris Young
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. RHP Adam Warren

It’s cloudy and cool in Washington, so not perfect weather, but there won’t be any rain. That’s coming tomorrow. The Yankees are getting out of town just in time. Tonight’s game will start a bit after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Moves: As expected, Chase Whitley (elbow) was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for Heathcott, the Yankees announced. The team still has another 60-day DL candidate in Brendan Ryan (calf, hamstring) should they need another 40-man spot.

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) said the injury is to the outside of his knee and he is wearing a brace. He’ll see the team doctor on Friday and they won’t know his timetable until then. For what it’s worth, Joe Girardi said the injury is “not something that requires surgery” … Ivan Nova (elbow) threw four innings and 42 pitches in an Extended Spring Training game on Monday. He’ll make another ExST start on Saturday and could begin an official 30-day minor league rehab stint after that … Ryan has resumed baseball activities in Tampa.

Lack of production from up-the-middle positions holding the Yankees back

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Back in the day, the late-1990s dynasty was built on excellent production from the up-the-middle positions. The Yankees were getting high-end production from Jorge Posada at catcher, Derek Jeter at short, and Bernie Williams in center. Chuck Knoblauch never did put up huge numbers with the Yankees like he did with the Twins, but he still had a .377 OBP as the starting second baseman from 1998-99.

Those four positions are the hardest to fill in baseball, historically. Third base is tough too, but not as tough. Quality first basemen and corner outfielders are plentiful. Catchers, middle infielders, and center fielders are not, which is why teams are more willing to sacrifice offense for defense at those positions. It’s really hard to find someone who can hit there, so at least get someone who will catch the ball.

Right now, the Yankees have too many defense-first — in some cases, defense-only — players at the four up-the-middle positions. Jacoby Ellsbury in center field is the team’s only up-the-middle player who has been solidly above-average on both sides of the ball so far this season. Brian McCann, Stephen Drew, and Didi Gregorius are providing defense but very little offense, especially the last two.

Position NYY Player NYY AVG/OBP/SLG Average MLB AVG/OBP/SLG
C McCann  .228/.279/.382 (78 wRC+) .235/.302/.363 (83 wRC+)
2B Drew  .188/.271/.350 (70 wRC+)  .262/.321/.391 (96 wRC+)
SS Gregorius  .204/.269/.241 (42 wRC+)  .248/.304/.361 (83 wRC+)
CF Ellsbury .324/.412/.372 (126 wRC+) .257/.319/.391 (96 wRC+)

Those are some really low bars and yet the Yankees are falling short at three of the four positions. Ellsbury’s been awesome at the plate, McCann’s hovering close to average for a catcher thanks to his power, and both Drew and Gregorius have been well-below-average. Those two haven’t hit at all. Like, not even a little. There’s not much of a reason to expect either guy to hit much going forward either, but at least Gregorius has youth on his side.

There’s no good way to measure defense this early in the season. You have to take any stats with a huge grain of salt because the sample is too small. Based on the eye test, all four players have been above-average defenders in my opinion, even considering McCann’s passed ball/wild pitch issues. Didi’s looked much more comfortable at short in recent weeks yet his early season brain farts are still hurting his reputation. He’s been really good in the field of late.

Overall though, the Yankees aren’t getting enough production from these four positions. It’s really just three positions because Ellsbury’s been great. It’s a bit unfair to lump him in here. The other three guys has been far from great though. McCann’s been okay but hardly what the Yankees thought they were getting. Drew and Gregorius have been miserable at the plate, bad enough that their defense probably doesn’t make up for it.

The Yankees have limited options to replace these guys, and the one guy they didn’t want to replace (Ellsbury) just landed on the DL. McCann’s contract ensures he will remain the starting catcher, and besides, finding a better catcher would be damn near impossible anyway. Quality catchers almost never hit the trade or free agent markets. Drew, on the other hand, is totally replaceable and the Yankees do have some internal second base candidates, namely Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder.

The best internal candidate to replace Gregorius is, well, Drew. Besides, given Didi’s age and ability, he’s someone the Yankees should stick with this year and ride out every growing pain. Give him a chance to play everyday and see what happens. The first 40 games of 2015 aren’t going to write the story of his time in pinstripes. The Yankees just got done playing a Royals team littered with players who struggled early in their careers before figuring it out, after all. Sometimes it takes time.

The Yankees have gotten great production from first base, left field, and DH this season, which has helped cover for the underwhelming non-Ellsbury up-the-middle numbers. Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley are kinda sorta starting to hit too, which will help even more, though the Ellsbury injury hurts. One step forward, one step back. It wasn’t long ago that the Yankees were getting top of the line production from the up-the-middle positions. Now they’re barely getting average production and it’s one of the reason they haven’t been able to get out in front of a wide open AL East.