Game 122: Sabathia Returns

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Tough loss last night. Another tough loss last night. The Yankees have made a habit of those lately. Pretty annoying. The best thing about baseball is that they play everyday, so tonight the Yankees have a chance to erase that memory and grab a win. There are still six weeks left in the season, but to have a realistic chance at the AL East title, they have to start beating the Red Sox. They’ve lost their last three games against Boston and in two of the three they let a late lead slip away. Can’t happen.

CC Sabathia returns to the mound tonight following a quick little ten-day hiatus related to his achy right knee. Sabathia left his last start in pain and it seemed like he would miss time, and he did, but it seemed like it would be an extended disable list stint. Instead, cortisone and lubrication injections did the trick, and Sabathia is on the mound tonight. He’s thrown 14 scoreless innings against the Red Sox this year, you know. Hopefully he ups that to about 21 scoreless innings today. 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. C Gary Sanchez
  5. 1B Chase Headley
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Todd Frazier
  8. DH Tyler Austin
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP CC Sabathia

Much nicer weather in Boston tonight. A little cloudy but otherwise on the cool side. Nice night for a ballgame. Then again, the forecast said it was supposed to rain all night last night and that didn’t happen, so who knows. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Jordan Montgomery was sent down to Triple-A to clear a roster spot for Sabathia, the Yankees announced. Montgomery was originally called back up to fill in for Sabathia. I imagine the Yankees will go back to their plan to limit his workload now.

Closer Update: Aroldis Chapman is out as closer, at least temporarily. Joe Girardi said he does “not necessarily” have a set closer right now and will use Chapman “at any point” in the game. Given Girardi’s tendencies, I imagine he’s going bump everyone up an inning, meaning Dellin Betances in the ninth and David Robertson in the eighth. We’ll see.

Rotation Update: Masahiro Tanaka (shoulder) will be activated and rejoin the rotation Tuesday in Detroit. That’s the first day he’s eligible to be activated off the disabled list.

How much do the Yankees need to limit Jordan Montgomery’s workload anyway?

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Last week the Yankees sent Jordan Montgomery down to Triple-A for one specific reason: to control his workload. Jon Morosi reported Montgomery would pitch on seven days rest going forward and have his innings capped within his starts. Five innings seems to be the organizational standard. It’s easier to manipulate a pitcher’s workload like that in Triple-A than MLB.

“We are going to shorten some outings down there just to cut back a little bit,” said Joe Girardi to George King last week, after Montgomery was sent down. “We do have somewhat of a concern that if he got over 180 innings, where he would be? There was no innings set, but the number was about 180 and the innings are always more stressful here.”

Plans change, of course. The Yankees lost both CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka to injuries last week, so they had to call Montgomery back up to fill out the rotation. The plan to control his workload had to be put on hold because the Yankees are fighting for a postseason spot and their pitchers keep getting hurt. Winning is the priority. Once Tanaka and Sabathia return, the Yankees will be in better position to cut back on Montgomery’s innings.

Here’s the thing though: how much do the Yankees really need to cut back on Montgomery’s workload? Obviously they know him better than we outsiders, so if they believe they need to take it easy on him the last few weeks of the season, I’m not going to doubt them. I’m more or less thinking out loud right now. Here are Montgomery’s innings totals over the years:

  • 2014: 107.2 innings (college and minors)
  • 2015: 134.1 innings (minors)
  • 2016: 152 innings (minors)
  • 2017: 126 innings and counting (minors and MLB)

Nice, steady progression. Montgomery is a very big and very durable guy — he’s never missed a start, not in high school or college or pro ball — and the Yankees want to keep it that way, so they’re not going to put him at risk of injury through overwork this year.

Now, that all said, let’s do the math here quick. Montgomery started Sunday night, in the 116th game of the season. If he were to start every fifth game from here on out, he’d make nine starts the rest of the season. If he were to average six innings in those nine starts, he’d finish the season at 180 innings on the nose, which is the cap the Yankees seem to have set for him. Convenient! A few things:

1. 180 innings is not a hard cap. The Yankees did not come out and say Montgomery will be limited to 180 innings this year. Girardi said there is “somewhat of a concern that if he got over 180 innings where he would be,” meaning would he be running on fumes and at risk of injury? I’m surprised Girardi threw out that 180 innings number, to be honest. The Yankees have steered clear of revealing workload limits the last few years because there’s nothing good that can come from it. Point is, things are going to be touch and go. The Yankees might want to get to Montgomery to 180 innings, but if he hits a wall at 160, he hits a wall at 160.

2. Averaging six innings per start isn’t easy. My little back of the envelope calculation has Montgomery getting to 180 innings by averaging six innings per start in his final nine starts of the season. Averaging six innings per start is hard! He’s averaging 5.50 innings per start now. Only ten times in 22 starts has Montgomery completed six full innings. The AL average is 5.58 innings per start. Sixty-five pitchers have made at least 20 starts this year and only 28 of them are averaging six innings per start. There’s some wiggle room in my little “six innings per start for nine starts” assumption.

3. What about the postseason, dummy? The Yankees have not played well the last few weeks overall, but they are still in postseason position and very much in the race. Heck, they’re still in the division race. It might not seem like it, but they are within striking distance (4.5 games back) with seven head-to-head games to go against the Red Sox. It’s doable. Unlikely, but doable. The Yankees have a lot to play for these final seven weeks.

Two things about the postseason and Montgomery’s workload. One, the Yankees have to actually get to the postseason before this is a problem. Can’t put the cart before the horse. If the Yankees need to max out Montgomery’s workload to get to the postseason and he’s not available for the playoffs, so be it. And two, I think the Yankees would take the reins off in October and let him pitch no matter what, as long as he’s still effective. Flags fly forever.

* *

On paper, it seems Montgomery’s workload might not be that big of an issue down the stretch. If the target is 180 innings, he figures to have innings to spare even if he starts every fifth game from here on out. The caveat here is that Montgomery might show signs of fatigue (i.e. ineffectiveness) before reaching 180 innings, and he might be completely unavailable for the postseason should the Yankees qualify. The Yankees will deal with that when the time comes.

As much as we and the Yankees are focused on the here and now, this is all about the future. Montgomery looks like a keeper and the Yankees want to keep him healthy and productive. Young mid-rotation starters are awfully valuable. Guys with Montgomery’s numbers will cost you about $15M a year in free agency. His health and workload will have to be monitored as we approach the end of the season, though right now, it’s entirely possible any restrictions might now be much of a factor after all.

Update: Montgomery appears to be okay after getting hit in head by line drive during batting practice

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

4:16pm ET: The Yankees announced that Montgomery was evaluated and cleared to start tomorrow’s game. Phew. That was scary.

3:44pm ET: Ken Rosenthal hears from a Yankees official that “it appears” Montgomery will be okay. Good news. The Yankees have not yet announced an official update on Montgomery or their pitching plan for tomorrow’s game.

3:34pm ET: According to multiple reports, Jordan Montgomery was hit in the right side of the head by a line drive while signing autographs during batting practice this afternoon. He was helped off the field and reportedly held a towel up to his head in the dugout for a few minutes before exiting back into the clubhouse.

The Yankees have not yet released an update on Montgomery, so stay tuned. I imagine he’ll go through MLB’s concussion protocol, and also go for an x-rays and other tests. A line drive to the head is no joke. Hopefully Montgomery comes out of it with a bruise and nothing more. Head injuries are scary stuff.

Montgomery is currently scheduled to start tomorrow night’s game, though the Yankees might have to call an audible. Bryan Mitchell, who threw 67 pitches in relief Tuesday, could get the ball instead. Caleb Smith is scheduled to start for Triple-A Scranton tomorrow and could be another option. We’ll see.

The Yankees placed Masahiro Tanaka on the 10-day DL with shoulder inflammation earlier today. They’re also without CC Sabathia (knee) and Michael Pineda (Tommy John surgery). Montgomery was recalled yesterday to take Sabathia’s spot in the rotation.

Game 114: The Biggest Game of the Season (Until Tomorrow)

(David Maxwell/Getty)
(David Maxwell/Getty)

So the latest “most important series of the season” has arrived. And gosh, this one is really important. The Yankees are 4.5 games back of the Red Sox in the AL East, so come Monday, they’ll either be within striking distance of the division title or buried. These two teams have two more series remaining after this one, so there’s still time to catch up, but the Yankees can’t really afford to fall further back this weekend.

Of course, to keep pace with the any team right now, the Yankees have to start scoring runs. They’ve failed to score more than two runs six times in the last eight games, and too many times during that stretch they were shut down by guys with an ERA in the 5s. The Yankees need the offense to turn it around today. Not next week. Not when Starlin Castro and Greg Bird return. Today. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Aaron Hicks
  2. DH Gary Sanchez
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 3B Todd Frazier
  6. 1B Garrett Cooper
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP Jaime Garcia

It is cloudy in New York this evening, and there’s rain in the forecast later on. It’s not supposed to arrive until midnight or so, but once it starts, it’s not going to stop until tomorrow morning. Hopefully this game doesn’t go long enough for the weather to be a factor. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and both YES and MLB Network will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: CC Sabathia was placed on the 10-day DL with right knee inflammation, the Yankees announced. The move is retroactive to Wednesday. Jordan Montgomery was called up to fill the roster spot. Also, Tyler Austin was activated off the 10-day DL and optioned down to Triple-A Scranton.

Injury Updates: Sabathia received cortisone and lubrication injections and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session Sunday. Sounds like he might be activated as soon as he’s eligible … Starlin Castro (hamstring) has started running, though not the bases yet. That’s the next step. He’s still on track to begin a minor league rehab assignment at some point next week.

Game 111: Sanchez returns behind the plate

(Lindsey Wasson/Getty)
(Lindsey Wasson/Getty)

This shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is: Gary Sanchez is back at catcher for tonight’s series opener against the Blue Jays. He served as the designated hitter Saturday and was flat out benched Sunday, all because of his recent passed ball issues. Sanchez has allowed five passed balls in his last 12 games, which is entirely too many. Joe Girardi had enough, so he sat Gary to send a message.

The Yankees, without Sanchez in the lineup, broke out for eight runs Sunday after scoring eight runs total in their previous five games. Hopefully that gets them going on a little hot streak. The pitching staff has been phenomenal since the All-Star break — the Yankees lead the AL in ERA (2.92) and FIP (3.11) in the second half — and now the bats need to do their part. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. LF Clint Frazier
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. DH Chase Headley
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Todd Frazier
  8. 1B Garrett Cooper
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    LHP CC Sabathia

Great weather today in Toronto, at least according to the internet, so I assume the Rogers Centre roof will be open. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:07pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Greg Bird (ankle) and Starlin Castro (hamstring) both took batting practice and went through fielding drills today. First time since surgery for Bird and first time since going on the disabled list for Castro. They’re both still a few days away from running the bases, but at least they’re progressing. Bird said he hopes to begin a minor league rehab assignment in the middle of next week … Aaron Hicks (oblique) will continue his rehab assignment with Double-A Trenton tonight and could rejoin the Yankees later this week … Matt Holliday (back) saw a doctor today, though the Yankees didn’t have an update yet.

Roster Move: As expected, Bryan Mitchell has been called up to replace Jordan Montgomery on the roster, the Yankees announced. Mitchell was scratched from last night’s Triple-A Scranton start, which was a pretty good indication he’d be the one coming up. The Yankees have eight relievers and a three-man bench right now.

Rotation Update: According to Jon Morosi, Montgomery will make his next start on seven days’ rest in Triple-A, and he’ll have an innings cap in that game. Girardi said Montgomery’s limit is roughly 180 innings this year — he’s thrown 120.2 innings so far — and that’s how the Yankees will keep his workload in check the rest of the way.

The near inevitability of a six-man rotation in September

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

Last week, after acquiring Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia at the trade deadline, the Yankees went with six starters for one turn through the rotation. That gave everyone a little extra rest, which I’m sure they all appreciated. It’s August and it’s hot, and the innings are starting to pile up. Any time you have a chance to give the starters a breather, you do it.

The Yankees sent Jordan Montgomery to Triple-A following Sunday’s game, which means the six-man rotation is no more. They said it was a one-time thing and they stuck to it. The Yankees are back to a five-man rotation for the foreseeable future. And I think it’s only temporary. Once September rolls around and rosters expand, I think it’s all but certain the Yankees will go to a full-time six man rotation. For two reasons, mostly.

1. The Yankees really value that extra rest. The overall league numbers say pitchers perform better with extra rest. Throughout MLB this season, pitchers have a 4.54 ERA (4.35 FIP) on normal rest. That drops to a 4.34 ERA (4.10 FIP) with an extra day of rest. That’s league-wide, however, and not every single pitcher responds well to short rest. For all the talk about Masahiro Tanaka pitching better with extra rest, it’s not really true:

Tanaka on normal rest (2017): 4.50 ERA and 3.55 FIP
Tanaka on extra rest (2017): 5.27 FIP and 4.97 FIP

Tanaka on normal rest (career): 3.53 ERA and 3.54 FIP
Tanaka on extra rest (career): 3.48 ERA and 3.89 FIP

At this point though, the “Tanaka pitches better with extra rest” myth has been repeated so much and for so long that I’ve given up hope people will realize it isn’t true. Score this a win for FAKE NEWS.

Anyway, forget about the numbers for a second. The Yankees have shown they value that extra day of rest with their actions. They’ve given their starters get that extra day whenever possible the last few seasons. There’s no reason to expect that will change now. And, really, it’s not about performance. It’s about health. Tanaka has a partially torn elbow ligament. CC Sabathia is 37 with a bad knee. Gray has had some injuries the last 18 months. Garcia’s injury history is ugly. That’s why they want to give them extra rest.

2. Montgomery and Severino are heading into uncharted workload territory. I’ve written about this already. The Yankees surely have some innings limit in mind for both guys — maybe that number is higher than you’d think given their career workloads to date, but the number exists — though that’s an overly simplistic way of looking at this. Long-term health is a concern, no doubt. But so is short-term effectiveness.

The Yankees are in the postseason race and they don’t want to run into a situation where Montgomery and especially Luis Severino hit a wall in September because they’re running out of gas. As young and as strong as these two guys are, neither has pitched a full MLB season yet. Pitching deep into September with more innings on your arm than ever before can be difficult. A six-man rotation and extra rest along the way would help mitigate the fatigue risk.

* * *

Using a six-man rotation now, with a 25-man roster, would be pretty difficult, which is why I think it’ll wait until rosters expand in September. Here’s what Joe Girardi told Randy Miller about a potential six-man rotation last week:

“In theory it sounds great, but now you (would) have six relievers and six starters,” Girardi said. “You get rid of one of your relievers that can give you distance, it puts you in a bind. If the commissioner would let me add another man on the roster and then you have 26, I’d really think about it … You’ve got to remember, too, that most pitchers are used to going on a five-man rotation. It might help one guy and screw up the other four. That’s a problem.”

Injuries and ineffectiveness have a way of changing plans in a hurry, but right now, I think the Yankees are planning to use a true six-man rotation once September rolls around and carrying an extra starting pitcher wouldn’t mean sacrificing a bench player or reliever.

As it stands, the Yankees have six big league caliber starting pitchers, and that’s really good. You’d rather than too many that not enough. The Yankees are going to use those six starters too. Montgomery might be in Triple-A now, but that’s only temporary. He’ll be back before you know it. Once rosters expand, using a six-man rotation makes an awful lot of sense given the physical and workload concerns in the rotation. It makes so much sense that I fully expect it to happen.

Jordan Montgomery was sent to Triple-A and that was the plan all along

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Following yesterday afternoon’s win the Yankees announced they’ve sent Jordan Montgomery down to Triple-A Scranton, which gets the team back to a normal five-man rotation. They haven’t announced who is coming up to replace him, but I’d bet on it being a boring eighth reliever. Maybe Bryan Mitchell so Adam Warren and Chad Green don’t have to throw mop-up innings? We’ll see.

The decision to send Montgomery down comes after a strong start against a very good Indians team. Montgomery held them to one run in five innings and needed only 65 pitches to do it. Joe Girardi pulled him because he said he felt it was time to go to his rested bullpen in a close game, so he did. And hey, it worked it. The bullpen put up zeroes for four innings and the Yankees won. They really needed that win.

Sending Montgomery down after such a strong performance tells us the Yankees planned to send him down all along. They used a six-man rotation last week to give everyone a little extra rest, but they don’t want to do it long-term, and Montgomery is the odd man out. He pitched well last time and Jaime Garcia didn’t, yet Garcia remains. Why? Because the Yankees don’t base decisions on one game or one start. I mean:

  • Montgomery since July 1st: 5.29 ERA (4.26 FIP) in seven starts and 34 innings
  • Garcia since July 1st: 4.88 ERA (2.47 FIP) in five starts and 31.1 innings

Montgomery was pretty terrible in July. He made six starts and could only get through five full innings three times. I assume that tough month was one reason the Yankees went out and got two starters at the trade deadline even though they only had one open rotation spot. Montgomery seemed to be hitting a bit of a rookie wall there. It’s okay. It happens.

Two things about this decision. One, it’s not permanent. Montgomery will be back soon enough. I’m guessing we’ll see him again before rosters expand on September 1st. Two, the Yankees need to keep Montgomery’s workload in check. (Luis Severino‘s too, and that’s why I think Montgomery will be back pretty soon.) Sending Montgomery to Triple-A makes it easier to space out his starts and cap him at five innings or whatever they want to do. Wins and losses don’t really matter down there.

Also, if you’re into such things, sending Montgomery down for at least ten days allows the Yankees to “buy” an extra year of control. Right now Montgomery is due to become a free agent at age 30 during the 2022-23 offseason. Ten days in the minors pushes that back to age 31 and the 2023-24 offseason. I don’t think that’s a big deal or motivation for the demotion at all. Buy the extra year for elite prospects. Everyone else isn’t worth the hassle.

Anyway, Montgomery was sent down and the Yankees will (presumably) give him a bit of a breather so he can be ready to help them down the stretch and into September. You know they’re going to need him. They were either going to have to find a way to keep him fresh and rested at the MLB level, which is hard to do, or they could do it in Triple-A. Garcia allows them to do it in Triple-A. There’s not much more to it than that.