The Yankees are running out of starting pitching at the worst possible time

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the third time in the last five games, the Yankees’ starting pitcher failed to complete five innings last night. The Dodgers contact-bombed Bryan Mitchell — he got only three swings and misses out of 47 pitches — for eight hits and six runs (two earned) in only 2.1 innings. That came three days after Michael Pineda couldn’t finish five innings with a five-run lead and four days after CC Sabathia struggled to complete four innings.

The rotation outside Masahiro Tanaka has been a problem most of the season. The staff doesn’t have a 4.58 ERA (4.37 FIP) by accident. Not 143 games into the season. Remove Tanaka from the mix and all the other starters have a 5.04 ERA (4.58 FIP) in 626.1 innings. That’s 626.1 innings of meh. Sabathia and some others had their moments earlier this season, but, by and large, the rotation has been a liability, not a strength.

Rosters have expanded and the Yankees are carrying 13 relievers, so they have enough arms to soak up whatever innings need to be soaked up. Of course, no manager actually wants to use his September call-up relievers, at least not this often, including Joe Girardi. Every manager wants their starter to hand the ball off to their usual late-inning relievers. The Yankees haven’t been able to do that much lately, and there’s no help coming for two reasons.

1. There’s no one left to call up in Triple-A. The Yankees have more or less exhausted their rotation depth at this point. Nathan Eovaldi and Chad Green getting hurt after Ivan Nova was traded really thinned out the team’s depth. Joe Girardi admitted yesterday they originally planned to give Bryan Mitchell more time in Triple-A in the wake of his toe injury, but there was a need in the rotation due to Green’s injury, so they called him up.

The next best rotation option at this point is probably Richard Bleier, or maybe Phil Coke, who has done a nice job in the Triple-A Scranton rotation of late. Dietrich Enns is bumping up against his innings limit and has already been moved to the bullpen. Adding Jordan Montgomery to the 40-man roster a year earlier than necessary so he can make something like three starts late in the season is crappy roster management. Bleier or Coke it is, and that’s not reassuring at all.

De La Rosa. (Justin Edmonds/Getty)
De La Rosa. (Justin Edmonds/Getty)

2. There’s not much of a trade market either. The Yankees and every other team can still make trades through the trade waivers process, though whoever they acquire won’t be eligible for the postseason roster. That’s fine. They goal right now is to get to the postseason, that’s it. Right now cobbling together a postseason rotation is a problem the Yankees would be happy to deal with.

What does the starting pitcher trade market look like in September? Bleak. I’m guessing the only pitchers available are impending free agents on bad teams. That means players like Jorge De La Rosa, Andrew Cashner, and Jhoulys Chacin. Normally I’d say just stick with Luis Cessa and Mitchell, but you know what? If all it costs is a fringe prospect or cash, give me one of those guys as an extra starter for the postseason push. I’d rather have him and not need him than need him and not have him, you know?

* * *

Point is, there are no impact pitchers to be found on the trade market. Not on the trade market and likely not in the farm system either. The Yankees’ very best arms are in the big leagues right now. That’s good from a “this is the best possible team they have” perspective and bad from a “this is the best possible team they have?” perspective. You know what I mean.

With less than three weeks left in the regular season, what you see if what you’re going to get with the Yankees. If they’re going to do the improbable a qualify for the playoffs, Cessa and Mitchell and late-career Sabathia and the mystery that is Pineda are going to be the guys who get them there. Like it or not, those four plus Tanaka are the five best starting pitchers in the organization at the moment.

Game 140: Mike’s turn to be big

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are on a roll right now. They’ve won five straight and there seems to be a new hero every night. Because the Red Sox are playing the Blue Jays and the Tigers are playing the Orioles this weekend, the Yankees are guaranteed to gain ground on at least two of the teams they’re chasing with each win the next three days. That’s huge. Have to take advantage. (At the same time, each loss means losing ground to two teams. It cuts both ways.)

On the mound tonight is Michael Pineda, and boy, the Yankees sure could use a Big Mike outing tonight. It’s been a while since we’ve seen one of those. He’s allowed at least five runs in five of his last eleven starts. Yikes. The Rays are exactly the kind of home run happy team that can give him trouble too. Did you know Tampa is seventh in MLB with 188 homers? It’s true. You got this, Big Mike. Here is the Ray’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Rob Refsnyder
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. DH Tyler Austin
  9. RF Aaron Judge
    RHP Michael Pineda

Now, the bad news: there’s rain in the forecast tonight. Scattered thunderstorms pretty much from game time right through tomorrow morning. That’s a problem. Hopefully they can squeeze in nine innings — or least five if the Yankees are leading! — around the rain drops. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Anthony Swarzak (shoulder) has starting playing catch and could throw in the bullpen as soon as this weekend. The hope is Swarzak will be able to return sometime before the end of the season.

Roster Move: The Yankees called up Richard Bleier earlier today, the team announced. There are now 13 pitchers in the bullpen. Bleier had been starting with Triple-A Scranton — he was scheduled to start Game Four of their postseason series tomorrow — so he gives the team a true long reliever.

Sorting through the Yankees’ long list of September call-up candidates

No Al this September. Only Ref. (Greg Fiume/Getty)
No Al this September. Only Ref. (Greg Fiume/Getty)

One week from tomorrow all 30 clubs will be able to expand their active rosters and carry up to 40 players. Most clubs carry fewer than 40 players once rosters expand, and that’s their choice. Roster size is not an unfair advantage if one team calls up ten extra players and another only calls up three. That’s long been a pet peeve of mine, calling September call-ups unfair. As long as everyone plays by the same rules, it’s fair.

Anyway, the Yankees have been one of the most aggressive teams when it comes to expanding their roster in recent Septembers. Last season they called up eight players on September 1st. Eight! I’m not sure we’ll see a first wave of call-ups that large again, but you can be sure the Yankees will add some extra arms and position players on the first day possible. They always do and there’s no reason not to. Let’s run down this year’s September call-up candidates.

The Locks

Generally speaking, the first wave of call-ups are players who have been up-and-down a bunch of times throughout the season and are still on the 40-man roster. That means Nick Goody, Richard Bleier, Chasen Shreve, and Rob Refsnyder are safe bets to come up on September 1st. Ditto Ben Gamel, though he hasn’t spent as much time on the big league roster this year as those other guys.

The Yankees are already carrying three catchers, so those five guys above may be the only players called up right away on September 1st. That would give the Yankees three extra bullpen arms — Bleier is working out of the Triple-A Scranton rotation at the moment, so he’d give the club a long man, which they lack right now — plus an extra infielder and an extra outfielder. That covers all the bases on the first day of expanded rosters.

The Maybes

By maybes, I mean players who may not be called up right away on September 1st. They’ll have to wait a few extra days or weeks for whatever reason, usually because the Yankees want them to work on things in Triple-A. This group of players includes Johnny Barbato, Ben Heller, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, and Mason Williams. All five of those guys are on the 40-man roster. Here’s why they’re a maybe and not a lock for an instant September 1st call-up:

  • Barbato: Barbato started the season in the big league bullpen but has spent much of the year in Triple-A, where his control has been an issue. He was up briefly earlier this month and did not retire any of the four batters he faced. The Yankees could keep Barbato down a little longer so he can continue to working on his location.
  • Heller: Acquired in the Andrew Miller trade, Heller was actually up with the Yankees for a few days earlier this month, though he did not appear in a game. Heller has pitched well and is fairly new to Triple-A, though as a reliever, that’s not a big deal. I think the odds are better than 50/50 that he will be called up on September 1st, but it’s definitely not set in stone.
  • Mitchell: Blah. Mitchell pitched so well in Spring Training and looked poised to assume a big role in the bullpen, then he broke his toe covering first base and has missed pretty much the entire season. Mitchell is on a rehab assignment right now, and while that might be enough to get him ready for game action, the Yankees could send him to Triple-A for more consistent work rather than let him sit in the bullpen unused for long stretches of time.
  • Severino: No, I don’t think Severino is a lock for a September 1st call-up. The Yankees sent him to Triple-A with clear instructions to work on his changeup and so far he’s made one start since being sent down. He’ll make two more before September 1st. Hey, maybe that’s enough to make the team believe Severino trusts and will use his changeup, but I’m not sure I buy it. He might be down there a little while longer.
  • Williams: Williams missed most of the first half of the season following shoulder surgery, though he did return about a month ago and has been playing regularly. More time in Triple-A to make up for the lost at-bats seems like a smart move. Williams won’t get at-bats sitting on the MLB bench. Remember, the Yankees kept Slade Heathcott down much of September last year so he could play everyday following his quad injury. Doing the same with Williams makes sense.

Triple-A Scranton has the best record in all of Triple-A baseball and will clinch a postseason spot fairly soon. Likely before the end of the weekend. That means extra at-bats for Williams and extra starts for Severino and Mitchell. Those playoff games are valuable. They give Severino time to work on his changeup and Williams and Mitchell a chance to play following their injuries. Those guys don’t figure to play much in the big leagues if they get called up on September 1st. Keeping them down is an opportunity to continue their development.

The Rule 5 Draft Guys

Mateo. (Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

The Yankees have already gotten a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection work by calling up Heller, Tyler Austin, and Aaron Judge. They still have many other players who need to be protected, but remember, those decisions don’t have to be finalized until late-November. Calling a player up in September isn’t necessary to avoid the Rule 5 Draft. Teams will sometimes call players up in September if they’re planning to add them to the 40-man after the season, just get their feet wet in the show.

We can drop the Rule 5 Draft eligible players into three buckets: definitely going to be protected, possibly going to be protected, and not going to be protected. Usually only the “definitely going to be protected” guys get the early September call-up, and even then it’s not a given. Space on the 40-man roster can get tight. Let’s go ahead and drop the Rule 5 eligible players into those three buckets:

* Higashioka and Culver are not only Rule 5 Draft eligible, they’ll become minor league free agents after the season if they aren’t added to the 40-man roster.

My hunch is the Yankees will protect Higashioka, Enns, and Webb in addition to Andujar and Mateo after the season. That means Cave, Gallegos, Lail, and everyone else will be left exposed. Cave was a Rule 5 Draft pick last year, and if he gets popped again, he’ll be able to elect free agency rather than come back to the Yankees if he doesn’t stick. I don’t think that’s reason enough to keep him. Not with Gamel and Williams already on the 40-man.

Okay, so with that in mind, the question now becomes: why should these players be called up in September? Mateo’s speed could allow him to be the pinch-runner specialist. Then again, he was suspended for violating team rules not that long ago, and would the Yankees really reward him with a September call-up after that? Eh. I see no reason whatsoever to call up Andujar or Higashioka. Fourth string catchers and third basemen are not necessary. Those guys can wait until the offseason to be added to the 40-man roster.

That leaves Enns and Webb, two lefty pitchers. There’s always room for more pitching in September, so call-ups are possible, and in fact I think they’ll happen. Maybe not until after the Triple-A postseason, but eventually. Webb’s a pure reliever who could audition for a 2017 bullpen spot a la Phil Coke in September 2008. Enns has starter stuff and it I’m interested to see whether the Yankees give him a start in September. (Probably not.) I’m sure they’re looking forward to using a sixth starter on occasion next month, though Severino may be next on the depth chart.

Webb. (Presswire)
Webb. (Presswire)

The Others

Who are the others? The non-40-man veterans in Triple-A. Chris Parmelee, for example. He was up earlier this season before getting hurt, and in fact he had a two-homer game with the Yankees. That was neat. Do the Yankees really need another first baseman with Austin, Refsnyder, and Mark Teixeira on the September roster? Not really. But maybe they’ll throw Parmelee a bone.

Other others include Donovan Solano, a utility infielder having a real nice season in Triple-A, and Cesar Puello, a former top Mets prospect who is having a productive season with the RailRiders after dealing with a back injury last year. Coke was up earlier this season and is still in Triple-A. Actual prospects like Clint Frazier, Jordan Montgomery, and Jonathan Holder are in Triple-A but are not yet Rule 5 Draft eligible, so don’t expect them to get called up in September. It’s one thing to call someone up a month before they need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. It another to do it a year early.

My guess is none of these others get called up September. The Yankees have more appealing options at their positions and there’s just not enough 40-man roster space to go around. Those guys will play in the Triple-A postseason and either go home once the playoffs are over, or head to Tampa to stay sharp in case there’s an injury and they’re needed at the MLB level. That’s pretty standard for these types of players in September.

The 40-Man Roster Situation

Alright, so after all of that, my sure to be wrong prediction is the Yankees will call up 12 extra players in September. The 12:

  • Up on September 1st (5): Bleier, Gamel, Goody, Refsnyder, Shreve.
  • Up later in September (7): Barbato, Enns, Heller, Mitchell, Severino, Williams, Webb.

All but Enns, Mitchell, and Webb are on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees will have to clear three spots. They can slide Nathan Eovaldi to the 60-day DL to clear one 40-man spot. That’s easy. Righty J.R. Graham, who has amazingly managed to remain on the 40-man roster since coming over in a minor trade with the Twins in mid-May, is an obvious candidate to be designated for assignment. That’s the second 40-man spot.

The Yankees can go a few different ways for that final 40-man spot. They could designate someone else for assignment, maybe Anthony Swarzak or James Pazos. I don’t think that’ll happen though. In fact, Pazos is probably going to be called up in September, so it’s really 13 call-ups, not 12. I suppose someone like Bleier or Blake Parker could be cut loose next month, or even Tommy Layne. There is some dead weight here.

Swarzak. (Elsa/Getty)
Swarzak. (Elsa/Getty)

The other option is to call up Jacob Lindgren or Nick Rumbelow and place them on the 60-day DL. Both are currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. It sounds easy enough, though there are some complications with this. Both Lindgren and Rumbelow got hurt while in the minors, and calling them up to place them on the 60-day DL means they can not be optioned down again next year. They’d accrue service time on MLB DL instead.

Maybe that’s not such a big deal, especially in Rumbelow’s case. He had his surgery in April and may only spend only a month or two on the DL next year. Lindgren just had his surgery and would spent the entire 2017 season on the DL. Calling them up and placing him on the 60-day DL to clear up a 40-man roster spot is doable, but it throws a wrench into next year’s plans. Me? I’d just cut ties with Swarzak. I do wonder if the Yankees would drop Pazos from the 40-man roster given his control and injury issues this year though.

* * *

The Yankees are committed to their “play the kids” plan right now, so much so that Alex Rodriguez has been released and others like Teixeira and Brian McCann have had their playing time reduced. There’s no reason to think that won’t continue in September, and if anything, more kids may get chances next month. Expanded rosters will give the team extra arms and whatnot, and it’s an opportunity to give these youngsters even more of a chance to show whether they belong in the team’s long-term plans.

(Update: Heller was called up yesterday. Adjust accordingly.)

Game 112: Sevy the Starter

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I have to admit, I’m a little surprised the Yankees are giving Luis Severino the start tonight. I know he dominated in long relief last time out, but pitching in relief against the crappy Mets is a very different animal than starting against the Red Sox in Fenway Park. The BoSox are hitting .302/.369/.493 as a team at Fenway this year. Severino is facing a lineup of Victor Martinezes tonight (.302/.357/.490).

Yesterday’s off-day allowed the Yankees to delay Severino’s start until Friday, when he would have had a more friendly matchup (Rays at home), but nope. He’s going tonight. This is going to be Severino’s biggest test (by far) since returning from Triple-A a few weeks back. Hope it goes well. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez-less lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. C Gary Sanchez
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Luis Severino

The internet tells me it’s clear and cool in Boston this evening, so it should be a nice night for a ballgame. Tonight’s series opener is scheduled to begin at 7:10pm ET, and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. I’m guessing every game will be on national television this week because of A-Rod. Enjoy the game.

A-Rod Update: Alex will start Thursday’s game and may pinch-hit tonight and tomorrow as well, Joe Girardi said. A-Rod told reporters he was “disappointed” to see he wouldn’t start today or tomorrow. Lame as hell. I wanted to see him play all four of these games this week. Those seven or eight at-bats someone else won’t get aren’t a huge deal.

Roster Move: In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees have signed lefty specialist Tommy Layne to a big league contract. He’s in the bullpen and available tonight. Richard Bleier was optioned to Triple-A Scranton to clear a roster spot … also, the Yankees claimed Blake Parker off waivers from the Mariners. He’ll be added to the roster once he officially reports.

2016 Midseason Review: The Role Players

Now that the All-Star break has arrived, it’s time to review the first half of the season. We’ve already looked at the catchers, infielders, outfielders, bench, rotation, and bullpen. Now let’s tackle the role players.

Green. (Presswire)
Green. (Presswire)

As always, the Yankees have had to dip into their farm system for help at times this season. That’s mostly the result of injuries. Sometimes they called up a legitimate prospect and gave him a chance, like Rob Refsnyder, and other times they brought in a journeyman veteran to plug a short-term hole. Either way, they were all Yankees. Let’s review the spare parts.

Chad Green: The Sudden Sixth Starter

Over the winter the Yankees looked at their rotation and bullpen depth, and decided to rob Peter to pay Paul. They traded reliable setup man Justin Wilson to the Tigers for two Triple-A starters because they figured they had enough bullpen arms, but not nearly enough starters. Starters under control beyond 2017, especially.

One of those two Triple-A starters is Green, who has spent the majority of the season with Triple-A Scranton, where he’s been dominant. Detroit’s 11th round pick in 2013 currently leads the International League in ERA (1.54 ERA) and FIP (2.18), and that performance has earned him three big league starts. One went well. Two didn’t.

May 15th @ D’Backs: 4 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 2 HR (MLB debut)
July 3rd @ Padres: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 1 HR
July 8th @ Indians: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 4 HR

Seven homers in 14.1 innings is really bad! Left-handed hitters have hit five of the seven homers, which makes sense because Green hasn’t really shown a reliable changeup yet. He did add a cutter while in Triple-A between his first and second starts, which is promising, though clearly the Indians had no trouble with it last week.

Green did throw one perfect relief inning with the Yankees in mid-June, so right now he has a career 7.04 ERA (7.09 FIP) in 15.1 innings. Surely he’s looking to improve those numbers, and my guess is he’ll get multiple chances to do so in the second half. Green seems to have climbed to sixth in the rotation depth chart, ahead of Nathan Eovaldi and Luis Severino. How about that?

Second Half Outlook: If the Yankees do sell at the deadline, I could see them giving Green an extended look as a starter in the second half. There’s really no reason to keep running impending free agent Ivan Nova out there in the second half if they’re out of the race. More than likely Green will go up and down a few more times and be the team’s sixth starter, giving the regular rotation members extra rest.

Nick Goody: The Last Shuttle Reliever Standing

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees opened Spring Training with a small army of Triple-A relievers ready to go up and down as needed. We saw it last year. It seemed like one or two of them would be given an extended look at some point this season, but that hasn’t been able to happen. They’ve almost all gotten hurt. The list:

The hope was one or two of those guys would step up and become a permanent piece of the bullpen. Instead, they’ve combined for one big league inning (by Pinder) this season. Baseball, man.

Goody is the last young shuttle reliever standing. He started the season in Triple-A but has had a few stints with the big league team, throwing a total of 22 innings across 19 games. Goody has a 4.91 ERA (4.59 FIP) in those 22 innings, and he’s been alarmingly home run prone (2.05 HR/9). His strikeout (27.4%) and walk (5.3%) numbers are great! But there’s more to life than that. Not a good year to be a young reliever with the Yankees.

Second Half Outlook: Goody is actually on the big league roster right now. He was called up when Green was sent down following his start in Cleveland. Something tells me Goody is going to end up back in Scranton at some point. Then back in New York. Then Scranton. Then New York. You get the point. He’s the very definition of a spare up-and-down arm.

Plans E & F at First Base

At one point in the first half the Yankees had their Plan A (Mark Teixeira), Plan B (Greg Bird), and Plan C (Dustin Ackley) first basemen on the DL. Plan D turned out to be Refsnyder, who basically had an afternoon of prep work at the position before being thrown into game action. The Yankees didn’t want to overwhelm Refsnyder, so a few days after Teixeira’s injury, they called up Plan E: Chris Parmelee.

The Yankees signed Parmelee over the winter after Bird got hurt. He hit .252/.343/.444 (128 wRC+) with seven homers in 43 games with Triple-A Scranton — Parmelee thoroughly outhit Nick Swisher with the RailRiders — before being called up. In his first game in pinstripes, Parmelee went 3-for-4 with a double and two homers. For real! Check it out:

The very next night Parmelee singled in a run in the fifth inning to tie the game against the Angels. No one expected Parmelee to keep hitting like that, but hey, he gave the team a nice little shot in the arm. You need those out-of-nowhere contributions to contend.

The Yankees are not allowed to have nice things though. A few innings after that game-tying single, Parmelee popped his hamstring while stretching for a throw at first base. He suffered a Grade II strain and will be out two months or so. Just like that, Refsnyder was the first baseman again. Plans A, B, C, and E at first base were hurt.

To replace Parmelee, the Yankees signed Ike Davis (Plan F) after he opted out of his minor league deal with the Rangers, and he didn’t even go to Scranton. The Yankees added him to the MLB roster right away. Davis appeared in eight games with the Yankees, went 3-for-14 (.214), then was designated for assignment when Teixeira came off the DL. Davis is currently with Scranton waiting for Teixeira’s next injury.

Second Half Outlook: Parmelee was slated to begin baseball activities a week or two ago and is still a few weeks from returning. The Yankees don’t really have anywhere to play him right now, not unless they trade Teixeira or Carlos Beltran at the deadline. Neither Parmelee nor Davis have much of a role with the Yankees going forward. They’re just injury fill-ins. Parmelee had a memorable moment in pinstripes. Davis … not so much.

The Up & (Mostly) Downers

Johnny B. (Elsa/Getty)
Johnny B. (Presswire)

There are still nine players who played for the Yankees this season that we have not yet covered as part of this crash course midseason review. Let’s wrap up the big league portion of the midseason review with one sentence on each of those nine players. Sound good? Good.

  • RHP Johnny Barbato: For a while it looked like Barbato would stick as a middle reliever, but the bloom came off the rose and he’s now in Scranton.
  • LHP Richard Bleier: The 29-year-old rookie has not only appeared in ten games with the Yankees, he’s still on the roster!
  • LHP Phil Coke: Sure, why the hell not?
  • RHP Luis Cessa: Cessa made the Opening Day roster and keeps going back and forth between big league reliever and Triple-A starter.
  • OF Ben Gamel: His hair is pretty great and pushes the limits of team regulations.
  • RHP Conor Mullee: The three-time major elbow surgery guy got affordable health care for life this year, so that’s cool.
  • LHP Tyler Olson: Olson appeared in one game with the Yankees, then was lost on waivers.
  • C Gary Sanchez: “Hey, Gary, we’re going to call you up for a game and make you face Chris Sale, sound good?”
  • RHP Anthony Swarzak: It’s literally Anthony Swarzak.

Second Half Outlook: Sanchez definitely has a future with the Yankees. He’s the long-term plan behind the plate. Barbato, Cessa, Gamel, and Mullee might have roles with the team going forward too. We’ll see them again in September, if not earlier. Everyone else? They’ll be gone soon enough.

Game 46: A-Rod Returns

(Brian Bahr/Getty)
(Brian Bahr/Getty)

After three weeks on the shelf with a hamstring injury, Alex Rodriguez is back in the lineup this afternoon. I wouldn’t say the Yankees have missed him — they went 13-7 during his absence and both Carlos Beltran and Aaron Hicks hit well — but it’s good to have A-Rod back nonetheless. He hit three homers in the six games before the injury and he went deep in a rehab game last night. Hopefully Alex picks up where he left off.

As for the Yankees, their six-game winning streak came to an end last night, but that was bound to happen at some point. The important thing is that it doesn’t snowball into a losing streak. The Yankees start a ten-game, four-city road trip tomorrow, so a win today to close out the homestand and clinch the series would be pretty great. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. RF Carlos Beltran
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 1B Austin Romine
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s a very nice day in New York. Warm and sunny with no clouds in the sky. Pretty great weather for a ballgame. This afternoon’s game will start at 4:05pm ET for some reason. You can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Chasen Shreve has been placed on the 15-day DL with a shoulder problem. That’s not good. He’s currently being evaluated He’s been diagnosed with an AC joint sprain. Shreve received a cortisone shot and will not pick up a baseball for seven days … Mark Teixeira (neck) received a cortisone shot and will miss three more games. Yesterday’s MRI did not show anything different from the MRI he took last month.

Roster Moves: The Yankees called up lefty Richard Bleier to replace Shreve in the bullpen. Shreve was placed on the DL and Rob Refsnyder was sent to Triple-A Scranton to clear 25-man roster spots for A-Rod and Bleier. The team has not yet announced a 40-man roster move to accommodate Bleier.

The Bullpen Shuttle [2016 Season Preview]

Shreve. (Presswire)
Shreve. (Presswire)

Over the last few years the Yankees have done a good job finding interesting bullpen prospects in different places. The late rounds of the draft, waivers, minor league free agency, whatever. These guys are not future ace closers or anything like that, but they look like serviceable bullpen options, so the Yankees put them to work last year. They cycled relievers in and out as part of their bullpen shuttle. They called someone up, got a few innings out of him, then sent him down for a fresh arm. Over and over again.

The Yankees will again employ a bullpen shuttle in 2016, perhaps even moreso than last year. They have multiple open bullpen spots and a small army of relievers with options, so they can send these guys up and down as much as they want this summer. And they will. We’re going to see pitchers come up, throw in a game or two, then get sent down. Big league stints will be measured in days, not weeks. Here are the main bullpen shuttle candidates for the coming season, presented alphabetically.

The Spring Standout

An offseason ago the Yankees flipped Shawn Kelley to the Padres in what was widely believed to be a cost-cutting move. Kelley was solid, not great, and he figured to be a key piece of the 2015 bullpen. Instead, the Yankees traded him for a Double-A relief prospect with a balky elbow. That prospect: Johnny Barbato. And one year after the trade, Barbato is in position to make the bullpen.

“Definitely came in trying to open some eyes,” said Barbato to Chad Jennings over the weekend. “Just worked my butt off this offseason to get ready, and I think I did. I think coming in here feeling confident, feeling comfortable — I lost a bunch of weight — just came in feeling good, and I think I’ve done well enough to open some eyes.”

Barbato, 23, had a 3.19 ERA (3.45 FIP) with a 24.8% strikeout rate and a 9.2% walk rate in 67.2 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A last year. The concerns about his elbow blew over. He’s been healthy since the trade. This spring he’s allowed two runs (both in the same game) in 8.2 innings with an 11/1 K/BB. Barbato’s done it with a low-to-mid-90s fastball, his trademark curveball …

Johnny Barbato curveball

… and a little slider/cutter thing. The Yankees added Barbato to the 40-man roster over the winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, and while taking Grapefruit League numbers to heart is a fool’s errand, Barbato has clearly opened some eyes in camp. With most of the other shuttle relievers struggling, he has put himself in very good position to be on the Opening Day roster. Either way, Opening Day roster or not, we’ll see Barbato in the big leagues this summer.

The Offseason Pickup

It’s funny how history repeats itself, isn’t it? Last offseason this Yankees traded someone we all thought would be a big part of their 2015 bullpen (Kelley) for a prospect, and everyone said they were doing it to save money. Now that prospect looks pretty good. They did the same thing this past offseason, sending Justin Wilson to the Tigers for two Triple-A starting pitcher prospects, one of which is righty Luis Cessa.

Cessa, a former shortstop, has been traded twice in the past eight months. The Mets sent him to the Tigers in the Yoenis Cespedes deal, then the Tigers sent to the Yankees for Wilson. The 23-year-old Cessa has been solid in limited action this spring (7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) and Brian Cashman has praised his work thus far. The GM could just be pumping up a recent addition, though ultimately the words do not matter. What matters is what happens on the mound.

Cessa. (Presswire)
Cessa. (Presswire)

In all likelihood Cessa, who is starting tonight’s game against the Tigers, will open the season in the Triple-A Scranton rotation. Don’t think that’s significant? Four of the five pitchers who opened last season in the Triple-A rotation ended up in the big leagues at some point. (Bryan Mitchell, Chase Whitley, Kyle Davies, Danny Burawa. Jaron Long was the exception.) Cessa, who is on the 40-man roster, is a fastball/slider/changeup pitcher with surprisingly good command for a converted position player, though he still needs some fine-tuning.

After Ivan Nova, Cessa could very well be the first pitcher to brought up from the minors to make a spot start in 2016. Mitchell started last season in the Triple-A rotation before getting some extended time in the MLB bullpen, and a similar path is a definite possibility for Cessa, though I think the Yankees really believe in him as a future starter. I’m sure he’ll reach the show at some point this year anyway. Similar to Barbato at the time of his trade, Cessa’s true coming out party may be a year away.

The Minor League Stats Guy

You’re not going to find a shuttle reliever with better minor league numbers than Nick Goody. The 24-year-old righty missed most of the 2013 and 2014 seasons due to Tommy John surgery, then, in his first full season with his rebuilt elbow, Goody had a 1.59 ERA (2.06 FIP) with a 33.2% strikeout rate and an 8.3% walk rate in 62.1 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015. He also threw 5.2 innings in the show.

Goody was on the shuttle last year and he’ll be on the it again this year. He hasn’t had a great Spring Training (8.1 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) but the Yankees have not yet reassigned him to minor league camp, so his Opening Day roster hopes are still alive. Goody is a low-90s fastball/low-80s slider guy, so since he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, his presently shaky command probably isn’t good enough for high-leverage work. Perhaps his command can improve the way David Robertson‘s did. For the timing being, he’s the quintessential up-and-down middle reliever.

The Former Top Pick

Less than a year after being the Yankees’ top selection (second round) in the 2014 draft, left-hander Jacob Lindgren was in the big leagues, getting a chance to show he belonged long-term. (When they needed a roster spot, the Yankees cut the veteran David Carpenter and kept Lindgren.) Lindgren struggled in his seven MLB innings and eventually had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, ending his season.

Lindgren, 23, was the very first 40-man roster player and Opening Day bullpen hopeful reassigned to minor league camp this spring. His numbers were not great, though it was basically one disaster outing in three appearances:

Jacob Lindgren stats

Joe Girardi said the Yankees felt Lindgren was pressing because he was trying to make the team, so they sent him down to clear his head and get regular work. Lindgren’s calling card is his wipeout slider, though he lacks command, lacks a big fastball (mostly 89-91 in pro ball), and has just good enough control to make it work. That’s the recipe for a frustrating reliever.

That slider gives Lindgren the best chance to be a late-inning reliever among the shuttle guys, though he’s going to have to throw more strikes going forward. That’s the goal this season with elbow surgery in the rear-view mirror: more strikes. A wipeout breaking ball is no good if you’re behind in the count. Lindgren is definitely a shuttle candidate, but I wonder if the Yankees will leave him in Triple-A for an extended period of time to iron out that control.

The Starter Turned Reliever

Real Talk: If the fifth starter competition was a real thing, Bryan Mitchell would be winning in a landslide. He’s been fantastic this spring (14.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K) and he was very good out of the bullpen for the Yankees last year before taking a line drive to the nose. At this point it’s hard to believe Mitchell won’t be on the Opening Day roster. How could he not be?

The stuff as never been in question. Mitchell, who will turn 25 next month, has a mid-90s heater and a knockout curveball, and his third pitch is a cutter. He’s never been able to pick up a changeup, so he has to use the cutter against lefties. That lack of a changeup and career long command issues are Mitchell’s biggest flaws. One of those will have to improve — ideally both — for Mitchell to hack it as a starter at the next level.

For now, Mitchell is certain to open the season in the bullpen, and Girardi has talked about using him in the Adam Warren role. That versatile reliever who can go multiple innings and even pitch in the late innings on occasion. The Yankees shouldn’t close the door on Mitchell as a starter and I don’t think they will. For now, they need him in the bullpen, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the big leagues for good. Mitchell may be too good to shuttle up and down.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

The Lefty Specialist

Every year the Yankees (and every other team) make a series of small pickups in the offseason, and those small pickups can be easy to overlook. Left-hander Tyler Olson, who came over in a minor trade with the Dodgers, was one of those easy to overlook pickups this winter. He’s a pure left-on-left matchup guy with a funky delivery, a mid-to-upper-80s heater, and a loopy breaking ball, so his usefulness is limited.

Olson, 26, has had a pretty strong spring up until his last appearance or two. Having a spare lefty specialist you can bring up whenever you’re getting set to face a lefty heavy lineup is nice, but of all the shuttle relievers, I think Olson is most in danger of losing his 40-man roster spot. The Yankees have other lefties and they have other relievers who can throw full innings. Chances are we’ll see Olson at some point this summer. I would be surprised if he carved out a role and stuck around long-term, however.

The Other Lefty Specialist

The Yankees really seem to like James Pazos. He was reportedly on their list of untouchable prospects at the trade deadline — I refuse to believe that. It can’t possibly be true, can it? — and the club called him up last September before he had to be added to the 40-man roster. Pazos is a hard-thrower — PitchFX clocked his average fastball at 94.5 mph last September — though he lacks consistency with his slider and seems to be prone to bouncing pitches in the dirt.

Pazos was sent to minor league camp this past weekend, taking him out of the running for an Opening Day bullpen spot. But, like I said, the Yankees really seem to like him, and I have little doubt we’ll see him this season. Improving that slider will be his focus in Triple-A for the time being. Pazos seems to be the middle man between Olson (short-term fill-in) and Lindgren (potential long-term solution) among the shuttle lefties. Regardless, he’s going to get an awful lot of chances in this game because he’s a lefty and he throws hard.

The Shuttle Veteran

None of the shuttle relievers threw more big league innings (27.2) or made more up-and-down trips (six!) than 27-year-old Branden Pinder last season. The fastball-slider right-hander was called up at least once each month last season, so he’s a pro at this by now. He is well-versed in this shuttle reliever thing after only one year and that’s good, because he’ll be riding that shuttle again in 2016.

Pinder has had an steady but unspectacular spring (6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 6 K) and he remains in big league camp, giving him a chance to make the Opening Day roster. That said, even if he makes the Opening Day roster, he’s a candidate to be sent to Triple-A whenever a fresh arm is needed. Pinder lacks a reliable weapon against lefties and he’s prone to missing over the plate, limiting his ceiling. Still, his stuff is good, and I feel like he’s going to carve out a lengthy career as a journeyman middle reliever. A Chad Qualls/Jason Frasor type.

Rumblin’ Rumbelow

Aside from Lindgren, no minor league reliever climbed the ladder as quickly as Nick Rumbelow in recent seasons. Rumbelow went from Low-A Charleston to Triple-A Scranton in 2014, then he made his big league debut in 2015. He threw 15.2 mostly forgettable innings with the Yankees a year ago, and over the weekend he was reassigned to minor league camp, meaning he’s not going to be on the MLB roster to start the new season next week.

Rumbelow, 24, has three pitches, unlike most of the other shuttle bullpeners. PitchFX had his average fastball at 93.3 mph last year, and he also throws a low-80s curveball and a mid-80s changeup. The curveball was Rumbelow’s go-to secondary pitch when he first signed as the team’s seventh round pick in 2013, but nowadays he prefers the changeup. He’ll double up on the change and throw it to righties.

Three pitches, a funky delivery, and good enough control are a nice recipe for a big league career. Rumbelow has fine-tuning to do before he sticks long-term — anecdotally, he seems prone to overthrowing and leaving pitches up in the zone — but the tools are there, and he’ll surely get plenty of chances to show what he can do this year. Rumbelow figures to see lots and lots of shuttle time this year. He might supplant Pinder and be the top shuttle guy in 2016.

The (Temporary) Seventh Inning Guy

I’m not sure anyone in camp needed a good spring more than Chasen Shreve. Shreve, who is still only 25, was very good for the first four and a half months of 2015, but he crashed hard down the stretch, and no one really knew why. There was talk he was tipping his pitches, talk the league figured him out, stuff like that. Most with the Yankees said they believe it was fatigue, which sounds like a cop-out, but it was a plausible explanation.

So far this spring Shreve has been untouchable: 8 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K. The only base-runner against him came on an error. The numbers are great, but, more importantly, Shreve looks comfortable on the mound and he’s throwing with conviction. His body language wasn’t so great late last year and that was understandable. Opponents made him pay for every mistake. Shreve looks rested and he’s been aggressive. It’s been a good spring.

At the outset of camp, Girardi talked about Shreve like one of his regular relievers, as if he had a bullpen spot locked up. Fans were understandably skeptical given his finish last season, but if the Yankees felt the same way, they weren’t showing it. Shreve is not only a lock for the Opening Day bullpen at this point, it seems likely he will assume seventh inning work while Aroldis Chapman serves his suspension. Shreve held that role last when Andrew Miller was on the DL.

It’s probably unfair to lump Shreve in with the other shuttle relievers at this point given what he did last year. He wasn’t just pretty good, remember. He was dominant from April through mid-August, using his low-90s fastball/low-80s splitter combination to neutralize both righties and lefties. If the Yankees have to send Shreve down to Triple-A at some point in 2016, something went wrong. I think he’s up for good.

The Darkhorse

Similar to Olson, right-hander Kirby Yates was a nondescript offseason pickup who was easy to overlook coming into camp. Now, with Opening Day a week away, the 29-year-old Yates appears to have a legitimate chance to make the team, especially since so many of the other shuttle guys haven’t had good Grapefruit League seasons. He’s been very good in camp (6.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K) and he has big league experience, throwing 56.1 innings with the Rays the last two seasons.

Yates is a generic low-to-mid-90s fastball/mid-80s slider guy, so lefties give him a problem, which limits his ceiling. That fine though. We’re talking about a possible low-leverage middle reliever who gets shipped in and out whenever the team needs a fresh arm. If nothing else, Yates opened some eyes this spring and cemented himself as a shuttle candidate. Even if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’s put himself in position to be among the first called up.

Yates. (Presswire)
Yates. (Presswire)

The Non-40-Man Roster Options

In addition to all the 40-man guys, the Yankees have several non-40-man roster pitchers who could see time on the shuttle this season. Remember, guys like Kyle Davies and Matt Tracy and Joel De La Cruz went from afterthoughts to big leaguers a year ago, simply because they were available. Journeymen like lefty Richard Bleier and righties Anthony Swarzak, Vinnie Pestano, Tyler Cloyd, and Diego Moreno could all be temporary call-ups in 2016.

As for actual prospects, lefty Tyler Webb and righties Chad Green and Brady Lail seem most likely to be called up this summer. Maybe Mark Montgomery too. Green, the other prospect acquired in the Wilson/Cessa trade, and Lail are ticketed for the Triple-A rotation. Webb is going to return to the RailRiders’ bullpen. Depending on their Triple-A performance and the big league team’s needs, those guys could see the show this year.

Calling up someone like Bleier or Pestano is no big deal because the Yankees could drop them from the roster no questions asked. Call him up, get whatever innings you need, then move on. You can’t really do that with someone like Green or Lail because they’re actual prospects and you can’t simply drop them from the 40-man roster when a spot is needed. That’s a serious roster consideration. Is it worth clogging up a 40-man spot (and burning an option year) to get, say, two innings from Lail on a random June afternoon because you played 15 innings the night before? Probably not.

For now the Yankees appear to have plenty of bullpen shuttle candidates on the 40-man roster. I have ten 40-man relievers listed in this post even without counting Shreve. The Yankees are going to cycle through those pitchers all year, and with any luck, one or two will stand out from the pack and earn extended opportunities in the big leagues. With the Yankees unlikely to get much length from their starters, the extra bullpen arms will again be very important in 2016.