Catchers away, Rule 5, and sleeping for charity

Personal life sometimes clogs up time and doesn’t allow for more frequent updates. Fortunately, in the off-season, it’s not like there’s much to talk about on a daily basis. Unfortunately, all those lovely plans I made for diving into history and legend and my own opinion have been shoved aside momentarily for the sake of off-season work.

Last week, the Pirates picked up yet another Yankees catcher. To recap the last couple of years, after the 2012 season, the Pirates signed Russell Martin (recently signed with the Blue Jays); then after 2013, they grabbed Chris Stewart; and now, they can claim Francisco Cervelli as a new Buc. Apparently, the Yankees are breeding grounds for Pirates catchers. In exchange for Cervelli, the Yankees acquired pitcher Justin Wilson, who will compete for a bullpen spot come Spring. The lefty debuted in 2012 with the Pirates and is very excited (via Twitter) to join the Yankees (but who isn’t?). Wilson: “[The Yankees:] Tradition and a first class organization. Can’t wait for Yankee baseball. Hope I look good in pinstripes!” If you’re wondering who’s now back-up for McCann, the Yankees look at Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy to fill that role; one will undoubtedly win the back-up role and the other will continue in AAA Scranton as the starting catcher there. Spring is always the definer for such cases.

Okay, Zelous Wheeler fans… you will have to pay attention to Japanese baseball now because Wheeler is on his way to play for the Japanese Pacific League’s Rakuten Golden Eagles as of today. During the course of the day, as part of this same transaction, the Yankees filled out their 40-man roster with Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Branden Pinder, and Danny Burawa. The biggest reason behind today’s moves were the midnight deadline to protect prospects for the Rule 5 Draft in a few weeks (December 11th). The Rule 5 Draft is a rather confusing part of baseball’s minor league system in which teams can draft a minor league player (signed over age 19 and played professional ball for at least 4 years or signed at age 18 and played for 5 years) to play on their 25-man roster for the entire next season; if the player isn’t kept on the 25-man, he is offered back to his original team who may decline the offer and the player reverts into essentially free agency. If minor league players are on the 40-man roster, they are officially “protected” and thus ineligible for what is essentially poaching of fresh talent.

Speaking of fresh talent… the Arizona Fall League finished up last weekend, and a couple of young Yankees certainly caught some eyes. Outfielder Aaron Judge ranked #13, catching the eye of several scouts due to his “huge raw power, patience, and arm strength”; this is significant because the Yankees just signed Judge in 2013 and is already making his mark in the Yankee organization. And 1st baseman Greg Bird ranked #19 overall, but was honored with the league’s MVP award; scouts note of his patience and power, after leading the AFL in home runs and runs scored, and was 2nd in hits RBIs, and total bases. Bird and Judge are both prospects not eligible for the Rule 5 Draft being relatively new to both professional baseball and the Yankees, but based on their performances this fall, it won’t be long before those two could become household names, hopefully in pinstripes for seasons to come.

And as you know, one of my favorite thing that the Yankees do is give back to their community. From HOPE Week to individual foundations and charities to community projects, the entire Yankees organization is actively involved in giving back. Tonight, GM Brian Cashman spends the night on the streets of Manhattan as part of Covenant House’s “Sleep Out” movement. The goal of the event is to raise awareness for homeless youth; this is Cashman’s 4th year, and he is joined by over 750 business, sports, and entertainment executives. Covenant House is nationwide an organization that provides job training, education, long-term housing, and second chances to homeless youth. The participants will sleep (or at least attempt to sleep) in a parking lot near the headquarters of the organization. As the weather turns, let us remember all those who don’t have somewhere warm to be when it snows and take an active role in helping; sometimes all that means donating blankets, sweaters, socks, or toiletries to a charity outreach or helping out at a soup kitchen or buying a needy family a holiday dinner. Just do something to give back; you’ll never regret kindness and they’ll never forget it.

Go Yankees!

Game 160: NYY vs. BOS — A win is still a win, no matter who’s playing

Before I get into tonight’s game, I have to confess I’m rather proud of myself. Unlike last year, I didn’t mess up the game numbers in the titles of the blog posts once. I was actually afraid as we were winding down that I’d end Sunday’s game on Game 161 or 163 or something. But nope, humble brag here — consistency is my friend this year. At least on my game numbering.

A joke I heard repeated by multiple sources in many variations went something like: tonight’s game was the meeting of the Scranton and Pawtucket clubs but at big league prices in a game that doesn’t matter for either club. It’s a little insulting on so many levels, and while there were not as many “big names” on the rosters of either the Yankees or the Red Sox, it’s still guys signed to major league contracts to play major league baseball. And no matter how many cheers and chants and the occasional booing for not seeing a specific player pinch hit, those players played a good game, and it ended up being a Yankee win. So how exactly can we fault the selected starters tonight?

Chris Capuano took the start at Fenway tonight, throwing 91 pitches over his 6.2 innings, allowing just 4 hits and 1 run, striking out 5 Boston batters. In the 2nd, with 2 outs and a runner on 2nd, that runner scored on a deep single to put Boston up 1-0 early.

But the Yankees, even in enemy territory, don’t put up with Boston leads very well. In the 3rd, with 1 out, recently signed Perez struck out but reached 1st on a passed ball; he then advanced to 2nd on another passed ball and scored on Francisco Cervelli’s single to tie up the game. Cervelli later scored on John Ryan Murphy’s ground out. Then in the 6th, Murphy on base with a lead-off double, advanced to 3rd on Romine’s single, and scored on Zelous Wheeler’s sacrifice fly.

So when Capuano came back for the 7th inning, the Yankees were leading 3-1. After getting a quick 2 outs, the Yankees opted for Shawn Kelley, who promptly gave up a solo home run before getting out of the inning. It was 3-2 Yankees.

Adam Warren’s flawless 8th and David Robertson’s great 9th kept the Yankees in the lead, hand-delivering the win to the Yankees. And maybe it doesn’t count to qualify for postseason any more, but a win is still a win.

Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran are essentially finished for the season, with the powers that be not wanting to further injure two of the players they invested a lot of money in pre-season. And at this point, healthy players are always a preferred option, especially if their replacements are doing as well as they did tonight.

I think the natural tendencies for most athletes is to just push past the pain and go for it, even to the point of neglecting all long-term care. But the wise course of action is always to take a break, heal completely, and come back stronger and healthier and raring to go and redeem whatever lost time spent on the bench.

Go Yankees!

Game 154: TOR vs. NYY — Troubled pitching

When the pitching stats on your pitchers reads “6-6-6”, you know it’s not going to be a good game. (6 runs, 6 walks, 6 strikeouts total) And it certainly wasn’t. And the added injury issues aren’t helping morale during this last-minute push for October.

Chris Capuano took the start for this afternoon’s game. Throwing 85 pitches over his 5.2 innings, Capuano gave up 5 (of the Blue Jays’ 10 total) hits, 4 runs, and 4 walks, and struck out just 2 batters. Other than the 1st inning RBI double, Capuano was doing just fine, sailing along smoothly and getting through innings pretty quickly and efficiently, something you can tell by the fairly low pitch count into the 6th inning. But it was that 6th inning that kind of blew all his hard work out of the water, something the Yankees couldn’t really recover from. A lead off walk, a single, and another walk loaded the bases for the Blue Jays. A ground-rule double easily scored 2 runs, and a sacrifice fly scored a 3rd run for just that inning.

Chase Whitley came on to get the Yankees out of that troubled inning, but after giving up a lead-off solo home run in the 7th, he was replaced by Esmil Rogers, who fared quite a bit better than his last outing and closed the door on the advancing Blue Jays in the 7th.

Up until the 6th inning, the Yankees actually stood a chance. In the 3rd inning, with 2 outs, Jeter singled, advanced on a wild pitch, and then scored on a Brian McCann single. And in the 4th and 2 outs (again), Headley singled, moved to 2nd on Ichiro’s single, and then scored on Francisco Cervelli’s single.

But as the Bronx were singing “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, the score stood at 5-2 Blue Jays.

So it was David Huff to keep the status quo in the 8th, with a quick 12 pitches, by the way. And they turned the ball over to David Phelps to close out the 9th for the Yankees, who gave up an RBI single to push the Blue Jays up 6-2 going into that 11th hour half-inning that is the bottom of the 9th.

With 1 out, Gardner singled and ended up at 2nd on defensive indifference. Then Derek Jeter doubled and scored Gardner; leave it to Jeter to keep hope alive in the Bronx. But it just wasn’t going to happen. Two outs later, the Yankees lost to Toronto 6-3.

Bummer.

Now the injury report: Jacoby Ellsbury is on day-to-day with his strained right hamstring after last night’s game. Mark Teixeira came out of this afternoon’s game in the 5th inning with right wrist soreness (the same one that’s been bugging him for awhile); he wants to just play through the pain, getting his originally scheduled cortisone shot and just making that final push for October. And the doctors are weighing their options on Carlos Beltran and the bone spur in his elbow; the doctors are leaning toward shutting him down for the season and just operating now, but Beltran (like his teammate Teixeira) wants to just push through to postseason.

Also, there has been a lot of discussion about Jeter’s milestones, especially during these last few regular season games. Yes, I’m watching them happen, but I don’t want to take the time to comment on every single one. If I did, this year would have turned my blog into a Derek Jeter blog instead of just the Yankees. However, because he is a crucial part of both this season and the Yankees, I am saving all these important stats and milestones up for a single blog post to commemorate where he ended his career. For example, he got hit numbers 3,456 and 3,457, but as there are still 8 games left to play, I’m waiting until we get a final number of hits to see how close to number 5 on the hit list he gets (Tris Speaker has 3,515 total hits).

Go Yankees!

Game 140: KC vs. NYY — KC not so good at “Being Royal”; well, it’s better to be a Yankee anyway

Summer Saturday afternoons and baseball go together like cheap beer and hot dogs. Of course, it’s even better when it’s all four at once. The Yankees continued their weekend series against the Royals today, and after losing yesterday, it was high time for the Yankees to play like the Yankees. And as we all know, when they play like the Yankees, they win. I think you can tell where this is going…

Brandon McCarthy got the start for the Yankees today, throwing 105 pitches over his 6.2 innings, allowing 6 hits and just 2 runs, and striking out 4 Kansas City batters. In the 3rd inning, 3 singles added up to the first Royals’ run scored. Then it wasn’t until the 7th, with McCarthy’s outing coming to a close, a lead-off double advanced on a ground out and then scored on a sacrifice fly. Kelley came on in relief to get that final 7th inning out, before Betances and Robertson did their 8th and 9th inning dances we’ve all come to know, love, and rely on this season. Both Betances and Robertson only threw 9 pitches each in their respective innings. (If this were Sesame Street, the number of the day would be 9.)

The Royals weren’t so lucky in their pitching. Their starter threw 1 pitch in the game and was pulled due to extreme shoulder soreness, replaced by a recent call-up. He got 2 outs, but then Prado doubled and then scored on Mark Teixeira’s single that 1st inning. Then in the 3rd, Murphy doubled, Ellsbury tripled and scored Murphy, and then Derek Jeter’s sacrifice fly easily scored Ellsbury.

And then there was a 4th inning with Headley and Murphy on the corners and 2 outs. Headley scored on a throwing error pick-off attempt; the Royals catcher (who is admittedly very good at his job, normally) threw the ball over the 3rd baseman’s head and into left field. And in the 5th inning, Prado (again, I know) doubled and then scored on Carlos Beltran’s double. Beltran later scored on Ichiro Suzuki’s single.

So if you’re keeping score at home, that would make the game solidly 6-2 Yankees. And that’s where it was when Robertson got that final strikeout. So as the New York area prepares for some “severe thunderstorms” tonight, the Yankees and their fans are going into their Saturday night with smiles and hope once again. Every win keeps that hope for October baseball in the Bronx. And isn’t that what we’re all hoping for this September?

Also, quick roster update: Francisco Cervelli is out of the line-up today due to some severe migraines. To cover their catching bases, the Yankees called up catcher Austin Romine. Anyone who’s suffered from migraines will tell you they’re not to be trifled with, affecting everything from vision to concentration to depth perception. I’m guessing as a catcher you’re going to need at least two of those things to function correctly. A wise roster move in the process, while we wish Cervelli a quick (and quiet and dark and peaceful) recovery.

Go Yankees!

Game 136: BOS vs. NYY — Welcome to September baseball, not so Greene anymore

Well, it’s September baseball. Consider this the long stretch into the postseason. And yesterday, the Yankees had the day off, which I guess was nice for those who wanted to celebrate Labor Day properly. But it also means that the 25-man roster can increase to the 40-man for the playoff race. That being said, the Yankees recalled catcher John Ryan Murphy and pitchers Preston Claiborne, Bryan Mitchell, and Chase Whitley (from AAA Scranton); selected pitcher Rich Hill and outfielder Chris Young (also from AAA); and signed outfielder Antoan Richardson and pitcher Chaz Roe to ML contracts and the active roster (again from AAA). And in less pleasant news, AA Trenton outfielder Slade Heathcott was recalled and moved to the 60-day DL due to right knee surgery; moved Masahiro Tanaka to the 60-day DL (more in a moment); released pitcher Matt Daley; and designated Zoilo Almonte for assignment.

Okay, so Tanaka’s soreness was diagnosed as just that — soreness. That means, he will return to his throwing rehab this week, attempting to work back into the regular season as soon as humanly possible. It feels odd that I must include the term “human”, but I think sometimes some people become so used to the idea of near immortality of the athletes (or even seeing them as simply commodities) that one might forget they are also human, with weaknesses and limitations. We continue to wish Tanaka a speedy recovery, but mostly we want good, whole health.

And then there was a game with the visiting Boston Red Sox. Shane Greene took the start tonight, and while Greene has been pretty consistent this year in his fill-in status, tonight certainly wasn’t consistent with the Greene I think we’ve been spoiled to watch. In just 2.2 innings, Greene threw 67 pitches, gave up 6 hits, 6 runs, and 3 walks, striking out just 3 Boston batters. To say it was a terrible outing for Greene might be an understatement, and I think everyone wishes this was an April game and not a September one.

In the 1st inning, a single and a walk put runners on base to score on a double and a sacrifice fly. (2-0 Boston) In the 3rd, runners again on base with a single and a walk score when a batter smacked a 3-run home run into the right field seats, only to be followed up 2 batters (and 1 out) later by another home run (a solo shot). (6-0 Boston)

Now, the Yankees answered back in the bottom of the 3rd as Martin Prado hit his own solo home run into the left field seats, but with Esmil Rogers on the mound now (in relief of Greene to get out of the 3rd and pitching into the 4th), Rogers gave up his own solo home run, effectively erasing the Yankees’ attempt. (7-1 Boston). Rogers came back for 1 out in the 5th before handing the ball over to Hill to end that inning.

The bottom of the 5th was, by far, the most productive offensive inning for the Yankees, albeit awfully strange. Beltran and McCann each singled. Then Prado hit a ball that sailed over the left fielder’s head, which should have been a double, but Beltran and McCann were waiting to see if the player could catch it. He didn’t, so Prado headed for 2nd thinking it was a double, but McCann was held up there as Beltran was still on 3rd. Desperately trying to find his way back to 1st as it was deemed a single, Prado ended up getting tagged out. Some people blamed Beltran for not running, some people blamed Prado for running too much, but really it was just a huge miscommunication for everyone. Anyway, Headley walked to load the bases, and then Francisco Cervelli’s walk finally scored Beltran.

Another out brought up Derek Jeter to the plate. Jeter hit a soft grounder to the shortstop who charged the ball and fired it to 1st where the 1st base umpire called Jeter out. This brought Girardi out of the dugout for a challenge. Upon review (and a very boisterous reception from the heated crowd in the steamy Bronx tonight upon seeing the replay on the big screen), it was over turned — Jeter safe at 1st, bases still loaded, but McCann scored. (7-3 Boston) The next batter was Brett Gardner, who struck out on a rather outside pitch; a bit frustrated, Gardner discarded his helmet and bat a little to forcefully, according to the home plate umpire who immediately ejected him. Well, with nothing to lose, Gardner went off on his about his “floating strike zone”.

Like I said, that 5th inning was something else…

Well, this whole game was really something else…

Warren came on to pitch the 6th and 7th for the Yankees, and Huff got his chance in the 8th. Both did an excellent job keeping Boston from adding to this lead that was easily handed to them by sloppy pitching and missed offensive opportunities and whatever happened in the bottom of the 5th to the Yankees.

Chaz Roe made his Yankee debut in the 9th, and I’m guessing it wasn’t quite the impression he had in mind. He gave up a lead-off triple that scored on a sacrifice fly and a walk that scored on a single. The Yankees tried to earn back one of those runs in the bottom of the 9th with Brian McCann’s lead-off solo home run. But it wasn’t enough.

And Prado was pulled from the game in the 9th inning (replaced by Chris Young, the former Met making his pinstriped debut) with hamstring soreness. The initial diagnosis was hamstring tightness in his left leg, but they will have an official diagnosis after he sees the team doctor and an MRI. Fingers crossed for just a couple of days warming the bench and not something more serious (though, this year, nothing surprises me anymore on the injury front).

Like I said, this game was something else… there are literally no words to describe it. Well, there are words, but I’m trying to maintain a positive, clean blog here. And on that note, what would the upside of tonight’s game? They still have 2 more games to win against Boston this week, and there are two rookie pitchers scheduled for the next two days to face the Yankees. Here’s to hoping the stereotypes are true about rookie (and recent call-up) pitchers facing veteran batters…

Go Yankees!

Game 135: NYY vs. TOR — Sometimes it just slips away so fast, sometimes it’s those pesky home runs

Before the last regular game at Rogers Centre in Toronto, the Blue Jays presented Derek Jeter with his “not a farewell tour” ceremony and gifts. They gave $10,000 to Turn 2 and gifted the retiring shortstop with a private VIP vacation package to a Canadian Rockies Castle in Alberta. The parade of generosity, often kitschy or out-there or extravagant gifts, and various collectors’ dreams of memorabilia just continues. And to think, there’s still a few more teams left to continue “not saying farewell” to Jeter, including the Yankees themselves.  

Let me be up front about today’s game: the Yankees lost. But it didn’t happen until late in the game. In fact, for awhile, it looked like the Yankees were really going to take the game today. To lead off the game, Brett Gardner smacked a line drive into the right field seats for a solo home run. In the 4th, Prado led off with a single; 2 outs later, he was on 3rd for Headley’s single and then scored on Francisco Cervelli’s single. (Cervelli also netted a nice triple earlier in the game, as his hitting streak continues.) Then in the 5th, Gardner (another hot hitter as you can tell) hit a nice triple, and sliding into 3rd, they overthrew the ball off the playing field, allowing him to advance another base (home) on the throwing error; thus the triple that turned into a run scored. Certainly, an odd way to score a run, but I’ll take it.

So at the halfway point of the game (a full 4 1/2 innings of play), the Yankees led 3-0, giving starter Brandon McCarthy a healthy lead to carry to the win. Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out so well in that area. McCarthy, who had cruised along until the 6th inning in what looked like a nice shutout, suddenly struggled. McCarthy would pitching 90 pitches into the 7th inning, give up 5 hits, 4 runs, and 2 walks, and strike out 4 Blue Jay batters.

With 2 outs in the 6th, McCarthy gave up back-to-back solo home runs. (3-2 Yankees) McCarthy came back in the 7th to give up another solo home run to tie up the game and then walk the next batter. The Yankees opted for “Old Reliable” Dellin Betances to stop the bleeding, getting 2 quick strike outs, but a single pushed the Blue Jays up over the Yankees 4-3. Betances’ 8th was flawless, getting another 2 strikeouts (seriously, this man is a machine sometimes).

But it was too little too late, and the Blue Jays thwarted any Yankee efforts late in the game for a rally. I look at the box score and see everything that should line up with a Yankees’ victory, including out-hitting the Blue Jays. But like I said recently, it’s not about the number of hits or how many players you get on base; it’s the number of runs in that little box that determine victory. And today, that fell once again in the Blue Jays’ favor. Too bad because technically the Yankees played a better game, only to be stymied by those pesky home runs.

It’s always those home runs, isn’t it? Just wish they were pinstriped instead of blazing blue… I mean, aren’t they the “Bronx Bombers”?

Go Yankees!

Game 119: NYY vs. BAL — 8th inning fade out

Michael Pineda is back and in better than expected form for someone who hasn’t pitched in an MLB game since April. Easing him back into the rotation, Pineda threw 67 pitches over his strong 5 innings against the Orioles, allowing just 2 hits and 1 run, and striking out 4 batters. For 4 innings, Pineda was working a no-hitter, shutting down the Orioles in order with such precision. The 5th inning dented his attempt when he allowed a lead-off double, a single, and then an RBI sacrifice fly.

In the mean time, the Yankees gave him a small window of a lead in the 3rd inning. Drew led off that inning with a double, and then Francisco Cervelli planted a long 2-run home run into left-center field (just his 2nd home run of the season). After the 5th inning, the Yankees clung to their 2-1 lead for quite a while, with a much-needed win in sight.

Dellin Betances pitched the 6th and 7th innings, keeping that possibility of a win for the returning Pineda intact. But then the 8th inning happened. Betances came back for the 8th, but gave up a solo home run to tie up the game. So they called on Shawn Kelley to finish the inning. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t until more damage was done that he finally got that the inning was over. Kelley gave up a single and a walk before hanging a perfect slider right over the plate so that the Orioles best hitter could slam a 3-run home run and blow the Yankees’ hopes for a win out of the water.

The Yankees tried to make a come back in the 9th. Teixeira worked a walk, and Beltran doubled, so Chase Headley’s groundout scored Teixeira. But one out later, the score was firmly 5-3 Orioles. Another Yankee loss in the books, and the team heads down to Florida for the weekend.

A couple of interesting plays made tonight — Martin Prado jumped at the perfect time to snag a ball right at the right field wall in the 4th inning, and the Girardi ejection in the 7th inning. The Prado jump grab is really a beautiful play, especially for someone who hasn’t spent much time in right field and is still getting used to that position. The ejection was different, as I’m not sure I agree with it. I can understand the call in theory — if the runner did step out of the base path and the throw was technically obstructed. But I don’t really agree that’s what happened and perhaps an explanation or a review (can those calls even be reviewed?) might have been a better option rather just tossing an arguing manager. I mean, it’s not 2013 anymore. Isn’t that why we asked for and got replay this year? I know I’m not the only one confused here on the replay and what is an arguable call anymore. Again, I guess it’s the big guinea pig season for all that now.

In roster news (because what post this season isn’t complete without that kind of news?)…

Brian McCann will most likely come off the DL this Saturday; I imagine that means Romine will head back to Scranton in his place.

Masahiro Tanaka’s rehab is progressing to throwing on flat ground, a big step towards his targeted September return.

After sending Bryan Mitchell back to AAA Scranton and pulling up Chris Leroux to fill the 25-man roster on Monday, to make room for the returning Pineda today, the Yankees designated Leroux for assignment.

An off-day and travel day for the team tomorrow, but at MLB, things are heating up. The race to elect the new commissioner to replace retiring Bud Selig is on, and the owners vote until they can reach a consensus (at least 23 of the 30 votes for approval). It’s quite a heated race so far, much like most political elections. It will be something to watch how this unfolds.

Go Yankees!