Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New York Yankees: CC Sabathia unravels again

The New York Yankees faced former second baseman Robinson Cano for the first time since he signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners this past offseason. Cano was not a big factor in the Mariners 6-3 victory over the Yankees. Instead, CC Sabathia once again had a meltdown inning and forced an overused bullpen to work four more innings.

As has been the theme in all but one of Sabathia’s starts this season, there was a particular inning (or in one case two innings) in which things got away from him. What’s especially frustrating is there seems to be no immediate indication that the meltdown is coming, other than the fact that it’s been a regular occurrence at some point in all but one of Sabathia’s starts.

Tuesday night it was the fifth inning. Sabathia was not exactly dominant to this point, but he was able to make some pitches when it mattered and was nursing a 2-0 lead. Five hits and four runs the later the Yankees were down for good as the offense remains stagnant.

Below is a breakdown of five of Sabathia’s six starts in which he has pitched well for a majority of his time on the mound only to be undone by a singular inning.


There is a correlation in a few starts where the meltdown occurred during the fifth or sixth inning. Looking at Sabathia’s stats against hitters this season during their third plate appearance, things become a little clearer.

Opposing hitters are stroking .347/.360/.571 in their third plate appearance against Sabathia. I don’t think this a matter of tiring, but more that Sabathia’s pitches are no longer fooling anyone the third time through the order (if they were fooled in the first place).

Sabathia’s diminished velocity has been discussed ad nauseam, but it’s become more the fact that his ancillary pitches are not coming along quick enough to compensate for the slowed fastball.

Sabathia is still a good pitcher. He looked strong in parts of Tuesday’s game and I believe he can work through these issues, but it is going to take some time. It is now important for Sabathia to establish sound mechanics at the outset of the game and maintain them throughout his appearance.

Once he falters, he pays the price because he does not have an overpowering fastball, or a new out pitch, to get him out of jams. The sooner he finds that new go-to pitch, the sooner he can work comfortably into the latter parts of games without getting knocked around. Until then, expect the bullpen to be a big part of Sabathia's starts and the frustrations to mount.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Monday, April 28, 2014

New York Yankees: Late-game arms earn Monday rest

Masahiro Tanaka was once again the headliner of a New York Yankees victory and rightfully so as he struck out 11 batters during an “off” night. But, the bigger story in my view is the continued excellent performance of the men manning the crucial late innings out of the bullpen.

Adam Warren and David Robertson combined for 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief allowing for a suddenly sluggish offense to claw out two runs over the Yankees final two at-bats and earn a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels.

During Saturday’s 4-3 victory, the Yankees bullpen stifled the Angels across 4 2/3 innings, also allowing zero runs. At first thought to be a deficiency of the team, the bullpen has performed well beyond expectations and late-inning roles have been clearly defined.

Below is a statistical breakdown of the bullpen’s relievers mostly used by manager Joe Girardi thus far when the game has been close in the late innings through Sunday's game.


These are very good to exceptional numbers across the board; something the Yankees and many across the game might not have been expecting.

Robertson, Shawn Kelley and Matt Thornton entered spring with assured spots at the back end of the game. Despite that, each of them carried at least one big question mark on their back.

Robertson has the unenviable task of filling Mariano Rivera's shoes. Could Robertson transition from a dominant eighth-inning set-up man and close out games? Will his notable Houdini acts continue in the ninth inning? So far, he has looked outstanding and comfortable as the Bombers’ closer.

Kelley was handed the eighth-inning role after a very nice spring and by virtue of being one of the few returning relievers from last season’s team. Kelley surprised many in 2013, settling in as a seventh-inning option, and the question coming into 2014 centered on the possibility of regression. So far, Kelley has answered the call, even showing great poise as the closer while Robertson was on the disabled list.

Reservations regarding Thornton related to age and diminishing productivity in recent seasons. He’s done exactly what the Yankees signed him for so far; get lefties out.

Warren and Dellin Betances may be the bigger “surprises” on the young season.

Warren, who racked up 73 innings in 2013, mostly as a long reliever, has asserted himself as a viable seventh/eighth inning set-up man. He’s able to let loose just a bit more as a reliever (Warren might still be considered as a starter at some point in his career) and it has allowed him to overpower hitters at times.

Betances was truly the great unknown of the bunch. While holding the distinction as a former prospect, it was as a starter and he was failing. Betances received one last chance with the organization as a reliever in 2013. He has made the most of it, got a long look during spring training and flashed dominance which has carried over into the regular season, gaining Girardi’s confidence along the way.

This bullpen is still a work in progress. One very good month does not make a season, but there is serious potential here for further growth and success. Having multiple choices during the latter parts of games will help Girardi manage innings which could be an issue if the Yankees starters continue to exit before the seventh inning.

This crop of late-inning relievers has been the biggest surprise of the Yankees’ season and they have completely earned a day of rest.

Photo of David Robertson courtesy of Keith Allison.

Thanks to the YES Network for highlighting my tweet shown above on their 'Yankees Extra Innings' show Saturday, April 26, 2014.

Statistics compiled via FanGraphs.com.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.




Friday, April 25, 2014

New York Yankees rise from the tar

On the same day New York Yankees starter Michael Pineda was suspended for 10 games after he was caught with a slathering of pine tar on his neck Wednesday night, the club went out and pummeled American League East rival Boston Red Sox into submission.

The Bombers tallied 14 runs and forced Red Sox manager John Farrell to use outfielder Mike Carp to wrap things up on the mound. New York received a fine performance from CC Sabathia as the Yankees turned the page on Wednesday’s embarrassing event.

Coming off such an emotional letdown, the Yankees performance Thursday had a sprinkling of positives throughout the lineup and pitching corps.

Jacoby Ellsbury continued to mock the Red Sox ripping three more hits, including two doubles. He drove in three runs in the process.

Derek Jeter added two more hits to his career resume. The Yankees' captain is hitting .288 and hopes to continue defying age in his final season.



Mark Teixeira launched his first home run of the season and drew three walks. The Yankees will need Teixeira to remain healthy and be a force in the middle of the lineup. A keen eye to match any power letdown will be important.

Brett Gardner failed to get a hit, but was on base four times via three walks and an error. He turned that into four runs, stealing two bases along the way. It’s been a slow start for Gardner with the bat, but when he gets on base he can change the complexion of a game in a hurry.

Brian Roberts is warming up. He’s registered three straight two-hit games upping his average above the Mendoza line to .220. Roberts crossed the plate four times Thursday and stole a base.

Yangervis Solarte came back from a one-day rest and snapped a 0-for-14 skid with two hits and four RBI. He’s shown the ability to break out of two mini slumps thus far. If he can continue to show that he won't get into major slides at the plate, manager Joe Girardi will find him at-bats.

On the mound Sabathia was able to get the Yankees through six innings of two-run ball. He had a hiccup in the third inning, which seems to be the one thing hindering him this season, but he kept the damage to a minimum. He struck out eight batters and he’ll need to continue to hone his repertoire of off-speed pitches to coincide with the oft-mentioned slower fastball.

Adam Warren continues to grow into his role at the back end of the bullpen. He recorded five outs requiring just 22 pitches. If Warren and Shawn Kelley can keep on retiring batters in the seventh and eighth innings, the Yankees will have a more than formidable presence at the back end of the bullpen.

That’s leads to the final notable occurrence from Thursday night’s victory. David Robertson made his first appearance since coming off the disabled list and looked just as good as he did throughout spring training and before suffering the groin strain that sidelined him. Robertson has not looked the least bit concerned about taking over the closer role from Mariano Rivera.

So, after a mind-boggling incident, the Yankees were able to sweep it all to the curb and move on. As Jeter said last night to the media, there will be other strange incidents along the way. It is how the team handles them and so far, this team gives the impression of having short-term memories.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pineda’s foolishness affects Yankees in many ways

The New York Yankees will lose another member of the starting rotation for potentially two starts as Michael Pineda was ejected in Wednesday night’s 5-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox for use of pine tar while pitching.

The ejection came less than two weeks since Pineda was seen with pine tar on his palm, in a game against the Red Sox, but he was able to remove it before being questioned by umpires.

MLB Rule 8.02(a)(2) states, “The pitcher shall not have expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove.” To read the entire rule click here.

While the rulebook says the suspension would be an automatic 10 games (for National Association Leagues), there is precedent that the suspension could be less as Tampa Bay Rays reliever Joel Peralta was suspended eight games for the exact same violation in 2012.

The Yankees will be affected in more ways than one because of Pineda's actions.

Whether it is one start or two, the Yankees are now forced to utilize another starter for at least one turn. Plus, they had to use four relievers last night to get through the game since Pineda was caught in the second inning. It’s also not helpful for Pineda to get out the groove of game action since he was just getting into a rhythm.

While Pineda’s use of pine tar in such a clear fashion was misguided, the consensus among players, including Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, focused on his inability to hide it better rather than the fact that he used it. It is common practice for pitchers to use pine tar to get a better grip. However, most pitchers who use it do a much better job of being discreet about it.

"Most guys I know use some sort of something: rosin, sweat, suntan lotion," Pierzynski said via MLB.com. "Since the beginning of the game, guys have always tried to use something just to get a better grip. It helps your command. As a hitter, I'm not against it.

"I don't want guys up there with the ball slipping out of their fingers throwing it everywhere. You want a guy who has somewhat of an idea of where it's going. It doesn't bother me at all that guys do that. It just bothers me that he can't make it so blatant."

Red Sox manager John Farrell explained his reasoning for even bringing it up, knowing full well some of his pitchers might use pine tar as well.

"I could see it from the dugout," Farrell said via MLB.com. "It was confirmed by a number of camera angles in the ballpark. And given the last time we faced him, I felt like it was a necessity to say something."



It’s unknown if Pineda was noticed by his teammates or the coaching staff applying the pine tar to his neck after allowing two runs in the first inning. Photos from the opening frame did not show anything on his neck and Yankees manager Joe Girardi responded in the negative when asked by the media if the team knew he applied it. Moreover, Girardi and Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild had discussions with Pineda after the last incident.

Despite the reality that pine tar is used fairly often, Pineda and Yankees will now be under the microscope for it.

Pineda’s season had been sailing somewhat smoothly after two seasons off a Major League mound. He had allowed just two earned runs in 18 innings before Wednesday’s start. He’ll have to go the rest of the cool season without use of a gripping method many pitchers exploit. Once the weather warms the need for pine tar should lessen, but Pineda will certainly be searched once per game for the foreseeable future.

Further, expect teams to employ some gamesmanship with other Yankees pitchers, who while possibly more astute about hiding it, if caught during an umpire search will face the same repercussions. Essentially, all Yankees pitchers should forget about using pine tar for quite some time.

The Yankees turned to David Phelps once Pineda was ejected and he is the likely member of the staff to fill the void left by the inevitable suspension. The Yankees have already had to move one member of the bullpen into the rotation, Vidal Nuno, to take Ivan Nova’s spot after the latter was diagnosed with a partially torn UCL. Phelps is far from stretched out so the games he would start will involve more use of the bullpen. This is something the Yankees didn't need forced on them.

Pineda’s failure to stay away from the substance, just two starts removed from the last time he was almost caught was foolish, selfish and detrimental to the pitching staff’s fluidity. It can have long term affects beyond the immediacy of his suspension. Hopefully he has learned his lesson and will avoid using the pine tar altogether or at the very least he’ll reach out to a wily veteran for advice on a better way to hide it.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.




Wednesday, April 23, 2014

New York Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka calmly handles another test

When the New York Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year $155 million contract in addition to spending $20 million for the posting fee, the talk around baseball was of course how his talent would translate to playing in the major leagues. Four starts into his MLB career and the talk could soon turn to whether he can be one of the best transports from Japan to ever take the mound.

Tanaka passed yet another test Tuesday night working 7.1 innings of two-run ball in the Yankees 9-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Tanaka calmly brushed off back-to-back home runs to David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, and was otherwise stingy and displayed his filthy splitter to baffle hitters throughout the lineup.

Across 29.1 innings (yes an extremely small sample size) Tanaka has delivered as advertised. He’ll likely have mishaps along the way in his inaugural MLB season, but there is one thing that should make Yankees fans particularly happy and that is Tanaka’s ability to shake off a bad inning or stretch of batters.




We’ve seen the one kink in Tanaka’s armor and that is a tendency to leave his sinker up. The home runs to Ortiz and Napoli were both on sinkers that stayed up in the zone. Surely Tanaka was not pleased with the homers, but he buckled down and didn’t allow another run the rest of the way while his offense pounded Red Sox starter Jon Lester into submission. When watching him on the mound you can almost see he’s working through each step in his mind.

"I try to tell myself, 'I gave up those runs but no more,'" Tanaka said through an interpreter via MLB.com. "And then just go ahead."

Tanaka’s behavior after allowing runs has pleased manager Joe Girardi thus far.

"I think that's a really good quality for such a young pitcher," Girardi said. "Sometimes we forget that he's only 25 years old. To be able to do that, we've seen him do it in really every start that he's had; three of the four."

The argument that hitters will adjust to Tanaka is a fair one, but he seems to be the type of pitcher who will not utilize the same exact game plan each time he faces a team. His expansive repertoire should allow him to handle batters differently time and again.

Tanaka has shown an ability to dominate thus far exemplified by his 35 strikeouts to just two walks. Tanaka’s physical attributes matched with his workmanlike demeanor on the mound provide him with a solid base with which to pitch.

While the four starts are not enough to make a sound judgment on his future, it is certainly enough to suggest that he has the potential to be a star in this league. The journey will have some blips, but Tanaka looks to be the type of pitcher who can put them in the rearview mirror and come back strong next time around.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.




Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New York Yankees looking to build on fine start

The New York Yankees began the season with several question marks. Some have been answered and others are still unknown. There have been pleasant surprises and some not-so-pleasant results. Most importantly, as the Yankees enter their first series against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park this season, the club sits all alone in first place.

Masahiro Tanaka gets the start against Jon Lester Tuesday night in what looks like a fantastic matchup on paper. Tanaka has yet to see the Red Sox from the mound, giving the 25-year-old hurler a slight advantage.

Tanaka has managed to produce results potentially above some expectations despite his lofty resume from his playing days in Japan. Tanaka owns a 2-0 record with a 2.05 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and has struck out 28 batters in 22 innings. He has allowed just two walks.

Tanaka has seemed unfazed by Major League hitters thus far. When he has made a mistake, he looks to be able to brush it off rather quickly and get back to work. He’ll have some games eventually where he’ll look overmatched. Potentially the second time he sees teams, hitters will adjust to his expansive repertoire of pitches, but Tanaka has the ability to adjust as well and I’d venture to guess that he’ll do exactly that.


I’m not sure Tanaka’s success can be considered a surprise, but one of his rotation mates’ early performance has been. Michael Pineda had not been on a Major League mound since 2011. He’s worked his way back from injuries and has been great thus far, sporting a 2-1 record and a minuscule 1.00 ERA and 0.89 WHIP.

The rest of the rotation has had mixed results. CC Sabathia (2-2, 5.19 ERA) is still trying to find his groove and Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 4.07 ERA) continues to hold up considering his age. The Yankees lost Ivan Nova (2-2, 8.27 ERA, .372 BAA) for the immediate future and potentially the season after it was revealed that he has a partial tear in the UCL of his pitching arm.

On offense the Yankees lost Mark Teixeira early on to a strained right hamstring. The issue with Teixeira heading into the season was whether his surgically repaired wrist would be a hindrance to his power. He returned to the lineup Sunday, rapping out two hits, but has only played in five games thus far so the jury is still out on Teixeira’s ability to fill a middle of the lineup spot.

The biggest surprise out of the gate has been infielder Yangervis Solarte. With Teixeira’s injury, Solarte was thrust into a full-time role at third base as the Yankees shifted Kelly Johnson to first. Solarte had an amazing spring which catapulted him onto the 25-man roster. He continued his hot hitting and fairly consistent fielding straight into the beginning of the season. He’s managed a .326 batting average with a .906 OPS overall, but he’s slowed down over the last 10 games, hitting .242.

I don’t suspect Solarte can keep up this pace through the season, but the Yankees must be happy with the revelation. He’ll likely split time with Johnson and Brian Roberts since Teixeira is back in the fold.

Roberts has been a disappointment thus far stroking a .156/.278/.222 line. He’s been just OK in the field but has yet to succumb to what many think will be an inevitable injury. Expect Roberts to come around, but the days of getting superior offensive and defensive production out of the keystone went away as soon as Robinson Cano signed with the Seattle Mariners.

The other mysteries of the season on offense have begun to show their hand as well. Derek Jeter has gone about business and has shown no ill effects from his lost 2013 season. The Captain, in his farewell tour, is hitting .283/.367/.340.

The big three newcomers to the Bombers lineup have had different starts. Jacoby Ellsbury, who will face his former team for the first time in their building, has been everything the Yankees hoped for. He’s gotten off to a fantastic start, even hitting in the third spot with authority while Teixeira was on the disabled list. Ellsbury’s .338/.395/.441 line with eight stolen bases has quieted concerns from a slow start.



Carlos Beltran is beginning to warm up (.288/.324/.561 with four home runs) and catcher Brian McCann has shown glimpses of coming out of his early season slump (8-for-24 with three homers over last seven games) with the bat. McCann has been fantastic behind the plate however as he learns his pitching staff.

The Yankees were also been able to overcome the loss of their appointed closer, David Robertson, who was reinstated earlier Tuesday. The bullpen as a whole has been a bright spot for the club. With Mariano Rivera departing, this was a key area for the Yankees and their chances for success in 2014.

With Robertson on the shelf, Shawn Kelley took over the closer role and has been superb, building on a quality 2013 campaign. Adam Warren, while having a blip or two along the way has emerged as a legitimate seventh/eighth inning arm. Dellin Betances has shown electric abilities (14 strikeouts in eight innings) while trying to harness his control (6 walks).

I mentioned before the season began that the Yankees would need to get solid pitching to get through the first part of the season because I felt their offense would be slow out of the gate. I was correct in part.

The Yanks have scored just 75 runs (T-22nd in MLB) and own a team OPS of .731 (11th in MLB). The pitching had been the key to their first-place ascent in the standings until the drubbing they received at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays this past Friday and Saturday (25 ER in 16 innings combined).

The Yankees should be happy with their start considering more of the questions coming into the season have been answered with positive responses and the items still unknown have a glimmer of hope behind them.

The Bombers will need to continue to grow offensively and find more consistency throughout the rotation and bullpen in order to maintain pace in the American League East. They’ve shown early they can pull together to overcome injury, but health will remain the Yankees’ biggest obstacle this season. If the club can minimize trips to the disabled list from this point on they have the tools to stay near the top of the division throughout the season.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.




Thursday, April 10, 2014

New York Yankees: Brian McCann’s offensive slump overshadows work behind plate

The New York Yankees suffered a tough loss Wednesday night to the Baltimore Orioles by a score of 5-4. Catcher Brian McCann continued to slump at the plate and received a brunt of the blame from the fans in the stands and via social media.

There were plenty of scoring opportunities along the way that went by the wayside of which McCann seemed to be a part.

McCann signed a five-year, $85 million contract in the offseason and the main component fans saw was that he’s a 20+ home run hitter. Indeed McCann possesses very good power and of course any strong lefty hitter coming to the Stadium is going to be perceived to get a boost in the home run department.

Thus far, McCann is 5-for-33 (.328 OPS) on the young season and he’s already feeling the wrath of the fans. I get it; there is a lot of money invested in McCann and fans want/expect to see immediate results. What is going unnoticed thus far is that McCann has been contributing behind the plate. It’s a measure of his value to the Yankees that is unsung by many fans.



McCann is one of the best pitch-framers in the business. He has been at or near the top of the leaderboard in getting more called strikes on balls outside the zone and allowing fewer strikes in the zone to be called balls over the last several seasons. He currently sits number two in MLB with 1.7 runs above average where it concerns pitch-framing according to Matthew Caruth at StatCorner.

McCann has been able to get strike calls on 9.2 percent of the balls outside the zone thus far in 2014 which is tied for fifth-best MLB catchers with a sample size of at least 300 pitches (McCann's sample is 490 pitches). Further, he’s allowed 7.8 percent of pitches inside the zone to be called balls good for fourth-best among the same grouping of players. Of course, some of this is on the umpire, but simply put in the world of pitch-framing McCann is considered among the best at the craft.

Unfortunately, this fact is lost on some fans. Now I’m not suggesting fans should not be upset with McCann’s slow offensive start. It’s frustrating. I’m aggravated by it. But, I’ve been a proponent of McCann’s long before he donned pinstripes and was pleased with the signing. I think we all need to give him some time.

His minimal offensive production and the fans reaction to it is eerily similar to that of a former Yankee who came to the Bronx with loads of expectations and got off to a rocky start. Tino Martinez.

Martinez’s tenure as a Yankee was met with the unreasonable expectations of filling the shoes of one of the franchise’s most beloved players, Don Mattingly. Martinez went 3-for-34 (.343 OPS) in his first nine games and he was roundly booed by the fans. Martinez went on a tear for the rest of April -- .339/.391/.554 with three home runs and 13 RBIs across 14 games. He finished the season with a slash of .292/.364/.466 with 25 homers and 117 RBIs.

I’m not saying a turnaround is going to happen immediately for McCann, but I would suggest some caution when determining whether his first week and a half of games dictates the contract is a bust and that he’s downright awful. McCann has struck out just four times, plus some of his outs have been hit hard and directly into a shift so this is not a question of getting good swings in my opinion.

He’s got plenty of time to generate as strong a hot streak as this woefully cold start the season. For now, be satisfied that he’s learning how best to handle the pitching staff, they are giving him high praise and that the results behind the plate are benefiting the Yankees. McCann's seven seasons out of the last eight with 20 or more home runs (he had 18 in the other) were not flukes. They'll come in time.

McCann is a two-dimensional catcher and there are very few of them in the league. Right now, he has provided one side and at season’s end, I’d be willing to bet his offensive production catches up. What’s better is that the work behind the plate will not suffer for it.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Yankees must resist signing free-agent reliever

One week into the regular season and the New York Yankees are without their newly appointed closer David Robertson. It is the second time that Robertson was elevated to the role before quickly suffering an injury forcing him to the disabled list. The Yankees will automatically be linked to any number of free-agent relievers looking for a roster spot. They should avoid the temptation of “experience,” turn their attention toward their own roster and let their talent blossom.

First, Robertson’s injury is not all that serious. He suffered a grade-one strain of the groin and anticipates the minimum time served on the DL. The concern for some is not just about the immediate future, but this bullpen was considered suspect prior to Robertson’s ailment. The Yankees should not make decisions based on the chance that the experiment could fail, certainly not eight games into the season.

Behind Robertson is righty Shawn Kelley, who had a productive 2013 season, grabbing the seventh-inning setup duties from former Yankee Joba Chamberlain early in the season. Kelley will likely be the first option for the Yankees to close out games with Robertson on the shelf. He earned his first career save in Monday’s win over the Baltimore Orioles, tossing a 1-2-3 frame.

During the offseason, the Yankees signed Matt Thornton to a two-year, yet inexpensive deal, to be the lead lefty in the pen. Thornton is no longer as dominant as he was in his Chicago White Sox days, but could certainly garner a couple of opportunities to close if the matchups dictate.

The rest of the bullpen is made up of young and inexperienced relievers. David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren all vied for the final rotation spot and lost out to Michael Pineda. Phelps and Warren saw plenty of action in 2013, but mostly as a swing-man and long-man respectively. Nuno made a couple of spot starts.

Phelps has allowed three homers in three appearances thus far and Nuno got shellacked Tuesday against the Orioles (8 H, 7 R, 2 BB, 2 HR in 3.1 IP). Jumping to the conclusion that this is what to expect of these guys is somewhat premature. The Yankees should not panic. And here’s why.

They’ve got some value and upside brewing elsewhere. Warren (shown below) has been thrust into a setup role and has been dominant. He’s been able to ratchet up his fastball (95-mph range) because he knows he’s in there for just one inning. His ancillary pitches have been solid thus far as well.


The Yankees also have Dellin Betances looking to work his way up the pecking order in the bullpen. He has two effective appearances and one ineffective outing in the early going after looking incredible during spring training.

The Yankees need to take approach of allowing these players to develop. This was the mindset when they decided against signing expensive relievers in the offseason, using their cash to fill in voids by inking Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees must resist the urge to delve into the scrap heap for a reliever readying for a hypothetical chance that things might go wrong with their current crop in the bullpen.

None of the players available come without their own set of issues. Joel Hanrahan is recuperating from Tommy John surgery and will be conducting a showcase soon. While it could be expected that Hanrahan might be had for a low cost and short term deal, bringing him aboard would only disrupt the valuable experience the current relievers would get, whether Robertson is on or off the roster.

Ditto the sentiment for taking a flyer on Ryan Madson, Francisco Cordero or any other free agent relievers looking for work. There is little sense to it because Robertson should not be gone long and the Yankees are better off sticking with guys who are doing their job right now, as well as those trying to right the ship.

Further, the Yankees actually showed to have some relief depth in the minors during spring training. Cesar Cabral (called up Tuesday), Mark Montgomery, Fred Lewis, Matt Daley, Danny Burawa, Jim Miller and David Herndon all had positive results and could fill voids just as well as anyone on the market. The Yankees also have Preston Claiborne awaiting another chance in New York after success in early 2013. Claiborne suffered an unfortunate decline in the latter part of the season which sprinkled into his spring performance.

In the end, the allure of an experienced arm that has the potential for more issues (faltering or reoccurring injury) should be less welcomed than internal development. Building a firm bridge with the guys already in the Bronx (or in the farm system) and providing them with confidence building innings is the way to go right now.

Logo courtesy of SportsLogos.net.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

New York Yankees: Ivan Nova is consistently inconsistent

The New York Yankees hoped Ivan Nova’s completion of the 2013 season was a sign of things to come. Maybe, just maybe he had figured out pitching at a high level for an extended period of time.

After two starts into the regular season, and seasons worth of ups and downs, it is apparent to me at least, that Nova is never going to be an elite starter. He might never be a very good starter.

Nova recorded the win in his first outing of the season, but was effectively wild. He walked five batters in that game but was able to induce four ground balls into double plays. The rally cry was that he was resilient and worked around his troubles. He fought hard and it would be different in his next start. Different? Yes. Good? No.

Tuesday, in his first start at Yankee Stadium in 2014, Nova was knocked around by the Baltimore Orioles. He allowed seven earned runs on 10 hits including a home run in 3.2 innings pitched. Hey, he didn't walk anyone though!

Nova’s effort put the Yankees into a 7-1 hole and they went on to lose the game 14-5 to the Orioles, evening their record at 4-4.


Nova did not have to compete for his job this season as the Yankees were thrilled with his second half performance in 2013. What concerns me is that Nova seems to perform better when he has a chip on his shoulder.

In 2011 when he went 16-4 he pitched against the speculation his season was a fluke. He followed that season up with a 5.02 ERA in 2012. He fought for and won the starter's job in 2013. Then he was given a kick back to Triple-A in 2013 after a rough start of the season. He came back with a vengeance after once again people doubted his abilities.

Personally, I have never been a big supporter of Nova’s. I always felt that his inconsistencies would prevent him from taking the next step. I do think he is good enough to remain a starter in this league, but the perception that he can turn into anything beyond a number four or five is delusional in my opinion.

As I mentioned in my season expectations piece about Nova, even in the seasons in which he was good, he had significant stretches of mediocre or poor performances. Take 2013 for example.

After his poor April (6.48 ERA, .354 BAA and .897 OPS against), Nova went 6-2 from July through August with a 2.06 ERA, .224 BAA and .596 OPS against. He was well on his way to finishing the year strong and then he reverted to an OK pitcher for September going 1-2 with a 3.90 ERA and opposing hitters recorded a .270/.336/.417 line against him.

I had given Nova the benefit of the doubt by speculating 13-15 wins with an ERA in the 3.40 – 3.60 range “if he can eliminate the bad stretches.” So far he has started the season much like last year, poorly, and one has to wonder if this is simply what he is, a consistently inconsistent pitcher.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Monday, April 7, 2014

Yankees win clouded by David Robertson injury

The New York Yankees won their home opener Monday afternoon 4-2 over the Baltimore Orioles in front of a sellout crowd. The celebration was short lived as Yankees manager Joe Girardi announced after the game that closer David Robertson will be placed on the disabled list due to a strained groin suffered in Sunday’s victory.

When Adam Warren came on to preserve a two-run lead in the eighth inning instead of Shawn Kelley, speculation was that Robertson was not going to be used because he had pitched in three of the last four days. Unfortunately that was not the case.

The bullpen has been a strong suit for the Yankees thus far on the young season despite being regarded as a weakness by many. Now, there will be even more questions with Robertson gone for at least a couple of weeks.

Kelley notched his first career save Monday setting down the Orioles 1-2-3. He’ll head what Girardi called a committee according to a tweet from the YES Network's Meredith Marokovits.

All was well in Yankeeland until the game actually ended. Hiroki Kuroda had pitched nicely (6.1 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 0 BB and 4 K) and the Yankees knocked Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez from the game in the fifth inning. The bullpen once again put up zeros on the way to the Yankees victory.

The offensive highlight came in the fifth when Derek Jeter, in his last home opener, drilled a line drive to left field that appeared to have enough distance for a home run, but it hit the wall. Jeter had admired the shot, but then turned on the speed to get to second for a double. Jacoby Ellsbury followed with a single which ended up being the deciding run in the game.


The Yankees, who had more than their share of injuries in 2013, have now lost Mark Teixeira and Robertson to the disabled list within the first week of 2014. It is obviously not what the team hoped for out of the gates and will put added pressure on players who are generally not accustomed to it.

Kelley pitched well for the Yankees in 2013 earning important seventh inning appearances for the club and has yet to allow a run in four appearances (3.1 IP). Warren, who has looked very good (0 BB, 0 H and 0 R in 3.1 IP) and Matt Thornton, who has some closing experience, could also get some chances to close out games.

It’s an early test for the Yankees and a very important one. So far, the bullpen has been up to the task, dispelling the notion that their inexperience was going to be an issue. Can it step it up even further?

Notes:
  • Alfonso Soriano had two hits and a walk putting his 0-for-17 start in the rear-view mirror
  • Ellsbury had two more hits and is batting .360
  • The Yankees have won 20 of their last 23 home openers
  • Yankees starters have not allowed a walk in the last four games
Tuesday’s Game:

The Yankees trot Ivan Nova (1-0, 3.18 ERA) to the hill to face Baltimore’s Wei-Yin Chen (0-1, 6.35 ERA). Despite Nova’s win in his initial start of the season, he’ll work on limiting walks in his one after handing out five free passes in Houston.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



New York Yankees topple Toronto Blue Jays for series win

The New York Yankees used a balanced hitting attack, a better performance from CC Sabathia and stingy bullpen work to earn a 6-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre.

Each player in the Yankees' lineup except Brian Roberts recorded a hit, knocking out Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchison in the fourth inning. Derek Jeter had two hits including number 3,320 pushing him into eighth place on the all-time list ahead of Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.

The Bombers finally received a home run, albeit from an unlikely source when Brett Gardner took Hutchison deep in the fourth. Yankees manager Joe Girardi suggested everyone is going to need to pitch in this season for the team to succeed.

"It's going to take everybody, and we know that," manager Joe Girardi said via MLB.com. "Even though we have some younger guys, we still have some age on our team, and it's going to take a combination of some players if we want to get to where we need to get."


Sabathia was much better Sunday than he was in his Opening Day start. After getting staked to a three-run lead to start the game, Sabathia allowed a leadoff homer to Melky Cabrera, who went deep in all three games. From the second inning through the fifth Sabathia allowed just one single and was looking very good.

With a 6-1 lead to start the sixth, Sabathia set down the first two batters of the inning. Then a bloop single by Jose Bautista began a string of four hits, the last three well hit, as the Blue Jays closed the gap to 6-4 before Sabathia recorded the final out of the inning.

Sabathia had been cruising, but then seemed like he hit a wall after Bautista's hit. The Yankees did not have anyone warm to start the inning, but they may want to consider it going forward when Sabathia approaches the 80-pitch mark no matter how good he looks.

The Yankees bullpen, which has been stellar besides David Phelps’ issues, combined for three scoreless innings. Adam Warren and Shawn Kelley brought the game to closer David Robertson who gave us our first Houdini act of the season by putting the tying runs on base via a single and walk with one out in the ninth. He slipped out of the final inning by getting Colby Rasmus to pop out and Cabrera on a hard line drive to right field.

After a disappointing opening series against the Houston Astros the Yankees bounced back in Toronto and find themselves just one-half game back of the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East standings. They received predominantly strong work from their starters in the series and wrapped two good offensive performances around Saturday’s shutout.

Gardner and the Yankees will be happy to be in the home clubhouse Monday as it is Opening Day in the Bronx.

"To be able to go home 3-3 after starting off 0-2, we'll be excited to get back home," Gardner said. "I know our fans will be excited to see us. We're excited to get back to New York and hopefully have a good homestand."

Notes:
  • Jeter is 100 hits away from claiming seventh place on the all-time hits list currently held by former Boston Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski.
  • Alfonso Soriano recorded his first hit of the season.
  • Kelly Johnson knocked in his first two runs of the season with a double in the first inning.
  • Yangervis Solarte ripped his fourth double of the year and now has five RBIs.
  • Sabathia sat in the high 80’s with his fastball, but topped out at 92, including his final one of the day.
Today’s Game:

Hiroki Kuroda (0-1, 3.00 ERA) toes the rubber for the Yankees' home opener. He’ll face Baltimore Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (0-1, 6.00 ERA). Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte are set to throw out the first pitches to Jeter and Jorge Posada, bringing the Core Four on the field together one more time.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Sunday, April 6, 2014

New York Yankees: Michael Pineda sharp, offense dull in loss

The New York Yankees fell to the Toronto Blue Jays Saturday 4-0, despite a superb effort from Michael Pineda in his first regular season big league start since September 2011.

R.A. Dickey and three Blue Jays relievers held the Yankees (2-3) scoreless despite having two runners on base in each of the final five innings.

Pineda was sharp and did not look like he has missed a beat since his final regular season start with the Seattle Mariners. His fastball was still reaching 95-mph in his final inning of work. He allowed one run on five hits, no walks and struck out five hitters. He threw 58 of his 83 pitches for strikes.

The sixth and eighth innings were particularly frustrating to watch as Jacoby Ellsbury and Derek Jeter singled and walked respectively to start each frame. Carlos Beltran grounded into a double play in the sixth and Brian McCann struck out to end the first rally. In the eighth, Beltran struck out, McCann grounded out and Alfonso Soriano whiffed. Soriano is now 0-for-16 this season with five strikeouts.

What seemed surprising to me was the non-call made by Yankees manager Joe Girardi with Soriano in the eighth. The Blue Jays (3-3) had brought in closer and right-hander Sergio Santos on for a four out save.

Sitting on the bench were left handed hitters Brett Gardner (off day) and Ichiro Suzuki. Why let Soriano, who has looked lost since he picked up a bat in spring training, hit in this situation? That was not the time to let him work through his issues in my opinion.

To make matters worse, David Phelps, in his second inning of work allowed three runs (including homers to Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista) in the bottom of the eighth and squashed any notion of a ninth-inning rally.


Getting back to the one positive in the game; Pineda’s performance was reassuring. He had a very nice spring, winning the job after a tight competition with Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno. Pineda came to camp physically ready and mentally focused to make the club. Now, he could serve as one of the better end of the rotation pieces in the league.

Pineda is still just 25-years-old and as he continues his progression this season, there is once again a palpable excitement in his being on the team. He has the tools to be a bonafide top of the rotation hurler so long as he remains physically prepared and maintains his concentration.

Game Notes:
  • Mark Teixeira was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring
  • Kelly Johnson got the start at first base and Francisco Cervelli will serve as the backup first baseman if necessary. Austin Romine was called up to serve as the backup catcher.
  • Ellsbury is sizzling at the plate, stroking three more hits to raise his average to .375
  • Yangervis Solarte, who figures to serve as the primary third baseman with Johnson shifting to first, upped his average to .538 with two singles
  • The Yankees have yet to hit a home run this season -- remember the "too many damn home runs" days?
Today’s Game:

CC Sabathia looks to bounce back from his Opening Day start in which he allowed six runs in his first two innings of work. He’ll face Blue Jays righty Drew Hutchison who did not give up a run in 5.1 innings of work in his first start of the season, earning the win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Yankees logo courtesy of SportsLogos.net.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.



Saturday, April 5, 2014

New York Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka shows poise in MLB debut

The New York Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year contract worth $155 million in the offseason and most clamored on and on about his impressive split-finger fastball. Indeed the pitch can be devastating, but in his MLB debut against the Toronto Blue Jays Friday night, it was Tanaka’s poise that stood out.

Any player making his big league debut is already feeling some pressure to perform well. Any individual, in any job wants to do their best especially on their "first" day. It’s about showing they belong. Tanaka, had about as rough a beginning as possible, but he persevered and came out on top in the Yankees 7-3 victory. In the process he showed he can hold his own as a major leaguer.

After the Yankees staked Tanaka to a two-run lead courtesy of RBI-singles from Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira in the top half of the first inning, he took the hill with flashbulbs popping all over Rogers Centre.

Tanaka faced former Yankee Melky Cabrera who deposited his third pitch, an 86-mph changeup, over the right center field wall. Tanaka will have to live with that trivia question for the rest of his life.



The second inning was not much better for the 25-year-old Japanese star who went 24-0 last season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League. He allowed three singles in the frame, including a two-run knock by Jonathan Diaz which gave the Blue Jays a 3-2 lead. But Tanaka showed signs of clamping down by getting out of the inning by striking out Cabrera and then Colby Rasmus.

The Yankees won a replay challenge in the third when Ichiro Suzuki was ruled safe on a fielder’s choice. Yangervis Solarte, making his second straight start, ripped a two-out, two-run double right after it to give the Yankees back the lead.

Tanaka was very strong from that point on and held up the lead allowing just two more hits. Tanaka finished the night giving up three runs (two earned) on six hits with eight strikeouts and zero walks in seven innings of work. He tossed 97 pitches.

I noted several times during spring training that Tanaka’s demeanor on the mound is incredible. During his rough first two innings he never looked frazzled. In fact he seemed to get more locked in. He is certainly not a thrower, he’s a pitcher. He’s thinking up on the hill and exudes confidence even when faced with a tough situation.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi heaped praise on his starter’s composure.

"I think it's really impressive," Girardi said via MLB.com. "You think about what he's had to deal with all Spring Training, the attention that's been on him. The covers of magazines. Everywhere he goes, people want to know when's he pitching. That started Feb. 14. I think he's handled it great."

Toronto manager John Gibbon’s was equally impressed.

"He's the real deal," Gibbons said. "He made a few mistakes and we capitalized on them, and those are the balls you have to hit. But he's strong, he stayed in the game, and when they gave him the lead back he kicked it in pretty good."

After the Blue Jays conducted their home opener ceremonies, the night belonged to Tanaka and he delivered in more ways than one.

Notes:
  • Teixeira was removed from the game in the second inning after straining his right hamstring. He missed 147 games in 2013.
  • Dean Anna made his major league debut as well last night. He went 1-for-4 with a walk and run scored.
  • The Yankees rapped out 16 hits, but have yet to hit a home run.

Today’s Game:

The Yankees send Michael Pineda to the mound to face R.A. Dickey. Pineda has not pitched in a big league regular season game since 2011. He had a fantastic spring after coming to camp in better shape and with a healthy arm.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.