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Spring Training News & Notes: Gary Battles The Flu, Monty Remains Sharp, Injury Updates

We’ve hit the doldrums of Yankees spring training. We’re beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not yet close enough to feel its warmth. The pitchers continue to prepare for the season and the position players continue to get their reps in. The injuries have settled some potential position battles so the main focus is keeping the roster as healthy as possible heading into Opening Day. To that end, let’s jump into today’s news and notes.

Gary Sánchez Diagnosed With The Flu

Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez has missed the last few days of spring training with lower back issues. He was scheduled to resume batting practice activities this morning. Sánchez wasn’t seen with his assigned group during batting practice. It was announced later on that Sánchez was sent home with a “little fever.”

With the coronavirus global pandemic, there was immediate concern that Gary contracted the illness. After the game, the Yankees provided this update:

The Yankees avert a serious crisis for now. Can you imagine what would happen if a player contracted coronavirus? It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for that team to immediately halt their spring training camp. MLB has removed media from team locker rooms in a controversial step to curtail close interaction with the players. The flu isn’t a pleasant experience, but at least there are measures to treat it compared to the coronavirus.

To that end, Yankees players and personnel have met with the team doctor to address COVID-19. Zack Britton told reporters that the team has been in contact with the company in charge of their air travel to ensure their charter plane is properly sanitized. Britton, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gerrit Cole all agreed that precautions were necessary to help curtail the spread of the virus.

This is a problem that MLB will have to address in the immediate future. Multiple sporting events have been canceled, postponed or played in front of empty arenas. With Opening Day a couple weeks away, MLB is closing in on a potentially dangerous scenario. There is also the very real possibility of a player contracting the virus. We’ll be reading about this in the coming days. Hopefully, there were won’t be any significant bad news moving forward.

Jordan Montgomery Continues To Impress

Amidst all of the injury news, Jordan Montgomery is posting an impressive camp. We’ve covered the uptick in velocity, but today’s relief outing also showcased efficiency with a couple three up and three down innings. Yankees manager Aaron Boone is really happy with the tall lefty:

Been really excited from the git-go with him. Bullpens, to the uptick in velocity . . . He did a lot of things really good. The curveball was good. The changeup was really good. You saw even a couple of the at-bats where he was behind in the count, just not real comfortable swings even on his fastball, and he finished off the outing with that cutter on his last strikeout. There’s a lot there to be excited about.

Aaron Boone Courtesy of Anthony Reiber

Monty had a line of 4IP, 0H, 0BB, 0ER, 5Ks. He was effective in and around the zone all afternoon. Here is one example:

Montgomery is a crucial piece for the Yankees rotation. There should be a high level of confidence in Cole and Tanaka. J.A. Happ’s spring offers encouragement, but we need to see it translate into the season. The fifth rotation spot is going to an unproven young pitcher or an opener. The Yankees need a consistent and stable Jordan Montgomery. It will make a world of difference in navigating through the early part of the season. Montgomery entered this season as an interesting option for the team. Now, the Yankees will rely upon him to immediately deliver. His spring is very encouraging.

Finally Some Positive Injury Updates

The Yankees gave positive updates on two players currently out of action. James Paxton, who underwent back surgery last month, will play catch tomorrow. This is a relatively minor step forward, but a necessary one. The team has been hopeful that Paxton would return on the shorter end of his timeline. Obviously, the sooner he can get on the mound the better. The rotation certainly needs him.

Giancarlo Stanton will begin running outside shortly. Here is an update from the man himself courtesy of Bryan Hoch:

Stanton is already resuming baseball activities. That is a great sign. The team didn’t announce any timeline for a return, but once Giancarlo begins running on the field a return to games shouldn’t be too far behind. The lineup depth is facing a real test early on. A Stanton return in early April would be a huge boost. Of course, we have to take these things one step at a time given the neverending injury bug. This recent Stanton news is a good sign though.

Leftovers

  • Gerrit Cole returned to his normal dominant self. He finished his start today with a line of 3 1/3IP, 2H, 1ER, 0BB, 6K, 1WP. Ho hum.
  • Aaron Boone told the media that both Miguel Andújar and Clint Frazier will each get work in left and right field in the next few games.
  • We launched the first episode of The Views From 314FT Podcast this morning. Bobby, Derek and I discussed all the injuries and potential roster machinations. Please give it a listen and share it with your networks. The podcast will be available on all podcast platforms once the approval process is complete.

Have a great night everyone!

Yu Darvish and Accepting Failure

Yu know it. (MLB Gifs)

If you’ve seen a lick of baseball news this week, you’ve certainly heard about the sign-stealing allegations against the Houston Astros.

To sum it up, the Astros are accused by both one of their former players and opposing pitchers of using a video camera to steal signs, then relay those signs by banging on trash cans. All of this allegedly occurred during the 2017 regular season, though we don’t know if it extended into the postseason or into the subsequent pair of seasons.

Immediately, you might think, “They’re not the only ones doing this. They’re just the ones that got caught.” That’s likely true, but also beside the point. The Red Sox and Yankees were each punished after Boston’s Apple Watch incident in 2017 and New York’s own questions involving their bullpen phone. The Brewers and Rangers have also been accused.

Yet it appears to the Astros may have both been more sophisticated and more willing to break the rules and norms. It might ultimately be unfair to punish them if many teams are doing the same, but this is something Major League Baseball ultimately wants to eliminate, particularly as technology only gets more sophisticated.

Over the course of the last three years, the Astros were not only successful but historically so. They struck out less than any other team and posted offensive numbers far above league averages in ways not seen in decades. Their individual players became household names and took home prestigious awards.

And, of course, they won the 2017 World Series while coming darn close to taking the 2019 crown as well. In both of those seasons, they beat the Yankees in the ALCS. To clinch the 2017 title, they beat the Dodgers, a 104-win team that ran through the National League.

Now there’s a cloud over all of their success. That’s what cheating allegations do. It still hangs above the Patriots’ dominance of the 21st Century after they were implicated in Gates of the Spy and Deflate variety. Even though it wasn’t about cheating, Saints fans are still in an uproar over a missed call in last year’s NFC title game. When a championship is seemingly stolen from you by artificial means, it’s infuriating on another level than an average loss.

If anyone has a gripe with the Astros, particularly the 2017 edition, it’s Yu Darvish. His reputation was sullied in the Fall Classic that year as the Astros tagged him for nine runs across just 3 1/3 innings in two starts, including the decisive Game 7. After striking out 14 batters in two prior postseason starts, he failed to fan one batter in the World Series.

At the time, the Astros intimated that Darvish was tipping his pitches. Now, there’s speculation that Houston was instead stealing his signs and gaining an unfair advantage that swung the series. If the veteran hurler wanted to cry foul and blame the Astros’ supposed cheating for his lack of success, he’d have plenty of justification. However, Darvish refrained from doing so when speaking about the issue with the Los Angeles Times.

“I feel that if I absolve myself and say it was the Astros’ fault I was bad in Game 7, in the World Series, I can’t develop as a person,” Darvish told Dylan Hernandez. “In life, I think huge failures are extremely important. I’ve had a few up to this point. The World Series was one of them. I think it will remain a point of reference for me. I’ve already learned a lot from it. So regarding that, I can’t view myself charitably. I think I have to continue to accept the results.”

Darvish’s sentiment here is remarkably healthy and potentially instructive for Yankees fans. Losing to Houston in 2017 and ’19 remains painful and won’t be undone, no matter what MLB’s investigation of the Astros uncovers. While the Yankees went 1-6 in Houston over those two postseasons, they scored just three runs in four games during the first ALCS, which can’t be blamed on signs. Suing the Astros won’t bring you any happiness.

We’ll never know what affect the alleged sign-stealing had on the past three seasons in baseball. That’s life, unfortunately. You can play with what-ifs and if-onlys forever and you still return to the same reality, the one with events in the same exact order. (I’m also a hypocrite: I’m going to have a post examing the 2010 postseason next week.)

Instead, we should take a page from Darvish, learn from our failures, even if they aren’t entirely ours. Personally, I’ll never forget running for a position at my college newspaper and losing. I dwelt upon that and blamed everyone but myself for months, wallowing in perceived slights. Moving past it and looking inward was the only way I could learn and gain anything positive from the admittedly bitter experience.

As for the Yankees, it’s hard to not to develop hatred towards an opponent that not only beat you but may have cheated you. However, New York has to plan how to improve its 2020 roster regardless and find a way to get over the hump. Living in 2017 and studying videotape for bangs of a makeshift drum won’t get the Yankees a title. You can feel however you want about Houston, and 2017/2019 won’t become positive memories any time soon, but the Yankees’ role in that drama is over, and Yu Darvish has the right of it.

Aaron Boone and Breaking Away From The Best Laid Plans

Aaron Boone’s decision to go to Adam Ottavino in the fifth inning was the turning point of Game 2 in the ALCS.

It is important to acknowledge that this scenario was a result of the maddening ineffectiveness of James Paxton. The failings of Big Maple put Boone in a very tough position. Despite having the best bullpen in the game, it is difficult to manage your pen for eight innings. Paxton failed. He absolutely needs to do a better job in these playoff games. He was brought in for these specific starts and not a dominating performance against Texas in September. This poor start also doesn’t excuse Boone from making a costly oversight.

Before moving forward, it feels appropriate to address the lack of offense from the Yankees in Game 2. Many people want to place the majority of blame for the loss on the Yankees’ lineup. There is certainly a case to be made. The hitters had an inconsistent approach against an effective, but far from dominant, Justin Verlander. The lineup was overwhelmed by the Astros embattled bullpen. They had pitches to hit and missed. There were opportunities to put up runs and they didn’t come through.

On the flip side, we’re going to see really well pitched games at times. Teams are facing the best staffs in the league in October. The pitchers are both extremely talented and capable of executing pitches multiple times in an at bat. The Astros are having a hard time scoring against the Yankees as well. Houston has only scored three runs in two games at home during this series. Their lineup had multiple chances to put up runs last night and they were shut down by Yankees pitching. There wasn’t a hit in the game from the sixth to the tenth innings. It was a night for the pitchers, so asking hitters to just knock in a few runs is much easier said than done. Unfortunately, the Yankees weren’t facing any Uber drivers.

With this context in mind, every managerial move is crucial. There is very little room for error. I recently wrote on Aaron Boone’s improved decision making this season. Boone is more pro-active and aggressive with his bullpen management. It is night and day from last postseason. He also did a really good job for most of Game 2. But the decision to replace Chad Green with Adam Ottavino felt like a decision rooted in overthinking rather than nuanced aggressiveness. It was a crucial factor in the loss.

Derek wrote a great piece on the numbers behind Boone’s decision. Logically, this decision makes sense. Springer likes high velocity and Chad Green certainly brings it. It feels like a no brainer. In this instance though, data based logic needed to take a back seat to what the game was telling us. Chad Green was dominating the Astros lineup. The ball was effortlessly coming out of his hand. He had excellent command. And most importantly, the swings of the Astros hitters were providing all the information the Yankees staff needed. Green was overmatching Houston. There was nothing from his performance that suggested he was laboring or feeling the effects of a high workload. The numbers said one thing, but the on field action was suggesting something different.

Despite the clear trend of last night’s game, Aaron Boone stuck with the script. Here is Ottavino on when he was told he would enter the game from Tom Verducci’s piece on SI:

When the previous inning ended. They told me I had the second hitter [Springer].

Adam ottavino

Chad Green blew Kyle Tucker away with ease prior to George Springer’s at bat. At that point, he completed two dominant innings with just 26 pitches. Green was in a position to continue eating up outs and delaying the moment in which Boone had to use another bullpen arm. In many ways, Green was making things a bit easier for Boone and his pen management. Instead, Boone ignored all of that and went with the plan™.

Beyond that, the recent performance of Adam Ottavino should have factored into the decision. Otto struggled at the end of the regular season and that continued in the ALDS. He was the designated Nelson Cruz weapon and earned mixed results. The logic behind Ottavino’s approach to Springer was a bit curious as well. Here are some more Ottavino quotes from Verducci:

He hit a slider [in Game 1]. Obviously the more exposure a hitter gets against a pitcher in a series the more it helps the hitter…I knew he was probably looking breaking ball first pitch. We had a one-run lead, nobody on base and I was just trying to get ahead. I have a lot of confidence in the slider, obviously. I wanted it down and away. I was going to err on the side of throwing a strikeI was expecting a swing. It just came out early [from the hand]. Not ideal

Adam Ottavino

There are a few things from this quote that immediately shifts the at bat into George Springer’s favor. Springer smoked an Ottavino slider the night before. Despite being aware that Springer was going to hunt another slider, Ottavino obliged. There appeared to be no consideration of throwing a fastball (despite Otto having a really good one). In addition, Ottavino was looking for a get me over slider instead of one Springer would chase. If you know Springer wants a slider and you want to give him one, why not try to throw your best version of it?

There is a theory believed by some that if you know a hitter is looking for a certain pitch you deliver it to the extreme. So if you know a hitter is looking up in the zone, you throw a pitch above the zone. If you believe a hitter is looking off speed, you bury it knowing they’re going to offer at it. It is certainly possible that Ottavino was really confident in his slider regardless of where he was looking to locate it and he just hung one. It happens all the time.

But this brings us back to the issue of a manager trusting his information and plan versus trusting his eyes. The game is suggesting Green is the better option in that moment because of how well he’s throwing. The numbers can’t measure present time. They can only guide a decision based on past performance. It is admittedly a difficult line to toe, but it is the responsibility of the manager to weigh all factors both pre-determined and in a game setting.

There is also a more fundamental human element to all of this. The playoffs are about moments. They don’t always rely upon the trends and tendencies of a full regular season. There should be times when a manager says “I know what the numbers say, but my guy is pitching his ass off and he’s going to fucking get you out. He’s better than you today.” We’ve seen instances of this in the postseason (we also saw another Dave Roberts special, but he is in his own category at this point). Sometimes sheer competitive bravado should win the day.

The Yankees did not lose Game 2 of the ALCS solely because of Aaron Boone’s decision and Springer’s home run. James Paxton failed to do his job. The Yankees offense needed better at bats and couldn’t continually miss mistake pitches. JA Happ can’t miss his target by a foot to a hitter like Carlos Correa. It is also a real possibility that Chad Green gives up a bomb to Springer. This is also not to suggest that Ottavino won’t come up huge in a big spot later in the series. With all of that said, the Astros were put in a position to steal a game when the manager refused to read the game in the fifth inning. It will be fun to see how things play out if this scenario emerges once again.

Game 143: Happ, Encarnación Guide Yankees to Easy 5-1 Win

Embed from Getty Images

Now THAT is more like it. The Yankees defeated the Red Sox 5-1 (box score) on Saturday afternoon, improving to 93-50 on the season. Their magic number is now 11. Today was all about Edwin Encarnación and J.A. Happ as the Yankees cruised to an easy victory. Most of the action in this one occurred in the big 4th inning, but, being a Yankee-Red Sox game, it still took over 3 and a half hours.

Let’s get right to the takeaways.

1. J.A. Happ Is Looking So, So Much Better: J.A. Happ is a fastball pitcher in a breaking ball pitcher’s world. His reliance on the straight stuff has, in my mind, played a significant role in his struggles with the long ball this year. Well, suffice to say, that dynamic was not at play today. Happ was in complete control from the very first pitch.

Happ threw 55 fastballs, per BrooksBaseball, and generated 12 (!) swings and misses. All of those swings and misses came on his straight 4-seamer, meaning he had a pretty 38% whiff-per-swing rate on the pitch. And here is where those were located:

Image

Beautiful. Up in the zone, which meant he was aggressive and getting results. Here was his entire strike zone plot for the day, which bears this out:

Really, this has been the story of the last few starts for Happ. As YES’ stats guru James Smyth noted, batters have been struggling to catch up with Happ’s fastball throughout his last 5 starts. Check it out:

I doubt you’ve forgotten this, but today’s 6.1 scoreless innings now raise Happ’s scoreless innings streak to 15.1 after last start’s 6 scoreless. How about that? His ERA has plummetted to 5.12. Good for him. Hopefully, he builds on the recent successes (today’s final line: 6.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K) and keeps it rolling. Maybe he’ll even get his ERA under 5.00, which would be nice for vanity reasons.

I’ll leave you with this incredible nugget from the indispensable Katie Sharp:

2. The 4th Inning Was Very Fun: Let’s just say it again: the 4th inning of this one was very, very fun. It’s probably worth putting it in context, though. The Yankees mustered just three hits against 7 Boston pitchers last night and looked generally lifeless. That’s exactly how today started, too: through 3 innings against 2 pitchers, the Bombers had 0 hits and 0 walks. That all changed fast.

It began with a DJ LeMahieu single up the middle (obviously), and 8 more men would come to bat. Let’s break this one down:

  1. DJ LeMahieu: Single
  2. Aaron Judge: Strikeout
  3. Didi Gregorius: Double
  4. Gary Sánchez: 2-RBI Ground Rule Double
  5. Edwin Encarnación: 2-Run Home Run
  6. Gleyber Torres: Lineout
  7. Brett Gardner: Single (he then stole 2nd base)
  8. Luke Voit: Walk
  9. Mike Tauchman: Lineout

Of course, it’s never quite that simple. Let’s start with the Didi Gregorius “double.” That one easily could have been ruled an error, and either way, it wouldn’t have happened without the fact that the sun decided to wear pinstripes today. Now, he did hit it hard–really hard, actually, at over 107 mph. It had an expected batting average, per StatCast, of .660. This is an example of where the analytics can be misleading, though.

For unclear reasons, this highlight contains both Didi’s double and Gary’s, but whatever. As you can clearly see, the ball was hit hard but also hit right at J.D. Martinez…who promptly lost the ball in the sun, allowing Didi to reach 2nd and the Yankees to have 2nd and 3rd with one out in the inning. Just great stuff, really.

Now, onto Gary Sánchez’s double. This one, unlike Gregorius’, was hit neither hard nor was it expected to be a hit. In fact, it was hit just 87 mph and carried an expected batting average of .010. .010! Wild. Luckily for us, it was perfectly placed and also may have been sun-aided as well. Either way, that made it 2-0 Yankees. It wasn’t pretty per se, but they capitalized on J.D.’s misplay and took the lead. Good stuff.

That left Sánchez on 2nd for Encarnación, who absolutely unloaded on Colten Brewer’s pitch. On the first pitch of the at-bat, no less, and it’s easy to see why:

That was a curveball, too. That is a ball Encarnación should absolutely demolish and, well, he did this:

106+ mph and an absolute blast over the Monster. (As you’ll see later, this was especially satisfying given the fact that Boston made 2 great plays on other balls Edwin hit. He also added an RBI double in the 9th, which he absolutely smashed off the left-center-field wall)) You just love to see it. In the blink of an eye, the Yankees had gone from hapless on offense to up 4-0 in the span of 4 batters. This offense is dangerous. Even though they didn’t plate any runs after this, every ball put in play was absolutely smashed. I told you this was a fun inning.

3. The Success of The Formula™ (Mostly): After Happ’s masterful performance, the Yankees turned it over to their bullpen, which did exactly what it was supposed to do (mostly). Here were their lines:

  • Adam Ottavino: 0.2 IP, zeros, 1 K
  • Tommy Kahnle: 0.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K
  • Zack Britton: 0.2 IP, zeros, 1 K
  • Aroldis Chapman: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R

Now, Kahle struggled a bit (he surrendered back-t0-back hits after retiring his first man) but Britton was there to pick him up. The final out he recorded was struck hard–a 101 mph lineout to Judge in right–but he got the job done. No harm, no foul. Chapman did what Chapman does, including giving up a solo shot to J.D. Martinez with 2 outs in the 9th because it wasn’t a save situation. But oh well. It didn’t matter in the end.

Leftovers

  • A Wasted Opportunity 6th Inning: Gleyber Torres (still 22!) hit a double to lead off the 6th and Brett Gardner (still red hot!) worked a walk, but the Yankees would waste the scoring chance. Luke Voit would strike out following a pitching change ahead of a Tauchman walk. That left the bases loaded with one out for DJ LeMahieu, who promptly grounded into a double play. Womp womp.
  • Friendly Banter from Torres To Sánchez: In the bottom of the 6th inning, with one out, Brock Holt popped up to 2nd base. Torres easily recorded the out. It was uneventful…except that it wasn’t. The ball traveled past the pitcher’s mound, which didn’t stop Gary Sánchez from trying to catch it anyway, before Torres waved him off. After making the play, Torres dismissively flipped his glove at him and told him to stay where he belongs. The budding bromance/friendly rivalry from Torres and Sánchez is one of my favorite subplots of the season. This was just another example.
  • Good Defense From Boston Kept it Close: This one could have been a laugher were it not from some annoyingly good defense from the Red Sox. With 2 out in the 5th inning and two on (the Yankees had worked two walks), Encarnación popped up behind the plate. Boston catcher Christian Vazquez made a nice play against the backstop that promptly ended that rally. Oh well. There’s no video online, but I promise to you, dear reader, that it was an annoyingly good play. As was this one by Mookie Betts, also against Encarnación. I’ll just leave this one here:
  • Xander Boegarts Logged His 1,000th Hit: I feel like I need to take a shower for including this in a Yankee blog’s takeaways, but it still feels notable! After our very own fun 4th inning, Xander Boegarts hit a soft grounder through the shift that was his 1,000th career hit. Here is the video, if you for some reason care to see it:

Up Next

The Yankees and their big rivals will meet again tomorrow for the Sunday Night Baseball game on ESPN. Who cares if the Red Sox are all but eliminated? When has that ever stopped Yankees-Red Sox from being on ESPN? Anyway, Mashiro Tanaka (10-8, 4.42 ERA) will take on Rick Porcello (12-11, 5.63 ERA) in a game that the Red Sox decided to list their starting pitcher a day in advance. How nice of them.

Enjoy the rest of your Saturday, everyone. It’s a nice one out there.

Game 142: Knock their Sox off

Didi at Fenway (MLB.tv)

After a 4-2 homestand, the Yankees head out on a 10-game road trip, beginning with a four-game rivalry series in Boston.

Just 11 months removed from a World Series title, the Red Sox are on a downswing. Their playoff odds are minuscule. Reports have Dave Dombrowski on the hot seat. J.D. Martinez could opt out, leaving the team with a hole to replace in their lineup, let alone the holes to fix in their pitching staff.

The Yankees, therefore, can put away the Red Sox for 2019. Three wins, and Boston’s non-existent division hopes are magic number’d away. If Boston does anything less than win three of four or sweep, they’ll continue to lose ground on the postseason chase.

Tonight, it’ll be the Yankees’ most consistent starter and possible 20-game winner, Domingo German, taking on the Brewers’ Opening Day starter and a cavalcade of relievers. Let’s get to the lineups:

Yankees (92-49)

DJ LeMahieu, 3B
Aaron Judge, RF
Didi Gregorius, SS
Gary Sánchez, C
Edwin Encarnación, DH
Gleyber Torres, 2B
Brett Gardner, CF
Luke Voit, 1B
Mike Tauchman, LF

RHP Domingo German

Red Sox (75-65)

Mookie Betts, RF
Rafael Devers, 3B
Xander Bogaerts, SS
J.D. Martinez, DH
Andrew Benintendi, LF
Brock Holt, 2B
Mitch Moreland, 1B
Christian Vázquez, C
Jackie Bradley Jr., CF

RHP Jhoulys Chacin

News & Notes

Tonight’s game is on PIX 11 and WFAN locally, with options for Facebook Watch and MLB Network nationally. Forecast calls for rain towards the end of the night in Boston, so hope for a quick game tonight. Enjoy!

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