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Klapisch: Yankee pitchers Dellin Betances, CC Sabathia still not up to snuff — March 29, 2015

Klapisch: Yankee pitchers Dellin Betances, CC Sabathia still not up to snuff



Yankees reliever Dellin Betances, right, talks with catcher Austin Romine, earlier this month in spring training

TAMPA, Fla. – True or false: the Yankees are worried about CC Sabathia, who gave up two more home runs Saturday, this time to the Pirates’ Class AAA affiliate. That’s five dingers in his last two games, and just as significant, he lost 2-3 mph from his last start.

Is this enough to make the Yankees panic? Not yet — Joe Girardi repeated the usual platitudes about spring training stats – but don’t let the manager kid you, either. This isn’t how anyone wanted Sabathia to go into the regular season, getting hit hard every time he makes a mistake.

Overall, it was a dreary day for the Bombers, who, in addition to Sabathia’s struggles, have yet to solve Dellin Betances’ velocity issues. Throw in Didi Gregorius’ sprained left wrist and suddenly there are three major concerns with barely a week to go before opening day.

The only consolation is that Gregorius’ X-rays were negative after diving for a ground ball in the second inning, And Sabathia is at least pitching without pain – his knee has held up over the first six weeks of camp, no small victory. But the Yankees still don’t have any hard evidence the left-hander can reverse the decline of the last two summers. That’s decidedly bad news.

After being ambushed for three HRs by the Mets last week, Sabathia allowed four earned runs in five innings Saturday. While the Yankees were losing to the Orioles, 10-2, at Steinbrenner Field, Sabathia was across the street at the minor league complex, getting beat up by a split-squad lineup of Pirates’ prospects. He allowed a home run on his very first pitch.

Sabathia’s performance is not included in his Grapefruit League stats. If it was, his ERA would be sitting at 9.31. The normally easy-going Sabathia snapped at a reporter who asked how much stock he put in those numbers.
“I don’t give a [bleep] what stock is put in it. It is what it is,” Sabathia said, adding, “you can put stock in whatever you want. I’m not really worried about it.”

Sabathia rationalized his setbacks with a reservoir of historical data: he’s had good and bad springs in the past, neither of which has directly impacted his performances in the regular season. Fair point. No one disputes a veteran’s track record.

But Sabathia’s case is somewhat unique in 2015, given that he hasn’t pitched since last May and is coming off knee surgery this winter. Add in his diagnosis (degenerative cartilage condition) and diminished fastball, and you begin to understand that everything Sabathia does matters in March.

The Yankees, after all, are counting on him for 30 starts. GM Brian Cashman pronounced the left-hander “cured” of his knee problem at spring training’s outset, which accounts for the team’s outward lack of worry. As long as Sabathia can deliver the ball and land without discomfort, the rest will take care of itself. So Joe Girardi says.
But time is running out to smooth the rough edges. It’s worth noting that, according to Girardi, Sabathia chose not to pitch against the Orioles in Saturday’s YES-televised broadcast. He instead opted for a lower-profile setting – and easier opponent – at the minor league site.

It’s anyone’s guess why Sabathia ducked the O’s. Girardi hinted he didn’t want to risk over-exposing the left-hander to a division rival; the Yankees face the Orioles in a three-game series April 13-15. But there are hardly any secrets left to guard. Sabathia has faced the O’s 30 times in his career.

But, because he didn’t get to watch Sabathia in real-time, Girardi was in no position to evaluate the drop-off in velocity from his last outing. Sabathia’s fastball sat at 88-91 mph, although the pitcher claimed he was simply working on his change-up.

Over and over, Sabathia said, “I felt great” and that his delivery was “pretty good.” He’ll make one more start before the regular season, which he said is “enough time to get it right.”

The Yankees are hoping Betances will be just productive in the final 10 days. He allowed a run for the fifth time this spring – one in each of his appearances – and has yet to re-create last year’s dominance. Betances maxed out at 94 mph, but only once, and otherwise relied on a curveball that he said, “was better” than in his previous outing.

A scout in attendance, however, said Betances’ curve “is still rolling” more than in 2014. The reliever insists his arm is fine, but he’s struggling with two mechanical flaws: opening up his left shoulder too quickly, thus forcing his right arm to drag behind his body. And, because his leg kick has been too high, not striding directly toward the catcher.

“I’ll be ready for sure, my stuff will get better,” Betances said confidently. The Yankees want to believe him, just as they keep issuing the same disclaimers about Sabathia. It’s only spring training, they say. Better to get smoked in March than in April. Nothing to worry about.

True or false, can any of that be trusted? We’ll know soon enough.

Email: klapisch@northjersey.com

Klapisch: Didi Gregorius escaping Derek Jeter’s shadow — March 27, 2015

Klapisch: Didi Gregorius escaping Derek Jeter’s shadow



Shortstop Didi Gregorius, 25, has wowed Yankees manager Joe Girardi with his high-velocity snap throws to first base.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – So where’s Derek Jeter been? The former captain lives only a few minutes from Steinbrenner Field, but has been a ghost since spring training opened. Actually, it doesn’t take much detective work to track down Jeter – he was recently in Tokyo, helping raise funds for children affected by the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. And Jeter has already said he’ll miss opening day in the Bronx.

These aren’t just scheduling conflicts; it’s Jeter’s premeditated plan to snuff out his last competitive gene. He saw what happened to Andy Pettitte, who came out of retirement in 2012 only weeks after visiting the Yankees’ clubhouse as a guest instructor.

Pettitte was still too connected to the game to stay home, and “Derek learned from that,” Joe Girardi said. The manager keeps in touch with Jeter, so there were no hard feelings when the captain blew off camp. To the contrary, Girardi says not having Jeter around has helped Didi Gregorius assimilate.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it, considering Jeter’s decades-long relationship with the Yankee family. If anyone understands synchronicity in the Bronx, it would be the cool, professional Jeter. What better mentor could Gregorius ask for?

After all, Mariano Rivera has been in camp the last two years, endorsing David Robertson in 2014, and more recently pumping up Dellin Betances despite the big right-hander’s terrible preseason.

Jeter theoretically could’ve done the same for Gregorius. All it would’ve taken is one day at his old locker, one visit with the kid, one photo op – big smile, arm slung around the shoulder, and Gregorius would’ve hit the PR lottery. At least that’s one way of looking at it.
But Jeter actually has done Gregorius a favor staying away, sparing him the monsoon of questions about replacing the most popular player in Yankees history.

Robertson, remember, already was a proven commodity. So is Betances. Gregorius is just 25, with just three National League seasons on his résumé. He’s a stranger, an out-of-towner trying to forge his own identity. Gregorius politely addressed Jeter’s legacy when camp opened in February, but was grateful when reporters eventually stopped raising the topic.

Today, Gregorius simply says, “There’s no way I can be Derek, I just want people to see me, Didi.”

Girardi might’ve appreciated the gravitas of a Jeter appearance, but he’s also paid to look out for his younger players. Truth is, the manager is glad Jeter receded into the background, believing it has as much to do with sparing Gregorius as it does with beginning his retired life.

“By Derek not being around, maybe there’s been less of a stir for Didi,” Girardi said. “Not that I think Didi would get caught up in it, because he’s always got a smile on his face. But there’s no doubt it’s helped.”

Ideally, Gregorius could make things easier on himself with a hot April, or at least better than Tino Martinez’s debut when he replaced Don Mattingly in 1996. But there’s no need for Gregorius to impress his teammates; they’re already infatuated with his speed and quickness. And mostly, they love to talk about his arm.

At least one scout is convinced Gregorius hits 90 mph on routine throws to first. Girardi marvels at his new shortstop’s velocity, not unlike Shawon Dunston’s legendary heat, but “his Didi has a much shorter arm stroke” than Dunston, the scout said.

“Didi throws like a catcher, almost like he snaps the ball,” Girardi said. “You normally don’t see infielders throw that hard with such short arm strokes. It’s pretty amazing to watch.”

There’s plenty more to like about Gregorius, notably his range. The vast army of Jeter loyalists will be shocked at how far Gregorius will go to his left and how powerfully he can deliver a strike from deep in the hole.

That’s the real key to appreciating Gregorius in the post-Jeter era. He’s not replacing the younger, more mobile Jeter of the late ’90s and early 2000s, but the slower, creakier version we saw last summer.

Gregorius is explosive and far more athletic. One talent evaluator said this week the Yankees have “a future Gold Glover” in Gregorius. And perhaps just as significantly, he’s got the temperament to handle close scrutiny.

Gregorius is as laid back as Bernie Williams, as cheerful as Rivera, and a million miles away from A-Rod’s neuroses. When I asked Gregorius about April in the Bronx and whether he needs to make a good first impression, he said, “To me, it’s all about the whole season. It’s not just April. I want to play well all the way through.”

Of course, fully assessing Gregorius means taking a hard look at his offense, too. He went 2-for-4 against the Rays on Thursday, raising the preseason average to .308, but there’s still a case to be made against his vulnerability to left-handers. His .480 OPS against southpaws is nearly 200 points below the major league average for shortstops.

The Yankees, however, say they’re willing to set the bar fairly lower for Gregorius. They’re counting on Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira to catalyze the offense, and for Gregorius’ defense to justify keeping him in the lineup, regardless of his deficiencies at the plate.

Either way, Gregorius says he’s ready for his initiation. With Jeter out of the way, the horizon is wide open.

“I can’t wait to wear this in New York,” Gregorius said, motioning to the pinstripe jersey in his locker.

No other words were necessary. Certain smiles say everything.

Klapisch: Not a good day for Betances, Tanaka — March 26, 2015

Klapisch: Not a good day for Betances, Tanaka



Yankees catcher John Ryan Murphy, left, talks to relief pitcher Dellin Betances in the dugout after Betances allowed a fifth-inning, two-run, home run to Mets’ Juan Lagares.

TAMPA, Fla. — Dellin Betances had that million-miles-away look in his eyes that told you plenty about his state of mind. Actually, the pitching line and radar gun supplied all the data — a third of an inning against the Mets, a home run by Juan Lagares and a fastball that never made it over 90 mph. No wonder the presumed Yankees’ closer seemed lost.

“I’m obviously frustrated,” Betances said, and he wasn’t just talking about a forgettable performance in the Yankees’ 7-2 loss Wednesday. He meant the spring in general: One of the American League’s most dominant relievers has a 6.75 ERA in March with radar-gun readings that suggest something is indeed wrong.

Betances, who faced only two batters, was clocked at 89-90 mph, a notable drop-off from the 94-mph fastball he was throwing Tuesday night against the Tigers. Joe Girardi pointed out, “[Betances] was throwing back-to-back [games],” which would account for the diminished speeds, but overall, the right-hander hasn’t come close to last year’s average of 96.7.

Girardi said there’s no crisis here, although he admitted, “If this were the last day of spring training you’d be worried.” It’s the closest the manager has come to addressing the organization’s anxiety over what was considered a sure thing — Betances’ blow-away arsenal.

Instead, the right-hander has lost miles off his fastball, and the curveballs he threw to the Mets were missing their sharp snap. Betances didn’t hide from either uncomfortable truth.

“It’s been four outings [this spring] and each and every time I’ve given up a run,” Betances said. It’s like waking up in an alternative universe. Not only did he average 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings last year, but the right-hander allowed one HR to every 84 batters he faced.

On Wednesday, however, Betances was taken deep by Lagares, the first batter he faced, in a matter of four pitches. With a 1-1 count, Betances threw a 90-mph fastball that was fouled off, followed by a hanging, 77-mph curveball that Lagares crushed over the left field wall.

“It was like a floating device that didn’t do anything,” Betances said, referring to the curve. Question is, is he hurt? And if not, can he be fixed in time for opening day?

The only consolation is that the Yankees have, in Andrew Miller, a layer of insurance for Betances’ regression. There’s no such safety net for Masahiro Tanaka, who struck out seven in 4ª innings, but was, at times, uncharacteristically dead-armed.

Tanaka’s fastball didn’t top 89 mph until the third inning, and even then he hit that mark only twice. Overall, the Japanese right-hander seemed content to work off his slider and splitter, admitting he’s distancing himself from his four-seam fastball.

Instead, Tanaka wants to develop his sinker, which leads to an obvious curiosity: Is he protecting the partial ligament tear in his elbow?

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild admitted, “I think [Tanaka] has paced himself a little bit as far as really turning the ball loose” this spring.

Tanaka has an explanation for that — his four-seamer was hit hard last year, accounting for seven of the 15 HRs he surrendered.

Well, yes and no. Opponents did rack up a .337 average against Tanaka’s four-seamer as well as a .633 slugging percentage. But those numbers were skewed by his decline in June, when he first started experiencing elbow pain, and don’t reflect just how deadly he was in April and May.

That’s when Tanaka was pure poison to hitters, throwing the four-seamer up in the zone at 94-95 mph, then burying them with the two-strike splitter. After watching Tanaka fanning 10 against Baltimore on April 9, Buck Showalter said, “That [splitter] is almost unfair, I’ve got guys coming back to the dugout saying they couldn’t pick up the spin.”

Remember, though, the splitter’s effectiveness is fueled by the fastballs that precede it. Tanaka’s strength was going up and down in the zone, changing a hitter’s eye level several times in the same at-bat. If he’s intending to emphasize the sinking two-seamer — in effect, giving up on the upper region above the belt — the obvious question, again, is: why?

No one thinks Tanaka is hurt; there’s no evidence of an injury so far. And he certainly has the acumen and control to win without extreme heat. In fact, Tanaka’s command is good enough to prevail on splitters and sliders alone. But, clearly, pivoting away from the fastball means he’s worried about something, and that’s what the Yankees are paying attention to.

It goes without saying that Tanaka is the franchise’s building block. Without him, major league executives believe the Yankees would be headed for disaster, possibly even 90 losses. Tanaka insists he’s put aside any fear of blowing out his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), but the softer stuff against the Mets says maybe not.

Tanaka had already been treated brusquely by the Mets, allowing a leadoff double to Lagares and John Mayberry’s home run in the fourth. By the fifth inning, Tanaka finally experimented with his four-seamer, challenging No. 9 hitter Matt Reynolds in a three-pitch at-bat that featured only fastballs.

The first was clocked at 93 mph, taken for a strike. The second came in at 91, swung on and missed. At 0-2, Tanaka went for the kill. Rothschild would later say, “I think [Tanaka] felt like he wanted to air it out.”

Tanaka found another 93-mph fastball, but couldn’t throw it by Reynolds, a 24-year-old second baseman who batted .333 at Class-AAA last year. Reynolds wasn’t just ready for Tanaka’s heat, he smoked a line drive up the left-center gap.

That was Tanaka’s last pitch — a deflating end to another inconclusive day at Steinbrenner Field. If you’re having trouble sorting through data, take comfort. You’re not alone.

Sabathia or Tanaka: Yankees undecided on Opening Day starter — March 18, 2015

Sabathia or Tanaka: Yankees undecided on Opening Day starter

By Chad Jennings

CC Sabathia, Larry Rothschild, Francisco Arcia

Just count the days.

CC Sabathia pitched last night. If he pitches every five days between now and April 6, he’ll be perfectly lined up to start Opening Day.

Masahiro Tanaka pitches tonight. If he pitches every six days — which could be part of the strategy for keeping him healthy — he’ll be lined up to start Opening Day on an extra day of rest, which wouldn’t seem out of the question.

“We’ll just see who’s ready,” Joe Girardi said. “We have to see where (Sabathia’s)’s at. That’s been the whole thing all along here. We’ve been patient with him and Tanaka because we want to see where they’re at.”

Now 34 years old and coming back from knee surgery, Sabathia has started Opening Day each of his six seasons with the Yankees, but he no longer has a definite claim to being the team’s best starter. He’s also been brought along slowly this spring, suggesting he might benefit from making his first start a little later that first week of the season.

Masahiro Tanaka“I can’t sit here and say it’s going to make or break me if I don’t start Opening Day,” Sabathia said. “I’ve done it a lot. I want to be there in September, and for Game 1 of whatever playoff series. I leave that up to them. I hate to sound like I don’t care, because I do, but whenever I get out there, I’ll be happy with that.”

Tanaka seems to be the consensus top starter (if healthy) in the Yankees’ rotation, but even Tanaka said earlier this spring that he considers Sabathia to be the staff ace (and it’s pretty clear Sabathia carries that status throughout the clubhouse). Tanaka might prefer giving Sabathia the honor of another Opening Day start, but Tanaka might also benefit from the off day that comes immediately after Opening Day. Whoever starts the opener will automatically get an extra day off before his next start.

“All of this goes into it,” Girardi said. “… I think the way we’re looking at it is, who’s ready? We want to make sure that person is ready, obviously. You look at the rotation and how does it benefit each guy? You’re the No. 1 guy on the day you pitch; that’s all that matters to me. Whether you’re the first starter, the second starter, you’re still that No. 1 guy and you’re still going to take your turn every five days or every six days if we have an off-day. I’m not a big believer of skipping people, so it’s just formality, really.”

A formality, sure, but one that carries some weight. The No. 1 starter label carries more significant weight in the postseason. For now it’s more of a statement, if the Yankees choose to look at it that way. Instead, Girardi said it’s all about figuring out how it best lines up based on rest, health and preparation.

While it seems either Sabathia or Tanaka will be choice, Girardi said he considers all options to be on the table.

“Neither one of them (Sabathia or Tanaka) have made a lot of starts in spring training,” Girardi said. “So something could change our mind. I’m pretty open-minded about it right now. Obviously I’ll have to change my mind pretty soon, but right now, that’s not a huge decision for me.”

Yankees return to action with thinned out roster — March 17, 2015

Yankees return to action with thinned out roster

By Chad Jennings

Tyler Wade, Aaron Judge

I spent the past few days back home in New York, and now I’m returning to a slightly more spacious Yankees clubhouse. On Sunday, the Yankees made their first 10 cuts. None were particularly surprising — all were expected to landed in the minor leagues as some point — but some were significant if only because they’d generated quite a bit of early attention.

RHP Luis Severino
Most notable name of the bunch for two reasons: He’s one of the system’s top prospects (I’d argue he’s No. 1, some might argue No. 2), and there was actually some support within the fan base for giving him a rotation spot after Chris Capuano went down with an injury. Severino breaking camp with the Yankees never seemed particularly likely, and the Yankees took the possibility off the table with an early assignment across the street. Looked good when he did get into games, though. Can’t rule him out for a late-season call-up.

OF Aaron Judge
No prospect in camp earned as much early attention as Judge, who put on several batting practice shows — more hard line drives than towering home runs — before putting up good numbers in limited Grapefruit League at-bats. Judge earned raves for the way he handled himself in camp, but he was always going to end up playing right field in Trenton on Opening Day. Could move quickly, but too early to think he was going to break camp in the big leagues. Strong first impression, no doubt.

LHP Tyler Webb
Got to Triple-A last season and seemed to have a slim but still realistic chance of making the roster if the cards fell just right. Instead, the Yankees quickly sent Webb back to the minor leagues. The wealth of lefties in camp — including young guys Chasen Shreve and Jacob Lindgren — probably made Webb a little more expendable, so he’ll get his innings across the street while other relievers get priority opportunities in big league camp.

OF Jake Cave
Another guy who came into camp destined for the Double-A outfield, but before was dismissed, Cave hit .417/.417/.750 in 12 at-bats. That’s a pretty strong first impression for a guy capable of playing all three outfield positions. Cave has emerged as one of the top outfield prospects in the system, no longer overshadowed by fellow left-handed hitters Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores (though those three will get to stick around big league camp a little longer).

LHP James Pazos
In a big group of bullpen lefties brought to camp, Pazos was probably at the bottom of the pecking order. The Yankees like him and believe he could have a future in the big leagues, but he’s never pitched above Double-A and seemed to fall somewhere behind Shreve, Lindgren and Webb in terms of having an immediate opportunity. Little surprise, then, that he was one of the first sent down. His next challenge is standing out from the crowd.

SS Cito Culver
Former top draft pick showed off his greatest asset early in camp when he made a good play and then a terrific throw on a ball in the hole. With one hit in 13 at-bats, Culver also showed the limited bat that creates real questions about whether he’ll ever actually crack the big leagues. Culver’s never played above High-A, but the Yankees say they haven’t given up on him. Needs a good year in Double-A to stay on the radar. Right now he looks like a lesser version of Brendan Ryan, but his glove could open doors under the right circumstances.

RHP Nick Goody
Had an ankle injury the first time he was invited to big league camp, then he needed Tommy John surgery, but now Goody is back and healthy and on the radar as one of the organization’s legitimate relief prospects. Missed time has slowed his development, but this year’s invitation to camp was a pretty good indication that the Yankees have neither forgotten about him nor given up on him. Might not be knocking on the door, but bullpen guys can move quickly if they get on a roll.

RHP Diego Moreno
For me, this was perhaps the biggest surprise among all the non-roster invitations. Despite pitching in Triple-A last season, Moreno seemed pretty easily overshadowed by other relievers in the system (including at least one who wasn’t invited to camp). Moreno actually pitched a lot — only three guys had more innings before Sunday’s cuts — but one particularly bad outing pushed his ERA to 5.68. Worth wondering what the Yankees will do with him this year given all the bullpen depth.

C Trent Garrison
Young guy brought to camp strictly to give the team an extra catcher to handle all the bullpens and live batting practice sessions. This was more about getting experience than getting a chance. He got into three games and will now likely head to either Tampa or Trenton to open the season. Each spring seems to have at least one young catcher like this. This year, it was Garrison.

C Juan Graterol
Signed as a minor league free agent, Graterol was rehabbing all through his stint in big league camp. He caught bullpens and did other baseball drills, but he’s coming back from an arm injury and so never got into an actual game. He’s basically upper-level catching depth and could plug holes in Double-A or Triple-A depending on where he’s needed. My guess is he falls somewhere behind Francisco Arcia and Eddy Rodriguez in the pecking order.

The disclaimer to Yankees’ Eovaldi’s filthy, 98-mph stuff — March 16, 2015

The disclaimer to Yankees’ Eovaldi’s filthy, 98-mph stuff

By George A. King III

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees

Nathan Eovaldi allowed just two hits over four innings against the Phillies on Sunday.

TAMPA — Watching Nathan Eovaldi dominate the Phillies on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field, a question couldn’t be ignored: How does a pitcher with his type of electric stuff take a 15-35 career record into his first Yankees season?

Yes, it was spring training against a split squad of Phillies who had maybe two regulars in the lineup. Yet his fastball danced on the black of the plate at 95 to 98 mph and a hard slider was clocked at 89.

With health questions attached to Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda, Eovaldi didn’t bring that issue with him from the Marlins when the Yankees figured his age (25) and durability were worth sacrificing Martin Prado.

Still, 15-35 in parts of four pitcher-friendly NL seasons certainly drew red flags concerning the right-hander’s ability to win in the AL East.

That remains a question, but Sunday’s electrifying outing can’t be ignored.

“Today, overall, everything felt pretty good,’’ Eovaldi said following a four-inning stint in a 3-2 Yankees win. “Today, I threw all four pitches, which is a good sign.’’

It looked better. The two hits Eovaldi gave up were soft singles to center. Thanks to inducing Andres Blanco to hit into an inning-ending 4-6-3 in the third and catcher Brian McCann throwing out Cody Asche attempting to swipe second in the fourth, Eovaldi faced the minimum 12 batters. Of his 45 pitches, 38 were strikes.

“That’s pretty good, especially for me,’’ Eovaldi said.

Watching tape of Eovaldi before camp opened, pitching coach Larry Rothschild was encouraged by his arm and he has continued to work with Eovaldi on a split-fingered fastball he started to tinker with last year when he gave up an alarming 223 hits in 199 ²/₃ innings.

“I take pride in trying to get better, you don’t want to stay the same,’’ said Eovaldi, whose 6-14 ledger of a year ago was somewhat a product of getting 2.70 runs per start. That was the lowest of MLB pitchers with at least 20 starts (he made 33). “Being able to elevate the ball was something I struggled with last year. I am able to keep it up in the zone and also able to keep it down and the off-speed pitches are there, too.’’

According to McCann, who batted against Eovaldi with the Braves, he never thought about Eovaldi’s less-than-acceptable record.

“Wins and losses are you know, but I have faced him before and he is a very uncomfortable at-bat,’’ said McCann, who is 1-for-8 with three strikeouts and two walks against Eovaldi. “The ball gets on you and you have to cheat to hit his fastball. That makes his off-speed that much better. You throw that hard and create that angle, you have to cheat on the fastball.’’

According to McCann, Eovaldi got the double play and a strikeout on the splitter.

Joe Girardi recalled seeing Eovaldi in Panama last spring training and being impressed. Sunday, the manager remained that way.

“Really, really good. Twelve outs in 45 pitches, the fastball was great, the curveball was really good, the split was good,’’ Girardi said. “You can’t really expect much more.’’

Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka’s 1st start: 4 things to watch — March 12, 2015

Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka’s 1st start: 4 things to watch

Masahiro Tanaka,,,,,,,,

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, of Japan, prepares to throw in the bullpen during a spring training baseball workout, Tuesday, March 9, 2015, in Tampa, Fla

By Brendan Kuty

TAMPA, Fla. — Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka will make his first appearance of spring training against the Braves at George M. Steinbrenner Field Thursday night.

Tanaka has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The injury caused him to miss more than two months last year after signing a seven-year, $155-million deal with the Yankees in the prior offseason.

Tanaka made two starts at the end of September, and the Yankees declared him a healthy pitcher. That was before he threw a bunch of bullpen sessions and live batting practice in spring training.

A few things to keep in mind about Tanaka Thursday:

1. It’s not about results: That’s at least according to general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi. Neither, they have said, is interested in whether Tanaka throws a perfect two innings, though it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t mind.

2. Movement: Is Tanaka’s vaunted splitter — widely considered the game’s best — actually splitting? Cashman has said whether Tanaka’s filthy stuff is actually filthy will be big for him to watch. “Less on the results as much as, how’s the action on his pitches?” Cashman said Wednesday.

3. Hesitancy: What if the catcher calls for a certain pitch and Tanaka shakes it off. And what if the backstop calls for it again, and the 26-year-old ace shakes it off again? That might be a time for Cashman to panic.

4. Fight: Tanaka is among the most reserved Yankees, except for when he’s on the mound. That’s when the righty gets demonstrative, screaming sometimes after strikeouts. Cashman said it’s important that Tanaka has “got a smile on his face,” and looks like he’s enjoying being out there.

Darvish, Cliff Lee show just how frail Yankees season is — March 9, 2015

Darvish, Cliff Lee show just how frail Yankees season is

By George A. King III


Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia

TAMPA — Yu Darvish and Cliff Lee are cautionary tales that pitchers’ arms are as fragile as champagne glasses in a twister, even in March, when nothing counts.

Darvish, the Rangers’ ace, and Lee, a big piece of the Phillies’ staff, are experiencing arm trouble before the exhibition season clears its throat.

Lee is having an MRI exam on his left elbow Tuesday and Darvish had one taken Friday on the right hinge and will get a second opinion Tuesday.

Each hurler went through problems a year ago, when Darvish pitched in 22 games due to a forearm problem and Lee was limited to 13 games because of a balky elbow.

Their situations are similar to the Yankees, yet so far CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka haven’t missed a workout while Darvish and Lee have turned into possible Tommy John surgery candidates.

“I am really encouraged, it seems like every day there has been a big injury,’’ manager Joe Girardi said after the Yankees beat the Nationals, 3-2, Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. “Obviously they are the things you want to stay away from.’’

Sabathia, who was limited to eight games last season due to a right knee that required in-season surgery, will pitch in a simulated game sometime this week. Tanaka, who suffered a small tear in the right ulnar collateral ligament last July and with the team opted to rehab it instead of undergoing Tommy John, makes his exhibition season debut Thursday against the Braves in a night game at GMS Field.

Sabathia doesn’t need to pitch in an exhibition game at this point of March to be ready at the start of the season.

“Just because I haven’t had a setback,’’ Sabathia said of the surgically repaired right knee. “I feel great.’’

Sunday, Sabathia, on pace to pitch Opening Day if Girardi wants to give him that plum assignment, threw a 30-pitch batting practice session. Working without a screen in front of the mound, the veteran lefty faced left-handed hitter Greg Bird and right-handed hitter Rob Refsnyder.

“[Pitching coach] Larry [Rothschild] told me they were hot, swinging the bats good, that made me feel good,’’ said Sabathia, who threw several impressive changeups and finished the exercise by breaking Bird’s back on the final pitch.

“I feel 100 percent, I am ready to make the next step,’’ Sabathia said. “I will throw a [simulated] game the next time.’’

That could be Thursday or Friday.

“We are moving at a pace we set before spring training, one step at a time,’’ Sabathia said.

Tanaka, 26, is one of five Yankees starters — at this point, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Capuano are the other three — however, because of how good he was last season (13-5; 2.77 ERA in 20 games) and the uncertainty if the next pitch will reduce the elbow to spaghetti, the $175 million investment is looked upon as the most important starter.

He breezed through a simulated game Saturday at GMS Field and hasn’t admitted to any discomfort in the elbow region.

Now, however, the pressure increases but nowhere near what it will be in April, when hitters will have a full spring of swinging and Tanaka will attempt to be the pitcher he was before getting hurt.

Klapisch: Are Yankee newcomers ready for Bronx? — March 2, 2015

Klapisch: Are Yankee newcomers ready for Bronx?



Nathan Eovaldi is armed with a blazing fastball and a keen understanding of what to expect in his first season in the Bronx.

TAMPA, Fla. – Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi say they’re ready for the beast, otherwise known as baseball in the Bronx, where fans and the tabloids have a nasty habit of swallowing up newcomers. Culture shock? That’s only the G-rated version of what’s waiting for these National Leaguers – and the warning comes from the Yankees themselves.

First, let’s work backward and recall the disaster of Randy Johnson’s initiation in New York in 2005. The Big Unit hadn’t even arrived at his first press conference before confronting a photographer on the street, grabbing his lens and shouting, “Get out of my face” as the two scuffled.

“Welcome to New York,” the photographer said sarcastically as Johnson stormed off. The Yankees were aghast, not only at the left-hander’s caveman behavior, but how unprepared he was for an engaged press corps. One team official said, “Randy felt he didn’t need advice from anyone, that he was Randy Johnson and he was going to do it his way.”

Team officials vowed to better train their players in the future, especially those arriving from other markets. Everyone now undergoes yearly training in February. They watch a slickly produced 15-minute video with cameo appearances from Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, as well as Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman. The message is as simple as it is enduring: be honest, respect your surroundings, and get ready for life as Yankee, which is unlike anything you’ve ever known.

“In this market, the high stakes don’t always bring out the best in people. Pressure is debilitating,” said Cashman. “We do our due diligence about the players we bring in, but it’s still an unknown. There’s no way to simulate playing in New York.”

Cashman says he’s done his homework on Gregorius and Eovaldi, both “good guys” who seem to be emotionally equipped for what’s around the corner. Still, the GM admits he’s largely gambling on players who’ve never experienced a five-deep scrum at their lockers after a game, or the damage an angry back-page headline can inflict on a fragile ego.

Many Yankees are indeed strangers to it all. With so many newcomers on the roster, Girardi called spring training, “The first day of school … at a new school.”

Brian McCann, a career National Leaguer like Gregorius and Eovaldi, struggled mightily after signing with the Yankees in 2014. He batted 40 points under his career average and never seemed comfortable with the noise and the energy and the impatience of the universe around him.

McCann admits he was taken aback at his introduction press conference at the Stadium where he looked up and saw, “Eighty-five reporters getting ready to ask me questions. I’d never seen more than three before that [in Atlanta]. I thought, ‘I better step up my game.’Ÿ”

His difficulties didn’t surprise Terry Pendleton, his former hitting instructor in Atlanta who told the New York Post last summer, “New York is not Brian. That’s my opinion. I knew if he chose New York, there would be more than he expected or knew about. He’ll never be comfortable with that.”

The indictment still rankles McCann, who said Pendleton’s remarks were “far from accurate.”

Instead, the catcher says he’s matured and believes Gregorius and Eovaldi will thrive, “As long as they remember to be themselves.”

Gregorius takes the advice to heart. More than anyone, he’s living with the built-in pressure of replacing Jeter, although the Yankees have repeatedly told him to forget about the Captain and, like McCann says, be himself.

“I don’t look at it like I’m taking Derek’s job; the team picked me and wanted me to play shortstop, so I’m going to do my best,” Gregorius said. “I don’t mind answering questions, I’m always here at my locker, which is what they teach here.”

Eovaldi is similarly open to the new environment, even if he’s already noted, “There’s a lot more media here, I answer a lot more questions. But I love it, I feel comfortable.”

We’ll see how both transition: Eovaldi comes to the Yankees having allowed the most hits in the National League last year. Gregorius batted only .226 with the Diamondbacks and may not hit well enough to play every day. Despite their cheery dispositions, Gregorius and Eovaldi are part of a larger subset that’s already been put on notice by Hal Steinbrenner. The owner told the Post he would be “embarrassed” if the Bombers failed to make the playoffs for the third straight year in 2015.

That’s why the club is working so hard to prevent another Randy Johnson-like meltdown. The new arrivals have been told prepare for wave upon wave of reporters at their lockers, having to answer the same question several times a night, sometimes for two or three days in a row. That’s the surcharge for the pinstripes.

“I’ve been at this for 20 years and I tell [the players], ‘If there was a magic trick to surviving, I would know it by now.’ You just have to embrace it,” said Jason Zillo, the club’s executive director of communications and media relations.

The rules are really just repackaged nuggets of common sense: don’t lie, don’t hide in the trainer’s room, understand everyone at the ballpark – fans, media, even umpires – are part of the same circus.

The message sinks in, at least most of the time. For all the work in creating a soft landing for the out-of-towners, the Yankees still don’t have a plan for Alex Rodriguez, whose imminent return to the Bronx is nothing short of a “ticking time bomb,” said one club official.

He was smiling, but definitely not kidding.

Klapisch: Dellin Betances’ arsenal of weapons almost unhittable — March 1, 2015

Klapisch: Dellin Betances’ arsenal of weapons almost unhittable



Yankees’ Dellin Betances had 135 strikeouts in 90 innings last season, more than any other reliever in Yankees’ history.

TAMPA, Fla – The terms of surrender can be heard in the batter’s box or at first base – that is, whenever someone’s actually lucky enough to get there against Dellin Betances. Either way, the scouting report is a combination of dread and respect for his 97-mph fastball and a drop-dead knuckle-curve.

“Guys say to me, ‘Betances has the nastiest stuff I’ve ever seen.’ I hear that all the time,” said Mark Teixeira. “I’m just glad I don’t have to hit that.”

“You can tell no one wants to face him,” said catcher Brian McCann. “It’s an uncomfortable at-bat because there’s no one like Dellin.”

Everyone has a story about Betances, either playing behind him or being unlucky enough to stand 60- feet, 6-inches away. The right-hander is both terrifying and awe-inspiring, so dominant that Teixeira believes, “it’s no exaggeration” to say the Yankees boast the game’s most unhittable right-handed reliever.

Betances registered 135 strikeouts in 90 innings last year, more than any Yankee reliever in history, including Mariano Rivera. Of course, Betances had the luxury of setting up for David Robertson – even he admits hitters are less focused in the eighth inning than in the ninth. But the Bombers are convinced Betances’ stuff will translate as he nails down the final three outs in 2015.

Joe Girardi has yet to officially name a closer, and could conceivably choose Andrew Miller. The left-hander is smart, mature and more experienced than Betances, not to mention nearly as poisonous to opponents, striking out 103 in 62¤ innings with the Red Sox and Orioles.

But Miller, like Betances, has never closed, which means neither reliever has a distinct advantage so far. Girardi says, “I want to see both guys” in spring training games before making a decision, although one club official believes Betances will ultimately prevail, if only as a vote of confidence for last year’s breakthrough performance.

Betances is too modest to campaign for the job and is instead preparing for a second full season in which hitters will presumably be better equipped to deal with his arsenal. That’s how it works in theory, anyway: Hitters study, they evolve, they get smarter, even against the best pitchers, as their familiarity grows.

Betances, however, is blessed with unique skills that cannot be hacked. His height is one of them: at 6 feet 8 with long arms and a long stride, Betances creates the illusion of throwing downhill and has the kind of velocity to make hitters uncomfortable every time they step to the plate.

“Stuff is stuff,” is what Girardi says, citing the axiom the Yankees believe will keep Betances one step ahead. No one stands that tall and throws that hard. No one else backs up the fastball with a knuckle-curve that drops like it’s been shot out of the sky. Those are the only weapons Betances has, but, more importantly, those are the only weapons he needs.

With a laugh, Betances made sure to say, “I do have a change-up” that he threw on Friday, and “it was pretty good.” But the big man is entering the prime of his career with a chance to inherit the throne once occupied by Rivera. It’s an honor Betances doesn’t take lightly.
“I know how hard it is to pitch in the ninth inning, and to think Mariano did it year after year [after] just one year is amazing to me,” Betances said. “I have so much respect for him. I see him walking around camp [as a guest instructor this year] and I’m thinking he could come out of retirement and save 40 games again.”

Betances shook his head. “This job could be Mariano’s if he still wanted it,” he said. “The only reason I might get an opportunity is because he doesn’t feel like playing anymore.”

Rivera appreciates the praise but says Betances’ deference is unwarranted. “This is Dellin’s time,” said the former closer. “He has all the tools to be successful. Just look at how he’s pitched. It’s all there.”

Betances isn’t gloating, though, preparing for the possibility that hitters will be more selective against him, and that he’s likely to generate fewer swings and misses as time goes on.

McCann doesn’t believe it. He says Betances “does so many little things that you don’t notice” like changing hitters’ eye levels several times in the same at-bat. Without having to be prompted, Betances will deliberately bounce the curveball on the plate before elevating the fastball near the eyes.

Properly executed, it’s enough to overwhelm the brain’s synapses.

“That’s why it’s impossible to hit against Dellin, because it’s more than just velocity with him,” said McCann. “He goes up and down; a hitter can’t defend against that.”

McCann’s assessment is dead-on according to Fangraphs.com. Hitters connected on only 44 percent of Betances’ pitches out of the strike zone – 21 percent less than the major league average. And thanks to the incredible spin rate Betances generates, the knuckle-curve was the greatest mirage of all. Hitters missed 70 percent of the ones he bounced in the dirt.

No wonder the Yankees consider Betances a beacon of light, part of the team’s best (and perhaps only) reliable asset. If you think the Bombers will struggle to score runs, just watch everyone else trying to crack the code on Betances. It’s fastballs and curveballs, a matrix of heat and strikes on the black. In other words, good luck.