The frustration in the Yankees’ clubhouse bubbled over on Thursday morning as several position players held an informal meeting, challenging themselves to pick up the production with less than seven weeks remaining in the regular season.
“We talked about it before the game, that we needed to come out with a little more energy, and hopefully some emotion and play the way that we’re capable of playing,” Chase Headley said after the Yankees’ 3-0 victory over the Astros. “We understand that we’re a lot better offensively than we’ve shown.
“That was kind of the point, to come out with a little bit of fire and hopefully put some runs on the board. … Some of the position players got together and said, ‘Enough is enough, and let’s go.'”
The Yankees produced a three-run second inning against Houston’s Dallas Keuchel, which was enough support as Brandon McCarthy hurled a four-hit shutout. The chat wasn’t a cure-all, but the results were slightly better: in nine games since a 10-run outburst against the Indians on Aug. 8, the Yankees had averaged 2.22 runs per game.
“We just had a little meeting this morning and talked about some things, kind of cleared the air,” Brett Gardner said. “A lot of guys talked. It was good. Hopefully a game like today kind of gets us going a little bit and we can carry that momentum over into the weekend.”
Gardner said that the meeting could be a turning point for the Yankees, who have lost seven of their last 10 games and trail the Tigers by four games for the second Wild Card.
“I don’t think it ever hurts. At this point, we’re trying to mix things up a little bit,” Gardner said. “What we’ve been doing hasn’t been working, so hopefully we can take this momentum, carry it over into the weekend and play some better baseball.”
Headley said that the Yankees are feeling a sense of urgency, but not because of the Wild Card race. Coming off two losses to the sub-.500 Astros and with the White Sox due in town, the reality is that if they do not win their games, there will be no point to continue scoreboard-watching.
“It was just, let’s get on the same page and let’s go,” Headley said. “I know everybody wants to win, everybody’s working, everybody’s doing the right things. You need that little extra sometimes and I think sometimes those little discussions – I don’t know if you’d really call it a meeting – but getting those guys together and getting guys on the same page can go a long ways.”
Before Thursday’s game, manager Joe Girardi said that he continues to believe that the players in his lineup are good enough to turn the season around.
“The effort is there every day,” Girardi said. “[Wednesday] we had seven or eight guys hitting early trying to figure this out and get going. So I will be optimistic as long as they continue to prepare correctly and they work hard.”
The Yankees recalled infielder Zelous Wheeler from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and immediately slotted him as the designated hitter for Thursday’s series finale against the Astros.
Wheeler, 27, has batted .267 with two home runs and three RBIs in 16 games with New York this season.
The Yankees needed another position player because of Carlos Beltran’s recurring right elbow injury; Beltran received a cortisone injection in the elbow on Wednesday and is unlikely to play before Saturday.
“With Carlos being an uncertainty for a day or two, we felt that we could use the extra bat,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We’re seeing a lot of lefties, so we brought him up.”
With Beltran out on Wednesday, Girardi had only Francisco Cervelli and Brendan Ryan available on the bench. In a corresponding roster move, the Yankees optioned right-hander Chase Whitley to Triple-A; Whitley is 4-3 with a 5.43 ERA in 19 big league games (12 starts) this year.
There is frustration in the Yankees’ clubhouse and has been for some time, Girardi said, but the manager continues to believe that the players in his lineup are good enough to turn it around.
“The effort is there every day,” Girardi said. “Yesterday, we had seven or eight guys hitting early trying to figure this out and get going. So I will be optimistic as long as they continue to prepare correctly and they work hard.”
Girardi has struggled to come up with an underlying cause for the problems with runners in scoring position. The Yankees were a combined 2-for-17 in the first two games of the Astros series and have batted .248 in those situations all year, ranking 10th in the American League.
“I look at it as guys being able to take the same approach, the same at-bat, relax when there’s runners on, when there’s not runners on,” Girardi said. “I haven’t seen anything that tells me that they’re squeezing the bat or trying too hard.”
Catcher Brian McCann agreed with that, saying that he did not see signs of pressing.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I just think we’re not getting it done.”
So if that’s the case and the results still aren’t coming, what is left for a manager to do?
“You keep running guys out there and believe it’s going to change,” Girardi said. “Eventually it’s going to be right and it’s going to be consistent over a long period.”
Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to throw live batting practice on Saturday. Girardi said that his expectation is the session will take place at Yankee Stadium.
David Phelps, currently on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation, will work back to the club as a reliever. Phelps is scheduled to play catch again on Thursday and expects to be throwing off a mound within the next week.
“I think at this stage, we’re going day-by-day,” Phelps said. “We’ll hopefully amp it up when we get through this week. I took two weeks off, it’s not like I’ll be on the mound this weekend.”
On this date in 1988, the Yankees dedicated Monument Park plaques to former catchers Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra. On this date in 2013, Ichiro Suzuki recorded his 4,000th professional hit (including 1,278 in Japan) with a first-inning single off the Blue Jays’ R.A. Dickey.
Some way to celebrate Joe Girardi bobblehead night, huh?
Depending on your viewpoint, there was a fairly interesting and/or entertaining exchange between Girardi and a writer near the tail end of tonight’s postgame press conference, involving Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter and Jacoby Ellsbury. After the loss, the Yanks’ seventh in nine games, Kevin Kernan of the New York Post asked if Girardi was having any thoughts of shifting lineups.
“Well, we’ve talked about this before,” Girardi replied. “What would you like me to do?”
Kernan quickly replied that he’d do some things differently, pointing out that Ellsbury seems to be miscast as a No. 3 hitter.
“So then what do I do?” Girardi replied. “Gardy’s been pretty good in the 1-slot, Ellsbury’s done a pretty good job in the 3 slot. We’ve been forced to do it because of some of the things that have happened physically here. You can think about putting him 1, but then where do you put Gardy?”
“You could think about doing that. Then where are you going to put Jeet?” Girardi said. “Those three guys have probably been our most consistent hitters all year long. You definitely don’t want lefties back to back.”
So, Girardi confirmed, he’s not thinking about mixing things up as far as the lineup is concerned. If you want to see Gardner and Ellsbury hit back-to-back, it sounds like that’s something we can talk about in 2015. Jeter has been seeing a little more time as the designated hitter lately, but he’s securely locked into that two-spot.
(By the way, Jeter went 2-for-4 with a walk tonight. Oh, and they had essentially a one-man bench with Brendan Ryan as the only playable non-catcher.)
It’s fun to write out alternate lineups, and there has definitely been a fair share of turnover in the Yankee orders this year – by necessity more than choice, but all the same, they’ve tried different formulas. You look at the names in this lineup and it’s a mystery why it hasn’t turned around by now; this isn’t a small sample size, preseason football is already on the tube.
Really, here is Girardi’s bottom line, and it came from the first question in the press conference: “We’ve got to find a way to score more than two runs. It’s hard to win when you only score two runs.” Yep, I’d agree with that. They’re now five games behind the Tigers for the second Wild Card with 38 games left to play. The math is against them in more ways than one.
Masahiro Tanaka’s rehab is going so well, he feels comfortable describing his progress without the help of a translator.
“Good,” Tanaka told a group of reporters in English. “Better.”
Tanaka returned to his normal interview protocol for the details of today’s session, but the right-hander is clearly excited about his situation. Tanaka threw 35 pitches in the Yankee Stadium bullpen, a mix of fastballs, curveballs and sliders. He also snapped off five splitters, which is fairly significant considering the torque that Tanaka’s signature pitch requires.
“It went well, but it was actually my first time throwing breaking balls – something other than fastballs – in the bullpen, so I felt it was a little bit rusty,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “I’ll have to brush that up a little bit.”
Manager Joe Girardi said that the Yankees have no plans to ask Tanaka for another MRI, checking on the progress of his right ulnar collateral ligament tear. As long as Tanaka continues to feel no discomfort, they will continue his program, which could soon advance to live batting practice, then simulated games and possibly Minor League games. Their hope is to get him on the big league mound in September.
“The fact that he felt good today was encouraging,” Girardi said. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow; obviously that’s really important. But he was able to throw his curveball, his slider and his split; I watched it and he looked pretty good.”
Carlos Beltran was in the original Yankees lineup tonight, but it never made it off of Joe Girardi’s desk. Beltran informed the club that he is having more issues with discomfort in his right elbow, and he has been scheduled to see team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad tonight.
Beltran has been dealing with this issue since May, and swinging the bat will occasionally create a sensation in the elbow. This situation is different because it continued overnight, Girardi said.
“I took him out of the lineup, he’ll see the doctor and we’ll find out what’s going on,” Girardi said. “I’m sure it’s much of the same of what he had going on before, but for whatever reason it was a little worse today in a sense that he still felt it whereas other times he didn’t.”
Girardi said that it is too early to call this a major setback, and hopes that Beltran can return to the lineup in a day or two. Girardi also said that he doesn’t draw a link between Beltran’s return to outfield duty and the recurrence of the injury.
“No, because he’s felt it on swings, not in the outfield,” Girardi said. “He didn’t really have a lot of action in the outfield, so he didn’t really have to make any throws or anything like that. It seems to be more from a swing than from throwing.”