Yankees Pregame Notebook: Big Mike is on the bump for Homecoming 2017
NEW YORK - Start spreadin' the news, it's (home) Opening Day, and we're a part of it as the Yankees begin their 2017 home schedule with a Monday matinee against the Rays.
Tampa Bay won two of three from the Yankees in the season-opening series down at Tropicana Field last week, and after a similar situation in Baltimore, Yankees manager Joe Girardi is glad to be home.
"I think just being on your own home field in front of the home fans is exciting," Girardi said, "and I think you feel like the season is in full swing once you come home. Everyone always looks forward to their home opener, because you feel there's that advantage playing at home - you think 95 percent of the people here today will be Yankee fans, and that's always nice. Plus, your team is built for your home ballpark, and you get to sleep in your own bed and such, so you feel like the season is really underway."
Today's pitching matchup is a rematch of Game 3 of that series, with Michael Pineda on the mound against Alex Cobb. Pineda only lasted 3 2/3 innings in that game, giving up four runs on eight hits, but he hopes the excitement of his first Opening Day nod of any sort will bring him good luck.
"I'm very excited. It's my first time pitching on an Opening Day, so I'm happy about it," Pineda said following Sunday's win in Baltimore. "It's New York, so everybody is going to be excited, and I think it will bring me more energy."
In the second inning of that first game, the Yankees saw one of Pineda's biggest 2016 issues crop up again: a struggle to get the third out. Big Mike gave up three straight hits and two runs before a caught stealing bailed him out of that frame, and both he and Girardi know the righty needs to be better there.
"It's a big day, so I have to really focus in that situation," Pineda said. "I just have to be aggressive, and be focused on making my best pitch."
"Hopefully, he's able to feed off the emotion of the crowd today and get those big third outs," the skipper added. "We've seen Michael have very good outings here, and today would be a great time to have another."
On the other side, the Yankees lineup will once again see Alex Cobb, who allowed just one run - a solo homer by Jacoby Ellsbury - in 5 2/3 innings last Wednesday. Cobb has a 2.82 career ERA against the Yankees and an even lower 2.63 mark at Yankee Stadium, so the starting nine has a tough task on paper.
In that lineup, there is no Gary Sanchez of course and also no Greg Bird, who might be available today but is not starting because of illness with a side of a still-healing right ankle.
"The way he felt yesterday, I felt it would be in his best interest to have another day," Girardi said. "I don't think it's going to hurt the ankle either, but for me it was more the illness, because you worry about dehydration and how physically strong he is - but that said, I was going to use him yesterday even though he wasn't feeling good, so if we need him and feel we can use him today, we will."
So, the lineup is Gardner, Ellsbury, Holliday, Carter at first, Castro, Headley, Judge, Romine, and Torreyes, and Girardi noted that Ellsbury's return to the top two works right now but isn't necessarily the set in stone plan for the entire homestand (or longer depending on Sanchez's status).
"I'll look at different scenarios," the skipper said. "When you look at Tampa Bay, they have one lefthander (starting this series) and don't have multiple lefties in their bullpen, so I'm willing to do it."
As they get set for the 2017 home opener, the Yankees know they're just 4-4 in those games at the current Yankee Stadium, including a loss last year to Houston. However, after six road games opened the year, the Yankees play 15 of their next 21 games at home, and Girardi knows that history aside, this is the time to make hay while the home sun shines.
"I think it's important that you take advantage whenever you're home. I know it's early, but we have to try to use this to make up ground and put ourselves in a good position. This club has been built for this ballpark, and you need to take advantage of that."
Some more notes and quotes from Opening Day in the Bronx:
- Girardi is once again saluting charity with his pre-game t-shirts this year, and the first one of 2017 was Sparrow's Nest, a Hudson Valley-based group that provides home-cooked family meals for parents going through cancer treatments: "They've been serving the community since 2012 and delivered more than 1,000 meals, and this one hits home for me; a lot of families did this for us when I was growing up and my mom was battling cancer, and it was always hard."
- Sanchez says he's feeling better, but will do therapy at the Stadium today and then go for an MRI. He's encouraged by his status, but baseball activity is still not on the horizon: "I can raise my arm and move it around, and it's a little more flexible now, but I'm on the DL so I have to wait 10 days no matter what. So, we'll take it easy and see how it goes."
- Girardi is also optimistic about his catcher's status: "It kind of scared me when he held his arm (Saturday) and he couldn't raise his arm or make a muscle, but when he was able to do that yesterday, it made me more optimistic, so I'm looking forward to what they think the timeframe is."
- As they head home for the first time, the Yankees' leader in RBI is…Ronald Torreyes, whose seven ribbies are nearly double the next highest total (Matt Holliday's four) and almost half of his own total of 18 from last season. There were thoughts about Torreyes possibly getting pinch-hit for a lot late in games, as Girardi did on Opening Day, but little Toe coming up big may make the skipper re-think that: "His at-bats have been good, especially in those big situations. He's a guy we're running out there every day because we believe in what he can do."
- Last word from the skipper is this, his answer when asked, following the Gardner/Ellsbury question, how his view on lineup construction has changed over his managerial career: "It really hasn't changed a while lot. I think you look for on-base guys early, guys that drive the ball and drive in runs in the middle, and hopefully your lineup is deep to where you have a bunch of guys that can do that. And, you try to break up lefties as much as you can to make it hard. But, so much if it has to do with personnel; you can have a view of what a lineup should be, but if you don't have that type of personnel, it makes that difficult to achieve in a sense."