Yankees Pregame Notebook: Bombers looking for the full Monty tonight
NEW YORK - Riding a seven-game winning streak that included a perfect 6-0 mark last week, the Yankees are looking to keep rolling as they begin the final series of their first homestand of 2017 against the Chicago White Sox.
The Yankees have not started 7-0 at home since 1998, when they won their 24th World Championship, and one of the keys to this year's 6-0 beginning has been a strong turn through the rotation.
"Our starting pitching has been tremendous, starting last Sunday with CC (Sabathia), and it's just continued," manager Joe Girardi said. "Our guys have given us distance, the bullpen has done a tremendous job, and we've had some timely hitting and big home runs, so it's been exciting."
Today's turn goes to lefty Jordan Montgomery, who pitched 4 2/3 innings is his major-league debut last Wednesday and can only get better this time out in the skipper's eyes.
"He just needs to continue to pitch and get outs, but I'd like to see him have all his weapons tonight," Girardi said of the rookie. "Last time I didn't think he had his good slider or great command of his fastball, and he was also on somewhat of a pitch count, but we can expand that today, and I feel fairly comfortable getting him close to 100 pitches."
As controlled as they may have been, nerves also surely played into Montgomery's effectiveness on Wednesday, but those butterflies, according to the skipper, should be much smaller tonight.
"I always thought as a position player, the second game was a lot different than the first, and I'm sure he feels that as well," Girardi said. "Last time, he went through everything a little boy dreams about when he dreams of playing baseball, but he got through it fairly successfully, and he's had a chance to get more comfortable with his surroundings, so he should be a little more relaxed tonight."
The lineup, meanwhile, has a right-handed slant against White Sox lefty Derek Holland, so Brett Gardner is out (with Matt Holliday back after missing this weekend's Cardinals series), Chris Carter is in for Greg Bird, and Pete Kozma gets a start at shortstop.
Tonight will mark 10 consecutive games with a different starting nine for the Yankees, a streak that "started" after Gary Sanchez's arm injury meant the consistent starting lineup of the first four games went by the wayside, but it hasn't seemed to affect the on-field performance no matter who is where.
"You'd like to have some consistency - you'll notice the first few days we used basically the same lineup, until we got dinged up a bit and some guys were really struggling, so we moved people around - but I've also said all along that you want to make sure everyone stays involved," Girardi said. "That's especially true in the beginning; I would like to have some consistency, but we've had a lot of off-days, and you don't want guys to go weeks and weeks without playing, so you move things around sometimes."
Tonight, for instance, Starlin Castro is hitting cleanup for only the second time this year and 18th time in 164 games as a Yankee, but Girardi is confident in Castro - and everyone - no matter the order.
"He was pretty good driving in runs last year, so for him it's just not trying to do too much," Girardi said. "When he uses the whole field, he's really dangerous, and that's what you want him to continue to do."
Sure, the skipper noted, the Yankees have struggled with runners in scoring position, and that would be much more magnified if the team wasn't 8-4 and riding a seven-game string, but even in something that's perceived as a negative, Girardi will keep on keeping on and look to the positive.
"I think it's a small sample size, but you can look at it two ways - you can look at it that we're not hitting well with runners in scoring position, or you can look at it that we're getting runners on, we've been patient and taken walks, and we've worked pitchers really hard," Girardi said. "I believe it's going to change that we're going to start hitting with runners in scoring position. We did some of that last night, and we scored a bunch of runs, so as long as our approach stays good and guys remain patient and don't start swinging wildly, good things are going to happen."
As the Yankees had a later clubhouse session and report time this afternoon, here are just a few more notes and quotes from Girardi pregame:
-Today's charity t-shirt saluted Debbie's Dream Foundation, which is dedicated to spreading awareness and funding research for stomach cancer: "Debbie Zellman, a mother of three, was diagnosed with Stage 4 incurable stomach cancer in 2008 and given a few weeks to live. She found out that treatment options were limited and there probably wasn't a lot of hope, because the disease is difficult to detect, so she founded this foundation in 2009 - and she's still living today, so obviously she is a miracle."
-Joe was asked about the difference between Chase Headley this April as compared to last, and this was his thought on the team's leader in average and on-base percentage through two weeks: "I think this probably stands out more because it's still fresh in our minds the struggles he went through last year, and how hard it was on him. He's used the whole field, been patient and taken his walks, been on base for us a lot and stolen some bases, scored runs…he's done it all. It's a complete opposite of the way he started last year, so it's great to see."
-He was also asked about the differences in Aaron Judge between last summer and this April, and this was the skipper's take: "When you look at the first couple weeks, he's much different. It's much more consistent contact, he's ready to hit early in counts, he's into his legs more, he's more mechanically sound, and he's impacting the baseball I think more often. That's how I'd sum it up."
-The last word is this, Girardi's answer when asked if he thinks the way managers used their bullpens last postseason could become feasible during the regular season: "I think you can somewhat, but you can't do it for a whole year, because you play every day. When guys have a couple days off, and it's a game you feel you have to throw them a couple innings, you can, but the challenge during the season is that you don't have all the off days you have in October. Plus, by that time, guys are pretty built up, and here (in April) we're still in that process. If you look at how many innings Andrew Miller threw in the postseason, (similar usage means) you're asking him to throw 120 or 130 innings during the season, and I don't think pitchers would stay healthy doing that. It's just not feasible. So, yes, we've stretched our relievers at times during the season, but we're much more willing to do it in the postseason."