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Yankees Week 1 Takeaways

Week one of the 2017 baseball season is in the books! Boy, am I glad to have baseball back. There’s a certain indescribable feeling knowing that the Yankees, who are finally moving in a direction I agree with, have 25 weeks of baseball ahead.

For the purposes of this blog, let’s say each week begins and ends on Friday. Week to week I’ll highlight a few key takeaways that stood out to me from the one that just ended.

The Yankees are off to a 1-2 start (54-108 pace, if you were curious). It’s not what Joe Girardi wanted — heck, it’s not what any of us wanted. It’s difficult to find takeaways and impossible to find trends in just three games, but I’ll power through. Here we go:

It’s too early to panic

As I just said, three games is nothing to be alarmed over. But if you want to, here’s what you can be concerned about.

The Baby Bombers — Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and Aaron Judge — are a combined 4-for-38 (.095) to start the season. We all agree that if the Yankees are to compete this year, those three, particularly Sanchez and Bird, have to carry the team. You can’t derive anything from 38 combined at-bats, but it was extremely disappointing to watch Sanchez and Bird struggle after the strong spring’s they each had.

Both Sanchez and Bird made errors in the Yankees’ first game (although only Sanchez was charged with one). Both left runners on base, failing to come through in big spots where the Yankees needed their number two and three hitters to succeed. Both also showed positives at the dish.

Sanchez hit the ball hard repeatedly all series. His first contact of the season produced the hardest hit ball of his young career, with only a Chris Archer bruise to show for it. Bird also showed signs of good things to come, walking twice in his 14 plate appearances.

Judge on the other hand will not be counted on nearly as much as Gary and Greg, but his development and contributions to the Yankees are still important. After doubling-in a run to start his season, Judge looked overmatched, striking out three times in 12 trips to the plate. He did however help produce the best image of the season so far, so he can hang is hat on that.

Joe Girardi does not trust his starters

We knew the starting rotation had major questions entering 2017. The Yankees held an open competition for the four and five spots, and after playing 34 spring training games, were only able to fill one of them. Sure, scheduled off days allow them to use a four-man rotation during the first two weeks, but still, nobody stood out enough this spring to earn the fifth starter job.

If the opening series in Tampa told us one thing about the rotation, it’s that Girardi does not trust it.

Masahiro Tanaka got pounded on Opening Day and lasted only two and two-thirds innings. Even I, one of the biggest Tanaka cynics, know that is a fluke. Tanaka is the only starter in the Girardi trust tree despite his terrible Opening Day outing.

CC Sabathia pitched great over five innings in game 2 but was pulled after 85 pitches. Why? Well, a few things: the bullpen had plenty of time to rest with an off-day on Monday and another coming up on Thursday. The season is young so there was no reason to push the 36-year old. Finally, Girardi doesn’t trust Sabathia as far as he can throw him (which is probably farther than you’d think — seriously, have you seen Girardi’s forearms?).

That brings us to Michael Pineda, Mr. Enigma himself. The peripherals looked good for Pineda last season but the results weren’t there because he failed to put hitters away with two strikes and teams away with two outs. That’s exactly what we saw on Wednesday night and it’s exactly why Girardi pulled Big Mike in the fourth inning with only 71 pitches.

The reality is that Girardi rather have the game in the hands of his bullpen, the strongest component of the team. Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Tyler Clippard make-up a diet version of the three headed monster the Yankees deployed last season, but the rest of the pen is also terrific. 

Thirteen and two-thirds innings in three games from your bullpen is obviously not sustainable, but it does not change the fact that the Yankees weapon for the third straight season is their pen. If the starters don’t step up and Girardi doesn’t start trusting them, the Yankees’ weapon will be out of bullets come September.

Chase Headley is playing like he has something to prove

First, let me be clear: I am not buying Chase Headley stock yet. The same logic applies to Headley as it does to Sanchez and Bird — it’s early.

Seven hits in three games is also nothing to scoff at. Headley should have a chip on his shoulder because of the dreadful 2016 season he had. He knows the direction of this team and he knows it does not include him at third base. Most Yankees fans are keeping a close eye on Gleyber Torres in Double-A in hopes of him playing the hot corner in the Bronx this summer. The unfortunate reality is that we will probably not see that happen, so we’re stuck with Headley. If we have to wait on Gleyber (or Miguel Andujar, or Tyler Wade,  or insert infielder here) then the very least Chase can do is contribute in the meantime.

Perhaps the biggest shock after three games is that the Yankees’ only three home runs came off the bats of Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Ronald Torreyes. Look for El Gary, Mr. Delicious, The Judge, and Matt Holliday (do we have a nickname for him yet?) to change that trend in Baltimore.

Clint Frazier has a target on his back

That’s right, these takeaways aren’t restricted to the big league club.

Frazier had a strong spring showing in his first big league camp. He’s the Yankees number two prospect and has to conquer Triple-A before being called up to the bigs, which is not a guarantee before September despite what some people think. With the publicity and attention Clint receives, however, you’d think he is a 10-year veteran.

A couple weeks ago George King wrote a very critical piece on Frazier, saying he needs to grow up before being called up. He also speculated that Frazier might bring the most value to the Yankees via trade, not via his play. This week on WFAN Suzyn Waldman expressed those same criticisms and even added a story about Clint asking if the Yankees would un-retire number 7, which made him look foolish and egotistical in the media and in the eyes of fans. It came out that the story was bullshit, which I had a feeling about because nobody could be so stupid to think un-retiring a number was a thing. It was completely unwarranted and unfair of Suzyn to do to a 22-year old kid. Why she lied or embellished the story is a whole other issue.

Frazier has a target on his back and the traditional baseball media does not seem to like him very much. He has done things differently from day one after being traded to the Yankees; first he tweeted at Jen Selter, which he had to apologize for, and then his hair became a bigger storyline than his play in spring, which he addressed by cutting it to a Yankees-approved length. Still, though, he is under the microscope. Maybe it’s because he’s cocky, although I think that’s called confidence, or maybe because he isn’t cut from the same cloth as some young players like Greg Bird, but can we please just wait and see what he does at the big league level before we attack him or run him out of town?

 

Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Rotondi

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