Tanaka on the shelf for at least one month

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers, Thursday, April 23, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Well, this was inevitable.

The Yankees placed starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list Tuesday night with a sore right wrist/forearm. He’ll be shut down entirely for about 10 days, at which point the club will take another look. The hope is that this period of rest will allow Tanaka to return to the big leagues by the end of May.

Or it might be the precursor to Tommy John surgery for the Yankees’ high-priced ace.

In July of 2014, a small tear in Tanaka’s ulnar collateral ligament was discovered. He sat out most of July, all of August and returned to make two starts late in September. Rather than go for Tommy John surgery and get back to 100 percent that way, Tanaka has tried to pitch through the elbow injury.

Until now.

Who knows what will happen. Perhaps this time off will allow Tanaka to survive the rest of the season. Maybe he decides to go for TJ surgery after all.

Either way, his absence certainly puts a dent in the Yankees’ playoff chances for 2015. Tanaka didn’t look great in his first two starts, giving up five runs over four innings on opening day and and four runs over five in his second start, a game the Yankees won, 14-4.

But he’d been sharp in his last two outings, looking dominant in an April 18 start at Tampa Bay and taking a no-decision in a game the Yankees would ultimately win 2-1 in Detroit on April 23.

Without Tanaka, the Yankees turn to an over-the-hill CC Sabathia, the young and enigmatic duo of Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi and the Scranton/bullpen mix-and-match crew of Chase Whitley, Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers and Chris Capuano. For a team that’s struggling to score runs and play consistent defense, losing an ace hurts deeply.

If there is any good news here, it’s that the Yankees’ training staff is acting cautiously. Hopefully they make the right decision when the time comes, giving Tanaka an opportunity to be healthy and effective whether it’s next month or after the 2016 All-Star game.

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A Gee Thing

The Mets beat Miami last night, 3-1, on a 3-run Daniel Murphy home run in the top of the ninth.

That was the big hit, but the real key to the game was Dillon Gee, who went 7 2/3 innings, scattering one run on six hits with no walks and three strikeouts in the no-decision. Gee pitched into the eighth on 70 pitches. Carlos Torres needed one pitch to get out of the eighth and Jeurys Familia needed 15 pitches to record the save in the ninth.

The game was played in a very manageable 1:58.

Let’s take a deeper look at Gee’s start.

Here’s his game chart on BrooksBaseball.net.

Gee threw 21 sinkers, 20 fastballs, 16 sliders, nine changeups and four curveballs. He never hit 91 MPH, with his fastest pitches clocking in at 90.8 MPH on the fastball and 90.5 on the sinker.

What Gee did was pound the strikezone, with 57 of those 70 pitches going for strikes (81.4 percent). Despite going heavy on the slider and sinker, Gee didn’t record any double plays. He simply got ahead in count after count and let the Marlins get themselves out.

Throwing strikes by itself isn’t enough. Batters are going to catch on if you’re throwing to the same spots and Gee’s strikezone distribution plot shows that he covered all sides of the plate, as you can see in the chart below (from the catcher’s perspective).

via BrooksBaseball.net

And Gee has just enough variation in speed between the fastball and the sinker and the slider and the change-up that keeps hitters off-balance.

For a pitcher that was headed to the bullpen before Zack Wheeler landed on the disabled list, it was a more than promising start. The Mets get plenty of great “stuff” from Matt Harvey and Jake deGrom. With Gee and Bartolo Colon, they have guys who pitch above their stuff because they relentlessly attack the strike zone in a smart way.

There’s no way to no whether Gee can keep this going – and the fact that this happened against Miami in the Marlins’ expansive ballpark certainly is worth a mention – but for right now, their No. 5 starter is no slouch.

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Notes on the Subway Series & what’s coming up for the Yankees/Mets

New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez hits his 659th home run in the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets at Yankee Stadium in New York, Sunday, April 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees just took a 5-2 lead on an Alex Rodriguez double in the second inning of tonight’s rubber game in the Subway Series. The Yankees won game 1 and the Mets stormed back behind Matt Harvey to win game 2 on Saturday.

But here’s something to consider, via ESPN’s Buster Olney on Twitter.

Alex Rodriguez, following that double, needs one more home run for 660, 18 more RBI for 2,000 and 45 more hits for 3,000.

The only other player in baseball history to have at least 660 home runs, 2,000 RBI and 3,000 hits? Hank Aaron.

Barry Bonds and Willy Mays never drove in 2,000 runs, although Bonds was close at 1,996. Babe Ruth finished his career with 2,873 hits.

So that will be quite an accomplishment when A-Rod passes all three of those milestones. Of course, there’s the PED asterisk, but that’s a story for another day…

We’ll see how the rest of this game pans out (the Yankees cling to a 5-4 lead in the third as I write this…) but let’s take a look at the upcoming schedules for both of these teams and try to see if first place remains a likelihood for either.

Let’s start with the Yankees’ next five series.

vs. Tampa Bay (3 games)

at Boston (3 games)

at Toronto (3 games)

vs. Baltimore (4 games)

at Tampa Bay (4 games)

This could well be a period where one team emerges atop the AL East…or it could be a long slog of all of these teams beating each other up early in the season.

Say what you will about the collection of talent the Yankees have put together this year, but you can’t argue that this team has stayed remarkably healthy through the first month of the season. The pitching has been fine, or better than that, depending on your perspective, but aside from a few A-Rod hot streaks, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, the offense has struggled.

That might not be a huge problem looking at the schedule coming up. Tampa Bay has a ton of players on the disabled list, so this might be a good time to play 7 games against the Rays before they get healthy. And Boston, Toronto and Baltimore don’t exactly carry top-shelf, ace-quality pitchers in their starting rotations. That’s not to say that these teams don’t have good pitchers, but they will be throwing out guys that are eminently beatable on any given night, so perhaps that’s the spark this offense needs.

This will be a key stretch for the Yankees. Maybe they surge ahead, maybe they fall behind. Most likely, they’ll be hanging around just as they are now, flirting with playoff contention.

The Mets are 14-4 through their first 18 games, a remarkable start for a team that was heading into the season with plenty of optimism.

But even the most die-hard Mets fan probably wouldn’t have predicted 14 wins by April 25.

Here are the Mets’ next five series:

at Miami (3 games)

vs. Washington (4 games)

vs. Baltimore (2 games)

at Philadelphia (3 games)

at Chicago-NL (4 games)

Aside from the series against the Phils, that’s a pretty killer stretch for this team, even with the success they’ve had against Miami so far.

With David Wright, Travis d’Arnaud and Jerry Blevins all on the disabled list, can the Mets’ subs fill in adequately until those guys return? Highly-touted catching prospect Kevin Plawecki hit his first career home run on Saturday, so maybe he’ll be able to match d’Arnaud’s offensive production in the interim.

There’s also been some buzz that the Mets could recall second base prospect Dilson Herrera to replace a slumping Daniel Murphy. Murphy was hitting .145 heading into tonight’s game with four extra base hits in 18 games. Herrera, acquired along with Vic Black in the John Buck/Marlon Byrd trade of 2013,  is batting .364 through his first 15 games with Triple-A Las Vegas. Murphy is a free agent at season’s end, so the Mets may be motivated to trade him if they can find any takers – and find a replacement in the meantime.

Anyway, the Mets won’t keep winning games at a .778 clip for the rest of the season. The question is, when the inevitable slump comes, how bad will it be? How long will it last? Can they keep winning series, taking two of every three? This upcoming Washington-Baltimore-Cubs stretch should be a good test for this team.

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Mets riding 8-game win streak into homestand finale vs. Atlanta

Las Vegas 51s catcher Kevin Plawecki (23) celebrates after hitting a home run to tie the game against the Reno Aces during a Pacific Coast League conference championship series baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Well, it’s certainly been a very strong start to the season for the Mets, who carry a 10-3 record – and an eight-game winning streak – into tonight’s series opener against the Braves at Citi Field.

The Mets opened the season winning two of three at Washington before losing two of three in Atlanta. So far on this homestand, the Mets swept the Phillies in three games and just finished a four-game sweep of the Marlins.

There have been a few bumps and bruises along the way. Third baseman David Wright landed on the disabled list last week with a hamstring injury, but the Mets hope he’ll be able to return when his DL time is up.

Catcher Travis d’Arnaud broke a bone in the pinky finger on his right hand and is also headed to the DL. It looks like he’ll miss three weeks or so. Kevin Plawecki has been called up to take his spot and the indication is that he’ll get most of the time behind the plate with Anthony Recker sticking in a regular backup role. A first round pick in 2012, Plawecki has hit .292 with 26 home runs in four minor league seasons.

Reliever Jerry Blevins suffered a fracture in his throwing arm and could be out for about six weeks.

On a bright note, Lucas Duda and Michael Cuddyer have had strong seasons at the plate so far. Curtis Granderson is hitting .146, but he has drawn 12 walks in 13 games, boosting his on-base percentage to .340.

Pitching-wise, other than Dillon Gee, the Mets’ top four starters have been excellent. The bullpen, in a very small sample size so far, has been fine – and even that is a step up from previous years.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Mets can weather these injuries and stay afloat for the rest of the month, but right now, things are looking pretty good in Queens.

The Yankees, on the other hand, are 6-7 and in third place in the AL East through the early goings. Take out two blowout wins, a 14-4 triumph over the Red Sox and a 9-0 win in Tampa, and the offense has carried over its struggles from last season.

The starting pitching hasn’t been great, although Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have been more than passable so far. CC Sabathia is 0-3 with a 4.35 ERA in his first three starts, but his peripheral stats (22 hits in 20 2/3 innings, 1 home run allowed, four walks and 20 strikeouts) indicate he still might be OK if he gets a little run support.

Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances have been excellent at the back of the bullpen, as expected, which is a good sign for a team that struggles to score runs. It’s perhaps a little too early to tell with the rest of the bullpen, especially after a 19-inning game against Boston will scramble the relief corps for quite some time.

The Yankees will play at Detroit three more times before they head home to host the Mets for a three-game set beginning on Friday.

It figures to be one of the more compelling Subway Series in recent years, and could be more so if the Mets keep winning the rest of this week.

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Mets lose Mejia to suspension

FILE - In this April 3, 2015, file photo, New York Mets relief pitcher Jenrry Mejia delivers to the Texas Rangers in the eighth inning of a exhibition baseball game in Arlington, Texas. Mets manager Terry Collins was shocked to learn Saturday, April 11, 2015, that Mejia had tested positive for the performance-enhancing substance Stanozolol. Major League Baseball has suspended Mejia for 80 games. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)

The Mets hit a speedbump in the season opener when closer Jenrry Mejia couldn’t come in to close things out when he couldn’t loosen his elbow in warmups. The club put Mejia on the DL and hoped he’d be back in a few weeks.

It’s going to be a much longer wait than that.

Mejia will serve an 80-game suspension for being caught using Stanozolol, a Performance Enhancing Drugs. Three other pitchers – Ervin Santana, David Rollins and Arodys Vizcaino – have been suspended in the last two weeks for using the same drug.

Should the Mets qualify for the postseason, even after Mejia’s half-season ban, he would not be eligible to pitch in the playoffs.

Mejia saved 28 games last year after making seven trips through the starting rotation coming out of spring training. So it’s a significant blow for a team with postseason aspirations. Jeurys Familia will fill in as closer for now and he picked up his first save in Sunday’s win at Atlanta.

Bobby Parnell is due to return from Tommy John rehab by some point in May. Will he get his closer’s job back or will Familia prove he’s the man for the ninth inning? And what happens when Mejia returns around the All-Star game?

In all, it wasn’t a terrible opening road trip for the Mets, who took two of three in Washington and salvaged the Braves series with a win on Sunday afternoon.

They’ll continue NL East play beginning with the home opener against the Phillies on Monday, the first of a three-game set. After that, Miami comes to town for four games beginning Thursday.

The Yankees conclude their dismal first week tonight against the Red Sox in the late game on ESPN.

Not only is the team 1-4, they lost a grueling 19-inning game to Boston that ended in the wee hours of Saturday morning. The Yankees had rallied to tie the game in the ninth, 16th and 18th innings. A Mookie Betts sac fly in the top of the 19th made the difference in the 6-5 Boston win.

So that’s put the pitching situation in shambles. Matt Tracy has been promoted and designated for assignment. Kyle Davies, the former Braves and Royals prospect, is now a member of the bullpen.

The Yanks are 29th in batting average at .193, 22nd in runs scored (17), and tied second-to-last in stolen bases (1).

Pitching-wise, the Yankees are in the middle of the pack in most categories, but the extra inning game and all of those scoreless innings can throw things off statistically one week into the season.

The Yankees have also made more errors (8) than any team in baseball. That’s through five games…when just about every other team has played six.

So it’s not been a great start at all for a team that was really going to need to have everything break its way for a shot to contend this year. Don’t count out the Yankees yet – there’s still plenty of season remaining – but Yankees fans certainly can’t like what they’ve seen so far.

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Harvey makes a triumphant return; Mets win opening series

New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey (33) throws during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Thursday, April 9, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Matt Harvey pitched in an MLB game for the first time since 2013 and he certainly did not disappoint in Thursday’s 6-3 win at Nationals Park.

Harvey threw 91 pitches over six innings in which he allowed four hits, no runs, one walk and struck out nine. The results were impressive, but when you take a look at the raw data, it’s clear that Harvey is fully back on track.

Via BrooksBaseball.net, Harvey threw 56 4-seam fastballs at an average velocity of 95.9 MPH. He hit as high as 97.6 on the gun. He mixed in a few changeups and a few sliders and threw 10 of his 15 curveballs for strikes.

That’s just nasty.

In all, it’s a very positive sign for the Mets that their ace is back to the form that made him an All-Star in 2013. He’s not out of the woods yet. You can expect Harvey to be kept on a pretty strict pitch count for most of this season, as the Mets try to ease him back into the swing of things, especially during a relatively chilly and wet April.

The other great thing for the Mets is that they won the series, taking two out of three in Washington. It’s a long, long season, so it’s not a huge deal, but if the Mets have any intentions of playing in October, they’re going to need to take two-of-three more often than not. To win a series like this, especially with a short bullpen now that Jenrry Mejia is on the DL, is a positive sign for a team on the rise.

In the Bronx, the Yankees even their series with Toronto at one game apiece thanks to some wacky breaks late on Wednesday night.

The Yankees used a few wild pitches and a few hit by pitches for an eighth inning rally in a 4-3 win over the Blue Jays.

Michael Pineda looked pretty good over six innings, giving up two earned runs and striking out six.

With Dellin Betances coming in to face the heart of the Toronto lineup in the eighth, Andrew Miller pitched the ninth for the save. So it looks like Joe Girardi really will mix-and-match those guys in the late innings depending on the matchups and the situations. It’s something that’s often been tried in the majors but rarely works. The theory is that relief pitchers like to have their set roles and get into routines, but both Miller and Betances have said all the right things so far about splitting the closer’s duties. We’ll see how this continues to play out over the course of the rest of the season. I think it could be a real plus for this team if Girardi makes the right moves and both of these pitchers are mentally up to the task of dealing with the unpredictability of their situations.

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Thoughts on opening day

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (19) delivers in the fourth inning of an opening day baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays in New York, Monday, April 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

I had a short column in today’s paper with my thoughts on yesterday’s Mets and Yankees season openers. Click here to read it.

Some interesting stats from Masahiro Tanaka in yesterday’s game. Not only was he battered around for five runs over four innings in a loss to Toronto, he only threw six 4-seam fastballs in the game. It was a pitch he had used about 20 percent of the time last season.

Is he staying away from the fastball in some way to help preserve that right elbow? Or was this a new strategy based on Toronto’s lineup? Tanaka was striking out some hitters yesterday, so the stuff is still there, and the Yankees’ defense certainly didn’t help his cause. I guess we’ll see when he takes the mound against Boston on Sunday night whether the fastball returns or not.

As for the Mets, Buddy Carlyle picked up the opening day save when Jenrry Mejia couldn’t go with some elbow soreness that appeared when he started to warm up. He’s the fourth player to get his first save at least 15 years into his MLB career. The others (via ESPN’s Jayson Stark) are Livan Hernandez, Frank Tanana and Jamey Wright.

According to the Mets beat writers today, Mejia had an MRI that revealed no structural damage in the elbow. So he’ll get a cortisone shot and looks to be day-to-day for now. It’s yet unclear as to whether he’ll land on the disabled list or not. Jeurys Familia would likely stand to get most of the closing opportunities in the interim.

Of course, Bobby Parnell, who blew the save on opening day 2014 and went for Tommy John surgery soon thereafter, is due back in the bigs by some point in May. It remains to be seen whether Parnell gets his closer job back or if Mejia or someone else is in the role by that point.

(Update): Just after I clicked published…word is that the Mets will put Mejia on the shelf for at least 10 days to let his elbow rest. So we’ll see if a thin bullpen hurts the club during these first few series.

Elsewhere in baseball…

  • Oakland’s Sonny Gray took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Texas last night. Ryan Rua broke it up with a single in the first at-bat of the inning. It looks like it’s going to be a long season for the rebuilding Rangers.
  • Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez hit two home runs apiece for the Red Sox in an 8-0 win over Cole Hamels and the Phillies at Citizen Bank Ballpark. Clay Buchholz looked good over seven innings for the BoSox.
  • Mike Trout hit a solo home run off Felix Hernandez in the first inning but the Mariners rebounded for a 4-1 win over the Angels in Seattle. Jered Weaver threw just one pitch that clocked 86 MPH or above, giving up eight hits over six innings.
  • Alex Rios went 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBI to power the defending AL champion Royals to a 10-1 win over a new-look Chicago White Sox team.

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Season preview coverage, 2015 MLB predictions

My season preview columns and five things to watch for the Yankees and Mets appeared in today’s paper.

For the Yankees content, follow this link.

For the Mets content, follow this link.

With opening night a few hours away, here are some predictions and guesses for the 2015 MLB season.

Yankees final record: 81-81

Mets final record: 84-78

 

AL MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

AL Rookie of the Year: Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Angels

Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Barry Zito, Oakland Athletics

 

NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

Manager of the Year: Bud Black, San Diego Padres

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

 

AL East winner: Boston Red Sox

AL Central winner: Cleveland Indians

AL West winner: Seattle Mariners

Wild card 1: Los Angeles Angels

Wild card 2: Detroit Tigers

 

NL East winner: Washington Nationals

NL Central winner: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West winner: Los Angeles Dodgers

Wild card 1: Pittsburgh Pirates

Wild card 2: San Diego Padres

 

ALDS: Angels over Indians; Mariners over Red Sox.

NLDS: Cardinals over Padres; Nationals over Dodgers.

ALCS: Mariners over Angels.

NLCS: Nationals over Cardinals.

World series: Washington defeats Seattle in six games.

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Mets lock up Lagares long term

New York Mets' Juan Lagares grabs the bill of his cap as he waits his turn in the batting cage before an exhibition baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Mets in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday, March 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Mets and young center fielder Juan Lagares are reportedly on the verge of agreeing on a long-term contract. Lagares is in line to receive $23 million from 2016-2019 with a $9.5 million option for the 2020 season.

Since Lagares has yet to officially sign the contract extension, the deal remains unofficial for now.

Lagares enters his third season as the Mets’ starting center fielder. He won a Gold Glove in 2014, accounting for 3.4 defensive wins above replacement. At the plate, he hit .281 with 24 doubles and 47 RBI.

This season, Lagares will be relied upon as the team’s leadoff hitter, as long as he can prove he can handle the job. He’s drawn 20 walks in each of his first two seasons for OBPs of .281 and .321, respectively. So that isn’t super high for a leadoff type guy – and Lagares stole 13 bases in 116 games in 2014 – but he’s really the best fit for that spot on this team.

But it’s Lagares’ defense that makes him a MLB-caliber regular and a valuable player for a team that leans on its pitching and defense in a spacious outfield. So keeping Lagares in Queens through the end of the 2020 season for $32 million or so seems like a pretty good bargain. If Lagares really starts to step things up with the bat, this becomes a bargain of a contract for the Mets. Even if he’s average at best at the plate, this still seems like a pretty shrewd move for the team.

Next up, a multiyear extension for first baseman Lucas Duda following his 30-home run season. Terms of that deal have yet to be disclosed, but it appears to be the club’s next move.

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Mets bullpen adds two lefties

Washington Nationals relief pitcher Jerry Blevins follows through during the eighth inning of a spring training exhibition baseball game against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Fla., Tuesday, March 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

With one week to go before the season-opener in Washington, the Mets’ bullpen is starting to take shape.

The Mets made a pair of trades on Monday, acquiring veteran lefties Jerry Blevins and Alex Torres to bolster the relief corps. Cory Mazzoni, 24-12 in four years in the Mets’ minor league system as a starter, heads to San Diego in the Torres deal. Outfielder Matt den Dekker is going to Washington in the Blevins trade. den Dekker, who has seen some limited time in the majors over the last two seasons, is a career .289 hitter in the minor leagues.

This isn’t a make-or-break series of moves for the Mets by any means, but they addressed a team weakness and didn’t have to part with much in terms of long-term potential in the process. We’ll see what happens with Mazzoni and den Dekker, but they don’t figure to go on to stardom.

Blevins is an eight-year MLB veteran who has spent time with Oakland and Washington. He’s 305 strikeouts and 118 walks over 324 1/3 MLB innings. He held lefties to a .160 batting average against last season but was eaten alive by right-handed hitting. So as long as the Mets can limit him to lefty-on-lefty matchups, he should be a fine addition.

Torres, 27, has spent parts of three seasons in the majors between Tampa Bay and San Diego. He’s struck out 122 and walked 60 over 120 innings. So the walks are a problem. Torres has actually fared better against right-handed hitters than lefties, so he doesn’t come with a strict platoon advantage like Blevins.

Again, nothing crazy here for the Mets. But they certainly took what was the team’s biggest weakness – the bullpen – and made it significantly better. With Wilmer Flores playing well at shortstop in spring training, it also makes the Mets’ pretty mild winter on the player acquisition front look a little better as well.

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