The Mariners are about to begin a critical road trip, starting in New York. At 10-14, it's imperative that the Mariners stay afloat during this road trip, and it begins this evening with a matchup against C.C. Sabathia, as he faces off against extreme fly-baller Chris Young in Yankee Stadium.
I reached out to Tanya Boudurant, managing editor of Pinstripe Alley. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the current state of the Yankees, and what we can expect from them in this series. Here are the answers.
Scott: Where did Yangervis Solarte come from, and what has contributed to his breakout? Do you feel his April is something he can sustain, or is this just a fluke where you're enjoying the ride?
Tanya: The Yankees signed Solarte as a free agent this offseason after he'd been in the Texas Rangers organization since 2011. He became a bit of a running gag on Pinstripe Alley before spring training even began because he has such a fantastic name and everyone was beyond tired of the team's ongoing love affair with Eduardo Nunez. Solarte came to big league camp and just never stopped hitting. Despite the fact that Solarte did nothing but hit all spring, most of us figured the Yankees would go with what they knew in Nunez. As the team was packing up to leave Tampa for their first series of the season they finally decided to give the final roster spot to Solarte instead of Nunez. The rest is history.
I don't think he can sustain the amazingly hot start he's gotten off to in April, but he does show signs of having the plate awareness needed to be a big league player. He's selective and doesn't expand the zone very much. He's been great defensively at third base, which was an absolute disaster for the Yankees last season. The league will adjust to him and Solarte will have to adjust right back, but I do think he shows some signs of being able to perform at the major league level, even if it isn't at his current torrid pace. That being said, none of us would be shocked if it all ends up being a fluke. We've really enjoyed watching him play and succeed.
Scott: How much concern is there over Brian Roberts and the second base situation at this point? If the Yankees make a move, how much longer do they give Roberts to perform?
Tanya: Worrying about second base production is a new thing for Yankees fans, but I think anyone would be pretty silly to not wonder if Roberts is just done. It seems like he swings with all his strength at times with only the ability to get a fairly lazy fly ball to the warning track with it. That doesn't even get into the fact that he is pretty notoriously made of glass at this point, having already missed a few games with a bad back.
The Yankees love their veterans and I wouldn't be surprised to see Roberts get a very long leash. Kelly Johnson and Solarte could force Joe Girardi's hand into giving them both a starting job if Roberts continues to struggle. If a move is made to either make Roberts a permanent bench player or to send him to the waiver wire, I expect that it would be the end of May before the team really starts to seriously consider it. Who knows what happens between then and now. A fluke injury could very well answer the question for them.
Scott: Michael Pineda's pine tar fiasco has been a hot issue. If he was careless enough to do it twice without hiding it well, do you worry that he simply can't get a grip on the ball and his performance may be affected when he returns?
Tanya: The good news is that the weather is going to start getting warmer and Pineda shouldn't need to resort to pine tar as much as his two notorious starts on cold nights against the Red Sox. I think, more than anything, it's a case of a young player making an incredibly poor decision he didn't fully understand the consequences of. There has been speculation that the Yankees gave him a stern talking to after the first time, but that the message of the severity of what he did and the penalties he could face were relayed in English. Obviously the need for more Spanish-speaking translators has also come to the forefront of MLB recently, but that's a separate matter. Pineda deserved his punishment for being so blatant about it.
I do worry a bit that Pineda needs some sort of substance to grip the ball better and he's obviously going to be the most heavily watched pitcher in the major leagues for a long time to come. He just didn't seem to have the same control (or even velocity) in his first pine tar incident after he washed it off between innings. Managers are certainly going to keep an eye out for anything he may be using to aid his grip, which is especially unfortunate for Pineda considering how rampant the use of tacky substances by pitchers all around MLB is thought to be since it became a hot button issue. Hopefully a combination of warmer weather and savvy veteran teammates can help him be a little less foolish going forward.
Scott: Besides the velocity, what are you seeing out of CC Sabathia this year that may be contributing to his struggles on the mound?
Tanya: The velocity is obviously the main issue with Sabathia. You have to be pretty perfect when your fastball sits around 90 mph and I don't think CC has figured out quite how to fully cope with his lack of velocity just yet. He did learn a cutter from Andy Pettitte that I think has helped a bit, but he has shown a propensity for big innings that I think has really contributed to his struggles. His mistakes seemingly all go for home runs or extra bases. He could give up multiple runs early and then really settle down or be cruising along and let the opposing team hang a crooked number late. Minimizing the damage instead of letting it spiral out of control would go a long way to making Yankee fans feel a little better about the pitcher who was supposed to be the ace of the staff.
Scott: Masahiro Tanaka has been missing bats like crazy and his control has been pristine. Is he really as good as advertised, or do you think this is bound to come back to earth?
Tanya: Tanaka has been even better than advertised, I think. I was fully onboard the hype train before he signed and he's shattered all my expectations. Sunday night was the first time I've seen Tanaka really struggle with his control, walking more Angels (4) than batters he'd walked all season prior to that game (2). Still, he managed to hold the highest scoring offense in MLB to this point in check and give his team a chance to mount a late comeback. All while striking out 11 without any of his best stuff. Watching him pitch is truly a treat and he is absolutely lethal once he gets two strikes on a batter.
What the Angels were able to do was possibly expose a bit of a flaw in Tanaka's game by finding success swinging at the first pitch. Nearly all of their hits Sunday night came on the first pitch of the at-bat. Now that the Yankees are aware of that, I expect pitching coach Larry Rothschild to work with Tanaka on mixing it up and not throwing a fat pitch to try and get ahead early. Tanaka claims that his splitter is even better with MLB's version of the baseball than it was using NPB's baseball. He's a smart pitcher with a very good arsenal at his disposal. I think some of his numbers (like his walk rate) will be a little more human by the end of the season, but that still leaves the Yankees with an insanely good pitcher who only gets better once he actually makes a mistake that allows a hitter to reach base. Opposing batters are currently 0-22 with 13 strikeouts with runners on base over Tanaka's three starts.