Monday Morning Musings: 4/18/16

Two weeks down, many more to go.  The Yankees snapped their pesky losing streak yesterday with a 1-run win over the Mariners.  They've got another off-day today before welcoming the A's and Rays to town for the rest of this week.  6 games this week, all at home.  That's a helluva good opportunity to turn this recent offensive slump around and get back over .500.  Here are some thoughts on the happenings over the first 2 weeks: - It was good to see Alex Rodriguez get off the schneid with his 2-run homer to left to get the scoring started yesterday.  It was even better to see him do it against a fastball, which has given him plenty of problems over the first 10 games.  According to Brooks Baseball, A-Rod has seen 44 4-seam fastballs so far and has swung and missed at over 20% of them.  He's also swung and missed at over 13% of the 2-seamers he's seen, so clearly the heat is giving him some trouble.

Last year he surprised a lot of people by showing good bat speed and squaring up a lot of good fastballs.  This year it's been the exact opposite.  Iwakuma doesn't exactly throw smoke either, so I'd still like to see A-Rod do some damage against something moving 94, 95, 96 like he did so often last season.  Hopefully he can use yesterday as a springboard to correct whatever's been causing the early fastball struggles.

- Speaking of fastballs, it was better than good to see the return of Masahiro Tanaka's FB velocity yesterday.  He threw 10 4-seamers and averaged 93.2 MPH on those pitches, maxing out at 94.5.  He also hit 93 with his sinker a few times, both of those values far above what he was throwing in his first 2 starts.  We heard Larry Rothschild say recently that Tanaka needs to stop thinking so much on the mound and trust his arm and his stuff.  Perhaps yesterday was the first instance of him taking that advice and letting it go with the heater.  He looked like a much different pitcher yesterday than he did in his first 2 starts, like he wasn't holding anything back.  If he can consistently stay 92-94 with his fastball, it's going to make the rest of his offspeed stuff that much more effective.

- Carlos Beltran certainly looks like he's picked up right where he left off last year.  After hitting .292/.364/.513 in the second half, he's off to a .341/.357/.610 start in his first 11 games.  He's not going to sustain that line over the whole year or even the rest of this month, but the hot start and the positive eye test is an encouraging sign that he can remain productive in this final year of his deal.  He looks completely relaxed and balanced at the plate, and his at-bats more than anybody else on the team's seem to end with hard contact.

- On the opposite end of that spectrum, the bench production has been lacking in the early going.  Dustin Ackley doesn't have a hit in 8 plate appearances, Aaron Hicks only has 1 in 13, and Austin Romine hasn't made anybody forget that he's Austin Romine.  The only player swinging a decent bat off the bench is Ronald Torreyes, who is 6-12, and he was expected to be the weakest offensive link of the bench group.  It could just be a matter of adjusting to irregular playing time and I'm sure Joe is going to start working Hicks in more to keep his outfield starters fresh, but it would be nice to see these guys hit a little bit when they're in the game.

- Brett Gardner really got cooking in the Seattle series.  7-14 with a homer, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB, and a stolen base to boost his line to .314/.442/.429.  He doesn't appear to be showing any lingering effects of that bone bruise in his wrist, and like Beltran he looks extremely comfortable at the plate.  He might actually be a better leadoff option than Jacoby Ellsbury right now with all the pitches he's seeing and walks he's drawing...

- As for everybody's least favorite center fielder, what the hell is he doing out there?  Is this the beginning of the end of Ellsbury as a good defensive outfielder?  He's taken bad routes to balls, made bad decisions on dives (like yesterday), and has cost his pitching staff at least 2 or 3 runs by my count .  The early indication is that he's lost a step, but he does have 3 stolen bases so I'd like to think it's not that.  Whatever is going on out there, Ellsbury needs to fix it and be smarter.  His defense is what makes him still useful even when he's not hitting.  If he's going to be misjudging balls out there and lollygagging throws back into the infield, the next 5 years could get very ugly.  Also poor Andrew Marchand will probably get carpal tunnel from writing all the anti-Ellsbury hit pieces.

- Last thought on an old story, but I wanted to get it in while it was still somewhat fresh.  I loved the decision to send Luis Cessa down last week.  I never thought he should have been in the bullpen anyway, as a fixture or as part of the SWB shuttle.  He's more valuable to the organization as a starter and there's no reason to abandon that plan, so I'm really hoping the team made the call to send him down so he can be stretched back out to work as a starter.  The Triple-A rotation could certainly use the help and the overall org depth could too.

The gang at Pinstripe Alley and I were discussing this on Friday and they suggested a possible innings limit plan for Cessa, who threw 130 last year.  I'd be cool with that if this is all part of a plan to not overwork him this year.  Anything related to him working as a starter is better than him sitting around being wasted as the 7th man in the big league bullpen.