Ed Botti, July 9, 2020
Now that the reset button has been pushed and spring training in Tampa has turned into summer camp in the Bronx, let’s take a look at where we were on March 12, 2020 when many things in our lives changed.
At that point in time, we had no idea what was on the horizon, Yankee camp was well under way, and the Yankees had an exhibition season record of 11-8. The biggest story line was that the Astros were caught cheating red handed, and a whole domino effect followed with firings and resignations of managers and a General Manger.
The heat was on the Astros, as the entire nation, except for their fans in Houston, were filled with rage.
From the Yankee perspective, several important decisions remained to be made one way or another by the end of camp, as the Yankees were poised to march on towards their mission.
The starting rotation had some immediate problems when camp kicked off.
James Paxton and Luis Severino were out with injuries (more to come on that), Domingo German was still suspended, and CC Sabathia had retired following the end of the 2019 season.
Gerrit Cole had been acquired, so some of the loss of pitching depth would be alleviated by the new ace of the staff.
If you recall, there was much speculation at the time camp began that the Yankees would move J.A. Haap and his 2020 salary of $17 Million.
Haap seemed to put the distraction of the trade rumors behind him and was having an excellent spring.
Below are his spring training 2020 stats.
Suddenly, Haap had been promoted from a possible No. 5 starter to the probable No. 3 (good thing they didn’t trade him).
Haap’s 2019 season was less than stellar, to put it mildly (see below).
Discussed here many times both during the 2019 season and afterwards had been the noticeable change in the ball. Many pitchers during 2019 complained openly about the ball, particularly the seams.
Haap was one of the more vocal of the group.
It was reported that the 2019 ball would be retired, and in 2020 we would see the more traditional ball.
Haap’s 2020 spring training stats (through March 12) would suggest that he was more comfortable and able to grip the ball in a manner more consistent with his previous seasons.
Healthy starting pitchers at the time camp was shut down were Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Haap.
Unexpectedly, Aaron Boon and new pitching coach Matt Blake had the responsibility of filling the 4th and 5th starter spots, at least until Paxton returned from another one of his injuries.
The battle for the open spots was taking shape.
Jonathan Loaisiga continued to impress. On March 12, a valid question was; is a rotation spot in his future, or is he best suited for the bullpen?
That remains a valid question for Aaron Boone and Matt Blake today. Much focus and attention will be given to how Loaisiga finishes this unique spring/summer training camp.
His biggest improvement was that he showed great command of his secondary pitches by walking 1 batter in his 10 innings pitched, to go with 14 strike outs.
His fastball was turning heads. Watching him this spring, the ball seemed to easily flow from his grip and had plenty of late movement in the strike zone.
Jordan Montgomery reported to spring training seeking to earn the fifth spot in the rotation, with marginal results.
However, we have to keep in mind that Montgomery hadn’t pitched since early 2018. Before camp was shut down, Monty pitched in 4 games, went 0-1, with a 4.09 ERA, giving up seven hits, five runs, and four home runs in 11 innings.
It is still going to take Monty more time to get back into game shape, especially if he’s going to earn a spot in the rotation.
His only saving grace may just be the expanded roster. He will need to build his strength back, but with no minor league games being played in 2020, he might find himself on the 30 man reserve squad pool a good portion of the 60 game season; building back up for a spot in 2021.
We will see in the next 3 weeks or so, how it all plays out, especially since Paxton is now healthy. Below were the stats for the open rotation spots on March 12.
In addition to the starting pitching questions in March, there were other issues we were following.
Most notably, I was following the injury bug, and asking a lot of questions that seemed to have no answers.
Here is where we were.
Three of the Yankees premier players; Aaron Judge, James Paxton and Luis Severino were all shut down in spring training with injuries suffered in 2019, but not addressed properly.
How that is even possible in today’s day and age with all of the modern medical and training technology available to major league teams is a good question.
I have no idea.
One can only imagine what the Boss would have done to his training staff, if he was still alive.
Aaron Judge’s injury was nothing less than a massive screw up, in my opinion.
On September 18, 2019 when he tried to rob the Angels’ Albert Pujols of a hit by diving after the ball he suffered a stress fracture to the first right rib.
He played through the pain the remainder of the season and post season.
When the season unceremoniously ended to the cheating Astros, he headed home with a personal mission to be healthy and dominate in 2020.
From all reports the Yankees didn’t run any further tests, didn’t give Judge a training strategy for the off-season and didn’t closely oversee his physical training regimen.
Hard to believe, isn’t it?
Judge being Judge worked his tail off by training, running and hitting all winter. We learned in February that throughout November, December and January, there was more shoulder and pec discomfort.
By the end of January, Judge was hitting in Tampa and still hurting.
He was rested, received treatment and had another MRI on the shoulder area, which showed nothing abnormal.
Each day that camp went on the Yankees kept reporting that he was improving. That is until the pain intensified to the point of him not being able to swing a bat. The Yankees opted to give him a series of tests to get to the bottom of this issue, and finally the rib injury was found.
The fact is, Judge had a broken bone in his body and Yankees doctors couldn’t find it until 5 months later. To make matters even worse, Judge told team trainers he heard a “crack” and a “pop” last season when he dove for the ball and the injury occurred.
I guess when he told them he heard a crack and a pop sound, it just didn’t register?
I am sorry, but this should have been diagnosed in October by the team physicians. There are no plausible excuses otherwise.
If the season would have started on time, he would have missed the entire first half. On a team in a year when the expectations were sky high, one of, if not their best player would have missed half the season because the medical staff was lazy and or ineffective.
If that’s not bad enough, the medical staff struck again, this time with Luis Severino and his valuable right arm.
In the very beginning of spring training he complained of forearm tightness and discomfort.
As a matter of background, Sevy missed all of last spring with shoulder inflammation, which then led to a lat strain that kept him out all summer. Sevy didn’t pitch on an MLB mound until mid-September. He only threw 12 regular-season and 8 1/3 postseason innings.
The discomfort in his forearm reportedly began in last season’s post season.
It was revealed that he felt it and told the team last year when he pitched in the ALCS.
Spring training testing confirmed the worst potential conclusion; Tommy John Surgery
Sevy will miss the entire 2020 season, at a minimum.
Once again, how is it possible that the Yankees didn’t test him last October and start the surgery and rehab 5 months earlier? Instead of maybe being available at the end of 2021, he might have been ready to go early in the 2021 season.
One more for the road…
James Paxton, the man penciled in as the 2 or 3 starter on a team ready to win and heavily invested in 2020 had been dealing with back pain since the end of the 2019 season.
His symptoms were able to be managed early in the off season but after a flare up occurred in January, and corticosteroid injections failed to deliver adequate pain relief, it was decided that Paxton would undergo surgery.
What was wrong?
We were initially told that he had a cyst removed. It was termed as a Peridiscal cyst.
A little research on the matter explained that the symptoms of a peridiscal cyst “closely resemble that of an intervertebral disc herniation, making diagnosis difficult; definitive diagnosis can only be made with the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)”.
But that wasn’t the full story. Apparently he also had what is known as microdiscectomy. A medical report I read stated that “The surgery is usually indicated to help relieve back pain and lower extremity symptoms – usually a combination of numbness, tingling, and weakness collectively known as radicular symptoms – caused by compression of a nerve root by a herniated intervertebral disc”.
All of this back pain and discomfort is going on since the end of 2019, something that medical reports state “definitive diagnosis can only be made with the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)”, and the Yankee doctors let 3 ½ months go by before getting the diagnosis in January?
You know about the pain, you know how important he is to the 2020 mission, and you casually let the fall turn into winter before realizing he needs the surgery?
The Yankees invested millions in the off season, are positioned very well for a legitimate run at another World Series Championship, and the medical staff’s lack of ability or attention to detail is what would have possibly destroyed the entire season.
This is what we were all talking about in early March.
It is hard to actually grasp that this unfolded in modern day professional sports, but it did.
When the virus hit in March, and everything got closed down, all of these missed or under diagnosed injuries were swept under the rug, and more important issues became our focus.
But now that Baseball is set to return, and the players are actually training, this becomes a concern once again.
Let’s not forget last season alone the Yankees had 30 + players on the disabled list. Many of which were soft tissue injuries. The Yankees responded with changes to their training staff, but not many to their medical staff.
You really have to wonder if those injuries and diagnoses, especially considering the fact that no one on the Yankee staff could figure out what was wrong with Greg Bird’s feet for almost 3 years, had anything to do with the same ineffective medical staff. Is a stretch to ask if the human injury machine named Jacoby Ellsbury also fell prey to this ineptitude?
Here’s to wishing a speedy recovery to DJ LeMahieu and Luis Cessa. Get well soon guys!