Hit and Run: Yankees' post-Ellsbury plan, Padres' real problem, more
1. On the Shelfbury
Even before they lost to the Nationals on Ryan Zimmerman's walkoff home run, Tuesday night was a tough one for the Yankees, as Jacoby Ellsbury, their leadoff hitter and centerfielder, left the game in the fourth inning with a right knee sprain. The severity of the injury is unknown at this writing beyond the fact that it will require a trip to the 15-day disabled list, thus weakening an offense that's managed only 17 runs during the team's 1–6 slide, six of which went to waste in Monday night's defeat.
Ellsbury appeared to injure the knee while swinging in the midst of a plate appearance in which he drew a walk. The team's trainer visited him on the field when he reached second base, and though he came around to score on Chris Young's single, he left the game after that, with Young shifting over to centerfield and Carlos Beltran entering to play rightfield. The 31-year-old Ellsbury is hitting .324/.412/.372 for a 124 OPS+, fourth on the team, but he isn’t far removed from a torrid four-week stretch (April 18 to May 14) over which he hit .384/.445/.444. Within that span was an 11-game hitting streak during which he went 22-for-45, albeit with just one extra-base hit. While his power has been lacking—his lone homer came back on April 24—he's been off to the races: both his 14 steals and five caught stealing lead the American League.
Though it was an all-too-common occurrence with the Red Sox, this is Ellsbury’s first DL stint since signing with New York before the 2014 season. He played in 149 games last year, his highest total since '11 and the third-highest total in his seven full seasons. With him on the shelf, the likely plan for the Yankees is to move Brett Gardner into the leadoff spot but leave him in leftfield. In centerfield, expect a split between the righty-swinging Young and 24-year-old former first-round pick Slade Heathcott, who has been recalled from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to make his major league debut. Though he has cooled off lately, the 31-year-old Young has carried over the magic from last year's late-season hot streak, hitting .264/.323/.536 with six homers in 101 PA, a performance that's helped to offset Beltran's ugly .236/.272/.386 line in 136 PA. Young has hit .272/.337/531 with nine homers in 180 PA since coming to the Bronx last September, a marked improvement over the .205/.283/.346 he hit in 287 PA for the Mets last year before being released in mid-August.
As for Heathcott, since being chosen out of a Texas high school with the 29th pick of the 2009 draft, he's battled major shoulder and knee injuries as well as alcoholism, issues that have prevented him from playing more than 76 games in a season in all but one year (103 games in '13). Last season, he was limited to nine games by surgery to repair patellar tendinopathy and a meniscus tear in his right knee, then non-tendered and re-signed so as to clear him from the 40-man roster. This year, he's been healthy, and though he's batting just .285/.335/.358 with one homer in 165 PA in his first taste of Triple A, he impressed the Yankees with a strong spring training, where he won the team's James P. Dawson Award as its top rookie in camp. He started the season hot (.325/.383/.408) before falling into a 4-for-31 slump, and he's played strong defense, so this isn't a bad time to give him some big league exposure.
Of course, if Ellsbury's injury is more serious than a two-to-three-week stint on the DL, it could be a significant blow to New York, whose recent skid has erased an AL East lead that was as big as four games on May 11. At 22–18, the Yankees are now tied with the Rays, and their offense has slipped from scoring 4.95 runs per game in April to 3.78 in May.
In contrast to the swift decision to put Ellsbury on the DL, the Padres finally did the same with Wil Myers, a move retroactive to May 11. Myers had missed seven games including Tuesday's contest, with left wrist tendinitis, but the decision to place him on the DL didn't come until he felt pain in the wrist while taking batting practice Tuesday afternoon.
Though this isn't the same wrist that forced Myers to the DL for 81 days last year after he broke it in an outfield collision while playing for the Rays, he has had problems with it before. Via MLB.com's Corey Brock, he has a bone spur on the back of the wrist that causes inflammation of a tendon; he jammed the left wrist early last season and then re-injured it sliding into a base on May 10. There's no timetable for his return as of yet.
Prior to the injury, Myers had been one of San Diego's top hitters thanks to a recent 7-for-14 surge, batting .291/.340/.493 with five homers in 144 PA en route to a 133 OPS+. That said, his play in the largely unfamiliar territory of centerfield has been rougher than expected, at least according to the small sample defensive metrics: a Matt Kemp-like -9 runs via Defensive Runs Saved and -10 runs via Ultimate Zone Rating. The right shoulder injury that sent Yonder Alonso to the DL on May 8 opened up first base for Myers, but he played just three games there before getting injured himself. Will Venable (.250/.323/.464 in 56 PA) and rookie Abraham Almonte (.238/.333/.238 in 25 PA) have shared time in center since the shift, but the Padres continue to meander along. They're 20–20, third in the NL West and five games behind the Dodgers—not exactly the return they were hoping after general manager A.J. Preller's compelling offseason overhaul.
Myers and Kemp were major parts of that overhaul, but the former is now sidelined and the latter has been brutal. Kemp has hit just .266/.298/.367 with one homer and six walks in 168 PA en route to an 88 OPS+ overall, and since the start of May, he's hit .182/.214/.212 with two doubles and one walk in 70 PA. That said, he's been healthy enough to steal five bases, and his defense in righfield has been passable. Manager Bud Black believes Kemp has simply been pressing, citing his power in batting practice, and it's worth noting that Kemp started slowly last year with the Dodgers: He hit eight homers in his first 85 starts of 2014 before rebounding to hit 17 in his last 54 starts. Still, it's a disconcerting way for him to begin his career in San Diego, particularly when juxtaposed against the robust .289/.407/.464 showing the Dodgers have gotten from Yasmani Grandal, the key figure in Los Angeles' return for Kemp.
3. Alvarez robbed of a splashdown
Though it came in an 8–5 loss to the Twins, the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez hit a home run Tuesday night that was something to behold. Facing Ricky Nolasco, the 28-year-old slugger hit one out of PNC Park and into a boat moored in the Allegheny River:
Estimated at 461 feet by the Pirates and 446 feet by Statcast, the shot was the 36th to reach the river since PNC opened in 2001 but just the third to do so on the fly after Houston's Daryle Ward on July 6, 2002 and Pittsburgh's Garrett Jones on June 2, 2013.
The loss, Pittsburgh's fifth in six games, dropped the team to 18–21, tied for third in the NL Central and eight games behind the Cardinals. It was Alvarez's seventh home run of the year, but his lopsided .227/.316/.445 line has only been good for a 105 OPS+, which is weak relative to the 133 OPS+ of NL first basemen, who are collectively hitting .282/.358/.472. Alvarez switched from third base to first late last year due to ongoing throwing problems, but the returns have been less than stellar in the field as well (-5 DRS, -2 UZR, small sample caveats applicable). With Josh Harrison—who took over the hot corner—off to a mediocre .245/.281/.403 start himself, the Pirates have just three regulars (including Alvarez) and super-sub Jung-ho Kang producing an OPS+ of 100 or better, which helps to explain why the Bucs rank 11th in the league in scoring at 3.87 runs per game.
4. Happy Bartolo Day
With Bartolo Colon set to start for the Mets on Wednesday evening against the Cardinals, it’s important to keep up with your coursework at what SB Nation’s Grant Brisbee termed the Institute of Bartolo Colon Studies. Beyond Colon’s otherworldly 42-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio thus far, did you know that he’s carried his bat to first base in 18% of his 88 plate appearances since joining New York, and laughing at some point during 49% of them? Those stats are according to the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Beaton, who reviewed all of the 42-year-old righty’s plate work to date, and there’s more where that came from.
If you can’t find joy in Bartolo’s body of work, you’re just not trying.