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Inbox: How will the 'pen shape up?

Beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers questions from Yankees fans
March 14, 2016

Besides Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve and whoever is not named the fifth starter, who are the other locks for an Opening Day bullpen spot? -- David F., Brooklyn, N.Y.At this point, the Yankees would tell you that there are not any definite locks, so they really may need

Besides Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve and whoever is not named the fifth starter, who are the other locks for an Opening Day bullpen spot?
-- David F., Brooklyn, N.Y.

At this point, the Yankees would tell you that there are not any definite locks, so they really may need the next few weeks of camp to iron it out -- all the way to those two final games in Miami. Shreve has looked like the guy who pitched well over the first five months of the 2015 season, so you would feel comfortable projecting him there, and Betances and Miller are secure.
The loser of the fifth-starter derby between Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia could serve as the long reliever, though neither has much experience out of the bullpen -- 17 2/3 innings for Nova and none for Sabathia. That leaves three bullpen spots, assuming the Yanks plan on carrying 12 pitchers.
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With Jacob Lindgren optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Sunday, the remaining contenders include Johnny Barbato, Nick Goody, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow and Kirby Yates, with Bryan Mitchell likely to begin the year in the Minors. Veterans Vinnie Pestano and Anthony Swarzak are also in camp as non-roster options.
Pinder and Rumbelow in particular seemed to earn manager Joe Girardi's attention early in camp. Regardless of who makes the cut for April 4, the Yankees will be making frequent use of the so-called "Scranton Shuttle" again this season, swapping relievers out on a regular basis.
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Does the lack of right-handed pitchers help Sabathia make the rotation, with Nova to the bullpen?
-- Drew A., via Twitter

Ideally, a Yankees team should always have at least one left-handed starter when playing 81 games in the Bronx. That said, the Yanks say they will bring the best five starters when they go north, regardless of salary or status. In my opinion, long relievers generally don't earn $25 million, so I would expect to see Sabathia either in the rotation or on the disabled list when the season begins.

Is there any chance that Rob Refsnyder grabs the last roster spot?
-- Craig W., Massapequa, N.Y.

Refsnyder's chances of going north have improved greatly now that he has, thus far, shown he can passably handle third base. He will be a work in progress there and still needs to continue working at second base. But Refsnyder has impressed the Yankees with his mindset of doing whatever it takes to be in the big leagues.
Girardi says that it is too early to call that race, however, mentioning Pete Kozma, Jonathan Diaz, Donovan Solano and Ronald Torreyes as legitimate contenders. Over the next few weeks, the Yanks will whittle that mix down as the regulars play more.
Do you think Gary Sanchez is in danger of not making the Opening Day roster since he does not have a hit yet?
-- Ryan R., New York, N.Y.

Ten Grapefruit League at-bats hardly seems like enough to properly evaluate a player, so while I'm sure Sanchez would like to fatten his stats, the Yankees will more heavily weigh what they saw last year in the Minors and the Arizona Fall League. Girardi said that it's possible that Sanchez is pressing, and the Yanks are giving plenty of reps to Austin Romine and Carlos Corporan as well.
Working in Sanchez's favor is that he reported in great condition -- "The best shape we've seen him in his years here," said director of player development Gary Denbo -- and that the Yankees rate his tools highly, particularly his arm strength and improved plate discipline. He's still the favorite, in my view.

In 2014, the Yanks spent a bundle signing international players. Have any of them shown anything to believe they will become stars?
-- Warren L., New York

The most impressive of that group thus far has been switch-hitting 17-year-old Wilkerman Garcia, who signed for $1.35 million out of Venezuela and is currently rated as the Yankees' No. 5 prospect by MLB Pipeline. He appeared smooth in the Gulf Coast League, and the Yanks believe that Garcia will be able to stick as a pro shortstop.
Another name to remember is shortstop Hoy Jun Park, who signed for $1 million out of Korea and played 56 games last season in Rookie ball. He's rated as the Yankees' No. 14 prospect.
What are the chances of right-hander James Kaprielian being called up in 2016?
-- John G., Boiling Springs, Pa.

Kaprielian is on a fast track, and he impressed coaches with his poise and maturity this spring. He just turned 22 and has not pitched above Class A ball, and the Yankees seem likely to have him stay in Tampa until the weather warms up north. Kaprielian will probably reach Double-A Trenton soon after, and then his performance can dictate how quickly he can reach the bigs. It's very realistic that he could be competing for a rotation spot one year from today.
Let's say it's the 14th inning, Girardi doesn't have any position players left on the bench. Who takes the field first: Alex Rodriguez at first or third, or a pitcher in the outfield?
-- No name submitted

Girardi was asked a similar question early in camp, and he said the only scenario where he'd play Rodriguez in the field is if he was starting to run out of players. Rodriguez has hardly picked up his glove all spring, though he did play catch once during a TV interview. Strange things happen (Carlos Beltran had to play first base once), but clearly, the Yankees would prefer that Rodriguez focuses on hitting.

By the way, since Mariano Rivera declined to play that half-inning in center field, the last time a Yankees pitcher was sent to a fielding position was Aug. 18, 1983, when Billy Martin protested the conclusion of the "Pine Tar Game" by having Ron Guidry play center field. Martin also played Don Mattingly at second base that day.
If we count DH as a position, though, then Martin used a pitcher on June 11, 1988, putting Rick Rhoden in his starting lineup batting seventh against the Orioles. Why? According to The New York Times, Martin explained that injuries gave the Yanks few right-handed options against lefty soft-tosser Jeff Ballard, so veterans like Claudell Washington, Mike Pagliarulo and Jose Cruz rode the pine in favor of Rhoden, who contributed a sacrifice fly in an 8-6 win.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.