An old dog learns some new tricksBy
The big news out of the Bronx tonight was not a resounding Yankee win for the first time this season. It was rather a strained left quad.
Yankee fans the world over held their breaths as Derek Jeter left the game on Monday night. Word out of Yankee camp is that Jeter is day-to-day but will not land on the DL. He could miss up to a week of baseball after removing himself from the game with a strained quad. One of the quad muscles is, by and large, the best leg muscle to strain because the three others that make up that muscle group can bear some of the load. It’s never good to suffer a leg muscle strain, but it sounds like Jeter will be slowed but not stopped by this injury.
But the bigger news as far as I’m concerned from tonight’s game was Mike Mussina and his approach toward pitching. Last week, I took Mussina to task for his pitching performance against the Blue Jays. While he kept the team in the game, I wrote, his apparent over-reliance on mid-80s fastballs was bound to get him into trouble in the future. Moose, long accustomed to throwing fastballs by hitters, would have to adjust to find success in the Major Leagues at age 39.
And adjust he did. Mussina threw six very effective innings against a good offensive team. He gave up two hits and one run on a mistake to Jonny Gomes. He walked just one hitter and struck out three while surviving a few defensive miscues behind him.
But more important than the results were the ways he went about getting those results. Last week, Mussina threw nearly 60 percent fastballs with the fastest topping out at about 86 and most staying within the 83-84 range. This week, of the 76 pitches Advanced Gameday logged, 29 of them — or 38 percent of them — were fastballs, and some of those had zip on them. Mussina hit 88 once and 87 a few times while largely staying between 84-86 mph.
He threw a whole bunch of breaking balls for strikes and 11 pitches under 70 miles per hour with some nasty break to them. The results, predictably, were outs.
For Mike Mussina to win games this year, he will have to duplicate this process in start after start. I don’t expect him to go out there every five days and give up just one run on two hits. But if Mussina stays away from his fastball and employs the slow, slower, slowest approach to getting outs, there’s no reason why he can’t keep the Yankees in the game. From a fifth starter, that’s all we want, and for one start so far, this old dog showed that he could still learn a few new tricks.