After a good win, a lot of bad news

It went a little bit something like this: infield single, infield single, line drive single, HBP, ground out, ground out, infield single. And all of a sudden, the Yanks had a 4-2 lead. They wouldn’t look back.

Behind another solid outing by Mike Mussina, the Yanks salvaged a split of their four-game trip to Cleveland. Moose worked his way through five innings, and what we saw today is what we’ll get from Mussina. He tired around 85 pitches; he gave up 7 hits; he struck out just two. But he kept the Yankees in the game.

As long as Mussina’s not throwing against the elite offenses, he seems to be a good back-end starter for the Yanks. He’s 3-3 with a 4.72 ERA, and I’ll be happy if he can keep that ERA around that 4.50-4.75 mark. Anything else is gravy.

After Moose, the bullpen took over. Jonathan Albaladejo, Kyle Farnsworth, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera combined for four innings of work, three of which were 1-2-3 innings. Tonight’s inning was Kyle Farnsworth’s fourth 1-2-3 appearance of the season. Hell hath frozen over.

Rivera meanwhile continues to wow everyone all the time. In ten games, he’s thrown 11 innings and has allowed four hits. He’s walked no one and has 11 strike outs. He has eight saves already this year.

On the other side of the ball, the Yankee offense again packed little punch. Outside of that sixth inning, the Yanks managed just one hit, and after the wind knocked down a few first-inning blasts, they hardly hit the ball with much authority throughout the remainder of the game. A Hideki Matsui RBI double in the 8th would be the loan rocket. But a win is a win is a win, and the Yanks return home after a brutal stretch of the schedule at 14-13, one game out of first and two games ahead of their 2007 pace.

But for all of this, the win pales in comparison to the news that came out of Yankee camp after the game. When Johnny Damon pinch hit for A-Rod in the eighth, we all knew something was up. And something is up indeed. According to Kat O’Brien, A-Rod has reaggrevated his quad injury. He felt it in the fourth, and it got worse as the game wore on. The slugger says he won’t be able to play on Tuesday, and he feels he rushed back from the initial injury.

In other bad news, the Yankees, according to Tyler Kepner, fear that Posada could have damaged his labrum by playing through his shoulder injury recently. The Yankees and Posada are awaiting word of the catcher’s trip to Dr. James Andrews. It is important to note that this not an age-related injury. Posada tweaked his shoulder on an awkward throw to second on Opening Day. That could happen anytime. Cashman detractors will criticize the Yanks for tossing a 36-year-old catcher a four-year deal, but this injury is not a good selling point for that side of the argument.

The Yanks will take the win, but it’s a bit bittersweet as two of their top sluggers work their ways through injuries. A trip home has never sounded so nice right now.

Wang dominates Indians to cap 5-0 April

How’s that for an April to remember for Chien-Ming Wang? Wang closed out his opening month in grand style today, throwing 7 innings against the Indians. He limited Cleveland to four hits — three singles and a double — while striking out a season-high nine. With Joba and Mo throwing an inning, the Yanks eked out a 1-0 win behind a Melky Cabrera home run.

For Wang, this start — his sixth of the month — really cemented his status as the Yankee ace. He’ll finish the month leading the AL in wins with five, and he has yet to lose a game this season. His ERA is a nifty 3.23, and his peripherals are great. He has 27 strike outs to 11 walks and has allowed just one home run all year in 39 innings. Opponents, meanwhile, are hitting .235/.292/.315 off the righty.

For Wang, today’s line is a departure from what we’ve come to expect from the sinkerball specialist over the year, but it is a welcome departure. Wang recorded five ground-ball outs and six fly-ball outs today while retiring nine by the K. We’re used to seeing few strike outs, few fly outs and many more ground balls, and as some fans in the game thread wondered, what has changed with Wang this year?

From watching him work, Wang seems to have a better idea how to keep hitters off balance. Last season, when October rolled around and the Yanks trekked out to Cleveland, the Indians hit Wang around because they knew what was coming. They knew he would throw mainly sinkers, and they knew they could him them. This year, Wang is going more to his slider and his splitters. Considering that he throws in the mid-90s, this diverse repertoire of pitches will keep hitters guessing. Wang is, in other words, really maturing as a pitcher.

On the other side of the ball, the Yankee offense continued to scuffle today. This time, however, the opposing pitcher was the AL Cy Young Award winner. C.C. Sabathia, perhaps auditioning for his future employer, threw a lights-out game, matching Chien-Ming Wang nearly inning for inning. He threw 8 innings, also allowing one hit while walking one and striking out eight. It was a vintage pitchers duel, one missing from the ALDS, and the Yanks emerged on top.

Game Notes:

  • Despite Joe Girardi‘s post-game comments, The Times story is true: Jorge will go to the DL, and he will go visit Dr. James Andrews. The Yanks’ erstwhile catcher says he doesn’t need surgery, but I would expect a lot of innings at first and DH for Jorge this year.
  • To the Yankees’ center fielder: Who are you and what have you done with Melky Cabrera? The Melkman’s fifth home run — the only run of the game — tied him with Jason Giambi for the team lead in homers. He’s on pace to hit 33 this year. If Melky keeps this up, I will be very happy to admit that I was wrong about his future on the Yanks.

There’s only one way to put it

The Yankees are not going to win many games if they can’t score more than three runs off pitchers like Jeremy Sowers. We can blame Girardi’s decision to go with Ohlendorf over Rivera in the 9th. We can unfairly blame Ian Kennedy. But if the Yankees do not score runs, they obviously are not going to win.

The Yanks had 12 hits today and left nine runners on base. They hit into two double plays at key moments and managed to draw just one walk. The best pitching staffs in the world aren’t going to overcome these anemic performance.

Before wrapping this one up, let’s toss some credit Ian Kennedy’s way. He threw 105 pitches in five innings and walked four while striking out two. But he showed clear signs of improvement. He overcame a 35-pitch fifth inning to make it through five, and he allowed just one baserunner in his final three innings of work. I think Kennedy turned a corner today. Too bad the Yankee offense didn’t.

Yanks frustratingly lose again

Consistency, thy name is not the Yankees.

Tonight’s game was one that, on paper, the Yanks win. They had Andy Pettitte — who, before tonight, was something like 71-33 when pitching the day after a Yankee loss — facing off against the maddeningly frustrating Paul Byrd. I can’t stand watching Byrd pitch against the Yankees; they just can’t get to him despite his array of 82 mile-per-hour fastballs.

Well, tonight seemed a bit different. The Yanks seemed to have overcome an early unearned run and were up 3-1 when Pettitte ran out of gas in a four-run fifth. He exited the game after that inning with a Hughesian 99 pitches — only 56 were strikes. Tonight’s outing was not one of Andy Pettitte’s finest.

Meanwhile, in came Billy Traber, and he did what Billy Traber does best: one inning pitched, one run on one hit and two walks. It would matter little as the Yanks lost 6-4. I have to believe at this point, if the Yankees feel they can survive without a token lefty in the bullpen, they will send down Traber when Shelley Duncan is activated later today. To those of you flipping out at this idea, ask yourself this: Haven’t the Yankees survived so far without an effective lefty? They haven’t been killed by lefties, and they don’t need to waste the roster space.

But all the harping on pitching is moot. The Yankees bats were once again largely silent. Take Jason Giambi‘s 2-for-3 performance out of the equation, and the Yanks were 4 for 29 (.138 BA) with only Hideki Matsui mustering much in the way of offense. It was just one of those nights when consistency from this maddeningly inconsistent Yankee team was nowhere to be found.

Game Notes:

  • The Yanks are 1-12 when trailing after six innings this season. Wake up, folks. Game’s not over until the 9th.
  • Jason Giambi is 6 for his last 13 with 3 home runs. He’s been on base 9 times over his last 16 plate appearances, and his ISO power — a measure of his extra-base hit prowess — is an off-the-charts .306. While his fielding is terrible, we can’t write off his offense yet at all.
  • Derek Jeter is 2 for his last 18. Look no further than Derek for a reason why the Yanks have been struggling offensively recently. He’ll snap out of it.
  • Congrats to former Yankee and one-time RAB whipping boy Wil Nieves. He hit his first Big League home run last night, and it was of the walk-off variety. Wil will be forever remembered as going 10 for 71 in three seasons in the Bronx and for being a completely inadequate backup catcher last year. He’s doing well with the Nationals in limited duty while Paul LoDuca is injured.
  • As the Indians did tonight, teams that are not the White Sox will run off of Jorge Posada until he starts throwing guys out. It’s tough to blame his shoulder for tonight’s stolen bases; Sizemore is a legitimate threat. But Jamey Carroll had no steals prior to tonight, and both runners scored after their stolen-base attempts.

Bad luck, bad bullpen, bad breaking pitches doom Yanks

Man, Phil was dealing in the early innings tonight, eh? After 23 pitches in two innings, Hughes looked like he was on a roll. According to Gameday — the only reliable gun in town these days — he was hitting 94 in the first inning, and that fastball looked bee-yoo-tee-full.

But then the rains came, and they came for just long enough to ruin the flow. Joe Girardi had to take out the young gun; there’s no way to second-guess this move. After a lengthy rain delay, Phil Hughes just had to come out. And that, folks, was bad luck. Phil seem calm and poised on the mound. It’s a sign of things to come.

When the bullpen took over, things went a bit south. Staked to a 3-0 lead, Ross Ohlendorf threw one good inning and one heinously bad inning. When the dust settled, Ohlendorf had probably punched his temporary ticket to Scranton by giving up 5 runs in short order. With Brian Bruney out and the bullpen overworked, Ohlendorf may get sent down for a little while just so the Yanks can call up some arms. Tough break for the kid right now.

But the going got worse next inning. LaTroy Hawkins served up a meatball to Jim Thome, and Thome, as he had done 512 times prior, deposited the ball over the fence. If Hawkins — Wednesday night’s sacrificial lamb — does his job, the Yanks take a 6-5 lead into the ninth.

The game though ended with Joba Chamberlain‘s recording his first career regular season loss. Chamberlain just didn’t have his best breaking pitches tonight, and in the 9th, he was hit hard by A.J. Pierzynski and Carlos Quentin. One of those balls went for an out while the other went for a double. A liner into centerfield off the bat of Joe Crede sent the Yankees off to Cleveland, losers tonight but winners of three of four.

For Joba, tonight’s game simply shows that, yes, he’s fallible. He won’t be perfect forever coming out of the pen. While I’m sure the pro-bullpen contingent will claim that Joba’s faltering in his second inning of work tonight means that he is not suited for the rotation, that is laughably far from the truth. As a pitcher is wont to do now and then, Joba just didn’t have his best stuff. It happens. Just like Jason Giambi‘s fouling out with the two outs and the bases loaded. Just like Jorge Posada hitting into a pinch-hit double play.

Bad luck, bad bullpen, bad breaking balls. We’ll get ’em in Cleveland tonight.

Moving out the mop-up man

Tonight’s game — a closer-than-it-should-have-been 6-4 win over the White Sox — proved that, yes, Mike Mussina can keep hitters off balance. In fact, he pitched like a more effective version of Jamie Moyer tonight. Funny how Hank nailed that one.

On the evening, Mussina went after hitters. He threw inside fastballs and had his slow, slower, slowest stuff out in full force. Except for two solo home runs, he largely silenced the White Sox. In seven innings, he gave up four hits, walked one and struck out three. He’s 2-3 with a 4.94 ERA, and if Mussina can keep that ERA around 4.50-4.75, the Yankees and their fans would be thrilled. With this game tonight, Mussina silenced the criticism for a few more trips through the rotation.

Meanwhile, the story of the night by the end of the game wasn’t Robinson Cano‘s utter bad luck, and it wasn’t Jason Giambi‘s utter lack of mobility at first base. Although both were out in full force tonight, the development from this game was LaTroy Hawkins and his inability to get hitters out. While I know that 9.2 innings does not a season make and I know that the Yankee fan reaction is “he’s not producing; let’s trade him,” I firmly believe that LaTroy Hawkins is simply wasting a roster spot on the Yankees.

For the season, Hawkins has made nine appearances, and he’s given up runs in four of them. He’s thrown 9.2 innings, given up 12 ER on 15 hits and four walks while striking out five. By any measure, he is right now the Yankee mop-up man, and I have to wonder about the wisdom of keeping him on this team for longer than necessary.

At AAA, the Yankees have three guys who have been throwing well — Chris Britton, Jonathan Albaladejo and Edwar Ramirez — along with Scott Patterson who is off to a slow start. Of those three, Britton and Albaladejo have successful, if limited, Major League track records, and Edwar has flashed bouts of brilliance in between bad outings.

If we assume that the Yankees could get something for LaTroy Hawkins — he is, after all, and Established Name with a track record of success — then they should look to move him. Britton, Albaladejo and Ramirez are all significantly younger than the 35-year-old Hawkins, and their upsides are much higher than Hawkins’. We didn’t need Hawkins in the pen when Brian Cashman signed him out of some requirement for veteran bullpen stability, and we don’t need him now when three guys at AAA could outperform him. If an offer sounds good, I say make the move.

A winning streak, a sore thumb and a big southpaw

Chieng-Ming Wang gutted it out for six innings. The Yankee bats smashed three home runs — all by lefties. And the bullpen pieced together three decent innings as the Yanks downed Jose Contreras and the White Sox 9-5 last night. With Mike Mussina starting tonight against our old friend Javier Vazquez, Wang’s fourth victory of the season — which keeps him on pace for 25 wins — was a big one. The five strike outs in 6 innings was a good sign too.

On the injury front, Jason Giambi left the game tonight not because his defense is laughably bad but because his thumb is swollen. He hurt his thumb by taken a grounder off of it in the 7th. So actually, his defense did force him out of the game but in a more Pavano-ian sort of way.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, C.C. Sabathia went six strong, allowing four hits and striking out 11. Reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated, and the Yanks will be seeing him first-hand this weekend. And that’s all I’m saying there.