‘Spring Training don’t mean sh*t’

In 8.2 Spring Training innings, LaTroy Hawkins was masterful. He allowed seven hits and two unearned runs while walking three and striking out three. But as he said on March 24, “Spring Training don’t mean shit.”

Truer words, LaTroy, were never spoken.

Just two appearances and 2.0 innings into the 2008 regular season, LaTroy Hawkins has been utterly shelled. He’s already one-upped those seven spring training hits and has given up 7 earned runs. He’s managed to walk no one, but he hasn’t struck anyone out either. Luckily for him, two innings does not a season make.

The other long reliever on the Yanks guaranteed hasn’t been much better. With two inherited runners on base, Kyle Farnsworth entered tonight’s game and, well, pulled a Kyle Farnsworth. One batter later, three Tampa Bay runs had scored, and a close 6-4 game quickly ended up at 13-4. On the season, Farnsworth hasn’t been terrible; he has 4 strike outs in 2.1 innings. But the five hits are not a good sign, and the home run tonight just seemed like business as usual for Krazy Kyle.

The rest of the bullpen, meanwhile, has been as good as advertised. Jonathan Albaladejo, Ross Ohlendorf, Joba Chamberlain, Mariano Rivera, Brian Bruney and Billy Traber have given up four hits and no runs in 11.2 innings. This sextet has recored 13 strike outs and one walk in the first four games of the season. Sadly for the Yanks, Albaladejo will be sentenced to the minors.

While sample size issues are certain a problem here, I’m wondering if the Yanks bullpen is better off with Albaladejo and Scott Patterson than it is with Kyle Farnsworth and LaTroy Hawkins. Funny how that works out, eh?

The rest of tonight’s 13-4 loss was rather forgettable. Ian Kennedy simply didn’t have his best stuff tonight. He was missing his spots badly, and his pitches were trailing over the center of the plate. They were very hittable, and the Tampa Bay Rays — a very underrated team — took full advantage of Kennedy’s mistakes. The Yanks meanwhile couldn’t hit a lick outside of one inning.

Today, the Yanks have Pettitte going with a chance to put the season’s first ugly loss behind them. Sadly, he’ll be backed up by one of the weaker combinations of relief pitching the Yanks could put behind him for now. As the starters get over their early-season pains, it will be interesting to see how the Yanks bullpen plays out. Right now, I don’t go to Hawkins or Farnsworth in key situations if I’m Joe Girardi. The kids, meanwhile, are alright.

Open Thread: Joba’s fist pump

Let’s have some fun. It’s a slow Friday afternoon, and with rain forecast throughout the New York area, there’s no guarantee of baseball tonight. Meanwhile, the New York sports media is all abuzz about Joba for a change.

On Tuesday night, when the superstitious Joba struck out Frank Thomas to escape the 8th inning, the Yankee youngster was very animated in his fist pump. Over the last few days, our city’s lovely sports media has decided to make a mountain of this mole hill. Is Joba’s fist pump over the top or appropriate, the guys on YES discussed last night.

Paul O’Neill, at one point, compared Joba’s fist pump to Chad Johnson’s endzone celebrations. They aren’t the same thing, Paul decided. Joba’s fist pump is a sign of the adrenaline flowing through him; it’s not meant as some taunting celebration. And Frank Thomas himself said that Joba’s fist pump doesn’t bother him. Why would it? After all, Joba’s not the only pitcher with a fist pump.

Meanwhile, O’Neill made another valid point last night. The Yankees aren’t used to such animated celebrations at the end of games. For 12 seasons, we’ve watched Mariano Rivera calmly close out games with nary a fist pump in sight. So now that we have our own version of a Francisco Rodriguez or — dare I say it — a Jonathan Papelbon-style celebration after a big inning, everyone jumps on it.

As Peter Abraham notes, the goons on Mike & the Mad Dog were talking about it today, and of course, they were critical of it. We know they’re not to be listened to, but people tune in anyway. They claim — and Michael Kay and O’Neill made a similar argument — that hitters will go up there trying to get to Joba. But I don’t see someone trying too hard and pressing against Chamberlain as necessarily a bad thing.

So here’s my question: Is the Joba fist pump a bad thing? Does Joba need to tone down his celebration for fear of showing up his opponents or is it all part of the game?

Ineffectively slow, slower, slowest

When A.J. Burnett throws six innings and makes one mistake, the only thing to do is tip your cap to him. The Yankees were simply outpitched last night, and as the old baseball adage goes, good pitching will beat good hitting nearly all the time.

But there are some takeaways from last year’s night, and most of them concern Mike Mussina. Submitted for your approval is a rather basic pitch graph of Mike Mussina’s night. It tracks the velocity of his pitches along the X-axis vs. the break of his pitches according to MLB’s Advanced Gameday application along the Y-axis.

mikemussina4208.jpg

The colors represent Mussina’s pitch repertoire. The green are his fastballs; the two shades of red are his breaking pitches; and the blue dots at the slow end of the slow spectrum are his knucklecurves. To really get a sense of how slow Mussina was throwing, Gameday kept calling his low-80s fastballs change-ups. Those, my friends, were not changeups.

And therein lies the problem. Mike Mussina threw fastballs for nearly 60 percent of his pitches. He threw about 10 each of his breaking pitches. While the break on his fastballs is encouraging, he doesn’t have enough gas to throw so many fastballs. He hit 86 mph five times but mainly sat around 83 and 84 with his fastball. Major League hitters are going to tee off against him.

Meanwhile, Mussina again seemed to pull his routine on the mound when Giambi made an error and Moose didn’t cover first base in time early in the game.

In the end, Moose’s results are serviceable. He gave up 3 earned runs in5.2 innings, but he put 10 runners on base and struck out only 2. While relying on his low-80s fastballs, Mussina will not be so lucky in the future.

Game Notes: Alex Rodriguez is very good at hitting baseballs. I’m very happy to see him back on this team for the long haul…Derek Jeter‘s fourth inning effort in turning an error into an out changed the dynamic of the game. That was sloppy baserunning by a usually reliable baserunner…A few commenters in the game thread bemoaned Joe Girardi‘s decision to keep Giambi in the game to face Brian Tallet in the 7th. When Giambi’s blast in the 9th fell a few feet short of tying the game, no one was complaining, and had it been warmer or windier in the right direction, the game heads into the 10th a tie. I understand the ideas behind playing the matchups, but in a close game, losing Giambi’s bat isn’t an option. He’ll always be more of a threat at the plate than Shelley Duncan or Morgan Ensberg.

‘That’s just textbook Yankee baseball’

As Mariano Rivera fanned Lyle Overbay and a Yankee win grew closer, I thought to myself, “This game was a perfect textbook example of a Yankee win.” Their starter threw seven strong innings; the offense came through at the right time; and the Joba-Mo tandem shut down the Jays to record the final six outs of the 3-2 Opening Day win.

As Rivera got the second out, Paul O’Neill read my mind. “That’s just textbook Yankee baseball,” he said, while Michael Kay yammered on incessantly sitting next to him. Of course, textbook baseball here isn’t much of a stretch. The Yanks won, and they won efficiently.

So let’s enjoy the moment in first place and wrap up the game.

The Good: Yankee pitching. While Wang had a few problems locating his pitches, he needed today’s outing. As much as those two disastrous postseason starts were last year, he needed to have it tonight. He needed to come out and remind everyone how he’s won 38 games over the last two years. When he missed tonight, he missed down, and he managed to go 7 innings on 92 pitches. He got six outs in the air and 13 on the ground.

Joba came in and did what Joba does best. After a bumpy Spring Training, Joba proved why LaTroy Hawkins — “Spring Training don’t mean shit” — was right. With a stellar fastball and some great off-speed pitches, Joba ended his appearance with an impressive K of future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. The first pump returned; baseball is back.

And, oh yeah, that Mariano Rivera fellow is pretty good too.

The Bad: If we’re going to nitpick and find bad in this game, it’s probably Jason Giambi at bat. He was downright cat-like in the field, but the bat seemed a little slow at the plate. He’ll come around.

The Ugly: Opposing pitchers’ numbers against A-Rod. The reigning MVP was 2 for 3 with a first-inning double and the Yanks’ first RBI of the season. After crushing the ball during Spring Training and dominating the league last year, A-Rod and his $27.5 million a year are still on fire.

Player of the Game: While YES gave their Player of the Game Award to Chien-Ming Wang, I’m going with RAB whipping boy Melky Cabrera. He made two outstanding catches in the fourth inning and brought the Yanks even with the Blue Jays by homering just over the right field wall. That’s a good start to the season for the soon-to-be-suspended center fielder.

Big Three K Craniosynostosis Challenge: With 2 Joba strike outs, we’ve raised a pledged $6.67 for the Jorge Posada Foundation. That’s a good start.

Thanks to everyone who chimed in on the game thread. We’ve cleared 200 comments on a post for the first time in RAB history. Welcome to 2008. How’s 162-0 sound?

Opening Day Night postponed

The Yankees and the Blue Jays have postponed today’s planned Opening Day game due to the weather. Right now, the Yanks and Jays will try again tomorrow night at 7:05 p.m. once this storm system clears. For those of you wondering why they aren’t playing in a drizzle, it’s not because of the current conditions but because of the storm system on the way in. They don’t have a clear window in which to fit a nine-inning game.

We really do live for this

I remember the year I needed a note to go to Opening Day.

It was 1995, and I was 12. I had never been to Opening Day before, and I really wanted to go. I had just lived the last eight and a half months without baseball, and I vividly remember my mom telling me on the morning of August 12, 1994 that baseball was going on strike. While at the time, I didn’t understand the financial implications of the labor battles, I knew that my life would be without baseball for an excruciatingly long period of time.

When April 1995 rolled around and the MLBPA and owners announced a strike settlement, I spent days lobbying my parents. “Please can we go to Opening Day?” I’d ask numerous times a day. Finally, as the delayed Opening Day crept closer and closer, my parents told me that yes, we could go to Opening Day.

April 26 — Opening Day 1995 — was a Wednesday, and my sixth grade class had plans to go see our high school’s dress rehearsal for Anything Goes, the annual musical. I would have to leave the production toward the end, and for that, I needed a note. Dressed in full Yankee regalia in honor of Opening Day, I snuck out of school early that day as my dad took me and my sister, then 7, to our first Opening Day game.

The game was a blast. The crowd of 50,425, still sore at the players for their eight-month walk-out and the owners for canceling the 1994 World Series that could have seen the Yanks face off against a very potent Montreal Expos team, was rowdy from the get-go. That day would be only the day until the ALDS that the Yanks would break the 50,000+ attendance mark. Those were the days.

The game itself lived up to all my Opening Day expectations. I witnessed the pomp and circumstance of Bob Sheppard, then a sprightly 84, announcing the lineup. There was Buck Showalter in his trademark jacket. Wade Boggs, Jim Leyritz, Paul O’Neill, Danny Tartabull, Don Mattingly, Mike Stanley, Bernie Williams, Tony Fernandez and Pat Kelly lined up along the first base line while Jimmy Key warmed up in the bullpen. As the National Anthem began, all was right in my world.

The Yanks won that day, 8-6. Tartabull homered in the second inning to deep left-center, and the Yanks never looked back. Jimmy Key went 5 innings, giving up 3 runs on 7 hits, but Kenny Rogers was worse. For the Rangers, he threw 3 innings and gave up 4 earned runs before Johnny Oates yanked him from the game. Bernie hit a home run; Pat Kelly went 3 for 4; and John Wetteland threw a perfect ninth for the save.

Since that day, I’ve been to a few more Opening Days. In 2002, still recovering from that heartbreaking loss in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, I trekked down from college outside of Philadelphia to Baltimore to catch the Yankees and Roger Clemens lose badly to the Orioles.

Last season, my first full baseball season back in New York after four years of college and ten months spent living in Washington, DC, I sat in the left field bleachers as Carl Pavano became the most infamous Yankee Opening Day starter of all time. When Alex Rodriguez‘s 8th inning home run to left center cleared the fence, little did I know that a historic MVP season would unfold in front of New York only to cumulate in a dramatic opt-out during the final outs of the World Series and a subsequent reconciliation. The Yanks won that one, beating Scott Kazmir and the Devil Rays 9-5.

So here we are again. It’s Opening Day 2008, and the baseball slate is wiped clean. We have a glorious schedule of 162 games ahead of us. We have summer nights at a jam-packed Yankee Stadium and tense late-season games in Fenway Park. We have full seasons from the much-heralded young guns, a swan song for a baseball Cathedral and a July filled with an All Star spectacle.

This is Opening Day, and this is what makes baseball great.

Yanks don’t win 1-0 behind Hughes’ complete game

So what if the game only lasted 1.5 innings? This is what we’re talkin’ about with Hughes. He can shorten games.

Update: The Baseball Gods did not take kindly to my joke. The game is back on with Kei Igawa on the mound. The Yanks lead 2-0. For now.

Update: Scott Patterson goes 1, Kei Igawa goes 2 and Billy Traber goes 1 before rain ends the game. It’s a perfect game though. Yanks win 2-0.