We’ll forgive his results this time: the kid can pitch

It wasn’t spectacular. It wasn’t what we dreamed. But don’t let the naysayers fool you: it also wasn’t bad. Trust me, we’re going to see a lot of innings like last night’s second — strikeout, strikeout, ground out — once he settles into his new role.

Wednesday, I discussed the benefits of the rainout. And while the bullpen certainly needed a day off, and Andy Pettitte dramatically increases our chances for a win tonight, there was an intangible benefit to having Pettitte pitch Wednesday. Might Hughes have benefitted from watching Pettitte work the game prior to his? It’s not a yes or no question, but it’s definitely something to think about.

The natural reaction following any game like this is to watch Baseball Tonight and see what the “experts” have to say. Surprisingly, Orel Hershiser nailed the analysis: he was falling behind with his fastball in the first inning, leaving him little options behind in the count. It’s a common ailment for rookies, whether they’re 20 or 25, out of high school or with college polish. He came out in the second, flashed his curve more, and was able to make quick work of the Jays’s B hitters.

That kind of pitch establishment will come with time. And, according to the logic I subscribe to and perpetuate, he’ll best learn that in the majors. Some say that he needs to learn to hold men on and pitch with runners in scoring position. They say that if he faces many of those situations in the majors, he’ll overthrow and become susceptible to arm injuries. I feel that those people are better at reporting than analyzing.

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The good, the bad and the ugly of Hughes’ debut

goodbadugly.jpg So maybe that didn’t go quite as well as we hoped, but Phil Hughes‘ Major League debut was decidedly not terrible. We’ll break it down over the course of the next day, and it looks now as though Hughes will start on Tuesday in Texas. For now, I want to bring you a few points from 20-year-old Phil Hughes’ first Major League start, Sergio Leone style.

The Good: In between a bad first inning and a bad fifth inning, Phil Hughes looked pretty good. As Steve at WasWatching.com noted, Hughes did a masterful job getting out the Blue Jays’ B hitters. And his strike out rate is now better than that of any other Yankee starter. His 5 strike outs in 4.1 innings translate into around 10 K/9 IP. With a 5:1 K:BB ratio, those are some fantastic peripherals. Hughes put these numbers up against a Blue Jay team that is league average in strike outs. The Rangers, his next opponent, are more frequent whiffers.

The Bad: Hughes had a very rocky first inning. It took him 27 pitches to get out of his first Major League inning. I would probably chalk that one up to nerves, and we’ll have to see how he does in Texas. But he also struggled against the All Stars in the Blue Jays lineup. Vernon Wells was 3-for-3, and Frank Thomas knocked in two runs. Hughes’ 7 hits in 4.1 innings isn’t too good, but throughout his career, his first start at a new level has always been a struggle. He was victimized by a tight strike zone and a bad call at first base too. We’ll see how he does next week against the Rangers. He’ll have to develop some more trust in his breaking pitches, and he’ll have to throw more strikes early on. Those are your keys to next week’s Phil Hughes start.

The Ugly: Doug Mientkiewicz went 0-for-3 tonight batting in …. the Number 2 spot?!?! What the $#*& is that all about? Dougie Baseball is currently hitting .152 with a .250 OBP and a slugging percentage at around .250. He’s 3 for his last 17, and that actually raised his batting average. So what does Joe Torre? He plugs him into a key spot in the lineup. Instead of going with Robinson Cano to avoid a lineup of three lefties in a row, instead of ever using Josh Phelps, Torre bats Mr. Automatic Out in the two hole, giving him four costly plate appearances. Doug Mientkiewicz with a negative MLV and a negative VORP is actually detracting from the Yankees’ offensive output. I’m dumbstruck by his presence in the Number 2 hole.

Devil Rays sweep Yankees

Player WPA Pitcher WPA
Posada .195 Vizcaino .138
Matsui .177 Farnsworth .017
Phelps .121 Bruney .004
Jeter .024 Wang -.104
Minky -.013 Myers -.506
Cairo -.016
Melky -.027
Damon -.039
Alex -.051
Abreu -.116
Giambi -.145
Cano -.159

*I’ve removed pLI from the tables. The stat doesn’t sit well with me. It doesn’t tell you a whole lot. If you look at the LI for each situation, yeah. But an average over the course of a game? Nothing.

I’m not a big platoon guy unless the numbers — over a reasonable sample size — bear something out. And yes, one game isn’t a large sample size. Is it just coincidence, then, that Abreu, Giambi, and Cano were the offensive goats of the game? Probably. And it’s not like you’re going to sit any of them because of a pitching matchup — especially because of Melky’s ineptitude this season. It’s not like they have bad lefty-righty splits.

Ben summed up the game from the bullpen angle. The talent is all there…it’s just a matter of having them pitch two or three innings a game rather than four or five. But I’ll let Ben’s words speak for themselves.

The game started off on an exciting note. Both of our recently-returned DLers contributed. Despite the WPA, Wang pitched well, especially for a guy who was making his first start of the season on April 24. He scattered a few hits, which is going to happen, but he didn’t really let it phase him until the fourth. After a bloop and a double in the seventh, he came out for pitch count reasons. That move can be contested, but it’s one of those double edged swords, so it’s not worth levying criticism. However, I will say this: I would have rather had pitch to Harris with the bases loaded than Vizcaino. Viz has had control problems all year, and he ended up getting lucky that the liner was hit right at Cairo. Wang, on the other hand, could have induced the groundball double play to end it. Just sayin…

I thought Mike Myers was supposed to be the guy to come in and get out a tough lefty. Yet, when he’s been called upon to do so, he’s gotten smacked around. However, he’s been stellar in mop-up duty. I know it’s a very small sample, but I’d be reluctant to let him pitch to Ortiz or Drew this weekend. Or hell, even Lyle Overbay over the next two days.

There were some highlights on the offensive side, like Matsui’s shot that nearly hit his digital visage out in right field. Every time you think the guy is looking shaky at the plate, he goes and whales one like that. It’ll be extra nice to have him back in the lineup against Boston, where he can do some serious damage.

Phelps was another highlight, driving in the go-ahead run in the seventh. But then Joe pinch ran for him, which kinda came back to bite him in the ass. I understand the situation: Phelps standing on second, one run lead. You want a guy scoring on a single, so you put the faster runner in there. Problem is, the hitter was Miguel Cairo. What, you actually think he’s going to single and bring in that run? You’re going to replace a potent bat because you want the runner on second to score on a highly unlikely single? Some may say I’m nitpicking, but I think I have a valid point here. The worst case scenario arose in the ninth, as the Yanks, down by two runs, have their final two outs in the hands of Melky Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz.

I don’t know why Johnny Damon was replaced, and I didn’t hear anything about it this morning. I hope it was because his hammies or back were acting up on him, because there’s really no other way to justify that sub. If it was just to give Damon a break from the turf, well, then that’s just stupid. Instead of having Cano-Phelps-Damon in the ninth, the Yanks trotted out Cano-Cabrera-Mientkiewicz. A considerable drop-off, to say the least.

Thankfully, Andy Pettitte is headed to the hill tonight. He’s delivered when the Yanks have needed him to this season. He’s going to have an “eh” start sooner or later. Hopefully, that won’t come tonight — the bullpen sure could use an 8-inning performance.

Death by Bullpen

bullpenofterror.jpg

I have nightmares about these guys now only to wake up to find they really did blow yet another game.

In The Shield last season, Walton Goggins’ character Shane told the rest of the show’s main characters a joke with the intent to distract Forest Whitaker. The tale Shane told was the infamous Death by Chichi story. Well, after tonight’s game, the Yankees are going through not Death by Chichi but rather Death by Bullpen.

The Yankees have not won since coming off a strong three-game sweep of the Indians five games ago. Since Friday night, the Yanks, who lead the Majors in runs scored, have plated 29 runs. 29 runs! Five games! That should be, well, five wins really. But they’ve also surrendered 35 runs. So, oops.

While the Yankees starting pitcher has been terrible, the team has also been victimized by its bullpen, and after tonight, I am once again left wondering why Brian Bruney is brought in after Luis Vizcaino and Mike Myers to clean up their messes instead of before to pitch out the jam. But I digress.

Tonight, the Yanks’ bullpen threw 1.2 innings which including a sighting of the endangered species known as Kyle Farnsworth. They gave up 2 earned runs and did an excellent job allowing all of the inherited runners to score. Wang got the loss, but who would you blame for this game? I finger Vizcaino and Myers. Final bullpen tally: 1.2 innings, 1 hit, 2 earned runs.

Last night, Kei Igawa was bad and the bullpen matched him. The bullpen started up with the score 6-4 in favor of the Devil Rays. Colter Bean allowed yet another inherited runner to cross the plate, and the bullpen managed 3.2 innings, 7 hits, 3 walks and 3 earned runs. That 10 baserunners in just over 3 innings led to only three runs is luck.

In Boston, the story was the same. On Sunday, the bullpen had to throw 5 innings. They gave up 6 hits, 6 walks and only 3 earned runs. On Saturday, the bullpen did its job. Hallelujah! 3.2 innings, 4 hits and no runs. Only the wacky centerfield dimensions prevented Bobby Abreu from hitting a game-tying home run. C’est la vie.

And Friday was the start of this debacle. The bullpen went 1.2 innings giving up 5 hits and 5 runs.

So for those of you keeping score at home, the Yankees’ bullpen over their five-game losing streak has gone 15.2 innings. They’re 0-2 and have given up 25 hits and 13 runs for an ERA of 7.46. They’ve managed to strike out just 8 while walking 14.

This is what death by bullpen looks like. And after another loss in another game that the Yanks should won, I’ll take death by chichi instead of this nightly torture.

Devil Rays 10, Yanks 8

Player WPA Pitcher WPA
Giambi .240 Myers .027
Alex .226 Mo .003
Phelps .139 Bean -.038
Cano .125 Vizcaino -.065
Jeter -.023 Bruney -.087
Matsui -.028 Igawa -.440
Damon -.058
Abreu -.098
Melky -.178
Posada -.246

This is the type of game where the WPA is interesting — though highly discouraging. The Yanks may have lost by a mere two runs, but it was a struggle to make it even that close. It was Giambi, Alex, Phelps, and Cano vs. the rest of the team. It’s not often that you see a positive WPA from hitters in a losing effort. But, that’s just how bad Kei Igawa is, and how overworked our bullpen has become.

Honestly, does anyone want to relive last night via recap? I know I don’t. I can only type “Igawa” so many times before rage overcomes me. In fact, the only thing worse than thinking about his performance last night is thinking about his Saturday start against the Red Sox. If they teed off on Chase Wright, they’re going to run amok on Igawa. Thankfully, help is on the way.

You’ve got to admit it ain’t getting better

That Alex Rodriguez; he’s pretty good. But the Yankees just can’t win for him.

In Tampa Bay, the super-human A-Rod continued his hot spring. He went four for five with 2 HR and 3 RBI to raise his inflated numbers even further. He is now batting .400 with a .453 OBP and a 1.053 SLG. That’s off the charts. He has tied the record for most home runs in April and has driven in 34 runs already.

But that’s not the story here. Once again, the story was pitching. The story was yet another poor pitching performance from Kei Igawa and the disappearance of/Joe Torre’s utter reluctance to use Kyle Farnsworth. (Yes, I will point fingers at Joe Torre tonight. Thank for you very much. In fact, our six-hour outage this afternoon was, um, all his fault too. He went to the wrong server in the sixth inning.)

First, let’s talk about Kyle Farnsworth. Krazy Kyle is making $5.6 million this year to be the Yankees’ go-to reliever outside of Mariano River. Sure, he struggled in Minnesota. But does that mean he has to drop off the face of the planet? Night after night, Torre uses Proctor and Bruney and the unimpressive Luis Vizcaino. Farnsworth, meanwhile, has pitched a grand total of 2.0 innings in the last week. The rest of the Yankee bullpen has pitched many, many more.

When the time was right for Farnsworth to come in and hold down a one-run deficit to set up what could have been late-inning heroics for A-Rod yet again, in to the game jogged…Brian Bruney and Luis Vizcaino. Before you could say “not another bad bullpen performance,” the game was out of hand.

But hey, at least Joe Torre’s $5-million man is well rested for whenever it is that our asleep-at-the-wheel manager feels like sticking him into a game. As long as Proctor and Bruney and Vizcaino can still lift their arms above their heads, who cares about the guy with the 99 MPH fastball?

Now, let’s talk Kei Igawa. I don’t have any expectations for Igawa anymore. After tonight’s lackluster effort against the Devil Rays, Igawa is 1-1 with a 7.84 ERA in 20.2 IP. He’s given up 24 hits while walking 9 and striking out 13. Opponents are hitting .279 against him.

And based on what I saw tonight, I don’t think it’s going to be better at all. His pitches are soft, and while Joe Girardi kept insisting they had late movement, my eye saw a hurler throwing from a three-quarters motion on a level plane. In lay terms, that means righties have all the time in the world to pick up the ball, and even lefties won’t be fooled by Kei Igawa’s straight pitches.

While 20 innings isn’t enough to write off a pitcher completely, the Yankees now appear to have two huge holes in their rotation, and this is counting Wang, Mussina and Pettitte as healthy. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe Igawa is just adjusting to a new style of hitting. But Ron Guidry will have to work hard to turn Igawa into a sinkerball pitcher. He’s getting beat on pitches up in the zone, and Igawa made a career in Japan out of pitching up in the zone. That just doesn’t work in the Major Leagues.

When Phil Hughes takes the mound on Thursday, we’ll expect big things from him. But even if he just gives us five or six innings of competitive ball, that’s a better start than what we’ve seen so far from Igawa. As the Yankee starters struggle to make it through five innings, it’s clear that it won’t take much for Phil to stick around.