Game Eight: Scheduling difficulties

After Mike Mussina’s outing last night in which he tied Bob Gibson for 44th on the all-time win list, a message mysteriously appeared on Mussina’s white board in the locker room. The note, according to Dan Graziano, read: “Thanks ESPN for the 4:00 a.m. arrival and day game the next day.”

For Mussina, it doesn’t really matter. He pitched last night and doesn’t throw again until the Yanks get to Boston. But it’s hard not to feel sympathetic for the Yankees. Because MLB wouldn’t tell ESPN that they could not have last night’s Yankee game, the Yanks were stuck playing a 7:05 p.m. game on get-away day. They had to fly to Kansas City after the fact and play a day game today. Had yesterday’s game been at 1:05 p.m. as originally planned or had today’s game been set for 7:05 p.m., everything would have been fine.

The Yankees aren’t making excuses for themselves. “It’s difficult, but it’s not something you don’t expect,” Girardi said. “When I played here, we did it a lot. It’s just part of the baseball life. You’ve got to be resilient and you’ve got to go through it, and there are no excuses.”

Even if there are no excuses, the Yankees are facing a scheduling fight this month. Because of the Pope’s trip to New York, 18 of their next 20 games are on the road, and they have one day off — on April 21 — this month. The last thing they need are day games on the road after night games at home. Either way, we play today; we win today.

Mister Hughes pitches today for the Yanks. Watch that velocity. The sky might fall if he’s not throwing fast enough. With Hughes on the mound, I’d be remiss not to mention the Big Three K Craniosynostosis pledge drive. Please consider donating if you haven’t already.

Damon LF
Cano 2B
Abreu RF
Rodriguez 3B
Matsui DH
Posada C
Giambi 1B
Betemit SS
Cabrera CF

Hughes P

Game Notes: Jeter out; Giambi in. Derek is day-to-day and could miss up to a week, but for now, the Yankees are saying he won’t land on the DL. An MRI showed a mild strain. A-Rod remains at third base.

Game Seven: What about Morgan?

Morgan Ensberg sits on the bench each day after a successful Spring Training wondering what he has to do to get into the lineup. Meanwhile, with Giambi out of the lineup, Wilson Betemit gets another start at first.

Further down the line, with Mike Mussina on the mound, Jose Molina is behind the plate. That’s not a coincidence, but the corresponding move means that Jorge Posada will miss this game. If I’m putting this lineup together, I probably go with Ensberg at first today. In six games, he’s been up to bat just once this season.

On the hill is my favorite Yankee pitcher. Mike Mussina will attempt to blow his 84 mph fastballs past the Tampa Bay hitters. In all seriousness though, today’s start should be one in which we see how Mussina responds to his stuff. Last week, he had a slow fastball and some good breaking pitches. But he spent the game relying on his fastball when it’s not quite good enough to be an out-pitch anymore. Hopefully, Mussina will befuddle and confound the Rays’ hitters with an array of slow, slower, slowest that doesn’t involve 60 percent fastballs.

The Yanks face Jason Hammel today. Maybe Hammel is the cure for what ails them. Hammel, making his first start of the season, does not have much Major League success. Over 129 innings spanning two season, Hammel is 3-11 with a career ERA of 6.70. He’s given up 161 hits — 19 of those home runs — while walking 61 and striking out 96. Opponents are hitting .308/.381/.514 against Hammel, and the Yanks really should tee off against the Rays’ righty tonight.

Yankees
Damon LF
Jeter SS
Abreu RF
Rodriguez 3B
Matsui DH
Cano 2B
Betemit 1B
Cabrera CF
Molina C

Mussina P

Rays
Iwamura 2B
Crawford LF
Pena 1B
Upton CF
Floyd DH
Hinske RF
Aybar 3B
DiFelice C
Bartlett SS

Hammel P

Game Six: Offense is like air and sex, it’s not a big deal until you aren’t gettin’ any

Ben and Joe are at the game, so I’m your host for the day. Sunday day games have always been a personal favorite; there’s nothing better than rolling out of bed an hour or so before first pitch, and spending a lazy Sunday with my beloved Bombers. Except, of course, when they’re not doing any bombing at all.

The lineup has been anemic, batting .231-.284-.353 with a whopping 11 extra base hits through one turn of the rotation (Mr. Beltran already has 6 XBH of his own). Maybe they should start getting tips from the guys playing for Low-A Charleston.

While the offense is lacking, the pitching staff for the most part is excelling. Wang and Hughes were solid if not spectacular, while Pettitte and Moose were serviceable in their first go ’round. IPK, eh, not so much, but it’s just one measly start. Outside of Farnsworth and Hawkins (give it up, he’s not Paul O’Neill, we get it already) the bullpen has been outstanding, combining for 14.2 IP of 5 hit, 1 walk, 18 K ball. Goes to show that you don’t need big and sexy names to have a good bullpen.

Eventually the offense will start pulling their weight, but it sure is frustrating to get off to this kind of start year after year.

The lineup :

Damon LF
Jeter SS – I’ll set today’s over/under at 1.5 GIDP
Abreu RF
A-Rod 3B
Matsui DH – where he belongs
Cano 2B
Posada C
Betemit 1B – Morgan Ensberg, hello? Are you out there?
Cabrera CF

On the mound, number forty, Chicken-Wing Wang (trademark Tim McCarver).

Notes: Giambi’s hurtin’, still no word on how bad or how long he’ll be out … there’s a whole lotta stuff going into the New Stadium … two former Yanks celebrate their birthday’s today: Andy Phillips turns 31, Bronson Sardinha turns 25.

Game Five: The lefty returns

The Yanks are mired in something of an offensive slump to start the season. As a team, the Bombers are hitting .227 with a .285 OBP and a .378 slugging percentage. For all the talk about their offensive, they’ve plated just 12 runs over the first four games.

The bats, of course, will wake up, and today’s game may be just what the doctor ordered. Facing the Yankees today will be the righthander Edwin Jackson. For years, Jackson has been hyped as the Next Big Thing. He started out with the Dodgers and made his Major League debut a few months later. But control — and Big League succes — have so far eluded Jackson. Over five seasons and 272.2 innings, he has an ERA of 5.64 and a WHIP of 1.71.

The Yanks haven’t shown their trademark patience at the plate yet. They’ve drawn just eight walks as a team. With Jackson on the mound, the Yanks’ bats may get the reprieve they so need after facing Toronto’s own big three starting pitchers and a surprisingly effective Andy Sonnanstine last night.

On the hill for the Yanks will be Andy Pettitte, making his 2008 season debut. No, my April Fools joke did not come true. He isn’t missing time due to his back right now, and he won’t be replaced by Kei Igawa. Against Tampa last year, Pettitte was 0-2 in four starts with a 5.32 ERA. Hopefully, he’ll find success this season. In all likelihood, Jonathan Albaladejo will be sent back to AAA to make room for Pettitte, and I am not a fan of that move.

The lineups:

Yankees
Damon CF
Jeter SS
Abreu RF
Rodriguez 3B
Giambi DH
Cano 2B
Posada C
Matsui LF
Duncan 1B

Pettitte LHP

Rays
Iwamura 2B
Crawford LF
Pena 1B
Upton CF
Gomes RF
Aybar 3B
Bartlett SS
Riggans C
Johnson DH

Jackson RHP

Game Four: Another rookie takes the hill

It was a beautiful thing last night, seeing Phil go six strong with Joba picking up the (meaningless) W. Tonight we see the final member of the Big Three taking the hill, IPK. He’ll be opposed by Andy Sonnastine, whom none of the Yankees have had more than 7 at bats against.

Rob Thompson will manage the team tonight, as Girardi is suffering from a upper respiratory infection.

Melky’s suspension has been reduced two two games. He’ll sit out today and tomorrow. I’d feel far more comfortable if we had a groundballer like Wang out on the hill during those contests. An outfield of Matsui-Damon-Abreu is probably bottom 5 in the AL defensively. Duncan’s hearing is up Monday, according to PeteAbe.

I had posted PeteAbe’s lineup earlier, but Mark Feinsand reports that Posada has been moved to DH. I would assume then that Betemit sits and Molina slides into the nine spot. So this is the assumed lineup:

1. Damon, CF
2. Jeter, SS
3. Abreu, RF
4. Rodriguez, 3B
5. Giambi, 1B
6. Cano, 2B
7. Posada, DH
8. Matsui, LF
9. Molina, C

And on the mound, number thirty-one, Ian Kennedy

Phil Hughes and his changeup

Who needs Johan Santana?

For six innings last night, Phil Hughes had the Blue Jays off balance. For six innings, Hughes mixed his pinpoint accuracy with a deadly curve with a stellar fastball. He held the Jays to two runs on four hits while walking one and striking out four. He threw two-thirds of his pitches for strikes and showed why we were totally opposed to seeing Hughes sent to Minnesota.

While the Yankee offense has yet to click, the pitching has held up quite nicely in three games. The bullpen was stellar again last night with Billy Traber recording his first Yankee out and Brian Bruney looking like a new man on the mound. He threw strikes with confidence. The Joba-Rivera show closed out the game, and suddenly, the Yanks’ opponents are faced with the prospects of seven-inning games this season.

But the story was Phil. At the urging of a reader, let’s look at Phil’s pitch selection. Justin, a RAB regular, e-mailed me about Hughes shortly after the game ended:

Good game pitched by Hughes, but he could of been so much BETTER! He’s a two pitch pitcher right now. Yes they’re above average pitches but he’s got a very good changeup that he’s not even using (or only used twice…and both times they were effective!). Look at how effective McGowan was tonight with his changeup. He got some huge strikeouts with his change (A-Rod) and he kept the hitters off balance for the first 6 innings.

Justin believes that if Hughes deploys his changeup 10-15 times a game, he’ll be even better. Right now, I’m withholding judgement. Unlike Mike Mussina with his slow, slower, slowest approach, Hughes can rely on his fastball to get outs. It’s accurate; it has late life; and when he mixes in his curve, the fastball is even more effective.

Oh that curveball. Phil Hughes’ curveball was a thing of beauty tonight. Looking much like it did against Texas in the second game of Hughes’ career last year, the ball danced its way into the strike zone, fooling Blue Jay hitters and keeping them off balance. The curve is why, right now, I think Hughes can pick and choose his spots for a changeup that he is still refining. The curve, in fact, is something of a changeup. Hughes was sitting around 90 mph with his fastball last night and around 71 with a deadly break on the curve. Throw a 71 mph curveball and that 90 mph fastball looks pretty fast.

Today, Phil Hughes is the second-youngest player in the Majors, and at age 21, he’s only going to get better and stronger as the years go by. As Hughes matures as an athlete and a pitcher, he’ll gain more velocity on the fastball and more confidence in what could be a deadly weapon: his changeup. But for now, I am more than satisfied with his pitch selection and thrilled with Mr. Hughes’ first start of the season.

Game Three: Cy Young, here we come

Could there possibly be any three people more amped up for Phil Hughes‘s 2008 debut than Mike, Ben, and me? Well, maybe this guy (though we haven’t heard from him in nearly a month).

Tonight will be the first of what should be 20-some-odd starts by the 21-year-old. Expectations are sky-high: Keith Law picks him as a Cy Young sleeper (as apparently I did as well with the title), as has Peter Gammons. His spring was solid, not great, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts now that the games count. However, even if he pitches like he did in the spring, I wouldn’t be disappointed. We’re still early on, and as many people pointed out last night, most guys haven’t reached their peak strength yet. And if you’ll remember from last year, Hughes was unimpressive in his first start out for Scranton.

Posada is still out with the sore shoulder. According to Sam Borden via PeteAbe, he might DH tomorrow. Matsui slides into left, apparently breaking himself in for some playing time out there when Melky Cabrera serves his inevitable suspension.

The Yanks face Dustin McGowan tonight, another Law-picked Cy Young sleeper. He certainly has the stuff. Apparently, he was feeling flu-like symptoms yesterday, but will pitch today. Which makes sense — I don’t know of many hangovers that last for two days.

Your lineup:

1. Johnny Damon, DH
2. Derek Jeter, SS
3. Bobby Abreu, RF
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Jason Giambi, 1B
6. Robinson Cano, 2B
7. Hideki Matsui, LF
8. Jose Molina, C
9. Melky Cabrera, CF

And on the mound, number thirty-four, Phil Hughes.