Archive for Pitching
Left-hander Vidal Nuno will start the second game of Monday’s doubleheader against the Indians, Joe Girardi confirmed. David Phelps starts the first game. Brett Marshall will apparently be on standby in case an extra long man needs to be added between games.
Nuno, 25, will be making his first career big league start. He last pitched 13 days ago, throwing 38 pitches in long relief. That is his only big league appearance to date. Nune hasn’t started a game in three weeks, but I’m sure they’ll be able to squeeze 80 or so pitches out of him anyway. If they get five innings, they’ll probably be thrilled. Adam Warren is the obvious piggyback candidate if he isn’t needed in game one.
Via George King & Chad Jennings: Joe Girardi confirmed Ivan Nova is a candidate to start one game of Monday’s doubleheader against the Indians if he comes through today’s Extended Spring Training game well. “As long as he feels good and throws the ball well (it’s possible),” said the skipper. “We are allowed to add that 26th man [for doubleheaders].”
Nova, 26, is on the DL with a triceps issue and is eligible to be activated on Sunday. I’m probably reading too much into this, but I thought it was interesting Girardi mentioned the 26th man. The rules say the 26th player has to go back to the minors immediately following the doubleheader, so either they’ll have to rearrange the bullpen — technically send down Vidal Nuno or Preston Claiborne, called them back up as the 26th man — or Nova’s going to minors to work on things following that game. My money’s on the former.
The Yankees handled most of their offseason pitching business back in November, when they re-signed the veteran trio of Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Hiroki Kuroda. With David Phelps set to serve as the sixth starter and Michael Pineda on his way back from shoulder surgery, the team had some depth. They did, however, spend some time looking for a veteran seventh starter type to stash in Triple-A, just someone to have around in case all hell broke loose. It wasn’t a huge priority, but it was definitely an item on the agenda.
It wasn’t until late-March, near the very end of Spring Training that the Yankees found their seventh starter. They signed former ace Chien-Ming Wang to a minor league contract after his solid showing in the World Baseball Classic and impressive private workouts for the team in Tampa. The sinkerballer has since made three starts for Triple-A Scranton (0.95 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 59% grounders) and declined to use the first opt-out clause in his contract earlier this week. The next opt-out date is a little less than a month away.
Wang, 33, is nowhere near the pitcher he was during his 2005-2008 heyday with the Yankees. Injuries, most notably surgery for a torn shoulder capsule in 2009, have sapped some heat from his trademark sinker, which used to regularly sit in the 93-96 mph range. Reports from his last Triple-A start indicate he touched the 90-91 mph, which is a step up from where he was in his first two outings. The television gun during the WBC in March had him right around 90 mph, but TV guns are not to be trusted.
“(It was a) cold night, but his fastball velocity was only 87-88, with some sink … Not the Wang of old. Threw strikes, but not impressive for me,” said one scout who had seen CMW recently to Andy Martino. Torn capsules are no joke, no one has ever come back from one and had the same kind of success they had before the injury. That’s a list of pitchers that includes Mark Prior, John Maine, Johan Santana, and Rich Harden.
Despite all of that, I find myself cautiously optimistic about Wang’s ability to contribute to the big league team at some point this year. I’m certain that feeling is mostly nostalgia-driven, but he did somewhat resemble the CMW of old during the WBC — thanks to the plethora of quick ground ball outs — and is showing decent velocity in the upper levels of the minors. I’m not sure what more we could ask for at this point.
The Yankees have some questions at the back of the rotation right now thanks to Ivan Nova‘s triceps and the general uncertainty surrounding David Phelps and Vidal Nuno. Add in Andy Pettitte’s and Phil Hughes‘ recent back trouble, and it’s not a stretch to think the team may have to call on Wang at some point this summer. Will he show enough to earn that shot, and furthermore, will he stick around long enough to take advantage of it? If he continues to pitch well in Triple-A and settles into that 90-91 mph consistently, I have to think some teams will come calling with big league offers when that next opt-out date comes around in a few weeks.
Something about Wang being back healthy and back in the organization makes me irrationally happy. Irrationally happy and hopeful. I know he’s so very unlikely to help the team in a meaningful way this year — he hasn’t been an effective big leaguer since hurting his foot in 2008, remember — but the fan in me wants to see him and that sinker in pinstripes having success. At the same time, I know that if Wang does resurface in the Bronx, it’s because something will have gone wrong elsewhere on the pitching staff. CMW is pitching well enough and showing encouraging velocity in Triple-A right now, and as tough as it is, we have to be careful not to get our hopes up too much.
Poor Aprils are nothing new for Phil Hughes. The right-hander pitched to a 9.00 ERA in April 2008, a 13.94 ERA in April 2011, and a 7.88 ERA in April 2012. He went into last night’s start against the Rays with a 6.95 ERA with a 5.36 FIP in 90.2 career innings during the season’s first month. I guess it’s just one of those things, maybe the Southern California guy doesn’t like the cold weather or something.
Anyway, Hughes had an excuse for his slow to start to this season. He missed all of Spring Training with a bulging disk in his back and the Yankees activated him off the DL sooner than expected because the bullpen was a mess and David Phelps was needed in relief. In his first two starts, the 26-year-old Hughes looked very much like a pitcher who was shaking off the last bit of rust at the end of camp. The result was nine runs in seven total innings, plus two losses in the standings.
Phil’s last two starts have been much, much better. Two runs in seven innings against the Diamondbacks last week, then another two runs in seven innings against the division rival Rays last night. In those 14 innings he allowed 12 hits (two solo homers) and two walks while striking out a dozen. Solid but not spectacular, similar to his performance from mid-May to mid-September last year. As I mentioned in the game recap last night, Hughes pounded the zone against Tampa — first pitch strikes to 24 of 27 (!) batters faced, 78 of 109 total pitches for strikes (72%) — and that’s encouraging.
The obvious answer for the recent turnaround is simply rounding into game shape after the injury-interrupted Spring Training. Hughes did all his preparation work in simulated games and minor league contests, so he didn’t face any big leaguers or throw with any fans in the stands. nothing like that. Hardly ideal conditions really, but the back issue forced the team’s hand. For what it’s worth, Phil made no excuses about his slow start and said he was ready to go when the team stuck him in the rotation sooner than expected.
“I wouldn’t have come up in Detroit if they didn’t feel like I was ready,” said Hughes to Mark Feinsand following last night’s game. “I certainly feel like I’ve made positive steps forward since then. I was ready then, I just didn’t execute that well against Detroit and obviously terribly against Baltimore … These games count whether you got a full Spring Training or not. The first two were tough, the next two were better. Hopefully that trend continues.”
This season is a big one in a lot of ways for Hughes. The elephant in the room is him impending free agency, as his performance in the coming months will dictate whether he gets a decent contract or really breaks the bank. The team also needs him to pitch well every time out because they can’t lean on their offense as they have in the past, especially against left-handers. Not that this April has been great overall, but another truly awful showing in the season’s first month would have hurt both his free agent stock and the team’s place in the standings.
I don’t think Yankees fans are ever going to be able to separate the reality of what Hughes has become from the disappointment of what he was supposed to be, but he’s settled in as more than serviceable number four starter in recent years. Someone who will occasionally flash brilliance while generating his fair share of frustration. He shook off those dreadful first two starts to turn in two really strong outings in the last week, and that’s the kind of stuff that can get hopes up. Phil has taken some positive steps forward lately, but the Yankees don’t need him to emerge as an ace. Those days are long gone. They just need him to give them enough of a chance to win every give days, and right now that’s exactly what he’s doing.
We all knew this would happen eventually. The unnatural act of pitching has a way of wearing down even the most durable athletes over the years, sapping velocity and arm strength after thousands of innings and tens of thousands of individual pitches. Andy Pettitte went through it, Mike Mussina went through it, Pedro Martinez went through it … heck, even Mariano Rivera went through it. Father Time remains undefeated.
At age 32, with just under 2,700 total innings on his arm, it appears CC Sabathia has lost his best fastball. He topped out at 91.2 mph with his fastball last night and averaged just 90.1 mph according to PitchFX, a bit short of the 90.7 mph he averaged during his first three starts. Last year he averaged 93.0 mph. The year before it was 94.7 mph. The year before he became a Yankee it was 94.9 mph. It’s been a gradual decline over the years, just like it was for Pettitte and Moose and Pedro.
When most pitchers lose their fastballs, the initial results tend to be very bad. Sabathia is not most pitchers though; he’s used his diminished heater to post a 2.57 ERA (2.69 FIP) in 28 innings across his first four starts of 2013. After allowing four earned runs to the Red Sox in five innings on Opening Day, the left-hander has allowed just four earned runs in his last three starts combined. The diminished fastball hasn’t led to diminished results, at least not yet.
Adjusting to life with a new, slower fastball can’t be easy. Mussina is one of the smartest pitchers I’ve ever seen, yet it took him all of 2007 to learn how to work with reduced heat. Roy Halladay is arguably the best pitcher of his generation, but he’s having a devil of a time figuring it out in Philadelphia right now. Part of the problem, at least initially, is just denial. No world-class athlete wants to admit his skills are declining, especially pitchers and their fastballs. Sabathia, however, seems to be very aware that his heater doesn’t have as much oomph as it once did.
“I’m hoping some more velocity comes back. If not, we’ll work with this,” said the southpaw to Mark Feinsand after last night’s win. “It’s reality. You never know. I’ve never been through anything like this, so I don’t know. I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I’ve been pitching for a long time. Eventually, it was going to happen … It’s something everybody is going to go through. We’ll see if this is my time.”
With the obvious sample size caveat, it does appear to be Sabathia’s time. I’m almost certain he’ll add a tick or two as the season progresses and the weather warms up, pretty much everyone does, but his fastball is down quite a bit this year compared to his first four starts of last year — 90.6 mph in 2013 vs. 92.6 mph in 2012. The velocity drop has been real early on and not even Sabathia is denying it.
“It’s definitely going to be hard, but I’ve got guys in here that I can turn to like Andy,” added CC. “We can work on game plans and just try to keep getting better as a pitcher … If I make pitches (I can be effective with less velocity). I always felt like that. I would take some off to make pitches when I had more velocity, try to stay at 91-92, then hump up when I needed to. I can pitch at this.”
Saying and thinking he can pitch with reduced velocity is an entirely different thing than actually doing it. The early signs on promising, but who knows what will happen when the weather heats up and the ball starts carrying a bit more. We saw the Diamondbacks hit a number of long fly balls last night, long fly balls that would have presumably been a lot more dangerous had it been the middle of July or August. This is very much a wait and see thing.
Sabathia suffered the first arm injury of his career last summer and needed offseason elbow surgery. His fastball velocity has been dipping for a few years now. This is his new reality, and he not only seems to be completely aware of it, he doesn’t seem to be bothered by it at all. That’s reassuring but only to a point, because I don’t know if Sabathia can continue to be an ace-caliber pitcher with reduced velocity, especially if it continues to slide in the coming months and years. One thing I do know is that whenever CC stops pitching like an ace — it will happen at some point, it’s inevitable — it won’t be from a lack of effort. If there’s anyone who can figure this diminished fastball thing out, it’s Sabathia.
We all knew the Yankees were going to rely on their pitching staff this year, especially early in the season. That’s why it was bummer to watch the starters allow a combined 15 runs in 23 innings during the first five games of the year (5.87 R/9). They’ve rebounded to allow just 11 runs in 39.1 innings in the last six games (2.52 R/9), but none of those last six starts were made by Ivan Nova.
Nova, 26, nibbled his way to four runs in 4.2 innings against the Tigers last week, putting himself in hitter’s counts and long at-bats all afternoon. The Yankees used last week’s rainouts to skip his turn, a move that wasn’t unjustified given not only his first start of the season, but also his second half a year ago. Nova was pretty dreadful down the stretch, remember. He will get the ball tonight in the series opener against the Diamondbacks on nine days rest.
“I always worry about starters the first time through to begin a season,” said Joe Girardi to Mark Feinsand following Nova’s first start. “I think they can get a little excited, they can get a little hyped up. Position players go through it for one day; for a pitcher, if you’re the second starter, it builds up a couple days. Third starter, it’s more, fourth starter it’s even more. I don’t judge them too quickly on their first starts, because that’s a concern. For him, it’s consistency down in the zone.”
Regardless of whether it’s consistency down in the zone or strike-throwing in general or something else entirely, Nova might be starting to run out of rope. He allowed 55 runs in his final 72 innings last summer (6.88 R/9) and by the time late September rolled around, Girardi went from not giving him a chance to work out jams (2.1 and 4.2 innings in his final two starts) to not giving him the ball entirely, skipping Ivan in favor of David Phelps in Game 161 with the division title on the line. Add it all together and it doesn’t seem like the team has a ton of faith in him at the moment.
“I have to look at it like a regular start … If I start doing anything differently, I’ll be in trouble,” said Nova to Dan Martin. “It’s tough when you’re not pitching good and you don’t get a chance to go out there for a lot of days. It’s a little bit frustrating … But I have to fight. I don’t think they’re worried about me and I don’t think they should be worried about me.”
Nova threw an extended bullpen session on Friday in an effort to stay sharp, but his issues extend beyond just staying sharp. His stuff is plenty good, but adjustments have to be made and his command needs to be refined. Perhaps working backwards and using the breaking ball earlier in counts would help, who knows? Given how CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have rebounded while Phil Hughes struggles and Andy Pettitte is sidelined with old man back, Nova is suddenly an important part of the rotation. Getting things straight and soon, as in tonight, is very important for the Yankees going forward.
The Yankees will skip Ivan Nova‘s turn through the rotation following last night’s rain out, Joe Girardi confirmed. Phil Hughes will start tonight as scheduled — stomach bug and weather permitting — and Nova will instead get the ball in five days.
I hope the Yankees will take this opportunity to split up Hughes and Nova in the rotation, just for the sake of easing the load on the bullpen down the road. Those two back-to-back could create some headaches. Even if they don’t do that, skipping Nova completely sure seems to indicate the team doesn’t have much faith in him in the moment. Perhaps he and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are working on something on the side, but this doesn’t look like vote of confidence in the young right-hander. Hard to say it’s undeserved.
Via George King: Ivan Nova has been working on a new, shorter arm action early in camp as he hopes to move beyond his struggles from last summer. “It was something we worked on before Spring Training,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild. “He actually had done it with his curveball a lot. That made it a little bit easier to introduce.”
Nova, 26, looked very sharp in his Grapefruit League debut over the week, specifically because he was pounding the bottom of the zone (22 of 27 pitches were strikes). His improved strikeout and walk rates were very encouraging last year, but it seemed like every mistake pitch he made was clobbered for extra bases. That needs to be fixed. “New pitching mechanics” stories are on par with “best shape of his life” stories this time of year, so we’re going to need to see a lot more before we can declare Nova cured of whatever ailed him in the second half. This weekend’s performance was encouraging and it’s good to know there’s some work going on behind the scenes.
The Yankees reportedly operated with a very straight-forward approach this winter, tackling one priority at a time without deviating from their set path. It’s a very odd way for a baseball team to proceed with the offseason, but so be it. The top priority on New York’s winter agenda was the pitching staff, specifically re-signing their own veteran arms. They checked the first item off the list in mid-November, when Hiroki Kuroda turned down more lucrative offers to return to the club on a one-year, $15M deal.
“It was a good decision, but it was hard,” said Kuroda to Bryan Hoch about re-signing with the Yankees. “There were options that I had. There were offers from other teams, but I ended up making the decision to stay with the Yankees … I’m in that stage where I want to play for a team that I really love to play for, and hopefully when I retire, I’ll have time with my family.”
Kuroda, who turned 38 earlier this month, acknowledged the team’s veteran-laden clubhouse was “really appealing” and swayed his decision, saying “especially with the fact that there are players like (Andy Pettitte) and (Mariano Rivera), who are older than me, and who I can look up to … I absorb a lot from them.”
It’s not the first time we’ve heard about a player signing with the Yankees because of their veteran clubhouse, which in some ways is a market inefficiency the team is exploiting. Guys like Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, Pettitte, and Rivera are very well-respected veterans who other veterans want to play alongside. If that helps the Yankees sign these players to address a need on favorable contract terms, great. I’m not sure any other club can pull that off.
As we learned last summer, Kuroda is pretty much a perfect fit for the Yankees. He’s tough and savvy on the mound, and about as reliable a pitcher as you’ll find. He also comes off as a total pro, taking the blame for losses and crediting his teammates for wins. It’s easy and fun to root for someone like that, and it helped Kuroda fit right in as soon as he put on the pinstripes. “You know if a guy is cut out of the same mold as you are,” said Pettitte to Hoch. “We are.”
Because of the hit the offense took this winter, the Yankees are going to have to rely on their pitching staff more than any other point in the last ten years or so, specifically the veterans Sabathia, Kuroda, and Pettitte. Phil Hughes is already having back trouble and who knows what Ivan Nova and David Phelps can contribute, so it’s those three veterans Joe Girardi & Co. will lean on. Kuroda is coming off a career-high 35 starts and 235.2 innings (including playoffs), and it’s fair to worry about his ability to hold up at that age.
“You’re always a little bit concerned as they put a little bit of age on themselves, but right now he looks good to us,” said Girardi to Hoch. Kuroda ran into a wall of fatigue in early-September last year, so much so that he stopped throwing his regular between-starts bullpen sessions. He told Hoch that he’s adjusted his offseason training program in an effort to stay fresher late in the season and is working closely with strength and conditioning coach Dana Cavalea. Whether it actually works remains to be seen.
Pettitte has always given off this vibe that no matter how much the odds are stacked against him, he’ll figure out a way to get the job done. He’s human and doesn’t always come through, but he’s built up enough good will throughout the years and earned everyone’s confidence. Kuroda gives off a similar vibe, at least to me, which is why I’m confident he’ll overcome that workload to again be a very effective starter for the Yankees in 2013. It’s possible he won’t, but it definitely would surprise me.
Via Jack Curry: Joe Girardi confirmed that right-hander David Phelps will start the first game of the Grapefruit League schedule this Saturday. Adam Warren will start Sunday’s game against the Blue Jays, the first televised game of the spring. CC Sabathia will not make a start the first time through the rotation and I guess there’s a chance Phil Hughes won’t either thanks to his bout of back stiffness.