Game 30: All Wet

Future Yankee David Price signing autographs for his future fans between the rain drops. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It’s been another overcast and rainy day in New York, with on-and-off showers basically since the game ended last night. The forecast calls for thunderstorms all night, or rather some percent chance of thunderstorms all night. This morning it didn’t look like there was anyway they’d get the game in, but now there appears to be just enough of a window. I’d be okay will calling for the tarp after five innings if the Yankees have the lead, wouldn’t you? Here’s the starting nine…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Nick Swisher
DH Raul Ibanez
Russell Martin
LF Dewayne Wise

RHP David Phelps

Tonight’s game is scheduled to start a little after 7pm ET, but again it’s unclear if that will actually happen. The game will air on YES locally and ESPN nationally, however. Enjoy.

Mark Teixeira Update: Apparently Tex has been dealing with a lingering cough, but Chad Jennings and Erik Boland report that he saw a specialist today and was diagnosed with inflamed airways. He doesn’t have a virus and the inflammation should clear up on its own within two weeks. I didn’t even know he was sick.

Eric Chavez Update: Eric Chavez told Jennings that he feels 100% after suffering whiplash diving for a ball last week. He hopes to be activated off the 7-day DL when eligible tomorrow, but he has to wait for MLB to review his concussion test first.

Rivera has blood clot in right calf

We have finally learned the nature of Mariano’s complication, to which his agent cryptically referred yesterday. Via basically every beat writer, he has a blood clot in his right calf. He stayed overnight in the hospital to get it taken care of, and is on blood thinners currently. This doesn’t change much in the long run; it just pushes back his surgery date a bit.

In other news, Mo revealed that he was leaning towards coming back in 2013, even before the injury. So much for all his actions being those of a man set on retirement.

Mattingly on Yanks’ managerial position: “It was a blessing that I didn’t get that job”

(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

After parting ways with Joe Torre following the 2007 season, the Yankees interviewed just three serious candidates for their managerial opening: Joe Girardi, Tony Pena, and Don Mattingly. Girardi obviously got the job and Pena stayed with the team as his bench coach, but Mattingly left the organization to join Torre with the Dodgers. When Torre announced his retirement from managing at the end of 2010, his job was given to Mattingly.

For years it had been assumed that Donnie Baseball would one day take over as the Yankees’ manager. He was the team’s hitting coach from 2003-2006 and the bench coach in 2007, which was presumed to be his apprenticeship under Torre before taking the reigns himself one day. Instead, Mattingly is out in Los Angeles and calling the shots for a first place team in his second year on the job. As part of an interview for Barfly on FOX, he spoke to Mark Kriegel about not getting the managerial job in New York five years ago…

“It was a blessing that I didn’t get that job,” said Mattingly. “I was going through a rough time … trying to manage for the first time in New York … would have been absolutely miserable.”

A few days before the Yankees officially cut ties with Torre, it was reported that Mattingly told Hal and Hank Steinbrenner — who has just assumed control of the team from their father — that he was uncomfortable replacing his mentor. A few weeks later there was an incident involving Mattingly and his wife, which may or may not be the “rough time” he mentioned to Kriegel. Don and his first wife Kim divorced shortly thereafter and he’s since remarried.

Managing in New York is different than managing anywhere else, and I’m not talking about the on-field stuff. You and I don’t know anything about the clubhouse issues that arise during the course of the season, but we do know that the media scrutiny is intense. Mattingly knows all about that from a player’s perspective but it’s different as a manager. Given where the team was after 2007, I don’t believe a rookie skipper — even someone with as much local star power and support as Mattingly — would have been the best thing for the club.

That said, I can absolutely Donnie back in pinstripes one day. In fact, the idea of Mattingly replacing Girardi was first mentioned here more than three years ago. Girardi does a fine job with the team but I don’t see him as a super-long-term manager like Torre. He’s in the second year of a three-year contract, just like Mattingly with the Dodgers. I think it goes without saying that fans will love the idea of having Donnie back in pinstripes and I like that he’s cutting his managerial teeth elsewhere, especially in a big market with a strong club that boasts superstars, young pitchers, overpaid/underperforming veterans, the whole nine. The situation wasn’t right for either side after 2007, but there may be a time that the Yankees and Mattingly reunite, perhaps even sooner than we may think.

Brett Gardner & Deep Counts

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees have been without Brett Gardner for nearly three weeks now as a bone bruise and right elbow sprain have kept him on the sidelines. His defense in the outfield is very sorely missed and given the club’s recent offensive struggles, has bat has been missed as well. Gardner put together a .321/.424/.393 batting line (.384 wOBA) in 34 plate appearances before hitting the DL, a small sample-size performance that has been missing from the lineup nonetheless.

As you know, Gardner’s offensive game revolves around getting on base and using his legs. He owns a career .355 OBP with 137 steals in 165 chances, an 83% success rate that is well above the break-even point (68-70% these days). Gardner is never going to hit for power, but that’s alright as long as he does everything else expected of him. As far as number nine hitters go, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better one that the Yankees’ regular left fielder.

Now just because he gets on base at a strong clip, steals bases, and plays elite defense doesn’t mean Gardner is without his warts. He doesn’t hit for power like I said, he can be hesitant stealing bases at times, and he has an amazing knack for staring at pitches right down the middle for a called strike three. More than seven percent (7.2%, to be exact) of his career plate appearances have ended with a called strike three, well above the ~4.5% league average. Strikeouts come with the territory when you work counts like Gardner, but I’ve always felt he was a bit too passive and would often work the count just for the sake of working the count rather than trying to get on base.

Anyway, I bring this up because yesterday I was reading David Laurilia’s interview with Nick Johnson, the former Yankee and like Gardner, a noted worker of counts. Johnson has become something of a punchline given his injury problems, but the guy came into the season with a .401 OBP in over 3,100 career plate appearances, and that’s damn impressive. I highly recommend reading the entire interview, but this quote in particular caught my attention…

“Sometimes, when you’re seeing a lot of pitches, you can get too passive. I think there’s a fine line with that. But I like seeing pitches. The more pitches I see, the more comfortable I get throughout the at bat. I don’t mind hitting with two strikes.”

Johnson goes on to say that seeing more pitches allows him to pinpoint the pitcher’s release point, get an idea of how they want to pitch to him, stuff like that. There is a fine line though, and Gardner seems to  walk it more than anyone. He gets away with it in part because he’s one of the best in baseball at simply getting the bat on the ball. Since breaking into the league, Gardner has made contact on 94.8% of the swings he’s taken against pitches in the strike zone (18th best in baseball) and on 90.5% of his swings overall (14th). He may have a knack for staring at strike three, but opposing pitchers will tell you he also has a knack for fouling off pitches. That’s a pretty great skill to have given the type of player he is.

Johnson says he doesn’t mind hitting with two strikes and we don’t know of the same is true for Gardner, but you’d have to think he’s not afraid of those spots given how often he winds up in them, no? For what it’s worth, Brett is a .216/.300/.293 career hitter in two-strike counts. That sounds absolutely horrible, but the league as a whole hit .180/.247/.272 with two strikes last year. Gardner’s an above average hitter in two-strike counts and when you think about it, getting on base 30% of the time when you have just one strike to spare is pretty awesome.

The Yankees should get their regular left field back sometime this week — Gardner played in his first minor league rehab game last night — and he’ll increase the offense they get from the bottom of the lineup. I don’t think Brett is a great player by any stretch, but he’s definitely a very good player who derives almost all of his offensive value from working the pitcher and getting on base. There’s nothing more frustrating than taking strike three and that will continue to be one of Gardner’s biggest flaw, but it shouldn’t subtract from the things he does well. He’s a second leadoff hitter in the nine spot that makes works deep counts, fouls off the ton of pitches, and isn’t an auto-out with two strikes.

Must-click link: Reggie Jackson in No-Man’s Land

I never got to see Reggie Jackson play for the Yankees and frankly I don’t remember seeing him play for any team ever. Such is the curse of being a 1980s baby. Reggie is still with the team as a special assistant on what feels like an everyday basis, but the current version is a little more subdued than the Mr. October who played for 21 years.

I’m about ten days late on this, but it’s worth posting nonetheless. Alex Belth of Bronx Banter recently re-published Robert Ward’s celebrated “Reggie Jackson in No-Man’s Land” article from the June 1977 issue of Sport magazine, the first time the article has appeared online in its entirety. This is the infamous “I’m the straw that stirs the drink” article, and it’s absolutely amazing. It’s a pretty long read, but make sure you check it out.

Michael Pineda on his injury and return

Yesterday, for the first time in 2012, and the first time as a member of the New York Yankees, Michael Pineda entered Yankee Stadium. His father also visited the Stadium for the first time, and under different circumstances he’d have been excited to see his son don the pinstripes. But we all know that won’t happen for another 11 months at the earliest. Pineda recently underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum, and he has a long road to recovery.

WFAN’s Sweeny Murti took the opportunity to ask Pineda a few questions about his injury and future. The whole thing is worth a quick read, but here are a select few quotes to get you going.

On when he started feeling pain in his shoulder: “I think the first time (I felt something was) my last start in spring training. I tried to throw hard and I felt pain in my shoulder.” He could play catch fine, but said it started to hurt more when he started throwing hard again.

On his reduced velocity this spring: “I didn’t focus on my velocity. I focused a little more on my changeup. I was so excited because I had a great changeup and great slider and my fastball was 90-94…I can throw my 97 in the middle of the season.”

There are other tidbits, such as how he felt after his 2011 season, his outlook for 2012, and his feelings on his former team coming to town this weekend. Again, the whole thing is worth a quick read. Here’s to wishing him a strong rehab and speedy recovery.

The New Bullpen Era

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

For the first time in 15 years, the Yankees have someone other than Mariano Rivera closing the door in the ninth inning. The Sandman tore his right ACL shagging fly balls before last Thursday’s game, thrusting David Robertson into the closer’s role on a full-time basis. As we saw last night, things are going to be very different at the end of the game going forward.

As he usually does, Robertson created a bit of a mess against the Rays on Tuesday before striking his way out of the jam to secure the win. It’s what he does, make jams so he can pitch his way out of them. Unfortunately, that act is far less enjoyable in the ninth inning than at any other point of the game. If Robertson can’t wiggle his way out of trouble and a run(s) scores, the Yankees now have three outs to respond. That’s it. If he does the same in the eighth, they’ll have six outs to recover. Not much, but better than three. The margin for error is tiny.

This probably sounds stupid given how things turned out, but I thought last night’s game was a perfect example of why I believe that at the very least, Joe Girardi needs to be a little more flexible in the late innings. The Yankees were up two runs going into the eighth, but the top of the order was due up. That’s a pretty good spot to use Robertson given the degree of difficulty, allowing Soriano to finish the game against inferior hitters in the ninth. If the bottom of the order was due up in the eighth, then by all means go to Soriano. In a perfect world, you’d have Robertson pitch to the toughest batters.

Obviously pulling that off is much easier said than done. Pitchers do like knowing their specific role/inning and bouncing them around could have some negative impact. Might be a lot, might be negligible. Who knows. Girardi can play coy all he wants, but we know that Robertson will be his man in the ninth inning going forward. He’s certainly earned it and I’m not going to ding the manager for marrying relievers to specific innings when literally every other manager in baseball does it. This isn’t just a Girardi thing, but it will be more noticeable with Rivera on the shelf.

“What I think is Mo probably would have thrown 12 pitches, broke a bat and we would have been gone 20 minutes ago,” joked Robertson following last night’s game, though there is some truth there. We’ve been spoiled by Mariano’s stress (and walk) free ninth innings for a baseball lifetime, and we’re going to be in for a serious culture shock over these next six months or so. I have full confidence in Robertson doing the job, but he is going to test our patience and raise our blood pressure along the way. This is a new era of Yankees baseball, and to be quite honest, it makes me nervous.