After a 10-8 run through the National League — a run which, everyone must agree, could have and should have gone much better — the Yankees return home to get reacquainted with the American League, a/k/a the league with better teams. Surprisingly, there’s rain in the New York area. Boy, do we need it.
On the hill for the Seattle Mariners tonight is 24-year-old right-hander Brandon Morrow. He was the fifth pick of the 2006 draft, and the Mariners selected him ahead of hometown hero Tim Lincecum. While Morrow has considerable upside, there’s no doubt the team is kicking itself for that one.
Earlier this year, Morrow upset die-hard M’s fans by voluntarily moving to the bullpen. This was, both he and the team claimed, partly in order to better manage his Type 1 diabetes, with which he was diagnosed his senior year in high school. The Mariners moved Morrow into the closer’s role, where they believed he’d thrive.
The experiment started off well in general, though Morrow allowed three runs in his first appearance (0.2 IP). From there he tossed six innings of two-hit ball, allowing no runs. He then hit the DL on May 2, retroactive to April 24, with tendinitis in his right biceps. He returned on May 10, picking up his sixth save of the season despite allowing a run in the ninth. However, in his next two appearances he blew saves, both resulting in walk-off losses. Manager Don Wakamatsu removed him as closer the next day.
Morrow worked out of the bullpen after that, pitching mostly two-inning stints. He had his own degrees of successes and failures, but wasn’t remarkable in any way. This led Morrow to change his mind — he wanted another shot in the rotation. The Mariners planned to option him to AAA so he could stretch out, but an injury to Erik Bedard changed plans. Like the Yankees did with Joba Chamberlain, Morrow’s counterpart tonight, the Mariners put Morrow in the rotation with a pitch count. He worked up to five innings and 87 pitches last time out, allowing three runs to the San Diego Padres.
Yankees fans might remember Morrow from his first major league start last September, in which he held the team to one hit over 7.1 innings. He stumbled a bit after that, allowing six runs to both the Royals and A’s before season’s end. The Yanks will have a chance for payback tonight.
On the other end is Joba Chamberlain, a fellow 2006 draftee. Joba bookends the month, having started on the first against Cleveland. That was surely a game to remember. The Yanks could use another one of them tonight. He’s averaged a hair over six innings per start this month, which is okay but still not what they want to see out of Joba. A good sign: he walked none over 6.1 innings last time against the Braves. Keeping the walks down will be a big part of Joba’s development.
And on the mound, number sixty-two, Joba Chamberlain.
Rain, rain: It’s raining. We’ll see when this one starts.
By Joe: No topic divides a fanbase quite like the debate over the franchise’s current manager. It takes some serious string of winning, a la Joe Torre in the late 90s, for a manager to get near universal approval. Joe Girardi has not come close to achieving that. Fans take issue with him for some reason or another; some legitimate, some a bit less than. Gary Armida, formerly of the excellent FullCountPitch.com and now writing for NY Baseball Digest, takes a look at the situation. He’s not a fan, so he’s a bit more detached. The conclusion is mostly positive, though Armida is not hesitant to point out the skipper’s flaws. His best line: “It’s time to let go of the Torre era and realize that there is a manager in place who has grown from mistakes and isn’t afraid to try new things.” As with most things Armida, I suggest a full read.
By Ben: With just 54 hours and 30 minutes left until All Star voting closes, Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis are locked in a close battle. While last week Teixeira had the lead, this week, the Red Sox’s first baseman — who actually manned third for the past week — has a slim 40,000-vote lead. To get Teixeira to St. Louis, Yankee fans will have to vote their requisite 25 times a day between now and Thursday night. Voting is here. Vote also for Ian Kinsler too. He leads Dustin Pedroia by 7000 votes. Unseating an undeserved Josh Hamilton would be a-OK with me too. · (38) ·
I can’t imagine the New York Yankees without Mariano Rivera for the last 15 seasons. Since he came up as a 25-year-old and wowed the crowd during the 1995 ALCS, he has always been there. In 1996, he helped shorten the games, and in 1997, he closed them. Five hundred saves later, he’s still going strong.
But what if? What if the Yankees had traded Mariano in 1995? Don’t laugh; it almost happened.
Today, as part of the Week of Rivera coverage in the New York papers, John Harper of the Daily News checked in with current Yankee adviser and one-time GM Gene Michael. The Stick was heading up the Yankee Front Office when Rivera first made his Bronx debut, and Michael reminisced about the time he almost traded Mo. Harper writes:
Michael had his own ‘What if?’ moment a few years later, in 1995, when he considered trading Rivera to the Tigers for David Wells. At the time Rivera was still trying to make it as a starter, still throwing in the low 90s, and when Michael asked the Tigers what they would want in a deal for Wells, Rivera was one of the names they put on a list.
“I never said yes,” Michael said with a chuckle Monday. “And right about that time, Mariano’s velocity in the minors jumped to 95-96. I didn’t believe it when I saw our report, but I checked it out with scouts from other teams who were there, and it was true. At that point there was no way I was trading him.”
As Gene says, after Rivera’s velocity jumped, there was no way he would trade him, but that would not be the end of the Mariano Rivera trade rumors. In the hunt for some confirmation from 1995, I stumbled across a Hot Stove article from December of that season. The Yanks had wanted to acquire Wells for the 1996 season, and while he landed in Baltimore following a stint in Cincinnati, the Bombers came close. Murray Chass reported then:
The Yankees, who last Thursday beat Baltimore to David Cone, wanted Wells for their rotation, but a weekend bid by George Steinbrenner fell short. Given this latest turn of events, the Yankees may feel compelled to become serious about signing one of two free-agent left-handers, Kenny Rogers or Chuck Finley.
[GM Bob] Watson acknowledged that he and Gene Michael, his predecessor, who remains active in personnel matters, had spoken with the Reds, most recently the middle of last week. “The asking price was too high,” he said. “They wanted two of our top minor leaguers. That’s why we backed off. We couldn’t do that.”
Jim Bowden, the Reds’ general manager, declined to discuss the Yankees’ involvement, but an official familiar with the Wells talks said Steinbrenner called Bowden Saturday night and offered pitcher Mariano Rivera and catcher Jorge Posada.
Bowden, looking to cut his payroll, obviously decided he preferred [Curtis] Goodwin, a 23-year-old left-handed hitter, who in 87 games with the Orioles last season batted .263 and had 22 stolen bases in 26 attempts.
Curtis Goodwin would go on to become a very forgettable baseball player with a career OPS of .609. The story, meanwhile, begs a question: Do we believe Watson on the record or Chass’ anonymous sources? The Yankees’ baseball people didn’t want to trade Jorge and Mo while George was reportedly willing to offer them up for David Wells, a player he had long coveted. Considering the year, I wouldn’t be surprised if Steinbrenner was a hair’s breadth away from sending Posada and Rivera to Cincinnati.
As we reflect on the Hall of Fame career of Rivera, we should appreciate it for happening in the Bronx. Imagine how different life would have been with Rivera in a Reds or Tigers uniform for the last 14 seasons.
When it comes to rooting interests, New Yorkers can be a fickle bunch. “Which team is doing better?” many will ask before picking a favorite. While the Yankees currently rule the New York roost, it wasn’t always this way.
In the mid-to-late 1980s, this town was a Mets town. While the Yankees were unlovable also-rans, the Mets were lovable winners. The 1986 captured the hearts and minds of New Yorkers, and even Yankee fans could cheer over a Bill Buckner error and a Met victory over the Red Sox. Howard Johnson, Mookie Wilson, Darryl and Dwight, Lenny and Keith all ruled the city.
By the time the early 1990s rolled around, both teams were rather directionless. The 1991 Yankees finished in 7th, 71-91, 20 games out of first place. The 1993 Mets were even worse. They finished 59-103, their worst finish since 1965.
As the mid-1990s rolled on, the Yankees turned in one of baseball’s truly historic runs. They captured four World Series in five years, and the last came at the expense of the Mets in the first Queens-Bronx Subway Series. In 1997, the Yankees and Mets started to face each other during the regular season too, and those games have also served as something of a barometer of New York success.
For the first few years of Interleague Play, the Yankees dominated. They took two out of three from the Mets in both 1997 and 1998 before splitting the first six-game set in 1999. The Bombers took four out of six in both 2000 and 2001 before another split in 2002. In 2003, the Yankees swept all six games. In 2004, the Mets finally won the season series. Three straight splits followed that, and then last year, the Mets again won four of the six contests.
This year, though, saw the Yankees totally dominate the Mets. It was the first year that either team won five games, and outside of the 2003 sweep, this season marks the Yanks’ best Subway Series showing. While the Mets and Fernando Nieve managed one victory, the series wasn’t that close.
Offensively, the Yankees crushed a depleted Mets team. The Bombers hit .271/.378/.514 with 44 runs scored an 11 HR. In 249 plate appearances, they drew 34 walks and struck out just 29 times. Teams that walk more often than they strike out don’t lose. The Mets, meanwhile, hit .196/.291/.299 with just 17 runs scored — eight of those in the first game of the series — and just four home runs. They struck out 53 times in 222 plate appearances and walked just 23 times.
The pitching numbers stack up similarly. Yankee pitchers threw to the tune of a 2.83 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP; Mets hurlers allowed 6.84 earned runs a game and sported an ugly 1.74 WHIP. Ironically, Johan Santana’s effort in a game two weeks ago at Yankee Stadium was the worst of the series. His nine earned runs in three innings pretty much set the tone for the series.
I don’t like to gloat too much about baseball games in season. It’s bad karma, and it’s unsportsmanlike. After this weekend, though, Yankee fans are feeling pretty good about their team. In a city with two new stadiums, in a city with baseball fever as one team struggles with injuries and a poorly-constructed roster and the other battles a tough division, in a city in which both teams are within spitting distant of first place, it’s good to be king, even if just for a few months.
Will Carroll tweets that the Yanks have acquired Eric Hinske from the Pirates. Joel Sherman says that the Pirates will receive minor leaguers Casey Erickson and Eric Fryer. Mark Feinsand says that Hinske will be in uniform tonight.
Hinske, 31, hit .255-.373-.368 with the Bucs while playing first, third and rightfield. With a career .803 OPS against righthanded pitchers, he gives the Yanks’ bench a little bit a thump from the left side. He signed a one year, $1.5M contract with the Pirates last winter, and Sherman says the Pirates are sending over $400,000 to cover approximately half of what he’s owed the rest of the year. Since Hinske can handle the four corner spots, the team will option Ramiro Pena to Triple-A Scranton so he can get regular playing time, as well as get some reps in the outfield. Cody Ransom becomes the defacto backup middle infielder.
Erickson, 23, had a 2.25 ERA mostly as a reliever with Low-A Charleston this year. Fryer, also 23, hit .250-.333-.344 with High-A Tampa, playing mostly left field. The Yankees originally acquired him for Chase Wright back in February.
In their neverending pursuit of talent, the Yankees have purchased third baseman Yurendell DeCaster from the Fargo-Morehead Red Hawks of the independent Northern League. The amount they paid for him isn’t known, but they’ve assigned him to Triple-A Scranton, who currently lacks an everyday third basemen since Justin Leone is out with a hamstring issue. If you’re like me and the name sounds familiar but you can’t remember where you heard it, it’s probably because he played for the Netherlands in the latest installment of the World Baseball Classic.
DeCaster was the best player in the Northern League this year, leading the league in hits (54), doubles (14), homeruns (13), RBI (43) and SLG (.682). He also hit for average (.344) and drew his fair share of walks (.401 OBP). Red Hawks manager Doug Simunic said DeCaster was the best player to come through the league in a long time. He spent 2008 in the Nationals system, hitting .262-.344-.445 in 104 games, mostly in Triple-A. Still just 29 years old, DeCaster made a cameo with the Pirates in 2006 for his only big league action, fashioning a shiny -100 OPS by striking out in his only two plate appearances.
With experience all over the field, including time at first, second, third, and the corner outfield spots, perhaps DeCaster carves out a nice career as a bench player/right-handed hitting half of a platoon. Mo knows the Yankees could use a guy like that right now. Obviously you don’t expect the guy to continue hitting like he had at the Triple-A level, but you never know. Maybe he’s just a late bloomer, Nelson Cruz style.
Having landed Edwar Ramirez, Scott Patterson and several others out of the independent leagues in recent years, it’s nice to see the team continue to look for talent in non-traditional sources.
On April 26, 2007, the Yankees found themselves without a starting pitcher, and so a few months — or possibly a year — ahead of schedule, they handed the ball over to a 20-year-old right-hander named Phil Hughes. A few months later, on August 7, 2007, they again found themselves short a pitcher. This time, the team needed a reliever, and they found one in a young flamethrowing starter nearing his innings limit named Joba Chamberlain.
Over the course of the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Joba’s and Phil’s paths diverged. Almost immediately, Joba established himself as someone who could thrive in a high-pressure situation on the big stage. The brash kid from Nebraska emerged as a dominant set-up man, faltering only when a swarm of bugs attacked him. When the Yanks, amidst much criticism, moved him back to his natural spot in the starting rotation, he still thrived. Armed with the confidence he built up in the pen, he has emerged, at 23, as a kid on the way to Major League stardom.
Hughes, on the other hand, saw his fortunes follow a different path. His first start was nothing spectacular, and he couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning against the Blue Jays. Five days later though, he was dealing. Through 6.1 innings, he was no-hitting the Rangers in Texas when his hamstring popped.
For much of the next 18 months, Hughes would deal with the fallout from this injury. He came back by the end of the year but seemed tentative on the mound. He didn’t want to land too hard on his front leg or overstride again. In 2008, given a spot in the starting rotation, he couldn’t hold it. He went 0-4 and landed on the DL for much of the year with a mechanics-induced stress fracture in one of his ribs.
While he was still just 22 when the 2008 season ended, scouts and talent evaluators wondered if Hughes was destined to be a — I shudder to type it — bust. He was 5-7 with a 5.15 ERA in 21 starts spanning 106.1 innings. He wasn’t giving the team depth or getting outs.
When the Yanks called upon Hughes this year, the results looked disappointingly similar to his 2008 effort at first. He got shelled in Baltimore, and Yankee fans were wondering what the hype was about. But Hughes took his bad outing in stride. In four starts after it, before ceding his spot to Chien-Ming Wang, he went 2-0 with a 3.91 ERA in 23 innings. Even better were his 23 strike outs and seven walks over that span. This was the first sign of the Hughes we had expected.
When Wang returned, the Yankees pulled a reverse Joba on Hughes. They knew he could contribute at the Major League level, and they knew they would need someone to step in if or when Wang proved to be ineffective. Phil Hughes in the pen though has been a revelation. He has thrown 12 innings with a 1.50 ERA. He has given up just two runs on five hits and three walks while striking out 15. He has flashed that mid-to-upper 90s fastball we had heard about but never seen before. He was throwing with renewed confidence and ability, and he is not shy about admitting it.
Of course, as New York is the unnecessary debate capital of the world, the voices grew loud. “Let’s keep Phil Hughes in the pen,” they screamed. “He can be the bridge to Mariano.” The Yankees would have none of it. As Bryan Hoch noted in his Monday mailbag, the Yanks have tried to shut down this faux-debate before it grows too loud. “Anybody who is a good starter is going to be a hell of a setup guy, I promise you. Anybody who has a plus fastball and a plus secondary pitch would make a great setup guy or closer, in theory. But it’s not the same,” Brian Cashman said. It’s not the same because starting pitching is far more valuable than relief pitching.
Young pitchers can be certainly be used effectively in the pen. Joba was able to contribute at the big league level while facing an innings cap in 2007. He got to know the competition and Major League life. For Phil, the pen has restored his spot atop the Yankee pitching prospect pecking order. He struggled in the early going, as young 20-somethings are wont to do, but he has learned this year that he can succeed as a starter and let loose as a reliever. As baseball psychology goes, this move has worked wonders so far for a pitcher on whom the Yankees are counting in the near future.
That is what it’s about. The Yanks are no B-Jobbers or B-Hughesers, pushing for a permanent move to the pen. Rather, there is a team with a plan learning how, after years of producing nothing out of the farm, to develop a young pitcher who has mastered the minors but not yet gotten a handle on the majors. While 12 innings is of course a small sample, we are watching Phil Hughes arrive, and it looks good.
Just a quick reminder for those just getting to work who didn’t catch the word last night: This morning at 11 a.m. the guys behind the Save the Yankee Gate 2 movement are going to appear on Mark Healey’s Baseball Digest Live, a weekly Internet radio show that broadcasts out of Foley’s in Manhattan. Click here for info on the show, and check out my post about the movement. A few RABers are going to meet for lunch at Foley’s at noon. We’ll check out the show and meet the Save the Gate 2 guys. Look for me at noon inside Foley’s by the front of the bar. Foley’s is at 18 W. 33rd St. between 5th and 6th Aves. · (4) ·
With Xavier Nady out for the rest of the season, the Yankees’ roster picture has become clearer. Whereas before they were awaiting the return of a player who would add depth, now they know that player is not coming. The Yankees have a number of options moving forward, both for the immediate future and in preparation for the July 31st trade deadline.
Starting in the present, PeteAbe reports that Jose Molina will return in about a week. The Yankees could do one of three things:
- Carry three catchers and option Ramiro Pena to Scranton
- Option Cervelli to Scranton
- DFA Jose Molina
Let’s rule out the third option, since it’s not at all likely. If they release Molina and Posada gets hurt, they’d be stuck with Cervelli and Cash instead of Cervelli and Molina. The latter is preferable. Cervelli isn’t that much better than Molina, anyway — if he’s better at all, which at this point I’m not about to declare.
Carrying three catchers would mean Jorge Posada is the de facto DH. Pete says that Jorge isn’t “going to be the DH because the Yankees aren’t releasing or trading Hideki Matsui.” Yet this scenario would allow them to start one of Cervelli and Molina, use Matsui as a pinch hitter, and then substitute the other, with Posada still available as an emergency. It’s certainly not the most efficient use of roster space. This option is also unlikely, unless the Yankees are more concerned about Jorge’s health than they let on.
This leaves optioning Cervelli to Scranton. By all appearances, this is what will happen. He’ll get regular reps at AAA in preparation of taking over for Molina in 2010. Meanwhile, he serves as an insurance policy in case either Molina or Posada go down again. Yes, it’s nice to have him around, and I can see why everyone is high on him, but let’s not let his personality overshadow his ability. Right now, there’s no harm in having him in AAA.
Pete also brings up another notion: option both Cervelli and Pena, and opt to bring up a better bat off the bench. Once Molina returns, the bench will be him, Cody Ransom, Gardner/Cabrera, and Ramiro Pena. There’s not exactly a bopper in there. True, Pena can serve as a late-inning pinch-runner, especially if Gardner starts. Pete suggests recalling Shelley Duncan or John Rodriguez. I’m not so sure.
Over whom in the starting lineup would Shelley Duncan be an upgrade? In other words, for whom would he pinch-hit? Maybe Gardner or Carbera, but even that’s debatable. The league seemingly figured out Shelley after 32 plate appearances — he started his career .321/.406/.857 in 32 PA and finished the season with a .217/.280/.370 run in 51 PA, plus his .175/.262/.281 in 65 PA last year. In theory it would be nice to have Shelley Duncan on the bench — if Shelley Duncan would actually represent an upgrade. Maybe he can provide a short-term burst of production, but he’s not someone who should be on the roster August 31.
As it stands, the Yankees might just be better off keeping both Cody Ransom and Ramiro Pena on the bench. Pena can play multiple positions and has some wheels. Ransom also plays many positions. They have four outfielders, and Matsui in an emergency situation. Since they don’t have someone on the farm who can provide an upgrade in a pinch-hitting situation, it’s tough to call on such a move. Again, since the team has some flexibility with Pena they could give it a shot, but they shouldn’t expect much from either Shelley or J-Rod.
This leads to the longer-term lookout, i.e., the rest of the season. Could the Yanks pull a trade for an outfield bat? Someone who could, perhaps, provide a platoon partner for Matsui against tough lefties and buy some days or half-days off for the other outfielders? Perhaps. Steve Lombardi wants a more consistent alternative to Nick Swisher. Says he:
Don’t get me wrong. I know that Swisher works counts and gets walks. And, when he’s hot, Swisher can hit the ball out of the park. But, when he’s cold, he’s beyond ice cold. And, at times, Swisher takes some curious routes on fly balls. Basically, when he’s bad, the Swish Hawk is “T-Long Like.”
While I’m an unabashed Swisher fan, I’m not going to stick my fingers in my ears and ignore his shortcomings. He does have some pretty bad cold streaks, and it would be nice to have someone to give him some time off during them. What’s that worth, though? Can the Yankees get the import (because the answer is not in the system currently) at a reasonable enough price? Can they get him enough playing time to justify the price? Those questions will be clearer as the Xs mount in July and we get closer to the 31st.
For right now, the Yanks can afford to stand pat. There is no pressing need to make a roster move. If the Yankees want to give it a whirl with Shelley or J-Rod, they can do so with minimal risk. If they want to keep things how they are and have two multi-position players, one who can run, on the bench, they can do that. It just goes to show that when you have a solid starting nine, a bench becomes far less important.
Game 1 (5-0 win over Rochester in 7 innings) make up of an April 20th rain out
Kevin Russo, Austin Jackson, Colin Curtis, Eric Duncan & Chris Stewart: all 1 for 3 – Jackson doubled, scored a run & K’ed … E-Dunc hit a three run bomb & K’ed
Shelley Duncan: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
Juan Miranda: 1 for 2, 1 R
Ivan Nova: 5.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 7-5 GB/FB – 56 of 90 pitches were strikes (62.2%) … lost the no-hitter with two outs in the sixth on a line drive off the shortstop’s glove … he’s been getting better and better with each start for about two months now
Jon Albaladejo: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 3-0 GB/FB – 16 of 21 pitches were strikes (76.2%)