Pettitte throws off mound for first time since fracturing leg

Via Meredith Marakovits and Marc Carig, left-hander Andy Pettitte threw 20 pitches off a mound today for the first time since having his left (push-off) leg fractured by a Casey Kotchman comebacker in late-June. He did not push-off at full strength, but he called it a “huge” step and felt fine afterwards. They’ll check back in with the doctor tomorrow and determine the next step.

Recent check-ups on Pettitte’s leg have been positive, and he’s been throwing off flat ground for a few weeks now. He’ll soon have to begin an “accelerated” program in order to rejoin the team in advance of a potential playoff series. The good news is that his arm is fine, but getting the legs back in shape will be a chore. Looking at the schedule, it appears that the absolute latest he could return to the team and still be able to make two regular season tune-up starts is September 27th.

Aldrich named 29th best prospect in Cape Cod League

Outfielder Daniel Aldrich was named the 29th best prospect in the prospect-heavy Cape Cod League by Baseball America yesterday (subs. req’d). The Yankees signed the 21-year-old redshirt sophomore out of the College of Charleston as an undrafted free agent for $150k earlier this month.

“His uppercut left-handed swing and all-out approach leads to some swings and misses, especially against breaking balls, but scouts love his power, bat speed and strong wrists … [he projects] as a right fielder with an average arm,” wrote the publication. Aldrich hit .350/.382/.658 with ten homers with wood bats on the Cape this summer and he’s twice participated in the College Homerun Derby, winning it last year. Here’s some video.

The RAB Radio Show: August 31st, 2012

Last week on the podcast Mike and I hoped the Yankees could take five of six from Cleveland and Toronto. They fell two short of that, all the more frustrating because all six were within reach. Now they gear up for the most important 10-game stretch of the season. We’re talking about last week, the September call-ups and healing players, plus really talking about the importance of this weekend’s series.

Podcast run time 38:12

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

[audio:http://riveraveblues.com/podcasts/TheRABRadioShow083112.mp3]

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

8/31-9/2 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

The calendar is about to flip over to September, and the Yankees are going to play a meaningful series against the Orioles this weekend. This is madness, I tell you. New York leads Baltimore by three games in the loss column, so this is the biggest series of the year to date. The Yankees have won six of eleven against this weekend’s opponent so far this season.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Orioles just took three of four from the White Sox in Camden Yards, including a 5-3 win yesterday that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. They outplayed the ChiSox massively. Baltimore has won five of their last six and they’re currently 72-58 with a -44 run differential. Fourth best record and third worst run differential in the league. Go figure.

Offense

(Rob Carr/Getty)

At 4.2 runs per game with a team 91 wRC+, the O’s are a slightly below league average offense. Their best player all season has been Adam Jones (125 wRC+), who set a career-high yesterday with his 26th homer. He also leads the team with a dozen steals, so this is the guy the Yankees can’t let beat them.

Nick Markakis (123 wRC+) has been thriving in the leadoff spot while J.J. Hardy (73 wRC+) has been one of the least productive everyday players in the game this year from the two-hole. Batting third these days is Pirates castoff Nate McLouth (68 wRC+ in limited time) ahead of Jones while Matt Wieters (97 wRC+) bats fifth behind him. The rest of the lineup is filled out by mostly platoon types, including Chris Davis (111 wRC+ vs. RHP), Mark Reynolds (117 wRC+ vs. LHP), and Lew Ford (159 wRC+ vs. LHP in very limited time).

Omar Quintanilla (91 wRC+) has already hurt the Yankees on more than one occasion (with more than one team) this season, and he’s taken over everyday second base duties with Brian Roberts hurt again. Hotshot prospect Manny Machado (95 wRC+) hit two homers in his second game as a big leaguers and hasn’t done anything since. Utility men Robert Andino (61 wRC+) and Ryan Flaherty (50 wRC+) join backup catcher Taylor Teagarden (31 wRC+) on the bench. It’s a flawed but effective offense, similar to what the Yankees employ these days.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Miguel Gonzalez
The 28-year-old Gonzalez shut the Yankees down for a few innings in his fifth big league starts a couple of weeks ago, but they rallied for a four runs late and he left the game after 6.2 innings. Gonzalez has pitched to a 3.66 ERA (4.94 FIP) in 66.1 innings this season, though his peripherals are underwhelming: 6.65 K/9 (17.6 K%), 3.39 BB/9 (9.0 BB%), and 33.3% grounders. He’s a low-90s fastball/mid-80s slider guy who will mix in the occasional low-80s changeup, so it’s pretty generic stuff. Hopefully the Yankees will make some adjustments after seeing him a few weeks ago and go to town.

Don’t call me Bruce. (Leon Halip/Getty)

Saturday: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen
The Yankees beat Chen in his first career big league start back in April, hanging four runs on him in 5.2 innings. He returned the favor with a 7 IP, 2 R outing a few weeks later. The 27-year-old Taiwanese-born southpaw has been rock solid this year, posting a 3.78 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 157 innings. His strikeout (7.45 K/9 and 19.6 K%) and walk (2.81 BB/9 and 7.4 BB%) rates are solid, though he is fly ball prone (38.5% grounders). Chen is primarily a three-pitch guy, using a low-90s four-seamer to setup his low-80s slider and changeup. He will throw a handful of loopy, low-70s curveball per start. Chen has no platoon split whatsoever and again, the Yankees need to build off what he showed them earlier this year.

Sunday: RHP David Phelps vs. RHP Chris Tillman
The Bombers have made a habit out of pounding Tillman in recent years, though he’s a different guy now. The 24-year-old has recovered from Missing Velocity Disease and owns a 3.26 ERA (4.08 FIP) in 58 innings since being recalled from Triple-A. Like Chen, the strikeout (7.29 K/9 and 19.3 K%) and walk (2.95 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%) rates are solid while the ground ball numbers (39.1%) could be better. The new version of Tillman — really the old version that just went missing for a few years — sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his four-seamer and cutter while also mixing in a low-80s changeup and an upper-70s curveball. The Yankees scored five runs in five innings off Tillman earlier this season, but he’s coming off seven one-hit innings against the high-power ChiSox.

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Bullpen Status
Left-hander Zach Britton gave manager Buck Showalter eight strong innings yesterday, but both setup man Pedro Strop (3.24 FIP) and closer Jim Johnson (3.39 FIP) had to work in a hectic ninth. The Baltimore bullpen is completely fresh otherwise, with no relievers coming off back-to-back appearances or anything crazy like that.

Behind (or is it ahead of?) Strop and Johnson are former Yankee Luis Ayala (3.89 FIP) and right-handed specialist Darren O’Day (2.87 FIP). Former starter Brian Matusz (5.01 FIP) is now working out of the bullpen and once Randy Wolf (4.74 FIP) is activated today, Showalter will have a pair of southpaws who can go multiple innings at his disposal. Kevin Gregg (4.78 FIP) and the surprisingly effective Steve Johnson (3.60 FIP) round out the relief corps. With rosters expanding tomorrow, expect the Orioles to add a few more bullpen arms for the weekend.

The Yankees had Thursday off, so their bullpen is pretty fresh. Both David Robertson and Rafael Soriano have had two straight days off after working in three straight, so they should be available all weekend. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for exactly usage details, and then check out Camden Crazies for the latest on the O’s.

Mailbag: A-Rod, Dice-K, Rule 5 Draft

I took it a little easy this week, so I only have three questions for you. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us mailbag questions or anything else.

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

Roy asks: Do you think that Alex Rodriguez will be so rusty as to be useless between now and the postseason? I expect that he will take a long time to be back in sync. Just a gut feeling.

Useless is a pretty strong word, but I am definitely concerned about his hand injury lingering and negatively impacting his production when he returns. I don’t just mean being rusty, but not having enough time to rebuild strength in the hand. It’s not at all uncommon for hand, finger, and wrist issues to linger like that even after the break is fully healed. If you can’t grip the bat properly, you’re not going to hit Major League pitching. It’s as simple as that.

For A-Rod, the concern is even greater since it’s his left (bottom) hand. The entire front arm — shoulder, wrist, hand, etc. — is where the power comes from, and that’s where the injury happened. What’s the old saying, the bottom hand is the car and the top hand is the driver? If the car isn’t working right, the driver is irrelevant. Rust and not seeing live pitching for a while is just a small part it. If A-Rod has lost too much strength in that hand during the downtime, he might be physically unable to drive the baseball with the authority when he comes back, at least initially. That’s what I’m worried about.

Chris asks: If the Yankees bring Hiroki Kuroda back next year do you think it would be worth it to try and bring in Dice-K for one year at say $4-6M? Scott Boras might want him to take a one-year show me deal and I think Kuroda might be able to get through to him.

Oh hell naw. He’s coming off the Tommy John surgery now so pretty much anything he does this year can be thrown right out the window as far as evaluating him going forward, but Daisuke Matsuzaka’s been around a while and we’re all well aware of what he is. He nibbles and avoids contact to the extreme despite having the stuff (at least pre-surgery) to challenge hitters, which results not just in walks, but also hitter’s counts. Those are the real problem, not so much all the ball fours.

Dice-K isn’t all that young anymore (32 next month) and even in his best years he was a low-4.00s FIP pitcher. He’s also been an extreme fly ball pitcher (career 36.2% grounders) and when you combine that with the walks (4.29 BB/9 and 11.00 BB%) and Yankee Stadium, you’re looking at a lot of multi-run homers. An NL team with a big park like the Dodgers, Giants, or even the Mets makes a ton more sense for Dice-K as a player, who needs to rebuild his value on a one-year deal. Staying in the AL East won’t do that, no matter how buddy-buddy he is with Kuroda. This one’s a definite no for me.

Travis asks: Who is Rule V eligible next offseason?

Marshall via Mike Ashmore.

The general rule of thumb is high schoolers drafted four years ago (2008) and college players drafted three years ago (2009). There are some exceptions, like Corban Joseph. He was a high schooler drafted in 2008 but had to be added last season because he was a little older than most kids when he graduated. Anyway, the big name this year is right-hander Brett Marshall. I’m not his biggest fan but he’s a no-brainer, you add that guy to the 40-man roster. If the Yankees leave him unprotected, he’d be a candidate to go first overall in December’s draft.

The rest of the drafted player crop is highlighted by right-handers Graham Stoneburner and Mikey O’Brien, though I don’t think the Yankees should protect either. I have a hard time believing both could stick on a big league 25-man roster all season. Adding Ryan Pope or Addison Maruszak to the 40-man would be a huge reach as well. Both are having nice years in Double-A but aren’t actual prospects. Fringe guys all the way.

It’s always tougher to tell which international free agent signees are eligible because their exact signing dates are unclear. I’m almost certain outfielder Abe Almonte is Rule 5 eligible this winter and I’m really on the fence about him. He’s been solid in Double-A while batting injury (.353 wOBA) and is a speedy, leadoff type of center fielder. Utility man Jose Pirela may be eligible as well, but I’d have no problem leaving him unprotected. He had a solid year in Double-A overall (.365 wOBA), but he was repeating the level and it was basically just a great first half.

Ultimately, I think the Yankees should only protect Marshall this offseason (among the player that I know are Rule 5 eligible). Almonte, Pirela, O’Brien, and Stoneburner may be capable of helping the Yankees down the line, but they’re unlikely to next season. There are already too many players like that on the 40-man. Sometimes the best way to keep a player is leave them unprotected like Ivan Nova in 2008. He wasn’t big league ready so it was inevitable that he was coming back. Those four are in the exact same boat for me.

Update: Left-hander Nik Turley is the obvious one I missed. He’s Rule 5 eligible as well. Turley’s had a great season (3.36 FIP in High-A) but I think he’s in the exact same situation as Nova a few years ago. Solid pitching prospect but not ready to stick on a big league roster all season. I wouldn’t protect him but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees did.

Maine leads Empire State to division title

Congrats to Double-A Trenton manager Tony Franklin, who was named the Double-A Eastern League Manager of the Year today. The Thunder have the second best record in the circuit this season and are on the verge of clinching their fifth division titles in the last seven years. Earlier this week, Triple-A Empire State manager Dave Miley received the same honors in the International League.

Also, make sure you check out Mike Ashmore’s and Josh Norris’ latest chat with BP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman. He spoke briefly about the Arizona Fall League and RHP Dellin Betances‘ injury. Also check out Ashmore’s chat with Brian Cashman following today’s PDC extension announcement.

Triple-A Empire State (5-0 win over Lehigh Valley) the wins clinches the division title despite playing what amounts to nothing but road games this season, so a big congrats to them … looks like they partied hard too
3B Kevin Russo & DH Ronnie Mustelier: both 2-4, 1 R — Russo tripled and struck out … Mustelier hit a solo homer
1B Kosuke Fukudome: 1-4, 1 K
SS Eduardo Nunez & C Austin Romine: both 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR — Nunez hit a two-run shot, Romine’s was solo
RF Cole Garner: 1-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI
CF Melky Mesa: 0-3, 1 K
LF Darnell McDonald: 1-3, 1 K — got picked off first
2B Ramiro Pena: 0-2, 1 BB
RHP John Maine: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 8/4 GB/FB — 65 of 96 pitches were strikes (68%) … pretty ironic that the Mets invoked their territorial rights to prevent the team from playing in Newark this year, then Maine was the guy to pitch them to the division title
RHP Cory Wade: 1 IP, zeroes, 1/0 GB/FB — nine pitches, six strikes … final appearance before coming up when rosters expand on Saturday?
RHP Ryota Igarashi: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — seven of 11 pitches were strikes … between him now and RHP Kevin Whelan earlier in the year, they’ve had a dominant closer all season

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