Still no update on Phil Hughes

Via Chad Jennings and Mark Feinsand, the Yankees still don’t have an update on the status of Phil Hughes, who underwent five more hours of medical examination today. They did some blood work and a dye-contrast MRI. The doctor(s) will be in the house later on tonight, and it’s possible they’ll know more then. Jon Heyman said Hughes used words like “tightness,” “soreness,” and “shooting” to describe what he’s feeling in arm. It’s not pain, but the soreness is “lingering.” I’m not a doctor, though I do play one on the internet, and that doesn’t sound good.

At Long Last: New RAB Merchandise

Can you believe it’s been three-and-a-half years since the Save The Big Three shirts? Good times, though I don’t even wear mine anymore. The vendor was used wasn’t great and those things shrunk like you wouldn’t believe. It was the thought that counted anyway.

Today I’m happy to (finally) announce that we’re getting back into the merchandise game, though it’s not just t-shirts anymore. Now you can get hoodies, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, all sorts of stuff at the River Ave. Blues Shop. And if you do just want a t-shirt, you can now customize the colors and what not, which is always cool. The prices are reasonable and in the interest of full disclosure, yes we do get a cut of the sales, though not all of it. I wish.

We have the one design above with the street sign logo and what not, plu this numbers design courtesy of Tyler Wilkinson. He also designed our podcast logo, and will be providing us with more in the future. We just launched the shop today, so the selection is limited for the time being.

Update: If you’re having trouble with your shopping cart (as in, it’s empty even though it shouldn’t be), just clear the cache and cookies within your browser and you’ll be good to go.

Righting the Soriano ship

Bad Soriano. Bad. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Rafael Soriano is not this bad. He has shown in his nearly 400 innings prior to signing with the Yankees that he is, indeed, an elite relief pitcher. At his best he can blow pitches by batters while avoiding dreaded walks and home runs. That’s the guy the Yankees inked to a multi-year deal last winter. The guy who has showed up has been a cheap facsimile, a carbon copy that has cost the Yanks games and caused the fans much agita. But this isn’t the real Rafael Soriano. Once the Yankees get him right, things will go much smoother.

Exactly what’s wrong right now is anyone’s guess. We know the symptoms: hanging sliders, fastballs that catch too much of the plate, a general inability to throw quality strikes — and sometimes the inability to throw strikes at all. He has faced 50 batters this season, but has retired just 31 of them, and of those only seven on the strikeout. The rest have reached base either via the hit, 12, or the walk, eight. That’s all fine and good, but we all see that. If the symptoms aren’t immediately apparent when watching him, they sure as hell are on the stat sheet. What we don’t know is the cause.

Of course, searching for the cause can lead us down false paths. The easy path is the old narrative that closers struggle when they’re not in save situations. With Soriano that’s pretty ridiculous, since he wasn’t a full-time closer until last season. In fact, in 2009 he split time between setting up and closing, and he produced a marvelous season. It was, in some ways, better than his year in the closer’s role with the Rays. Before that he was purely a setup man, recording single digit saves in every season of his career prior to 2009. Unless he completely forgot how to pitch in non-save situations during the course of a single year, the idea that he’s struggling because of his role is ridiculous.

It could be just a matter of time before Soriano comes around. After displaying some lower fastball speeds earlier in the year, he was dealing last night, averaging almost 95 mph with his four-seamer and 94 mph with his cutter. His slider speed also appears back up to par. It will only be a matter of time, then, before he returns to form and starts shutting down opponents. Unfortunately, that requires patience. At this point, patience is understandably thin among the fans. We’ll just have to suck up it for a bit longer. But sooner, not later, we will see the Soriano that dominated in 2009 and 2010.

Really, though, it doesn’t matter what we think. We’re just the spectators. The guys involved know that patience is the only cure to whatever ails Soriano. “I still believe he’s going to be very, very good for us and he’s going to play a huge role for us,” Joe Girardi said after the game. Translation: there are no plans to shy away from him in the eighth inning of close games. Maybe that’s a mistake; maybe backing off a bit and using him in lower leverage situations would be for the best. But it’s hard to right the ship if he’s not pitching at all. At least in the eighth he starts with a clean slate. That is, when there are tough situations, Soriano is not the guy. That helps mitigate matters, if only a little bit.

Chances are we will not see Soriano tonight. He sat out the weekend with a bad back and then pitched on consecutive nights. In fact, we might not see him until Sunday, if his words carry any weight. “I’ll come back next month and see what happens,” he told reporters after the game.

Soriano has a long way to go in redeeming himself with the fan base. Normally great performances make people forget about the past, but Soriano’s past now includes two squandered games. It’s hard to forget those, since they’re forever etched in the loss column. Have faith, though, that he’ll return to form soon enough. He’s just too good a pitcher when healthy to go through more than a short stretch in this manner.

The RAB Radio Show: April 27, 2011

In losses, everything gets amplified. There are plenty of things we wouldn’t even be talking about now if the Yankees had pulled off the comeback last night. But they didn’t, so we gripe about certain moments in the game. If you’re not a fan of giving away one of your three remaining outs, this podcast is for you.

Podcast run time 23:24

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

Prospect Stock Poll: Shaeffer Hall

(Photo Credit: Mike Ashmore)

It’s easy to lose track of all the quality pitching prospects the Yankees have in their farm system, especially at the upper level. One guy seemingly flying under the radar is left-hander Shaeffer Hall, part of the club’s 2009 draft class. Hall, 23, is currently doing a fine job of holding down a rotation spot for Double-A Trenton after splitting last season between Low-A Charleston (2.61 FIP, 57% grounders in 68 IP) and High-A Tampa (3.30 FIP, 49% grounder in 69 IP). The performance is definitely there, no doubt about it, but the issue here is that the stuff doesn’t match up, which is often the case with these late round guys.

Hall came out of Kansas as a 25th round pick in ’09 with command of three pitches: a mid-to-upper 80’s fastball, a good changeup, and a slurvy breaking ball. His college coach, Ritch Price, went so far as to compare him to Jamie Moyer for his ability to pitch will less than knock-out stuff, and it’s usually not good when someone is drawing those kinds of comparisons before his 25th birthday. But still, Hall’s a strike thrower and he’s left-handed, a combination that will earn him plenty of chances to show he can contribute at the big league level.

There’s a chance that Hall could cut it as a back-end starter in the lesser league, but his most likely role on a contending team in the AL East is a situational lefty out of the bullpen. Since his best pitch is a changeup (historically used to combat batters of the opposite hand), he doesn’t exactly fit the profile though. Without a clear long-term role or the skill set to force anyone’s hand, Hall is right on the edge where quality prospect meets fringy player.

Slap a grade on Hall as a prospect.
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Laying last night’s blame on a familiar figure

Watching the ninth inning unfold from the cozy confines of Section 420B last night was a surreal experience. Still smarting from Rafael Soriano‘s sub-par pitching, we watched Derek Jeter eke out a base hit, and the stadium turned alive. When Curtis Granderson, the team’s leading home run hitter, bunted, we all groaned, and after walks and pitching changes, Brent Lillibridge single-handedly saved the game for the White Sox twice.

After Lillibridge’s lucky diving catch of what I first assumed to be a game-winning double off the bat of Robinson Cano, I sat in my seat in stunned silence. For a regular season game in April, I was annoyed. No, I was mad. I was mad at Soriano for blowing yet another game in April for the Yanks. I was mad at Lillibridge, a guy who barely looks like he needs to shave, for making two great catches, and I was mad at the Yanks’ offense, suddenly quiet, for putting up no fight against Gavin Floyd and the White Sox.

As we all tend to do so in a one-run game lost on a dime, I wanted to blame someone. Rafael Soriano, of course, seemed like the natural scapegoat. Entrusted as the high-leverage Bridge to Mariano, Soriano needed to get three outs. The first one was a strike out, and it all unraveled from there. He hit Carlos Quentin, and then he gave up the world’s most obvious “here it comes” home run to Paul Konerko. Goat, I thought.

But it wasn’t just the home run that caused the Yanks to lose. After the ninth inning, Soriano still seemed to be the perfect scapegoat. Had he not hit Carlos Quentin, the White Sox would likely not have used Brent Lillibridge as a pinch runner, and Lillibridge, a middle infielder by trade, would not have been in a position to make those catches. With the fallacy of the predetermined outcome firmly in mind, I don’t think Quentin makes the catch one both of those bullets that should have won the game. Again, Soriano’s fault with a side of Lillibridge to blame. (But who can really blame someone for making those catches? Once the emotion settles, just tip your cap.)

So who was this Lillibridge punk that ruined what should have been a perfect inning capped with a Yankee comeback? He’s a 27-year-old middle infielder with a career 51 OPS+ in 317 plate appearances spanning part of four seasons. Tonight was his eighth appearance in right field, and after emerged as one of the Braves’ top prospects in 2008, he has yet to fulfill his potential. How he came to be on the White Sox will bring some mixture of joy and dread to Yankee fans’ hearts.

On December 4, 2008, Lillibridge, one season removed from being named Atlanta’s sixth best minor leaguer and a potential future lead-off hitter, found himself bound for Chicago in a multi-player deal. The youngster, along with Tyler Flowers and two minor leaguers went north in exchange for Boone Logan and Javier Vazquez. The rest, as we know, is history. The Braves traded Logan and Vazquez to the Yanks a year later in exchange for Michael Dunn, Melky Cabrera and Arodys Vizcaino, and Vazquez flamed out in New York.

Essentially, had Chicago not traded Vazquez to the Braves, Lillibridge wouldn’t have been on the White Sox. He wouldn’t have been in right field in the ninth inning, and he wouldn’t have robbed the Yanks of a pie-filled victory. It was simple: It was, as it always is, Javier Vazquez’s fault. While walking out of the stadium, I realized I could blame Javier Vazquez, and the loss seemed easier to take. I might have gone home an unhappy fan, but in the great game of finger-pointing, I was a satisfied camper. It was, is and always will be Javy’s fault.

Sori blows it as Lillibridge saves it, twice

It wasn’t supposed to get any worse than Monday. I mean, six no-hit innings from Phil Humber? What’s worse than that? Turns out that watching your $35 million eighth inning guy blow a lead and having two potentially game-winning ninth-inning hits taken away on great defensive plays is much, much more infuriating.

Rafael says: "No win for you Ivan!" (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Ivan Nova‘s Big Day

"Please let Soriano preserve this lead." (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

This was a big start for Nova, who was essentially pitching for his spot in the rotation whether you agree with it or not. Juan Pierre gift wrapped the first out of the game, trying a drag bunt on Nova’s first pitch only to get thrown out. He needed just eleven pitches to navigate the first inning, then just eight to get through the second, setting the pace for the night. The Yankees’ right-hander pitched into the seventh inning for the first time in his career, giving up a run only when Alex Rios came around to score after he should have been out twice (once on the fly ball Curtis Granderson couldn’t reel on, and then again when Robinson Cano dropped the throw on the steal attempt).

The key for Nova in this game was clearly his curveball. He did an okay job of locating his fastball away to both lefties and righties, but his ability to get that curve over for a called strike or bury it in the dirt for a swing-and-miss (which he got three of) is what allowed him to be so successful. The impatient White Sox hitters put nine of 13 balls in play on the ground and worked just five three ball counts in 25 plate appearances against Nova. The final line was five singles, two walks, and the one run in six-and-a-third innings of work, but unfortunately it was just the latest in a line of strong pitching performances that went wasted.

"Lol whatevs." (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Eighth Inning Guy™

Rafael Soriano has now appeared in ten games with the Yankees, and only once has he managed to not allow a baserunner: his first outing of the season. The damage tonight was hitting Carlos Quentin with a pitch and surrendering a go-ahead two-run homerun to Paul Konerko on a meatball cutter over the plate, turning a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 deficit with five defensive outs to go. The two baserunners he allowed after that are just salt on the wound.

Joe Girardi said after the game that he has no plans to change that damned 7th-8th-9th inning formula, meaning Soriano will still be force fed high leverage work even though he’s done little to deserve it. The next time I see this guy on the mound, it’ll be too soon.

Where’s The Offense?

Three runs in two games, one of them coming on a solo homer by Brett Gardner of all people. Don’t get me wrong, the White Sox have a pretty good rotation and Gavin Floyd is no chump, but three runs in two games? This team has to do better than that, they can’t have the opposing starter open the seventh inning by throwing his 73rd pitch. Just an awful showing over the last two days, this lineup is better than this.

Oh, and the best part was that stupid sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning. Three outs left to play with and the man with the second most homeruns in the league (Granderson) just gives away an out. It was made even worse because not only has Matt Thornton struggled tremendously this season, but he also walked the next batter. Who knows what happens if they let Grandy actually try. I don’t know when the Yankees moved to the National League, but someone in the dugout needs to start using their brain once in a while. The bunt increased the team’s chances of winning by -6.1%, so it was a backwards move.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Leftovers

Brent freaking Lillibridge man. You know what the worst part is? That guy isn’t even an outfielder, he came up as a middle infielder but learned other positions because he couldn’t hit enough to play everyday and needed to up his versatility. Tuesday was his 29th career game in the outfield and eighth (eighth!!!) in right field. Alex Rodriguez and Cano did everything right, hitting the ball hard and deep towards the short porch, but that kid made two unbelievable plays. Just tip your cap to him in the ninth, nothing you can do there.

It’s a good thing Mark Buehrle is pitching tomorrow, because the lefty hitting Nick Swisher sure does need a day off. He’s hitless in his last 15 at-bats now, might even be 16. I don’t really care to look right now. Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and A-Rod combined to go 0-for-9 with two walks and that brilliant sac bunt, and those three are pretty much carrying the offense right now. Eric Chavez had a great night in the field, but he went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and saw just seven pitches total. The two runs, as you probably know, came on solo homers by Cano and Gardner. Ironically enough, both guys showed bunt earlier in the at-bat. Le sigh.

Boone Logan is officially out of my doghouse now, he did a nice job on Sunday and then struck out Mark Teahen to lead off the ninth in this game. Yeah, Pierre singled after that, but it was a crummy little infield hit. It happens. So good job Boone, keep it up. David Robertson did some fine work wiggling out of trouble in the seventh inning. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s been the best non-Mariano Rivera reliever on the team so far. Buddy Carlyle has appeared in three games thus far and has gotten zero swings and misses. It’ll blow up one of these days.

The Yankees grounded into at least one double play for the 12th consecutive game, with Granderson doing the honors on Tuesday. Just in case you’re wondering, the all-time record is 34 straight games by the 1949 Red Sox. No one is close to them, the second longest streak belongs to the 1961 Athletics at just 22 games. The Yankees have a long way to go.

WPA Graph & Box Score

For the first time all season, the Yankees lost two games in a row. They’re last club to do that, so … yay? MLB.com has the box score and video highlights. I recommend watching Lillibridge’s two catches if you haven’t seen them already, they really are spectacular. Too bad they robbed the good guys of game-winning (or at the very least, game-tying) hits. FanGraphs has some other stuff.

Up Next

The best and worst part of baseball? They play every day. The Yankees will send Bartolo Colon to the mound against Buehrle tomorrow night, though it’ll be up to the offense to wake up. If you’re interested in going, there are plenty of dirt cheap tickets available on the secondary market, so check out RAB Tickets.