Betances rebounds in latest AzFL appearance

Got a lot of game action to catch up on, but first let’s start out with some notes…

  • Keith Law had a lot of praise for OF Slade Heathcott in his most recent chat after seeing him in the Arizona Fall League, saying “I do think he has star potential if he stays healthy, which is a huge if. He plays like his hair’s on fire (and) that’s not a great thing for a player who’s injury-prone … the star potential is from the athleticism – plus runner, really good swing, strong hands. Just needs to dial it down one notch.”
  • In a separate piece, KLaw said RHP Zach Nuding was “91-95 with a fringy slider” and “iffy command.” RHP Mark Montgomery “threw 90-93 with a short, hard slider that he’d even throw down and in to right-handed batters; there’s some effort in that delivery, but the ball appears pretty late out of his hand.”
  • RHP Dellin Betances told Jonathan Raymond that he started “throwing a slider” in Instructional League a few weeks ago. I thought he tinkered with the pitch a few years ago, but I could easily be wrong. So many guys (supposedly) learn new pitches each year, it’s hard to keep track. Anyway, Betances really doesn’t need another pitch, the fastball/curveball/changeup combo is plenty good enough, he just needs to throw strikes.
  • LHP Omar Luis Rodriguez was not in Instructional League due to visa issues according to Ben Badler. The Yankees signed the 18-year-old Cuba southpaw for $4M back in June, their final huge money signing before the new spending restrictions were implemented.

AzFL Scottsdale (6-5 win over Phoenix in 11 innings, walk-off style) Wednesday’s game
CF Slade Heathcott: 2-5, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 SB, 1 E (fielding) — he beat out an infield single on a ground ball to the first baseman (!) with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, allowing the game-tying run to score … he also got thrown out at the plate after colliding with the catcher
RHP Zach Nuding: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 25 of 45 pitches were strikes (56%)
RHP Danny Burawa: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — only seven of 17 pitches were strikes (41%), and he was sitting 92-94 with the fastball … first outing of 2012 after missing the entire season with an oblique and rib injury … KLaw said
RHP Mark Montgomery: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 15 of 25 pitches were strikes (60%)

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ALCS Travel Day Open Thread

(Alex Trautwig/Getty)

Off-days have a tendency to be poorly timed during the regular season. Players either tire because they don’t get enough of ’em or lose their rhythm because they get too many. Most of that is nonsense though, players both are used to playing everyday and enjoy the rest. Today’s off-day for travel to Detroit for the ALCS came at exactly the right time though. The Yankees are just a mess right now, specifically offensively, and spending a day away from the park sure seems like a good idea at moment. Will it actually help? Eh, maybe. Either way, I think the fans could use the night away from the Yankees as well, these last five games have been rough.

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Giants and Cardinals (Vogelsong vs. Carpenter) will play Game Two of their NLCS matchup at 8pm ET on FOX, plus the Monday Night Football game is the Broncos at the Chargers (8:20pm ET on ESPN). You folks all know what to do by now, so use this thread to talk about anything other than politics.

Darnell McDonald, Ryota Igarashi elect free agency

Both OF Darnell McDonald and RHP Ryota Igarashi have elected free agency after spending the majority of the season with Triple-A Empire State. McDonald, 33, was claimed off waivers from the Red Sox in July before being designated for assignment a few days later. He went 0-for-4 during his brief stint in pinstripes and posted a 62 wRC+ in 124 plate appearances for the Triple-A squad.

The Yankees claimed the 33-year-old Igarashi off waivers from the Blue Jays in May, and he allowed four runs in three innings during several short stints with the big league team. He was dominant in Triple-A though, pitching to a 2.45 ERA (2.11 FIP) in 36.2 innings while serving as the team’s closer for most of their division title-winning season. Igarashi was outrighted in August, so neither he nor McDonald were on the 40-man roster.

Yankees shut out of Baseball America’s Top 20 IL Prospects

As expected, the Yankees did not place any players on Baseball America’s top 20 Triple-A International League prospects list, which was topped by RHP Matt Harvey of the Mets. LHP Manny Banuelos missed basically the entire season with an elbow injury while RHP Dellin Betances just stunk, and they were the squad’s best hope to make the list. In the subscriber-only chat, John Manuel said UTIL Ronnie Mustelier “does have bat speed and he can hit a good fastball,” but otherwise has nothing to offer while dropping Barbaro Canizares and Leslie Anderson as comparables.

The Yankees had five different players crack the various top 20 lists, and all were in the High-A Florida State League or Low-A South Atlantic League. They didn’t have any prospects in the Double-A Eastern League, Short Season NY-Penn League, and Rookie Gulf Coast League. It was a very down year for the farm system and the rankings reflect that.

The Yankees and offensive adjustments

There is nothing worse than an underachieving team, and the Yankees certainly have an underachieving offense at the moment. The pitching staff has been just fantastic as a whole in the postseason, more than giving the team a chance to win each time out. The offense has been miserable aside from the occasional outburst (ninth inning of ALDS Game One, anything Raul Ibanez does, etc.) though, and it’s reasons number one, two, and three that they’re in a 2-0 hole in the ALCS.

The worst offender has not been Alex Rodriguez or Nick Swisher or Curtis Granderson, it’s been Robinson Cano. The same guy who was so molten hot for the final few weeks of the season and one of the very best hitters in all of baseball. He’s currently riding an 0-for-26 (!) stretch that is the longest single postseason hitless stretch in baseball history, and he hasn’t reached base on anything other than an intentional walk since the first inning of ALDS Game Two. That’s just hard to believe, and yet the majority of his plate appearances seem to end like this…

Anibal Sanchez threw an offspeed pitch on the outer half that Cano tried to pull, resulting in a weak grounder to second. When Robinson is not swinging right, he generates a ton of outs on ground balls to the right side of the infield. Raul Ibanez was the same why earlier this season, and Hideki Matsui is probably the poster boy for the 4-3 put out slump. It’s not a pleasant thing to go through, either for the players or the fans who watch.

“You have to make adjustments,” said Joe Girardi following yesterday’s loss. “We know what they are doing to us. They are not going to put it on a tee for us. We know that. We are more than capable of scoring runs and have done it a number of times this year. We have to make adjustments.”

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Thoughts following ALCS Game Two

(Alex Trautwig/Getty)

It’s incredibly hard to be optimistic about the Yankees at the moment. They’ve looked so inept offensively that you wonder how in the world they’ll ever score another run. Right now, pretty much the only way I see them playing another game in the Bronx this year is if CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte go out and throw shutouts in Games Four and Five this week. Things are getting to be that bad.

1. Brett Gardner has to start tomorrow’s game somehow. Both Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson have been terrible, but the latter isn’t even putting the ball in play — 14 strikeouts in 29 plate appearances in the playoffs (48.3%). Swisher has “only” whiffed eight times in 31 plate appearances (25.8%). Gardner takes an awful lot of strike threes but he’s also one of the best pure contact hitters in the game, making contact on 90.9% of his swings since the start of 2010, the ninth best rate in baseball. Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer are the scheduled starters for the next two games and they finished one-two in total strikeouts in all of baseball this year. The Yankees need to get someone in the lineup who can at least get the bat on the damn ball these next two games, even if he only has three at-bats in the last three months. As an added bonus, Gardner would improve the outfield defense behind an extreme fly ball pitcher in Phil Hughes tomorrow. Eduardo Nunez will also be available as a pinch-hitter, so the Yankees wouldn’t lose that speed element off the bench.

(Bruce Bennett/Getty)

2. While on the outfield subject, I’ll be stunned if the Yankees do not re-sign Ichiro Suzuki to replace Swisher next year. He’s hit well for the last few weeks and looks legitimately rejuvenated by playing for a contender, plus he’ll probably come relatively cheap ($5M? $8M?) on a one-year contract. I do think the Yankees need to diversify their offense going forward and a contact-oriented player like Ichiro would be a fine addition to the lineup, I’m just not sure I trust a soon-to-be 39-year-old to be that guy. That said, the career arc of historically great players is impossible to predict and his dead cat bounce could extend into 2013. I’m just terrified of Ichiro and Jeter really falling off the cliff at the same time and atop the lineup. A little youth is in order.

3. There’s a pretty good chance that Hiroki Kuroda started his final game as a Yankee yesterday, which would really suck. He was fantastic all year and he’s carried that over into the postseason despite the career-high workload, plus the guy comes off as a total pro. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think he’s been with the Yankees for years. He just gives off that kind of vibe. I don’t know what Kuroda will do next season, it feels like it could be one of a million different things, but I truly hope he returns to New York for another year. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that re-signing him should be priority number one this winter, ahead of solving right field and figuring out the catching situation.

4. The Yankees have some major influence in the world of baseball, and I wonder if Joe Girardi‘s post-game rant about instant replay yesterday will push the league into action. He made it clear that he did not blame the two blown calls — Robinson Cano out at first in Game One, Omar Infante not out at second in Game Two — on the two losses this weekend, but he also made it clear that MLB is behind the times by not using the technology. Perhaps these two blown calls and the rant on a national stage — the post-game press conference was broadcast on TBS — will create some momentum towards expanding replay. The league is already testing the technology in Yankee Stadium and CitiField, so hopefully it’s implemented next year.

Report: Red Sox to interview Tony Pena today

1:01pm: Nick Cafardo clarifies that the Yankees did have to grant Pena permission to go to the interview today since it’s an off-day during the ALCS. He could have waited until after the season and gone on his own, but the Red Sox appear to be in a bit of a rush.

11:00am: Via Rob Bradford: The Red Sox will interview Tony Pena for their managerial vacancy today. It’s a travel day for the ALCS and the Yankees are not holding a workout at Comerica Park, so he’ll head up to Beantown during the off-day.

Pena, 55, has been with the Yankees since 2005, first as the first base coach (2005-2008) and then as the bench coach (2009-present). The team also considered him for their manager’s job after parting ways with Joe Torre in 2007. Pena managed the Royals from 2002-2005, winning the 2003 Manager of the Year award along the way. I don’t know much about his managerial style (or his bench coach prowess, for that matter), but I do know that he has a reputation of being a player’s coach and that’s probably something the Red Sox are looking for after the Bobby Valentine fiasco.