Matusz stifles bats, Yanks lose to O’s

Everyone once in a while we run into one of those game where the Yankees just look completely flat, but there’s just nothing we can do about it other than sit back and wait for it to be over. The Orioles won 7-1 on Tuesday night and are now 7-26 in their last 33 games at Yankee Stadium.

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

Best Start of the Season

I don’t think Phil Hughes pitched demonstrably better than he had in previous starts, though the bottom line — three runs* in 5.2 IP — was decent enough. All three runs came on a pair of homers, a solo shot by Chris Davis and a two-run shot by J.J. Hardy. The two homer pitches were identical, fastballs that leaked right over the plate and into the wheelhouse. Hughes has now given up seven dingers in 21.2 IP this season, an unfathomably bat 2.9 HR/9.

* It’s actually four runs allowed, but the last run charged to Hughes was a runner inherited and allowed to score by Boone Logan. I won’t ding him for that because the reliever didn’t do his job.

The plan to revert back to a “reliever mentality” resulted in a first inning’s worth of a 95 mph fastballs — it tapered off after that — and just one cutter all night. Phil threw 67 fastballs, 27 curveballs, five changeups, and the one cutter for 100 pitches on the nose. He did strike out six and get nine swings and misses, but that’s nothing new. Unfortunately Hughes will get another start because he pitched just well enough not to lose his rotation spot.

Nope, no runs up there. (REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

LOLffense

Unless the Yankees manage to get runners on base in front of Curtis Granderson and he drives them in, they don’t score these days. The 3-4-5 hitters — Alex Rodriguez (8-for-33), Robinson Cano (5-for-23), and Mark Teixeira (4-for-31) — have all a) been mired in recent slumps, and b) not done much with the bat all season in general. It’s gotten so bad that A-Rod resorted to bunting for a hit in the sixth inning. At some point they’re going to have to shake things up to get rid of that black hole in the middle of the order; maybe bat Cano second and Granderson third, or Nick Swisher fifth (once healthy) and Teixeira sixth. I dunno, but they can only wait around for this stuff to fix itself for so long.

The only run the Yanks scored on Tuesday night came off the bat of Granderson, who clobbered a first inning solo homer off the facing of the upper deck in right. He and Derek Jeter went 5-for-8 while the rest of the lineup went a combined 2-for-26 with two walks. One of the two hits was A-Rod’s bunt single, his first since 2004. Brian Matusz came into the game with a 5.66 ERA and a 4.74 FIP, but you would have never known it by watching this game. Pretty frustrating.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Leftovers

Eduardo Nunez gave the Yankees one error-free night in left field on Monday, but they went double-or-nothing on Tuesday and got nothing. He misread a routine fly ball off the bat of Nick Johnson in the sixth, allowing the ball to bloop in front of him for a two-run single that effectively put the game away. This is what happens when you make the conscious decision to not put injured players on the DL and play with a short bench and players out of position.

Eric Chavez was robbed of a hit off the bench during a pinch-hitting appearance in the seventh inning as replays showed that Adam Jones had trapped the ball in center field, not caught it on the fly. MLB was supposed to expand replay for trapped balls and fair/foul plays this year, but they preferred to hastily implement the new playoff system because that’s where the money is.

Nicky J. managed to break an 0-for-29 start to the season with a run-scoring single off Rafael Soriano in the eighth inning. I’m fairly certain that has been the most notable event in both Johnson’s and Soriano’s seasons so far.

Last, but certainly not least, congrats to D.J. Mitchell for making his big league debut and starting his Hall of Fame career with a scoreless ninth. He allowed two ground ball hits, though Cano didn’t help him any when he fumbled a flip from Jeter at the base and was unable to turn the double play.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score and no highlights, and ESPN the updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The series finale will be played on Wednesday night, when Ivan Nova gives it a go against Jake Arrieta. RAB Tickets has some great ticket deals if you want to head up to the Bronx.

Pearce’s late homer gives Triple-A Yanks a win

Triple-A Empire State (5-2 win over Rochester)
RF Colin Curtis: 0-4, 1 K
LF Jayson Nix: 1-2, 1 R, 2 BB — four hits in his last ten at-bats
CF Dewayne Wise: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
1B Steve Pearce: 2-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI — missed a few days after fouling a ball off his foot, but he’s back and hasn’t missed a beat … broke the game open with a three-run dinger in the eighth
DH Jack Cust: 1-4, 1 K — still hasn’t played the field yet this year
C Frankie Cervelli & SS Doug Bernier: both 0-2, 1 BB — Bernier scored a run and struck out
3B Brandon Laird & 2B Ramiro Pena: both 0-3 — Laird struck out
RHP Adam Warren: 5 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 3/6 GB/FB — 60 of 99 pitches were strikes (60.6%) … I really wish he’d start striking out more guys, he has just a 6.4 K/9 and a 16.3 K% (!) in 178 career Triple-A innings
RHP Chase Whitley: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2/1 GB/18 — 18 of 31 pitches were strikes (58.1%)
LHP Juan Cedeno: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — eight of 14 pitches were strikes (57.1%)
RHP Kevin Whelan: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K — 19 of 33 pitches were strikes (57.6%) … been a while since he had a game like this

[Read more…]

Game 23: Running out of time

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

It’s now or never for Phil Hughes, who has to start turning his season around right now if he wants to remain in the rotation. Not next week, not in the second half, not when he’s a little older and has more experience. Right now. If the performance doesn’t change, then the personnel will. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
2B Robinson Cano
3B Alex Rodriguez
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Andruw Jones
DH Russell Martin
LF Eduardo Nunez
C  Chris Stewart

RHP Phil Hughes

Tonight’s game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. It was drizzly and overcast most of the day in New York, but they won’t have much of a problem getting the game in. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Gardner & Pineda

Via Mark Feinsand, it’s unlikely Gardner will be able to come off the DL when eligible on Thursday. “We’re going to see where he’s at after today,” said Joe Girardi. “We’re starting to get to a point where Thursday might be a little doubtful just because he has to go play a (rehab) game or two.” Gardner was scheduled to take batting practice today for the first time since being put on the shelf. Meanwhile, the Yankees will continue to employ a 13-man pitching staff and a two-man bench.

In other news, Girardi told Marc Carig said that Michael Pineda‘s labrum surgery went well today. We’re at the point that it’s newsworthy only if the surgery doesn’t go well. Hope to see you next May, Mike.

Yanks-Red Sox will play doubleheader on July 7th

The Yankees and Red Sox will make up their rain out from last Sunday as part of a doubleheader on Saturday, July 7th, the team announced. That’s the middle day of a three-day series immediately before the All-Star break. The Yankees have a scheduled day off that Thursday then most of the next week due to the Midsummer Classic. As part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams can recall an extra player and use a 26-man roster during doubleheaders.

For Russell Martin, it doesn’t get better

The way Martin's year has gone I bet the bat went further than the ball (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The last time we checked in with Russell Martin he was enjoying an oddly productive start to the season. While he had just four hits, none for extra bases, in his first 10 games, he walked nine times and owned a .417 OBP. That is, while he wasn’t knocking in runners he was helping the offense by not making outs and putting himself in a position to score when the top of the lineup came up. Considering Derek Jeter‘s early season surge, that was no small consolation.

The idea then was that Martin’s walks helped him remain productive until his bat came around. Unfortunately, that has yet to happen. Even worse, Martin’s production at the plate has dipped significantly in the last two weeks. Since the start of the Twins series Martin has come to the plate 35 times and has gone 5 for 32 (.156) with just two walks (.229 OBP). He did pick up a few extra base hits, including an important home run in Friday’s win over the Tigers. But it’s hard to hang your hat on those extra base hits when Martin’s overall production has been so poor.

Might there be a hitch in Martin’s swing? It’s hard to say without first hand experience working with him, but some of the evidence points to this. He’s walking at a greater clip than ever, so perhaps he’s still seeing the ball well. But he’s striking out more often than previously in his career — 22.1 percent of his PA this year, compared to 14.3 percent for his career. That’s five points higher than his 17 percent strikeout rate last year, the highest of his career.

Martin is also beating the ball into the ground: 59 percent of his 48 balls in play have been hit on the ground. That’s a bit better than the 75 percent ground ball rate he had through 10 games, but it’s still way too high. To complicate matters, it appears that he’s not even hitting hard ground balls; his .202 batting average on ground balls is 25 points below the AL average. He’s simply not making good contact, which could suggest an issue with his swing.

Last year was quite the opposite for Martin in terms of batted balls. In his first season with the Yankees he actually hit the ball in the air more frequently than he had in the past. That helped him rediscover his power stroke, hitting double-digit homers for the first time since 2008 and falling just one homer shy of his career best 19. He also walked frequently enough, giving him perfectly average numbers — a 100 wRC+, which is very good for a catcher. His average was a bit low, but at least he’d found a way to contribute.

This year, however, he seems like a complete wreck at the plate. Drawing walks early helped him, but lately he hasn’t even been able to add that. Maybe this is one of those instances where, like many medical conditions, it gets worse before it gets better. Maybe he’s actively working on something at the plate and it’s rounding into form. For the at-home observer, though, it’s hard to see. Unfortunately, the Yankees really have few avenues to pursue here. Martin is the man for 2011. He has a lot of work to do if he’s going to turn things around after a rough April.

Phil Hughes’ Last Stand

(REUTERS/Mike Stone)

As awful as he’s been this season — 7.88 ERA and 6.39 FIP — Phil Hughes has actually been pretty lucky. He’s lucky in the sense that Freddy Garcia has performed even worse — 12.51 ERA and 5.51 FIP — and has drawn most of the negative attention. The security blanket is gone now, however. Garcia is out of the rotation and the focus turns to Hughes, the current weak link in the rotation.

The Yankees have given Phil every opportunity to succeed as a starting pitcher in his career, but outside of late-2007 and early-2010, their patience has not been rewarded. Dating back to mid-May of 2010 — an admittedly arbitrary endpoint — Hughes has pitched to a 5.45 ERA (~4.85 FIP) in 228 innings across 41 starts. The nearly 1,000 batters he faced (997 to be exact) during that time have tagged him for a .275/.334/.467 batting line. That’s almost exactly what Howie Kendrick hit last season. So yeah, it hasn’t been pretty.

Because of his recent awfulness and that long stretch of below average performance, tonight’s start against the Orioles just might be the Hughes’ last chance to show the team he can be effective in the rotation. Not only is Andy Pettitte‘s return drawing closer, but David Phelps will begin his starting pitcher audition later this week. As I said this morning, the Yankees can use Monday’s scheduled day off to rearrange the rotation and give his rotation spot to Pettitte if they so chose. The schedule isn’t going to handcuff them.

Phil’s days as a starting pitcher for the Yankees are numbered. It seems inevitable that the team will remove him from the rotation as some point relatively soon, whether it be after tonight’s start, next week, or next month. The Yankees have to stop kidding themselves if they want to improve their starting staff. There are better options on the way, and unless he comes out tonight and shows 2-3 pitches with command, there’s little Hughes can do to save his rotation spot.