Josh Norris’ Low-A Charleston scout notes

The great Josh Norris posted a collection of quotes from a scout on various members of this year’s Low-A Charleston roster this afternoon. The scout sung the praises of C Gary Sanchez and OF Mason Williams, but wasn’t a fan of either OF Tyler Austin or SS Cito Culver. It a short but fun read, so make sure you give it a click.

Game 116: The Fill-In Ace

BFFs. (REUTERS/Adam Hunger)

The Yankees got a nice if not unexpected pitching lift from David Phelps and Derek Lowe yesterday, and tonight they hand the ball to their de facto ace Hiroki Kuroda. With CC Sabathia on the shelf, Freddy Garcia a shell of his former self, and three kids in the rotation, Kuroda is the guy Joe Girardi & Co. are going to lean on for quality outings every five days. A win tonight guarantees at least a split with the other best team in the AL. Here’s the starting nine..

DH Derek Jeter
RF Nick Swisher
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Robinson Cano
LF Andruw Jones
CF Curtis Granderson
3B Casey McGehee
Russell Martin
SS Jayson Nix

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Tonight’s game is scheduled to start a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on My9 locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

X-ray shows Pettitte’s fracture is healing well, expects to throw this week

Via Meredith Markovits, x-rays taken during a routine check-up show that the fracture in Andy Pettitte‘s left leg/ankle is healing well. He expects to begin a long toss program a little later this week. Pettitte still hasn’t been given the green light to resume running, but once he gets the okay he can get his legs back in shape and start throwing off a mound. Last week we heard that Andy’s setback will delay his return 7-10 days, so likely mid-September is everything goes smoothly from here on out.

Yankees sign undrafted free agent Daniel Aldrich

Via Kendall Rogers, the Yankees have signed College of Charleston outfielder Daniel Aldrich as an undrafted free agent for at least $150k. Regardless of the final amount, anything given to him in excess of $100k counts against this year’s draft pool. The Yankees had more than $400k in pool money left over after first rounder Ty Hensley signed a below-slot deal.

Aldrich, 21, was a redshirt sophomore this spring, so he’s not the typical college senior that usually signs as an undrafted free agent. The left-handed hitter was one of the best power hitters in the country over the last two years, participating in the College Homerun Derby twice and winning in 2011. Aldrich absolutely mashed with wood bats in the Cape Cod League this summer, hitting ten homers in just 30 games. He was a .315/.389/.651 hitter during his college career. Here’s some video.

Most undrafted free agents are minor league filler, but Aldrich actually offers some upside due to his power. No word on his defense, but he pitched in high school and probably has a decent arm. The downside is that he’s a hacker, striking out 116 times in 121 college games with a 48/6 K/BB on the Cape this summer. The Yankees had draft pool money to spare and have had a bit of success with CofC kids (most notably Brett Gardner) though, and Aldrich is about as good a prospect as you’ll find in the undrafted free agent ranks.

Derek Lowe, time off, and adjustments

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Last night’s win over the Rangers was headlined by Nick Swisher‘s grand slam and David Phelps‘ impressive return to the rotation, but new pickup Derek Lowe capped things off with a four-inning save to spare his bullpen mates. The veteran right-hander was flat out released by the Indians last week after two disastrous months — seriously, look how bad they were — but he made a strong first impression on the Yankees’ faithful with his sinker, changeup, and slider in the four scoreless frames. It was his first save since 2001.

As much as we want to think that a simple change of scenery can lead to improved performance, that almost never is the case. A lot of work goes on behind the scenes, and prior to yesterday’s game Lowe spoke about the work he did during the 12 days between being designated for assignment by Cleveland and signing with the Yankees. I trimmed some of the fat out of quotes, but otherwise they come courtesy of Chad Jennings and Brad Lewis

“(Getting designated for assignment) was actually a blessing in a way to be able to go back down to Fort Myers and work with the guy I normally always work with and get straightened out. I called (agent Scott Boras) last Wednesday and said, ‘I feel good enough to be able to go back and pitch the way I should.’

“When you lose your deception, you’re in a world of hurt. I had to get back to hiding the ball better … I’m a huge tinkerer. I have done it my whole career. I try to fix things mechanically, and one little tinker turns into two, turns in to — basically, you almost get lost. I’ve done it my whole career. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t … I literally said, ‘I need a repeatable delivery.’ There were some obvious glaring things I even knew that I was doing, that (since-fired Indians pitching coach) Scott Radinsky knew I was doing, but the side sessions weren’t long enough to fix it … It was great to be able to spend two or three hours really understanding what you were doing wrong and how to correct it … I’ve always been a tinkerer, so it doesn’t take a long time. It takes a good two or three days of hard work getting back right, looking at video and realizing what you have to do.”

Lowe pounded the zone last night, throwing first pitch strikes to 11 of the 14 batters he faced (79%) and a strike with 33 of his 44 pitches (75%). Only thrice did he get into a two-ball count and only once a three-ball count. Throwing strikes was a bit of a problem during his two-month slump with the Indians (only 60% strikes during the 60.1 IP sample, league average is around 67%), though that’s a chicken or the egg thing. Was he getting hit because he wasn’t locating well, or was he not throwing strikes because he was getting hit? Either way, Lowe didn’t run into that problem last night.

Thanks to the magic of PitchFX, we can take a quick look at where Lowe was locating the ball at various points this season. Here are his first nine starts with Cleveland, during which time he pitched to a 2.15 ERA (3.95 FIP) in 58.2 IP…

I wouldn’t get too caught up in the various pitch types and whatnot, right now I just want to focus on the location. Even the balls that were hit are relatively down in the zone and away from lefties, the kind of pitch very few hitters can really drive. During these nine starts, Lowe allowed just two homers and 13 doubles for a .084 ISO against. Here are his next dozen starts, that 8.80 ERA (4.87 FIP) disaster period…

Again, just looking at the location, Lowe left way more pitches up in the zone and towards the middle of the plate. He allowed six homers and 21 doubles during these 60.1 IP, good for a .151 ISO against. When you’re throwing a high-80s sinker that doesn’t sink, the pitch gets clobbered. Lowe was still a little up in the zone last night, but he did a better job of staying out of the middle of the plate.

Now obviously one four-inning appearance doesn’t mean much of anything, but it was certainly more encouraging than it would have been had he went out and gotten hammered again. Perhaps those adjustments last week helped him out, maybe it was being reunited with his former Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, or maybe it was just dumb luck and sample size noise. Either way, the Derek Lowe who was out there last night sure had the look of a potentially useful bullpen piece, the kind of guy who can soak up a few innings to spare the other relievers without letting the game get out of control.

PitchFX plots via Joe Lefkowitz’s site.

Feliciano throws a perfect inning in latest minor league rehab game

In his latest minor league rehab appearance with the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees, left-hander Pedro Feliciano retired all three batters he faced — the first two on ground balls, the last on a called strike three. He struck out the side in his first rehab game four days ago. No word on his pitch count or anything, but I doubt it was more than 12-15 or so.

Feliciano, 36 in less than two weeks, is coming off major shoulder surgery. His 30-day rehab window expires on September 9th, so if all goes well between now and then, he’ll be able to rejoin the bullpen as the third lefty specialist once rosters expand. Obviously “all goes well” is a mighty big assumption at this point. The Yankees actually hold a $4.5M club option for Feliciano next season, but I can’t imagine they would pick given what we know right now. Let’s see him face some big league hitters first.

CC Sabathia’s bout with pitching mortality

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

There are very few things in baseball that you can consider guarantees, but CC Sabathia logging oodles of innings has been one of them for the last decade. The big left-hander has thrown at least 180 innings every season since his rookie campaign in 2001 and at least 230 innings every year since 2007. That doesn’t even count his 86 postseason innings either. That elite level of durability is one of the reasons why the Yankees made Sabathia the wealthiest pitcher in baseball history after the 2008 season.

This season has been a slightly different story, however. Sabathia is currently on the DL with elbow stiffness, his second DL stint of the season. The first was due to a groin strain that cost him the minimum 15 days. CC came into the season with just two career DL visits to his credit — oblique strains in 2005 and 2006 — but he’s already doubled that total with roughly eight weeks left in the schedule. A short-term groin strain isn’t that big of a deal, but the elbow problem is. Any arm-related injury is a big deal.

“After Seattle, I was (nervous),” said Sabathia the other day. “I woke up the next day and my arm was kind of swollen, and I didn’t have any range of motion. So I was really nervous, honestly. So we had the test, and once the MRI came back clean, I just knew it was something I’ll have to deal with. I know there’s nothing structurally wrong with my arm.”

No range of motion? That just sounds scary. Sabathia fought the team’s decision to place him on the DL and insists that he will be on the mound August 24th in Cleveland, the first day he is eligible to return. That’s all well and good, but he is at the mercy of his body. If his elbow keeps barking, he won’t be pitching. I have to think finding out that your ace pitcher who has thrown nearly 1,000 more pitches than any other pitcher since his rookie year doesn’t have range of motion in his elbow had to be terrifying for the front office, especially after giving him a five-year, $122M contract this past offseason.

In addition to the injuries, Sabathia’s performance this season is a notch below his usually high standard. His strikeout (8.89 K/9 and 23.5 K%), walk (2.22 BB/9 and 5.9 BB%) and ground ball (48.5%) rates are more than fine, but his 3.56 ERA is his highest since 2005. He’s given up a few more homers than usual (0.95 HR/9 and 12.1 HR/FB%) and isn’t stranding as many baserunners as he has in recent years (70.1 LOB%). Oddly enough, left-handed hitters have hit him harder this year (.314 wOBA) than they have at any point since 2006. Sabathia usually owns same-side hitters with his slider. A 3.56 ERA (3.32 FIP) is still really really good, but it’s not what we’re used to seeing from the big guy.

Sabathia turned 32 last month, so he’s starting to get into his decline years. It’s safe to say that his best seasons are behind him, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to fall off a cliff and be a disaster going forward. He might just be really good instead of dominant. This recent elbow injury is a concern because pitching is such an unnatural act and Sabathia’s career workload is enormous. He’s been an absolute rock ever since the Yankees signed him, taking the ball every five days during the regular season and every four days in the postseason without missing a beat, and they absolutely did the right thing by playing it safe and placing him on the DL. All that wear-and-tear is likely to manifest itself at some point though, and this season may be a sign that the time to pay the piper is on the horizon.