The curious bullpen moves from Joe Girardi

Last night’s game was the kind that ignites a fan base, but not in a good way. It wasn’t so much the offensive futility; David Price, after all, is among the league’s top pitchers, and the Tampa Bay bullpen, especially at the back end, can take care of business. Rather, it was the manager who drew the fans’ ire. Joe Girardi had a number of tough decisions to make last night, and on the surface it looked like he botched each one. But in any game as complex as baseball there’s always at least one more layer, and often more, to the decision making process.

As RJ Anderson wrote this morning, Joe Maddon made all the right moves. He rode his starter for eight innings and then went to the best arm in his bullpen, closer Rafael Soriano. After Soriano pitched a scoreless inning he went to his second best guy, Joaquin Benoit. When the game went to the 11th he went with the next best option, Grant Balfour. Those moves deserve praise, because they were the right moves. But they were also the obvious moves. Maddon had everyone available, so there was no reason to not do this.

Girardi, on the other hand, had limits to the moves he could make. As we learned after the game, David Robertson was unavailable after having thrown 36 pitches on Saturday. It also appeared that Girardi wanted to give Mariano Rivera a day off, though he would have brought him in to close the game if it came to that — in other words, he wasn’t bringing in Sergio Mitre to preserve an extra innings lead. These are understandable decisions. Joba Chamberlain, too, was unavailable, though that’s a bit more curious a situation. The Yankees are apparently concerned that he’s getting up there in appearances, which was part of the reason why they held him out. But he was unavailable in any case, which made the late-game decisions that much tougher.

After Sabathia exited Girardi went to his best available reliever, Kerry Wood, who used just 11 pitches to strike out two Rays and complete a 1-2-3 inning. Here is where Girardi’s decisions become curious. Robertson, Joba, and Mo were not options. Jonathan Albalaedjo wasn’t much of an option to begin with, and probably wasn’t available after having pitched in the last two games, including 26 pitches on Sunday. That left just Boone Logan, Chad Gaudin, and Mitre, unless Girardi wanted to completely change the rotation game plan.

This is curious because of Wood’s light workload during the previous inning. He didn’t pitch on Sunday, but he threw only 21 pitches during his two innings on Friday and Saturday. The Yankees have a better idea of what Wood can handle than I do, but given the bullpen limitations does does seem like Girardi could have stuck with him for another inning as to delay the necessity of using his two worst bullpen arms. I’m not sure if it was Wood’s workload or if it was the desire to match-up lefty-lefty against Carlos Pena, but Girardi went to Boone Logan to start the 10th.

Despite his early-season troubles, Logan has been one of the better arms in the Yankees bullpen since his latest recall. Like Wood he pitched both Friday and Saturday, but in those stints he threw just 14 pitches. He hasn’t thrown more than 10 pitches since September 6. In other words, it would seem he was well rested. Yet Girardi stuck with him for just one batter. That one did work out — he struck out Pena — but I just don’t understand why he didn’t stick with him. Instead he went to Chad Gaudin, who is pretty much worse than Logan on every level.

The move seemed to work, since Gaudin held the Rays scoreless. But it wasn’t perfect. Guadin loaded the bases and needed 31 pitches to record the inning’s final two outs. This, I guess, meant that he couldn’t go another inning. That’s also a bit odd for a guy who has gone two innings as recently as September 7 — though Gaudin needed only 18 pitches to record those six outs. In any case, that necessitated Sergio Mitre’s appearance. Game over. Even if Brignac hadn’t homered I’m sure the Rays would have mustered a run. Mitre hadn’t pitched since the fifth, and hasn’t gotten consistent work all season. That’s often death for a sinkerballer.

Once the game went into extras the Yankees were at a distinct disadvantage. Two of their best bullpen arms weren’t available at all, and their best overall was essentially unavailable. Meanwhile, the Rays had all hands on deck, meaning they could keep going with the best guy available. The Rays had a distinct advantage from the 10th inning on, and they predictably won the game. A few of Girardi’s bullpen moves were odd, but they weren’t what killed the Yankees last night. Maybe the game would have gone a bit longer had Logan pitched a scoreless 10th and Gaudin was able to pull the rabbit out of his hat an inning later. But none of that is guaranteed. The Yankees played a few men short and it ended up being the difference.

NOTE: Any small ball decisions are not part of this post. Mike will cover them later today, so please hold your comments.

Yanks drop fourth straight in battle of aces

The 2009 Yankees had quite the knack for the dramatic walk-off win, but this year is pretty much the exact opposite. For the third time in four nights they let their opponent score the winning run in their final at-bat of the game, with Reid Brignac‘s .298 wOBA doing the honors in the 11th inning on Monday. For the first time all season, the Yanks dropped their fourth consecutive game, and for just the second time since June 12th, they went to bed out of first place in the AL East.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Biggest Hit: Whaddya Think?

The first eight innings of this game were quite possibly the best eight innings of baseball I’ve watched this year, as CC Sabathia and David Price went scoreless inning for scoreless inning before giving way to the bullpen. Through some luck, stupidity, and regular old baseball, the score remained tied at zero until the first batter of the 11th inning. Sergio Mitre, supposedly one of the last available men in the bullpen, entered the game having made one appearance in the past 16 (!!!) days.

Sure enough, Mitre was wild both in and out of the zone, running the count full to Brignac before leaving a cookie changeup out over the plate that the Rays’ second baseman yanked into the rightfield stands for the game winner. I couldn’t see the ball land in my obstructed view seat, but I didn’t need to. It had the sound. Everyone in the building knew it was gone off the bat.

Worth Every Penny

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

No matter how bad things get in the Yankee Universe, we know that once every five days a bonafide ace is going to take the mound with an interlocking NY on his cap. Sabathia didn’t get his 20th win of the season in this game, but it certainly wasn’t because of a lack of effort on his part. The big man carried his team through the eighth inning with a 119-pitch effort that bordered on dominant and God-like.

The Rays didn’t put a man on base until Kelly Shoppach, the same guy that broke up CC’s no-hitter back in April, singled to left, and then things got a little more messy when Sabathia walked B.J. Upton. That was all Tampa would get for quite some time though, because Sabathia buckled down to get Jason Bartlett to end the frame and then followed that up by retiring the next 11 men that followed him. Not another Ray reached base until Ben Zobrist drew a harmless walk with two outs in the seventh, but then things got interesting in the eighth.

As per their recent history, the Yanks botched a scoring opportunity in the top of the eighth, then Tampa immediately threatened in the bottom half when Sean Rodriguez singled, pinch bunter Dioner Navarro pinch bunted Rodriguez to second, and Shoppach took a pitch off his elbow. The Rays had men at first and second, but of course the one at second was the real important one. CC threw Upton just one fastball in a six pitch at-bat, getting to him to flail at a curveball in his feet for strike three and the second out. It was one of several ugly hacks Tampa took off the big man. A weak grounder to short by Bartlett ended both the Rays’ threat and Sabathia’s night.

Aside from the third inning, Sabathia never threw more than 18 pitches in an inning, and only twice did he have to venture past 15 pitches. He struck out nine, walked just two, and allowed just a pair of singles in his eight innings. You couldn’t have scripted a better outing followed the horror show in Texas. We’ve written it more times than I care to count in the last two seasons, but Sabathia has been worth every single penny the Yankees have given him, and then some. What a monster.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Keep Bunting

I’m going to have more on this on Tuesday (maybe Wednesday), but how many times is Joe Girardi going to bunt with this team before he realizes it never works? Seriously, it backfired at least twice in Texas, and then again tonight in the tenth inning. It’s bad enough that they gave away that precious out, but they also took the bat out of Granderson’s hands so that Colin freaking Curtis could hit. And Grandy was up 2-0 in the count! There’s a complete absence of thinking there, it’s just do what the book says because that’s what people have always done. I don’t get it, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore.

Leftovers

David Price was every bit as good as CC tonight, throwing basically fastball after fastball and fashioning eight shutout innings of his own. It’s pretty easy to forget how awesome the first eight innings of this game were, but man, it sure was a blast watching those two go at it for so long.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

That had to be a botched hit-and-run with Jorge Posada in the fifth, right? I can’t imagine they’d straight steal with him. Though I guess when you have two great pitchers on top of their game, you sometimes have to force the issue. Let’s give Jorge some props though, it was a pretty close play.

Meanwhile, that caught stealing at third base by Gardner to end the tenth inning is absolutely 110% inexcusable. He’s already in scoring position and more than capable of scoring on any single. Classic example of a kid trying to do to way too much, and he knew it because he apologized to his teammates after the game. Stupid stupid stupid.

The Bronx Bombers haven’t hit a homerun in 42 innings now (h/t Larry). The last one was Nick Swisher‘s walk-off blast last Friday. Yep.

On the bright side, Derek Jeter continues to look pretty good. He worked Price hard in his few at-bats and singled to lead off the game. It’s just too bad the rest of he team is playing like crap.

How about home plate ump Tom Hallion’s punch-outs tonight; he really puts his elbow into it, doesn’t he? (h/t Carlosologist for the image idea)

Cowbells: Immeasurably more annoying in person than they are on television. Holy crap.

The Yankees are going to make the playoffs, it’s all but guaranteed at this point. But seriously, they need to wake the frig up, and fast. They’re half-a-game back in the division and still have a magic number of 12 to clinch a playoff spot. Let’s start with one win first, that’s a pretty big accomplishment these days.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Pitchers’ duel, then bullpen adventures. MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs a bunch of other cool stuff.

Up Next

Rookie Ivan Nova will try to get the Yankees back in first place tomorrow when he takes on Matt Garza. Hopefully the offense decides to show up for that one.

Quick & Dirty Post-Game

I’ll let the real beat writers give you the quotes and all that, but here’s a quick rundown of Joe Girardi‘s post-game press conference…

  • David Robertson wasn’t available, Girardi wanted to give him more rest following his long outing on Saturday.
  • Joba Chamberlain was also not available, which is kinda odd because he hasn’t pitched in three games now, and has appeared just twice in the last nine days. That doesn’t really make sense.
  • Anyway, Girardi did indirectly say that he expects both to be available tomorrow, but wouldn’t say it flat out.
  • He was saving Mariano Rivera for a save situation, and didn’t want to use Javy Vazquez so soon after his start on Friday.
  • “I believe in my guys” must have been mumbled a million times; Girardi was clearly agitated. Welcome to the club.

Tampa captures second straight FSL Championship

High-A Tampa (9-0 win over Charlotte) Tampa wins the best-of-five series three games to one, and takes home their second consecutive Florida State League Championship
Ray Kruml, CF: 2 for 3, 2 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 1 BB – nice job of setting the table in the postseason
Jose Pirela, 2B: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
Bradley Suttle, 3B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – hit .304 in the playoffs
Myron Leslie, 1B: 1 for 2, 1 R, 3 BB, 1 CS – the surprise cleanup hitter did a nice job
Jack Rye, LF: 3 for 5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI – moved up in the order, and look at that
Zoilo Almonte, RF & Jose Gil, C: both 1 for 4, 1 RBI – Almonte doubled & K’ed … Gil tripled, and then got picked off third
Trent Lockwood, DH: 1 for 5, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 3 K
Addison Maruszak, SS: 2 for 3, 2 R, 1 BB
Craig Heyer: 6 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 10-5 GB/FB – what a great, surprise year he had
Phil Bartlewski: 2.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2-4 GB/FB
Jon Ortiz: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K

Triple-A Scranton‘s season is over. They lost to Columbus in the first round of the International League playoffs.

Double-A Trenton swept New Hampshire in their best-of-five series to advance to the Eastern League Championship Series. They’ll take on Altoona when the series starts tomorrow, and they’re going to have a rehabbing Andy Pettitte on the mound in that game.

Low-A Charleston, Short Season Staten Island, and the Rookie GCL Yanks are done. None of the three qualified for the postseason.

Game 144: Both everything and nothing

Yep, the Trop's every bit as bad as you imagine. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Tonight’s game against the Rays will mean different things to different people. If you’re someone who thinks that winning the AL East and securing homefield advantage in the playoffs is of paramount importance, then tonight’s game is huge because it’s the difference between being a game-and-a-half up or half-a-game back in the division with 18 left to play. If you’re content with getting into the playoffs any way possible, then tonight’s game won’t mean too much because the Yankees are all but locked into a spot at the moment.

There’s no right answer about how to feel, and I’m sort of in the middle. Obviously getting into the postseason comes first and foremost, but winning the division for a second straight year would be a nice bonus and one worth pursuing under the right conditions. Those right conditions, however, do not include playing injured players. Nick Swisher is out of tonight’s lineup again because of his still sore left knee (he’ll get an MRI tomorrow), and Brett Gardner is sitting this one out as well after getting a cortisone shot in his right wrist. Winning the AL East is absolutely not worth having those players risk further injury.

Of course, the Yanks are coming into this series having played a rather stinky brand of baseball over the last week or so. They’ve dropped five of their last six games and that one win was a miracle walk-off homer off Swisher’s bat. They just got swept for the first time all season, and tonight they’re going to try to avoid their first four game losing streak of the campaign. CC Sabathia is the right guy to have on the mound, and he’s gunning for win number 20. His teammates will have to deal with David Price, so tonight’s game definitely features a primo pitching matchup. Get excited folks, this is why we watch the games.

Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Robbie Cano, 2B – first time all season he’s batting somewhere other than fourth or fifth in the lineup
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B - .409/.462/.636 since coming off the disabled list
Marcus Thames, DH
Jorge Posada, C
Austin Kearns, LF
Curtis Granderson, CF
Greg Golson, RF

And on the bump, it’s CyCy Sabathia.

This one’s set to begin a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. I’m here in Tampa covering the series, so I’ll try to bring the good stuff post-game. Here’s my wonderfully obstructed view from the press box. Hopefully nothing gets hit to rightfield. Enjoy the game.

Wilkin DeLaRosa clears waivers, remains with Yanks

Lefty pitching “prospect” Wilkin DeLaRosa has cleared waivers according to the team, and has been outrighted to Double-A Trenton. DeLaRosa was designated for assignment on Thursday after the Yankees claimed fellow lefty Steve Garrison off waivers from the Padres.

The 25-year-old former position player has basically spun his wheels with Trenton over the last two seasons, showing little if any improvement and marginal results overall. He was added to the 40-man roster after the 2008 season because the team liked what they saw out of his left arm and didn’t want to lose him as a minor league free agent, but DeLaRosa has done little to keep that spot since. Anyway, he’s still in the organization, so no loss. Actually, it was a net gain when you consider Garrison.

Nick Swisher to undergo MRI tomorrow

Nick Swisher will undergo an MRI on his still injured left knee tomorrow. It’s been giving him trouble since he fouled a ball off it in Toronto at the end of August, and it’s clearly not just a minor pain based on how he’s been limping around for the last two weeks or so. Swish had some tests performed not long after he suffered the injury that showed no fractures or structural damage, and apparently he was told he couldn’t make it worst by playing with it. Considering where the Yankees sit with regards to a playoff spot, it only makes sense to get it checked out again and have him rest up before the games really start to count.