Phelps strong again in Triple-A win

First rounder RHP Ty Hensley officially signed his contract today and posted a photo on Twitter to prove it. He agreed to a below-slot $1.2M the other day. Welcome aboard, Ty. Give ’em hell.

Triple-A Empire State (8-1 win over Syracuse)
LF Chris Dickerson: 0-2, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HBP — 19 walks in 145 plate appearances (13.1%)
3B Kevin Russo: 3-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 3 RBI — 12 hits in his last 21 at-bats (57.1%)
2B Corban Joseph: 1-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB — 41 walks and 42 strikeouts on the year
DH Ronnie Mustelier: 1-5, 1 RBI, 1 K
1B Brandon Laird: 2-4, 1 2B
C Gus Molina: 1-4
RF Cole Garner: 1-4, 3 R, 1 K, 1 SB, 1 E (fielding)
SS Ramiro Pena: 2-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — nine hits in his last 19 at-bats (.474)
CF Ray Kruml: 1-4, 1 R, 1 RBI
RHP David Phelps: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 4/8 GB/FB — 63 of 103 pitches were strikes (61.2%) … that’s 26 strikeouts in his last 17.2 innings … he must feel like he’s on top of the world right now, just loaded with confidence … also, it’s not a coincidence that he and Freddy Garcia pitched the same day
LHP Juan Cedeno: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2/1 GB/FB — eight of 15 pitches were strikes
RHP Ryota Igarashi: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 14 of 20 pitches were strikes

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Saturday Night Open Thread

Don’t be mad, Derek. (REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

So the second half is going pretty well, no? It’s only been two games but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it, especially since the two wins came against the Angels. They’re now 5-15 in the New Yankee Stadium, including the 2009 ALCS. I wonder if Halos fans hate when their team comes to the Bronx as much as Yankees fans hate seeing their team go out to Anaheim.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the night. MLB Network is airing a game and most of the country will see the Red Sox at the Rays (Buchholz vs. Price). Those of you in those two markets will see the Pirates at the Brewers (Correa vs. Estrada) instead. You folks know how these things work by now, so have at it.

Second-half storylines

Mercifully, the All-Star break is over and Yankee baseball is back.  It has been a tumultuous season so far, featuring serious injuries to several important contributors and maddening underperformance with runners in scoring position, but also plenty of pleasant surprises.  Despite everything that has gone poorly for the Yankees this season, they are in great position to make a playoff run.  At 53-33, the Yankees own the best record in the majors, despite playing in a division where no team is below .500, and they are eight games up on their nearest competitor.  They lead the league in home runs and wRC+, though they are only 6th in runs scored.  Despite injuries to Michael Pineda, Andy Pettitte, and CC Sabathia, they are 2nd in the league with a 3.71 xFIP, largely driven by the pitching staff’s 8.45 strikeouts per 9 innings.  With this strong first half in the books, I figured I would take a look at some of the storylines to watch for the second half, which will play an important role in determining if the Yankees can hold on to their division lead.

MVP candidate Cano

Robinson Cano is having a monster season for the Yankees so far, and is well on pace to eclipse his career highs in a number of offensive categories.  He has slugged 20 home runs with a wRC+ of 150, and his fielding is significantly improved according to UZR (small sample size warnings apply).  All this combines to make Cano the 7th in the majors with 4.3 fWAR at the midway point.  If the season were to end today, Cano would be a strong candidate for AL MVP, along with usual suspects Josh Hamilton and David Ortiz, and rookie phenom Mike Trout.  Cano’s 2012 production has been very impressive, and it will be interesting to see if he can sustain this form going forward.  Recent history suggests that it is difficult for a Yankee player to win the award unless he is far superior statistically to his competition, and right now, Cano is not in that position.  Nonetheless, if Cano continues to mash and some of his competition begins to fall off (such as Trout) or get hurt (Hamilton), Robbie would be in good position to win his first MVP.

Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova: for real?

Coming into the season, significant questions abounded about Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, and whether they would be able to stick in the rotation as consistent contributors.  Michael Pineda’s Spring Training shoulder injury weakened the Yankees’ rotation depth, and put increased pressure at least one of the Hughes-Nova duo to emerge as a solid mid-rotation starter.  Hughes got off to a poor start to the season, and both players have had serious problems surrendering the long ball, but of late, both have settled in.  They’ve shown the ability to strike batters out (8.31/9 for Hughes, 8.16 for Nova) and limit walks (2.08 for Hughes, 2.69 for Nova) a combination that limits the numbers of runners on base when the inevitable longball comes.  Both have been able to pitch deep into the game, which is important for keeping the Yankee bullpen well-rested and effective.  Hughes and Nova have shown that they can pitch in the low-4 ERA range, and with the Yankee offense, they will win a lot of games.  However, it remains to be seen if they can improve their statistics by cutting down on the home runs.  They were surrendering them at an unsustainable pace earlier in the year, but have improved in that area recently (particularly Hughes).  While both have looked very good of late, Hughes in particular has teased Yankee fans throughout his career with strong performances only to regress significantly, and hopefully he can avoid that outcome.

What will Joba bring to the table?

While most of us gave up on Joba Chamberlain being a 2012 contributor after his awful trampoline-related ankle injury, his impressively quick recovery has him in position to return to the Yankees sometime in August.  Chamberlain, looking noticeably svelte, was recently clocked as high as 97 in his first outing in the Gulf Coast League, a sign that his velocity has returned following Tommy John Surgery.  The velocity bodes well for his ability to be a successful bullpen contributor this year, but command could be a big question.  Joba never had pinpoint control to start with, and it is often said that command is the last thing that comes back to a pitcher who has had Tommy John.  Joba’s willingness and ability to use his devastating slider is another question that he will have to answer.  The pitch is his primary 2-strike weapon to earn strikeouts, but often pitchers who have Tommy John will cut down on their slider usage, to avoid putting additional strain on their elbow.  If Joba does have to throw fewer sliders, he may need to have another offering to flash so hitters can’t just sit on the fastball.    I don’t expect Joba to be back to his old self right away, but the good news is that in a bullpen with Rafael Soriano and David Robertson, he won’t be relied upon to pitch in high-leverage situations immediately.  If he earns those innings with his performance, great, but if he has some struggles as expected, they will hopefully be in fairly low-pressure situations.

Is Russell Martin this bad?

Russell Martin’s offensive production has fallen off across the board compared to 2011, and he is currently batting below the Mendoza line with an anemic .181 average.  After being exactly league average in 2011 (100 wRC+), Martin has fallen to being 20% worse than the average hitter (80 wRC+).  Outside of a strong couple of games against the Mets, Martin really hasn’t put together a strong stretch this season that might give hope that he is starting to come out of it.  The unfortunate sign is that Martin’s struggles have actually lasted longer than this season.  He started strong in 2011, but his numbers dipped dramatically after the first two months.  When we see a player struggle for this long, there is always concern about whether the player is in decline or injured.  While the 29 year-old Martin seems too young to be over the hill, the physical toll of catching every day could accelerate this decline.  I am hopeful that Martin can improve, but not optimistic that he will.  If there is any consolation here, it is that his contract is up at the end of the 2012 season, and the Yankees caught a break by having Martin turn down their 3-year extension offer in the offseason.  This also means that the Yankees will likely be in search of a new catcher for the 2013 season.

Game 87: No Sweat

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

The first game back from the All-Star break is out of the way, so now it’s time to get back in the regular ol’ day-to-day routine of baseball. Freddy Garcia gets the ball after throwing a gem in Fenway Park last weekend, a performance that all but locked up his spot in the rotation as Andy Pettitte‘s temporary replacement. Here’s the starting nine…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
DH Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Nick Swisher
LF Raul Ibanez
3B Eric Chavez
C  Chris Stewart

RHP Freddy Garcia

This afternoon’s game starts a little after 1pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Ty Hensley News: Hensley, the team’s first round pick who signed for $1.2M two days ago, is in New York to hang around the team and catch some games over the weekend. Pretty standard treatment. Hopefully YES will interview him or something.

Joba strikes out two in latest minor league rehab outing

In his second minor league rehab outing, right-hander Joba Chamberlain struck out a pair of hitters — one swinging, one looking — in two scoreless innings for the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees. He did not allow a hit or walk a batter, but one runner reached on an error by the third baseman. His four non-strikeout outs came on ground balls. No word on Joba’s velocity or pitch count, but I suspect we’ll get some numbers later this morning.

Chamberlain started his rehab stint this past Tuesday, so his 30-day clock ends on August 9th. At that point the Yankees must activate him off the DL, assuming nothing goes wrong (not a safe assumption). Joba will probably throw another two innings in his next outing, three or four days from now.

Update: Via Erik Boland, Joba was again sitting 95 and touching 97 this morning. Good to see the pre-surgery velocity back.

Update Part Two:
Via Boland, Joba threw 25 pitches this morning including 19 strikes. No official announcement on the next step yet.

Tex & Russ help Yanks open second half with win

Source: FanGraphs

Nothing quite like a thrilling late-inning comeback to kick off the second half, eh? The best part is that the Yankees were carried by two guys who they really need to step up their game down the stretch. Let’s recap…

  • HR-iroki: Hiroki Kuroda had his moments, but that back-breaking three-run homer by Mark Trumbo in the seventh really took the shine off his outing. He seemed to be behind hitters all night — I was surprised to see that he threw a first-pitch strike to 14 of 30 hitters faced, thought it would be less — and when you miss your spot against a dude like Trumbo, he’ll hit the ball over the visitor’s bullpen and into the left field bleachers. Hiroki’s been picking teammates up all season despite their lack of run support, so they owed him one.
  • On the Mark: The All-Star break did Mark Teixeira some good, as he drove in five runs thanks to a two-run homer (off C.J. Wilson) and a three-run homer (off Scott Downs). That second homer was the big one; it tied the game in the eighth off a guy who had allowed one earned run all year and had not allowed a homer since last August. It was a terrible pitch, a hanging curveball that screamed “Hit Me!,” and Tex sure did hit it. Here’s to a huge second half, Tex.
  • Russ Bus: You can’t overstate how awful Russell Martin was in the first half, but he opened the second half with arguably his best all-around game of the season. He threw out two attempted base-stealers as well as another runner trying to advance to second on a ball in the dirt (to end the game!), and also had the game-winning knock. It was just a little excuse-me single that stayed inside the right field foul line, but those are the types of hits he wasn’t getting in the first half. Martin always seems to play better with ample rest, so hopefully he comes out swinging the bat these next few weeks after the four days off.
  • Leftovers: Holy RISPFAIL were they bad in those spots (2-for-11), most notably stranding Curtis Granderson on third after a leadoff triple in the sixth … Robinson Cano extended his hit streak to 16 games with a single … Derek Jeter (single and double) and Teixeira (two homers) were the only Yankees with multiple knocks, but Granderson (triple and walk), Nick Swisher (double and two walks), and Martin (single and walk) reached base multiple times as well … Rafael Soriano nailed down the save but allowed his first hit since the near-disaster against the Indians, when he almost walked in the tying run (a span of five appearances) … Chad Qualls got the win because Swisher was nice enough to rob Trumbo’s near-homer to end the eighth, love how that works. has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score, and ESPN the updated standings. The Orioles lost, so the Yankees now have an eight game lead (!) in the division. The Rays and Red Sox are nine and ten games back, respectively. That just blows my mind. I don’t remember the last time any team had a lead that big in this division at this point of the season. The Yankees will look to expand that lead on Saturday afternoon, when Freddy Garcia and Jerome Williams square off in the middle game of this three-game set.

Romine returns in GCL win

RHP David Phelps got some love in the “Man Among Boys” portion of this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. He struck out 11 in a Double-A start earlier this week. Also, I missed this the other day, but RHP Jose Campos (elbow) was just cleared to begin his throwing program. LHP Manny Banuelos (elbow) started his a few days ago.

  • Double-A Trenton (loss): 2B David Adams walked and singled to continue his hot streak while DH Rob Segedin had a trio of hits, all singles. SS Yadil Mujica also had a pair of knocks. LHP Vidal Nuno got roughed up a bit, surrendering three runs in 5.2 innings. His ERA shot all the way up to 1.57. RHP Graham Stoneburner really gave it up in his bullpen debut, allowing five runs (three earned) in just one-third of an inning.
  • High-A Tampa (win): CF Mason Williams and C Gary Sanchez both drew a walk, LF Ramon Flores had three hits (single, double, triple), and DH Slade Heathcott did not reach base. 1B Kyle Roller had three knocks including a solo homer. RHP Shane Greene allowed two runs in 5.2 innings, but he walked as many as he struck out (six). RHP Tommy Kahnle struck out three in 2.1 perfect innings of relief. Kiley McDaniel was at the game and said both guys were throwing serious gas.
  • Low-A Charleston (loss): Not much happened on offense, just singles from SS Ali Castillo, RF Eduardo Sosa, CF Ben Gamel, 2B Casey Stevenson, 3B Dante Bichette Jr., and DH Kelvin DeLeon. RHP Will Oliver allowed a pair of runs in five innings of work in an otherwise uninteresting game. RF Rob Refsnyder left the game after a play at the plate, so hopefully he’s just a little banged up and nothing more.
  • Short Season Staten Island (loss): 1B Matt Snyder hit a solo homer, just the team’s second non-Saxon Butler homer of the season. C Isaias Tejeda doubled as well. LHP Tim Flight got hammered (five runs, five outs) but RHP Derek Varnadore picked him up with 3.1 perfect frames.
  • Rookie GCL Yankees (win): Biggest news of the day is the return of Austin Romine, who went 0-for-2 with an RBI ground out while catching the first three innings. It was his season debut after starting year on the DL with a back problem. As for the rest of the offense, we had two hits from DH Chris Breen (single, double), two hits from RF Yeicok Calderon (singles), two hits from SS Austin Aune (single, triple), and two hits from 3B Miguel Andujar (singles). RHP Joey Maher allowed two runs in four innings before RHP Cesar Vargas followed up with four scoreless of his own.

Triple-A Empire State‘s game was postponed, I believe due to a power outage and not the weather. Don’t quote me on that though. Either way, I’m not sure when they will make this one up, but it won’t be this weekend.