Game 134: Can they make it two?

They're comin'. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Last night was a good win for the Yankees. They manufactured some runs, got a gritty (gritty!) performance from their ace, and finished up with some big time bullpen work. Now they have to do it all again, and this time against Josh Beckett. Yay. Here’s the lineup…

Brett Gardner, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, DH
Eduardo Nunez, 3B
Frankie Cervelli, C

Phil Hughes, SP

It’s another 7:10pm ET start, and you can watch this one on YES locally or ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

Yankees continuing to look for pitching

Via Buster Olney, the Yankees continue to look for pitching (particularly left-handed) before tonight’s midnight trade deadline. As I explained earlier today, a player has to be in the organization by 11:59pm ET tonight to be eligible for the postseason roster, and there are no loopholes to get around that one. The Rangers acquired Mike Gonzalez from the Orioles earlier today, and that’s about as good as the trade help gets this time of year. I don’t expect the Yankees to do anything, and in fact Olney says they aren’t particularly optimistic about getting a deal done. Still got another six hours to go though.

Which Hughes will it be?

If you’re not into pessimism I suggest skipping this post.

The good news is that the Phil Hughes facing the Red Sox tonight is not the same pitcher who faced them in April. At that time Hughes had no zip on his fastball, no bite to his breaking ball, and no command of either. Through two innings he threw 47 pitches to 14 batters, allowing six runs on seven hits and two walks. That performance provided the Red Sox with their first win of the 2011 campaign. After one more horrific start Hughes hit the DL, and he’s been quite better since returning.

The bad news is that Hughes resembled his early season self in his last start. While he did pitch into the third, his results weren’t much better than his outing in Boston earlier this season: six runs on seven hits. His only saving graces were the five strikeouts and zero walks. Even still, he used 78 pitches to record eight outs. Even worse, he again failed to put batters away, generating strings of foul balls on two-strike pitches. That’s the Hughes the Yankees can’t afford to have on the mound tonight and for the rest of the season.

For a while it appeared that Hughes was turning a corner. While he failed to put away batters in his first four starts back from the DL, something changed when he faced Chicago in early August. He didn’t miss many bats — just 14 swings and misses out of 267 pitches thrown in three starts — but he also didn’t struggle to finish at-bats. He needed just 65 pitches to get through six innings in Chicago, and followed that up with 96 pitches in six innings against Tampa Bay. That’s not efficient, but it’s an improvement. Then against Minnesota it appeared he cared nothing for the strikeout, recording just two while allowing 22 of 27 batters to put the ball in play. The result was his best start of the season, 7.2 innings of one-run ball.

That strategy won’t play as well against the Red Sox, though. While Hughes can work through weaker lineups such as the White Sox and the Twins by pitching to contact, the Red Sox are a completely different beast. They lead the majors in average and BABIP. At the same time, if Hughes tries to miss bats again he can fall into an even worse trap. The Red Sox are still a patient and disciplined team that will foul away flat, borderline pitches while waiting for something to hit or else taking a walk. It leaves Hughes with little room to maneuver. Command or perish. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much from him in terms of command this season.

In this way it’s hard to see Hughes succeeding against the Red Sox this evening. It’s certainly possible; we have seen him spot his fastball low and away at times, and his curveball isn’t always as bad as it was last week. At the same time, his start is of the utmost importance. The Yankees will use only five starters the next time through the rotation. If Hughes fails tonight then the Yankees have a no-win situation in the fifth spot. They’d have to rely on A.J. Burnett to turn around his season, which is about as likely as Hughes suddenly finding his command against the Red Sox tonight.

No one should count out a pitcher before a game starts, not even A.J. Burnett. But that doesn’t mean we can’t set reasonable expectations. With the way he’s pitched lately, it’s difficult to reasonably imagine Hughes faring well this evening, just as it’s difficult to imagine Burnett doing the same tomorrow. Their recent history suggests that they’re primed for a beating against one of the league’s most powerful offenses. It might matter little in the immediate future; the Yanks have a comfortable lead in the playoff race, after all. But in the long term it’s certainly an issue. While Hughes has succeeded at times this season, his skill set just doesn’t seem to play up against the Bostons and the Texases of the American League.

Joe Girardi & Restraint

Deceiving top picture is deceiving. (Elsa/Getty Images)

On the surface, a 5-2 win doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. Three-run leads are pretty substantial, even against a great lineup like the one the Red Sox ran out there. Of course the game never felt like the three-run lead was all that significant, mostly because the Sox had runners on base pretty much all night. Ultimately, the relief quartet of Cory Wade, Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, and Mariano Rivera got the final nine outs to preserve the lead, but it’s what Joe Girardi didn’t do that’s worth talking about.

After throwing 18 pitches on Sunday and 19 pitches on Saturday, David Robertson was unavailable out of the bullpen last night according to Girardi. Those pitch totals aren’t extreme by any means, so in all likelihood Robertson could have actually pitched without it being too big of a deal. He might not have been able to go more than an inning, but pitching three straight days isn’t exactly unheard of. Instead, Girardi showed some restraint and rested one of, if not the best setup reliever in all of baseball. He gave the ball to inferior pitchers against a great lineup in a relatively close game.

Now, it’s easy to back off a key reliever in a generic August game, when you’re facing some middling fringe contender in a game everyone will forget by the morning. It’s another thing to do it in a game like last night’s. Consider…

  1. It’s the Red Sox!
  2. The Yankees had won just two of twelve against Boston coming into the game.
  3. CC Sabathia hadn’t beaten the Sox all year and just gutting out 128 pitches in six innings.
  4. First place was kinda sorta on the line. It was either tie things up or fall two back in the loss column.
  5. It’s the Red Sox!

It wasn’t a must win game, but it was definitely a pretty big game considering how the season series has played out so far. Girardi could have easily handed the ball to Robertson in the eighth inning and I don’t think any of us would have had a problem with it. Instead, he took his foot off the gas and looked at the big picture, which is something he’s done during his entire tenure as Yankees’ manager. We can quibble about individual moves until we turn blue in the face, but Girardi’s overall bullpen management is clearly a strength, and games like last night are reason why Robertson will be fresh and (theoretically) more effective later in the season and potentially into the playoffs.

Sherman: Montero will be promoted tomorrow, not Banuelos or Betances

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees will call up Jesus Montero when rosters expand tomorrow, but neither Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances will be in the big leagues next month. They have enough concerns about their fastball command to leave them down, though they had entertained the idea of using both out of the bullpen. As for Montero, Sherman says he is “going to get opportunities to play and specifically hit.” There’s a chance he could hit his way onto the postseason roster as well, but that would require a Shane Spencer type of September from their top prospect. Either way … yay.