Raul’s Clean Slate

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The DH spot figured to be a bit of a lightning rod this season, one way or another. If the Yankees had not traded Jesus Montero, his every at-bat would have been scrutinized and over-analyzed given his status as The Next Great Yankee. I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been had gotten off to his .286/.261/.286 start in pinstripes. Instead, we’re left with Raul Ibanez and his age-slowed bat and massive platoon split.

Ibanez, 40 in less than two months, owns two of the three most memorable hits on the young season. He clobbered a three-run homer off Jamie Shields on Opening Day, and two nights ago he won the game with an extra innings double off Pedro Strop. More than one-fifth of the team’s runs have crossed the plate because of his bat. Of course, Ibanez hasn’t hit a lick outside of those two big hits, reaching base in just three of his other 16 plate appearances. One of those three was an intentional walk.

The offense as a whole has been hit or miss, especially with runners on base. Ibanez has bailed them out on two occasions even though that Opening Day homer came in an eventual loss. I’d like to think that he has a knack for the big hit, but I generally don’t buy into that stuff. He’s just had the right swing at the right time as far as I’m concerned. He deserves credit for doing that and for shaking off that brutal showing in Spring Training.

Six games — five for Ibanez — means very little in the grand scheme of things, but it’s nice to see him get off to a decent start. Maybe memorable is a better word, because a DH with a .306 wOBA is hardly a standout performance. Perhaps his first trip into the Bronx and Yankee Stadium will get him going a bit, but for now Ibanez has silenced some of the critics, albeit briefly. As long as they don’t play him in the field anytime soon anymore, there’s no reason for the Yankees to not ride this out a bit and see what he can do in this role.

The Shutdown Bullpen

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Everyone knew the bullpen would be one of the Yankees’ greatest strengths coming into the season, just as it has been over the last three or four years. The David Robertson and Rafael Soriano setup tandem were going to bridge the gap to Mariano Rivera while Cory Wade and Boone Logan handled miscellaneous innings. Clay Rapada and David Phelps won the last two spots with excellent Spring Trainings. Joba Chamberlain‘s ankle injury means his midseason return is extremely unlikely, but the Yankees have more than enough depth to survive the loss.

Mo blew the save on Opening Day, turning a one-run lead into a one-run loss and leaving a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. The Yankees lost the next two games but have since rebounded to win three straight, and the one constant through it all has been stellar bullpen work. Since that blown save, the relief corps has allowed just three runs in 19 innings, and all three came when a left-handed specialist was left in to face right-handed batters. They’ve given up just eleven hits and four unintentional walks during that time, striking out 28. That is, as the kids say, stupid good.

Robertson has been his usual superb self and Rivera shook off that blown save to pitch well in three other appearances, but the headliners so far have probably been Phelps and Wade. Phelps has retired all nine men he’s faced so far, five on strikeouts. Wade was a disaster in Spring Training — 23 baserunners and 11 runs in 12.2 IP — but has thrown five scoreless innings in the regular season, allowing just two hits, one intentional walk, and one hit batsman against nine strikeouts. His 42-pitch effort on Tuesday night allowed the Yankees to win in extra innings.

The bullpen will get a much needed rest today after the last two games have gone longer than expected, and they deserve it. The starters have been generally ineffective through six games, putting even more pressure on these guys keep games close and winnable. Relievers have a way of being tossed aside and forgotten — as we always say, the bullpen right now is the not the bullpen they’ll have at the end of the season — but these seven guys have been the steadying force in the late innings and are a big reason why the Yankees are 3-3 and not 2-4 or 1-5 or worse.

Swisher’s homer powers Yanks to sweep of O’s

The Yankees had all of four extra-inning wins in 2011, and they got halfway to that total over the last two nights. Despite a depleted bullpen, they pulled their season record even at 3-3 with a 6-4 win in ten innings on Wednesday.

(REUTERS/Patrick Smith)

Battlin’

In the first inning, CC Sabathia looked sharp. He retired the side in order with two strikeouts, but then came the 38-pitch second inning. The Yankees took a two-zip lead two batters into the game on Curtis Granderson‘s homer, but Sabathia gave it back in the second on Robert Andino’s two-strike single. His pitch count sat at 74 after just three innings, and things weren’t looking good given the thin relief corps. The Orioles took a one-run lead on Mark Reynolds‘ two-run double in the fifth, when Sabathia was closing on the century mark. He managed to throw a perfect sixth inning and finished the night with 112 pitches.

Anecdotally, it seemed like Sabathia struggled most when he had to pitch from the stretch. He seemed to be fine from the windup, locating his fastball and slider well, but with men on base he was just … off. That said, most pitchers are out of a game like this in the second or third inning. Even when Sabathia’s bad, he still goes six innings. The guy doesn’t get enough credit for keeping the Yankees in the game on his off-nights, like these first two starts of 2012. By the way, this was the 62nd straight start in which CC went at least five innings.

The Big Hit

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Yankees have been pretty awful with runners in scoring position so far this season, but on Wednesday night they seemed to get over the hump. They went 4-for-10 with men on second and/or third overall, the biggest blow being Nick Swisher‘s two-run homer off Kevin Gregg with two outs in the tenth inning. He struck out looking with a man on third and one out in the eighth, so he did well to redeem himself.

Granderson had two of those four hits, including his homer in the first and game-tying opposite single in the seventh. Brett Gardner dunked in a bloop single that loaded the bases but did not score a run given it’s bloopiness. The Swisher homer wi” get most of the attention and rightfully so, but the Yankees did a pretty good job of turning base runners into runs in this game, or at least a better job than they had been doing.

Binderball

The first six games of the season have featured some adventurous calls by Joe Girardi, but I think the intentional walk to Nick Markakis in the ninth inning of this game has been the worst. The O’s had runners on first and second with two outs, and Rafael Soriano was instructed to walk Markakis and pitch to Adam Jones. It forced a runner over to third, meaning a walk, wild pitch, passed ball, hit-by-pitch, whatever would have ended the game.

Naturally, the move worked. Soriano blew Jones away on four pitches, getting him to swing and miss at three explosive fastballs. That doesn’t mean the intentional walk was the right call though, it was a bad move that luckily led to good results. Never put the winning run on third base, there’s just so much that can go wrong. After all those years of bad bunt calls, it looks like this is the year of the intentional walk.

So this happened.

Leftovers

Tonight’s unsung hero? My vote goes to Boone Logan, who replaced Sabathia and retired all five men he faced, including four right-handed batters. Soriano got four outs including the Jones strikeout, and Mariano Rivera threw his usual scoreless inning for his second save in as many days. Over the last two games, the bullpen has thrown 11.1 scoreless innings with just four hits, four walks, and 16 strikeouts. Just can’t say enough about how great those guys have been early on.

Eduardo Nunez really is amazing. He pinch-ran for Alex Rodriguez late in the game, then had a Johnny Damon moment by stealing two bases on one play as the ball got away from the defender. Nunez then nearly threw a ball away an inning later, and in the tenth inning he got picked off first following a one-out single. To be fair, replays showed it was a bad call and he was actually safe. Still, this dude is a human blooper reel.

Derek Jeter led off the game with the double, his fifth leadoff hit in their six games. The Cap’n has been the Yankees’ best hitter early on, and he’s been putting the pressure on right at the top of the first inning. Very nice to see. Every player in the starting lineup reached base at least once except for Robinson Cano, who took an 0-for-5. Jeter (double and walk), Granderson (homer and single), Mark Teixeira (single and double), and Raul Ibanez (two walks) each reached base twice.

We’ve heard an awful lot about the shift this last week because of the Rays, and the Yankees had the shift on Reynolds in the second inning. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they kept feeding him soft stuff away. That doesn’t work, those pitches are going to be slapped the other way not pulled. The shift isn’t just about positioning, you have to pitch to it as well. The Yankees are terrible at that.

Someone really, really needs to get on Sabathia about sticking his bare hand out at bats in play. He took a one-hopper off his left hand in the second and although he was fine, we really could have done without the scare.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stats, and ESPN the updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees are off on Thursday, then they’ll open the home portion of their schedule against the Angels on Friday afternoon. It’ll be Hiroki Kuroda against Ervin Santana, and Jorge Posada is going to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. If you want to attend, check out RAB Tickets.

Campos throws five hitless in Charleston win

David Adams is still out with a stiff neck, and now Rob Lyerly is dealing with an arm problem. The Yankees also released Mitch Abeita and signed a first baseman by the name of Edwin Beard. He spent some time in the organization before being released last May, but now he’s back.

Also, Manny Banuelos and Ramon Flores are the second youngest players in the Triple-A International League and High-A Florida State League, respectively. Not too shabby.

Triple-A Empire State (12-3 loss to Buffalo)
CF Chris Dickerson: 0-3, 1 K — replaced by Ray Kruml after sliding into the wall
C Frankie Cervelli: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — just his second hit of the year
1B Steve Pearce: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K — Yadil Mujica replaced him later in the game
DH Jack Cust: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K
LF Dewayne Wise: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 K — they’ve hit two homers as a team this year, and Wise has both of them
3B-1B Brandon Laird: 2-4, 1 K, 1 E (throwing)
RF Colin Curtis: 0-4, 1 K
SS Ramiro Pena: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K
2B Doug Bernier: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K
RHP Dellin Betances: 3.1 IP, 7 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 6 BB, 3 K, 3/3 GB/FB — just 44 of 89 pitches were strikes (49.4%) … he also gave up three homers, so yeah, disaster outing
RHP Jason Bulger: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 1/2 GB/FB — just 18 of 40 pitches were strikes (45%)
LHP Mike O’Connor: 2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1/4 GB/FB — 28 of 44 pitches were strikes (63.6%)
LHP Juan Cedeno: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K — 11 of 17 pitches were strikes (64.7%) [Read more…]

Game Six: For The Sweep

Adam Jones sees you getting arrested. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The Yankees have already (and unfortunately) experienced getting swept this season, and now it’s time to turn the tables and do the sweeping. Last night’s extra-innings win was anything but routine, and it really took a toll on the bullpen. CC Sabathia is going to have to soak up some innings tonight, preferably nine or so. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
2B Robinson Cano
3B Alex Rodriguez
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Nick Swisher
DH Raul Ibanez
Russell Martin
LF Brett Gardner

LHP CC Sabathia

Tonight’s game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Update (7:05pm ET): The first rain delay of the year! It doesn’t appear that it will be a lengthy delay, so the tarp might not be on the field all that long.

Update (7:14pm): The tarp is already coming off the field, so we’ll have baseball soon.

Posada set to make ceremonial stadium visit

When the Yankees return home on Friday to open the Bronx-based part of the 2012 season, they’ll bring with them a familiar face. The newly-retired Jorge Posada will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game. Posada, you may recall, was a part of five World Series teams, played in five All Star Games and has a strong case for a spot on a wall in Cooperstown. Depending upon how generous the Yanks are with uniform numbers, his could earn a spot in Monument Park as well.

The club also announced today that a star of the Broadway musical Newsies will sing the national anthem while a star of Jesus Christ Superstar will perform “God Bless America” in the seventh inning. I guess those Nederlander ties still run deep. The pre-game festivities will start at 12:40 so plan accordingly if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to attend Opening Day in the House that George Built.

No speed in the early going

Nothing on bases, so far. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Yankees have scored at least five runs in four of their five games, including six runs in two of their three losses. The one exception was a shutout. Despite the complete lack of hitting with runners in scoring position — .189/.333/.321 in 70 PA — the Yankees have still scored the seventh most runs in baseball. They’ve hit four homers and roughly a billion balls to the warning track, and more than a few of those will leave the yard once the weather starts to warm up.

The other element of the offense, the speed element, really hasn’t been on display just yet. The Yankees stole the fourth most bases in baseball last year but only have three in the early going. One of those three was Raul Ibanez after he took off in a full count last night, and that’s an anomaly. Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez have the other two steals. Baseball Reference says the Yankees have run in just four of their 89 stolen base chances this year (4.5%), roughly half of last year’s rate.

We’re only five games into the season, so it’s hard to get worked up over the lack of running. In fact, I’m willing to bet that a very big part of the lack of stolen base attempts has to do with the opposition. Jose Molina and Matt Wieters are two of the three best catchers in baseball when it comes to throwing out base runners, and the Yankees have yet to play anyone other than the Rays and Orioles. Another factor in the whole lack of speed thing has been Gardner’s playing time. He’s only started three of the five games because of the platoon situation, so more of him will result in more steals.

The Yankees aren’t a club that relies on the stolen base, so the lack of speed has hardly been noticed so far. The offense still isn’t clicking on all cylinders — either with the bat or the legs — and it’s tough to watch at times despite the consistent run scoring (minus the shutout). A little more Gardner and a little more Eduardo Nunez will get the running game in gear and open things up for the bats. This early in the season, the lack of speed is hardly a concern.