The importance of tonight’s start for Phil Hughes

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

The early returns have not been all that good for Phil Hughes this season. He labored through 4.2 IP of two-run ball against the Rays in his first start, got pounded by the Angels in his second start, then had a disaster first inning against the Twins before settling down for the next four innings in his third start. About the only positive you can take from his overall performance is his strikeout rate, though his 22.7 K% does a better job of reflecting his performance than his 10.13 K/9.

Tonight’s start against the Rangers will be both Hughes’ toughest assignment and most important start of the season to date. A scoreless first inning would be a great start, something he’s been unable to provide in two of his three starts. In the one exception, he had men on the corners with one out before escaping the jam. He escaped that mess with two strikeouts on his bread-and-butter pitch, the fastball.

“My velocity is good and hopefully I can keep it going,’’ said Hughes yesterday. “The second and third time through the lineup you need something else, but at the same time I like to work the fastball a lot and try to [use] that as long as I can.’’

The velocity has been a non-issue; he’s sat in the 91-94 range and averaged 92.41 mph with his four-seamer according to the manually classified data at Brooks Baseball. Hitters have come up empty on 27.62% of the swings they’ve taken against Phil’s fastball, which is pretty awesome. As Joe explained last week, the curveball has been a problem. Batters aren’t missing the pitch — 11.76% whiff/swing — and although the changeup has been encouraging this year, it hasn’t developed to point of being a true third pitch, nevermind a potential second pitch. Man can not live on fastball alone.

Hughes and Freddy Garcia are both on the rotation bubble with Andy Pettitte — who will throw 80-85 pitches for Double-A Trenton today — on the way. The Yankees aren’t going to use tomorrow’s off-day to skip Garcia, so apparently they want to see as much of him as possible before having to make any kind of decision about who to replace. Hughes has thrown two gems in Texas, but those games were a long time ago. Hanging in against a Rangers team that has scored a dozen runs in their last 44 offensive innings would go a long way towards helping him keep his starting job. If he doesn’t at least hold his own, then the ball will be in Freddy’s court on Saturday.

Yanks have no answer for Darvish, get shutout by Rangers

The seventh matchup of Japanese-born starting pitchers in MLB history certainly made the fans overseas happy, but not the Yankees. The Rangers took Tuesday night’s game 2-0.

(REUTERS/Mike Stone)

As Advertised

So apparently all it took for Yu Darvish to break out in the States was a matchup against the best offense in baseball in his bandbox home ballpark. Go figure. The latest and greatest Japanese import befuddled the Yankees for 8.1 innings, striking out ten batters while walking just two after posting an ugly 14/13 K/BB ratio in his first three starts. Darvish retired 16 of 19 before Nick Swisher ended his night with an opposite field single in the ninth, one of seven hits they mustered off the right-hander.

Most Japanese-born pitchers cover over with the promise of six-pitch repertoires and command so fine that it makes wolverines purr, but Darvish actually lived up the billing. He threw his 91-97 mph fastball to both sides of the plate and up and down in the zone, mixing in a wide array of offspeed pitches that included a sharp power slider, some kind of splitter/changeup, and big slow get-me-over curveball. Twenty-two of the 25 outs he recorded came on the infield. After about the fourth inning, the Yankees no had chance. Nothing you can do other than tip your cap, Darvish was on point.

(REUTERS/Mike Stone)

Escape From Los Angeles

You’ll have to forgive Hiroki Kuroda if he had flashbacks to the last four years of his career and thought he was pitching for the Dodgers again. He pitched well against the best non-Yankees lineup in baseball but didn’t get a lick of run support and walked off the mound in the seventh inning in line for the loss. Two runs on five hits and two walks across 6.2 innings? I’ll take that every five days thank you very much, and so will the Yankees.

Kuroda’s biggest mistake of the night wasn’t the leadoff homer he allowed to Ian Kinsler, but the walk to Elvis Andrus in the third inning. There were two outs in the inning and he was ahead in the count 0-2, but he followed with four straight balls. Andrus then stole second and scored on Josh Hamilton’s single. Andrus came into the game with a .074 ISO (!) in his career, you gotta put that guy away with two strikes. Can’t be walkin’ guys like that.

Like Darvish, Kuroda broke out everything plus the kitchen sink while on the mound, throwing sinkers and four-seamers, curveballs and slider, splitters and probably another pitch or two still in need of a name. Hiroki actually generated more swings and miss (17) than his counterpart counterpart (16), and 18 of his 20 outs came on the infield. It sucks he had to get a loss, but Kuroda pitched exceptionally well and it shouldn’t be forgotten.

Their Best Shot

Word, Curtis. Word. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

As great as Darvish was, the Yankees definitely had a chance to bust things open early. Eric Chavez (single to right), Russell Martin (walk), and Derek Jeter (push bunt single) all reached base to open the third inning, but Curtis Granderson got caught looking at an outside curveball that may or may not have been in the zone for strike three before Alex Rodriguez grounded into an inning-ending double play. That was, by far, their best chance to not only score runs, but knock Darvish off his game early. Alas.


Jeter’s bunt single extended his hit streak to 14 games, though he also doubled down the left field line later in the game. His batting line now sits at .416/.439/.649 on the young season. Robinson Cano also had two hits — a single and a double into the left-center field gap — for his second two-hit game of the series. Martin was the only other Yankees to reach base twice thanks to his single and walk.

We say this pretty much every day, but big ups to the bullpen for  more scoreless relief. This time it was Clay Rapada (one out), Cory Wade (two outs), and Boone Logan (one out) who did the job without allowing a baserunner. Kuroda and the bullpen retired 13 of the final 15 Rangers to come to the plate.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some more stats, and ESPN the updated standings.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

Phil Hughes gets the ball in the rubber game of this three-game set on Wednesday night and will be opposed by Scott Feldman. That one has reverse lock written all over it; you’re expecting a 13-11 score but will get 2-1 instead. You watch.

Yanks will remain on rotation, Garcia starts Saturday

Following tonight’s game, Joe Girardi announced that the Yankees will remain on rotation and Freddy Garcia will start Saturday’s game against the Tigers. Ivan Nova will pitch Friday and CC Sabathia will pitch Sunday. The Yankees could have used Thursday’s off day to skip Garcia and delay his next start until next Monday against the Orioles. That’s what I would have done given how awful Freddy’s been, but whatever.


Sanchez leads the way in Charleston’s ninth straight win

Slade Heathcott‘s rehab is officially over after the latest round of tests, so he’ll probably spend some time in Extended Spring Training getting up to speed before joining High-A Tampa. In other news, Josh Romanski has been placed on the Double-A DL with a blister while Adam Miller was activated off the Triple-A DL.

Triple-A Empire State (4-3 loss to Pawtucket)
RF Colin Curtis: 1-5, 1 2B, 2 K
3B Jayson Nix, CF Dewayne Wise & C Frankie Cervelli: all 0-4 — Nix struck out thrice and got hit by a pitch … Wise and Cervelli struck out once each
LF Steve Pearce: 3-3, 1 R, 1 HBP — 15 for his last 30 with five doubles and a homer
DH Jack Cust: 0-3, 1 BB, 2 K — hasn’t done anything but DH so far this year
1B Brandon Laird: 2-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI — first homer of the year
2B Ramiro Pena: 2-4, 1 2B, 1 K
SS Doug Bernier: 0-2, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
RHP D.J. Mitchell: 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HB, 6/3 GB/FB, 1 E (pickoff) — 54 of 94 pitches were strikes (57.4^%)
LHP Juan Cedeno: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — just seven of 18 pitches were strikes (38.9%)
RHP Jason Bulger: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K — 16 of 26 pitches were strikes (61.5%)

[Read more…]

Game 17: Coming for Yu

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

I was one of many fans that wanted the Yankees to sign Yu Darvish this past offseason. I liked that he was young (two months younger than Phil Hughes!) and had power stuff, plus the fact that a large chunk of the acquisition cost wouldn’t count towards the luxury tax. Then again, I also didn’t think the posting free to acquire his negotiating rights would come within $10M of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s, let alone exceed it. The Yankees didn’t bite and the Rangers did, though I have a hard time getting worked up over it after seeing the cost.

Like everyone else, I hope the Yankees pound Darvish into submission tonight. He’s never faced a lineup this good before, so if he continues to show the typical Japanese pitcher tendency of nibbling at the edges of strike zone instead of challenging hitters, it could get really ugly, really quick for him. Here’s the lineup…

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

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

This is only the seventh time in MLB history that two Japanese-born starting pitchers are facing each other. The game starts a little after 8pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Pineda headed for second opinion following MRI

Via Marc Carig, Chad Jennings & Bryan Hoch, right-hander Michael Pineda is going to see Dr. David Altchek for a second opinion on his right shoulder following today’s MRI. It’s very important to note that Pineda’s agent requested the second opinion before he even went for the initial test today. The Yankees won’t announce he results of today’s MRI until after the second opinion tomorrow.

Triple-A stadium situation pushed Bill Hall away from Yankees

Via Ken Rosenthal, utility man Bill Hall asked for his release after Spring Training because he did not want to spend the year on a season-long road trip with Triple-A Empire State. “My wife and I decided that I couldn’t live in a hotel all year,” he said. “My daughter just turned one and I couldn’t do that to her … I don’t have any problem playing in Triple A. I just want to play.”

This is the first time we’ve heard of a player leaving the organization because of the Triple-A stadium situation, but you can’t blame him. I can’t imagine anyone would want to play a season without a home base, nevermind a big league veteran who’s already banked millions in his career like Hall. I’m sure there are plenty of other players who had considered signing minor league pacts with the Yankees this winter only to decline after hearing about the stadium situation in Triple-A.