Game 34: Vinny from Jersey

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The Yankees have seen quite a bit of Vin Mazzaro in his brief big league career. He’s made three career starts against them (with the A’s, of course), only once completing five innings while pitching to a 9.69 ERA with nearly as many walks (ten) as strikeouts (12) in 13 innings. Yankee batters have tagged him for a .379/.486/.690 batting line in 70 plate appearances. I’m sure he’ll have some family in attendance for tonight, but I hope they go home disappointed for the Yankees’ sake. Here’s the lineup, same as yesterday’s…

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

A.J. Burnett, SP

YES will have the game when it begins a little after 7pm ET. Enjoy.

Notes: Busy afternoon today, with news about Gene Monahan, Rafael Soriano, Luis Ayala, and Lance Pendleton.

The secret behind Bartolo Colon’s success: stem cells.

Bartolo Colon‘s resurgence has been the comeback story of the year so far, by a considerable margin too, and this article in De Diario Libre explains the medical procedure that made it possible. Dominican doctors Sergio Guzman, Leonel Liriano, and Hector Rosario approached the right-hander in 2009 about the stem cell treatment for his ailing shoulder, which included damage to the rotator cuff, ligaments, and tendons. It was performed in addition to the more well-known platelet-rich plasma treatment (PRP), and neither procedure took more than 40 minutes or required any kind of surgery (and subsequent recovery time). And here he is, throwing mid-90’s gas.

“We have not invented anything, nor have we done anything new,” said Guzman. “This is being done the world over. We received some training overseas to handle this type of things. Harvard University donated the centrifuges. This is no invention. What we do is take a little bit of bone marrow and we put it into an affected area”. I recommend reading the whole article, very interesting stuff.

Soriano day-to-day after MRI shows inflammation

Rafael Soriano will be out a least a few more days as the Yankees have said his MRI showed some inflammation in his twice-repaired right elbow. Girardi said the results were “pretty good,” but Soriano will not throw until he has a catch tomorrow. The Yankees expect him to miss a couple of days.

With Soriano out, Joba Chamberlain will inherit the 8th Inning™ while David Robertson will continue to play the role of fireman. For some added bullpen depth, the Yankees activated Luis Ayala from the disabled list today and sent Lance Pendleton back to AAA. Ayala, who has appeared in three games for the Yanks, had been out since early April with a strained oblique.

David Robertson’s Top Three Escape Jobs

He's been doing this since college. (AP Photo/Jason Harless)

Last night’s seventh inning escape job was just more of the same for David Robertson, who seems to have made a habit out of wiggling his way out of such jams. “If I’m stepping off, it’s usually because the crowds are loud,” he said after the game. “I need to calm myself down because I don’t want to become erratic.” That’s something that just comes from experience, so he knows the routine by now.

In honor of Robertson’s continued success in the fireman role, let’s take a look at the three greatest escape jobs of his career using WPA. I limited the sample to only games when he entered in the middle of an inning to clean up someone else’s mess. He doesn’t get any credit for wiggling out of his own jams here.

3. August 15th, 2009 (box & video)

In many ways, this was when Fireman David Robertson™ truly emerged. The Yankees were in Seattle, leading the Mariners by two runs thanks to some surprisingly solid work by starter Sergio Mitre (no, really). The Experience started the sixth inning by striking out the corpse of Ken Griffey Jr., but Russell Branyan (single), Jack Hannahan (walk), and Rob Johnson (single) all reached base to end his day. Joe Girardi summoned Robertson to hold the line.

Jack Wilson and Ryan Langerhans were the two batters due up, and although they aren’t exactly the most intimidating duo, inheriting a bases loaded jam in your 60th career appearance isn’t exactly easy. Wilson battled for eight pitches, eventually swinging through a fastball for strike three. Langerhans worked the count full and took a fastball down in the zone for what looked like ball four, but the home plate ump called it strike three and the inning was over. Generous call, yes, but it’s still a strike some 21 months later. Robertson’s WPA for the game was +0.160 (he started the next inning), or +0.140 for the two strikeouts.

2. April 15th, 2011 (box & video)

This one is pretty recent, it happened just a few weeks ago. The Yankees were in Toronto to take on the Blue Jays, but starter A.J. Burnett was having a rough go of it against his old club. He started the sixth inning with the Yanks up by two, but a leadoff single (and a steal) by Aaron Hill followed by a Jose Molina pop-up and a Corey Patterson walk put the Jays in business. Edwin Encarnacion doubled in one run and put runners at second and third with one out, but a Jayson Nix walk loaded to the bases. Exit Burnett, enter Robertson.

The lineup had just turned over, so Jose Bautista was two batters away at the time. It was either get Yunel Escobar and Travis Snider or (figuratively) die trying. Robertson had a similar yet different approach against both batters; he fed Escobar seven straight fastballs before Toronto’s shortstop swung and missed for strike three, then he gave Snider four straight curveballs for another swinging strikeout. That resulted in this gem…

It’s hypnotic, isn’t it? Robertson used one pitch exclusively against each batter to record to the threat-ending strikeouts, stranding Joey Bats in the on-deck circle. He faced just the two batters, but his WPA was a stout +0.254.

Big relief after this one, eh? (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

1. October 9th, 2009 (box & video)

Surely you remember this one. It was Game Two of the 2009 ALDS, and the Yankees and Twins were tied at three in the 11th inning after Alex Rodriguez hit a game-tying, two-run homer off Joe Nathan in the bottom of the ninth. Damaso Marte did some great work in the World Series, but he allowed consecutive singles to Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel to lead off the 11th before Robertson was called in. Mauer should have doubled earlier in the at-bat, but that’s another post for another time.

Instead of coming in and doing the strikeout thing, David needed some help on this one. Michael Cuddyer singled on a hanging curveball to loaded the bases with none out, taking away any margin of error. Noted hacker Delmon Young lined a first pitch curveball right at a perfectly positioned Mark Teixeira for the first out, bringing Carlos Gomez to the plate. He also swung at the first pitch, a fastball in on his hands, grounding it to Tex who got the force play at home. Brendan Harris was all that was left between escape and certain doom, and he lifted a 1-1 fastball into center field for a routine fly out to end the inning and the threat. At +0.341 WPA for the game (+0.461 for the three outs), this was Robertson’s masterpiece, his Mona Lisa.

After 49 years, Gene Monahan to step down

Gene Monahan collects his 2009 World Series ring. (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)

Gene Monahan, the longest-tenured trainer in the game, will step down at the end of the season, the Yankees announced today. Monahan, who missed Spring Training last year to undergo extensive treatment for cancer, has been with the organization since 1962 and has served as the club’s head trainer continuously since 1973.

“Gene Monahan embodies all the very best virtues that this organization strives to uphold,” Hal Steinbrenner said today in a statement. “His devotion to his craft, passion for the game of baseball and tireless work ethic are only a few of the qualities that have made him a bedrock within this franchise for nearly 50 years. Gene has made a lifetime’s worth of sacrifices and contributions in order to best serve the Yankees, and our entire organization will always be grateful.”

Monahan got his start with the Yankees while still a senior in high school in Fort Lauderdale. In 1962, he served as the club’s bat boy and clubhouse attendant and then began a journey through the organization. He started out as a trainer with the Class-D affiliate in Fort Lauderdale, and throughout his time with the Yanks, he worked toward a degree in athletic training from the University of Indiana. He made the jump to Double-A in 1965, and after four years there, he was promoted to Triple A Syrcause. He and George Steinbrenner both arrived in the Bronx in 1973.

As the longest-tenured head train in the game, Monahan has been honored of late. He and assistant trainer Steve Donohue were named “Best Athletic Trainers” by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainer Society last year. He is also a member of the New York State Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame.

Last spring, as the Yanks’ trainer battled cancer of the throat and tonsils, Wayne Coffey of the Daily News profiled his life and career with the Yankees. After 49 years with the club confronting countless injuries and his own personal battle, Monahan deserves all the rest he can find in retirement. The organization won’t be the same without him.

Pseudo-Mailbag: Phil Hughes’s potential return

Soon, Phil. Soon. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Lately we’ve gotten tons of questions about Phil Hughes‘s eventual return. They all vary in the specifics, but they all come back to a few main questions. Here’s a general answer to all of them.

In the past few days we’ve learned a bit about Phil Hughes’s immediate future, and his past. Two weeks ago he received a cortisone injection in his arm, not an uncommon procedure for injured pitchers, and that apparently got the ball rolling. He took some time off while he went to physical therapy, and is now apparently back into his full workout routine. The most encouraging news is that this week he starts a throwing program, which could put him on track to return at the low end of Brian Cashman‘s six-to-eight-week timeframe.

The recurring question appearing in our mailbag involves Hughes’s role upon his expected return. The rotation is turning well now. CC Sabathia still mans the helm, and A.J. Burnett has turned in a quality start to the season. The back end of the rotation has pleasantly surprised, with stellar performances by Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, and a quick turnaround from Ivan Nova after a rough beginning. Who, then, would Hughes replace? Might he be better off in the bullpen, for both his arm and the team’s sake?

I don’t think it would be wise to assume Hughes’s return at a day sooner than the upper end, eight weeks, of Cashman’s timeframe. This isn’t because Hughes is necessarily slow to recover, or that he has suffered setbacks in the past. It is because pitchers in general often suffer setbacks when rehabbing. What starts as an aggressive timetable gets stalled somewhere in the middle, and the pitcher ends up missing more time than expected. I expect the Yankees to keep this in mind and progress with Hughes slowly. The better the guys in the rotation pitch, the slower they can afford to take Hughes’s rehab.

As for the pitcher he replaces, that’s something that will work itself out. The Yankees have already gotten more than they could have expected from both Colon and Garcia. If either of them isn’t pitching in two weeks, I don’t think anyone would be surprised. Even Nova, even though he has pitched well lately, could fall into another hole and require a minor league assignment. The chances are high that by the time Hughes is ready to pitch again, the Yankees will have a spot for him. Rotations change throughout the course of the season, and in six or eight weeks the Yankees will be different, too. Finding a spot for him shouldn’t prove too difficult. And if it does, well, then that’s a good problem to have.

If the Yankees do have five effective starters, Hughes could go to the bullpen. He called that place home in 2009, and experienced stellar results. His performance out there is the real reason he earned a rotation spot in 2010. Might it be a bit easier on his arm, even, if he returns there in June or July? I’m reluctant to say yes, because I’ve seen no study that demonstrates the stress on a starter’s arm vs. the stress on a reliever’s. Sure, a reliever pitches fewer innings, but they are also typically higher leverage innings, and relievers tend to empty the tank quicker (i.e., they unload on pitches rather than pace themselves). That might actually make it more stressful. Perhaps putting him in the bullpen is a way to have him on the team if there are already five starters, but that should be the only reason. And even then, if the Yankees still value Hughes for the future they should keep him in the rotation at this point.

There has been plenty of frustration with Phil Hughes in 2011. But with a clean bill of health and a rehab plan, it appears things are getting back on track. It’s natural to get excited about the prospect of his return, even if it is more than a month away. The one thing we know is that by the time he is ready to pitch in the majors, things will have changed with the Yankees rotation. There’s a decent chance they’ll legitimately need him by that point. If they don’t, they’ll have plenty of options. For now, at least, there’s some room for optimism with Hughes. He’s ready and throwing. That’s further along I thought he’d be after his most recent setback.

The RAB Radio Show: May 11, 2011

The Yanks won a close one last night, thanks, in part, to a David Robertson save. Not that he didn’t contribute to the situation, but he did a great job working out of trouble and handing the ball to Joba and Mo with clean slates. There were some frustrations, but with the pitching and the W at the end it was tough to complain too much.

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.