Girardi: ‘We believe in A.J.’

When CC Sabathia lasted just four innings and threw only 93 pitches on Friday, many speculated that the Yanks would take advantage of this short outing to bring him back on three days’ rest and thus skip A.J. Burnett‘s scheduled start. Yanks’ manager Joe Girardi said today that A.J. Burnett would indeed be getting the ball for Tuesday’s Game 4 start. “I know its been a tough year for him, at times,” the skipper said. “But we believe in A.J.” The Yankees also said they believe in Santa Claus, leprechauns, the Easter Bunny, Big Foot, the Tooth Fairy and diet Dr. Pepper with no calories that tastes just as good as the original.

As Jack Curry noted, the Yanks’ decision to go with A.J. is more about the team’s unwillingness to use Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte on short rest. Considering Hughes’ innings limit and Pettitte’s fragility — he is just four starts removed from a two-month stint on the DL — the Yanks wanted to line up their pitchers to go on full rest. This move also speaks to one of the reasons why Phil Hughes threw yesterday’s game: The Yanks would prefer to line up Pettitte for a potential Game 7 with CC available in the pen. So Andy goes tomorrow, followed by A.J., followed by CC. And so it goes.

Laird homers in Phoenix loss

These Arizona Fall League night games are killing me. I can’t remember them ever playing this many, at least not this easy in the season. Anyway, let’s get you caught up on the last few days, plus the action from Latin America …

Phoenix Desert Dogs (11-4 loss to Scottsdale on Friday)
Austin Romine, DH: 1 for 4, 3 K
Brandon Laird, LF: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K – I suspect he’ll have a few more games like this considering the extreme offensive run environment
George Kontos: 1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K – 17 of 26 pitches were strikes (65.4%) … hey, at least he struck out the side

Phoenix Desert Dogs (10-4 loss to Surprise on Saturday)
Jose Pirela, 2B: 0 for 4, 1 BB, 2 K

There are no games on the schedule for today. Keith Law got a look at Craig Heyer the other day and wrote up a little blurb, but you need an Insider subscription to read it. Here’s the important stuff…

Heyer throws a heavy fastball at 90-92 from a slot just below 3/4, generating a lot of groundballs, and he works quickly to try to keep hitters off balance. His slider was fringy at 83-84 with a tendency to get long and sweepy, which can be a problem for pitchers with lower arm slots, but if he can tighten that up he’s a valuable relief prospect, but would need a third pitch to use against lefties if he’s going to end up a starter.

Heyer is an extreme strike thrower, walking just 14 batters unintentionally in 164.1 IP over the last two seasons (0.77 BB/9), so it’s good to get a pair of eyes on him and confirm that there’s actual potential here. He’s not particularly young, 25 next month, but the Yanks’ 2007 22nd rounder has put himself on the prospect map over the last two years. Good for him.

And now for the other winter leagues…

Mexican Winter League
Justin Christian: 4 G, 5 for 18, 1 RBI, 2 SB (.278/.278/.278)
Walt Ibarra: 4 G, 5 for 16, 5 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 SB (.313/.389/.375)
Francisco Gil: 2 G, 1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 WP (36.00 ERA, 4.00 WHIP)
Eric Wordekemper: 2 G, 1.1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 0 K (20.25 ERA, 2.25 WHIP)

Venezuelan Winter League
Jose Gil: 4 G, 8 for 16, 4 R, 3 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 3 K (.500/.500/.875)
Luis Nunez: 2 G, 2 for 7, 1 R (.286/.286/.286)
Marcos Vechionacci: 5 G, 3 for 16, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 SB (.188/.235/.250)
Josh Schmidt: 1 G, 1 GS, 4 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K (2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP)

Edwar Gonzalez, Juan Marcano, Emerson Landoni, Eduardo Sosa, and Jesus Montero are all playing in the VWL as well, but have yet to appear in a game. The Dominican Winter League rosters aren’t out yet, but they will be soon. The season starts on Friday. Same deal with the Puerto Rican League as well, season starts the same day and everything.

Football Open Thread

The Giants are playing the Lions (1pm ET), the Jets are in the Denver (4pm ET). If you’re a Cablevision subscriber, you’re out of luck with the Giants. Still no resolution between them and FOX. Bastards. Chat about any of all of the games here.

An A-Rod what if

Neil Paine in the New York Times takes a look at the Rangers and how the A-Rod contract affected the franchised and how they have recovered from it.  He does his take on what happened to the Rangers, I wanted to see what the trade has mean for A-Rod’ legacy.  It would be pretty interesting to try and figure out what A-Rod’s career would look like now if he were never traded to New York. How would have his career turned out?

He wouldn’t have a ring but he also wouldn’t have ever had the “choker” label attached to him as he wouldn’t have spent much time in the playoffs. His raw numbers would be better and he would have spent more time compiling stats while still a shortstop.  A-Rod ended 2009 at 613 home runs, with 344 coming at short. Spending the last seven years in Arlington surely would have been better for his numbers than in Yankee Stadium(s). Had the trade never happened, could he be sitting on 650 career HR’s with over 500 at SS?  Very possible.  A-Rod already ranks among the greatest players of all time,  but with those kind of numbers at shortstop, even in lieu of a ring, many would consider A-Rod’s career and legacy greater if he never became a Yankee.

If I had posed this question in April 2009, I would have said undoubtedly that A-Rod’s legacy as a baseball player was hurt by coming to New York.  Because of the ring in 2009 I think the trade to the Yankees has helped his legacy.  I’m not completely sure though, as Ted Williams went ringless (and struggled in the playoffs) but is often called the best hitter in baseball history (not that it’s correct). Barry Bonds went ringless and even despite having the taint of steroids, is considered one of the top 5 hitters of all time. Statistically the trade certainly hasn’t helped his legacy in both traditional stats and sabermetric stats and at the end of the day, baseball is truly a game about the numbers.

I’m sure A-Rod is happy that the trade went through.  He has gone through a ton of crap but seems to have come through it with flying colors.  He finally got his ring and wasn’t just along for the ride, he was the one doing a lot of the driving.  His move to New York has obviously made him extra money (hundreds of millions of extra dollars) both on and off the field.  That being said, we know A-Rod is a great historian and like any great player cares about his numbers.  As much as athletes love to say it’s about winning, none of them would trade Ernie Banks’ career for David Eckstein’s simply because he has 2 rings and a World Series MVP.  Karl Malone and Charles Barkley wouldn’t think for a second about trading their careers for fellow power forward Robert Horry’s seven rings.    I don’t think he would be happier ringless in Texas with bigger numbers, but if given the two scenarios, I think it would have to cross his mind, wouldn’t it?

Rangers pound Hughes to tie ALCS at one

Coming off Friday’s thrilling come-from-behind win, the Yankees had every reason to feel good about themselves when they showed up to the park for Game Two on Saturday. The Rangers, on the other hand, had every reason to doubt themselves, but to their credit they put it all in the rear-view mirror and jumped all over the Yanks to tie the ALCS at one in blowout fashion.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

A Hughes Disappointment

Two games, two terrible performances by Yankee starting pitchers. The bullpen and offense was able to bail CC Sabathia out in Game One, but no such luck for Phil Hughes in Game Two. Texas forced the issue in the very first inning, with Josh Hamilton and Elvis Andrus combining to literally steal a run (more on that in a bit) while Hughes struck out the side. He looked strong in the first inning, very strong in fact, but boy were we wrong.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Rangers scored another two runs in the second, the first on a David Murphy solo homer, the other on a Michael Young double down the rightfield line following singles by Mitch Moreland and Andrus. The two runs were actually the two largest WPA swings of the game, with Murphy’s homer coming in at +.092 for Texas, Young’s double +.083. A three run deficit in the second inning isn’t the end of the world, the Yanks proved that in Game One, but Hughes’ pitch count was already over 40 and the Rangers’ batters were making nothing but solid contact.

Texas added another pair of runs in the third when three of the first four batters of the inning – Nelson Cruz, Murphy, and Bengie Molina – doubled. Hughes managed to escape that inning and throw a scoreless fourth, but Joe Girardi curiously sent him back out for the fifth with his pitch count approaching 90. Cruz led off the inning with a double and Ian Kinsler followed with a triple, and that was it for young Mr. Hughes.

The final line is ugly (4 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 1 WP) but even more infuriating was Hughes’ inability to put batters away with two strikes. Seven (seven!) of Texas’ ten hits off Phil came with two strikes, and he allowed runners to reach scoring position in every inning but the fourth. The Rangers fouled off more than a quarter of his 88 pitches, unsurprising when 68 of those pitches were fastballs. Hughes was absolutely dreadful, worse than Sabathia was the day before. He gave his team basically no chance to win.

Stranded

In the face. IN THE FAAAAAAAAACE. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

It didn’t feel like it when the game was in progress, but the Yankees had a few opportunities to push some runs and just didn’t get it done. They left two runners on in the second, third, sixth, seventh, and ninth, plus one runner in both the fifth and eighth innings. Of the seven (!!!) walks issued by Rangers’ pitchers, zero came around to score. All told, the Yanks left a dozen runners on base and had just one hit in eleven at-bats with runners in scoring position, a single by Lance Berkman who got thrown out foolishly trying to stretch it into a double. They had opportunities, but just couldn’t cash them in.

Robbie Cano Is BOOM!

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

It wasn’t all bad for the Yanks’ offense; Robbie Cano was a one man wrecking crew all afternoon. He ripped a line drive in his first at-bat that Nelson Cruz against the wall, then doubled over Josh Hamilton’s head his next time up (he came around to score the Yanks’ first run of the game), then capped it off solo homer into the second deck in his third trip to the plate (the only other run they’d score). Cano also made the final out of the game, a rocket to the opposite field that Cruz somehow managed to catch on the run on the warning track. I tweeted that if the game was played at Yankee Stadium, Cano would have had three homers, and that was only semi-hyperbolic. Those first three balls were just crushed.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Two stupid mistakes on the Rangers’ first run, when Andrus stole home on Hamilton’s attempted steal of second: Jorge Posada actually throwing through to second with the speedy runner on third, then Cano not tagging Hamilton for the out. The run probably would have scored anyway, but at the least inning would have been over. Hamilton was intentionally trying to get in a run down, take the free out. Still, that’s a Little League play. Posada has to get his head out of his ass.

No excuses, but I’m not sure why Hughes was sent back out for the fifth. Yes he had just thrown a very good fourth inning, but he was clearly laboring and the bullpen was full of rested relievers with the day off tomorrow. He allowed the double and triple before giving way to Joba Chamberlain, who nearly escaped the jam with a pair of strikeouts before Moreland slapped a grounder through the left side. I thought Joba looked extremely good, with a fastball that bumped 96 and a slider that garnered two swings-and-misses for strikeouts.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

In fact, the entire bullpen as a whole was strong yet again. They combined to throw four innings, allowed just two hits, walked three (one on purpose), and struck out six. Sergio Mitre even made an appearance, his first in 13 days. If nothing else, Joba, David Robertson, and Boone Logan were able to get some tune-up work in after the long layoff.

Every Yankee in the starting lineup reached base at least once except for Brett Gardner, who went 0-for-2 before being lifted for a pinch hitter. Curtis Granderson saw 27 pitches in just four trips to the plate. They also forced rookie closer Neftali Feliz to throw 30 pitches in the ninth (just 16 strikes), which has to put a little doubt in every Rangers’ fan mind should he pitch in an actual high leverage situation this series.

I’m not going to make a big deal out of it because it’s a cop out, but Tony Randazzo’s strike zone was awful. Here’s the scatter plot if you don’t believe me. The green markers are balls, the red called strikes.

One last thing to remember: splitting the first two games on the road is generally considered a success. Things seem worse than they really are because Sabathia and Hughes were awful, but those kinds of efforts are the exception for those two, not the norm. The Yanks grabbed homefield advantage from Texas and now head home to play the next three in Yankee Stadium. Short of winning both games in Arlington, this is the best situation they could have hoped for.

WPA Graph & Box Score

No comeback this time. MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs all that other stuff.

Up Next

It’s a best-of-five series now, but the two teams will take Sunday off before resuming play at 8:00pm ET on Monday. Andy Pettitte goes against Cliff Lee in a matchup of lefties.

Open Thread: Giants @ Phillies

WTF. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

This afternoon’s game sucked, but splitting the first two games on the road in a best-of-seven series isn’t the worst thing that could have happened. The one thing the Yankees absolutely need to improve upon is the starting pitching; what CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes did in the first two games simply won’t cut it. I don’t know about you, but I’m confident in Andy Pettitte‘s ability to fix that in Game Three.

Anyway, the Giants and Phillies kick off their League Championship Series tonight, and in fact the game is already underway on FOX. I understand my fellow fans with Cablevision can’t watch the game because of The Dolans’ or FOX’s or both’s greed, so I express my condolences. It’s Saturday night though, go out and have some fun instead. Either way, use this thread to talk about the game or whatever else you want.