A few roster decisions on the horizon

For the past few weeks the Yankees have played with a short bench. Because they’ve used six pitchers in the starting rotation, and since they haven’t shortened the bullpen at all, they’re working with 12 position players and 13 pitchers. Normally they go with 13 position players, giving them a four-man bench, and 12 pitchers, giving them a seven-man bullpen. That won’t last much longer. When Alex Rodriguez returns they’ll have to alter the pitching staff, but with Freddy Garcia‘s injury that could get a little tricky. Here’s how it all could work.

The goal for Garcia, as Joe Girardi has stated, is for him to pitch Saturday against the Twins. Yet that’s no guarantee. He threw a bullpen session yesterday, but it comprised only sliders and fastballs. The Yankees won’t let him pitch unless he can grip his splitter, and they’re right to do that. Per FanGraphs’ pitch type values, Garcia’s cutter has easily been his most effective pitch this season, at 1.15 runs above average per 100 pitches. he also throws it more than 20 percent of the time, so he needs that weapon. The decision on what to do with Garcia will play into the roster decision.

Scenario 1: DL Garcia when A-Rod returns

There remains a decent chance that the Yankees place Garcia on the DL, just to gain a temporary reprieve. They’ll have to make a move with the pitching staff when Alex returns, since they can’t do anything with the bench. Placing Garcia on the DL, retroactive to August 8th, would give them an easy opening, and would allow the bullpen to stay at full strength through the current road trip. Garcia would be eligible to come off the DL on August 23rd, which would line him up to start the first game of the home series against the A’s.

Following him would be Bartolo Colon and CC Sabathia against the A’s, leaving Phil Hughes to start the opener in Baltimore. A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova would then take the doubleheader, giving Freddy the Sunday start. That would also get everyone back on turn, so the Yankees could pare down the rotation to five at that point, moving either Nova, Hughes, or Burnett to the bullpen, bringing it back to seven men.

Scenario 2: Option a reliever when A-Rod returns

If Garcia can go on Saturday, then the Yankees have a different issue on their hands. They’ll maintain the six-man rotation, which they essentially have to do through the doubleheader, anyway, but will play with a short bullpen for a week. That’s not the end of the world; the team can survive with an 11-man pitching staff. But it’s unfamiliar territory, and the Yankees will have to play through it until Sunday the 28th.

This scenario would have Burnett’s next start pushed back to Sunday, leaving Nova to open the series against the A’s. The schedule breaks down in a similar manner from there, with Colon and Sabathia finishing the A’s series and Hughes opening the Orioles series. Garcia and Burnett would take the doubleheader, with Nova pitching on Sunday. After that they could decide what to do with the rotation situation, but they’d have to make a quick decision, since the bullpen will be short until they move a starter there.

Scenario 3: Mixing it up

Here are just four of many possible ways the Yankees could handle the rotation in the coming weeks. Clearly, the first two involve no DL stint for Garcia, while the other two do.

After playing a man short on the bench for almost a month, the Yankees will play with a man short in the bullpen for at least a week, perhaps a week and a half. There’s no avoiding it, considering the doubleheader on Saturday (meaning the need for that sixth starter on Sunday as well). That’s why I prefer to DL Garcia. Not only does it give his finger time to fully heal, but it means the Yankees will spend less time with a short bullpen. It essentially moves Garcia back just two games, which at this point in the season, with the Yankees commanding a sizable lead in the playoff race, makes little difference. If it helps them get through the coming weeks with further issues, why not just do it?

Anticipating A-Rod’s Return

(AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

The Yankees have been without their starting third baseman and cleanup hitter for close to six weeks now, but are close to getting Alex Rodriguez back now that he’s playing the field for Triple-A Scranton in rehab games. He went 1-for-3 with a hard hit single and played six innings in the field last night (video here), his first game action at third since having knee surgery last month. Assuming all goes well, he’ll return to the Yankees at some point during the upcoming four-game series in Minnesota.

Eduardo Nunez and Eric Chavez (with a little Brandon Laird mixed in) have filled in admirably during A-Rod‘s absence, but Yankees’ third baseman are hitting just .260/.308/.333 since he got hurt. The team’s overall offensive output has gone up, from 5.22 runs per game before the injury to 5.85 after, but that has more to with the small sample size and playing some really bad teams more than anything. Even though he hasn’t played in a month, Alex is still second among all big league third baseman with 4.0 fWAR, a tenth of a win behind Kevin Youkilis, who just passed him over the weekend. The Yankees have gone 23-11 without A-Rod, but there’s no doubt they’re a better team with him in the lineup.

Once he comes back, the lineup will basically go back to normal. A-Rod will (rightfully) hit cleanup and Brett Gardner will get bumped back to the bottom of the order. It’s obvious the Yankees aren’t going to move Derek Jeter down in the lineup, even just against righties, so moving Gardner down is the next best thing to do. You can’t give Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Robinson Cano fewer at-bats by moving them down even one lineup spot just accommodate Gardner, it’s not worth it. We’ll be back to the regular top five, meaning Jeter, Grandy, Tex, A-Rod, and Cano. Everyone else falls into place right after that.

Thankfully, Alex’s return also means the end of the 13-man pitching staff, and I assume Hector Noesi will (finally) get send back to Triple-A for regular work. The guy has thrown 3.2 IP in the last 20 days. It’s a waste, he needs to get back to the minors and actually do some pitching. I guess the alternative would be what, cutting Luis Ayala? I see no reason to do that. Freddy Garcia‘s cut finger buys them some time with the six-man rotation decision, and Joe Girardi will just have to live with a six-man bullpen for 10-12 days until September call-ups. It won’t be the end of the world.

I also think that once A-Rod comes back, he’s going to see a lot more games at DH than we’re used to, at least at first. There’s no reason to push him in the field so soon after surgery, so two or three days a week at DH rather than one might be the norm through the end of the season, especially with September right around the corner. That’ll give Nunez and Chavez some semi-regular playing time, which is always good, especially in the kid’s case. I don’t know how A-Rod will hit when he comes back, but I suspect it won’t be poorly. Perhaps a healthy knee will improve his power output, which wasn’t really a problem to begin with. Either way, the Yankees are currently in first place and are a few days away from making a substantial addition to the roster, and that’s exciting.

Remembering The El Duque Era

It’s been nearly four full years since he last stepped onto a Major League field, but it wasn’t until yesterday that Orlando Hernandez officially announced his retirement from baseball. The one they call “El Duque” spent parts of nine seasons in the big leagues, pitching for both New York teams as well as the White Sox and Diamondbacks. He was also a National and a Ranger at various points, but in name only. He never pitched for either team. The vast majority of his career was spent in pinstripes (exactly two-thirds of his career innings, in fact), during which time he was one of the most unique players in franchise history.

A fixture on the Cuban National Team for the better part of a decade, El Duque defected from Cuba on Christmas Day in 1997, eventually gaining asylum in Costa Rica after a stop in the Bahamas. The Yankees won the sweepstakes to sign Hernandez that winter, inking him to a four-year contract worth $6.6M. Initial reports said he was 28, but others suggested he was 32. I bet if they had chopped the guy open like a tree and counted the rings, they would have gotten another number entirely.

Despite his extensive experience in Cuba and in international competition, the Yankees had El Duque begin the 1998 season with two starts in Single-A before a quick promotion to Triple-A. He made seven starts for Columbus, then made his big league debut on June 3rd, replacing Ramiro Mendoza in the rotation. I remember that first start well, and for the same reason so many other people remember El Duque: the leg kick. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before, his knee hiding his face, the hands below the foot, it was everything I could ever conjure up while playing wiffle ball except on the big league field.

Hernandez held the then-Devil Rays to five hits and one run over seven innings that night in the Bronx, a preview of what was to come. El Duque threw a complete game four-hitter the next time out, then followed that up with a two runs in 7.2 IP in his third start. Only three times in his first 14 starts did he allow more than two earned runs, and he completed at least seven innings ten times during that stretch. Hernandez finished the season with a 3.13 ERA and a 12-4 record in 21 starts, earning him a fourth place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting. His True Yankee™ moment came in Game Four of the ALCS, when he fired seven three-hit, shutout innings against the powerhouse Indians with the Yankees staring a potential 3-1 series deficit in the face. Seven one-run innings in Game Two against the Padres in the World Series followed, as did his first ring.

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

El Duque made 33 starts the next year, going 17-9 with a 4.12 ERA. He made four postseason starts and won them all, which is usually what happens when you allowed just four earned runs in 30 IP. In Game One of the World Series, he struck out ten and allowed just a single hit to outpitch Greg Maddux. Things went a little south for Hernandez in 2000, though he still started 29 games and posted a 4.51 ERA. The Yankees again went to the postseason, but El Duque took his first career playoff loss against the Mets in Game Three of the World Series. Four runs and a dozen strikeouts in 7.1 IP is hardly the end of the world though.

Injuries and ineffectiveness started to creep into the picture in 2001, when he managed just 16 starts and a 4.85 ERA. Hernandez’s Yankees career came to an end after the 2002 season, or so we thought. He was traded to the White Sox in January 2003 for reliever Antonio Osuna and a minor leaguer, who then flipped him to the Expos as part of a package for Bartolo Colon later that day. El Duque didn’t throw a single pitch in 2003 due to injury, and more than a year after trading him away, the Yankees signed Hernandez late in Spring Training in 2004. As it turned out, he ended up being a savior that season, pitching to a 3.30 ERA in 15 second half starts. He also made a representative start (5 IP, 3 R) in the ALCS against the Red Sox.

The Yankees allowed Hernandez to leave as a free agent after the season, officially closing the book on the career in pinstripes. The veteran right-hander contributed 876.1 IP with a 3.96 ERA to the Yankees’ cause, not to mention postseason dominance that is still kinda hard to believe. El Duque threw 102 IP in the playoffs for the Yankees from 1998-2004, pitching to a 2.65 ERA. He won three rings in New York and was less than an inning away from winning a fourth, one win away from going to a fifth World Series.

* * *

El Duque isn’t a Hall of Famer, far from it. He never even made an All-Star Team, and only twice in his career did he throw more than 165 IP in a season. He made a great first impression in 1998 but gradually got worse and worse each year, though he always had a flair for the dramatic. I remember him throwing his glove to Tino Martinez after Rey Ordonez’s comebacker got caught in the webbing. I remember when he stood in the first base line with his arms crossed after fielding a grounder while Coco Crisp tried to juke his way to first. I remember the eephus pitches. I remember the smile. I remember the delivery and guarantee it’ll be in the wiffle ball arsenal for life. El Duque is an All-Joy Team first ballot Hall of Famer, the pitcher that didn’t just pitch a great game but also put on a great show while doing it.

Yanks top Royals, crickets for third straight win

Slugfests are always fun, only because there’s maybe two or three teams that can really hang with the Yankees in games like this. The Royals have a sneaky good offense, but the difference in this game was that one rookie pitcher completely imploded while the other was just touch better than that.

Robbie Goes BOOM!!!

This game was a classic back-and-forth affair; the Yankees responded with runs pretty much every time the Royals pushed a few across, and the Royals threatened every time the Yankees scored some runs. Robinson Cano singled in his team’s first run on a breaking ball at his eyes in the third, then two batters later Russell Martin drove in two more to give the Yankees a short-lived 3-2 lead. Kansas City answered right back with three off Ivan Nova (more on him in a bit), but the Yankees were not fooled by rookie southpaw Danny Duffy the second and third time through the order.

The five-run fourth inning started innocently enough, with a Brett Gardner drag bunt single to the second baseman. Derek Jeter tied the game on a double down the line and into left (he look, he pulled the ball!), and for some reason Curtis Granderson and his 33 homeruns squared around to bunt. The Royals bailed him out though, because catcher Salvador Perez threw to third but Jeter slide in behind (or maybe under, I didn’t see the replay) the tag. That put men at the corners with none out. Mark Teixeira singled in the go-ahead run after taking what looked like strike three, bringing Cano to the plate. This is where it got interesting.

Before the at-bat started, Royals manager Ned Yost went out to the mound but not to take out his struggling starter out, but to give home plate ump Kerwin Danley a mouthful about the non-strike three to Teixeira. He got tossed, but Duffy remained in the game. The first pitch to Cano was a fastball in the dirt for a ball, then came a high curveball that Robbie fouled off. The 1-1 pitch was a curve in the dirt, the 2-1 pitch a fastball down and away from the zone. Three balls and one strike is a total hitter’s count, but Cano just fouled off the 92 fastball to run the count full. Five pitches into the encounter, these two weren’t even halfway done yet.

Fastball, foul. Fastball, foul. Fastball, foul. Slider, foul. Slider, foul. Fastball, foul. Seven straight foul balls followed the 3-1 count, and it was clear that the Royals’ battery had no idea what to do next. They threw fastballs in the zone, out of the zone, sliders in the dirt, basically everything in the arsenal.The 12th and final pitch of the at-bat was a slider that hung up and in the zone, and Cano put his best Home Run Derby Champion swing on it for a three-run homer. The Yankees had taken an 8-5 lead and there will still no outs in the inning, but Duffy was on his way out of the game before Robinson even touched home plate. It was a no-doubter off the bat and a fantastic plate appearance, backing a young and overmatched pitcher into a corner until he mistake pitched his way out of it.

(Photo via Ben Kabak)

Revenge Is A Dish Best Served … With A Better Start Than This?

Ivan Nova has faced the Royals twice in 2011, and they’re the two worst starts of his career. This game wasn’t quite as bad in the start in May, but yeah, nine runs and seven runs in 5.1 IP is pretty awful. Kansas City tagged him for two runs in the first, three runs in the third, and two more runs in the sixth, and frankly he’s lucky he held them to that. There were a lot of pitches left up in the zone and a lot of hitter’s counts, and through the magic of hindsight I can say that Nova was left in an inning too long. Trying to squeeze another inning out of him wasn’t the wisest decision given how rested the middle relievers are. Oh well, didn’t come back to hurt them, though it almost did.

Nova threw a total 87 pitches, only 20 of which weren’t fastballs. Four of his seven swings and misses came on the heat, two on curves, and one a change. The 8-5 GB/FB is still pretty good but not what we’re used to seeing from Nova. With a Game Score of just 23, it was in fact the second worst start of his career, better than just that start against KC in May (Game Score of 15). He was due for a stinker, so I’m glad he got it out of the way on a night when his offense nearly hung double digits on the scoreboard.

Tablesetters

Jeter was technically the leadoff hitter tonight, but Eduardo Nunez and Gardner did a fine job of getting on base at the bottom of the order and ahead of the big bats. Both had two hits, all singles except for Gardner’s two-out triple in the seventh. Jeter singled him in for a rather big insurance run. The top four hitters in the lineup combined to go 6-for-18 with one walk and a hit-by-pitch, and seven of those eight baserunners came around to score.

Everyone in the lineup reached base exactly twice except for Andruw Jones, who got hit by a pitch before giving way to pinch-hitter Jorge Posada, who walked. So the DH spot got on base two times anyway. The Yankees had half a dozen hits in their dozen at-bats with men in scoring position. The top and the bottom of the order did the majority of the heavy lifted, but all nine (really ten) guys contributed in this one.

(Photo via Ben Kabak)

Leftovers

Remember WWWMW™? That’s always fun. Mariano Rivera threw a perfect ninth inning for the second straight day, this one with two strikeouts and a ground out. Pretty much vintage Rivera right there. There’s never a reason to worry about the guy, how many times do we have to tell you?

The entire bullpen was perfect, 11 up and 11 down. Boone Logan got three outs with some help from a great diving stop by Tex, then Rafael Soriano recorded two outs before David Robertson chipped in a perfect eighth. Soriano, Robertson, and Mo have each appeared in the last two games, and I’m willing to bet Rivera gets Wednesday’s game off. No reason to push him at this point of the season. Figure some Cory Wade action in the seventh with the other two sliding up an inning. Yay assigned innings!

Holy hell, how annoying were the crickets? Apparently enough people complained about them that the YES booth had to acknowledge that yeah, they were making the broadcast unbearable. Thankfully they’re only in Kansas City for one more night.

The Red Sox split a double header with the Rays on Tuesday (Tampa got complete games from Jamie Shields and Jeff Niemann, how about that?), which means the Yankees lead the AL East by half a game. They also lead by 39 runs in run differential (+180 vs. +141), but they don’t care give out division titles based on that. Anyway, the Yankees control their own destiny from here on out, as long as they lose the same number of games as Boston (or fewer, of course) the rest of the way, they’ll win the division. Pretty neat huh?

Oh by the way, the Yankees have now faced a pitcher they’d never seen before 18 times this season, and guess what their record is in those games. Hint: it’s 14-4. Didn’t see that coming, did ya?

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs some nerdy stuff, and ESPN the updated standings.

Up Next

Bartolo Colon will look to wrap up the sweep against Bruce Chen on Wednesday night, when he happily say goodbye to the crickets. Hooray for that.

A-Rod continues rehab in SWB loss

Austin Romine has been activated off the disabled list, so hooray for that. R.J. Baker hit the phantom DL to make room on the roster. Scott Proctor has been added to the Triple-A roster and Greg Smith was released to accommodate him. Meanwhile, Penn League Report continued to count down their list of the top 30 prospects in the NY-Penn League today, with numbers 21-25. Personal fave Bryan Mitchell ranked 22nd, and the report reaffirms everything we already know: great stuff, hella inconsistent.

Triple-A Scranton (2-0 loss to Durham)
Alex Rodriguez, 3B: 1 for 3 – hit a line drive off the wall in his first at-bat, one of those “he hit it so hard it was only a single” jobs … flew out to deep left-center in his second at-bat … popped up to second the third time up … he fielded one ground ball in his six innings, and all he had to do was step on third for the force out to end the inning, so no throw … he also failed to make the catch on a foul pop-up after over-running the ball … the Yankees supposedly want him to play two full nine-inning games before bringing him back, so I guess he’ll he here until at least Thursday
Kevin Russo, 2B: 0 for 4
Chris Dickerson, CF & Doug Bernier, SS: both 1 for 3 – Dickerson walked, stole two bases, and committed a fielding error … Bernier doubled and struck out
Terry Tiffee, 1B: 0 for 1 – took over for A-Rod
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 K – batted behind A-Rod, which is hopefully something we’ll see in the Bronx relatively soon
Mike Lamb, DH: 0 for 3, 1 HBP
Brandon Laird, 1B-3B: 0 for 4
Jordan Parraz, RF: 2 for 4, 1 2B - .296/.369/.445 this year … sneaky good
Greg Golson, LF: 0 for 2, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HBP
Adam Warren, RHP: 5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 2 HB, 5-3 GB/FB - 58 of 101 pitches were strikes (57.4%) … sat 92-93 on the gun
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – seven pitches, five strikes … lots of rain outs and stuff lately, plus David Phelps is coming back, he just needed to get some work in
George Kontos, RHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0-2 GB/FB – all ten pitches he threw were strikes
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0-2 GB/FB – seven of nine pitches were strikes
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 2-0 GB/FB – nine pitches, five strikes

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