Having some technical issues with the comments of the last thread, so here’s a fresh one.
It’s been a long time since the Yankees last swept a three-game series, which is something they have a chance to do tonight. You have to go all the way back to the second series after the All-Star break, which coincidentally came against the Blue Jays in Yankee Stadium. Hooray for history repeating itself. Here’s the starting nine…
SS Derek Jeter
RF Nick Swisher
2B Robinson Cano
DH Alex Rodriguez
C Russell Martin
CF Curtis Granderson
1B Casey McGehee
LF Ichiro Suzuki
3B Jayson Nix
RHP Phil Hughes
Tonight’s game is scheduled to start a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.
Mark Teixeira and his strained left calf will head to Tampa on Monday to begin what amounts to a minor league rehab assignment in Instructional League. Instructs are very informal, so he’ll be able to get like ten at-bats a day in game situations. Teixeira still feels some soreness in the calf but he will start swinging in the batting cage today. Earlier this week Brian Cashman said the team hopes to get their first baseman back when the Yankees head to Toronto at the end of next week, which seems to jive with this Instructs timetable.
Earlier this season when the Yankees went on the big midseason run that gave them that once-comfortable ten-game lead in the AL East, they were winning consistently because of their pitching. Every night their starter was pitching not just well, but also going deep into the game. From May 22nd through July 18th, when they went on that 36-13 run, the rotation pitched to a 3.19 ERA (3.55 FIP) while averaging 6.5 innings per start. The starters were dynamite, day after day.
That hasn’t been the case of late. Andy Pettitte got hurt, CC Sabathia got hurt (twice), Ivan Nova cratered before getting hurt, and the Yankees lost their big division lead. From July 19th — the start of the four game series in Oakland — through today, the rotation has pitched to a 4.22 ERA (4.15 FIP) with an average of 6.25 innings per start. I don’t think it was reasonable to expect to the starting staff to continue pitching that well all season, but the drop-off has been quite drastic.
The Yankees have won six of their last seven games and nine of 13 overall, though the rotation as a whole hasn’t stood out during that stretch. They’ve pitch to a 4.06 ERA (3.81 FIP) during those 13 games, which is fine but not great. Better than they had been, I guess is the best way to put it. Maybe serviceable, I don’t know. The offense has scored just enough runs and the bullpen has protected just enough leads to turn those performances into wins, and frankly that’s all that matters at this point. Every win is important, no matter how ugly it is.
Anyway, what does stand out during that 13-game stretch is the performance of the club’s three non-Pettitte homegrown starters, meaning Phil Hughes, David Phelps, and Ivan Nova. They’ve started six of those 13 games and have pitched to a combined 2.70 ERA (3.40 FIP) in 36.2 innings, with the Yankees winning five of the six games. The one loss was when Phelps got rocked in Baltimore, a game the offense actually battled back to tie before the bullpen blew it in the late innings. That one stung.
The club’s veteran starters (Sabathia, Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, Freddy Garcia) have pitched to a 5.35 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 38.2 innings in their seven starts during this 13-game stretch. It’s not all on Freddy either, he only made one of those seven starts (three runs in 3.1 innings). Pettitte was superb yesterday, but Kuroda and Sabathia allowed at least four earned runs in four of their five total starts. The vets have combined to throw just two more innings than the kids in one more start, so they haven’t been as effective nor gone as deep into the game.
The Yankees catch a lot of grief for their inability to develop starting pitching and deservedly so, but the team’s three young homegrown starters have picked up the pitching slack in a big way these last two weeks. The veteran guys did most of the heavy lifting earlier in the season and now Hughes, Nova, and Phelps are carrying the torch. That’s usually how these things go, not everyone clicks at once, but not many times in the last few seasons have the young pitchers carried New York. Hughes has allowed more than two earned runs just once in his last six outings, and tonight he’ll look to continue this recent stretch of strong performances from the homegrown arms against the Blue Jays in the series finale.
Via Joel Sherman, there is still a chance that David Aardsma could join the Yankees before the end of the regular season. He had been pitching in minor league rehab games until the season ended last week, even pitching in a set of back-to-back days. That’s usually one of the final steps before being activated. Aardsma wasn’t pitching all that well following his late-June setback, but his 30-day rehab window expires next weekend. The decision is coming one way or another.
In other news, left-hander Pedro Feliciano is unlikely to join the bullpen before the end of the season. He had been pitching in minor league rehab games as well, including doing the whole back-to-back thing, but he sprained his ankle covering first base in his last outing a little more than two weeks ago. The Yankees used that to reset his rehab clock and we’re unlikely to see him throw a single pitch in pinstripes after signing a two-year, $8M deal last winter.
I know it has been a little while since he pitched, but I wanted to take a look at Ivan Nova’s last outing. It was one of his most impressive performances of the season despite it being his first start back from injury. In total, Nova went six innings, giving up just two runs on four hits (only two of which went for extra bases) and two walks, with eight strikeouts.
Honestly, my expectations were pretty low for Nova in this start. He has been hit hard all year, giving up a ridiculous quantity of extra-base hits en route to a 4.81 ERA (including his most recent outing). While his strikeout rate is at a career high and his walk rate has been pretty low, one would expect him to be having a career year. Instead, Nova has been one of the weak points in the Yankee rotation, and I figured that missing time with a shoulder injury would likely cost him his rotation spot. However, Nova proved the doubters wrong with a strong outing. I was curious to see what was working for him.
Looking at Nova’s outing on Brooks Baseball, the first thing that comes to mind is his fastball. His average velocity on the pitch jumped a good 0.6 MPH, going from 93.46 to 94.07. Just to put that number in context, an average fastball of 94.07 MPH would place Nova 7th among qualified starters in average fastball velocity (behind usual suspects Stephen Strasburg, David Price, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander). With the increased velocity also came better movement, as both the vertical (by about two inches) and horizontal movement by about 2/3 of an inch) on the heater were increased. The extra life on the pitch corresponded to a four-fold increase in whiff rate, 16% in his last outing compared to just over 4% for the rest of the season. This is a massive difference, even though the change in velocity and movement seems to be relatively small. For what it’s worth, Texas Leaguers shows more dramatic differences in velocity and movement.
While the improved fastball is the main thing that jumps out at me, there are some noticeable differences in Nova’s curveball as well. The velocity of the pitched jumped about 2-3 MPH over his season average, though the vertical and horizontal break actually decreased. This could mean that he was throwing a tighter, sharper pitch, and consequently, opposing hitters whiffed at it about twice as often as they did earlier in the season.
The fastball and curve were Nova’s bread and butter in his most recent outing, as they have been throughout the season. He threw them about 83-percent of the time earlier in the season, and threw them nearly 90-percent of the time his last time out. I have no idea if Nova made a mechanical change during is time on the DL — it appears he did — or if the extra rest has simply given his raw stuff a little boost. Regardless, the extra hop on Nova’s fastball and tighter curveball seemed to be very effective in the small sample size of one outing. At this point in the season, Nova is auditioning just to earn a spot on the postseason roster. Unless he is absolutely lights out and another Yankee starter suffers an injury or setback, it is hard to picture Nova earning a spot in the playoff rotation. Regardless, if he continues to show his improved fastball velocity and more effective curveball, the Yankees could have a tough decision on their hands.
After going nearly a month without consecutive wins, the Yankees won two games in the span of about nine hours yesterday. They’ve also won four straight, six of seven, and nine of 13. If the Mariners had been something other than pitiful these last two nights, the division lead would be two or three games instead of just one. But hey, I’ll take the one-game lead. Better than being one back.
1. I don’t want to make too much of one game (one day, really), but man it would be such a huge lift if Ichiro Suzuki got hot and became a more consistent offensive threat these next few weeks. No one is asking him to go 4-for-4 with four steals every game — he’s more than welcome to do that, if he wants — but something more than the three or four hits a week he was providing would be nice. Prior to yesterday Ichiro had only been 6-for-9 in stolen base attempts with New York, so adding some more speed to the offense would be appreciated as well. He was awesome on Wednesday and I hope he builds on it going forward.
2. Ichiro started against the left-handed Ricky Romero last night because it appears that Joe Girardi has finally run out of patience with Andruw Jones. He’s been dreadful in the second half (.137/.250/.225 in 120 plate appearances), and that sure looked like his last pinch-hitting hurrah in Game One. When Girardi needed a right-hander off the bench with the go-ahead run on third and the left-handed Aaron Loup on the mound in Game Two, he went to Steve Pearce. If he’s not hitting, especially against lefties, there won’t be any reason to carry Andruw on the postseason roster should the Yankees qualify.
3. Speaking of not making the potential postseason roster, what about Raul Ibanez? He’s only been slightly less useless than Jones since the All-Star break, putting up a .190/.287/.356 line in 143 plate appearances. Remember when Hideki Matsui fell into a slump and every single at-bat was a weak ground ball to second? That’s Ibanez now, everything is weakly hit to the right side. He could just be worn down from playing the field so much earlier in the year or he could just be completely done, but at some point soon the Yankees will have to pull the plug on the other half of their preseason DH platoon. There isn’t much season left and neither guy is getting it done.
4. It goes without saying that the biggest positive development from yesterday was Andy Pettitte. He wasn’t sharp, but he still managed to throw five shutout innings against a bad offense after spending the last twelve weeks or so recovering from a leg fracture. Pettitte will need every bit of his final two regular season starts to a) build his pitch count back up over 100, and b) shake the rust off, but it was definitely encouraging to see him come out and pitch well in his first start off the DL. With all due respect to David Phelps, who pitched well in the spot start last night as well as last time out against the Red Sox, getting Andy back in the rotation is huge. Tack on Ivan Nova replacing Freddy Garcia, and suddenly the starting staff looks a lot more formidable.
5. Thanks to Rafael Soriano’s two-save effort yesterday, the Yankees are up to 50 total saves as a team this year. Soriano has 42, Mariano Rivera had five before he got hurt, and the trio of David Robertson, Boone Logan, and Derek Lowe have one each. It’s only the second time since 2005 that the Yankees have had more than 50 team saves in a single season, joining the 2009 squad (51). Obviously that means they’ll go on to win the World Series this year. Okay … in all seriousness, it’s a function of all the close games they’ve been playing. One hundred and fifteen of their 148 games have been decided by fewer than five runs, a whopping 77.7%. Last year it was 71%, the year before 68%, and the year before that 69%. Soriano has saved each of the team’s last six wins and ten of their last 12. He’s been absolutely huge for the Yankees this year, and yesterday’s performance was probably the highlight of his season to date.