Five-run first powers Yanks to second straight

It was an up and down night for Phil Hughes. The Yankees staked him to an early lead, and while he was shaky in a few innings he ultimately kept things in order. There were a few troubling walks, but in the end his line looked just fine. The offense did their jobs, knocking in the runners who reached scoring position. The result was an 8-3 win and a 2.5 game lead in the division.

Biggest Hit: Berkman keeps the rally going

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

While there was plenty of action in the following eight innings, most of the action took place in the first. Nick Swisher homered on a fastball that James Shields laid right over the heart of the plate. After Mark Teixeira walked and Alex Rodriguez singled on a ball that nearly got through the hole between third and short, James Shields seemed to recover by striking out Robinson Cano on five straight curveballs. But he fell behind Jorge Posada and got burned on a 3-1 fastball for the game’s second run.

That brought up Lance Berkman. After having his fastball knocked around in the inning Shields started with a curveball. He went back with the fastball 0-1, but it didn’t look like he intended to throw it for a strike. Two changeups, a called strike and a ball low, followed. Shields then mixed things up with a cutter, but it caught a bit too much of the plate. Berkman reached down and drove it over B.J. Upton’s head. It was deep enough to score Posada from first and give the Yankees a 4-0 lead. Curtis Granderson followed with a single of his own to open up a 5-run lead, but it was Berkman’s double that gave the Yanks their biggest advantage of the night.

Biggest Pitch: Hughes escapes unscathed

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

With a run in both the second and the third, the Rays had closed the lead by the fourth. By this point Michael Kay and John Flaherty couldn’t shut up about how the momentum of the game had shifted. The Rays only fed their narrative by loading the bases with two outs. Hughes would have to get past Ben Zobrist to get out of it.

Hughes delivered the first pitch, a cutter, with precision, hitting the low-outside corner. He then went back to the four-seamer, delivering it waist high on the outside edge. Zobrist rolled over it and bounced it to Teixeira, allowing Hughes to escape the inning without damage. The inning was mostly his own doing — he did walk two batters — but Hughes rose to the occasion when his team needed it the most.

Honorable Mention: Joba gets out of the eighth

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The fourth inning wasn’t the only time the Rays loaded the bases. Javier Vazquez relieved Hughes in the seventh and allowed an inherited runner to score. He then came out for the eighth and allowed two of the first three batters to reach. With the righties Upton and Jason Bartlett due up, Joe Girardi opted to have Joba Chamberlain finish off the inning.

Joba immediately got himself into trouble, allowing a single to Upton. That loaded the bases with just one out. Predictably, Joe Maddon pinch hit with Brad Hawpe, meaning Joba had to retire two straight lefties. He got ahead with a fastball away and was eventually up 1-2. After a slider in the dirt and two more fastballs, Joba faced a crucial 3-2 count. Most pitchers, I’m sure, would have gone to the fastball, but Joba threw a slider that probably would have hit the low-inside corner. It didn’t matter, though; Hawpe swung and hit only air.

Facing Jaso, Joba didn’t even bother with his secondary pitches. He just dealt fastballs away, eventually inducing a fly out to center. He then came out for the ninth and retired the Rays in order. This definitely ranked among Joba’s finest performances of the season.

Miscellany

Siddown, Hawpe (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees left six men on base, which isn’t all that bad considering they had 14 base runners. They were also 5 for 10 with runners in scoring position.

The only hitless starter was Teixeira, who missed a homer by just a tiny bit. He did put a few good swings on balls, if you’re looking for a silver lining

Hughes allowed just one homer, though it was his 20th of the season at Yankee Stadium. I think I heard a commentator say that the last pitcher to do that was Scott Sanderson. Memories.

Javy Vazquez didn’t allow a run, but he didn’t do himself any favors by allowing an inherited runner to score and then putting two on with none out in the next inning. Hopefully he gets more work down the stretch, because he’s destined for the bullpen in the playoffs.

The Yanks did miss a chance to get James Shields out of the game way early. But he settled down and gave the Rays 5.1 innings. Still, they needed five relievers to finish the game. That’s never good when there are two games remaining. Then again, the Yanks got away with it on Monday, so it might be no big deal.

It’s always a joy when half of the team’s hits go for extra bases.

Graph and box

Gotta love it when the line stays that high.

More at FanGraphs, and here’s the box score. Watching the highlights will also be fun.

Up Next

A.J. Burnett continues his road to recovery tomorrow night. Wade Davis takes the hill for the Rays.

Game 151: The A-Team

Hopefully Jamie Shields will follow Matt Garza's lead tonight. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Injuries, ineffectiveness, and plain old rest have gotten in the way of Joe Girardi fielding his best team in any given game in quite some time. That all comes to end tonight though, even if it’s just for one glorious game. No reserves, no injury subs, it’s just the best the team the Yankees can field, and I’m certainly not alone in saying it’s about time. This is the starting nine we’re going to see in the postseason, and frankly, I love it. Here, check it out…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Berkman, DH
Granderson, CF
Gardner, LF

And on the bump, it’s Phil Uuughes.

Amazing, ain’t it? The game starts a little after 7:00pm ET and can be seen on My9. Enjoy the game.

Report: Yankees Global Enterprises carrying $2 billion in debt

The Yankees’ holding company is currently carrying nearly $2 billion in non-stadium-related debt and $1.2 billion in stadium bond debt, according to a report in the Sports Business Journal. Despite these seemingly staggering numbers, though, Yankees Global Enterprises enjoys a cash flow high enough to make the debt, in the words of one baseball source, “very manageable.”

Daniel Kaplan has more:

The enterprise value of the companies composing YGE is roughly $5 billion, and cash flow at YES alone is expected to hit $208 million this year, sources said. YGE has been using the bulk of YES’s cash flow to reduce the regional sports channel’s debt, which is $1.448 billion, the sources said…

Neil Begley, a media and entertainment analyst at Moody’s Investors Service, which rates the stadium bonds, said ratio of debt to value for YGE was in line with other companies of its kind. “It is a significant amount of debt for a sports enterprise, probably among the biggest there is,” he said. “But if they cleared 2009, I would be hard pressed to think they would have economic pressure more significant than that.”

What also stands out about the debt is how little of it, $97 million, actually resides at the team. MLB’s debt regulations are applicable to the league’s clubs, but not to the clubs’ affiliates. It also underscores how the Yankees have shifted revenue to affiliates like YES and Legends, limiting the already steep revenue-sharing and luxury-fee payments, about $100 million, the club pays to MLB. The team also deducts about one-third of its $64 million annual stadium interest payment from its revenue-sharing commitment.

What makes this story so interesting isn’t necessarily the high debt total but rather the overall picture we get of the Yankees. This is a company that is financially healthy enough to be carrying $2 billion worth of debt, and the on-field product — the New York Yankees themselves — are responsible for just $100 million. By shifting debt to the other YEG holdings, as Kaplan notes, the Yankees are not subject to MLB’s debt regulations.

Going forward, it seems clear that money isn’t much of an obstacle to the Yankees. The team will have a budget, higher than anyone else’s, for the on-field roster because it will make them operate more efficiently, but as, say, Derek Jeter‘s contract comes due, the difference between $15 million and $18 million a year is negligible to the Yankees.

It’s worth also keeping an eye on how the team comes under attack when the collective bargaining negotiations begin next year. The original luxury tax/revenue sharing schemes were instituted to reign in the Yanks’ spending, but the team has kept on spending while making use of smart accounting and corporate practices that allow them to shift the revenue and debt to other affiliates. If the owners again go after the Yankees’ millions, I expect the Steinbrenner family to fight hard against it.

Checking in on Hughes’ workload

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Down to just the final dozen games of the season, the picture of how the Yankees were going to manage Phil Hughes‘ workload this season is in complete focus. They skipped two of his starts earlier in the year and took advantage of the All Star break to create what amounted to a third skipped start, and he cruises into tonight’s outing against the Rays having thrown 163 innings on the season, by far a career high.

Because lists are nice and easy, here’s a look at Phil’s workloads throughout the years for comparison…

  • 2009: 111.2 IP (majors, minors, playoffs)
  • 2008: 99.2 IP (majors, minors, Arizona Fall League)
  • 2007: 116 IP (majors, minors, playoffs)
  • 2006: 146 IP (minors)
  • 2005: 86.1 IP (minors)
  • 2004: 5 IP (minors, this was his draft year)

So yeah, the 163 innings Hughes has thrown this year is greater than any workload he’s experienced recently. He’s held up pretty well considering, with no discernible loss of velocity or complaints of a dead arm or anything like that. Of course workload related health issues usually don’t pop up until a year or two after the big innings increase, but that’s not something worth worrying about right now. The important thing is that Phil is healthy at the moment and capable of helping his team down the stretch and into the playoffs.

With the way the schedule lines up, Hughes has three more starts left. Tonight against the Rays, Sunday against the Red Sox, and then next Saturday against the Red Sox again. The Yanks have indicated that there are “no plans” to skip another one of his starts this season, so there’s no reason to expect him to miss one of those starts. If anything, they’ll probably cut one or two of them short like they did with Joba Chamberlain last September (not that I approve). After those three starts Hughes would then line up perfectly to start Game Two of the ALDS on normal rest, Game Three on six day’s rest, or Game Four on seven day’s rest. Based on how he feels and pitches the last three times out, the Yanks will have plenty of options for how to deploy him in the postseason.

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that Hughes throws a total of 15 innings in those three starts, even though I suspect it’ll probably be something more like 17 or 18. That would put him at 178 for the season, right in that 175-180 range we all assumed. Didn’t even take any kind of crazy plan or Hughes Rules either, a few skipped starts never hurt anyone. The 178 innings represent roughly a 32 inning jump from his previous career high, set four seasons ago, and about a 66 inning jump from last season.

We have absolutely no way of knowing how Hughes will react to the extra work until next year or maybe even the year after, but it’s hard to consider 2010 anything but a success for the righthander. He’s held up under the workload and his overall body of work amounts to 1.9 WAR, essentially league average right now and he should finish a touch above that at the end of the season. At 24-years-old, Phil’s best years are ahead of him, and the job the Yanks did controlling his innings this year will play a major role in those years.

Clarification on Andrew Brackman’s call-up

Late last night we got word that the Yankees had recalled 2007 first round pick Andrew Brackman, but the report turned out to be slightly incorrect. Yes, the team is summoning Brackman to the big leagues, but he will not be activated and will instead work out with the team and the coaches. Dellin Betances will be doing the same thing as well.

The Yanks have been doing this for years, with guys like Phil Hughes and Tyler Clippard going through the same thing. It just gives the kids a brief taste of the big league life before getting called up to pitch, whenever that may be. Good chance for Betances to Brackman to get their feet wet and get familiar with how things are done. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Update: Jesus Montero will be there as well. Awesome.

The Forgotten Relievers

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

As predictable as it was, the trio of Kerry Wood, Joba Chamberlain, and David Robertson have emerged as Joe Girardi‘s trusted righthanded setup crew over the last few weeks while Boone Logan has taken advantage of Damaso Marte‘s injury to become his go-to-lefty. With the Yankees still in the division race and a few wins away from clinching a playoff spot, he’s leaned heavily on those four plus Mariano Rivera in the late innings of close games. Heck, even Chad Gaudin seems to emerged as that next guy, the one who’s just outside of the regular setup crew that sees plenty of work in what we’ll call “various” situations.

It’s still September though, and the Yanks have a full arsenal of relievers on hand aside from those six mentioned above. They’ve called up three extra arms this month, and remember, they had a 13-man staff before that with Lance Berkman on the disabled list. The call-ups and spare long men haven’t seen much action at all (as you’d expect), so let’s recap where each of those guys stand…

Jon Albaladejo

The Triple-A relief ace hasn’t appeared in a game since Sept. 12th, which is when he worked the final 1.1 innings of a game in which the rest of the team was busy getting shut down by Cliff Lee and the Rangers. Since being recalled at the start of the month he’s appeared in four games, throwing three innings and allowing a pair of hits and a walk while striking out three. Those three baserunners each reached in his last appearance, so the three before that were pretty solid except for some hit by pitches. Albie seems to be the favorite among the extra, sparsely used relievers, probably because he has seniority.

Sergio Mitre

Girardi’s love affair with Mitre always seemed questionable at best, especially since their relationship dated back to their time in Florida and Serg never really did anything on the field with the Yanks to stand out. He last appeared in a game on Sept. 13th, when he gave up the walk-off homer to Reid Brignac, the only batter he faced. Prior to that he had appeared in just one game since August 27th, and two since August 20th, so that’s three total appearances in the last 32 days. Clearly, he’s just a “break glass in case of emergency” long man right now.

Dustin Moseley

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

To be perfectly honest, I had completely forgotten that Moseley existed until Ben mentioned his name last night. The last time he pitched was his start in Texas against Lee, the same date as Albie’s last game, when he pitched admirably for six innings before turning back into Dustin Moseley in the seventh. His only other appearance this month came on Sept. 4th, which is when Girardi brought him in with runners on the corners and two outs against the Blue Jays only to watch him give up a double to Lyle Overbay to tie the game. You remember that, it was the mother of all second guess moves.

Royce Ring

Recalled last Wednesday, Ring has yet to appear in a game for the big league team. The lefty last pitched on Sept. 9th, when he faced two batters in Game Two of Triple-A Scranton’s playoff series with Columbus. He walked one and got the other to ground out. Ring is the definition of a LOOGY, so his appearances-to-innings pitched ratio is well below one this year. At some point Girardi will call on him to get a lefty out, maybe even tonight since Logan has faced multiple batters in each of the last two games.

Romulo Sanchez

Sanchez was promoted over the weekend and Girardi hasn’t called on him yet. Before that he was recovering from an apparently minor elbow injury that had him on the Triple-A disabled list, so he hasn’t pitched in an actual game since August 24th, his only outing in the last 32 days. For a guy that’s wild as it is, I can’t imagine that’s a good thing. Luckily he won’t be seeing any high leverage work anytime soon.

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Javy Vazquez

Oh Javy, how the mighty have fallen. It’s seems like ages ago that the righty posted a 2.75 ERA during an 11 start stretch from mid-May to mid-July, but now he’s so out of favor that he’s nothing more than a highly paid mop-up man. Vazquez hasn’t pitched since starting in Texas on Sept. 10th, when he allowed four runs in five innings of work. He has warmed up a few times since then, but Girardi seems completely disinterested in using him. Given his disappearing fastball and hit-me-breaking ball, can you blame him?

* * *

The Yanks’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot is down to just five, so any combination of Yankee wins and Red Sox losses totaling that number will put the Yanks in the postseason for the 15th time in 16 years. Barring another epic slump, they’ll clinch that spot by the end of the weekend, giving Girardi a chance to rest his regulars and line up his rotation and all that. That’s when Albaladejo and Ring and Mitre will really start to see some action, and chances are Moseley and Vazquez will make some spots starts as they try to line up CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, and Phil Hughes for the ALDS.

“I liked the matchup.”

When it comes to bullpen management, we’re all armchair tacticians. It seems as though this tendency has intensified in the past few weeks. Joe Girardi has made a number of questionable decisions when calling on his bullpen, which inevitably rouses a flurry of second guessing. Sometimes the moves have been justified; when certain pitchers are unavailable it becomes difficult to make the right decision. But last night Girardi made one of the worst possible decisions, given the situation.

The situation begins in the top of the sixth. Ivan Nova had already gotten through the dreaded fifth inning with ease, allowing just one hit and walking one to that point. The inning didn’t start off well, as the Rays went single, walk, single to load the bases with the heart of the order coming up. It looked as though the Yanks caught something of a break when Carl Crawford hit a dribbler to third, but it turned out that his bat hit Francisco Cervelli‘s glove. It was the sixth time this season that Crawford has been awarded first base on a catcher’s interference call. It also put the Rays on the board for the first time.

Considering the results last time Girardi stuck with Nova, I’m surprised he didn’t turn to the bullpen right there. But apparently he wanted to stick with the righty-righty match-up of Nova against Evan Longoria. This time the call paid off. Nova got ahead 0-2 with a changeup and curveball, and then dropped another curve, this one on the low-outside corner, to induce a 5-4-3 double play. That brought up the lefty Dan Johnson, which signaled the end for Nova. With three straight lefties due up Girardi made the fairly obvious call and went to Boone Logan.

Had Logan succeeded in his job we might not be talking about this situation. He needed to just get one of the three lefties, but instead he allowed two singles and walked a guy. That put the Rays to within one and re-loaded the bases. With the righties B.J. Upton and Jason Bartlett due up Girardi had another obvious decision. This was a tailor-made David Robertson situation. He has been the fireman this season, coming in when the leverage is highest and the team needs an out or two. But instead Girardi turned to Chad Gaudin.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

At first it seemed as though Robertson might not be available. He had thrown 23 pitches on Sunday against Tampa Bay. Kerry Wood had thrown 25 pitches on Sunday in addition to the 15 he threw on Saturday. Joba Chamberlain would have been a good choice, too, since he had thrown just 11 pitches combined in the previous two days. If Robertson and Wood weren’t available maybe Girardi didn’t want to burn his only setup man in the sixth inning. But even then it seemed like strange decision. Why go with Gaudin in a bases loaded situation? I’d far rather have him pitch the eighth with a clean slate than in the sixth with the bases loaded.

As we learned after Gaudin walked in the tying run, both Wood and Robertson were available. Robertson started the seventh and recorded two outs before Wood came on to get the next four. Why, then, would Girardi go to Guadin when the lead was on the line? After the game he gave the most predictable answer ever:

“I liked the matchup,” he said. “I liked his stuff against Upton and Bartlett, and that was the rationale basically.”

Matchups are fine and all, but baseball is a game where anything can happen in any given at-bat. That’s why it’s preferable for the manager to go with his best overall guy when the game is on the line. It might have been only the sixth, but the Rays had already rallied and could have added a ton more. Girardi has gone to Robertson in similar situations before, so it seemed baffling that he would go to Gaudin when Robertson was available. That Wood was also available makes the situation even more questionable. Unsurprisingly, going with the lesser guy blew up in Girardi’s face.

That’s not to say that he was wrong about the match-up. In his career Chad Gaudin has been hell on right-handed hitters. He has struck out nearly one per inning and has held them to a .253 batting average. His slider has been a particularly effective weapon. That works well against Upton, who has hit sliders poorly in his career and particularly poorly this season. Bartlett has similarly flailed this season when the opposing pitcher throws him a slider. That might make the match-up seem attractive. Unfortunately, Guadin’s slider has not been as effective this year, and he hasn’t been as effective overall against righties. As much as I like to preach career numbers, if a guy isn’t doing something well in a given year it’s tough to expect him to turn it around just because he has done better in his career. In the micro world of individual match-ups recent trends do matter.

Had both Robertson and Wood been unavailable, the choice to go with Gaudin based on match-ups would make sense. He is certainly a better choice than Sergio Mitre, Jon Alabaladejo, Romulo Sanchez, et. al, in that situation. The Rays had two righties coming up, and Gaudin has proven that he can succeed against those guys, at least to a greater degree than anyone else in the bullpen has. But once we knew that Robertson and Wood could have pitched in that situation, it made the decision seem that much worse. When the other team has the bases loaded and you’re up by one and need just one more out, you go with your best available guy. Girardi did not do that.

Addendum: The only silver lining of this decision is that once the playoffs start Girardi will not have so many choices. With the off-days built into the schedule the relievers should be, for the most part, well-rested. Chad Gaudin will also not be an option. Given the relievers who will make the postseason roster, Girardi will find it difficult to make a bad call when going to the bullpen.