Pettitte goes 5+ innings in Double-A start

Update (9:58pm): A quote from Andy, courtesy of Mike Ashmore: “I don’t feel like the strength is there yet when I want to hump up and get a little more on my fastball like I’d like to … It was another step in the right direction. I was a little disappointing with my command tonight. I feel like I made a few more mistakes than I had been making, but all in all, that was a good step forward.”

8:41pm: Andy Pettitte allowed three runs (two earned) across five innings in his latest minor league tune-up start with Double-A Trenton tonight, leaving the game after allowing a single to leadoff the sixth. He struck out three and walked just one, and Twitter told me there was some shoddy defense behind him. Pettitte threw 59 of 81 pitches for strikes (72.8%) and was sitting right around his usual 88 mph with the fastball.

Andy’s return became that much more important following the new’s of Michael Pineda‘s injury, but he’s still going to need at least two more tune-up starts before helping the big league team. The Yankees have said they want him to throw 100 pitchers in the minors twice before joining the rotation.

Game 18: Rubber Game

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and the Yankees are going to need Phil Hughes to come up big if they want to walk away with a series win. The matchup with Scott Feldman screams barn burner, but these things never seem to go according to plan. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one ended up low-scoring and close right until the final out. All I know is that I could really use a win tonight. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Nick Swisher
LF Raul Ibanez
DH Eric Chavez
Russell Martin

RHP Phil Hughes

Tonight’s game starts a little after 8pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Pineda has anterior labral tear, will have surgery next week

Via Mark Feinsand, right-hander Michael Pineda has an anterior labral tear and will undergo arthroscopic surgery at Dr. David Altchek’s office next Tuesday. I suppose the good news is that they can use a scope and won’t have to cut him open, plus it’s not the rotator cuff or capsule. We’ll update with more info as we get it, but the Google tells me anywhere from 3-6 months recovery.

Update: On a conference call with reporters, Brian Cashman said Pineda will miss the rest of the season. I don’t think that’s terribly surprising at this point. “We believe this took place on the last pitch of his rehab outing,” said the GM.

Update Part II: Team physician Dr. Ahmad called it a “discrete tear,” which is why they’re going to use a scope and not an incision. The target date for Pineda’s return is one year out from surgery, so May 1st of next season. The doctors are optimistic about his recovery because his rotator cuff is unaffected.

The timing’s right for Raul

Game-winner for Ibanez. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

That Raul Ibanez is off to a slow start comes with little surprise. His poor spring portended such a performance, as did his declining numbers the last two seasons in Philadelphia. The Yankees, we can only hope, did not expect a full recovery from Ibanez, who will turn 40 in just over a month. Instead they sought a serviceable player who could lend a hand for at least half the season.

At .250/.277/.409, Ibanez is looking a lot like his 2011 self. He oftentimes looks overmatched at the plate, as he did last night against Yu Darvish, unable to get his bat around on top-flight fastballs. So far he has been a half-run below average on offense, and his presence in the DH spot, or otherwise playing a poor outfield, further diminishes his value. Thankfully, there is a redeeming factor.

Ibanez has been at his worst in the most forgivable situations: no men on base. In his 21 bases empty PA he has gone 4 for 20 with a walk and no extra base hits. Yet when there have been men on he has put in his best effort. In 26 such PA he has gone 7 for 24 with all three of his extra base hits. As such, he’s been able to turn his 11 hits this season into 9 RBI. The fortuitous timing has made Ibanez more valuable in reality than his overall stat line indicates.

It’s normal, of course, for hitters to perform better with the pitcher in the stretch. This year AL hitters are OPSing 20 points better with men on than they are with the bases empty; in 2011 they hit .013 better with men on. Even still, Ibanez’s performance is out of line even with that disparity. That he’s hit all three of his extra base hits with men on base means a lot for the Yankees’ run scoring. We’d probably have a much more negative opinion of him if he’d hit a pair of solo homers and got stranded after a bases-empty double.

Just as we’d expect Ibanez to even out a bit, so we should expect the Yankees offense to do the same. They’re out of line with the league trend, OPSing just 9 points better with men on base than with the bases empty. That is, Ibanez has picked them up early on, when they needed the boost. Yet this doesn’t mean Ibanez will suddenly disappear. Remember, last year he was hitting .154/.238/.209 after 100 PA. From that point on he hit .264/.300/.462 in 474 PA. Those are no sterling numbers, but for $1.1 million the Yankees would probably take that.

It won’t be an easy year for Ibanez. He’s clearly a shell of his former self at the plate, and his previously poor defensive skills have completely eroded. But for a temporary solution to a vacant DH slot, the Yankees could have done worse. If the Yankees can squeeze just a little more well-timed value out of Ibanez, they can approach the trade deadline with an eye on acquiring a bat. That might sound a little cold, to eke as much value out of a guy as possible and then bid him goodbye, but that’s the reality of a team pursuing a championship.

The Bullpen Workload

(Steve Ruark/Getty Images)

The bullpen has been, by far, the most dominant aspect of the Yankees this season. Their relief corps leads the league in ERA (2.05), strikeout rate (10.44 K/9), homerun rate (0.47 HR/9), and is second in FIP (2.60). They’ve also thrown the seventh most innings in baseball (57.0) thanks in large part to the generally underwhelming performances turned in by the starting rotation. Lots of innings from the bullpen is usually bad news, but the team’s current crop of relievers is both highly effective and well-rested thanks to Joe Girardi.

Other than David Phelps, the long man whose role is specifically designed to soak up innings, no other reliever on the team has thrown more than ten innings and only two have thrown more than eight. Cory Wade leads the short reliever crew with 9.1 IP while Boone Logan of all people is second at 8.2 IP. I say “of all people” only because he’s thought of as a one or two-batter specialist. With nine games pitches, Logan is the only reliever on the team that ranks among the top 40 in baseball in pitching appearances, so despite all those innings being thrown, the workload has been spread out very well.

The Yankees have been able to survive this hopefully temporary period of high bullpen usage for two reasons. The first is just the quality of the players in the bullpen. Outside of the recently-recalled Cody Eppley, no one out there qualifies as filler. They’re all big league caliber pitchers that if anything, are overqualified for their current roles. David Robertson and Rafael Soriano are setup men who could both close, Wade and Logan are middle relievers who could setup, Clay Rapada is a second lefty specialist who could be a primary lefty specialist, and David Phelps is a long man who could start. It doesn’t matter who Girardi calls upon in a given spot, he’s bringing in a quality arm.

That’s the second reason why the bullpen has been so good so far, Girardi is the master at deploying his relievers. It’s by far his best on-field quality as a manager. He not only ensures that everyone out there is rested both for the short-term and long-term, but he also makes sure no one starts to collect cobwebs. Seeing no game action for two weeks at a time is just as damaging in terms of on-field performance than running a guy into the ground. We know too much work is a bad thing, but so is too little work.

Thanks to the performances of CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda these last two nights, the bullpen is very well-rested for tonight’s series finale against the Rangers. With the off-day tomorrow, Girardi could probably extend his core relievers a little longer than usual, maybe asking Soriano and Robertson to get four or five outs each instead of just three. Expectations are rightful low for Phil Hughes against a great lineup, so this is a pretty good night to have that extra bullpen versatility. Regardless of how many outs are left to get, the Yankees will be in pretty good hands if Hughes managed to turn over a lead to the bullpen at some point tonight.

2012 Draft: High School Bats

Dante's already got the big league elbow guard stuff down. (Chris Welch/MiLB.com)

The Yankees have drafted a high school position player with their first pick in each of the last three drafts and in four of their seven drafts under scouting director Damon Oppenheimer. That target demographic has stayed the same but the preferences have changed over the years. The Yankees went for raw tools with guys like C.J. Henry and Austin Jackson years ago but now lean more towards polished types like Dante Bichette Jr. and Mason Williams. With that in mind, here’s a quintet of prep hitters who could be options for the Yankees with their first pick in this year’s draft, #30 overall.

Lewis Brinson, OF, Coral Springs High School (Florida) (video)
One of the best athletes in the draft at 6-foot-4 and 180 lbs., Brinson is a legitimate power-speed prospect. He’s shown big raw power from the right side throughout his high school career and has also fared well against high-end pitching on the showcase circuit. Brinson does need to work on his approach and has been both overly aggressive and overly passive at the plate in the past. A standout defender in center fielder because of his speed, he also runs well on the bases. Committed to Florida, Baseball America ranked Brinson as the 38th best prospect in the draft in their recent midseason update while Keith Law had him 50th. I recommend watching the video, that’s some impressive workout.

D.J. Davis, OF, Stone High School (Wiggins, Mississippi)
Arguably the fastest player in the draft, Davis knows his game and focuses on getting on base. He’s a left-handed hitter who can bunt for hits and beat out infield singles, plus he works deep counts and has continued to show better selectivity as the spring has progressed. Davis is a top flight defensive center fielder, getting good reads that make his speed play up even more. He’s never going to hit for much power and frankly, there’s a whole lotta Brett Gardner in his game. Davis is committed to Meridian Junior College in Mississippi and was recently ranked as the 39th best prospects in the draft by Baseball America.

(Randy L. Rasmussen/The Oregonian)

Carson Kelly, 3B/RHP, Westview High School (Portland, Oregon) (video)
Oregon isn’t a traditional baseball hotbed, but Kelly has a chance to be the state’s first player drafted in the top three rounds in 15 years. He’s a legitimate two-way prospect who has performed well both on the mound and in the field, though he’s likely to come out as a position player with pitching as a fallback option down the road. A right-handed bat with a smooth line drive swing, Kelly has power and figures to add more once he adds some meat to his 6-foot-1, 180 lb. frame. His athleticism serves him well at the hot corner. On the mound, he’ll sit in the low-90s with his fastball and mix in both a curveball and a changeup. Kelly is committed to Oregon and draws raves for his makeup, work ethic, and baseball aptitude. He’s a personal fave, and Law and Baseball America ranked him as the 34th and 48th best prospect in the their midseason updates, respectively.

Wyatt Mathisen, C/SS/RHP, Calallen High School (Corpus Christi, Texas)
Mathisen is an interesting prospect, one who’s spent time pitching, catching, and at shortstop over the last year or so. Catcher is his natural position and he plays it well because of his footwork, athleticism, and strong arm, though he’s played primarily shortstop this spring because that’s where his team needs him. Mathisen can really hit from the right side, using all fields and offering lots of power to the pull side. At 6-foot-2 and 215 lbs., he’s going to slow down as he gets older and will have to keep an eye on his conditioning. Committed to Texas, Mathisen has big upside behind the plate but also a lot to learn after splitting time between so many positions. Law ranked him as the 31st best prospect in the draft recently.

Rio Ruiz, 3B, Bishop Amat High School (La Puente, California) (video)
A fringe first round talent coming into the year, Ruiz hadn’t performed well early in the season before a blood clot in his neck required hospitalization and ended his spring. The bat is his calling card as a left-handed hitter with contact skills, and his power will come once his 6-foot-2, 190 lbs. frame starts to fill out. Ruiz also pitched in high school, but he’s a better prospect at third base where his athleticism serves him well. There’s a chance he could wind up in a corner outfield spot down the road, and he obviously has a strong arm. Not only is his stock way down because of his sluggish performance and the blood clot, but Ruiz is also a top football recruit with a scholarship to play both sports at USC in his back pocket. Keith Law ranked Ruiz as the 47th best prospect in the draft in his midseason update, but a team is going to have to have a lot of faith in his talent to spend enough to keep him away from college.

The importance of tonight’s start for Phil Hughes

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

The early returns have not been all that good for Phil Hughes this season. He labored through 4.2 IP of two-run ball against the Rays in his first start, got pounded by the Angels in his second start, then had a disaster first inning against the Twins before settling down for the next four innings in his third start. About the only positive you can take from his overall performance is his strikeout rate, though his 22.7 K% does a better job of reflecting his performance than his 10.13 K/9.

Tonight’s start against the Rangers will be both Hughes’ toughest assignment and most important start of the season to date. A scoreless first inning would be a great start, something he’s been unable to provide in two of his three starts. In the one exception, he had men on the corners with one out before escaping the jam. He escaped that mess with two strikeouts on his bread-and-butter pitch, the fastball.

“My velocity is good and hopefully I can keep it going,’’ said Hughes yesterday. “The second and third time through the lineup you need something else, but at the same time I like to work the fastball a lot and try to [use] that as long as I can.’’

The velocity has been a non-issue; he’s sat in the 91-94 range and averaged 92.41 mph with his four-seamer according to the manually classified data at Brooks Baseball. Hitters have come up empty on 27.62% of the swings they’ve taken against Phil’s fastball, which is pretty awesome. As Joe explained last week, the curveball has been a problem. Batters aren’t missing the pitch — 11.76% whiff/swing — and although the changeup has been encouraging this year, it hasn’t developed to point of being a true third pitch, nevermind a potential second pitch. Man can not live on fastball alone.

Hughes and Freddy Garcia are both on the rotation bubble with Andy Pettitte — who will throw 80-85 pitches for Double-A Trenton today — on the way. The Yankees aren’t going to use tomorrow’s off-day to skip Garcia, so apparently they want to see as much of him as possible before having to make any kind of decision about who to replace. Hughes has thrown two gems in Texas, but those games were a long time ago. Hanging in against a Rangers team that has scored a dozen runs in their last 44 offensive innings would go a long way towards helping him keep his starting job. If he doesn’t at least hold his own, then the ball will be in Freddy’s court on Saturday.