Yanks pummel Rays to take series opener

There’s nothing quite like beating the tar out of the first place team in the division, is there? It’s games like this that make me appreciate how fans of other teams feel when they whoop the Yankees. Despite their sometimes sluggish play during the first third of the season, the Yanks are just a half game back of first place and not that far back (either 1 or 1.5 games, depending on the outcome of the Texas-Oakland game) of the best record in the AL. Good times are ahead.

Age don’t mean a thing

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Ten days from his 40th birthday, Andy Pettitte threw was what debatably his best start of the season. He used 103 pitches to retire 22 Rays, striking out 10 of them and allowing just two hits. Of those two hits, only one reached the outfield. At no point during the game did Pettitte make us feel uncomfortable. In fact, there were times when I’d glance down to read a paragraph or two, and look up to see he’d retired a batter and was two strikes deep on the next one.

There was certainly an uneasy feeling surrounding Pettitte’s return in May. I was excited as anyone — it’s Andy freaking Pettitte, after all, my absolute favorite Yankee of my lifetime — but there were legitimate questions about his ability to succeed at age 40 after a year away from the game. Add to that the Yankees’ absolute need for starting pitching at the time, and it seemed like a tall task. Yet Pettitte has shown he’s up to it. Even his rough starts haven’t seemed all that bad.

RISP when they need it

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

With eight hits and four walks, the Yankees inevitably saw plenty of situations with runners in scoring position. While they did manage to raise their season average, they did so only slightly, going 3 for 12. Yet they got the one hit they needed, exactly when they needed it. With one out in the fourth they loaded the bases off James Shields, bringing Russell Martin to the plate. And oh boy did Russell deliver.

He went up there looking for a pitch to hit, taking aggressive swings at the first two pitches and pulling them foul. After going inside with the first two pitches Shields worked away from Martin on the 0-2 pitch, but it got enough of the plate that Martin put the fat part of the bat on it. Away it went, clearing the fence in right for a much-needed grand slam. Believe it or not, despite their horrific overall results with the bases loaded, the Yankees are tied for the league lead in grand slams.

Finally figuring out Shields

For the past two seasons, James Shields has gotten the best of the Yankees. Sure, he’s 4-4, but many of those losses came on the strength of the Yankees pitching staff. In 76.1 innings from 2010 to 2011 Shields pitched to a 2.83 ERA, striking out 71 and walking just 22. This year, though, it seems they have him figured out.

Even with the two unearned runs in the first inning, Shields still yielded five runs in five innings, bringing his total to 14 earned runs in 16 innings this season (7.88 ERA). He has struck out just nine while walking 10 and surrendering four homers. Shields hasn’t been performing well overall this year, but he’s been at his worst when facing the Yankees. Given his previous results, it’s quite satisfying.


(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Russell Martin raised his average 17 points with his 3 for 4 performance, taking the exit off the interstate and landing at .211.

After terrorizing the Yankees in the season opening series (6 for 12 with two homers and a double), Carlos Pena has gone 2 for 15 with no extra base hits against them.

Raul Ibanez drew two walks, after having not drawn one since May 17th in Toronto, a 51-PA walkless stretch. (Yet he managed seven extra base hits in that span.)

Freddy Garcia lives! He got into his first game since May 21st, when he gave up two runs in 2.1 innings against Kansas City. Last night he allowed two hits but allowed no runs in 1.2 innings of relief. Since his ouster from the rotation he has allowed two earned runs in 9.1 innings, though he has struck out four and walked three. That’s mop-up duty for you.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

You know the drill: MLB.com for basic box score and video highlights, FanGraphs for all the nerdery you can handle, and Mike likes ESPN for the standings and I’m not going to interrupt his usual thing.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

Game 2 of this three-game set pits Ivan Nova against Alex Cobb. Maybe the ball stays inside the ballpark this time, hmmmm, Ivan?

X-rays negative after Cano gets hit by pitch

Via Meredith Marakovits, second baseman Robinson Cano is sore but hopes to play on Wednesday after getting hit by a pitch in what looked like his left forearm by Cesar Ramos in the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s game. X-rays were negative. Cano remained in the game for another inning before being lifted in the ninth with a big lead. A day off wouldn’t be the end of the world, no reason not to play it safe.

Branyan homers twice in Triple-A win

As expected, the Yankees will be well represented in the Low-A South Atlantic League All-Star Game. OF Tyler Austin, C Gary Sanchez, C Francisco Arcia, RHP Bryan Mitchell, and RHP Pedro Guerra were all selected for the game, which will be played in Charleston. I’m kinda surprised OF Mason Williams didn’t make the cut, but what can you do. The River Dogs coaching staff will be calling the shots for the Southern Division club as well. In case you missed it a few weeks ago, the Homerun Derby will take place on the deck of an aircraft carrier. I have to think Austin will take his hacks and hopefully dent some F-16s.

Here’s your bullet point minor league update for Tuesday night…

  • Triple-A Empire State (win): 1B Russell Branyan led the way with two homers and six runs driven in, though CF Kevin Russo (double), LF Ronnie Mustelier, RF Colin Curtis, and SS Ramiro Pena all had two hits apiece. DH Jack Cust (double) and 2B Corban Joseph both had a hit and two walks. RHP D.J. Mitchell got rocked, I’m talking eight runs and 12 hits in 5.2 IP. RHP Chase Whitely and RHP Jason Bulger came out of the bullpen to allow nothing the rest of the way.
  • Double-A Trenton (loss): IF Jose Pirela continued his hot hitting with two singles, half the team’s hit total. RHP Brett Marshall got hit around a bit, allowing four runs in six innings. LHP Francisco Rondon allowed one run in two innings of relief in an otherwise uneventful game.
  • Low-A Charleston (win): CF Mason Williams hit a solo homer while RF Tyler Austin had two hits (including a double) and 3B Dante Bichette Jr. had three hits (including a double). C Gary Sanchez singled, ditto SS Cito Culver. The latter stole home (!!!) and former drew two more walks. LHP Evan Rutckyj allowed one unearned run in four innings before giving way to a parade of relievers.

High-A Tampa was rained out. They’re going to play a pair tomorrow.

2012 Draft: Hensley expects to sign quickly

Via Ryan Aber, first round pick Ty Hensley said negotiations with the Yankees will begin immediately and he expects to sign soon. “I’m ready to get this thing started,” said the prep right-hander. “I want to get out and play as soon as possible … My goal is to be there (in the big leagues) by the time I’m 21 years old.”

Slot money for the 30th overall pick is $1.6M and I expect Hensley’s eventual deal to come in relatively close to that amount, plus or minus. As you can see in this ESPN video, the kid looks very excited to have been drafted by New York. Everything you need to know about him is right here. The signing deadline is July 13th this year, moved up thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Game 54: One-Third

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

The Yankees will play game number 54 tonight (weather permitting) and are exactly one-third of the way through the 2012 season. A win tonight puts them in a tie for first place in the AL East (in the loss column), which is right where you want to be. Well, you’d like to be ten games up everyone, but that’s not realistic in this division. Not at this time of the year, anyway. The Rays are in town  for the biggest series of the year to date, and Andy Pettitte will look to set the tone for the rest of the homestand. Here’s the lineup…

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

LHP Andy Pettitte

Tonight’s game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

David Robertson Update: Robertson (oblique) threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium and said he’s pain-free. It’s just a matter of getting back into the swing of things. He hopes to be back in 8-10 days.

Yankees sign Ricky Orta to minor league deal

Via Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed right-hander Ricky Orta to a minor league contract. The 27-year-old was the Mariners’ fourth round pick in 2006 but missed all of 2010 and most of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery. He signed a minor league deal with the Rays last season and only managed four appearances (eight innings) before the end of the season.

Orta isn’t a starter long-term but he’s an interesting relief prospect. He runs his fastball up to the mid-90s and has a decent breaking ball, enough for middle relief work. The Yankees could send him to either High-A Tampa or Double-A Trenton and get about 40 innings to evaluate him this summer. If they like what they see, they could retain him going forward and have a potentially useful arm. Orta’s never pitched above Double-A, so he has all three minor league options left. It’s an interesting move, certainly more interesting than the typical minor league signings.

The fascinating and depressing state of the Yankees with RISP

The Yankees have officially hit rock bottom. With a .219 batting average with runners in scoring position, the Yankees rank dead last in the AL.* There’s really not much left to say about this. It seems unfathomable that the Yankees can hit .281 without runners in scoring position and .219 with prime opportunities to score.

*The A’s did manage to raise their BA with RISP by 11 points last night, so there’s hope, I suppose.

The oddities don’t end there, though. For instance, while the scoring position situation is bad enough by itself, the Yankees have a real issue when hitting with a runner on third base. When they don’t have a runner on third they’re hitting .276. Any time a runner is standing on third, though, the bats simply die. They’re hitting just .173, 29 for 168, in those situations.

Having multiple men on base is usually a boon for the offense. Pitchers find themselves in a spot, because they’re running out of places to put hitters. But the Yankees let opponents off the hook in these situations, hitting just .196, 50 for 255. When there is just one man on base the Yankees are hitting .275.

Man on first? No problem. The Yankees frequently move that man over, hitting a whopping .291. Unfortunately, they then have multiple men on base, which we’ve seen causes trouble. Once they get that hit with a man on first, putting runners on first and second or first and third, they’re hitting just .205. Their power is their saving grace here, as seven of their 33 hits in these situations have cleared the fence.

We’ve all seen the Yankees’ disastrous results with the bases loaded. To their advantage, the top four hitters in the order have seen the most PA with the bases loaded. To their detriment, they’re a combined 5 for 35. Three players — Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, and Eric Chavez — are hitless in a combined 18 PA with the bases loaded, though all three have at least one RBI. Andruw Jones doesn’t have a batting average with the bases loaded, having walked and hit a sac fly in his two PA. Nick Swisher, 2 for 4 with a homer and a double; Chris Stewart, 1 for 2; and Mark Teixeira, 1 for 3 with two walks and a double, have been the most effective Yankees with the bases loaded.

If one thing is made clear, it’s that these numbers are absolutely absurd. They just don’t add up, given how well the Yankees hit overall. That gives me some faith that in time they’ll turn around. Until then, though, we must suffer this seeming parody. Then again, they do continue winning. They took two of three in Detroit while going 5 for 31 with runners in scoring position, and went 6-3 on the road trip despite hitting .202 (17 for 84) with RISP. As Ben said to me yesterday, if the Yankees actually figured out how to hit with runners in scoring position they’d never lose a game.