Planning for Andy Pettitte’s return

(AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Andy Pettitte‘s return to the Yankees took another step forward yesterday, as he threw 96 pitches in his latest tune-up start. The team has yet to make an official announcement, though I have to think Andy will return to Double-A Trenton for his next tune-up start this weekend (they’ll be playing at home) unless the weather doesn’t cooperate. Depending on how that start goes, he could be declared ready for the big leagues or in need of another minor league start. I could see it going either way right now, to be honest.

Monday’s scheduled day off affords the Yankees quite a bit of flexibility. They could use it to skip either Phil Hughes or David Phelps, avoiding their fifth starter until next Saturday against the Mariners. Conveniently, that would line up perfectly for Pettitte’s return if he does come through his next minor league tune-up start with flying colors. He’d actually have an extra day of rest prior to that start, which is probably ideal.

If Pettitte needs more time, then the Yankees can still use Monday to skip the lesser of two evils, either Hughes or Phelps. That will allow them to limit the number of starts made by the weakest rotation link before Andy returns. This isn’t rocket science; if the Yankees want to improve the performance of their starting staff, one of the first things they need to do is to stop running ineffective pitchers out there and hoping for the best. When alternatives present themselves, by all means use them. Monday’s day off is an alternative to another dud start.

The odds are stacked against Pettitte making a meaningful contribution to the Yankees this year given his age and temporary retirement, but I have a real hard time betting against him. He may or may not be ready to jump into the big leagues late next week, but he’s been continually making progress since signing in the middle of Spring Training and isn’t far off from being a real option for the rotation. One more start, and it could be go time for the big lefty.

Starting pitching ends April strong, Yanks beat Orioles 2-1

Heading into Sunday’s game against the Tigers the Yankees’ starters held a collective 6.37 ERA, second worst in the majors only to the Twins. CC Sabathia lowered that to 6.08 with his eight-inning, two-run performance on Sunday. On Monday Hiroki Kuroda knocked that ERA below the dreaded 6.00 mark, pitching seven innings of one-run ball in a game where one run was all the Yankees could afford. The Yankees’ starters now enter May with a 5.80 ERA.

Better to be lucky than good

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Kuroda hunkered down when necessary and even made a few defensive plays himself, but it seemed as though the Orioles hitters were onto him. Nineteen of the 24 hitters he faced put the ball in play, and of those six were classified as line drives. Indeed, the Orioles did make a lot of noise with their bats. Fortunately for the Yankees, most of their hardest hit balls were right at fielders. Eduardo Nunez, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixeira all made excellent plays on what, on another night, might have been base hits.

Through seven innings Kuroda struck out only three, but he also walked only one and allowed just four hits. Again, he might have been lucky to give up only those four hits. He’s also lucky that Nick Markakis broke from third on a ball that didn’t get quite far away enough from Russell Martin. But all that luck came in handy on a night when the offense didn’t get much at all going.

Chavez to the rescue

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

On Sunday the Yankees scored six runs, but had an opportunity for more. They went just 3 for 13 with runners in scoring position and left 15 men on base. Last night they had no such failure, but that’s because they put so few men in scoring position. To wit, they did just one time, following Mark Teixeira’s bloop single in the sixth. Raul Ibanez erased him with a ground ball double play.

Eric Chavez took care of business, though, crushing a Jason Hammel offering into the Yankees bullpen in the second, which gave the Yankees the early 2-1 lead they’d hold the whole game. They might as well have set it up on a tee for him, because it was right there. That has to be the greatest feeling as a hitter, to know without a shadow of a doubt that you got all of it.


(Al Bello/Getty Images)

While Kuroda was lucky, he was also efficient, throwing just 89 pitches in seven innings. Hammel was a bit less efficient, using 101 pitches through just six innings, though there’s an argument that he pitched the better game.

David Robertson struck out the side for the first time since Opening Day. He has made 11 appearances so far and has multiple strikeouts in six of them. He has struck out 43 percent of all batters he’s faced this season.

Eduardo Nunez looked pretty solid in left, especially for a guy who had 18.1 innings in the outfield as a professional coming into the game. All 18.1 of those innings came in the majors last year.

Since his 3 for 9 performance in the Boston series Russ Martin has gone 2 for 15 with just one walk. Though that kind of breakdown really isn’t necessary; Martin’s season at the plate has been horrible. Even the whole “at least he’s taking his walks” thing is starting to taper off — he’s walked just twice in the last two weeks.

If Andruw Jones is going to enter as a defensive replacement for Raul Ibanez, shouldn’t he just get some starts? It’s not as though he can’t hit righties. While Ibanez’s hits have been well-timed, he hasn’t been an irreplaceable contributor.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings box scores are good, because they have video and photo right there. FanGraphs box scores are good, because they have just about every bit of data you could ever want. Mike always links to ESPN’s standings, but it’s just as easy to get them from the MLB site while you’re checking the box score.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

It’s a battle of hyped-up, underperforming pitchers as Phil Hughes goes for the Yankees and Brian Matusz goes for the Orioles.

Trenton & Tampa both win late

Slade Heathcott took batting practice today for the first time since having his second left shoulder operation last year. He says it went well. Meanwhile, Josh Norris interviewed Tyler Austin recently, so check that out.

Yadil Mujica went 10-for-18 last week and was named the Double-A Eastern League Offensive Player of the Week.

Double-A Trenton (6-3 win over Portland) scored three in the top of the ninth to win it
RF Abe Almonte: 2-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SB — having himself a very nice season thus far
LF Dan Brewer: 1-4, 1 R
3B Ronnie Mustelier: 2-5, 2 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 K — gave the team the lead in the ninth with a two-run dinger
DH Cody Johnson: 2-5, 1 RBI, 2 K
CF Melky Mesa: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 HBP — had been in a 4-for-33 rut (.121)
1B Luke Murton: 3-4, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 CS
C Jose Gil: 0-5, 2 K
SS Addison Maruszak: 1-5, 1 R, 1 K, 1 E (all fielding)
2B Yadil Mujica: 1-4, 1 K
RHP Graham Stoneburner: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 32 of 48 pitches were strikes (66.7%) … first start off the DL (groin), so he was probably limited to 50 pitches
RHP Michael Dubee: 2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 6/1 GB/FB — 30 of 41 pitches were strikes (73.2%)
RHP Ryan Pope: 2.2IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 34 of 51 pitches were strikes (66.7%)
LHP Francisco Rondon: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 0/1 GB/FB — threw eight pitches, including six strikes
RHP Kelvin Perez: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/1 GB/FB — eight of 15 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 22: Win it for Hiroki

That's a 70 pitchface. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Hiroki Kuroda has been alternating bad and very good starts for the Yankees during the first month of the season, and the today the clocks points to a stinker. Thankfully it doesn’t work like that, the fact that he’s alternated good and bad starts doesn’t make him any more likely to get hit around today than the weather or his choice of breakfast cereals. CC Sabathia did his part to set the rotation straight yesterday afternoon, and now it’s time for Kuroda to follow his lead and repeat his strong effort against the Rangers last week against the Orioles tonight. Here’s the starting nine…

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

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Tonight’s game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. enjoy.

Injury Updates: Swisher & Gardner

Via Bryan Hoch, outfielder Nick Swisher is likely to miss a week after suffering a low-grade hamstring strain in yesterday’s game. Joe Girardi said they’re going to try to avoid placing him on the DL, which I honestly don’t understand. Minor hamstring strains can become major hamstring strains very easily, especially if they aren’t given the proper time to heal. Just sit him down for the 15 days and make sure he’s healthy without handicapping the roster.

In other news, Hoch reports that Brett Gardner again took his hacks in the cage today. He will take batting practice on the field tomorrow and is on track to be activated when his DL stint is up on Thursday. Until then, the Yankees appear content to use a 13-man pitching staff and a two-man bench.

Pettitte gives up six runs in latest minor league start

Via Marc Carig and Bryan Hoch, left-hander Andy Pettitte gave up six runs in his latest minor league tune-up start today. He threw 95 pitches, which is the good news. Joe Girardi downplayed the results, saying most of the damage was wind-aided. Getting stretched out really is the most important thing at this point.

The Yankees have said they want Pettitte to throw 100 pitches in at least two minor league starts before considering him for the big league rotation, though I assume this game counts since 95 is close enough to 100. Either way, it’s all but guaranteed that Andy will make at least one more minor league start. That could out him on track to rejoin the rotation late next week if all goes well.

Update: Mark Feinsand and Erik Boland have the entire pitching line: 5.2 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 8 K. He actually threw 96 pitches, including 71 for strikes (74.0%).

Missing: Mark Teixeira’s walks

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Answer: Jerome Williams.
Question: Who was the last pitcher to walk Mark Teixeira?

It’s been 52 plate appearances since Teixeira last drew a walk, dating all the way back to the final game of the home-opener series against the Angels. He’d drawn five walks in his previous 38 plate appearances, a 13.2% walk rate that isn’t completely out of line with the 11.5% career walk rate he brought into the season. But since then, nothing. Tex hasn’t drawn a walk or even been hit by a pitch — something he’s quite good at, actually — since his plate appearance against Williams more than two full weeks ago.

Sample sizes are one of the biggest analytical dangers this early in the season, but swing and contact rates are the very first thing to stabilize. They only take 50-75 plate appearances to even out. Teixeira is at 90 plate appearances at the moment, so we can start to draw some conclusions from his swing tendencies and performance even though it’s still only April. Here’s a look at his swing and contact rates, courtesy of FanGraphs

Right off the bat you can see that Teixeira is not only swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone than ever before (30.5%), he’s also making more contact with those pitches as well (75.5%). That’s a great recipe for not drawing walks. His swing rate on pitches in the zone (60.5%) is pretty normal compared to recent years, though his contact rate on those offerings is a touch high (94.9%). That’s why Teixeira has struck out in just 11.1% of his plate appearances, a career-low by several percentage points.

We have an idea of why Teixeira hasn’t been drawing walks lately, but why has he been swinging at more pitches out of the zone? That’s not something we can answer here, it could be a countless number of different reasons. Maybe he’s pressing, maybe he’s swinging at more pitches on the outside corner in an effort to go the other way, or maybe it’s one of a million other things. Teixeira’s latest slump — 2-for-24 with no extra-base hits — has dragged his season line down to .229/.278/.386, so the lack of walks is just one piece of the problem. Plate discipline is the root of offensive performance, and right now Tex’s isn’t where it should be.