Time to give Javy Vazquez a breather

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

If there’s one thing that was obvious during last night’s loss to the Tigers, it’s that the Yankee offense is mired in a rather hideous slump right now. If there’s a second thing that was obvious, it’s that Javy Vazquez is basically pitching with nothing these days. His fastballs lack life, his breaking balls hang more often than not, and his changeup tends to float out of the zone. This has been going on for at least three starts now, with both the team and Vazquez himself acknowledging a dead arm period.

After last night’s 106 pitch, 34 foul ball, 12 out effort, we’re starting to reach the point where the Yankees have to seriously reconsider Javy’s spot in the rotation. I’m not saying they should do anything drastic like stick him in the bullpen, I just want to see them give Javy some rest, both physically and mentally. Given his dead arm and obviously short stuff, a 15-day disabled list stint with a bout of shoulder weakness or soreness or tendinitis or whatever you want to call it gives Javy a breather and wouldn’t require any roster manipulation to keep the team from being short-changed. And the good news is that if the Yanks stick Vazquez on the disabled list today (can’t do it retroactively to yesterday since he actually played on that day, MLB rules), he’ll only miss two starts. Here, check it out.

Javy’s next start is scheduled for this Saturday against the oh-so-lowly Mariners, who will unfortunately be throwing the great Felix Hernandez. Ivan Nova, who last started Friday for Triple-A Scranton and has pitched to a 2.07 ERA in his last five starts, could fill-in during that game with ease. The Mariners have the game’s worst offense with a .288 team wOBA (before last night’s loss) and one of its worst road records at 17-41 (the heroic Cliff Lee is responsible for five of those wins), so you’re not throwing Nova to the wolves in his first career start. It’s a (theoretically) friendly environment against a bad team coming off a solid stretch of starts in Triple-A, so he’s set up for success. Given Javy’s recent performances, he wouldn’t have to do much for it to be a net gain for the Yanks.

After that Saturday game, Javy’s next turn would come next Thursday, and guess what? The Yanks are off that day. Here’s the schedule if you don’t believe me. They could either skip Nova outright that day, or (preferably) start him on Friday and push the four other starters back a day. There’s nothing wrong with giving them a little extra rest. If they go that route, the next time they’d need a fifth starter is the following Wednesday, which is the day Javy is eligible to come off the DL. He could make that start no problem.

In addition, the Yanks would be able to call up a position player in the interim with Nick Swisher, Alex Rodriguez, and Lance Berkman all banged up. That guy (Kevin Russo makes sense because of his versatility) then goes back down for Nova before Saturday’s game. Nova then goes back down following his two starts in favor of whatever the team needs at the time; bullpen help, bench help, whatever. Either way, that 25-man roster spot turns into a bit of a revolving door while Vazquez is on the shelf, allowing the team to optimize the squad based on their needs at the time.

What’s the alternative to all this? They could run Javy out there on Saturday, hope for the best, then either skip him next Thursday if he continues to throw slow-pitch softball or start him Friday on his regular turn. It’s the always popular “do nothing” approach, which has a surprisingly good success rest.

The point of DL’ing Javy isn’t to give Nova two starts to show what he’s got, it’s to rest one of the team’s five primary starters and hopefully get him back to being the pitcher he was from mid-May to the All Star break. That guy would be a huge asset down the stretch in September, but the guy they have right now isn’t much of a help at all. And hey, there’s a chance the 15 days of rest won’t do anything and Vazquez will come back the same guy he is right now, but I think they have to at least try. At this point they’re just rolling the dice every five days, which is not something I advise doing in such a tight division race.

Late rally falls short, Tigers drops Yanks in Damon’s return

With the frustrating loss to Bryan Bullington and the rest of the Royals in the rear-view mirror, the Yankees returned home to welcome their old pal Johnny Damon back to the Bronx. Damon received a nice hand during his first at-bat,  but otherwise the Yankee Stadium crowd didn’t have much to cheer about. The offense was once again shut down by a pitcher they’ve never faced before, and a late rally ultimately proved to be nothing more than a tease.

A picture is worth 1,000 words. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Biggest Hit: The One That Never Came

For the second straight game, the Yankee offense was nowhere to be found. Max Scherzer navigated the first six innings by allowing just two singles and two walks, and never really faced any kind of threat. Phil Coke allowed a pair of hits to match hit pair of outs, and Ryan Perry chipped in three outs while allowing a hit. The first eight innings were simply dreadful, the Yanks seemingly had no life and showed no signs of snapping out of it. Then the 9th inning happened.

The over-caffeinated Jose Valverde was on the bump for Detroit after recording the final out in the previous inning despite a strained oblique that made him unavailable the last few games. Robbie Cano, already sporting a career high 40 walks, took four straight pitches off the plate to lead things off with a free pass. Designated hitter turned catcher (more on that later) Jorge Posada tapped a grounder to first and reached on a fielder’s choice, but Cano was gunned down as the lead runner. Two pitches later, Curtis Granderson brought the tying run to the plate with a single to left, and all of a sudden everyone started thinking crazy thoughts. Could a come back really be in the cards?

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

At this point Ben said to me “why is this guy up in every key moment,” referring of course to Frankie Cervelli (in the interest of full disclosure, Ben’s language was a but more colorful). Thankfully Valverde was in the giving mood, walking Frankie on five pitches to load the bases with just one out. With the lineup about to turn over, the Yanks were in business. Brett Gardner brought home the Yanks’ first run in 18 innings by drawing a five pitch walk, simultaneously pushing the tying run into scoring position.

So here are the Yankees, set up with Captain Clutch, sir Derek Jeter at the plate about to do what he does best. Valverde had thrown 18 pitches in the inning and just six strikes, so naturally he started Jeter off with two straight balls. The Cap’n took a called strike right down the plate like he should have (make the guy throw you a strike when he’s struggling that much), and three pitches later we’re all looking at a full count. All we wanted was for Jeter to keep the line moving with Austin Kearns and Mark Teixeira due up behind him.

Instead, Derek grounded a ball to short for a rally killing 6-4-3 double play. Gardner slid hard into second base and at first glance it looked like Jeter beat the throw at first, but alas, it did not happen. Rally over, ballgame over, thaaa Yankees lose.

Where Has The Good Javy Gone?

Under the perpetual microscope, Javy Vazquez took the mound in this game after having his between-start work reduced in an effort to combat a dead arm. The velocity was mostly there tonight – he topped out at 89.8 mph and averaged 88.46 – but it seemed like nothing else was. Tigers’ batters had no trouble digging in and extending at-bats, which led to an absurdly high pitch count for Vazquez and a rather quick exit.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The 1st inning was rather painless, three routine outs sandwiched around a ground ball single, but it took Javy 25 pitches to escape the inning. The 2nd inning is where things got interesting, however. Carlos Guillen led off the frame with a first pitch ground-rule double to right, and the molten hot Ryan Raburn brought him home when he went out and got a breaking ball off he plate for a two-run homer to left. It wasn’t a terrible pitch, maybe caught a little too much of the plate, but it was down in the zone and Rayburn basically golfed it out. The trouble didn’t end there, with Detroit loading the bases with two outs before Vazquez escaped the inning by striking out Brennan Boesch.

Two runs is hardly a catastrophe, but Javy threw a whopping 34 pitches in the inning, putting his pitch count at an astronomical 59 following just two innings of work. The 3rd inning featured a walk and a single and 24 more pitches, the 4th a walk and another 23 pitches. Of the 21 batters he faced, just six saw three pitchers or fewer while 13 saw at least five pitches. Vazquez didn’t have any kind of put away pitch or command of the zone, and it was painfully obvious. Frankly the Yanks are lucky he left with just a two run deficit.

In the end, Javy needed 106 pitches to record 12 outs, and 34 (!!!) of those 106 pitches were fouled off. That’s an absurd rate, and speaks to his recent inability to put hitters away. We’ll discuss what options the Yanks have with Javy a little more tomorrow, but this has been a problem for six starts now, and they can’t just sit back and let him go out there every five days with absolutely nothing.

Leftovers

Nice hair, Johnny. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

With one hit and a pair of twin killings in five plate appearances, Jeter racked up -.465 WPA in this one. I’m not even mad, that’s impressive. Okay find, I am mad. Jeter’s twin killings have gone from nuisance to crippling; you half-expect them whenever he comes to the plate with a man on first. How did this happen to the great Derek Jeter?

Granderson went 3-for-3 with a walk and a double, and even though it’s been just five games, the results from his revamped swing have been very promising. He scalded some pitches in Kansas City and continued to go so tonight, some of them even off a lefty. Consider me excited.

Another solid effort from the bullpen, especially Sergio Mitre. He chipped in 2.2 scoreless innings, Kerry Wood another 1.1 scoreless, and Joba Chamberlain allowed one run in his inning of work. It’s trendy to bash Joba, but sorry, I’m not going to get on the guy for giving up an opposite field solo homerun to Miguel Cabrera, arguably the best hitter on the planet. It happens.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Both Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher left the game with injuries that right now appear to be minor. I wouldn’t be surprised if both got a day off tomorrow, which would stink. Between those two and Lance Berkman’s jammed ankle, the bench (and lineup) could be very, very short for the foreseeable future. They might have to make a roster move tomorrow to get some help, otherwise we might run into a situation like this game where Cervelli’s manning the hot corner and Joe Girardi has to surrender the DH.

The Red Sox were off but the Rays managed to beat Cliff Lee, so the Yanks are now tied atop the AL East with their rivals from Tampa. Their lead in the Wild Card sits at five-and-a-half games.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score, FanGraphs the nerd score.

Up Next

Same two teams tomorrow night in a matchup of aces, when CC Sabathia takes on Justin Verlander. That should be a treat.

Yankees reach agreement with fourth rounder Mason Williams

Via Jonathan Mayo, the Yankees have signed fourth rounder Mason Williams for $1.45M. It’s easily the largest bonus they’ve given out this year.

A big time athlete with speed and agility, Williams is a tremendous defender in center with enough offensive upside to remain interesting. His swing is sound and he’s not a total hacker, but he still has to refine his approach and add strength to hit for even average power. Like many of toolsy high schoolers the Yanks selected this year, Williams is a bit of a project. Here’s some video.

The Yanks have now signed their top 13 picks, and 16 of their top 17. Don’t expect any more big signings this year, they should be done.

Yankees reach deal with 16th rounder Evan Rutckyj

Update (10:51pm): Bob Elliott says Rutckyj received $500,000, still above slot but certainly not first round money. Good deal.

10:33pm: Via Keith Law, the Yankees have reached an agreement with 16th round pick Evan Rutckyj. Financial terms of the deal are unknown, though he was reportedly seeking first round money.

The 6-foot-5, 210 lb. Canadian lefthander was a top 200 draft prospect according to Baseball America, and he throws in the low-90’s with the makings of a wipeout slider. Surprisingly, he has a pretty good feel for his delivery and clean mechanics, but there’s still a lot of work to be done here. He’s a former hockey player that gave up the sport to pursue baseball full-time, so naturally he’s a pretty tough dude. Here’s video, and here’s a list of who the Yankees have signed so far.

At least the minor league affiliates won

Hector Noesi made an appearance in today’s Daily Dish, which includes some info on a minor mechanical adjustment he made to get himself back on track following a few rough starts. Meanwhile, Jessica Quiroli spoke with Justin Snyder about his approach and versatility.

Triple-A Scranton (7-4 win over Toledo)
Kevin Russo, 2B, Juan Miranda, DH & Jorge Vazquez, 1B: all 1 for 4, 1 R – Russo walked & K’ed … Miranda homered drove in two, walked & K’ed twice … JoVa hit a solo jack & K’ed
Greg Golson, CF, Jesus Montero, C & Chad Huffman, LF: all 0 for 3 – Golson drove in a run … Montero drove in two & walked … Huffman walked, scored a run & K’ed twice
Colin Curtis, RF: 3 for 4, 1 2B, 1 CS
Brandon Laird, 3B: 0 for 4 - six for his last 39 (.154)
Eric Bruntlett, SS: 1 for 2, 3 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
Jason Hirsh: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 2 HB, 4-9 GB/FB – 61 of 106 pitches were strikes (57.5%)
Romulo Sanchez: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1-3 GB/FB – 21 if 35 pitches were strikes (60%) … hit 97 on the gun
Royce Ring: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 12 of his 20 pitches were strikes
Eric Wordekemper:  0.1 IP, 1 H, zeroes – six of his eight pitches went for strikes
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0-1 GB/FB – eight of his 14 pitches were strikes (57.1%) … set the International League single season record with his 39th save

[Read more…]

A-Rod leaves game with tight left calf

Update (9:47pm): Alex left the game with a tight left calf and is day-to-day. Not tests are scheduled. And exhale.

8:53pm: Alex Rodriguez left today’s game after a 4th inning at-bat for an unknown reason. Replay showed him talking to Joe Girardi in the dugout, and he appeared to mouth the words “calf,” so perhaps it tightened up on him. Ramiro Pena took his place in the field in the top of the 5th. We’ll update this post with more info as we get it.

Swisher leaves game with right forearm injury

Update (9:47pm): It’s a tight right forearm, according to the broadcast. No tests are scheduled.

9:38pm: Jack Curry says Swish left the game with a right forearm injury, but the severity is unknown. Wonderful.

9:25pm: Nick Swisher left tonight’s game for an unknown reason in the 6th inning. There was no obvious injury or anything like that, but he did make a sliding catch attempt in the previous inning. Austin Kearns took his spot in the lineup and in the field. Hopefully it’s nothing serious. We’ll keep you updated.