Yanks handle rookie pitchers in comeback win

This one had trap written all over it. The Rays weren’t just throwing a rookie starter, they were throwing a rookie starter that featured a knockout changeup. That’s like using a cheat code against the Yankees. Sure enough, Alex Cobb kept New York in check for six innings, but ultimately a former Yankee and another rookie hurler did Tampa in.

Takedown.

A Krazy Komeback

We’ll get into why the Yankees were down 4-2 going into the eighth inning in just a bit, but let’s start with the comeback. Tampa’s bullpen was already taxed from the 16-game against the Red Sox on Sunday, and Joe Maddon burned his top setup man (Joel Peralta) in the seventh. Cesar Ramos struck out Mark Teixeira with men at first and second to end the seventh, then came back on to start the eighth. The lefty allowed two baserunners within his first six pitches of the inning, a single to Robinson Cano and a four-pitch walk to Nick Swisher. Andruw Jones came off the bench to pinch-hit for Jorge Posada, but he flew out to center for the first out.

That brought Maddon out of the dugout and Kyle Farnsworth out of the bullpen. Farnsy’s have a very good year, but he’s still Kyle freaking Farnsworth and is born to blow leads. Russell Martin got a hold of a 1-0 fastball and singled to left, loading the bases with one out. That brought the molten hot Brett Gardner to the plate, who singled through the left side on the sixth pitch of his at-bat to make it a 4-3 game. Eduardo Nunez followed that up with a tailor made double play ball, but his speed combined with Gardner’s hard slide at second meant it was just a fielder’s choice. Nunez was safe and Swish trotted home from third to tie the game. It was nice to be on the other end of one of Farnsworth’s eighth inning meltdowns for once.

A Lead

Ball four.

Poor Alex Torres. Being a rookie in the big leagues is tough enough, but being a rookie and making your big league debut against the Yankees in the ninth inning of a tie game when you haven’t pitched out of the bullpen in two years is as tough as it gets. Curtis Granderson singled after an eight-pitch at-bat to lead off the inning, but Teixeira swung over top of (what else?) a changeup for strike three and the first out. Grandy stole second with Cano at the plate, who grounded out to second and moved the runner to third.

Tampa had two outs, but then Maddon got a little cute. Torres was ordered to intentionally walk Swisher to get to Andruw, which was the right move on paper but seemed destined to fail. It’s amazing how often a pitcher will issue an intentional walk and immediately lose the plate, it’s like they can’t get back on track after the four wide ones. That’s why you’ll usually see a pitcher get yanked after the IBB and a fresh arm brought in for the next batter. Torres was left in there, and he predictably walked Jones on five pitches to load the bases. Martin saw a series of fastballs and changeups, and the count went 0-1 to 1-1 to 2-1 to 2-2 to 3-2 to 3-2 (after a foul) before a changeup hung up high for ball four. Torres’ third straight walk and second straight unintentional walk forced in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth. Gardner grounded out one batter later, but the damage was done. Torres threw 44 pitches in the inning, just 22 for strikes. As a thank you, he was shipped back to Triple-A after the game.

Bad A.J.

The Yankees staked A.J. Burnett to an early one-zip lead, but he felt bad for the Rays after their 16-inning loss to Boston so he gave it right back and then some. Johnny Damon walked on five pitches to open the first inning, then Ben Zobrist singled on the first fastball he saw to push Johnny to second. Evan Longoria jumped all over a first pitch fastball for a booming double into the gap, scoring two runs in the span of eight pitches. Casey Kotchman followed that up with a single back up the middle on the first fastball he saw, but Longoria only advanced to third.

Four batters into the game, the Rays had seen four fastballs in the strike zone and picked up a base knock on three of them. That prompted Burnett and Martin to switch to the curve, which they used to induce a 3-6-3 double play form B.J. Upton. Tex wisely looked Longoria back to third before throwing to second, so no run scored. Sean Rodriguez bounced a curveball back to Burnett for what looked like out number three, but A.J. made an off balance throw to first that beat Tex through the five-hole. The run scored anyway, and the Rays had a 3-1 lead.

Burnett got out of the inning but allowed another run in the second, which was all the damage Tampa did on the night. They should have done more though, a lot more. A.J. walked six batters and gave up eight hits, so that’s 14 baserunners in 5.1 IP. He would have allowed more than the four runs if Hector Noesi didn’t do him the favor of stranding the two runners he inherited in the sixth. If you want to grasp at straws and give Burnett props for pitching into the sixth after looking so awful early on, be my guest. I won’t do it. He was terrible, but his offense picked him up.

They're going to have to trade B.J. Upton to pay next month's bill.

Lights Out

With Cano staring at a full count with men on first and second with two outs in the fifth inning … boom, the lights went out. Literally. A bank of lights went out at the Trop, and the two teams were pulled off the field. Apparently a branch line that services the building got struck by lightning, resulting in the 18 minute delay. That’s the baseball gods’ way of telling Tampa they should have played the doubleheader last weekend, jerks.

Anyway, ready for some fun arbitrary endpointness? Before the lights went out, Yankees hitters were 2-for-17 (.118) with four walks. After the lights came back on, they were 6-for-19 (.316) with five walks. Clearly, they should make sure the lights go out early in every game.

Leftovers

David Robertson will get with the win (two strikeouts (on changeups!!!) in a perfect inning) and Mariano Rivera will get the save (one strikeout in a perfect inning), but Noesi was absolutely huge. He inherited that first and second with one out situation in the sixth, loaded the bases with a walk of his own, but escaped the jam by striking out Upton. Noesi also threw a scoreless seventh before the Yankees mounted their comeback. Good stuff, kid.

Gardner continued his monster streak at the dish, fresh off his huge series in Toronto. He had that single in the eighth but also drew a pair of walks, and he saw a total of (get this) 31 pitches in his five plate appearances. That’s pretty insane, but you know what else is insane? Granderson had two hits and two walks and he saw 32 pitches in his five plate appearances. That’s 63 pitches of the 191 thrown by Tampa pitchers (33%) to just two players. They also combined to steal three bases as well (two by Grandy). Ridiculous.

The rest of the offense was pretty spread out. Jeter had a single and two ill-timed strikeouts (one ended the rally in the eighth, the other came with a man on third with one out in the fifth), Tex and Cano both had singles, Swisher had a single and two walks (one intentional), Posada drew a walk, and Martin had a single and a walk. The Yankees didn’t have a single extra base hit in the game, and they set new season highs for hits (eight) and runs (five) in a game without an extra base hit.

On last thing: Martin climbed the dugout railing trying to catch a foul pop-up with two outs in the sixth inning, which was cool but holy crap don’t ever do it again. That’s an injury waiting to happen, there’s no reason to try it. Anyway, the Yankees have won three straight and five of their last seven games.

WPA Graph, Box Score & Standings

Now that’s a good one. MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs the nerdy stuff, and ESPN the up-to-date standings.

Up Next

Same two teams Tuesday night, when Bartolo Colon gives it a go against another rookie in Jeremy Hellickson. Hopefully Bartolo’s not feeling apprehensive about his hamstring any more.

Huge days for Williams & Gumbs in SI win

The Rockies again had a scout at tonight’s Double-A Trenton game, but they’re not sticking around for the rest of the homestand. Jose Quintana was the High-A Florida State League Pitcher of the Week while Casey Stevenson took home Short Season Staten Island Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Triple-A Scranton (7-6 loss to Columbus, walk-off style) they faced an old buddy, who threw an inning before the rain then came back out after the two hour delay … that’s seems pretty dumb
Kevin Russo, 2B-3B: 1 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 BB – capped off a four-run, ninth inning comeback with the game-tying single
Greg Golson, CF: 0 for 5, 2 K
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 5, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 3 K – the homer was the left-center, so this one wasn’t oppo … that’s ten strikeouts in his last 18 at-bats
Jorge Vazquez, DH: 0 for 4, 2 K – 11 strikeouts in his last 24 at-bats
Terry Tiffee, 1B: 1 for 2, 1 2B – left the game after getting hurt on a slide
Luis Nunez, PR-2B: 1 for 2, 1 R
Mike Lamb, 3B-1B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K
Jordan Parraz, RF & Austin Krum, LF: both 1 for 3, 1 R – Parraz doubled, walked, and struck out twice … Krum stole a base and drove in a run
Doug Bernier, SS: 2 for 3, 1 RBI, 1 BB
Greg Smith, LHP: 1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 0-2 GB/FB – 12 of 25 pitches were strikes (48%) … picked a runner off first … he pitched before the rains came
Buddy Carlyle, RHP: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 3 WP, 1-2 GB/FB – 25 of 44 pitches were strikes (56.8%)
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 3 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 3 WP, 2 HB, 5-1 GB/FB – 31 of 60 pitches were strikes (51.7%) … he and Carlyle combined to throw five wild pitches in the third inning, which helped set a new franchise record for wild pitches in a game … apparently he started out slow but finished strong
J.C. Romero, LHP: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2-1 GB/FB – half of his 22 pitches were strikes
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K – just six of his 14 pitches were strikes (42.9%)
Randy Flores, LHP: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0-1 GB/FB – five of his nine pitches were strikes … took the air out of the comeback by serving up the walk-off homer

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Soriano, Chavez will begin rehabs assignments tomorrow

Via Chad Jennings, both Rafael Soriano and Eric Chavez will begin their rehab assignments with High-A Tampa tomorrow. “You just kind of keep your fingers cross that everything goes well for both of them tomorrow,” said Joe Girardi before tonight’s game, who confirmed that Soriano will need at least three rehab appearances before rejoining the team. They also want him to pitch on back-to-back days at least once before activated. Chavez is likely to DH at first, but playing the field can’t be far behind if they’re willing to start his rehab clock.

Game 93: A rookie!

(AP Photo/Christine Cotter)

The Yankees have never faced Alex Cobb before. Well, maybe the recently recalled Brandon Laird saw him in Triple-A this season, but that hardly counts. He’s a rookie pitcher that lives off his offspeed stuff, and that usual spells certain doom for the Yankees. Tampa’s bullpen took a beating over the weekend, so now it’s time to step it up a bit and really put some pressure on them in the first game of a four-game set. Please, no flailing at changeups. Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF
Eduardo Nunez, 3B

The game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

Rays Moves: Tampa made a series of roster moves before the game today. Juan Cruz and third catcher Jose Lobaton were both placed on the disabled list while Adam Russell was designated for assignment. In their place comes tonight’s starter Alex Cobb, left-handed Alex Torres (a starter, though I’m sure he’s here to work out of the bullpen), and catcher Robinson Chirinos, who can also play the infield. Torres came over in the Scott Kazmir trade, Chirinos for Matt Garza.

The $180M Tino Martinez

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

This season started out so promising for Mark Teixeira. He put any concerns about an April slump to bed pretty early, homered in each of the first three games of the season as well as four of the first five. Tex had a .279/.408/.656 batting line with six homers to his credit through the team’s first 17 games, which would have started some ridiculously early MVP talk if Curtis Granderson wasn’t matching him shot for shot while Jose Bautista was busy doing his superman impression.

It’s been a series of ups and down for Teixeira since that completely arbitrary 17th game cutoff. He’s hit .231/.331/.466 in the team’s last 65 games and .209/.313/.419 in their last 34 games. His series in Toronto featured just two singles, and you have to go all the way back to the final game of the Mets’ series in CitiField to find his last extra base hit. He may be second in the league with 25 homers, but a .240/.346/.500 batting line (.368 wOBA) and 2.8 fWAR is not exactly what he or the Yankees had in mind when he signed that fat $180M contract two and a half years ago. It’s very good production, but not elite.

The Yankees have had just four primary first baseman over the last three decades or so, and every single one of them has been an above-average player. The second of those four was Tino Martinez, who like Teixeira was very good but not elite during his time in pinstripes. Tino’s first two weeks with the Yankees were awful (.088/.255/.118 kind of awful), awful enough that he was regularly booed at home. He of course went on to turn things around and help the Yankees win the World Series in his first year with the team, just like Teixeira. The similarities don’t end there though.

From 1996-1998, Tino’s first three years with New York, he posted a .364 OBP and a .516 SLG. In his two and a half years as a Yankee, Teixeira owns a .368 OBP and a .518 SLG, identical to Martinez’s output for all intents and purposes. Of course these two guys are very different hitters. OBP and SLG are output stats, they tell you what happened rather than why it happened (SLG is an even bigger culprit than OBP). Tex is pretty close to a classic three true outcomes type, hitting for big power while drawing lots of walks and striking out a fair amount. Tino was much of a contact oriented hitter. He had power but not Tex power, he drew walks but not an overwhelming amount, and he also had a knack for avoiding the strikeout. The OBP and SLG might be identical, but little else is …

Teixeira has a pretty big edge in the WAR department (remember, he’s still got another 70 games to play this year). The one part of OBP we don’t see here is hit-by-pitches, which is a repeatable skill to a certain extent. Tex is a HBP magnet and has been for most of his career, getting hit by 33 pitches since becoming a Yankee. Tino got hit by 27 pitches in his entire seven years in pinstripes. Unfortunately we don’t have batted ball data for the late-90’s, otherwise I’d love to compare the two that way. It’s pretty obvious that Tex has gotten a little homer happy at New Yankee Stadium, just look at his ever increasing fly ball rate…

I do think that Teixeira’s low batting average this year can at least be partially blamed on bad luck; a .219 BABIP is extreme even for a guy that faces a defensive shift and puts 47% of his balls in play in the air. His expected BABIP (xBABIP) based on his batted ball profile is something like .294, which almost matches his career .297 BABIP. Even if you don’t buy the xBABIP idea, I still find it very hard to believe a .219 BABIP is suddenly Teixeira’s true talent level. Exactly two players have single season BABIP’s that low this century (min. 400 PA): Aaron Hill last year (.196) and Dan Uggla this year (.205). Carlos Pena was at .222 last year, then you have to go all the way back to 2004 to find someone else in the .220’s (that would be Tony Bautista at .225). I expect some kind of regression from Tex, even if it’s just getting his BABIP into the .260’s or so. Maybe it happens this year, maybe it doesn’t*.

It’s worth pointing out that Tino’s offensive output started to slip after 1998, which is easiest to see here. He hit just .267/.333/.461 from 1999-2001 and was 31 when that decline started, the same age Teixeira is now. Both of these two are slick defensive players (I think Tex is a little better, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen Tino play first regularly) and neither ever really hit in the playoffs (though Tino has two huge World Series homers to his credit), plus they’re both pretty boring interviews and what not. Tino has achieved True Yankee™ status but I get the sense that Teixeira earned it in 2009 but has somehow lost it since. I didn’t know that was possible. Either way, their first three years with the Yankees were very similar in terms of overall production even if they went about the offensive end of things very differently. The odds of the Yankees (or any team, really) coming out ahead during an eight-year contract worth nearly $200M is pretty small, but it’s still pretty disheartening to see Teixeira’s decline to Tino levels so soon. I expect there to be some kind of rebound, hopefully it comes soon.

* And besides, the only reason I really care about his batting average is because it’s dragging his OBP down. It would be nice if everyone hit .300, but I’d be much happier with .240/.400 than .300/.360.

Peña out with emergency appendectomy; Laird up

Brandon Laird, come on up. You’re the next contestant on “Can the Yanks’ Back-Up Infielder Field Cleanly?” As per George A. King III, Ramiro Peña will be on the disabled list for four to six weeks after undergoing an emergency appendectomy this morning in the Tampa Bay Area. The Yanks have recalled Laird to take his place. Ranked 14th in our pre-season prospect list, the 23-year-old was hitting .266/.296/.415 with 10 home runs in 362 plate appearances for AAA Scranton. He’ll likely share some time at third base with Eduardo Nuñez unless the Yanks acquire an offensive upgrade before the trade deadline.

Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The Yankees and Rays played each other a little over a week ago, when the Bombers took two of three at home. That was supposed to be a four game series, but Mother Nature got in the way. This one will be a four-gamer, the dome will make sure of it.

What Have The Rays Done Lately?

Played a lot of innings, that’s what. The Rays and Red Sox played 16 innings last night, with Tampa coming out on the wrong end of a 1-0 score. Those two teams split the first two games of their series, and the Rays have lost four of their last five series. They’re 3-6 since the end of interleague play, and three of those losses were shutouts. They’re six games back of the Yankees in the loss column for the wildcard.

Rays On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Same set of guys we saw last weekend. The meat of the order is Johnny Damon (.275/.322/.420), Ben Zobrist (.266/.359/.474), Evan Longoria (.233/.317/.441), Casey Kotchman (.333/.393/.465), and B.J. Upton (.240/.422/.418), the guys that play every single day. Matt Joyce fouled a ball of his knee on Saturday that forced him from that game and kept him on the bench yesterday (other than a pinch-hitting appearance, when he fouled a ball off his toe), and his availability for this series is unclear. I’m sure we’ll see him at some point, either off the bench or starting. Either way, his excellent season line (.293/.353/.522) masks a .183/.236/.351 slump since the calender flipped to June.

Then you have everyone else. Sean Rodriguez crushes lefties (.306/.405/.556) but can’t touch righties (.169/.234/.297). Reid Brignac (.193/.236/.221) has kinda sorta taken the shortstop job back from Elliot Johnson (.209/.276/.357) with a recent hot streak (two multi-hit games in his last four contests). John Jaso (.255/.347/.371 vs. RHP) and Kelly Shoppach (.239/.363/.388 vs. LHP) typically platoon behind the dish. Tampa recently recalled third catcher Jose Lobaton, but he hurt his knee last night and could end up on the disabled list. Sam Fuld (.238/.296/.351) will make an appearance now and then, as will Justin Ruggiano (.259/.279/.439). The Rays have a pretty drastic home/road split, but not in the traditional way. As a team, they’ve hit .227/.296/.374 at Tropicana Field, but .258/.325/.416 away from home. It’s weird, the Trop has turned into a pretty extreme pitcher’s park over the last few years, suppressing offense to about 80% of the league average since the start of last season according to ESPN’s park factors. Don’t ask me to explain.

Rays On The Mound

Monday, RHP Alex Cobb (vs. A.J. Burnett): Uh oh, a rookie they’ve never seen before. At least this one isn’t a soft-tossing lefty. Cobb has made five spot starts for Tampa this season, all with generally good results. He gave up four runs in four innings in his debut, but he’s allowed no more than three runs in the other four games while failing to complete six innings only once. Cobb has struck out 19 and walked 12 in 29 IP, getting exactly 50% ground balls. He makes his living with a low-90’s two-seamer and a mid-80’s changeup that he’ll throw a pretty much any time. A high-70’s curveball is his third pitch, a mid-80’s slider his seldom used fourth offering. Cobb does have a pretty significant platoon split in both the majors and minors, which is odd given the changeup.

Tuesday, RHP Jeremy Hellickson (vs. Bartolo Colon): The Yankees were supposed to get Hellickson last week, but he was scheduled to start the game that was rained out, so Tampa skipped him. This start will be his first since July 3rd, so 16 days off. Maybe there will be some rust. Hellickson is another fastball-changeup-curveball guy, but his stuff and command is a full grade better than Cobb’s, if not more. His underlying performance this year isn’t great (5.90 K/9, 3.39 BB/9, 33.1% grounders), but he’s coming off a nice run of seven quality starts in his last eight outings. The Yankees haven’t seen him other than a handful of short relief appearances last season.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Wednesday, LHP David Price (vs. Freddy Garcia): Finally, someone we’re familiar with. The Yankees put ten men on base and scored four runs against Price last week (5 IP), and also scored five runs in five innings off him earlier this season. He lives off his mid-90’s two and four-seamers, throwing them a combined 70.7% of the time this season. A mid-80’s changeup and a high-70’s curve are his favorite two secondary pitches, and the high-80’s slider he used to dominate the SEC is basically a show-me offering these days. The Yankees have had some success against Price this year, but come on. You know how good he can be.

Thursday, RHP Jamie Shields (vs. CC Sabathia): The Yankees didn’t have any success against Shields last week; he limited them to four hits and one unearned run in eight innings. It took an otherworldly effort from Sabathia for them to win. Shields throws three low-90’s fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter) but doesn’t use them that often. Just 40.1% of his pitches are fastballs. His hellacious low-80’s changeup is his go-to pitch, and he’s using his high-70’s curve more often this year (21.4%) than ever before. A mid-80’s slider will make an appearances every once in a while. Shields has been both very good and very bad against the Yankees in recent years, and they’ve seen enough of him to know what’s up.

Bullpen: The Rays played deep into the night yesterday, so their bullpen is pretty taxed on the moment. Both Juan Cruz (3.70 FIP) and Jake McGee ( 4.84 FIP in limited action) have pitched in each of the last three days. Cesar Ramos (4.66 FIP), Adam Russell (5.08 FIP), and Brandon Gomes (4.01 FIP in limited action) have each pitched in the last two days. The trio of Kyle Farnsworth (2.86 FIP), J.P. Howell (5.97 FIP), and Joel Peralta (3.85 FIP) each pitched yesterday as well as Friday. Tampa has to send someone down to call-up Cobb in time for tonight’s game, and it’ll almost certainly be Gomes after the threw three innings and 48 pitches last night. They’re definitely stretched a little thin at the moment, but most days they’re set in the eighth and ninth innings while being a little hit-or-miss elsewhere.

Recommended Rays Reading: DRays Bay