Game 44: Getaway Night

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The Yankees have been scuffling in a real bad way these last few weeks, but they have a chance to win their second straight tonight and head into tomorrow’s day off feeling positive. No one wants to spend their Thursday thinking about yet another loss. Things turned around last season with a late-May trip to West Coast and that’s where the Yankees are heading next, so let’s wrap up this homestand on a high note. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
1B Mark Teixeira
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
RF Nick Swisher
DH Andruw Jones
Russell Martin
LF Jayson Nix

LHP Andy Pettitte

Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Team Meeting Update: Jack Curry reports that Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi called a team meeting prior to last night’s game. They told the players not to panic and that they believe in their ability to bounce back from this ugly stretch of baseball.

A quick look at Boone Logan’s slider

Boone Logan‘s work this season has been a huge lift to a bullpen that’s suffered two pretty significant injuries, and late last week Lucas Apostoleris of The Hardball Times looked at why the left-hander has been so effective: his slider. Simply put, Boone has been using the pitch much more frequently (48% of all pitches at the time of the writing) and is generating a ton of swings and misses (59% of all swings). Easy enough.

Logan has struck out 27 of the 76 batters he’s faced this season (35.5%) including 17 of 46 lefties (37.0%). I always worry about extreme breaking ball guys (like 50%+ of all pitches, not 25%) because anecdotally, they seem to break down or decline quickly — Brad Lidge, Carlos Marmol, Luke Gregerson being primary examples. Maybe I’m wasting my time worrying about relievers given their short shelf lives, who knows. Anyway, Boone’s been highly effective this season and I hope he continues to pitch this way going forward.

Romine out until July with inflamed disc

Via Dan Martin, catcher Austin Romine is going to be out until at least July with an inflamed disc in his back. He missed time with a similar injury last summer and hasn’t played at all this season, including Spring Training. “He saw [Dr. Watkins] in Los Angeles about four weeks ago and is on his third week of rehab,” said Brian Cashman.

This is essentially a lost season for the 23-year-old Romine, who came into 2012 as the club’s best upper-level catching prospect. He was slated for his first full season at Triple-A and would have had a very real chance to usurp Frankie Cervelli as the backup catcher and cement his place in the club’s long-term catching picture. Instead, the Yankees had to make the George Kontos-for-Chris Stewart trade to replace the depth and Romine’s long-term outlook is a big question mark.

2012 Draft: Stryker Trahan

The 2012 amateur draft is less than two weeks away, so between now and then I’m going to highlight some prospects individually rather than lump them together into larger posts.

Stryker Trahan | C

Named after a character in a Burt Reynolds movie, Trahan stars in both baseball and football for Acadiana High School in Lafayette, Louisiana. He is committed to Ole Miss.

Scouting Report
One of those “country strong” types at 6-foot-1 and 220 lbs., Trahan produces a ton of hard contact from the left side and the ball makes a different sound off his bat. He projects to hit for big power down the road but there is some concern about his propensity to swing and miss at the amateur level. His hands and arm work well behind the plate but he needs to work on his overall receiving and footwork. Trahan is athletic for his size and runs way better than the typical catcher, so he’ll be able to shift to right field if the catching thing doesn’t take. There is star potential behind the plate, however.

Trahan is a back-half of the first round talent and recent rankings by Keith Law (24th), Baseball America (27th), and (28th) reflect that. They put him right in the mix for New York with their first round pick (#30 overall) and for what it’s worth, Baseball America had the Yankees selecting Trahan in their latest mock draft. The Yankees prioritize catching depth in the minors, specifically catchers who can hit, and Trahan is one of the two or three best offensive catchers this draft class has to offer.

Cody Eppley’s Big Chance

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Billy Butler is one of the most unheralded great hitters in baseball. The 26-year-old is hitting .301/.361/.515 with eight homers in 180 plate appearances this season and with all due respect to Mike Moustakas, he’s clearly the biggest threat in Kansas City’s lineup. That’s why it was surprising when Joe Girardi called on Cody Eppley, an up-and-down right-handed reliever, to face Butler with a man on first and no outs in the eighth inning of a one-run game last night.

Eppley, 26, used three upper-80s sinkers to get Butler to fly out harmlessly to right for the first out of the inning. It was the only batter he would face but was one of the most important plate appearances of the game in terms of Leverage Index (3.38). Of course, Girardi called up Eppley hoping for a double play ball on the ground. The sidearming righty has a 66.7% ground ball rate in limited big league action this season but was at 82% in Triple-A according to First Inning. His career minor league ground ball rate is roughly 61%.

He didn’t get the double play ball but Eppley did get a chance to pitch in a pretty big spot. He’s been hell on right-handed batters throughout his Triple-A career (.211/.291/.265 against with a 28.5 K%), which isn’t a surprise given his arm slot and sinker-slider combination. That’s going to be his role in the big leagues, a righty matchup guy who specializes in ground balls. Think Burke Badenhop or Brad Ziegler or Joe Smith. A useful pieces for the middle innings but not exactly your relief ace.

Eppley is only on the roster for one reason right now: David Robertson‘s injury. Robertson is still feeling some pain in his strained left oblique and has yet to pick up a ball, so he’s probably a week to ten days away from returning to the club in the best case scenario. It depends on how many minor league rehab appearances the team has him make, if any. That gives Eppley another handful of appearances to show that he can contribute to the Yankees on a regular basis, at least moreso than Freddy Garcia. That’s his goal, out-pitch Freddy.

The only problem with carrying Eppley instead of Garcia long-term is that you’re stuck with two specialists in the bullpen between him and Clay Rapada*. Those are two guys who are most effective when kept away from batters of he opposite hand and it really hamstrings the manager and increases the workload on the other relievers. I’d prefer to see David Phelps in a multi-inning setup-type role rather than assuming long man work from a departed Garcia, so Eppley could be squeezed out of the bullpen until the next injury. It will be interesting to see how he’s used until Robertson returns; more opportunities like the one we saw last night would be an indication that the Yankees are giving him a longer look and a chance to earn a spot on the roster even when their top late-inning arm gets healthy.

* Boone Logan has been incredibly effective of late and is pitching like more than a lefty specialist at the moment, so we’ll give him a pass for now.

Is Cody Ransom an upgrade over Jayson Nix?

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I can’t imagine many Yankees fans look back fondly on the Cody Ransom era. He was a late-season call-up in 2008, hit two homers and two doubles in his first four at-bats in pinstripes, then failed spectacularly in 2009 after getting a chance to replace the injured Alex Rodriguez on an everyday basis. Overall, Ransom posted a 97 wRC+ in 137 plate appearances for New York despite being declared a better fit for the team than A-Rod. It was a crazy time.

The now 36-year-old Ransom is back on the market after being designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks earlier this week. He hit four homers and put together a 148 wRC+ in 58 plate appearances for Arizona before getting the axe in favor of the younger Josh Bell. The Yankees are stuck with Jayson Nix as their utility infielder at the moment because Eduardo Nunez had to be sent to Triple-A for defensive incompetence, but Nix isn’t anything to write home about himself. There’s actually some merit to bringing Ransom back for an encore.

Since both guys are classic Quad-A types, we’re talking about a marginal upgrade at the 24th or 25th roster spot. Ransom has performed better in limited big league time (90 vs. 71 wRC+) and the two guys have nearly identical Triple-A track records, though Cody offers a little more power (.183 vs. 164 ISO) and on-base ability (8.8 vs. 7.6 BB%). The biggest difference between the two probably comes on defense, as Ransom is a true shortstop capable of playing the position for weeks at a time if need be. You can’t say the same about Nix, though he has the advantage of being able to play the corner outfield spots.

Anyway, I don’t want to waste too much time talking about a move that would be largely inconsequential. Ransom is not a guy you want in the lineup on an everyday basis but like Nix, he has a skillset suited for a big league bench. It’s just that Ransom’s skillset might be a better fit for the Yankees even though he’s seven years old than Nix and has already had one forgettable stint in pinstripes. Claiming him off waivers and dumping Nix would be a justifiable move but hardly a season-saver. If they pass, well that’s no big deal either.

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Catching up with A.J. Burnett

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Once upon a time, the Yankees had a surplus of starting pitching. So much so that they traded one of the only 16 pitchers to make at least 32 starts in each of the last three seasons to the Pirates for a pair of fringe prospects and $13M in salary relief. New York’s rotation has been inconsistent and adequate at best while A.J. Burnett has toiled in relative obscurity in Pittsburgh. Contending is a pipe dream, but Burnett recently told both Brian Costa and Andy McCullough that he’s enjoying his new surroundings.

“It’s completely different,” he said. “I can go out there and do what I want, how I want, when I want to. If I want to turn around upside down, I can do it — as long as I throw a strike. It was always the pressure I put on myself to do so good. And now, I’m just out there, just doing it.”

Like every other ex-Yankee, Burnett takes advantage of the freedom to don some horrible facial hair. He traded a college fund for a uniform number and keeps fishing poles at his locker in PNC Park while his 2009 World Series ring is tucked away at home. He still talks to CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, David Robertson, and others regularly but also acknowledges that he prefers the levity of his new situation.

“I’d get 3-0 on the first batter, and you’d hear a bunch of people,” he added. “My first start, I walked the bases loaded here. I can’t even imagine what [Yankee Stadium] would have sounded like over there, and there was maybe like two words that came out of the crowd here. So it’s just different.”

Burnett owns an unsightly 4.78 ERA in six starts for the Pirates, but most of that stems from a 2.2-inning, 12-run disaster against the Cardinals a few weeks ago. He’s allowed no more than two runs or thrown fewer than six innings in any of his other five starts, including seven shutout innings against St. Louis in his first appearance of the year. As you know, he missed the first few weeks of the season after fouling a ball off his face in Spring Training and fracturing his orbital bone. His 3.46 FIP is by far his best since a 3.45 mark with the Blue Jays in 2008, the year before he came to New York.

Do the Yankees miss Burnett? Despite their sketchy rotation, I don’t believe so. Burnett helped the Yankees win a World Championship and if you do that, you’re cool with me. That doesn’t mean you get to keep your job forever though. He was good for innings but not much else these last two years and the move to the easier league seems to have served him well at this point of his career. It doesn’t sound like A.J. misses the Yankees but not in a mean-spirited way. Things here had run their course.

“I had my good times there, though” said Burnett. “I don’t regret it at all. I don’t. I regret not performing better.”