Swisher’s walk-off blast ends homestand on high note

On the heels of three rather ugly, often unwatchably bad losses, the Yankees showed up to the park on Wednesday afternoon with a chance to turn things around and avoid a sweep at the hands of the lowly Orioles. Things certainly didn’t look good for the first, oh eight-and-a-half innings or so, but one swing by Nick Swisher was enough to erase all the frustration of the game and really the series.

Happy Swish is happy. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Biggest Hit: Swish Makes Up For It All

The 2009 season spoiled us all. Not a homestand went by last year that the Yanks’ didn’t win at least one game thanks to a walk-off homer/hit/dropped pop-up, but so far this season they’ve only enjoyed four such wins. Marcus Thames was responsible for the first two, Swisher the third and now the fourth.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Down 2-1 against Orioles’ closer Koji Uehara, Alex Rodriguez led off the bottom of the ninth with a solid single to rightfield, the fourth time he hit the ball hard in as many trips to the plate. He was immediately pinch run for by Eduardo Nunez, but Robbie Cano flew out to deep center for the first out of the inning to end his day. Swish, already 1-for-3 and still noticeably favoring his sore left knee, worked himself into a hitter-friendly 2-0 count by taking two straight fastballs off the outside corner. He took the third pitch, just not for a ball. He took the pitch and turned it around towards left-centerfield. Nunez was running on contact, so even if the ball landed in the gap, Swish’s hit likely would’ve tied things up. He did one better though, as the ball carried up and over the wall and into the visitor’s bullpen for a walk-off two-run homer.

The Yanks haven’t had many huge WPA swings this season, but Swish’s homer ranks among the largest. It accounted for 77.3% of the win, a win the team sorely needed.

Biggest Out(s): Nova Gets Wigginton & Izturis

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Things started off very well for Ivan Nova, but the O’s started to get to him the second and third time through the order. Matt Wieters hit a two-run opposite field homer on a 3-0 count two batters into the fifth inning, but Baltimore’s threat didn’t end there. Brian Roberts – 6-for-14 in the series – doubled to right with two outs before Nick Markakis was intentionally walked. Nova escaped the jam by striking out Ty Wigginton on four pitches, three of which were swings and misses on curveballs. Wiggy just couldn’t lay off it.

Things again got a little hairy in the very next inning, when Adam Jones reached base on an 0-2 single with two outs and no one on. Weary of Wieters following the homer, Nova seemed to pitch around the catcher and put him on with a walk. Cesar Izturis, he of the .249 wOBA, worked a 3-0 count before Nova managed to run it back full. The seventh pitch of the encounter yielded a line drive, thankfully right at a slightly leaping Derek Jeter. The O’s had failed in their second chance in as many innings to tack on some insurance runs, and sure enough it came back to bite them.

Rallies For Nothing

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Like the Orioles, the Yanks had themselves plenty of opportunities to get back in this game before Swish did the honors in the ninth. Lance Berkman led off the fifth with a walk, and two batters later Frankie Cervelli pushed him into scoring position when he took a pitch to the left butt cheek. O’s starter Brad Bergesen fed Brett Gardner a diet of upper-80’s fastballs with the two men on, but the Yanks’ speed demon ripped a hard grounder right to Roberts at second for an inning ending 4-6-3 double play. It was actually the biggest negative WPA swing of the game at -13.2%.

Two innings later the Yanks again threatened, except this time it was Cervelli who came up with men on the corners and two outs. His at-bat lasted all of one pitch, a routine grounder to third that ended the inning and what seemed to be their last chance at the time. This inning was such a mess, it gets its own section.

The WTF Inning

Like I said, that seventh inning was a disaster for the Yanks. Cano did well to reach base with a leadoff single to the opposite field, but Swish struck out looking on a pitch that was probably too close to take. That’s when things got a little crazy.

Buck Showalter lifted Bergesen with his pitch count at 101 following the Swisher strikeout, handing the ball to former New Jersey Net Mark Hendrickson with Lance Berkman and Curtis Granderson coming up. Berkman, as we all know, is part of a designated hitter platoon with Marcus Thames because of his .252 wOBA against lefthanded hitters, and yet he was left in to face the southpaw Hendrickson. Predictably, the former Astro was caught flailing at a changeup for strike three and the second out of the inning. Not pinch hitting for Berkman is the first WTF.

Now with two outs and Cano still at first and Hendrickson still in the game, Joe Girardi finally sent Thames to the plate for Granderson. We know Grandy struggles against lefties, but he’s got something like an 1.100 OPS against them with his new swing. But fine, you have to give Thames a chance against the lefty, that’s what he’s here for. Except Showalter would have none of that, lifting Hendrickson for the righty Jim Johnson after Thames was announced. The platoon advantage was lost for two straight batters late in a one run game. That’s the second WTF.

Girardi lucked out because Thames singled and sent Cano to third, but then the inning ended one pitch later on Cervelli’s ground out. Letting Cervelli hit for himself was the mother of all WTF’s, but it turns out that Jorge Posada was unavailable due to concussion-like symptoms. There’s still an argument to be made that someone like Colin Curtis was a better option at that spot. Either way, fine, Girardi gets a pass for letting Frankie bat since Posada’s hurt. The Thames thing though, sheesh. Not getting him in there for Berkman and essentially sacrificing the platoon advantage for two batters late in a close game is rather stupid. You have to utilize your personnel better than that, have to.

Leftovers

Derek Jeter took a big fat 0-for-4 and is down to .262/.328/.369 on the season and .233/.311/.327 since June 2nd (395 plate appearances). He also muffed a throw on a routine grounder that pulled Berkman off the bag. I want to see him sit at the negotiating table this winter and say he deserves three or four years at $18-20M per with a straight face.

A-Rod continues to crush the ball, picking up two hits and two loud, hard hit outs. He’s pretty clearly the team’s most dangerous hitter right now. Mark Teixeira, meanwhile, was at the mercy of Bergesen all afternoon, striking out three times in four trips to the plate.

I liked Gardner’s aggressiveness in the third inning, when he doubled in a run but got thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple. Felix Pie completely misread the ball in left and let it roll to the wall, and it took a set of perfect relay throws to nail Gardy. The O’s executed, so give them credit.

Nova was pretty good, especially in the first three innings before having to really battle his way through the next three. David Robertson, Boone Logan, and Joba Chamberlain combined for three innings of perfect relief with a pair of strikeouts each. As for Baltimore’s bullpen, well, the Yanks had zero hits off of that crew in the series until Thames’ single with two outs in the seventh inning of this game.

The Yanks are still the only team in baseball to not have a losing streak longer than three games this season, and they also avoided getting swept in a three game series at home for the first time at the New Stadium. I mean ever. The division lead is back up to two-and-a-half games because the Red Sox beat the Rays, and the magic number for a playoff spot is down to 14 thanks to the White Sox loss.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Hooray for late comebacks! MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs the other, nerdier stuff.

Up Next

The Yanks went 7-3 on the longest homestand of the season, and will get to enjoy a day off on Thursday before moving on to Texas to take on the scuffling Rangers. Javy Vazquez and his nothingball will face C.J. Wilson.

Trenton grabs Game One behind Betances (UPDATE: Tampa advances to Florida State League Championship Series)

Triple-A Scranton (6-4 loss to Columbus in 10 innings, walk-off style) Columbus leads the best-of-series 1-0 … David Phelps gets the ball tomorrow against old buddy Zach McAllisterJesus Montero is out with some kind of lower leg infection, hopefully nothing serious
Reid Gorecki, CF: 1 for 5, 2 K
Kevin Russo, 2B: 0 for 3, 1 BB
Juan Miranda, 1B & Brandon Laird, 3B: both 0 for 4 – Laird struck out twice
Jorge Vazquez, DH: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 K – hit a game tying homer in the top of the ninth
Chad Huffman, RF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Eric Bruntlett, SS & P.J. Pilittere, C: both 1 for 4 – P.J. doubled and scored a run, so he did a decent job of approximately Montero’s production
Justin Christian, LF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K, 1 E (fielding) – he apparently had an adventure in the outfield that led to some Columbus runs
D.J. Mitchell: 5 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 6-4 GB/FB – 65 of 102 pitches were strikes (63.7%)
Zack Segovia: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 3-1 GB/FB – 18 of 27 pitches were strikes (66.7%) … dude came in with the bases loaded and no outs, and escaped without allowing a run thanks to a strikeout, force at the plate, and a routine grounder … that’s huge
Eric Wordekemper: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 2-1 GB/FB - just 18 of 38 pitches were strikes (47.4%), but it’s worth noting that two of the walks were intentional
Amaury Sanit: 0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K - all four pitches were strikes … served up a walk-off homer to a guy that hit .238/.332/.336 this season

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Thanks, Swish

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

It’s amazing how one swing of the bat can make us all forget about that abomination of a game, and really the last four games. The Yankees played generally awful and uninspired baseball against the Orioles this series, yet Nick Swisher managed to send them into the road trip and tomorrow’s off-day on a high note. Amazingly enough, Swish’s walk-off shot today comes exactly one year after his last walk-off shot, which came against the Rays. Pretty cool.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the evening. The Red Sox and Rays are on ESPN, and that’s pretty much it for baseball on the national channels. You guys know what to do by now, so have at it.

Posada out with concussion-like symptoms; tests negative

Update (5:56pm): Thankfully the tests came back negative, and Posada is cleared for competitive play. He’s currently listed as day-to-day, and I would assume he’s making the trip to Texas.

5:44pm: Ready for this? Jesus Montero is not in the lineup for Triple-A Scranton tonight even though it’s a playoff game. It doesn’t mean they’re calling him up, but they could be taking the necessary precautions in case they get bad news regarding Posada.

4:38pm: It’s unclear if Posada will be able to fly with the team to Texas, which is not good. Like I said, concussions are nothing to mess around with, so the Yanks absolutely have to play it safe with one of their most important players in this situation.

4:17pm: Joe Girardi said in the post-game press conference that they’re waiting to find out how Posada checked out.

4:07pm: Via Bryan Hoch, Jorge Posada was unavailable today due to concussion-like symptoms following a foul tip in last night’s game. He visited a neurologist today, and presumably everything checked out okay. Or at least I hope it did. Concussions are no joke.

This explains why Frankie Cervelli was allowed to bat for himself with runners on the corners and two outs in the seventh inning with the Yanks down by one this afternoon. He predictably made an out on the first pitch of his at-bat, killing what seemed like the only rally of the game.

Aceves, Marte done for the year

For the last few weeks, we’ve heard rumblings of some discouraging news on the injury front, and this morning, Joe Girardi confirmed the dire diagnoses: Neither Alfredo Aceves (back) nor Damaso Marte (shoulder) will return to the Yankees’ bullpen this year. Marte, out since July and still under contract for next year, could need surgery, and Aceves, who threw just 12 innings before a disc problem shelved him in May, is still under team control. For the sake of depth and with memories of 2009 dancing through our heads, it’s a shame that these two pitchers aren’t coming back, but with Boone Logan‘s emergence and the solid, if not spectacular, work out of the pen lately, the team has the arms to cover these two injuries.

Game 140: Don’t get swept

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

This isn’t how it was supposed to play out. CC was supposed to play the stopper and end the skid at two games. That would take the pressure off the rookie in the series finale. But CC was off from the start last night and the offense couldn’t pick him up. That leaves the streak ending to rookie Ivan Nova.

Through his first three starts Nova has proved useful. He has yet to complete six innings, but he has done a good job through the first five or so. His worst start came last time out, his second time facing Toronto within 11 days. I like his chances better against an Orioles team he hasn’t yet faced. If he can give the Yanks five innings and change while allowing two or fewer runs they should be able to end the skid.

The Orioles send out Brad Bergesen, who is having a rough sophomore season. This will be his second time facing the Yankees this season. Last time they met the Yankees’ offense put a beating on Bergesen, scoring six runs before the end of the third inning. He’s been a bit better since Buck Showalter took over, a 2.81 ERA in his last six starts. Yet he’s still allowed five home runs in that span, leaving him with a 4.33 FIP. The Yanks can help start that statistical correction this afternoon.

We still don’t have the A-lineup, and since the Yanks face the lefty C.J. Wilson on Friday we might not see it then, either. But one of these days, right?

Lineup:

1. Brett Gardner, LF
2. Derek Jeter, SS
3. Mark Teixeira, DH
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Nick Swisher, RF
7. Lance Berkman, 1B
8. Curtis Granderson, CF
9. Francisco Cervelli, C

And on the mound, number forty-seven, Ivan Nova.

Hughes to get a breather this time around

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The last few weeks have been rough for Phil Hughes. Toronto knocked him around twice, and while he pitched well enough against Oakland he had to leave after five innings because he had thrown 98 pitches. He has had trouble putting away hitters once he has two strikes on them, often running the count full or allowing a number of foul balls that run up his pitch count. Something will have to change if Hughes is going to help this team in the postseason.

Fatigue has become a concern for Hughes. He flatly denies it, but since when do players admit non-obvious physical issues? At 155.1 innings Hughes has now pitched 50 more innings than last season, 55.2 innings more than 2008, 45 more than 2007, and 9.1 more than 2006. A 9.1-inning increase over his previous high might not seem like a lot, but that was a different time. Not only was it four years ago, but it was also a season split between A+ and AA. It’s tough to compare that to a full year in the major league rotation.

Given the limits the Yankees have placed on his innings and the struggles he has faced of late, skipping a start was inevitable. This morning Brian Costello noticed that Dustin Moseley was listed as Sunday’s starter, following A.J. Burnett and Javy Vazquez. Later in the morning Joe Girardi announced that Hughes will start Wednesday against Tampa Bay. That certainly makes for an interesting series down in Texas, but it also makes sense if Hughes is feeling fatigued. Not only does it give him a 10-day breather, but it also keeps him out of an afternoon game in the Texas heat.

Ten days might seem like a long time between starts, and I’m sure it will be difficult for Hughes, who has started basically every fifth day this season, to cope with the change in routine. There is a chance, though, that he gets in some work between now and then. Girardi mentioned the possibility of getting him an inning out of the pen, which sounds like an excellent idea. It would be ideal on Friday, since that’s five days after his previous start and four days before his next. That, I think, could possibly instill a sense of rhythm while keeping him somewhat fresh. But that’s more spitballing than anything.

With the pitching staff a big question mark after CC Sabathia, the decision to skip Hughes must have been a difficult one. While he has struggled in some ways, he has also helped limit the damage in many starts where he doesn’t have his best stuff. He has been the second best pitcher on the staff for much of the past few months, which is more a commentary on Burnett, Vazquez, etc. than it is praise of Hughes. The Yanks are going to need him in the postseason, so taking action now seems like the right idea. We can only hope that the rest gets Hughes back on track for his last three or so starts of the season, and then the postseason.