Updated (10:50 p.m.): In the second inning of tonight’s 6-0 loss, Alex Rodriguez, making his return to the lineup from a calf injury, grounded out and could barely run down to first base. He was clearly limping when he headed back to the dugout, and when he spot came up again in the fourth, Austin Kearns pinch hit for him. After the game, Joe Girardi told reporters that he pulled A-Rod when the slugger said he felt his calf grab during his swing. “He’s probably going to miss a few more games,” the Yanks’ manager said. A-Rod doesn’t know if he’s going to hit the DL, but Joe Girardi said he “wouldn’t think so at this point.” I miss the healthy A-Rod.
The Yankees announced tonight that the Cleveland Indians have selected right-handed pitcher Zach McAllister to complete the Austin Kearns deal. After rocketing through the Yanks’ system, McAllister could not get outs efficiently at AAA this year. The 22 year old is just 8-10 on the year with a 5.09 ERA and a 4.59 FIP. He’s struck out just 88 in 132.2 innings while walking 38 and has given up 20 home runs.
Both Baseball America and our own Mike Axisa ranked McAllister as the organization’s fifth best prospect in the preseason lists, but as Baseball America said, his stuff just isn’t that overpowering. Calling him “trade bait,” the magazine said, “Only McAllister’s slider grades as a plus pitch, and his fastball sometimes sits in the upper 80s. He must be precise with his fringy curveball and changeup.” In his post-draft organizational rankings, Mike had McAllister ranked 18th. His star has fallen, and the Yanks will likely not miss him.
The Yankees got lucky when playing Kansas City this season. Both times they missed facing Zack Greinke. But when they face the Mariners they have drawn Felix Hernandez every time. In both of his previous starts he’s pitched a complete game, striking out 20 total. The Yanks will go in having scored 26 runs in their past three games.
A-Rod returns to the game to DH. Gardner stays in the leadoff spot, because Cervelli’s catching. If Brett picks up a couple of hits tonight I wonder what Girardi will do tomorrow. Would he drop Jorge to 7th to keep Brett atop the lineup?
And on the mound, number thirty-four, A.J. Burnett.
Update (8:30 p.m.): In the 4th inning as the clean-up spot in the lineup came up for a second time, the Yankees opted to pinch hit Austin Kearns for Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod had missed three days with a sore calf and did not run hard down to first on a ground ball in the second inning. This is not a good development for the Yankees.
The Seattle Mariners, as Cliff Corcoran detailed in his extensively entertaining series preview at the new Pinstriped Bible, aren’t a very good team. The team is 48-73 and have somehow managed to average 3.28 runs scored per game. It is no surprise then that tickets for the weekend are selling at 20 percent below average.
Surprisingly, tonight’s game — the one top-notch pitching match-up that features Felix Hernandez and A.J. Burnett — is the one with the lowest prices. Tomorrow’s game, an afternoon affair on a nice day, is selling strong, but with bad weather moving in on Sunday, the prices dip a bit. With so many New Yorkers out on vacation this week and next and an uninspiring Mariners club in town for some mid-August games, it’s no wonder ticket prices are a bit depressed. As always, grab your seats from RAB Tickets.
On Monday, the Yankees announced to their Twitter followers that the next five days would constitute HOPE Week. Called a week-long program that brings to light five remarkable stories intended to inspire individuals into action in their own communities, HOPE Week is about Helping Others Persevere & Excel, and when Vinny Milano saw the Twitter announcement, he immediately knew he had to get involved.
Better known to the Yankee world as Bald Vinny, leader of the Bleacher Creature, Milano fired back a reply to the Yankees. He offered up the his services and those of the Creature loyalists in the right field bleacher. A few days later on Thursday afternoon long after the Yankees had downed the Tigers and the stadium had emptied out, Milano and his friends found themselves back in their customary place conducting a different kind of roll call.
With the help of the Yankees’ staff, Bald Vinny and his crew chanted out the names of the children from The Beautiful People as these kids with special needs played a one-inning game with the Yankees. “The kids were turning around. The parents were turning around,” Vinny said to me. “People were coming up to us to tell us how cool it was.”
For Milano and the Creature, the act was a simple one that meant a lot to these children. “It just seemed like a perfect fit,” he said. “They were playing ball in our house and that’s how we do it at home.”
The Beautiful People is an organization based out of Orange County, New York, that works with children ages 5 to 21. They try to give these kids with special needs — such as one with Spina Bifida or another who needs an oxygen tank at all — the opportunity to play sports just as anyone else would. They started with baseball after founder Peter Ladka got the idea while having a catcher. “I’d been spending some time thinking about how my family and I could give back to the community,” Ladka said. “I just got the idea that there have got to be families out there with kids that don’t get to enjoy that opportunity that I was experiencing.”
Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees joined these children on the field to cheer them on. Each of the players held a sign, and the kids enjoyed an afternoon of play on the most famous baseball field around. “There are very small magical moments,” Ladka said to MLB.com. “It’s not the big things. You see a kid learn how to throw a baseball, or a kid … actually hitting the ball out of the air. It’s little miracles that happen and they’re amazing. Talking about them now, I get emotional, and I’ve seen hundreds.”
For me, sitting at the stadium for the past two games, the moment that struck me came in the fourth inning yesterday when Paul Olden turned over the PA duties to Daniel Fratto. The 16-year-old looks far younger than his years, and he suffers from a severe immune deficiency syndrome that requires him to breathe with the assistance of an oxygen tank. He can’t play in the league and instead serves as The Beautiful People’s public address announcer. Without the nerves one would expect and with the calm of a seasoned veteran, he announced the bottom of the fourth to a crowd of 48,000 Yankee fans, and he was perfect. He could have done the whole game and could very well have a career behind the mic if his health allows him to. “He was outstanding,” Joe Girardi said after the game.
The Beautiful People are only one of the many groups enjoying the Yanks’ HOPE Week. On Tuesday afternoon, Joe Girardi, Tino Martinez and Joba Chamberlain accompanied Jane Lang, a blind but very devoted Yankee fan, from her home in New Jersey to the stadium where she attends numerous games a season. Lang, born without sight, did not know that home plate was shaped like a home until Girardi explained it to her, and yet, she attends 30 games a season with her guide dog Clipper. She sees the game through crowd reactions, the sounds of the game and John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman. On Wednesday, the club honored Mohamed Kamara, an 18-year-old survivor of the civil war in Sierra Leone who supports his family from abroad and will be attending college in the fall. Meeting him and hearing his story, said Curtis Granderson, was “humbling.” Today, two sisters who were homeless until they were 16 yet never wavered in their commitment to academics are getting the full Yankee treatment.
For the Yankee players and the organization, this isn’t a one-off week. The team is devoted to this effort, and those who see it in action says this true commitment shines through. “One thing that amazed me was that a lot of the other players participated,” Jay Gordon who joined the Bleacher Creature yesterday said. “The three guys who were on the field the longest were Andy Pettitte, who was there the whole time, Burnett who I don’t think ever left, and Joba who was basically all over the place.”
Even as HOPE Week fades, the Yanks’ good deeds remain throughout the year. It truly transcends baseball rivalries and shows what happens when our heroes who play a game for a living devote their energies toward giving back.
If Phil Hughes is going to develop into an ace, or even a No. 2 starter, he will have to further develop his secondary pitches. Last year, pitching out of the bullpen, he could survive mostly with his fastball and his cutter, since he’d face so few hitters. But when facing a lineup three or four times he’ll need another pitch or two, preferably off-speed, that will prevent hitters from timing his fastball.
Hughes does have an advantage here. His fastball can stymie major league hitters and his cutter has turned into an above average pitch, so he can still attack opposing hitters with effective pitches while he gets a better feel for his curveball and changeup. Sometimes that backfires and hitters get a feel for the fastballs, but for the most part Hughes has been able to avoid major trouble. This was the case yesterday.
In June and July we started to see Hughes employ the curveball more often, but he has laid off it a bit in his last two starts. Yesterday he threw it just 10 times out of 84 pitches, and four of those came in the first inning. One of them, of course, was Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer, the only damage the Tigers inflicted off Hughes. One of the others was Will Rhyme’s single. In other words, half the time he threw it in the first he got beat. Yet he still went back to it six more times in the next five innings.
While it might seem like the first inning results might have caused Hughes to shy away from the curveball later in the game, that might not have been the case. Sure, there’s a chance that he lost confidence after giving up a base hit and a homer, but there was something else at play yesterday. Of those 84 pitches, 57 were four-seam fastballs. Why so many fastballs? It was the same reason he leaned on the pitch so much earlier in the season. Opposing hitters just couldn’t do anything with it.
Hughes threw the four-seamer for strikes, 39 out of 57, which certainly helps. What helps more is the rate at which Tigers hitters swing and missed. Nine times they couldn’t even make contact with his fastball. That helped Hughes along to six strikeouts, the most he’s had in a start all month. The fastball it self, according to PitchFX, didn’t look too out of the ordinary. It averaged 91.36 mph, which is a bit below the season average of 92.5, and it had a 9.85 inch vertical break, which is right at his season average of 9.9. The horizontal break was a bit more pronounced, -6.93 inches compared to a season average of -5.7, so maybe there’s something there. Though, as we learned in a few Burnett starts, more horizontal break is not necessarily a good thing. (E.g., it could mean the ball is tailing.)
The Tigers’ lackluster offense certainly helped out Hughes, as the only player who hurt him was an MVP candidate. But that shouldn’t take away from his start, which can’t be classified as anything but excellent. Miguel Cabrera will hit homers, and apparently he really likes hitting them against the Yankees. Hughes not only kept down the rest of the Tigers hitters, but he also did it in an increasingly efficient manner, using just 40 pitches in his final four innings after using 44 in the first two.
At a time when he’s pitching more innings than he has in four years — and he’s even approaching that old benchmark — Hughes has continued to impress. He’s not mowing down hitters like he did earlier in the year, but that’s understandable. He’s still just 24 and is learning how to harness the repertoire that will complement his already excellent fastballs. That gives the Yanks an excellent combination: solid middle of the rotation starter this year, with the chance of an emerging ace next year. If, when the Yankees drafted Hughes in 2004, they were told this was how he’d develop, I don’t think there would have been a single complaint in the room.