Nova dominates as Yanks take series opener

When I looked at the three guys the Yankees have lined up to start this series against the Reds, I couldn’t help but think that winning one of three games would be an acceptable outcome. Ivan Nova reminded us all why they don’t play the games on paper Monday night, throwing the best game of his career against one of the NL’s better offenses in a park that plays to the hitter.

That's a mistake.

All They Needed

Whenever the Yankees faced a pitcher they haven’t seen before, particularly a lefty, we all cringe. We’re conditioned to do so by now, because the Yanks just don’t ever seem to beat those guys. When the first pitch of the game was called a strike despite darting in just below Nick Swisher‘s knees, I figured it was going to be a really long day. It was hard not too.

But then, of course, the Yankees proved all us doubters wrong. They not only hung a four spot on Travis Wood in the first inning, but four of their five hits in the frame came with two strikes. They didn’t flail at some little changeup off the plate or chase fastballs over their head, they took some borderline pitches for balls and attacked the pitches that missed their spots. Robinson Cano had the only extra base hit of the inning, an 0-2 double on a pitch that came it letter high but was supposed to be up at eye level. Wood flat out missed his spot, and Robbie drove it into the left field corner for a two-bagger. Even Andruw Jones singled in a run, an all too uncommon occurrence. The four first inning runs were all the Yankees would ultimately need because…

Throw strikes with four pitches, and good things happen.

[insert Super Nova cliched title here]

I’m certain this was Nova’s best start as a big leaguer. I’m not referring to the overall stat line (8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 15 GB, 3 GB) or anything like that (77 Game Score, his best ever), but just in terms of how he looked. Yes, I understand that’s completely subjective, but it’s okay to be subjective sometimes. It seemed like Ivan had all his pitches working, including his changeup, curveball, and that little cutter/slider we heard about earlier in the year (that he seemed to abandon). He was in total command.

The Reds did, however, threatened in the first when Drew Stubbs and Brandon Phillips singled to set up a first and third situation with Joey Votto and Jay Bruce due up. The game had a “here we go” feel to it at that point, like that big first inning lead was ready to disappear right before our eyes. Nova limited the damage though, he got Votto to roll over on a changeup (according to Martin anyway, PitchFX says it was an 87 mph fastball) and ground into a double play, then Bruce grounded out the end the inning. A run scored on the double play, but that’s fine, Ivan limited the damage to just one run.

Nova went on the retire 13 of the next 14 batters (the one exception was a strikeout, but the batter reached on a wild pitch strike three) before Paul Janish singled with two outs in the fifth. That was pretty much it. He got the last out in the fifth, retired the side in order in the sixth and seventh, then surrendered a two out single to Fred Lewis in the eighth before ending the inning. The Reds simply couldn’t lift any of his pitches or work any deep counts; Nova threw more than 15 pitches in an inning just once (18 in the third), more than 13 pitches in an inning just three times, and more than a dozen pitches just four times. That’s pretty nutso. This was one of those starts where Ivan had it all working and he could put the ball anywhere he wanted. The Reds had no chance.

LOLpen

Seriously, how bad is Boone Logan? Luis Ayala allowed a single to Phillips to start the ninth inning, then Joe Girardi went to Logan for the lefties Votto and Bruce. So, naturally, Boone hit Votto on his first and only pitch of the night. With two men on and the tying run on deck, the skipper went to Mariano Rivera, who gave up some runs on ground balls but eventually got out of the inning to preserve the win.

Can Logan use rust an excuse? This was his first game action in eight days after all, though he did warm up several times in between appearances. Votto was the 18th left-handed batter he’s allowed to reach base this year, which works out to a .383 OBP over 47 plate appearances. The only lefty relievers that have been in the bigs all year that have allowed a worse OBP to left-handed batters are Craig Breslow (.426) and David Purcey (.395). I guess it’s not a secret why those three have played for eleven different organizations in 16 total seasons.

Leftovers

The strike zone in this game was … interesting, for both teams. I’ll just leave it at the that. The plot above (via Brooks) tells the whole story.

Andruw Jones failed to run out an inning (and rally) ending double play in the third, and my immediate reaction was to yank him from the game. Phillips couldn’t get the throw off at second because Martin slid in hard, but had enough time to recover to get Andruw anyway. It was embarrassingly bad, and for a platoon guy that plays once or maybe twice a week, he has to run every ball out. I don’t care how stacked his resume is. The trainer did come out and both Jones and Joe Girardi said he rolled his ankle getting out of the box after the game, which sounds believable enough when watching the replay. Either way, it was ugly.

It’ll be forgotten because Janish didn’t bother to catch the throw, but Curtis Granderson was out trying to steal second in the seventh. I mean he was out by a good ten feet, the only way he would have been safe was if … Janish botched the play. It won’t show up as a caught stealing in the stat sheet, but if we count it as one, Grandy has been successful in just two of his last seven steal attempts. Also, why exactly did they pinch-run for Alex Rodriguez that inning? The Yankees were up 5-1 with two innings to go, and as we saw in the ninth, the game was far from over.

Swisher reached base twice (a hit and a walk), and Yankees’ leadoff hitters are now hitting .423/.559/.654 since Derek Jeter hit the disabled list. In a related stat, the Yankee went from averaging 5.16 runs per game before Jeter’s injury to 6.71 runs per game since. The Cap’n is eligible to come off the disabled list next Wednesday, by the way.

Within the span of three pitches in the fourth, Eduardo Nunez missed a hit-and-run sign and got picked off first. Something about rookie mistakes and/or bad players goes here. Also frustrating: Wood threw 52 pitches in the first and second inning, and then just 55 over the next five innings. I can’t believe he completed seven innings. I hate it when the offense lets these guys off the hook like that.

WPA Graph & Box Score

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

Up Next

Game two of this three-game set will be played Tuesday evening, when Brian Gordon makes his second start as a Yankee against Johnny Cueto. RAB Tickets can get you into the game dirt cheap, if you happen to be in or near Cincinnati.

Bichette debuts as GCL Yanks start season

The Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees (roster) started their season today, but first:

  • Austin Romine is now symptom-free following his concussion and has resumed baseball activities. He’s expected to return to the field in about a week. Good news.
  • Alan Horne (remember him?) is headed to Double-A Trenton and will likely start on Wednesday. It will be his first official game since September 4th, 2009.
  • Jorge Vazquez was placed on the disabled list for an unknown reason and Addison Maruszak was called up from Trenton to take his spot.
  • Rob Lyerly was promoted from High-A Tampa to Trenton. I imagine Rob Segedin will move from Low-A Charleston to Tampa very soon.
  • Gary Sanchez is your Low-A South Atlantic League Offensive Player of the Week.

And now, off to the games…

Triple-A Scranton (2-0 win over Norfolk) Mark Prior coached first base tonight, so he’s healthy enough to do that
Austin Krum, CF: 0 for 2, 1 K – he was lifted from the game after striking out in the third, but it doesn’t say he was ejected … weird
Addison Maruszak, 1B: 0 for 2
Greg Golson, LF-CF: 1 for 4
Kevin Russo, 3B-LF: 1 for 3, 1 HBP
Jesus Montero, C: 2 for 4, 1 2B, 1 K – eight for his last 26 (.307) with a double, a homer, two walks, and just that one strikeout
Brandon Laird, 1B-3B: 0 for 3, 1 R
Jordan Parraz, RF: 1 for 2, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB – he ran over the third base ump making the turn around third
P.J. Pilittere, DH: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Luis Nunez, 2B: 0 for 3
Doug Bernier, SS: 1 for 3
Adam Warren, RHP: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 7-2 GB/FB – 60 of 98 pitches were strikes (61.2%) … lost the no-hitter with two outs in the seventh … that’s three very good starts in the row, and two of them were legitimately great … good to see
Lance Pendleton, RHP: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0-3 GB/FB – 16 of 23 pitches were strikes (69.6%)

[Read more…]

Next stop on The Phil Hughes Rehab Tour: New Britain

Via Josh Norris, Brian Cashman confirmed that Phil Hughes‘ next rehab start will come with Double-A Trenton this Friday. He’s likely to throw 75 pitches or so. Hughes struck out seven and ran his fastball up to 95 in his first rehab start yesterday, which is great news, but he’s still got a long way to go. Trenton will be in New Britain for that game, in case you’re thinking about heading over to check it out. Here’s the link to get tickets.

Game 71: Switched

Uh oh, a lefty they haven't seen before. (Photo Credit: Flickr user brianbaute via Creative Commons license)

When Joe previewed this upcoming series against the Reds, he listed Johnny Cueto as tonight’s starter and Travis Wood as tomorrow’s. He was right (at the time), but Cincy decided to switch things up and start Wood tonight and Cueto tomorrow. Why? Who knows A stiff neck, apparently. All I know is that for some reason, Brett Gardner is sitting against the lefty. I do not approve. Here’s the lineup…

Nick Swisher, RF
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Russell Martin, C
Andruw Jones, LF – I look you Andruw, but you should be platooning with Jorge Posada
Eduardo Nunez, SS
Ivan Nova, SP

Tonight’s game will start at 7:10pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

A Little LOOGY Depth

(Photo Credit: The Cincinnati Enquirer)

We’ve been looking at available left-handed relievers pretty much all season and have already covered guys like David Purcey, Randy Flores, Jerry Blevins, and J.C. Romero, so let’s look at another that hit the market this weekend: Danny Ray Herrera. The former 45th round pick of the Rangers (2006) is the forgotten piece of the Josh Hamilton-Edinson Volquez trade (he went to Cincy as well), and he made his debut later that season. He’s ridden the bus between the bigs and Triple-A ever since. The Brewers claimed him off waivers last month, then designated him for assignment over the weekend because they needed a fresh arm after their pitching took a beating on Friday night. Pros and cons, here we come….

The Pros

  • It’s a relatively small sample (183 plate appearances), but Herrera has held left-handed batters to a .213/.278/.306 batting line with a 6.95 K/9 and 50.8% ground ball rate in his big league career. His minor league numbers against same side batters (in a larger sample) are similar as well.
  • Herrera has done most of his pitching in big time hitter friendly environments, so at least he’s been through that before. The vast majority of his big league career with spent with the Reds and Great American Ballpark, and he spent his college career pitching at altitude for New Mexico. It’s like Coors Field without the humidor.
  • Herrera is in his last option year, so he can be stashed in the minors and/or called up and down as much as needed the rest of the season. He’s also under team control for the next four years, if it comes to that.

The Cons

  • Herrera’s stuff is as unspectacular as his 5-foot-6, 165 lb. frame. His out pitch is a Bugs Bunny changeup (he calls it a screwball) that sits in the high-60’s and has gotten a swing and miss 15.4% of the time in his big league career. You can see two of them at the 0:25 mark of this video. The changeup/screwball makes his low-80’s fastball look fastball than it really is, and he also throws a low-70’s slider. That won’t get the job done on paper.
  • As LOOGY’s tend to be, Herrera is unusable against righties. They’ve tagged him for a .373/.428/.549 batting line in 231 plate appearances

I’m an unabashed Herrera fan, so I would love to see the Yankees grab him. In reality, he’s very flawed and certainly not the kind of guy they need to rush out and acquire. If he slips to them on waivers, then sure, place a claim and stick him in the Triple-A bullpen for depth purposes. If not, well no big deal. Herrera has not been used optimally so far in his big league career (almost 60% of all the batters he’s faced have been righties), which is part of the reason why his overall numbers have been so ugly. Perhaps it’s my bias, but I think Herrera’s a better use of a 40-man roster spot than the Jeff Marquezes and Buddy Carlyles of the world.

Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds

(From Flickr user Sideonecincy via a Creative Commons license.)

While the Cubs are more renown for their long and rich history, the Cincinnati Reds have been around for just about as long. During that long span they have one fewer World Series appearance and three more World Series victories. But they have neither the ages-old ballpark nor the infamous curse, and so they’re not paid as much attention as their fellow National League founders. But they’ve had a good deal more success than the Cubs lately, which leaves the Yankees a tougher challenge in their second (third, if we count rivalry weekend) interleague series.

What Have the Reds Done Lately?

Just a week ago the Reds were busy trouncing the Dodgers in a three-game series, outscoring them 16-8. But once interleague started back up the run scoring halted. They scored only four runs this weekend against the Blue Jays, salvaging just one win in the series. They’re now 1-5 during interleague play, losing by a collective score of 27-13.

Reds on Offense

Like a Bruce. (From Flickr user Trev Stair via a Creative Commons license.)

Despite the poor scoring in interleague affairs, the Reds lead the NL in scoring, at 4.78 runs per game. That could make for a high-scoring series, since the Yankees have scored 5.31 runs per game. Despite their NL-leading run scoring, they have produced to the level of an average offense — 100 wRC+ and 100 OPS+. That might be one reason why they’ve struggled during interleague play: of the 10 teams with a wRC+ of 100 or greater, seven are in the AL.

Leading the way on offense is one of the best 3-4 combinations in the game, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. Votto is having a spectacular season that seems a bit underreported. That’s probably because he won the MVP award, but it’s not as though his numbers this season are that far off. In fact, his OBP is even higher, though his power is a bit down. But, since power is down across the league it’s not that big a difference (173 wRC+ last year, 162 this year). He already has seven intentional walks this year, after receiving just eight last year. Yet this year they hurt a lot more, because Jay Bruce has broken out in a big way. After a slow April he has put a hurting on baseballs, producing a .379 wOBA (137 wRC+) on the season. The big difference for him has been power. After 21, 22, and 25 homers in his first three seasons, he’s at 17 already in 2011.

The Reds are even more dangerous on offense because of the producers they have elsewhere in the order. Drew Stubbs’s .335 OBP might not look pristine for a leadoff hitter, but he brings some pop (10 HR) and speed (20 SB, 2 CS). If he gets on, chances are he’s headed for second base. That could become a problem when Cervelli is behind the plate. Ramon Hernandez has also put up some quality numbers, a .372 wOBA in part-time duty.

Keeping the Reds afloat is a cadre of players who hit right around league average. Scott Rolen, Miguel Cairo, Jonny Gomes, Chris Heisey, Fred Lewis, Brandon Phillips, and Ryan Hanigan all have more than 120 PA and a wRC+ with 10 of the league average. That covers all but one starting position and some bench spots. Their only weakness comes at shortstop, though it is a glaring hole. Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria have spent time there, and have wRC+ numbers of 41 and 56. That does leave them with two black holes at the bottom of the order, but it also does give them averagish or better production everywhere else.

Reds on the Mound

(From Flickr user crymzn via a Creative Commons license.)

Monday: RHP Johnny Cueto. The Reds came into the season with more starters than rotation spots, but that strength quickly turned into a weakness after many of them pitched poorly. Cueto actually didn’t start the season in the rotation; he spent the first month on the DL. But since his return he’s been a bright spot for the Reds. In eight starts he’s produced a 1.68 ERA, though he’s not going to keep that up all year. In fact, his numbers closely resemble his career marks, with the exception of his home run rate. He’s getting more grounders, which might play into that. But as we know, when ground ball guys miss they often give up the long ball. His 6.7% home run to fly ball rate is due for a correction, and the Yankees are just the team to do that. Then again, it’s hard to bet against someone who is going so well. He’s gone at least seven innings in each of his last four starts, allowing two runs at most.

Tuesday: LHP Travis Wood. While Cueto has outperformed his peripherals this season, Wood has underperformed his. That’s not to say he’s pitched particularly well: he has a 4.30 FIP against a 3.84 league average, and has a 5.11 ERA overall. Above average walk and home run rates have hurt him, which seemingly plays into the Yankees hands. That goes even more so, because the start is at home. Of the 10 homers Wood has surrendered this year, eight have come at home. But it seems as though every time the Yankees come up against someone like that, he holds them homerless.

Wednesday: RHP Mike Leake. The year did not start off well for Leake, but after being sent down to the minors in May — which is odd, considering his two AAA starts this year are the only minor league innings he’s ever pitched — he’s been on something of a tear. In his five starts back he’s gone 35 IP, 33 H, 9 R, 5 BB, 19 K, including three straight starts in which he has pitched seven or more innings. He’s also allowed just two homers in that span, meaning he’s essentially the anti-Travis Wood.

Bullpen: The Reds bullpen has been pretty middle of the road, with a 3.46 ERA and 4.05 FIP. They do have a number of quality contributors, including lefty, and former first round pick Bill Bray, Logan Ondrusek, and closer Francisco Cordero. Nick Masset can also be a weapon, though his propensity to walk batters has haunted him at times this season. But with those four they can handle most leads, so it would benefit the Yankees greatly to work up Cueto’s pitch count tonight and get into that bullpen early. A wild card here is Aroldis Chapman, whose rehab clock has expired. The Reds could bring him up, but will more likely let him work on his control issues in AAA for a bit.

Recommended Reds Reading: Redleg Nation and Red Reporter.