Cody Eppley’s Big Chance

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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?

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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

(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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.”

Jeter & Hughes carry Yanks to win over Royals

I’m not going to call this the biggest win of the season, but the Yankees got a much-needed win against the Royals on Tuesday night. It snapped a three-game losing skid and was just their second win in the last eight games.

Tie game. (REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

And The Yankees Take The Lead

It had been 15 innings since the Yankees held a lead prior to the fifth inning of this game. Robinson Cano cut Kansas City’s two-run lead in half with a solo homer in the fourth before the club found itself in a dreaded bases loaded, nobody out situation in the fifth. Seriously, they’ve been brutal in those spots over the last few games. Dewayne Wise’s gorgeous bunt single loaded the bases after Mark Teixeira‘s hustle double (scored a single and an error) and a ball grazed Russell Martin‘s jersey. I’m pretty sure Wise was attempted to sacrifice, but it was just perfect. Well done, Dewayne.

The Yankees were roughly zero for their last 10,259 with runners in scoring position (actually 0-for-15) before Derek Jeter dunked a single into shallow right to tie the game. Seriously, between Wise’s bunt and Jeter’s single, it felt like a minor miracle. Curtis Granderson plated the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run with a ground out one batter later, but the Yankees failed to tack-on because Alex Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez struck out following an intentional walk to Cano. Lineup protection means little over the course of 162 games but it can have a big impact in one individual game, and that intentional walk was a prime example.

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

Another Strong Start

You gotta hand it to Phil Hughes, he’s really turned his season around following that brutal start. The two runs he allowed came on a double into the right field corner by Humberto Quintero — he homered off Phil to end his day in Kansas City two weeks ago — and a solo homer by Jeff Francoeur. Hughes struck out seven and walk two in his six innings, escaping a bases loaded jam in the sixth to end his night. He even got more ground ball outs (six) than fly ball outs (five).

One thing I noticed was that Phil went with his full arsenal right out of the chute. Usually a pitcher will be fastball-heavy the first time through the order, incorporate some breaking balls next time through, then break out the changeup the third time through the order, but Hughes used all three pitches in the very first at-bat of the game by Jarrod Dyson. Given all the left-handed hitters in the Royals’ lineup, it was probably a good idea. It worked, obviously. Bravo kid, keep proving me wrong.

Poor Boone. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The Eighth

The eighth inning seems to have taken on a mind of its own in recent years, but on Tuesday we saw the Yankees preserve a one-run lead using three pitchers to get three outs, two of whom were plucked off the scrap heap in the last 12 months. Boone Logan started the inning by allowing an infield single to Eric Hosmer, in part because he didn’t cover first. Looking at the replay, I’m not sure he would have beat him to the bag anyway. Hosmer was hustling out of the box and Logan falls off to the third base side as a lefty.

Anyway, the mixing and matching was underway. Joe Girardi called for Cody Eppley to face Billy Butler because the side-arming righty is a ground ball machine* and Butler leads the big leagues in double play balls over the last five seasons (97). So, naturally, Butler fly out to right field. Go figure. On came Clay Rapada to face Mike Moustakas, who lined into a double play at first base. Chances are that ball would have gone foul had Mark Teixeira not snagged it out of the air, but the double play is better. Considering that the middle of the order batted, those three outs were the three biggest of the game as far as I’m concerned. Big ups to Eppley and Rapada, they got those three outs on four total pitches.

* Seriously, Eppley had an 82% ground ball rate in Triple-A this season and is well over 60% in his minor league career. He’s the go-to ground ball guy whenever there’s a right-hander at the plate.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Rafael Soriano slammed the door in the ninth, but not before allowing a ground rule double to Alex Gordon. We’re still waiting on that first 1-2-3 inning of the season. Alcides Escobar nearly tied the game on an infield single, but A-Rod showed off his arm to make the throw across the diamond just in time for the 27th out. This one really went down to the wire. Cory Wade (six pitches, two ground outs) and Logan (a strikeout to end the inning) did fine work in the seventh.

Not for nothing, but three runs in 6.2 innings against Luke Hochevar kinda stinks. That’s a guy the Yankees should pound into submission when things are going right, but they obviously aren’t at the moment. Jeter’s game-tying single was their final hit of the night and last eleven men they sent to the plate made outs. A win is a win, but sheesh. You gotta start somewhere though, and this game was definitely a positive step forward.

No one in the lineup had multiple hits and only Cano (homer and the intentional walk) and Martin (walk and hit-by-pitch) reached base twice. Jeter, A-Rod, Ibanez, Teixeira, and Wise all have some kind of single. Alex also stole a base, his team-leading fifth of the season. Well, technically Eduardo Nunez leads the club with six steals, but he’s in Triple-A (and on the DL).

The homer by Francoeur means Hughes has allowed at least one dinger in all nine starts this season, the longest season-opening homer-per-start streak since Runelvys Hernandez in 2006. It’s the longest streak by a Yankee since Jack McDowell allowed a homer in ten straight in 1995. That’s just who Phil is, he’s going to give up a bunch of long balls and we just have to hope they’re solo shots.

Raul Ibanez was left in to face a left-handed pitcher in the late innings yet again. I understand that he’s been crushing the ball this year, but that doesn’t change the fact that he can’t hit lefties. Andruw Jones has to be given a chance to run into one in that spot, a one-run lead with two outs in the eighth.

The win coupled with the Red Sox’s loss to the Orioles — big ups to former Yankee Wilson Betemit, he’s still fightin’ the good fight by hitting a big two-run homer late in that game — means the Yankees are no longer in last place. Hooray for that.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

Finally, one where the green line ends up on the good side of the graph. MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some additional statistics, and ESPN the updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

Ready for some bad news? The Royals are likely to call up 22-year-old left-hander Will Smith to start tomorrow instead of Luis Mendoza. It will be Smith’s big league debut. They might as well be facing Cliff Lee. Ivan Nova Andy Pettitte will be on the bump for New York. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch the game before the Yankees head to the West Coast as part of a nine-game road trip later this week.

Mustelier & Ortiz lead Triple-A team to win

Another day, another round of injury updates…

  • RHP Jose Campos is still dealing with his “elbow discomfort” and doesn’t appear to be close to returning. An MRI showed no structural damage earlier this month. [Josh Norris]
  • RHP Dellin Betances has been pitching with a cracked fingernail and it is has contributed in part to his control problems. I’m not sure we would have been able to tell anyway given his usual walk problems. [Norris]
  • LHP Jeremy Bleich has resumed pitching in Extended Spring Training and is likely to come back as a reliever. The team’s highest signed draft pick in 2008 hasn’t pitched since mid-2010 due to major shoulder surgery. [Norris]
  • RHP Conor Mullee threw live batting practice today for the first since having Tommy John surgery last June and everything went well. Mullee has thrown just 22 IP since being the club’s 24th round pick in 2010, but he’s one of the hardest throwers in the organization and is part of that relief pipeline the Yankees have built out of late-round draft picks in recent years. [Mullee’s Twitter]
  • RHP Danny Burawa was scheduled to appear in an ExST game today, his first game action since suffering an oblique tear in camp. He impressed this spring and should head to Double-A Trenton once fully rehabbed. [Burawa’s Twitter]
  • In case you missed it earlier, LHP Manny Banuelos‘ had an MRI on his sore elbow and it came back clean. The DL stint is precautionary.

Triple-A Empire State (6-2 win over Columbus)
CF Kevin Russo: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 SB — five straight two-hit games
2B Matt Antonelli: 0-5
1B Steve Pearce & RF Brandon Laird: both 2-4, 1 R — Pearce drew a walk … Laird doubled
3B Ronnie Mustelier: 1-3, 1 2B, 1 RBI — .337/.387/.568 in 42 games this year
C Frankie Cervelli & LF Cole Garner: both 1-3, 1 RBI, 1 K — Cervelli walked twice and got hit by a pitch … Garner walked once
DH Gus Molina & SS Ramiro Pena: both 1-4, 1 RBI — Molina doubled and struck out twice … Pena whiffed once
RHP Ramon Ortiz: 8 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 7/4 GB/FB — 66 of 91 pitches were strikes (72.5%) … two runs or less in three of his last four starts
LHP Juan Cedeno: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 11 of 21 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 43: A Friendly Face

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The Yankees have scored double-digit runs just three times in 42 games this season (7.1%), down from 11.1% last season and 11.7% the year before. The first time was the win over the Angels on Sunday Night Baseball (when Raul Ibanez nearly hit a ball into the upper deck), the second time was the huge Fenway Park comeback win over the Red Sox, and the third time was in Kansas City against Luke Hochevar two weeks ago. Hochevar is on the mound again tonight, and boy if there was ever a time for him to repeat that 2.2 IP, 7 R showing, it’s right now. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
2B Robinson Cano
3B Alex Rodriguez
DH Raul Ibanez
RF Nick Swisher
1B Mark Teixeira
Russell Martin
LF Dewayne Wise

RHP Phil Hughes

The weather in New York isn’t great again but it looks like they’ll get a full nine innings in tonight. The game is scheduled to start a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on My9 locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Update: Banuelos’ sore elbow not considered serious

5:01pm: Via Norris, Banuelos did go for an MRI and it came back clean. It’s more of a “tired arm” than actual soreness, apparently.

2:30pm: Via Josh Norris, left-hander Manny Banuelos was placed on the Triple-A disabled list for precautionary reasons and his sore left elbow is not considered serious. Banuelos and Eduardo Nunez (sore thumb) both hit the shelf just yesterday. It’s been a pretty brutal season for pitching injuries, so this is welcome news. Hopefully it remains nothing serious and Manny can get back on the mound relatively soon.