Game 77: The King is in town

Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson, AP

No, not that King. His time will come. I’m talking about King Felix, who will face the Yankees tonight as he tries to clinch a series victory for the Mariners. The Yanks have to stick with the same game plan as last night, jumping all over the first hittable pitch Felix gives them. If they get passive in an effort to drive up his pitch count, they’ll be staring at 0-2 counts all night.

Heeeeeeeeere’s the lineup…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, DH – this really better not be an every day thing
Granderson, CF
Curtis, LF
Cervelli, C

And on the bump, they man they call Javy. Javy Vazquez.

It’s an absolutely gorgeous day for baseball in New York, and there’s no reason this one won’t start on time. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET, and can be seen on good ol’ YES. Enjoy.

2010 Draft: KLaw on Dan Burawa

Keith Law got a look at Yankees’ 12th round pick Daniel Burawa during his outing for the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod League last night, and wrote an absolutely glowing report about him (Insider req’d). He dubbed Burawa’s fastball as electric, noting that the St. John’s righty “sat 93-96, dipping below that just twice in his one inning of work” with “so much downward life that it often finishes below the zone.” KLaw also noted that Burawa has an upper-70’s curve that serves as a change-of-pace pitch, but otherwise “it’s a premium arm that would play pretty quickly in a late-game, one-inning role.” Like I’ve been saying, it’s clear the Yanks’ sought out guys with big time arm strength in this draft.

There’s reportedly five Yankee draftees playing on the Cape this summer, including Burawa, RHP Tommy Kahnle (5th round), and RHP Martin Viramontes (27th round).

Oppenheimer among the game’s best GM candidates

When we think of prospects, we usually think about players and minor leaguers. Of course, field personnel and front office executives can be considered prospects as well, for coaching and managerial positions. Will Carroll ran down a list of the ten best GM candidates in the game (sub. req’d), one of whom is Yankees’ scouting director Damon Oppenheimer.

“There’s really nothing left for Oppenheimer to prove with the Yankees,” said Carroll. “His staff has developed players who have come through and have been traded out. There’s the advantage of the big pockets, but with those big pockets comes big scrutiny … Since it doesn’t appear Brian Cashman is going anywhere soon—Cashman is younger than Oppenheimer—it appears that Oppenheimer will have to move on to get his shot, unless the Yankees pay GM-like money to keep him in place.”

I don’t know when Oppenheimer’s contract runs out, but teams will almost never block someone from making an upward move. I also don’t know who would replace him, but I imagine it would be someone from within. It’s never a bad thing when your top level executives are mentioned among the best GM candidates in the game, I do know that much.

Tickets available for tonight’s game

Kinda short notice, but a reader has two tickets available for tonight’s game. The seats are located in Row 13 of Section 414, and they’re going for $25 each. They can be emailed, making everyone’s life easier. If you’re interested, shoot me an email and I’ll put you in contact with the seller.

Update (5:17pm): The tickets have been claimed.

With Hughes, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

As he fielded questions from Yankee fans on Monday evening during a talk at The Times Center, Yanks GM Brian Cashman spoke about doing his job in one of the loudest and most volatile media markets around. With two tabloids competing for readers and two sports talk radio stations on everyone’s dials, New York fans are fed constant outrage over their favorite teams’ decisions. Everything is scrutinized, and few in the media have faith in the process.

Cashman, though, knows that he has to tune out the noise to be able to do his job. “If you listen to the fans,” he said, “you’ll be sitting with them soon enough.” The same, he noted, applies to the media. If Brian Cashman and Randy Levine ran the Yankees as Mike Francesa and those columnists in The Post and The Daily News want him to, the team would be a train wreck of contradictions with a $300 million payroll and no farm system. Baseball requires an even keel.

Yet, the fans carry on and on. Last night, Phil Hughes had a bad outing. Against a poor offensive club, Hughes couldn’t escape the sixth and walked away with just his second loss of the season. He allowed 10 hits and two walks in 5.2 innings while surrendering six earned runs. After the game, he claimed to be too strong after 10 days off, and that set off the fan base.

They shrieked, “The Yankees don’t know what to do! Didn’t they learn from Joba? They can’t develop young pitchers! Just let him pitch! Off with their heads!” It was a typically expected response devoid of reason or context.

The Yankees have a plan. After last night’s start, Phil Hughes was on pace for 188 innings, and the team will not have him throw that many. Last year, they tried limiting Joba’s innings by having him throw stunted starts, and it clearly did not work. This year, they’re going to do what teams do with many pitchers and allow Hughes extra rest. They’ve done it with Andy Pettitte; they’ve done it with Javier Vazquez; they may even do it with A.J. Burnett. Hughes will get his rest, and that’s that.

Yet, the fans bemoan no matter what. If the Yanks had to shut Hughes down at the end of August, they would complain that the team is without one of their more effective starters for the stretch drive. If they give him rest now, they complain. Such is the nature of New Yorkers.

This approach — what I would call 20-20 managing — is nowhere more evident than in the bullpen as well. When Joe Girardi brings in a reliever and that reliever struggles, the 20-20 managers would have left in the starting pitcher. When the starting pitcher faces one batter too many and the game slips away, the 20-20 managers would have gone to a reliever. The 20-20 managers always push the right button and are never wrong.

But baseball doesn’t work like that. The Yanks know what they want to do with their young arm, and right now, that will involve keeping his rhythm regular and his innings under control. The real issue with Phil Hughes is that his last eight starts have been unspectacular. He’s 5-2 over that span but with a 5.33 ERA, and opponents are OPSing .798 against him. It is, though, only about innings to fans who think they know better.

The Yankees will always be scrutinized. They’ll always be second-guessed. Even when they win, someone will say they could have won faster or better or sooner. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.

Exercising patience with Curtis Granderson

Photo credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP

It’s the type of play that, no matter how solidly you field your position, will incite anger in fans. On the whole Curtis Granderson has played a solid center field this season. He misplays some batted balls, but no outfielder gets them all. But to bobble the ball — twice — on a hit to shallow center when the runner on second, for some reason, doesn’t initially try to score, will incite a few Bronx Cheers. Granderson made up for it to some degree, picking up two hits off Cliff Lee, but for the most part the beginning of his Yankees tenure hasn’t gotten off to the start that anyone had hoped.

When the Yankees acquired Granderson in December they didn’t think they had traded for the player whose OBP sat at a meager .327 in 2009. Rather, they thought they were acquiring a player who, like Nick Swisher, was better than his poor previous season indicated. The problem did look fixable. Granderson hit the ball on the ground at a rate far below his career norms, leading to many outs in the air. A few of those fly balls cleared the fence, which somewhat mitigated his poor season, but in order to turn things around he’d have to rediscover the approach that made him one of the top center fielders in the AL in 2007 and 2008.

So far this season we’ve yet to see Granderson make any sort of transformation. His groundball rate, in fact, sits at the exact spot it did last year, 29.5 percent. For a player with speed, this doesn’t sound like an optimal rate. His line drive rate is up three points, but he hasn’t seen much benefit from it: his BABIP sits just five points above last year. His offensive stats are almost identical to last year, too. While his OBP and ISO sit a tick lower, offense is down league-wide. Granderson’s wRC+ sits at the same mark, 107, as it did last season. The Yankees, it would appear, did acquire the player who experienced a bad year in 2009.

The season is still young, though, especially for Granderson, who missed almost all of May with a strained groin. There is still plenty of time for him to turn it around. Yet at this point that seems like an overly optimistic stance. Maybe if Granderson were doing the things that made him successful in 2007 and 2008 it would be a different story. But given his batted ball and plate discipline data, plus the eyeball observation, it doesn’t seem like there has been much change. There’s a good chance that we’re stuck with the 2009 version of Granderson.

This isn’t to say that he’ll be like this for the duration of his contract. Kevin Long is a world-class hitting coach and I’m confident that consistent work with Granderson can bring positive results. I’m just more skeptical than ever that it will happen this year. At one point I was excited at his results after returning from the injury, but they’re returned to a disappointing level. He has hit for a ton more power, which is a huge plus, but he’s still at .247/.321/.485 since May 28. That’s not the Granderson the Yankees intended to acquire. That was the risk, though. I’ve been as optimistic as anyone about the guy, but at this point, nearly half way through the season and with little to no discernible change in his approach, I’m no longer so sure.

Why the Yanks can’t afford to lose Gardner

Brett Gardner was not in the lineup last night. He’d gone for x-rays after getting hit in the forearm on Sunday, but they came back negative. Gardner also reported feeling better, so this doesn’t seem too serious. The Yankees had better hope it’s not. Gardner has been a big part of the Yankees offense. At ESPN, Mark Simon and Katie Sharp break out the bullet points to illustrate exactly what Gardner has done for the team this year. It’s a good list, but they did miss one point: Gardner leads the AL in pitches seen per plate appearances with 4.55. Not bad for a guy who hits for no power.