Pettitte goes three in first minor league outing

Bryan Mitchell (second) and Jose Campos (eighth) had two of the eight best pitching performances in the minor leagues this weekend according to Game Score. Hooray for that.

The Yankees have signed right-hander Michael Dubee to a minor league deal and assigned him to Double-A Trenton. Graham Stoneburner was placed on the DL with a groin injury in the corresponding move. Dubee is the son of Phillies’ pitching coach Rich Dubee, and he’s spent six unspectacular years bouncing around the minors with the Phillies, White Sox, and Pirates.

High-A Tampa (9-6 loss to Clearwater)
CF Eduardo Sosa & 1B Kyle Roller: both 1-3, 1 BB — Sosa scored and struck out … Roller whiffed three times
2B Kelvin Castro, LF Ramon Flores & RF Rob Segedin: all 1-4, 1 K — Castro drove in a run while Segedin scored
C J.R. Murphy: 0-3, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 E (throwing)
3B Zach Wilson: 1-4, 1 R, 3 K
DH Neil Medchill: 3-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K — remember his huge season with Short Season Staten Island a few years back?
LHP Andy Pettitte: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 4/3 GB/FB — a whopping 26 of 32 pitches were strikes (81.3%) … he’s going to take an extra day off before his next start after throwing one more inning than planned tonight … he was a “very easy” 85-87 with a strong changeup, so basically a Spring Training start
RHP Brad Meyers: 1.2 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 1/2 GB/FB — debut for the Rule 5 Draft pick, who is on the DL with a shoulder problem … this officially starts his 30-day rehab clock
LHP Kramer Sneed: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 1 K
RHP Zach Nuding: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 2/1 GB/FB– he was the scheduled starter, but then Pettitte showed up

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Game Four: Just Win

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Rays had their fun this weekend, but it’s time to close the book on that series. The Yankees are in Baltimore now, a place that has been very friendly to them over the years. They’ve won 17 of 25 games at Camden Yards over the last three years, part of a 39-15 record against the O’s overall. Coincidentally enough, the Yankees have gone 13-5 against the Orioles in each of the last three seasons. They sure could use a win now, the natives are starting to get restless. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
RF Nick Swisher
2B Robinson Cano
DH Alex Rodriguez
1B Mark Teixeira
CF Curtis Granderson
LF Andruw Jones
Russell Martin
3B Eduardo Nunez

RHP Ivan Nova

Tonight’s game will start just after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. Try to enjoy.

A full view of Girardi’s rotating DH plan

Ball *in* the glove, Nunez. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Once the Yankees traded Jesus Montero in January, it became fairly clear that they were going to approach the DH spot differently than they had in the previous few years. For so many years they employed, or planned to employ, a full-time DH. From Hideki Matsui to Nick Johnson to Jorge Posada, it was a plan that seemed to work for the high-powered Yankees’ offense. Raul Ibanez, however, is no full-time DH. That works well for the Yankees plans though, as they have a number of bench players they want to work into more regular roles.

During opening weekend we got a glimpse of what is to come. It started on Friday, when we learned that Eduardo Nunez would start in the field on Saturday against lefty David Price. That afforded Derek Jeter a half-day at DH. On Sunday Girardi went with his regular lineup, but placed Raul Ibanez in right field while using Nick Swisher as the DH. Both times the irregular player committed costly mistakes, but we shouldn’t judge the system based on individual plays. Is this something the Yankees can sustain throughout the season?

In favor of the rotation DH

It is clear that the Yankees are intent on using the DH spot to give a half-day rest to players who need it. Alex Rodriguez figures to be a beneficiary; he’s spent time on the DL in each of the last four seasons and could use the small break that DHing affords him. Jeter, who missed about a week in camp with calf issues, can probably also use the break every now and then. In the outfield the Yankees can mask Brett Gardner‘s relative weaknesses against lefties with Andruw Jones‘s strength. Additionally, as we saw yesterday, they can use this to give a break to the slightly wounded. Remember, Swisher missed time during the spring with a pair of groin injuries, so using him as the DH sometimes early in the season seems like a reasonable idea.

The problem with a rotation DH is that in many cases, it means inserting an inferior bench player into a lineup spot that could go to a more powerful hitter. For the Yankees this isn’t exactly the case. Jones ranks among baseball’s best fourth outfielders, so using him in place of Gardner, or even Swisher, isn’t a huge drop-off. In fact, in the case of Gardner it can create a net advantage. In the infield Nunez clearly isn’t at the level of Jeter or Rodriguez. But the Yankees have been vocal in their desire to get him more playing time, and as Mike said on Friday this seems like the most sensible way to do so.

Absent a DH in the mold of Hideki Matsui circa 2009, this might be the best way for the Yankees to fill the DH spot. It lets them take advantage of Jones’s skills, and also provides an opportunity to get a better read on Nunez. At the same time, they can manage the physical toll on more fragile players, such as Rodriguez, and players who have minor ailments, such as Jeter and Swisher. That kind of flexibility is always useful during the course of a six-month MLB season.

Against the rotating DH

While, as I said above, we shouldn’t judge anything based on a few individual plays, it’s difficult to get the images of Nunez’s and Ibanez’s blunders out of our heads. They were just so egregious. And, in a way, they were to be expected. Ibanez is a notoriously poor defender in the outfield; his misplay yesterday resembled so many plays from his recent past. Nunez, as we saw, committed 20 errors last year in just 753 infield innings — roughly one every four games. That takes away many of the rotating DH’s advantages.

At The Captain’s Blog, William Julano covers the dark side of Girardi’s scheme. It’s not so much about the idea itself, but rather the personnel. Yes, the Yankees can perhaps keep everyone healthier by employing the rotating DH, but at the same time they’re hurting their pitchers by trotting out inferior defenders behind them. As we saw on Saturday and Sunday, those plays can be costly.

Working out the kinks

The good news is that the Yankees have a few options. First and foremost, they can refuse to play Ibanez in the field unless absolutely necessary. They’re paying him just $1 million, so he’s not a guy they have to trot out there against every single right-handed pitcher. If they want to give Swisher a half-day off to keep him fresh — something that will likely happen less frequently as the season wears on — they can simply use Andruw Jones out there. Since 2009 he does have a 101 wRC+ against right-handers, so he’s not completely useless. Given Ibanez’s nonexistent defense, he’ll provide a net positive in those situations.

In the infield the situation is a bit tougher. Nunez will continue to get playing time when Rodriguez and Jeter DH, and for now that’s fine. It might cost them a few runs in the short term, but it will give them a better idea of what Nunez can bring to the table in a more regular role. If by mid-season they judge that he’s not the prospect they’ve made him out to be, they can swing a trade for someone who fits more appropriately. There is, of course, always the possibility that Nunez settles in, cuts down his errors, and adds a little value with his bat vs. left-handed pitching. But the Yanks won’t know until they try.

The idea of a rotating DH is nothing new. Teams have tried it, but because of limited resources it rarely works out as expected. That is, bench players are bench players for a reason. Subbing one of them in and using a starter at DH takes away a spot from someone who can actually hit. The Yankees are in a position, however, where they can give it a whirl for an extended period. They have high-quality hitters in their lineup, and at least one of their rotation guys is a solid, above-average hitter. They might have some growing pains with Nunez, and they’ll have to keep Ibanez out of the outfield. But in the far view of a 162-game season, this could work out for the Yankees.

The two LOOGY problem

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

The season is only three games old, but we’ve already seen the Yankees get burned by letting a left-handed reliever face a right-handed batter on two occasions. Clay Rapada gave up a double to Evan Longoria (and a walk to switch-hitter Ben Zobrist) in Saturday’s game, then Boone Logan gave up a homer to Jeff Keppinger yesterday. Stuff like that will happen over the course of a season, but it’s still a reminder of how problematic a two-LOOGY bullpen can be.

“It’s 6-2 and you’re down,” said Joe Girardi after Saturday’s game. “It’s the [seventh] inning. We’ve got a lot of days early on. We have one day off in the first 16 or 17 days, so we can’t burn these guys out in the first two days.”

First of all, let’s just ignore that Girardi basically said he doesn’t think his team could come back from four runs down. That’s an asinine statement we could facepalm over at some point in the future. The important thing is that he doesn’t want to burn out his bullpen, which is obviously very good to hear. Managing the bullpen’s workload is Girardi’s best trait, and it’s not particularly close. The problem is that the bullpen isn’t well-suited for two lefty specialists.

The Yankees’ three best relievers are tied to very specific innings. Rafael Soriano is the seventh inning guy, David Robertson the eighth inning guy, and Mariano Rivera the closer. Those are their innings when the Yankees have a lead, the game is tied, or when they’re behind a run or maybe two. That’s it. David Phelps is a rookie and the mop-up man, so his appearances figure to be sporadic and generally low-leverage. That leaves Logan, Rapada, and Cory Wade for the middle innings. Unless Wade can magically re-enter games at opportune times, Girardi is going to forced to use the two lefties in spots he normally wouldn’t. That’s how Jeff friggin’ Keppinger winds up hitting a homer and reasonably close games become blowouts.

“I can’t use Mo, Robertson and Soriano every day, and when we’re losing, we try to get some innings out of some other guys down there,” said the skipper yesterday. Like I said, I understand not wanting to overwork guys and I commend Girardi for it, but Logan and Rapada should not be used against righties at all. Unfortunately, they will be unless Phelps takes on more responsibility or Girardi becomes a little more flexible with his end-game trio.

4/9-4/11 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

(photo by J. Meric/Getty)

By now you’ve all read about the fact that the last time the Yankees went 0-3 to start a season was 1998, and we all of course know how that turned out; as well as the last time the Yankees were 0-3 and the Mets 3-0 1985; not to mention the last time both the Yankees and Red Sox started out 0-3 was 1966. This minutiae is important for your next trivia night at the bar, but for all intents and purposes, highly irrelevant.

Forget what you heard from the 2012 season’s first weekend. Three games are simply that — three games — and every team in baseball will lose three games in a row at some point during any given season. It just happens to be that much more magnified at the very start; no one like to see a zero in the win column for any longer than they have to. I happen to think the more interesting bit of trivia concerns when the Yankees last entered a set against the Orioles — currently 3-0 after feasting on the punchless Twins — trailing Baltimore by three games. As best I can tell the answers appear to be the morning of Monday, June 27, 2005, when Baltimore was in 2nd place (2.5 GB) and the Yankees were in third, four games behind the O’s.

In any event, the Yankees last saw Buck Showalter’s crew in early-September, finishing the season series off by playing a three-game set at Yankee Stadium (which the Yanks won, highlighted by Jesus Montero’s first career two-home-run game — and first two career home runs) and then a one-off back down in Camden Yards to make up for what many felt was a questionable postponement a week-and-a-half earlier. The Yankees played some pretty ugly baseball in losing both the game in Baltimore and the game prior by identical 5-4 scores in extra innings, though ultimately neither contest mattered much in the grand scheme of things.

On the whole, the Bombers have flat-out dominated Baltimore during the last decade-plus; since the advent of the unbalanced schedule, the Yankees have gone 135-67 (a .668 winning percentage) against the birds, which is just pure ownership. Of course, pretty much everyone in MLB has had their way with the O’s during this timeframe, who last finished above .500 fourteen seasons ago in 1997 and are coming off four-straight last-place finishes.

Last winter I thought Baltimore actually looked like a team on the rise, as the O’s appeared to have several promising young starting pitchers on the verge of breaking out and an offense that looked quite robust on paper. Alas, onetime-future-lefty-ace Brian Matusz took a massive step backwards; enigmatic-but-talented left-hander Zach Britton — currently on the shelf following plasma therapy and not expected to be ready to go until May at the earliest — got tarred and feathered before showing signs of starting to put it together near the end of the season; and Jake Arrieta had a rough year that saw him continue to feast on the Yankees but get eaten alive by everyone else. Incredibly ineffective starting pitching combined with a middling bullpen led the Orioles’ pitching staff to the worst collective ERA (4.92) and FIP (4.67) in the Majors last season. The offense also struggled, coming in at a below-league-average 97 wRC+.

Unfortunately for the O’s and their fans, things don’t appear to be getting much better for the franchise any time soon, as their very public search for a new general manager during the offseason saw them embarrassingly get turned down by qualified candidate after qualified candidate, until former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette agreed to take the reins after being out of professional baseball for nearly a decade. That the O’s had anywhere from a 0.5% to a 2.2% chance of making the postseason before they even played a single game in 2012 speaks volumes about where the franchise presently stands.

The lineup the 2012 O’s will send out against the Yankees features many of the same names as last year, with the only notable new faces coming in the person of former Bombers Wilson Betemit and Nick Johnson. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters make for a formidable one-two punch in the four-five slots while Mark Reynolds (2nd-highest HR/FB% in MLB last year) is always a home-run threat when he’s not busy striking out, but the remainder of the lineup is relatively uninspiring. J.J. Hardy had a nice season last year but needs to show he can do it again, while many have been waiting three years for Nick Markakis to replicate his breakout 2008 season to no avail. Still, while the O’s are a virtual lock for a fifth-straight last-place finish, this is still a team that’s going to score some runs and annoyingly win some ballgames it probably has no business winning.

Pitching Match-Ups

In tonight’s opener the Yankees will send Ivan Nova, fresh off an ugly spring, to the hill against the lefty Matusz, who had a better spring than Nova (3.65 ERA in 24.2 IP) but still has a fair amount to prove after the pasting he took last year. Matusz is pretty close to being a classic slop-throwing lefty, but his average fastball is just over 90mph, so he’s not quite in Jason Vargas territory. His bread-and-butter is his change, which comes in ~8mph slower than his fastball and is his only above-average Whiff/Swing pitch. Matusz will also mix in a sinker (15% of the time), curve (11%) and slider (8%). The slider took a step backwards last year — as did basically his entire repertoire — but has been one of his better pitches despite relatively infrequent deployment.

Tomorrow night’s game features Freddy Garcia vs. former Nippon Professional Baseball player and MLB rookie Wei-Yin Chen. Chen, a Taiwanese left-hander who the O’s signed to a three-year deal with a club option this past winter, won the fifth starter slot in the O’s rotation thanks in part to a strong spring (3.60 ERA in 20 IP). Chen apparently throws a low-90s fastball, slider, splitter/forkball and curve. I really have no idea what to expect from Chen in his stateside debut, although I can’t think of too many lefties off the top of my head that feature a splitter, so I’ll be interested to see when and how he deploys that pitch.

And the Wednesday evening finale sees both teams’ rotations turn over as CC Sabathia takes on the aforementioned Arrieta. The righty Arrieta wasn’t quite as good against the Yankees last season as I made him out to be several paragraphs above (4.24 ERA over three starts), but they never seem to blow him out of the water, either. Arrieta features a very live fastball (avg. vel. 93.5mph) that he complements with a sinker (26% of the time), slider (16%), curveball (14%) and occasional change (9%). Arrieta didn’t exactly have an amazing spring (6.14 ERA in 14.2 IP) but still got the opening day nod from Showalter — a strong vote of confidence from his skipper considering cases could have been made for either Tommy Hunter or Jason Hammel. As it so happens, Arrieta rewarded his manager’s faith with seven shutout innings on Opening Day against Minnesota.

Prediction

I know Mike and Joe historically haven’t offered predictions, but I’ve always enjoyed concluding my series previews with them. The easy call here is Yankees two out of three — I could see them losing one of the first two if Nova can’t shake off his rough spring or the Bombers decide its 2010 all over again and are unable to figure out the previously-unseen Chen, while Sabathia should make quick work of the O’s (who he’s gone 11-2 against as a Yankee) in the finale.

Fan Confidence Poll: April 9th, 2012

Record Last Week: 0-3 (12 RS, 18 RA)
Season Record: 0-3 (12 RS, 18 RA, 1-2 pythag. record), 3.0 games back in AL East
Opponents This Week: @ Orioles (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, vs. Angels (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

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The Mitchells dominate in a pair of wins

Baseball America has a boatload of minor league transactions, and unsurprisingly, Tim Norton has been placed on the 60-day DL. VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman recently said Norton was “throwing bullpens and feeling fine,” but this is not the first time he’s given an injury update that was … well let’s call it optimistic.

Also, Dewayne Wise was activated off the temporarily inactive list. He missed a few days because his wife was having a baby. Cole Garner was placed on what I assume is the phantom DL in a corresponding move.

Triple-A Empire State (10-0 win over Syracuse) they faced John Lannan and really roughed him up (5 R in 2 IP)
SS Doug Bernier: 1-5, 2 R, 1 BB
CF Chris Dickerson: 3-5, 3 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — having a nice little start to the season
1B Steve Pearce: 2-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB
DH Jack Cust: 4-4, 1 R, 4 RBI, 1 BB — where’s the power man?
3B Brandon Laird: 2-6, 2 R, 2 RBI — last three hits have been doubles
RF Colin Curtis: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 BB, 1 K
2B Kevin Russo: 2-5, 1 R
C Craig Tatum: 1-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB — season debut
LF Ray Kruml: 0-4, 1 BB
RHP D.J. Mitchell: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 6/3 GB/FB — 38 of 61 pitches were strikes (62.3%) … excellent season debut … he would have gone longer had he been stretched out to 100+ pitches in camp
RHP Manny Delcarmen: 2 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1 HB, 1/3 GB/FB — 22 of 35 pitches were strikes (62.9%) … back to the bullpen after the one spot start (on Opening Day)
RHP Jason Bulger: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1/3 GB/FB — only 15 of 35 pitches were strikes (42.9%)

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