Bartolo’s Indian Summer

“None of us can predict what’s gonna happen” – Joe Girardi, March 22, 2011 on the decision to begin the season with Bartolo Colon in the bullpen

As weird as it seems now, Bartolo Colon began the season in the bullpen after losing the 5th starter battle to Freddy Garcia back in March. While Colon had out-pitched Garcia in Spring Training, and while his stuff looked fantastic, there were serious questions about his durability. This wasn’t exactly an unfounded concern – Colon is 38 years old, didn’t pitch at all in the majors last season, and last topped 100 innings back in 2005. “Eater” is a word that comes to mind when one thinks of Bartolo, but it’s in connection with food, not innings.

So thank goodness, in a sense, for Phil Hughes‘ dead arm. As it turned out, Hughes’ injury opened the door for Colon and allowed the Yankees to see what they really had in him. Despite a rough outing last time out, he has really come up in spades for the team. Aided by a shoulder rejuvenated by a controversial stem-cell procedure, Colon has been the second-best starter on the 2011 Yankees. As comeback stories go, this one is almost a bit too good to be true. Indeed, this veteran and two-time All Star is having the best season of his length career, even better than when he beat out Johan Santana for the Cy Young in 2005.

In 2005 Colon pitched 222.2 innings of 3.48 ERA ball for the Angels. His W-L record was sterling, 21-8, and was no doubt the driving force behind him winning the Cy Young. Colon’s K rate was 6.35/9, not exactly the highest strikeout rate of Cy Young winners, but he only handed out 1.74 walks per nine innings. His FIP on the year was 3.75, and his xFIP was 3.91. This year he’s doing even better. He’s struck out 7.90 batters per nine innings so far in 2011 while maintaining his typically low walk rate of 2.20/9. His BABIP is a touch lower than his career norm (and his last outing certainly helped bring it closer to average), but other than that there’s┬áthere’s no indication that Colon has benefited from anything unsustainable or odd. By all measures, this is a career year for Bartolo Colon, and he looks fantastic. His two-seam fastball is a jaw-dropper when it’s on. You can see it here at 0:54.

A lot of analysts have been expecting the Yankees to be in the market for front-line pitching. By all indications, they are. But a lot of the preseason speculation on the topic was predicated on the notion that either A.J. Burnett or Phil Hughes represented the Yankees #2 starter, and that Garcia/Colon/Nova were simply back-end guys designed to soak up innings to be moved out when the reinforcements arrived. No one expected Colon to become that #2 starter for the team. But that’s what he is, and it’s not a mirage. He has the 11th lowest SIERA of any AL pitcher, better than Jon Lester, CC Sabathia and Josh Beckett, albeit in fewer innings.

It’s hard to imagine that a story on the New York Yankees would go relatively underreported, but it seems as if that’s what’s happened with Bartolo. A fair amount of attention has been given to his surgery, but not enough has been given to the fact that he’s having a career season at the ripe old age of 38. There is concern about his durability – the last time he cracked even 100 innings was 2005 – and perhaps the Yankees would be wise to monitor his workload down the stretch. But the fact remains that as of today he represents a viable #2 starter behind CC Sabathia, giving the Yankees flexibility as they head into the trade deadline. These 90 innings from Bartolo and ~1.6 fWAR are no small reason the Yankees are tied with Boston in the loss column for first place in July.

The chapter on this season’s New York Yankees isn’t written yet. It’s barely halfway through. No matter what happens with this club – whether they miss the playoffs, get knocked out, or cruise down the Canyon of Heroes in November through a shower of praise and confetti – there’s no doubt that Bartolo Colon has contributed in a large way to the success of this team. Something Girardi said back in Spring Training now rings true, not only for Spring Training but also as an epitapth for the season at its midpoint: “Bartolo was the wild card in all of this”.

Jeter steals the show in win over Rays

Something tells me we’re going to see a whole lot of this game on Yankees Classic in the future. Derek Jeter became the 28th man to pick up 3,000 career hits in the most improbable fashion, belting his third homer of the season and his first outside-the-park homer at Yankee Stadium since last June. The Yankees won, but that’s almost secondary.

Everyone knew it was gone.

2,999

The crowd was on their feet before he even left the on-deck circle. Jeter was still two hits away from the milestone, but he had to get number 2,999 out of the way before he could move on to bigger and better things. David Price went right after Derek to start the game, pumping fastball after fastball after fastball to lead off the first. The first few were 93, then it was all 95+ after that. Jeter worked the count full and fouled two pitches off, and on the eighth pitch of the at-bat he grounded a little seeing-eye single through the left side. The Yankees didn’t score in the inning but that was just a little sidebar, the Cap’n was just one hit away from history.

3,000

Uh, his day wasn't THAT good, CNN.

It could have come at any time, on any pitch. We could have had to wait all afternoon, all weekend, until after the All-Star break, but thankfully we didn’t. The Yankees were down a run in the third inning when Jeter came up for the second time, but this time Price tried to mix things up. A first pitch fastball was wide for a ball, a second pitch changeup swung over for strike one. Derek took another fastball for a ball, fouled off a changeup, took a slider for ball, fouled off a fastball, and fouled off another changeup.

The eight pitch of the at-bat was a hanging curveball and Jeter didn’t miss it. It was a no-doubt hit off the bat, the only question was where it would land. In the gap? Off the wall? Over the fence? Nothing of it would have surprised us a moment after contact. As fate would have it, the ball cleared the fence by a plenty, landing in the first row of the left field bleachers in the hands of Mr. Christian Lopez, a 23-year-old cell phone salesman from Middletown, New York, who was only at the game because his girlfriend got him the tickets a few weeks earlier.

Jeter rounded the bases as the crowd cheered and chanted his name, and he was greeted at the plate first by Jorge Posada and then Mariano Rivera. Former Yankee Johnny Damon and the rest of the Rays came out of the dugout to applaud as Jeter hugged teammates and waved to his family, a celebration that lasted a good five minutes after the ball left the bat. Jeter had achieved immortality and as a nice little fringe benefit, he tied the game at one.

As for young mister Lopez, he was whisked away by security and offered the ball back to Jeter for the low, low price of free. He asked for nothing, but the Yankees rewarded him anyway. He’ll sit in the Legends Seats tomorrow and receive four Championship Level tickets to each game for the rest of the season, playoffs included. That’s on top of all the signed bats and balls and what not. Not a bad haul for the young man, and not a bad first three innings for Jeter.

Starting Another Rally

The Rays regained the lead and were up by one the next time Jeter came to the plate, leading off the fifth inning. Price’s pitch count was already at 92 when Derek jumped on a first pitch curveball and drove it into left for the leadoff double. Just like that, he was 3-for-3 with two extra base hits. Curtis Granderson singled him in one batter later, and the Yankees took the lead on Robinson Cano‘s sacrifice fly two batters after that.

The Fourth One Is For Show

The Yankees were nursing that 4-3 lead when Jeter came up in the sixth inning, this time against righty reliever Brandon Gomes. The rookie gave Derek two fastballs with Brett Gardner on the first, the second of which he slashed through the right side for a single. It was a vintage Derek Jeter hit, that same inside-out swing he’s used for a decade-and-a-half now. The Yankees didn’t score in the inning but Jeter had four hits (and counting).

Ballgame.

Game Winner

Eduardo Nunez did a bang-up job filling in for Jeter while he was on the disabled list with his calf injury, but this game was not an either/or proposition. Both players were in the lineup, and they combined to give the Yankees back the lead in the eighth inning. Nunez led off the inning by doubling down the line into the left field corner (his helmet popped off while running, naturally), then Gardner bunted him over to third. Jeter was up and the infield was in.

Derek was already the star of the day regardless of what happened from that point on, but 4-for-4 wasn’t enough. Joel Peralta gave him a first pitch fastball for a called strike, then he went splitter, splitter, splitter. Jeter responded by taking for a ball, swinging for a strike, and singling back up the middle, respectively. His fifth hit of the day was a little bleeder through the drawn in infield, bringing in Nunez for what proved to be the game-winning run. It was the first five-hit game by any player in the New Yankee Stadium and the third five-hit effort of Jeter’s career, the last coming against this same Tampa Bay franchise in 2005. We’re always going to remember that homer, the milestone blast, but it was this final hit that decided the game.

Curtis was wincing a pain a bit after crashing into the wall.

Leftovers

Oh by the way, some other players played in this game as well. A.J. Burnett was getting swings and misses like they were going out of style (16 in 89 pitches, 18%) during his 5.2 IP of work, striking out nine. Just 11 of the 23 men he faced put the ball in play, but two of those balls in play were homeruns. The first was a monster solo shot by Matt Joyce into the suite level in right, the second a two-run oppo bomb by B.J. Upton. The nine strikeouts were Burnett’s most since September 23rd of 2009, when he fanned eleven Angels. His stuff has looked especially nasty in his last two or three outings, but he’s still prone to that one big mistake.

Boone Logan and Cory Wade each retired two batters before David Robertson blew the one-run lead in the eighth. He’s done a great job of wiggling out of jams, but pitching around a Damon leadoff triple (assisted by Granderson slipping on the warning track) was just too much to ask. Ben Zobrist singled to the tie the game, but otherwise Robertson pitched out of the inning. Mo was perfect in the ninth, retiring the side on just eleven pitches.

The Yankees really worked Price hard in this one, knocking him out after just five innings. He threw 19 pitches in the first, 25 pitches in the second, 33 pitches in the third, 19 pitches in the fourth, and 16 pitches in the fifth for a total of 112. Granderson had the single and walk, Mark Teixiera two hits and a walk, and Russell Martin a hit and two walks. Andruw Jones and Gardner chipped in walks and Nunez had the double. Cano did not reach base but got hit by a pitch and had the sac fly. Jeter and Gardner also stole bases, one each.

For the first time since May of 2009, Jeter has an extra base hit in four consecutive games. He’s gone 9-for-23 (.391) with four doubles and a homer since coming off the disabled list, and it seems like he’s swinging the bat way better than he did before the injury. Derek mentioned after the game that he worked on staying back while on rehab, so maybe that did it. I really don’t care what it is, but I’m enjoying this vintage 1999 model of the Cap’n.

The win is just the Yankees’ second in their last six games, but it’s also their 13th in their last 19 games. Sunday’s game would be a fine one to win so that we can all head into the All-Star break feeling good about where the team sits.

WPA Graph & Box Score

All Jeter, all the time. MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs whatever else your heart desires.

Up Next

CC Sabathia will start the rubber game of this makeshift three-game series a little later today. Jamie Shields gets the ball for Tampa. If you want to head out to the Stadium, RAB Tickets can get you there on the cheap.

Laird, Parraz have big days as SWB plays two

Sorry folks, but eight games on a Saturday night are just way too many for a detailed recap…

  • Triple-A Scranton Game One (win). Greg Golson, Terry Tiffee, and Brandon Laird each had two hits, and one of Laird’s was a double. Jordan Parraz had three hits including a double. D.J. Mitchell went the distance with seven scoreless innings, striking out five and walking just two. Still no Jesus Montero, he’s eligible to come off the disabled list on Monday.
  • Triple-A Scranton Game Two (win). Jorge Vazquez doubled and Laird homered. Parraz had two more hits as well, dude’s on an absolute tear. Greg Smith put eleven men on base in four innings and allowed four runs.
  • Double-A Trenton (loss). Melky Mesa was a triple shy of the cycle, and Jose Pirela also had two hits. Rob Lyerly doubled. Shaeffer Hall gave up three runs on seven hits in five innings, and Chase Whitely took the loss after surrendering two runs in as many innings. Alan Horne retired the two batters he faced. Austin Romine is away from the team temporary for the Futures Game.
  • High-A Tampa Game One (win). Abe Almonte had two hits including a solo homer. Luke Murton and J.R. Murphy both had a pair of hits, and both of Murphy’s were two-baggers. Brett Marshall walked one and struck out six in five innings, giving up one run on just two hits. Dan Burawa and Ryan Flannery each cheaped in scoreless innings.
  • Short Season Staten Island (won). Mason Williams and Cito Culver each went hitless, But Angelo Gumbs, Reymond Nunez, and Bobby Rinard each had two knocks. One of Gumbs’ was a triple. Bryan Mitchell struck out four in as many innings, allowing just one run. Brett Garritse and Ben Paullus each threw two scoreless, and Branden Pinder closed it out for save number six.
  • Rookie GCL Yankees Game One (loss). Claudio Custodio had two hits including a double, Ravel Santana tripled, Tyler Austin had two singles, and Dante Bichette Jr. had a single and a walk. Evan Rutckyj allowed three runs in two innings yesterday, before the game was suspended. Graham Stoneburner threw 5.1 innings today, allowing six runs (four earned) with no walks, one strikeout, and a 10-3 GB/FB.
  • Rookie GCL Yankees Game Two (loss). Custodio had a single and Austin had two. Bichette and Justin James both went hitless. Zach Varce pitched two scoreless as he works his way back from injury. Reynaldo Polanco followed him by allowing three runs (all unearned) in four innings.

Game two of High-A Tampa‘s doubleheader is tied at five and in extra innings. Here’s the box score. Low-A Charleston was rained out and will play two tomorrow.

Open Thread: 3,000

Is this real life? Did that really just happen? This was a movie script, not a baseball game. Derek Jeter wasn’t supposed to turn back the clock and pull a ball into the left field bleachers for his 3,000th career hit. He wasn’t supposed to go 5-for-5 with the game-winning hit. This was vintage Derek Jeter, the guy that dominated the game for a decade and is a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer. The best game of the season? That’s not even a question, this was the best game in the history of the New Yankee Stadium. Congrats to Derek, the greatest Yankee of my generation.

If you haven’t seen it, here’s video of the milestone hit. Un. Be. Leviable. This is why I love being a Yankees fan.

A-Rod has slight meniscus tear in right knee

Update (6:31pm): Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees have recommended surgery and Alex is leaning that way, though the second opinion is still to come.

Update (4:57pm): Via Marc Carig, A-Rod will go for a second opinion tomorrow before deciding on surgery.

Original Post (1019am): Via Danny Knobler and Joel Sherman, Alex Rodriguez has a slight meniscus tear in his right knee. There are two courses of action: play through it and have surgery at the end of the year, or have surgery now. Joe Girardi said that no decision has been made yet, but it’s up to A-Rod. CC Sabathia pitched through the same injury last year and had offseason surgery, but he only played once every five days. In-season surgery would keep Alex on the shelf for a month or so.

No one asked me, but if I’m A-Rod, I’d have the surgery now and get healthy for the stretch run and playoffs. I think two-plus months of him at 100% is better than three months of him at what, 50%? 75%? Who knows, but less than 100%.