Game 127: The light at the end of the tunnel

Alex approves. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Tonight’s game marks the end of the Yankees annual 20 games in 20 days stretch, a stretch that started when Frankie Cervelli and Javy Vazquez didn’t communicate properly and botched a routine pop up on the infield that lead to a big inning and eventually a loss to the Red Sox. Overall, the Yanks have gone 11-8 in the first 19 games of this stretch, not great but certainly not disappointing. A win tonight to make it a 12-8 ledger would be dandy.

Here’s the starting lineup, which originally featured Nick Swisher but now does not. He was scratched after batting practice because his leg is still sore from when he fouled a ball off it yesterday.

Jeter, SS
Granderson, CF
Teixeira, 1B
Cano, 2B
Thames, DH
Posada, C
Kearns, RF
Gardner, LF
Nunez, 3B

And on the bump, it’s St. Philip of Hughes.

First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

NoMaas interviews Mark Newman

The crew over at NoMaas interviewed Yankees’ senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman, and they discussed all things farm system. They touched on the draft, the international market, and of course players already in the system like Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, all the usual suspects. Make sure you check it out, tons of great stuff in there.

Nick Johnson needs another wrist surgery

Via Jack Curry, long lost designated hitter Nick Johnson needs surgery on his already surgically repaired wrist. By my count, this will be his third procedure on the wrist in the last three seasons, and that doesn’t include a fracture that cost him the entire 2000 season in the minors. Poor guy, if he didn’t have bad luck with injuries, he’d have no luck at all.

Injury Updates: Derek Jeter, Damaso Marte

Updated (6:19 p.m.): Hitting just .276/.338/.390, Derek Jeter has struggled through 2010, and now we learn that he’s battling injuries as well. According to Yanks’ manager Joe Girardi, Jeter has been playing through some tendinitis in his left leg and that’s why Jeter rested on Monday. “His leg has been a little sore,” Girardi said tore porters. “It doesn’t really hurt him or bother him except to slow him down a little bit…He’s been dealing with it for a little bit, but we’ve managed it.” Jeter, never one to admit injury, parried with his manager. “I’m fine. I don’t even know what he’s talking about,” the Yanks’ captain said. A little spot of rest could do Jeter wonders.

In other injury news, Damaso Marte, out since July 7 with a sore shoulder, was supposed to throw a bullpen session yesterday but in the end, he did not. According to Joe Girardi, Marte’s shoulder is still sore, and although the clock is ticking on the season, the Yanks still expect him back before the end of the year. Since signing a three-year, $12-million deal with the Yanks prior to the 2009 season, Marte has spent significant time on the disabled list and has thrown just 31 mediocre innings in the majors. He struck out five in 2.2 innings of work against the Phillies in the World Series last year but has been supplanted as the team’s LOOGY by Boone Logan. His return would give the Yanks’ pen some left-handed depth for the stretch drive.

Cashman: ‘I haven’t thought about’ Kuroda

Last night, as the Yanks went about bombing the Blue Jays, Ken Rosenthal let slip an interesting tidbit: The Yankees, rival executives said to him, would be all over a Hiroki Kuroda claim were the Dodgers’ right-hander to reach them on the waiver wire. For just the $2.5 million remaining on Kuroda’s contract, the Yanks could have a three-win Type B pitcher who would significantly shore up the back end of their rotation. What’s not to like about the idea?

There is but one problem though: Brian Cashman says the Yankees aren’t interested in Kuroda. ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews pinged Cashman with a query on the Japanese hurler, and the Yanks’ GM shot down the rumors. “What we got is what we’re going with. I anticipate we are going to use the alternatives we have here, he said, referring to Dustin Moseley and Ivan Nova.

Of course, Cashman doesn’t really have the ability to see more and doing so would overplay the Yanks’ hand. First, to express interest in Kuroda right now would be akin to tampering. The Yanks cannot openly covet a player on another team. Second, by letting slip their interest, Cashman would all but assure another team ahead of them on the waiver line would move to block a deal. Since the Yanks are dead last in the Majors when it comes to waiver priority on Kuroda, the stars have to align for the Yanks to land him.

The Yanks’ GM though had more to say on the subject: “I haven’t thought about him. I don’t even know if he’s on waivers yet. Besides, I’d be hard-pressed to find a pitcher on the waiver wire who can pitch better for us than Dustin Moseley has.”

Brian Cashman is no fool, but he seems to be trying to pull a fast one on other teams. Dustin Moseley is 4-2 with a 4.53 ERA, but how well has he truly pitched? In 45.2 innings, he’s allowed 44 hits but has an ugly 23:18 K:BB rate. He’s allowing nearly two home runs per 9 innings pitched and sports a FIP of 5.97. He’s stranded nearly 80 percent of base runners, a mark nearly 10 percent above league average, and his WAR is -0.3. Forget the waiver wire; the Yanks could probably find someone who can pitch as good as, if not better than, Dustin Moseley in AAA.

“I’m not even thinking along those terms because right now I’m not interested in adding anyone,” Cashman said to Matthews. “I like the team we have and I think we have what it takes to get the job done.”

That may be so. Perhaps the Yanks’ budget is tapped out. Perhaps they don’t have the $2.7 million to spend on Kuroda. Perhaps they’re just holding their cards close to their chest knowing that Kuroda may not fall to them otherwise. But perhaps Cashman wouldn’t have spilled the beans to Matthews if they were interested in Kuroda. Don’t let Brian fool you though; interested or not, the Yankees with Hiroki Kuroda are better than the Yanks without him.

Reassessing the Javier Vazquez trade

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Due to a quirk of the postseason schedule, the Yankees played 15 games en route to a World Series title and used just three starting pitchers. They quickly dispatched the Twins, took advantage of a rain-out against the Angels, and pushed their rotation to the limit against the Phillies before capturing the crown in six games. Because of an elongated series schedule and too many days off, the Yankees got lucky, and Brian Cashman knew they would need more pitching depth to both reach the playoffs and win in 2010.

What Cashman didn’t want to do involved Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. He and the Yanks’ coaches seemingly had no desire to award two of the five starting spots to kids not yet 25, and after Joba faded down the stretch last year, the Yankees seemed more inclined to hand a starting position to Hughes while putting Chamberlain in the pen. They needed a fifth body to fill out the rotation, someone more reliable than Chad Gaudin or Sergio Mitre.

On the evening of December 21, Cashman struck. We heard rumors of a trade involving a big-name pitcher, and in the morning, that picture was revealed as none other than Javier Vazquez. In a trade involving Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn, Arodys Vizcaino and Boone Logan, the Yanks had found their starter. With a healthy skepticism of Vazquez’s previous tenure in the Bronx, we thought Cashman was taking a big gamble but ultimately saw the deal as a positive. The Yanks had a durable innings eater with a low-90s fastball coming off of a big season in Atlanta. If the stars aligned properly, Vazquez could be the aging pitcher willing to come back on a one-year deal. He would be the new Andy Pettitte. It hasn’t quite worked out as planned.

Vazquez’s first five starts were awful. He managed to win one of them but allowed 32 hits in 23 innings. He had an ERA of 9.78, had given up eight home runs and had walked 15. The Yankees then gave Vazquez some extra time off, and he rebounded in turn. From May 12 through July 10, he was arguably the Yanks best pitcher. Due to a lack of run support, he went just 6-4 but sported an ERA of 2.75. He allowed just seven home runs in 72 innings and limited opponents to a .183/.254/.315 triple slash line. All was right with the pitching world.

But then, after the All Star Break, the wheels fell off. In the second half, Vazquez is 2-2 with a 6.69 ERA/7.15 FIP. He allowed 11 home runs in 35 innings and walked 15 off of 23 strike outs. More alarming than the results were his stuff. His velocity — well below his 2009 levels — dipped to the low-to-mid 80s and hasn’t rebounded. He reported a dead-arm period a few weeks ago and has been average 85 with his fastball. Javy is only 34, and yet we’re witness to a Mike Mussina circa 2007 decline in stuff.

After his last outing in which he gave up three home runs and eight hits in three innings against a poor Mariners team, the Yankees ousted Vazquez from the rotation. For now, Ivan Nova will start, and Javy will be available in the bullpen for an indeterminate amount of time as his tries to rebuild arm strength. At some point, because Dustin Moseley can’t carry the Yanks and because Phil Hughes, now suddenly vital to the Yanks’ October chances, has an innings limit, Vazquez will be called upon to start in September. It seems however that the Yanks will stick him on the mound only begrudgingly. Right now, Javy probably wouldn’t make the postseason roster.

So then, with a month left in the season, was Cashman’s Vazquez gamble a success or a failure? Javy hasn’t been the pitcher the Yanks thought they were acquiring in terms of stuff and durability, and they’re now back where they were last September with some retreads filling out rotation spots. Yet, the Yanks didn’t give up much. Melky Cabrera, earning over $3 million, is struggling in Atlanta. While Vazquez has a -0.1 WAR, Melky is sporting a -0.5 mark. Michael Dunn is a non-factor, and, in fact, Boone Logan is a better version of Dunn. Arodys Vizcaino threw 80 innings and then injured his elbow. He has a high ceiling but is far away from reaching it. He might make the Yanks miss him; he might make the Yanks forget him.

We could call the trade a wash because the Bombers can afford Vazquez’s salary, but part of what made the deal so alluring was Javy’s Type A status. He’s still hanging onto that by a thread, but it’s hard to imagine the Yanks would offer him arbitration. He could very well accept if the Yanks are to offer it, and considering his rapid decline this year, I don’t see another team picking up Javy while sacrificing the draft picks. So then, this deal appears to hinge on Boone Logan and Arodys Vizcaino. Who would have expected that?

With a month and the playoffs remaining, I hesitate to say Javy’s been a true bust; after all, those 12 starts between May and July were a life-saver for the Yanks. But he’s been a true disappointment, and as he’s become one of the last men on the pitching staff, I can only wonder if Cashman would have made the same move had his crystal ball shown him this future.

No A-Rod, no problem

I'm amazed he was able to hit all those homers with such a skinny barrel. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Two days ago we heard quite a bit from the mainstream media types about the Yankees and their 12-0 record without Alex Rodriguez, which while fun and quirky, is indicative of nothing. The “they’re better off without him” cracks made the rounds, and after the last two games against the Blue Jays the sans A-Rod record sits at 13-1 this season. They’ve scored 8.1 runs per game without their cleanup hitter compared to just 5.0 with him, a function of small sample size than anything else.

For all intents and purposes, Alex has been out since August 16th with a calf issue (let’s just ignore that one at-bat cameo last week for simplicity’s sake), and yet the Yankees have hit .284/.377/.519 as a team in the eight games since. Prior to his injury, the team boasted a .268/.347/.435 batting line, still very good in this age of suppressed offense. Mediocre opposing pitchers have as much to do with that as the Yanks’ hitters, but that ruins the narrative.

So who has picked up the slack in A-Rod’s stead? Well, pretty much everyone. Robbie Cano, the fill-in cleanup hitter, has hit .333/.459/.800 with four frickin’ homers in those eight games while Mark Teixeira has picked it up to the tune of a .367/.444/.667 batting line with a pair of homers. It’s been clear for months now that those two represent the future core of the Yankee offense, and they seem to have gotten a head start on things with Alex on the mend.

Even in his somewhat diminished state, it takes several players to replace Alex Rodriguez in the lineup, and so far the complementary bats have been up to the task, if not more. The damage done by the new 3-4 hitters has been maximized because Derek Jeter has reached base 11 times and Nick Swisher has made it to first safely at least once in each of those eight games without Alex. Jorge Posada has clubbed three homers in the last four games, Curtis Granderson three in the eight games, and the mash-up of Austin Kearns and Marcus Thames has hit .289/.357/.500 with the extra playing time.

Similar to the concept of bullpen chaining, losing your cleanup hitter doesn’t necessarily impact the middle of your lineup as much as it does the bottom of it. A-Rod went down, and a very capable hitter in Cano moved up a spot, as did everyone else hitting below him. Taking Alex’s place at the hot corner has been the combination of Ramiro Pena and Eduardo Nunez, who have assumed the ninth spot in the lineup, where Brett Gardner and his .280/.378/.377 batting line are usually found. Those two have combined to hit just .236/.250/.353 during the last eight games, ineptitude only made bearable by the increased production of everyone else.

So far, the Yankees have done a rather remarkable job with A-Rod on the shelf, a job that has kept them tied atop the AL East and in firm grasp of a playoff spot. Their third baseman is able to come off the disabled list on September 6th, and although we haven’t gotten any indication that he will come off the DL following the minimum 15 days, we’re all hopeful that will happen. The Yankees kick off a three game set against the Orioles that day before heading into a stretch where they play 13 of 16 games against the Rangers, Rays, and Red Sox. They’re going to need their third baseman and cleanup hitter then, and with any luck, the rest will help get him back to MVP form.