Mariano Rivera and the two-seam fastball

Photo Credit: Andy King, AP

Over the last week or so, we’ve seen something strangely uncharacteristic from Mariano Rivera: he’s been rather ordinary. Following his twelve day stint on the shelf with a side issue, Mo has allowed five runs in seven games, which is usually a bad month for him. It’s a small sample (just 6.1 IP), but opponents had clobbered him for a .316 ISO this month prior to his two save effort yesterday. Rivera always has those one or two stretches a year when he appears human, but he never seemed to get hit around as hard as he did last week.

So as absurd as it seems, some fans were holding their breath when The Sandman came through the bullpen door to protect a pair of one run leads yesterday evening. He got the job done both times, though in the first game he saw a ball hit to the warning track, walked a guy, and gave up another hard hit ball that luckily was turned into a game ending double play. The second game went much better, with three routine ground outs making up his first 1-2-3 inning in five outings.

But something caught my eye yesterday, particularly during the first game of the one-and-a-half header: Mo was throwing a two seamer. Right from the start two, his first two pitches to J.J. Hardy didn’t dart away from the righty batter as they usually do, they ran back inside. It’s not often that Rivera throws something other than a cutter, especially not two pitches in a row. Those were the only two two-seamers he threw in that game (both were clocked at 91 mph), but he again broke out the pitch in a night cap, throwing two back-to-back to Delmon Young to record the final out (clocked at 93 and 92). You can see one of the two-seamers to Young here.

Both Hardy and Young and righthanded batters, so maybe Mo is having difficulty getting his cutter on the arm-side of the plate and went with someone else to get inside. Michael Cuddyer, another righty, saw nothing but cutters in his six pitch at-bat during the second game, but perhaps the scouting report says to pitch him away. Going back to Friday night against the Mets, Mo threw three two-seamers (one to each of the three righty batters he faced) out of 14 pitches, and during last Tuesday’s game against Boston he threw just a pair of two-seamers (one to Mike Lowell, one to Kevin Youkilis) out of 29 pitches. It’s not much, but seeing him double up on the pitch against Hardy and Young yesterday was definitely out of character.

It’s no secret that Mo’s lost some velocity through the years, especially after his shoulder surgery during the 2008-2009 offseason. That’s to be expected, he’s 40-years-old. What has been unexpected is the loss of horizontal movement on his cutter. The PitchFX data from FanGraphs is on the left, and you can see that as the velocity’s gone down, the break on the cutter has shortened up. None of us really cared because Mo was still an unstoppable force in the 9th inning, racking up sub-1.00 WHIPs and more than a strikeout per inning like business as usual. It’s a very real change though.

Perhaps the increased use of the two-seamer against righties is a way of changing up the scouting report to get by with a slightly less devastating cutter. Perhaps it’s just a small sample size aberration. Perhaps he’s been using it all along and I just haven’t noticed. It’s just odd to see Mariano throw a pitch, and not have it cut across the plate away from righties. When it comes back in on same-sided batters, it’s easy to notice. Of course, the biggest problem he’s been having of late is command, which is incredibly unusual for him. Mo can usually dot the i’s and cross the t’s with his cutter from 60-feet 6-inches, but he’s been leaving a lot of pitches in the happy zone recently. My guess (hope) is that it’s a function of the long layout from the side issue, and that he’s still rounding back into form.

I don’t see any kind of problem with him incorporating a new pitch into his repertoire; hell, it’ll probably make him even more brutally effective than before. Nine two seamers out of 70 total pitches (12.9%) across four outings is really nothing, but I’m definitely going to be paying attention to see if and when Mo turns back to the two-seamer from here on out.

Swisher wins one for Pettitte

Last time the Yankees faced the Twins, they were coming off a minor losing skid, having dropped three of four to the Tigers. For the first two games the Yankees had it together, and they clinched a series win before melting down on Sunday. This time the Yanks were coming off two straight series losses, including losses in six of their previous 10 games. Once again they’ve used the Twins as a prop. They finished what they started earlier in the day, and then came back to win a whole game, played all at once.

Biggest Hit: Swisher goes where few have gone before

Photo credit: Andy King/AP

Andy Pettitte kept the Twins’ offense under control for most of the game. After allowing a run in the first he worked through the Twins lineup with aplomb, throwing 72 of his 94 pitches for strikes. Heading into the bottom of the seventh he had a lead, but one pitch changed that. With a 2-0 count on Delmon Young, Pettitte delivered a fastball outside. Young smacked it over Brett Gardner‘s head. Running from first base, Michael Cuddyer read it all the way and came all the way around to score. That tied the game and put pressure back on the laboring Yankees’ offense.

Photo credit: Andy King/AP

As Justin Morneau displayed on Tuesday, hitting the ball to right at Target field is not like hitting the ball to right at Yankee Stadium. Not only is the fence 20 feet deeper, but it’s probably four times as high. It must be tough for a lefty to hit one out there. Morneau might agree, as nine of his 11 home runs have come on the road. The Yankees needed a run in the ninth, especially after what Pettitte had done in the eighth. With Brett Gardner and then the top of the order due up, the Yanks stood a decent chance.

Gardner worked the count full before popping one up right around second base. Jeter saw a hanging breaking ball high in the zone and had the right idea. The pitch was just a bit too high for him, though, and he just got under it. That brought up Nick Swisher with none on and two out.

Jon Rauch stayed away from his fastball when dealing with Swish. His first-pitch curveball crossed the top of the zone for strike one. The next pitch, another curveball, fell a little low, though it was a well-placed pitch. Rauch went to the changeup next, and he left it right out over the plate. Swisher took a swipe at it, and a few seconds later it had landed in the seats. It was Swisher’s eighth home run on the season. He also hit his seventh double in the first.

Biggest Pitch: Pettitte bests Mauer

Photo credit: Andy King/AP

Heading into the eighth it looked like Andy Pettitte was on pace for a complete game. He’d thrown just 83 pitches in the first seven innings. He’d need only 14 pitches to get through the eighth, but it they were a stressful 14 pitches. Drew Butera made it tough right from the start, doubling on Pettitte’s second pitch of the inning. The ball actually hit a running Brett Gardner in the glove, but he couldn’t hang on. Denard Span tried to bunt him over, and after a foul on the first pitch he got one down towards third. A-Rod overpursued a bit, flubbing the ball and allowing Span to reach and Butera to advance.

The situation could not be more dire. First and third, none out, and only Orlando Hudson standing between Pettitte and the heart of the Twins’ order, Mauer and Morneau. Pettitte’s teammates were partly responsible for the baserunners, but Pettitte himself had to work out of the jam. He got off to a good start by getting Orlando Hudson to line right back to him. The baserunners froze, leaving no chance of a double play, but Pettitte still had an incredible task ahead of him.

Last year, during his MVP run, Joe Mauer stepped to the plate 125 times with the possibility of a double play. He hit into only 13 of them. This year has treated him a bit differently. In 46 double play opportunities coming into last night, Mauer had hit into nine of them, or about double his rate from last season. Even so, it didn’t seem probable. When Joe Mauer comes to the plate, I always envision him getting a hit.

Pettitte worked the corners, throwing his first to pitches low and away before coming inside with the next two.With the count 3-1, Pettitte threw a cutter that probably would have ended a little off the plate. But Mauer swung, grounding it to Jeter who was playing up the middle. He flipped to Cano, who flung to Teixeira to complete the double play and get Pettitte out of the jam. At that point, the Yankees had to win the game for him.

Russo the run creator

Photo credit: Andy King/AP

Francisco Liriano was good, not great, last night. He had quality stuff, and it led to seven strikeouts and 10 groundouts, which is right around where Liriano wants to be. It might sound like a recent call-up like Kevin Russo would be overmatched, and during his first at-bat that did appear to be the case. Liriano threw him two fastballs and then buried two sliders inside for a swinging strikeout. The next two battles wouldn’t go so well for Liriano.

Robinson Cano singled up the middle to lead off the fourth, but neither Marcus Thames nor Francisco Cervelli could follow him. Cervelli ended up hitting into a fielder’s choice, just beating out the double play, and replacing Cano at first. Russo then came up with two outs. Liriano attacked him similarly, keeping almost everything inside. The last slider didn’t get quite far enough inside, and Russo pulled it down the line to left. Once it got to the wall Cervelli was almost guaranteed to score and tie the game at one.

With two outs in the sixth, Russo faced Liriano again, and for the second time manufactured a quality at-bat. He fouled off a fastball and then a slider, and on the sixth pitch of the at-bat he got a changeup low and away, which he pulled into left for a two-out hit. Brett Gardner followed by smacking a first-pitch fastball to right, sending Russo all the way home for the go-ahead run. Once again, the Yankees got some serious production from the bottom of the order, which compensated for the slumping middle of the order.

Positive sign for Teixeira

Mark Teixeira went 2 for 5 today, which was especially nice given his 0 for 4 performance the game before. His first hit was a bit of a cheapie, a pop up that found a hole in the defense. But as you’ll hear many a former player profess, sometimes those are the ones that help you break out. If that really was the magic potion that broke his slump, he showed it in the ninth.

After giving up the homer, Jon Rauch did to Teixeira what he would not do to Swisher: he threw a fastball. It caught the outside corner for strike one. He then went to the slider, which missed outside for ball two. It was slider again on the third pitch, and this one appeared to break below the zone. The ump never got a chance to call it, as Teixeira took a Teixeira-like swing at it, driving it into right field for what looked like a double. He got thrown out at second on a good throw and relay, but that’s not really the point. The pitch wasn’t particularly good, yet Tex still hit it on the screws.

Maybe, just maybe, that will get him going. Nobody needs it now more than Tex.

WPA Graph and box score

More at FanGraphs. Official box score at MLB.com

Up next

It’s another CDT game, 8 p.m., when Javy Vazquez goes for the Yanks against Nick Blackburn for the Twins.

Laird cycles Trenton to a walk-off win

Triple-A Scranton had a scheduled off day, as did the rest of International League.

Double-A Trenton (7-6 win over Erie, walk-off style)
Justin Christian, LF: 0 for 3, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – got picked off first … threw a runner out at second
Austin Krum, CF & Luis Nunez, SS: both 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 RBI – Krum drew a walk … Nunez doubled & K’ed
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 5, 1 K
Brandon Laird, 3B: 4 for 5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 3 RBI – completed the cycle with a walk-off two-run homer … what a game
Dan Brewer, DH: 0 for 3, 1 RBI, 1 K
Marcos Vechionacci, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 E (throwing)
Edwar Gonzalez, RF & Justin Snyder, 2B: both 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB – Snyder doubled
D.J. Mitchell: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 9 K, 1 WP, 6-2 GB/FB – threw 60 of his 99 pitches for strikes (60.6%) … that’s a career high in strikeouts
Noel Castillo: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2-0 GB/FB
Eric Wordekemper: 1.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 1-3 GB/FB

[Read more…]

Game 46: Two wins, one day

Update: Boone Logan has been optioned to make room for Chad Gaudin, who’s officially been re-signed. Shane Lindsay, who was claimed off waivers less than two weeks ago, was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.

* * *

After winning the suspended game just a few minutes ago, the Yankees will try for a second victory on the day. They’ll start this one fresh, with Andy Pettitte going against Francisco Liriano.

We saw this matchup before, just a week and a half ago at the Stadium. The Yanks got to Liriano for nine hits, though only three of them came around to score. They worked the count and got him to 101 pitches through six innings, and then they tagged the Twins bullpen for another four runs and an easy win. Pettitte, in his first start after leaving a game against Baltimore with elbow inflammation, went six and a third with just two hits allowed. His control was a bit off, as he threw just 53 of his 95 pitches for strikes and walked three. He still came out easily ahead.

Liriano then moved onto Boston, where he pitched even worse. In 4.2 innings he allowed five runs on five hits, including two home runs, and three walks. In his last start at Target Field he allowed five runs on 10 hits to the Orioles. Before that, though, he’d allowed no runs at his home park. Liriano is best when he’s keeping the ball on the ground. In his first five starts opponents hit 52 groundballs to 38 fly balls. He allowed six runs in those 36 innings. Things have changed in his last three starts, as opponents have hit 25 groundballs to 34 fly balls. He has allowed 13 runs in 16.2 innings in those starts.

The Yanks would do well to score early and often for Pettitte here. The bullpen is pretty short after Robertson, Joba, and Mo pitched earlier.

Lineup:

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Marcus Thames, DH
7. Francisco Cervelli, C
8. Kevin Russo, LF
9. Brett Gardner, CF

And on the mound, number forty-six, Andy Pettitte.

Jeter takes matters into his own hands as Yanks top Twins 1-0 in suspended game

Given their rich history, it’s only fitting that the Yankees were part of the first rain delay and suspended game in the history of Target Field. Both A.J. Burnett and Scott Baker held the other side scoreless through five innings yesterday before Mother Nature intervened. The two teams came back this afternoon to finish this one off, and the Yanks turned to their fearless leader to carry them to victory.

Photo Credit: Andy King, AP

Jeter Puts Them On Top

With the offense largely underperforming, yesterday’s five fruitless innings against Baker was just more of the same. The Yanks had opportunities early, but didn’t capitalize yet again and were staring at a big goose egg on the scoreboard when the rain forced them to take a time out.

Derek Jeter didn’t wait very long with only four innings to play this afternoon, jumping all over Brian Duensing’s third pitch of the at-bat – a hanging changeup, which is basically a batting practice fastball – and hit it into the Twins’ bullpen beyond the left-centerfield wall. I’m not sure if Jeter could physically hit a ball any further, maybe if he had a nice gust of wind at his back, but it’s about as far as you’ll see the Cap’n hit one these days.

The result was a collective exhale, as the Yanks were finally on the board, held their first lead in what seemed like an eternity, and just had to run out the clock with the bullpen well rested. Believe it or not, it was the team’s first homer in their last seven road games, their longest stretch in 21 years.

Jeter One-Ups Himself Up By Throws Out Young

Because the homerun wasn’t enough, Jeter also contributed a key defensive play to end the 6th inning and preserve the lead. David Robertson managed to retire Joe Mauer by deflecting a line drive off his back and into Alex Rodriguez‘s glove (just like he drew it up), but he walked Justin Morneau and his league leading .497 OBP. Michael Cuddyer popped out in foul territory for the second out, though Yankee nemesis Jason Kubel roped a hanger into the rightfield corner for a double.

Photo Credit: Andy King, AP

Luckily for the Yanks, Twins’ third base coach Scott Ullger held Morneau up at third, though it wasn’t clear if he would have been able to score after Nick Swisher got the ball back to the infield quickly. Robertson did exactly what he was supposed to do with the hacktastic Delmon Young, throwing a first pitch curveball out of the zone. Young beat it into the ground, and Jeter ranged to his right to snatch the ball in the hole and get the out with his patented jump throw. With a bad throw or a faster runner, the game’s tied. Simply a huge play.

Happy Happy Happy

It was just one at-bat, but the pitch sequence to Morneau in the 8th was fantastic, ditto the execution. The first pitch curve was well off the plate for a ball, but Joba Chamberlain followed it up with a 94 mph heater on the outer half for a called strike, then another 94 mph heater down and away for a called strike, and the put away pitch was a up and in fastball at 94 that Morneau wouldn’t have been able to catch up to if you told him it was coming. Great job with the early leader for the AL MVP award.

Also, big ups to the bullpen in general. Yeah, they put some men on base, but they got the job done.

Sad Sad Sad

It’s a shame the Yanks lost out on A.J. Burnett’s strong start yesterday, he looked like he had seven or eight good innings in him. But hey, if that’s what it took to get Scott Baker out of the game, so be it. I wrote more about both the performance of both starters yesterday.

Robertson taking that liner off his back was scary, but it was good to see him able to stay in the game. The last thing the Yanks need is another injury. Not only did he complete the inning, but he stuck around the record the first two outs in the 7th as well.

Mark Teixeira still looks like the Yanks signed him out of a beer league last week. Just terrible at-bats and swings. I’m not sure why Joe Girardi was compelled to DH him this game after the off day, I would think the last thing you’d want Tex to do between at-bats is sit on the bench and think about how bad he’s been.

Mariano Rivera hasn’t looked right since his little side injury. He just isn’t hitting his spots at all, completely uncharacteristic. Hopefully he gets back on track soon.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the traditional box score, FanGraphs the more advanced stuff. Well, they will once their scoreboard figures out how to handle suspended games.

Up Next

The quickest of turnarounds, as these two teams will play again at 7:05pm ET. It’s a battle of lefties, Andy Pettitte vs. Francisco Liriano.

Game 45: Finish what they started

"I miss the dome." (Photo Credit: Andy King, AP)

It’s not quite a doubleheader, more like a one-and-a-half header. Before playing tonight’s regularly scheduled game, the Yanks and Twins will play the final four innings of last night’s game, which had to be suspended because it was raining like a mofo. When we left off, the game was still scoreless and the Yankees were set to come to bat in the top of the inning, and both A.J. Burnett and Scott Baker had been cruising for the last few innings. It was an old fashioned pitcher’s duel, but now it’s a mad dash to scratch a run or two across and hold on for dear life.

Here’s the lineup, if you need a reminder…

Jeter, SS
Gardner, CF
Teixeira, DH
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Swisher, RF
Miranda, 1B
Cervelli, C
Russo, LF

David Robertson will get the ball in the 6th inning, which kinda surprised me because three of the first four hitters are lefthanded. I figured Joe Girardi wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to use Boone Logan. Girardi also said that none of the relievers will be used in both games.

The game is scheduled to resume at 5:05pm ET, and depending on who you ask, it’ll be broadcast on either My9 or YES. Enjoy the rest of the game.

Numbers show a decline on Jeter’s range to his left

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

It’s unsurprising for anyone who has watched most of the season to date, but it appears that Derek Jeter has taken a step backwards defensively. Last year he made marked improvements, and the numbers confirmed what our eyes saw. This year we’ve seen him miss a number of plays, particularly those to his right. While the readily available defensive numbers don’t break down his defense that far, ESPN’s Mark Simon tracked down the specific left-right splits for Jeter.

In the winter of 2007-2008, Brian Cashman had a conversation with Jeter in which Cashman raised the issue of Jeter’s diminished defensive range. Jeter had not heard this from coaches or teammates, but made a commitment to improve. He started doing workouts that helped balance the typical workload of a baseball player. Because there are so many repetitive one-way movements — running the bases and swinging the bat — a player can become unbalanced. Jeter’s workouts strove to help him work both sides of his body.

It seemed to work. Not only did Jeter look better in the field starting in 2008, but the numbers reflected it. On Baseball Info Solutions’ +/- scale, Jeter rated just -1 to his left in 2008, and improved to +2 in 2009. This seemed to hamper his range to his right, usually his strong point, but even then he adjusted. After rating -18 in 2008, Jeter climbed to -3 in 2009. After another off-season of balanced workouts, we might have seen Jeter improve further, or at least negate the effects of age.

Instead we’ve seen him decline on balls to his left, on which he currently rates a -7. Again, this is no surprise to the faithful followers. Jeter has missed a number of balls, and has come close to missing a few more. I particularly remember a play in Detroit where it appeared he would smoothly scoop a grounder up the middle, but he hesitated at the last moment and had to make a spinning throw. On the good side, Jeter has been excellent on balls to his right, rating a +7.

At this point in his career, we can’t expect Jeter to become a top defensive shortstop. The balls up the middle are frustrating to watch, but it is reassuring to know that he’s at least making some plays that other shortstops have not. Still, it’s certainly going to affect his contract negotiations after this season. How much will Derek Jeter the shortstop cost compared to Derek Jeter the guy who will have to move off the position in a couple of years?