Late rally falls short, Tigers drops Yanks in Damon’s return

With the frustrating loss to Bryan Bullington and the rest of the Royals in the rear-view mirror, the Yankees returned home to welcome their old pal Johnny Damon back to the Bronx. Damon received a nice hand during his first at-bat,  but otherwise the Yankee Stadium crowd didn’t have much to cheer about. The offense was once again shut down by a pitcher they’ve never faced before, and a late rally ultimately proved to be nothing more than a tease.

A picture is worth 1,000 words. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Biggest Hit: The One That Never Came

For the second straight game, the Yankee offense was nowhere to be found. Max Scherzer navigated the first six innings by allowing just two singles and two walks, and never really faced any kind of threat. Phil Coke allowed a pair of hits to match hit pair of outs, and Ryan Perry chipped in three outs while allowing a hit. The first eight innings were simply dreadful, the Yanks seemingly had no life and showed no signs of snapping out of it. Then the 9th inning happened.

The over-caffeinated Jose Valverde was on the bump for Detroit after recording the final out in the previous inning despite a strained oblique that made him unavailable the last few games. Robbie Cano, already sporting a career high 40 walks, took four straight pitches off the plate to lead things off with a free pass. Designated hitter turned catcher (more on that later) Jorge Posada tapped a grounder to first and reached on a fielder’s choice, but Cano was gunned down as the lead runner. Two pitches later, Curtis Granderson brought the tying run to the plate with a single to left, and all of a sudden everyone started thinking crazy thoughts. Could a come back really be in the cards?

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

At this point Ben said to me “why is this guy up in every key moment,” referring of course to Frankie Cervelli (in the interest of full disclosure, Ben’s language was a but more colorful). Thankfully Valverde was in the giving mood, walking Frankie on five pitches to load the bases with just one out. With the lineup about to turn over, the Yanks were in business. Brett Gardner brought home the Yanks’ first run in 18 innings by drawing a five pitch walk, simultaneously pushing the tying run into scoring position.

So here are the Yankees, set up with Captain Clutch, sir Derek Jeter at the plate about to do what he does best. Valverde had thrown 18 pitches in the inning and just six strikes, so naturally he started Jeter off with two straight balls. The Cap’n took a called strike right down the plate like he should have (make the guy throw you a strike when he’s struggling that much), and three pitches later we’re all looking at a full count. All we wanted was for Jeter to keep the line moving with Austin Kearns and Mark Teixeira due up behind him.

Instead, Derek grounded a ball to short for a rally killing 6-4-3 double play. Gardner slid hard into second base and at first glance it looked like Jeter beat the throw at first, but alas, it did not happen. Rally over, ballgame over, thaaa Yankees lose.

Where Has The Good Javy Gone?

Under the perpetual microscope, Javy Vazquez took the mound in this game after having his between-start work reduced in an effort to combat a dead arm. The velocity was mostly there tonight – he topped out at 89.8 mph and averaged 88.46 – but it seemed like nothing else was. Tigers’ batters had no trouble digging in and extending at-bats, which led to an absurdly high pitch count for Vazquez and a rather quick exit.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The 1st inning was rather painless, three routine outs sandwiched around a ground ball single, but it took Javy 25 pitches to escape the inning. The 2nd inning is where things got interesting, however. Carlos Guillen led off the frame with a first pitch ground-rule double to right, and the molten hot Ryan Raburn brought him home when he went out and got a breaking ball off he plate for a two-run homer to left. It wasn’t a terrible pitch, maybe caught a little too much of the plate, but it was down in the zone and Rayburn basically golfed it out. The trouble didn’t end there, with Detroit loading the bases with two outs before Vazquez escaped the inning by striking out Brennan Boesch.

Two runs is hardly a catastrophe, but Javy threw a whopping 34 pitches in the inning, putting his pitch count at an astronomical 59 following just two innings of work. The 3rd inning featured a walk and a single and 24 more pitches, the 4th a walk and another 23 pitches. Of the 21 batters he faced, just six saw three pitchers or fewer while 13 saw at least five pitches. Vazquez didn’t have any kind of put away pitch or command of the zone, and it was painfully obvious. Frankly the Yanks are lucky he left with just a two run deficit.

In the end, Javy needed 106 pitches to record 12 outs, and 34 (!!!) of those 106 pitches were fouled off. That’s an absurd rate, and speaks to his recent inability to put hitters away. We’ll discuss what options the Yanks have with Javy a little more tomorrow, but this has been a problem for six starts now, and they can’t just sit back and let him go out there every five days with absolutely nothing.

Leftovers

Nice hair, Johnny. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

With one hit and a pair of twin killings in five plate appearances, Jeter racked up -.465 WPA in this one. I’m not even mad, that’s impressive. Okay find, I am mad. Jeter’s twin killings have gone from nuisance to crippling; you half-expect them whenever he comes to the plate with a man on first. How did this happen to the great Derek Jeter?

Granderson went 3-for-3 with a walk and a double, and even though it’s been just five games, the results from his revamped swing have been very promising. He scalded some pitches in Kansas City and continued to go so tonight, some of them even off a lefty. Consider me excited.

Another solid effort from the bullpen, especially Sergio Mitre. He chipped in 2.2 scoreless innings, Kerry Wood another 1.1 scoreless, and Joba Chamberlain allowed one run in his inning of work. It’s trendy to bash Joba, but sorry, I’m not going to get on the guy for giving up an opposite field solo homerun to Miguel Cabrera, arguably the best hitter on the planet. It happens.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Both Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher left the game with injuries that right now appear to be minor. I wouldn’t be surprised if both got a day off tomorrow, which would stink. Between those two and Lance Berkman’s jammed ankle, the bench (and lineup) could be very, very short for the foreseeable future. They might have to make a roster move tomorrow to get some help, otherwise we might run into a situation like this game where Cervelli’s manning the hot corner and Joe Girardi has to surrender the DH.

The Red Sox were off but the Rays managed to beat Cliff Lee, so the Yanks are now tied atop the AL East with their rivals from Tampa. Their lead in the Wild Card sits at five-and-a-half games.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score, FanGraphs the nerd score.

Up Next

Same two teams tomorrow night in a matchup of aces, when CC Sabathia takes on Justin Verlander. That should be a treat.

Yankees reach agreement with fourth rounder Mason Williams

Via Jonathan Mayo, the Yankees have signed fourth rounder Mason Williams for $1.45M. It’s easily the largest bonus they’ve given out this year.

A big time athlete with speed and agility, Williams is a tremendous defender in center with enough offensive upside to remain interesting. His swing is sound and he’s not a total hacker, but he still has to refine his approach and add strength to hit for even average power. Like many of toolsy high schoolers the Yanks selected this year, Williams is a bit of a project. Here’s some video.

The Yanks have now signed their top 13 picks, and 16 of their top 17. Don’t expect any more big signings this year, they should be done.

Yankees reach deal with 16th rounder Evan Rutckyj

Update (10:51pm): Bob Elliott says Rutckyj received $500,000, still above slot but certainly not first round money. Good deal.

10:33pm: Via Keith Law, the Yankees have reached an agreement with 16th round pick Evan Rutckyj. Financial terms of the deal are unknown, though he was reportedly seeking first round money.

The 6-foot-5, 210 lb. Canadian lefthander was a top 200 draft prospect according to Baseball America, and he throws in the low-90’s with the makings of a wipeout slider. Surprisingly, he has a pretty good feel for his delivery and clean mechanics, but there’s still a lot of work to be done here. He’s a former hockey player that gave up the sport to pursue baseball full-time, so naturally he’s a pretty tough dude. Here’s video, and here’s a list of who the Yankees have signed so far.

At least the minor league affiliates won

Hector Noesi made an appearance in today’s Daily Dish, which includes some info on a minor mechanical adjustment he made to get himself back on track following a few rough starts. Meanwhile, Jessica Quiroli spoke with Justin Snyder about his approach and versatility.

Triple-A Scranton (7-4 win over Toledo)
Kevin Russo, 2B, Juan Miranda, DH & Jorge Vazquez, 1B: all 1 for 4, 1 R – Russo walked & K’ed … Miranda homered drove in two, walked & K’ed twice … JoVa hit a solo jack & K’ed
Greg Golson, CF, Jesus Montero, C & Chad Huffman, LF: all 0 for 3 – Golson drove in a run … Montero drove in two & walked … Huffman walked, scored a run & K’ed twice
Colin Curtis, RF: 3 for 4, 1 2B, 1 CS
Brandon Laird, 3B: 0 for 4 – six for his last 39 (.154)
Eric Bruntlett, SS: 1 for 2, 3 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
Jason Hirsh: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 2 HB, 4-9 GB/FB – 61 of 106 pitches were strikes (57.5%)
Romulo Sanchez: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1-3 GB/FB – 21 if 35 pitches were strikes (60%) … hit 97 on the gun
Royce Ring: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 12 of his 20 pitches were strikes
Eric Wordekemper:  0.1 IP, 1 H, zeroes – six of his eight pitches went for strikes
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0-1 GB/FB – eight of his 14 pitches were strikes (57.1%) … set the International League single season record with his 39th save

[Read more…]

A-Rod leaves game with tight left calf

Update (9:47pm): Alex left the game with a tight left calf and is day-to-day. Not tests are scheduled. And exhale.

8:53pm: Alex Rodriguez left today’s game after a 4th inning at-bat for an unknown reason. Replay showed him talking to Joe Girardi in the dugout, and he appeared to mouth the words “calf,” so perhaps it tightened up on him. Ramiro Pena took his place in the field in the top of the 5th. We’ll update this post with more info as we get it.

Swisher leaves game with right forearm injury

Update (9:47pm): It’s a tight right forearm, according to the broadcast. No tests are scheduled.

9:38pm: Jack Curry says Swish left the game with a right forearm injury, but the severity is unknown. Wonderful.

9:25pm: Nick Swisher left tonight’s game for an unknown reason in the 6th inning. There was no obvious injury or anything like that, but he did make a sliding catch attempt in the previous inning. Austin Kearns took his spot in the lineup and in the field. Hopefully it’s nothing serious. We’ll keep you updated.

Game 118: Johnny’s Back

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

For the first time since walking off the field as a World Champion last November, Johnny Damon returns to the Bronx tonight as a member of the visiting club. His free agency and departure from New York has been well-chronicled and doesn’t need to be rehashed, instead let’s celebrate his time with the Yankees.

During his four seasons in pinstripes, Johnny he hit .285/.363/.458 with 77 homers, more than he hit with the Royals or  Red Sox. He racked up 12.6 WAR during those seasons, which is worth about $53.1M on the open market, so his four year, $52M deal was a slight bargain for the Bombers. As for a signature moment … it has to be the double steal in the World Series, right? Nothing even comes close in my mind. Let’s not forget the nine-pitch battle with Brad Lidge that set the double steal up, that was straight up money. Johnny was a great player during his time here, and he deserves nothing less than a standing ovation during his first at-bat tonight. After respects have been paid, I consider him fair game for boos and taunts.

Here’s the lineup…

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

And on the bump, it’s Javy Vazquez.

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