Game 41: Splitting ain’t bad

Photo credit: Henry Ray Abrams/AP

If the Yankees can work a win tonight and split the short series with the Rays, they’ll own an 8-5 record (.615) against their two biggest AL East rivals. That would be a huge coup at this point in the season, especially because 1) the team is far from its healthiest, and 2) they don’t meet either opponent for over a month. Thankfully, they have a few things going for them.

Last night’s rally bodes well for today. For those unfamiliar, this comes from Paul O’Neill, who during one game a few years ago said something I found peculiar. The Yanks were getting killed by the Sox, 9-1 entering the ninth. Keith Foulke came on for some garbage innings, and the Yanks went to town on him. Kevin Reese lef off with a single, and although the next two hitters made outs, the Yanks did manage a rally. A-Rod hit a two-run shot to make it 9-3. This is what prompted O’Neill’s comment. He said that when a team’s getting blown out and comes back to score a few in the ninth, they’re bound to make noise the next day.

Sure enough, after two more runs made it a 9-5 final, the Yanks came back and scored seven the very next day, winning despite a Scott Proctor meltdown. A-Rod hit another homer that day. That fascinated me. I’ve made it a point to keep track of these occurrences, and every single instance since then has confirmed the theory. If the Yanks have been getting blown out and end up scoring runs in the ninth, they’ve invariably come back to win the next game.

Do I believe this is an immutable law? No. But it is an interesting phenomenon. Ken Singleton said something similar last night. It doesn’t guarantee victory in any way. It’s just an interesting notation I’ve made during the past three-plus seasons.

* I’m also pretty sure that if you search through game threads, you’ll see me mention this from time to time. This is definitely not the first time I’ve mentioned and explained the O’Neill Rule in the game thread.

The Yanks will have to do it against James Shields, who has been something else lately. In his last four starts he has pitched 29 innings and has struck out 38 to just two walks. He’s allowed just seven extra base hits during those starts, only two of which have been homers. Of course, all four of those starts have come against the Mariners and Athletics. He faced the Yankees earlier this year, lasting 5.1 innings and allowing two runs. The Yanks jacked up his pitch count, though, getting him to 103 before Joe Maddon removed him.

Andy Pettitte takes the ball for the Yanks, and it couldn’t come at a better time. The Rays have had plenty of problems with lefties this season. They’re facing not only a very good lefty, but also the AL’s ERA leader at 1.79. Pettitte has been the stopper in years past, and it would be huge if he could hold the losing streak to two games.

Nick Swisher‘s back, which is great news, especially since a righty is on the mound. Thames took batting practice, and while he’s not in the lineup it doesn’t look like he’s DL-bound.

Lineup:

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

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

Yankees recall Russo, option Melancon

Well we could see this one coming a mile away, it was just a question of who would be called up. Kevin Russo is your newest bench player, promoted in favor of Greg Golson and Chad Huffman. As you know, he’s capable of playing pretty much everywhere in the field, and at the very least works the count well offensively. Mark Melancon was sent back down to make room on the roster, which was obviously going to happen following yesterday’s 37 pitch outing.One of these days he’ll stick, I’m sure of it.

The moves get the Yanks down to seven relievers and four bench players, though the availability of Nick Swisher (wrist) and Marcus Thames (ankle) is still up in the air. Hooray for normalcy.

Moeller could help Jorge transition back

For a player who spends half the game squatting, any kind of leg injury can be devastating. After recovering from a shoulder injury he sustained in 2008, Jorge Posada has suffered a few leg injuries, the latest a microfracture on his right toe that could keep him out for a month. The Yankees say that the three to four week timeframe is when they’ll once again have Posada available, though the man himself says he’ll be back before that. In any case, it could be a rough transition back to catcher.

As Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus (sub. required) says in his latest Under The Knife, the toe problem “tends to heal pretty cleanly,” so the Yanks needn’t worry about a prolonged recovery period. The problem they might encounter relates to Posada’s ability to catch right away. While a catcher’s squat is most readily associated with knee problems, it also puts tremendous pressure on the foot, especially the toes. That could push back Jorge’s timeline a little bit.

Photo credit: Julie Jacobson/AP

As we learned this afternoon, the Yankees will recall Chad Moeller to fill in as backup catcher. While some clamored for Jesus Montero to fill the spot, that just isn’t in the cards. Donnie Collins makes that case very well, though it takes little more than common sense to know that the Yankees won’t promote a 20-year-old who has struggled at AAA, who was recently benched for not hustling, and who is not ready to play defense at the major league level. The Yankees signed Moeller to play an emergency role, and that emergency has occurred. Yet his presence might help the lineup even after Posada’s return.

When Nick Johnson hit the DL with wrist troubles, the Yankees had a few options. They could have recalled Juan Miranda from AAA to platoon with Marcus Thames at DH. That’s what they ultimately did, but it was not the only option. The other was to add Moeller to the 40-man roster and use him as the backup catcher while Posada takes reps at DH against right-handed pitchers. At the time Posada was nursing a calf injury, so time at DH would have afforded him time to heal fully and move back behind the plate, where is bat is of more value, when he was completely ready.

The Yankees could use Moeller in a similar capacity once Posada returns from the disabled list. Since, as Carroll notes, Posada could still have trouble hitting right-handed, he would still serve as a DH against right-handed pitching, while Marcus Thames would still get reps against lefties. Posada would still be putting pressure on the toe when he runs the bases, but that won’t be nearly the level of pressure he’d place on it by hitting right-handed and catching.

The only downside is that it means Chad Moeller has to play at least once a week, and that the Yankees become more dependent on Francisco Cervelli‘s maintenance of otherworldly numbers. The alternatives, though, aren’t attractive either. They cannot afford to rush back Posada, but they also can’t live for very long without his bat in the lineup. Keeping Moeller around would help solve both problems simultaneously. It’s not efficient to carry two no-field DHs (just ask the Mariners), but it might be all the Yankees can do at this point.

Yankees recall Chad Moeller, shift Nick Johnson to 60-day DL

Via Jack Curry, the Yankees have recalled catcher Chad Moeller from Triple-A Scranton to help carry the load while Jorge Posada is out with a hairline fracture in a his foot. Nick Johnson was shifted to the 60-day disabled list to free up a spot on the 40-man roster. The 35-year-old Moeller was signed to a minor league deal at the end of Spring Training to mentor top prospect Jesus Montero in Scranton, and he’s hit just .207-.233-.310 in limited playing this year.

You probably remember Moeller from his 2008 stint with the team, when he hit .231-.311-.330 in 103 plate appearances. Frankie Cervelli figures to get the majority of the playing time behind the plate now, and I assume P.J. Pilittere will take Moeller’s spot in SWB.

Yankees sign Jeff Natale

Via Pete Cava, the Yankees have signed utility player Jeff Natale to a minor league deal, and will soon assign him to Triple-A Scranton. The 27-year-old spent five years in Boston’s farm system, where he put up a rather beastly .298-.432-.446 batting line with far more walks (281) than strikeouts (168) in 416 career games. He’s spent the majority of his career at second base, but he’s also seen time at first, short, and in the outfield over the years.

All of the injuries have a trickle down effect, thinning out Scranton’s roster as well, so Natale is a nice depth signing. If you can make contact and get on base 40% of the time, you’ll always have a chance.

Pushing the depth limits

When it was announced that Jorge Posada will miss the next month or so with a hairline fracture in his foot, it was just the latest in what has become an almost comical string of injuries. Marcus Thames spraining his ankle by stepping on his own bat during last night’s game was just the icing on the cake. It was the Yankees’ version of Luis Castillo falling down the dugout steps. That’s what they’ve been reduced too.

Ramiro Pena shouldn’t be playing the outfield. (Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

For the most part, the reserve players have done a fine job of picking up the slack as the regulars nursed whatever it is they’ve been nursing. Marcus Thames and Randy Winn have combined for a slightly above league average .334 wOBA in 97 plate appearances since Curtis Granderson hit the disabled list, which is all you could ask for from your fourth and fifth outfielders. Frankie Cervelli has started 11 of the team’s last 14 games, riding a .485 BABIP to a .424 wOBA during that stretch. That’s not going to last forever, but even if he matches his ZiPS rest of the year projection (.334 wOBA), the Yanks will be in fine shape behind the plate.

However, every team has a limit to their depth, some more than others. If Nick Swisher‘s biceps needs a few more days on the shelf, the Yanks are going to be pressed into starting Ramiro Pena or Greg Golson or Kevin Russo or Chad Huffman in the outfield with Winn and Brett Gardner. In the spreadsheet world where only numbers matter, that’s your sixth (at best), fifth, and third outfielders. Posada’s injury not only brings the return of Chad Moeller, but it pushes Cervelli into an even more prominent role. The more he plays, the sooner his production regresses back to the mean.

The pitching staff is another story all together. Andy Pettitte‘s injury forced Sergio Mitre into the rotation, creating a a revolving door in the bullpen. Injuries to Chan Ho Park and Al Aceves only compounded that. For the last two weeks or so, the last guy on the staff has been whoever was freshest in Triple-A Scranton. That’s not the way it should be. Joe Girardi should able to use the relievers he wants to use in certain spots, not the guys he has to use because of injuries and such.

There’s going to be several roster moves made today, and right now the best thing the Yankees can do is restore a semblance of normalcy. No more of this 13 pitchers with only one of three bench players actually available nonsense. As much as we want Boone Logan to go away, he’s probably going to stick around while Mark Melancon and the 37 pitches he threw last night head back to Scranton to bring the pitching staff down to a dozen. He’s going to be replaced by one of the four minor leaguers above, though who exactly is anyone’s guess. Posada hitting the DL (and Nick Johnson being transferred to the 60-day DL) create the roster room needed for Moeller.

We can dream about the Yankees signing super-versatile established big leaguers to stash away on the bench or in Triple-A should injuries take place, but that doesn’t happen in reality. This isn’t a video game; players aren’t going to accept reduced roles just because you want them to. What the Yankees had coming into the season was a good set of bench players backed up by a plethora of minor league options both on the mound and in the batter’s box, but the sheer volume of injuries have thrown these players into more prominent roles. One or two or even three injuries is one thing, but losing two starting outfielders plus your fourth outfielder plus your catcher plus your designated hitter is another story all together. The Red Sox lost two outfielders and had to trade for Jonathan Van Every to fill the hole. At least the Yanks didn’t have to stoop that low.

If you were going to define Brian Cashman‘s reign as GM in one word, it would be “patience.” He waited more than two months to pull the trigger on the Bobby Abreu trade following the injuries to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield in 2006, and if he didn’t do that, Melky Cabrera never gets a chance to prove himself as an every day player. Cashman’s not going to run out to sign Jermaine Dye (who’s going to need a few weeks to get into game shape anyway), nor is he going to start pulling off trades. The players that will come off the DL in a few weeks are far better than any of the options out there.

The in-house replacements like Golson and Russo are going to have to pick up the slack in the time being, but now we’re talking about these guys playing a far more prominent role than could ever have been expected. The Yanks came into the season with solid depth, yet amazingly the limits of that depth is being stretched less than two months into the season.

Two tickets available for tonight’s game

A reader has two tickets available for tonight’s game, located in Section 434B, Row 13, Seats 35-36. That’s in the upper deck in left field. Face value of the tickets is $25 each, so $50 for the pair. They’re hard tickets, so you’d have to be able to meet the seller in midtown (39th and 3rd) to pick them up. Email me if interested.