Javy Vazquez would do well to purchase ear plugs before his next start at Yankee Stadium. After two excellent starts, in which he allowed just two runs on six hits in 13 innings. Even better, he struck out 13 to two walks, a much better ratio than he was sporting prior to the start against Detroit. By many indications he, as we’ve heard commentators say, “figured it out.” Something wasn’t right in his first five starts, but a brief rest gave him time to collect himself. Or something else of an inspiring narrative nature.
It’s clear that Vazquez’s velocity has declined this season. His fastball averages 89.1 mph right now, down 2 mph from 2009, and down 3 mph from his superb 2007 season. That’s not completely unexpected. Vazquez will turn 34 in June, a time when many pitchers start to lose velocity. With four quality pitches in his arsenal — fastball, curveball, changeup, slider, plus a two-seamer — he seems like the type of pitcher who can adapt. That is, as long as he retains command of his pitches. So far this season, at least in terms of his fastball, he has not. We saw that on display again last night after the two-game reprieve.
What stood out about last night, other than how hard the Twins hit the ball, was Vazquez’s pitch selection. He went with the four-seamer 57.4 percent of the time, odd because he’s thrown it 38.1 percent of the time this season. The changeup had been his go-to secondary pitch, constituting 19.5 percent of his overall pitches, but last night he threw it just nine times, while going to the curveball 15 times and the slider 13. Maybe he wasn’t feeling the changeup, maybe the gameplan was to go with breaking pitches. I don’t know. What I do know is that Vazquez certainly altered his pitch selection in this start.
The real interesting bit is Javy’s pitch chart, but before that I just wanted to throw up this one. The strike zone, it appeared, was fair. (And if you look at Blackburn’s strike zone plot it looks pretty similar.) There’s just one area that troubles me. At the bottom right, you’ll see a cluster of green dots. Those are pretty clearly strikes, yet Javy didn’t get the call at all. There’s even one green dot that appears closer to the zone than the red dots to its left and to its right.
Unsurprisingly, that green cluster of called balls consisted mostly of sliders. That’s the perfect slot for a slider, low and away to a righty, yet Vazquez did not get the call. That’s not an excuse for his performance — none of this is an excuse — but if he’s not getting that call he has to try something else. If another of his pitches isn’t working, well, it’s pretty easy to understand why he’d pitch badly in that scenario.
It looks like Javy had trouble locating the two-seamer inside. You can see a number of powder blue dots well out of the zone inside, and the few that did hit the zone caught plenty of the plate. He also missed the zone with the majority of his changeups, though I’m not sure whether that’s by design or by mistake. The only one in the zone got hit. The one on the corner caused a swing and miss. The others were nowhere near the zone. Pitchers often throw a changeup that falls out of the zone, hoping a batter chase. I’m not sure if the Twins had a gameplan to lay off the changeup, or if they looked like bad pitches out of Javy’s hand. In either case it’s clear why Javy threw it less frequently than his other pitches.
At a quick glance, it looks as though 41 of his 62 four-seamers were reasonably within the zone, which is a good sign. That cluster in the middle might look concerning, but the Twins only managed one hit there. All of the curveballs in the middle of the zone were either called strikes or hits. The one low and away was called a ball, as were the two at the bottom of the zone. Look at the two curves directly on the inside edge. The one on top was a swinging strike, the one on the bottom a ball. Directly to the left of the bottom one are two more curveballs. They were both called strikes.
Javy did recover a bit in innings three and four, and it looked for a minute as though he might have been able to avoid disaster. But that didn’t last, and he ended up leaving with a pretty ugly final line. He said he battled better last night than he had in his earlier starts, and in a way I can see that. Clearly he didn’t have command of anything other than his four-seamer — perhaps a residual effect of his finger injury — and he got beat seemingly every time he went with a breaking pitch. But when you go into a battle with one weapon, it’s hard to avoid getting shelled. I’m not totally discouraged by the start. What will discourage me is if he pulls the same thing against the Orioles on Tuesday.
On May 1, Curtis Granderson injured his groin in a game against the White Sox, and the Yankees fell to 15-8 on the season. Since then, the Yankees have gone just 13-11, and even though Granderson is hitting just .225/.311/.375 on the young season, he brings depth to the Yanks’ lineup and bench. His return from the disabled list — rumored to come tonight — is a welcome development indeed.
When Granderson is activated, the Yanks will have their center fielder back. Granderson told reporters that he is at around 90-95 percent. “The groin is actually good. I haven’t felt anything with it,” he said. “If you dig in and touch it, it’s still tender to the touch. But I don’t feel anything with it.”
The Yankees, notoriously tight-lipped, haven’t yet decided on a corresponding roster move. As far as I can tell, the team has three options. Because Joe Girardi prefers a full bullpen, they will ship Kevin Russo back to the minors, designate Randy Winn for assignment or send Ramiro Pena down to AAA. Let’s evaluate.
1. Send Kevin Russo back to AAA
Our first option remains both most likely and least popular with the fans. By virtue of a few clutch hits and some solid work in left field, Kevin Russo has turned himself into a household name. He could still find himself ticketed to Scranton.
Why Russo will go: With Granderson’s return, the Yankees will have their three starting outfielders, Randy Winn, and — gulp — Marcus Thames as their five outfielders. For his defensive capabilities, Russo is a better long-term option than Thames ever will be, but he’s hitting just .250/.286/.350 and has a career Minor League OPS of .763. By sending him down, the Yankees can give him some every-day experience and work on his infield and outfield skills. He’ll remain under team control and would probably be the first guy up in case of emergency.
Why Russo could stay: Randy Winn looks like toast. Ramiro Peña, not known for his offense, hasn’t hit a lick this year. If anything, Russo is the best of three less-than-desirable choices.
2. Designate Randy Winn for assignment
I have to admit that I’m no fan of Randy Winn. I expected him to be a decent enough outfielder with some bat, but he’s shown no ability whatsoever this year. He hits like Melky and seems to throw like Johnny Damon, and his bad play in the Citi Field games did little to endear him to fans. The Yanks are paying him a guaranteed $1.1 million with some performance bonuses, and they could easily just cut him loose.
Why Winn will go: Handed the left field job when Curtis Granderson went down, Winn did everything in his power to lose it. He’s hitting a weak .213/.300/.295 this year and can’t seem to get around on a fastball. On the bright side, he has a 1.4 UZR in left field but with an arm below average. He is easily replaceable.
Why Winn will stay: With that positive UZR, the Yankees could utilize Winn as a late-innings defensive specialist. They don’t particularly need his bat with Granderson’s return to the lineup, and once the team cuts Winn, they won’t be bringing him back. With Russo or Peña, the team can simply summon either player from AAA and be none the worse for it. The Yankees like their old veterans, and Winn fits that bill — at least for a few more weeks.
3. Send Ramiro Peña to AAA
The Yanks’ final option would involve sending out their lone back-up middle infielder to AAA. The all-glove, no-hit 25-year-old could head back to Scranton to take some innings at the corner outfield positions with an eye toward replacing Randy Winn if he can handle the job.
Why Peña will go: If you thought Randy Winn’s bat was slow, get a load of Peña’s. He’s appeared in just 18 games this year and has come to the plate 42 times. Whatever offense he might have is just withering away, and he’s hitting .211/.244/.237. He somehow managed to hit .287 last season, but his minor league career triple slash — .255/.315/.320 — is more in line with his 2010 numbers than his 2009 campaign. In a very small sample, his defense has been nothing spectacular this year, and he is, simply put, dead weight on a roster with too much dead weight.
Why Peña will stay: Only one trait is keeping Ramiro in the Bronx: He can play short stop. The Bombers do not appear to believe that Kevin Russo could man short should Jeter go down, and the team would prefer to keep their only versatile back-up infield at the big league level. It’s flimsy reasoning at best, but it should be enough to save Peña’s job for the next few months as Russo learns short.
As roster moves go, the one the Yanks must make later today is rather inconsequential, but it certainly provides us with a glimpse into the inner workings of a GM’s mind. Someone will have to go, and while three candidates could be shipped out, which one goes will have an impact on the make-up of the current Yankee roster.
With the way the Yankees have scored runs lately, we should be thankful that the Yankees’ pitching held up in the first two games. Javier Vazquez couldn’t make like A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte, and that was clear from the beginning. The Twins hit the ball hard all night, while the Yankees’ bats languished. Again, this one would have stung a bit more had the Yanks not taken the first two, especially with the way they won last night.
Biggest Hit: Cano the deficit hawk
There was a point during last night’s game where the Yankees stood a chance. They had been down on the scoreboard all evening, but they had hit Nick Blackburn fairly hard, though the effort only resulted in one run through five innings. The Yanks threatened to change that immediately in the sixth. Mark Teixeira drove a first-pitch changeup to right-center for a leadoff double. Alex Rodriguez popped up to second, leaving the job up to Robinson Cano.
Blackburn delivered a first-pitch curveball right over the plate, and Cano pulled a grounder down the right field line. It went all the way to the corner, allowing Teixeira to score and Cano to reach second without a throw. Cano had cut the deficit in half and gave the Yanks two more chances to pull within one. But neither Nick Swisher nor Juan Miranda succeeded in his attempt.
Cano also drove in the Yankees’ first run, singling home Brett Gardner in the fourth.
Jason Kubel, Yankee killer
The lead here is easy. Kubel shocked the Yankees 11 days ago, spoiling a sweep at the Stadium. The follow up didn’t sting quite as badly, though the bar was set pretty high. It started in the second inning when Michael Cuddyer flied one into the gap in right-center. That brought up Kubel, who ran the count 2-2 before hitting a low curveball that caught a bit much of the plate. His gap shot put the Twins up 2-0. With none out in the inning, the Twins were still able to bring home Kubel when Alexi Casilla grounded into a double play.
An inning after Cano put the Yankees to within two, Kubel struck again. Javier Vazquez, who had settled down since the two-run second, stayed away from Kubel, laying three fastballs around but definitely outside the zone. On the 2-1 Vazquez went to his curveball and delivered it to nearly the same spot as he had the previous time against Kubel. This time he got all of it, sending it well over the wall and extending the Twins lead to 5-2.
In the seventh he had a clear advantage. Chad Gaudin does not pitch at all well against lefties. Kubel already had a double and a homer against a righty pitcher. Gaudin went to work, careful stay away from Kubel’s pull zone. He mostly succeeded, but on the ninth pitch it didn’t matter. Gaudin delivered a fastball outside, and Kubel got his arms extended. If there was any chance of a comeback at that point, it disappeared with that swing.
The Yankees collected 10 hits in the game, but had trouble putting together rallies. That seems to be the theme of the past few weeks. They had a chance to break the dry spell in the first, but Alex Rodriguez couldn’t get it done. With runners on the corners and one out he grounded one to short, which wasn’t the easiest double play but it was quick enough to beat A-Rod to first. He’s not going to succeed every time, but when runs are scarce his failures hurt plenty.
Nick Swisher followed Robinson Cano’s RBI single in the fourth with a single of his own, setting up the Yankees with runners on first and third with two out. Juan Miranda got a chance to give the Yanks another run and keep the inning going, but he instead grounded weakly to second.
Those were the only times the Yankees had more than one runner on base. After the Miranda groundout they went 1 for 12 the rest of the way.
At the beginning of the season Javy Vazquez pitched poorly. Then he pitched very well in two starts. Now he’s pitched poorly again. Can we create the Good Javy, Bad Javy designation, too? Because that’s so much fun.
Vazquez had the same problem with his fastball as he had earlier in the season. The lack of velocity is a concern secondary to his command, but velocity is a concern nonetheless. It looked like a slightly more contained start from earlier in the year, which is just what the Yanks can’t afford while they slump. Yanks have a streaking A-Rod and Teixeira? This start is a bit easier to stomach. But when the offense hasn’t worked, the Yanks need their pitchers more than ever.
Thankfully, Javy has a few easier starts to bounce back. He’ll get the Orioles next, though the Blue Jays have been hitting very well so far.
Said Girardi after the game: “He left some breaking pitches up.” Exactly.
WPA graph and box score
I have nothing nice to say about this WPA graph, so I will say nothing at all.
It’s quite an upcoming stretch for the Yankees. This weekend it’s a four-game set against the last-place Indians. Then the last-place Orioles come to town. The Yanks then fly up to Toronto, which will be their toughest games in this stretch. Then it’s down to play last-place Baltimore, and then back home for a weekend set against last-place Houston. If there is ever a time for the Yankees’ bats to wake up, it’s during this stretch.
The rejuvenated Fausto Carmona takes on Phil Hughes tomrrow night.
SWB will send Tim Redding to the mound against Stephen Strasburg on Saturday. Jason Hirsh gets bumped to the bullpen which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Could mean the organization believes he’s close to helping the big league team, so they wanted to get him accustomed to a relief role. Did the same thing is Joba Chamberlain (and other) back in the day.
Also, David Winfree hurt his wrist, but he should be back soon. I didn’t notice his absence until today, so shame on me. Oh, and the Yankees signed Rudy Guillen. Yes, that Rudy Guillen. Between him, Redding, and Justin Christian, it’s starting to look an awful lot like 2005 around here.
Game One (2-1 win over Syracuse in 7 innings) makeup of an April 16th rain out
Greg Golson, LF: 1 for 3, 1 RBI, 2 K, 1 SB
Curtis Granderson, CF: 0 for 2, 1 BB – the walk was intentional … he was robbed of an extra base hit by Pete Orr of all people … he also smoked one right at the shortstop…looks like everything is in line for him to return to the big league team tomorrow
Eduardo Nunez, SS & Jesus Montero, C: both 0 for 3, 1 K
Jon Weber, DH: 0 for 2, 1 BB, 1 K
Chad Huffman, 1B: 2 for 3, 1 R
Reid Gorecki, RF, Reegie Corona, 2B & Matt Cusick, 3B: all 0 for 1 – Gorecki drew a walk, scored a run & threw a runner out at third … Cusick drove in a run with a sac fly
Zach McAllister: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 HB, 10-2 GB/FB – 47 of 81 pitches were strikes (58%) … finally, some ground outs
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – just ten of his 24 pitches were strikes (41.7%) … that’s 19 consecutive saves dating back to last year
The last time the Yankees took the first two games from the Twins, they also held a 3-1 lead heading into the eighth inning. Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera, the guys who represent one of the better endgames in baseball, blew the lead, and even though the Yankees had three chances with the tying run on base they couldn’t finish the job against Jon Rauch. Tonight the’ll get a chance to complete the sweep they couldn’t last time.
Of course, the Twins will look for atonement of their own. They’re currently 1-4 against the Yankees this season after going winless last year. They came close last night, but Andy Pettitte put the kibosh on that one. Tonight represents their last chance.
Nick Blackburn will be the guy for the Twins. He went seven innings last time against the Yanks, allowing three runs. The Yanks had chances, as they put 10 men on base, nine on hits. Blackburn, a goundball kinda guy, had trouble in that regard, allowing 18 balls in the air (15 fly balls and 3 line drives) to 10 on the ground. Overall Blackburn is experiencing his worst season to date, a 4.50 ERA against a 5.31 FIP.
Javy Vazquez gets a chance to continue righting his ship. In his last three appearance he has allowed just two runs in 13.1 innings, striking out 14 to just four walks. Opponents have hit the ball on a line just 14 percent of the time in that span, a good sign for Vazquez. The Minnesota offense, featuring some heavy hitting lefties, will be his biggest test since the revival.
And on the mound, number thirty-one, Javier Vazquez.
The Yankee brain trust has yet to meet and discuss their mid-summer shopping list, but Jayson Stark says that the team’s scouts have begun to target what he calls “versatile outfield bats.” Randy Winn is basically a zero on offense (.278 wOBA) and isn’t even being used as a late innings defensive replacement anymore, while Marcus Thames can hit (.424 OBA) but nothing else. He’s the anti-versatile outfielder. Stark throws out the name of David DeJesus, but that’s just him speculating.
Just looking at the list of players scheduled to become free agents after the season, I can see someone like Gabe Gross or the resurgent Austin Kearns making sense. Maybe add Ryan Church to the mix, get that Pirates-Yankees train rollin’ again.