Doing the DH shuffle

Since Nick Johnson hit the disabled list with a sore wrist last weekend in Boston, the Yankees have had the luxury of an open designated hitter spot. Never one to pass up an opportunity to mix-and-match, Joe Girardi has done just that, and the Yankees have used five different DHs in as many days. I’m beginning to think, however, that the team could use some stability at this offensive spot.

As we know, the Yankees are an old team. The left side of the infield features one guy who will turn 36 this year and another 35. Their catcher is a sprightly 38 and often runs as though he’s 83. Getting these guys some days off becomes an important consideration for Joe Girardi, and to that end, since Johnson left Friday’s game, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, Marcus Thames, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter have, in that order, held down the DH spot.

On the surface, it’s tough to bemoan these moves, but these lineup changes come at a price. With these guys DHing, we’ve seen both Ramiro Peña and Francisco Cervelli appear in three of the last five Yankee games, and while Cervelli is hitting well in the early going, neither player can caddy offensively for those he is tasked with replacing in the lineup. For what it’s worth, Ramiro Peña is hitting .138/.188/.172 in his 33 plate appearances with a WAR of -0.2 this year after hitting just .255/.315/.320 through parts of five years in the minors.

In the early going, at least, the Yankees had to deal with some nicks and bruises, and to that end, Girardi made good use of Nick Johnson’s absence. Robinson Cano took a fastball off the knee on Friday and played as the DH on Saturday. Jorge Posada sat out for four days nursing a sore calf before DHing on Sunday. But beyond that, Girardi needs to find a better solution.

Over at Baseball Prospectus yesterday afternoon, Christina Kahrl, in a subscriber-only piece, took the Yankees to task for getting sloppy with their roster and, in particular, the DH spot. She questions if “using the absence of a regular DH to feed additional playing time to Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli (and [Marcus] Thames too)” is “really a good idea.”

Is that really such a good idea? It’s a way to keep the benchies fresh, of course, and it gives lineup regulars partial days off. Those are nice things to do if you’re talking about a temporary fix and a temporary absence. That’s probably not the scenario the Yankees are in, however. Losing Johnson until the end of the month—at least, given his horrendous track record—on top of losing Curtis Granderson makes this a situation where courtesy starts for Ramiro Pena in a lineup already stuck with Randy Winn shouldn’t fly. And no, Greg Golson is not an answer, at least not to a question you need to ask.

Instead, sorting out who should be the Yankees’ DH really ought to involve someone like Miranda now, and perhaps Jesus Montero eventually. Montero’s future still seems to be someplace other than behind the plate, but he’s not hitting much in Scranton; it’s understandable to not want to advance his timetable any until his bat starts setting the clock. With Miranda, there is no such consideration: the 27ish-year-old Cuban defector’s already on the 40-man, and the poor serf’s now in his third spin in Scranton—I’m sure it’s a nice enough place, but it’s probably not the paradise you defect from Castroland to achieve. Given his (questionable) age, Miranda has no future outside if not one in the present, and he’s a nice enough patch in that he has lefty power and some patience.

As the Yankees are amidst a stretch of the schedule where they are forced to play 27 innings of baseball within 27 hours, the team has tried to get creative with its roster flexibility. Brian Cashman and Girardi had to face the reality of back-to-back starts by Sergio Mitre and Javier Vazquez a few days after losing Alfredo Aceves, the team’s swing man in the bullpen, and a few days after a rain delay pushed the pen into 4+ innings of service on Saturday.

Yet, with Cano back on the field and Jorge seemingly healthy, the team has kept Kevin Russo around for bench decoration and have let Ivan Nova idle in the pen with a “break glass in case of emergency” sign taped around his neck. Now that this stretch of games has passed, the team should call up Miranda and let him DH against right-handers until Johnson’s back. Unless the club wants to commit to using Cervelli as an everyday catcher and Posada as the DH, Miranda is the guy to use unless he absolutely can’t hit. Ramiro Peña, 23rd man, is a solid defensive backup who just shouldn’t be getting too many ABs with better options in the wings.

Yanks atone for afternoon loss, ride pitching to 8-0 win

Normally when you see an 8-0 final score you figure it’s a combination of offense and pitching that gets the job done. Yet for the first eight innings it was all pitching. The Yanks manufactured two runs early, and from there Phil Hughes took control. It wasn’t until the top of the ninth that the Yanks’ offense broke out and scored six runs. Hopefully that starts a variant of the O’Neill Effect and spurs the offense to another big day tomorrow.

Biggest Hit: Teixeira hits it where they ain’t

Photo credit: Duane Burleson/AP

Many teams employ a shift against Mark Teixeira when he bats lefty. It makes sense. Just look at his spray chart against righties. With Derek Jeter standing on second, though, the Tigers couldn’t really afford to do this. They had to play him with just two defenders on the right side, and that left a hole ripe for a ground ball. Teixeira didn’t hit it well, really, but it was good enough to get past Miguel Cabrera and into the outfield. Jeter came around to score, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

Teixeira has been heating up lately, though he hasn’t hit full breakout mode. Despite his poor numbers so far, he has actually been superb with runners in scoring position. Before the first game today he was hitting .321/.500/.536 when in position to drive home a run, which explains why he now has 23 RBI even while hitting far below his abilities.

WPA doesn’t consider external factors like the lineup or the pitcher, but if it did this hit would have been even more important. With Phil Hughes on the mound and cruising, the Tigers couldn’t afford to give up that run. Hell, the way things ended up they couldn’t really afford the first-inning run.

Biggest Pitch: Brennan Boesch loads them up

Only once did Phil Hughes run into a problem. In the fourth inning, not long after the Yanks spotted him a second run, he made his first mistake of the game by walking Johnny Damon with none out. Magglio Ordonez followed with a single of his own, and after Miguel Cabrera lined out to short Brennan Boesch grounded one to right field. It was hit hard enough that Damon couldn’t score from second, but it still set up the Tigers with an opportunity to get back in the game.

The Tigers have a potent offense, but it starts to tail off after Boesch. Hughes took advantage of the weak part of the lineup, striking out Alex Avila on three pitches and then getting Don Kelly to pop up. Hughes has certainly impressed with men on base this year. It seems like he always has the situation under control, which is a huge change from 2008, when it seemed like death every time he let a runner reach base.

Biggest Out: Hughes quells the minor threat

Photo credit: Duane Burleson/AP

While Hughes rolled through the first six innings, the Yanks offense didn’t do a ton to help him. They scored two runs to that point, far below what we’ve come to expect from this crew. So when Boesch reached out and hit a bouncer up the middle, he gave the Tigers another chance. Unfortunately, though, that same weak bottom of the order that killed the fourth inning rally was again due up.

Hughes threw a cutter down and in to Avila, and he grounded it right to Pena at short. A flip to Cano and a throw to first erased both Tigers, killing a potential rally. It was the last trouble Hughes would face. Though Kelly blooped one to keep the inning alive, Hughes got Ramon Santiago to hit an infield pop up, ending the inning.

Hughes kept a rollin’, all night long

No recap would be complete without fawning over the performance of Phil Hughes. His seven-inning shutout lowered his ERA to 1.38. He added to his gaudy strikeout total by fanning eight, and walked only one Tiger. Only Miguel Cabrera connected for an extra base hit, which is always excusable. Dude could be the AL MVP this year.

The best part about Hughes’s performances is that his peripherals justify his results. No, he’s not going to sustain a 1.38 ERA. Pitchers just don’t do that these days. But if he keeps up his current strikeout, walk, and home run rates — and even if the home run rate increases — he’ll be just fine so long as the defense doesn’t revert to 2005 form.

After the game he sports a 2.61 FIP, which certainly bodes well for his future starts. His xFIP sits a bit higher because he has allowed just one homer all year, but I do wonder how much of that is skill-based. He has used the cutter later in the count, preventing hitters from squaring up pitches. He’ll hang a curve or let a fastball get too much of the plate from time to time, but the way he’s pitching now I expect his home run rate will remain below league average.

Joys

Other than Hughes? A-Rod‘s single in the first was quite nice. He hasn’t hit for much power this year, but he can still knock home a runner on second with a well-placed single. It’s not the height of his value, but it will do for now.

Teixeira hitting right into where the shift would have been.

Greg Golson‘s first major league hit was pretty sweet. He had a nice looking looper in his next at-bat, too.

Seeing Mariano for the first time in what feels like all season.

Starters in the double-header: 14 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 15 K. Bullpen: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K. How the hell did they split?

Annoyances

Swisher day to day? Seriously? These nagging injuries happen, so under normal circumstances it wouldn’t be annoying. I suppose having Park, Aceves, Granderson, and Johnson on the DL makes it sting a bit more.

Really, though, was there anything to be annoyed with in this game?

WPA Graph and Box Score

I could totally dirtbike down this WPA graph.

I could not, however, dirtbike down the boxscore.

Up Next

They keep saying that tomorrow’s game will be rained out, but I’ve never trusted a weatherman before, and I don’t plan to start now. Game’s at 1, and it’s CC vs. Verlander. In one way, I hope they get it in. In another, I’m going to the games on Friday and Sunday, and I’d rather see CC and Pettitte rather than Burnett and Mitre.

Melancon slams the door in SWB win

I’ve been meaning to mention this for two days now, but I inexcusably kept forgetting. Mike Ashmore was able to trick talk the Yankees’ seventh best prospect and Double-A Trenton lefty Jeremy Bleich into answering questions from us lowly fans. All the details are available here, so head on over and ask something that’ll make us look intelligent. I’m curious to know what his first big purchase was with his $700,000 signing bonus.

Meanwhile, check out Matt from Fack Youk’s first hand report from Bleich’s start last night.

Triple-A Scranton
Game One (4-3 loss to Columbus in 7 innings)
makeup of yesterday’s rain out
Reegie Corona, 2B & Eduardo Nunez, SS: both 1 for 4 – Corona doubled, scored a run & K’ed … Nunez K’ed twice
Matt Cusick, 3B: 0 for 2, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 E (throwing)
David Winfree, 1B: 2 for 3, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K – quietly having a nice year
Jon Weber, RF & Jesus Montero, C: both 0 for 3 – Weber K’ed twice … Montero allowed a passed ball
Chad Huffman, LF: 0 for 2, 2 K
Robby Hammock, DH & Justin Snyder, CF: both 1 for 3 – Hammock scored a run & K’ed … Snyder’s up from Trenton because SWB doesn’t have a true CF with Colin Curtis on the DL & Greg Golson in the bigs
Dustin Moseley: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 11-6 GB/FB – 58 of 101 pitches were strikes (57.4%) … the pitching staff has been a wreck will the recent callups, so I’m sure the bullpen appreciates the six innings
Royce Ring: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 0-2 GB/FB – just 12 of his 26 pitches were strikes (46.1%)

[Read more…]

Swisher day-to-day with biceps soreness

Via Marc Carig, Nick Swisher left tonight’s game with soreness in his biceps, and is listed as day-to-day. An injury to another outfielder is the absolute last thing the Yankees need, so let’s all hope this isn’t too serious. For what it’s worth, Swish has never had a biceps injury before, and in fact he hasn’t missed more than seven days with an injury since 2005.

Nagging injuries happen all the time, but the recent injury bug makes this seem worse than it really is.

Yankees sign Tim Redding

Yes, it’s true. MLBTR says so. The Yankees signed 32-year-old righty Tim Redding to a minor league deal after the Rockies released him earlier today. He of course made one very disastrous start for the Yanks back in 2005, and since then he’s put up a 4.98 FIP in 386 innings for Nationals and Mets. It’s just a depth move since the Triple-A Scranton staff is in a little bit of flux, so as long as he doesn’t see a day with the big league team, it’s cool.

Game 33: If not by day, then by night

The Yanks lost a tough one earlier today, despite Javy Vazquez’s best efforts. They’ll get a chance at quick redemption, though, in the nightcap. I just wish that Girardi put his team in a bit of a better position.

Normally I refrain from lineup criticism. Guys will get days off, and we’ll see players we don’t like in the lineup from time to time. With tonight’s lineup, though, I have to say something. Jeremy Bonderman is pitching for the Tigers. He hasn’t been good since 2006, and has been pretty bad in the early parts of 2010. Maybe his BABIP signals bad luck, maybe it signals that hitters have a good read on his stuff. I don’t know. The one thing I do know is that Bonderman throws with his right arm.

Despite the pitcher’s handedness, Girardi has decided to start Marcus Thames. With Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson out with injuries, Thames figures to see plenty of action. That includes, unfortunately, time against righties. He’ll also see time in the field, much to our collective chagrin. But tonight is the ultimate offense. He’s in the lineup against the righty and is playing the field. In spacious Comerica Park, no less. I’m sorry, but this makes no sense.

I would rather see Greg Golson in the lineup and playing the field. At least he’ll track down fly balls to left. Thames, though, gets the double whammy. His bat isn’t valuable against righties, and his defense remains atrocious. I don’t know how Giradi can justify this one.

Thankfully, Phil Hughes is on the mound, and he strikes out guys and induces ground balls. So maybe, if the Yanks get lucky, the Tigers won’t hit any to left. But, because Thames is there, Murphy’s Law clearly states that they’ll hit it to him plenty. It’s just the way these things seem to work out.*

*Yes, I’m kidding. But only kind of.

That’s enough for the rant, though. The Yanks have the pitching advantage. Let’s hope the top of the lineup can get on base and then drive in some runs, because the only guy in the bottom third I’m remotely confident can drive in a guy is Cervelli.

Lineup:

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

And on the mound, number sixty-five, Phil Hughes, number sixty-five.

Yanks drop third in a row, fall 2-0 to Tigers

Two things happened for the first time of the season today: the Yankees were shutout, and Javy Vazquez pitched well. Like really really well, but we’ll get into that in a bit. It’s also the first time since the final series of the 2009 regular season that the Yanks have lost three consecutive games, and just the second time in 2010 that they scored fewer than three runs in a game. The good news is that they’ll have a chance to correct all the wrongs later tonight in game two of the doubleheader.

Biggest Hit (by the Tigers): Damon sets it up

Photo Credit: Duane Burleson, AP

Considering that both starting pitchers came into this afternoon’s game sporting seven-plus ERA’s, it’s only natural that we were scoreless into the 6th inning. BABIP king Austin Jackson led off the frame with a bonafide single to left-center on a hanging breaking ball, one of Vazquez’s few mistakes. After feeding arch-nemesis Johnny Damon fastballs and changeups in his first two at-bats, the Yankee righthander broke out the curveball the third time around for a first pitch strike. The next pitch was actually pretty good, a changeup that faded down and away and probably would have been taken for a ball by most mere mortals, but Damon’s inability to do anything wrong allowed him to hook the pitch into right.

No runs scored on that play, by Jackson cruised into third and set the Tigers up with men on the corners and zero outs in the inning. Teams have scored just about two runs in similar situations this year, which is exactly what Detroit pushed across after the series of ground balls found some holes. Damon’s single improved his team’s chances of winning by almost 13%, more than either of the two run scoring plays.

Biggest Out (by the Yanks): Take your pick, Ramiro Pena edition

Even though they were shutout, the Yankees were not without opportunities to score in this game. They loaded up the bases in the 2nd inning on two singles and a walk, but Pena fouled off a pair of low-90’s heaters before harmlessly flying out to center on a third fastball to end the inning. The out decreased the Yanks’ chances of winning by 7.6%.

Fast forward to the 7th inning, when the Yanks put themselves in a position to immediately answer Detroit’s runs with some of their own. Randy Winn singled with one out to reach base for the third time of the game, but Pena again got beat by a fastball, this time grounding it to short for a basic and easily turned 6-4-3 double play. This one decreased the Yanks’ chances of a win by 7.8%.

Not to pick on the young utility infielder, but his three at-bats combined for more than one-fifth of a loss. Tough day, but that’s why he’s a part-timer.

Good To Jav You Back

Photo Credit: Leon Halip, Getty

After five um, less than stellar starts, Vazquez was back at it today after nine days of rest and two intense bullpen sessions. Whatever he and Dave Eiland worked on during that time seemed to make a world of difference.

Even though his fastball again sat more in the upper-80’s than the low-90’s, Vazquez threw all of his pitches with what appeared to be much more confidence, and perhaps just as importantly, he worked at a very quick pace. There was no mindless walking around on the mound, no shaking off, Vazquez just got the ball and threw it. Exactly what he needed to do.

Somewhat wild in the first inning, Javy settled down beautifully and began hitting Jorge Posada‘s glove with all four pitches. After retiring 14 of the first 15 men he faced, Vazquez rather inexcusably walked Ramon Santiago and Gerald Laird with two outs in the 5th, though he rebounded after a visit from Eiland to strikeout Adam Everett on three pitches. Granted, Everett is basically an automatic out, but in his last few starts, that’s a situation that Javy would have allowed to spiral out of control.

The final line includes seven innings, five hits (all singles), just the two walks, and seven strikeouts. Hitters swung and missed 16 times, an outstanding number, and Javy threw first pitch strikes to all but eight of the 27 men he faced. More than two-thirds of his pitches were strikes, and quite frankly this was the Javier Vazquez the Yankees acquired back in December. He was saddled with his fourth loss of the year, but he pretty damn good this game, and has something to build on. I hope he has his head up in the clubhouse.

Photo Credit: Duane Burleson, AP

Things That Made Me Not Smile

Comerica was eating balls hit to the outfield alive this afternoon. Alex Rodriguez hit a ball on the screws and had it caught at the wall, ditto Derek Jeter. On a bright and sunny days, those two shots are in the people.

Joe Girardi had Boone Logan warming up in the 6th in case he needed him to come in and put the fire out. He’s pretty much the last guy I’d want to see on the mound in that spot. Even the 8th inning, Logan was brought in to keep a winnable game close. He did the job, but sheesh. Roll of the dice.

Nick Swisher being unable to reach base after hitting the line drive off Rick Porcello to lead off the 7th. The replay showed that he ran hard out of the box, the bounce just went Detroit’s. So it goes.

Kevin Russo pinch running for Posada in the 9th. If Greg Golson‘s not going to be used in that spot, then send him back to Scranton. Ridiculous.

Michael Kay singing Jay-Z in the booth. Just stop it, man.

Things That Made Me Smile

Swisher is really doing great a great job of hanging in against offspeed stuff this year. I dunno if that’s because of the work he did with Kevin Long to quiet his stance or whatnot, but it’s working. He stayed back well and solidly singled to center on a changeup in the 2nd.

Brandon Inge dropping Posada’s foul pop up in the 4th. One pitch later, the ball’s in the gap and Jorge’s on second. They didn’t score in the inning, obviously, but capitalizing on those mistakes is a good habit to get into.

Two two out walks for Winn plus the single later on. Good stuff. Too bad the offensive black hole was hitting behind him.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score, FanGraphs the nerdier stuff.

Up Next

Right back at it with game two of today’s day-night doubleheader set to begin at 7:05pm ET. That one will feature Phil Hughes and Jeremy Bonderman. This is Bonderman’s eighth year as a big leaguer, but he’s less than four full years older than Hughes. Crazy, huh?