Previewing the Sox with Fenway West

For those of who idling away your last hours of Sunday evening, mosey on over to Fenway West for a podcast appearance by yours truly. I’ll be on the Talking Sox Show with Matt O’Donnell and Craig Leger, and we’ll be previewing next weekend’s highly-anticipated Fenway showdown between the Yankees and the Red Sox and discussing Tampa Bay’s hot start. You can listen live right here starting at 10 p.m., and I’ll be on at 10:15 for approximately 15 minutes.

Open Thread: Another series, another win

"See what happens when you swing?" (Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

I needed a game like that after yesterday’s frustrationfest – just pound their brains in. No mercy. The Yankees have now played eight series so far this year, and they’ve lost only one of them: last weekend’s set in Anaheim. Keep winning series, and everything will sort itself out in the end. Tampa Bay has to slump eventually, right? Right?!?

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. The Mets and Phillies (Johan Santana vs. Jamie Moyer) are your ESPN Sunday Night Game, plus you’ve also got the Red Wings and Sharks in NHL playoff action. You know the routine, so have at it.

Hirsh strong again in Scranton win

Tim Norton joined his third team in two days today. Yesterday he was sent from Tampa to Staten Island to make room for Andrew Brackman (paper move), and today he was sent from Staten Island to Scranton to take Mark Melancon‘s place.

Triple-A Scranton (4-1 win over Norfolk)
Kevin Russo, 3B: 3 for 5, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 CS – 16 for his last 40 (.400)
Reegie Corona, 2B: 1 for 2, 1 R, 3 BB, 1 SB – brings that OPS up over .500
Eduardo Nunez, SS, David Winfree, RF & Greg Golson, CF: all 0 for 4 – Nunez scored a run, committed a fielding error & K’ed … Winfree drove in a run & K’ed
Juan Miranda, 1B, Jesus Montero, C & Chad Huffman, LF: all 0 for 3, 1 BB – Miranda drove in a run, scored another & K’ed … Montero K’ed & is just 5 for his last 35 (.143) … Huffman K’ed twice
Jon Weber, DH: 2 for 4, 2 RBI, 1 K
Jason Hirsh: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 7-8 GB/FB – 54 of 94 pitches were strikes (57.5%) … two hits allowed over his last 14.2 IP
Royce Ring: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0-1 GB/FB – 11 of 12 pitches were strikes
Amaury Sanit: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 8 of his 13 pitches were strikes (61.5%)

[Read more…]

Mid-game injury update: A-Rod’s knee, Granderson

While the Yankees and White Sox are playing the rubber match of their three-game set, Joel Sherman has an update on the various injured Yankees. A-Rod, he says, is out of the lineup with “pain behind the right knee.” According to The Post scribe, this pain forced Joe Girardi to pinch run for A-Rod yesterday in the 9th, but the Yankees do not consider the injury serious. Look for A-Rod to return to the lineup on Monday against the Orioles. I wonder if this pain has been impacting A-Rod’s ability to drive off his back leg while at bat.

On the Curtis Granderson front, the Yanks were “more upbeat about Curtis Granderson’s MRI results than they anticipated being” and hope that the center fielder could return in three weeks. Since Curtis’ ability is tied in with his speed, though, the Yanks will hold him back until he’s fully healthy. While Mark Melancon got the call today, the team is planning to activate one-time first-round draft pick Greg Golson once the bullpen is more rested than it has been lately.

Game 24: A win for the series

Despite yesterday’s hair-pulling affair, the Yanks have a shot to once again take a series and keep their winning percentage at .667. They’ll have to fend off the White Sox, against whom they’ve trailed the majority of the innings played this weekend. It comes against the lefty Mark Buehrle.

Buehrle has been the White Sox nominal ace for a few seasons now, though he certainly doesn’t fit the mold of the power-stuff ace. He’s more of a finesse guy, hitting corners and inducing weak contact. Yet he’s struggled a bit this season. He threw a gem against Cleveland on Opening day, but since then has allowed 17 runs in 25.2 innings, including six in six innings against those very Indians.

Last year Buehrle turned in a fine season, highlighted by his perfect game against the Rays on July 23. That brought his ERA down to 3.28, and it wouldn’t get to that point again. He surrendered five runs to Minnesota in his next game, and then allowed seven runs in just 4.1 innings against the Yanks the start after that. It seemed the team had a plan against him, shooting the ball into the hole between third and short and racking up 12 base hits before Buehrle left. They got him later that month, and despite eight hits and two walks in six innings, they scored only on two solo home runs.

Phil Hughes has looked every bit the young phenom through his first three starts. Even though he didn’t have his best stuff in his last appearance, he still managed to hold down the O’s, allowing just one run over 5.2 innings. The bullpen promptly blew it, something we’ve seen from them more than once lately. He still needs to cut down on the walks, but other than that Hughes has been nothing short of marvelous so far. His next assignment will come against the Red Sox.

Lineup:

Derek Jeter SS
Nick Johnson 1B
Mark Teixeira DH
Nick Swisher RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada C
Marcus Thames LF – gulp
Brett Gardner CF
Ramiro Peña 3B

And on the mound, number 65, Phil Hughes, number 65.

In search of an outfielder

While the Yankees currently feature a 13-man pitching staff, that won’t last for long. They’ve found a 12-man pitching staff a bit much at times, and if Vazquez’s turn gets skipped this week then Mitre might not get into another game for 10 or so days. Adding Melancon might help the Yankees with a fresh arm this afternoon, but it won’t go far in solving the team’s roster problems.

Baseball Prospectus’s injury guy Will Caroll forecasts a two to four week absence for Curtis Granderson, which doesn’t seem bad for a groin injury. Since it’s a lower body injury I’ll assume the longer estimate, so the Yankees will likely be without Granderson until June. The solution, for now, is a combination of Randy Winn and Marcus Thames in LF while Brett Gardner slides over to CF. I’m not sure those two present the best possible option, even in a temporary substitution scenario.

When Thames starts Winn will likely sub for defense later in the game. Nick Johnson will also DH, so there’s no real issue here. While Thames’s weaknesses are exposed much more against lefties I’m sure the Yankees would like to pinch hit for him later in the game if possible. Problem is, there’s no one to do that at this point. I doubt they’d pinch hit Winn, unless he starts to show something with the bat.

When Winn starts, the real troubles arise. Again, there’s no one on the bench to pinch hit for him except Thames, and that only works against lefties. Even then, the only other outfielder on the bench is also Thames, so that makes the team much weaker defensively. True, if they’re pinch-hitting for Winn then they need the offense more, but as we saw yesterday, little is more frustrating than taking the lead late in a game and then losing it. It will be triply frustrating if Thames’s bat puts them ahead and then his glove costs them the lead.

This makes me wonder if they’ll go with someone like Chad Huffman, who flashed some power at AA and AAA in the past two seasons, or Greg Golson, who is around for his defense more than his offense. Golson has flashed some power in his first month in the International League, and is on the 40-man roster. So is Huffman, so I think we’ll see one of the two headed up in the next few days. Do they go with the bat, or do they go with the speed?

Yanks lose game – and more – to ChiSox

Less than 24 hours after Derek Jeter almost single-handedly led the Yankees to the victory, they returned to the park hoping, praying, begging for Javy Vazquez to give them some kind of good start. Not just for the purposes of winning on Saturday, but also for some peace of mind going forward. Instead, the Yanks’ starter responded with his worst outing the season, and somehow exited the game a bigger question mark than when he came into it.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Biggest Mistake: A.J. Pierzynski’s double

After surviving Javy Vazquez’s latest meltdown (more on that later), the Yankees mounted a comeback with a four run 6th inning off former Padre Scott Linebrink. With nine outs to go and six of those presumably in the hands of Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera, all the Yanks had to do was neutralize Chicago’s 3-4-5 hitters in the 7th.

David Robertson retired the resurgent Andruw Jones before Paul Konerko dropped a double into right, but the second out of the inning came when Mark Teahen grounded out weakly to third. Carlos Quentin represented the third out of the inning but was intentionally put on base (more on that later) to set up the lefty-on-lefty matchup.

Damaso Marte trotted out of the bullpen to face Pierzynski, he of the .203 wOBA this year. The Yankees’ lefty setup man has made a habit out of entering a game and immediately making things interesting, and he promptly missed wide with a slider for ball one. Jorge Posada called for a fastball outside, and even though it was just a little off the mark, it was still a pretty good pitch. Pierzynski just went out and got it, sending it out to left-center and over the heads of Brett Gardner and Randy Winn, who were playing relatively shallow for the ChiSox’s powerless catcher. Both Konerko and Quentin chugged around the based to tie and give Chicago the lead, respectively.

He faced just two batters, and didn’t even made that bad of a pitch on the big blow, but Marte reduced the Yankees chances of winning in this game by 31.6% all by himself, almost the same as Vazquez believe it or not.

Honorable Mention: Intentionally walking Quentin

Like I said, Robertson was ordered to intentionally walk Quentin following Konerko’s double to create a force at (almost) any base and set up the Marte-Pierzynski duel. It actually wasn’t supposed to be a free pass from the start, but Robertson buried a curveball in the dirt for ball one and missed high with another curve for a 2-0 count. That’s when the order to put him on intentionally came. I can’t help but wonder if the whole “walk him … oh no wait … pitch to him” situation with Kendry Morales last weekend played a part here. Did Girardi not want to second guess himself and instead go with the conservative move?

Anyway, the reason this is a blunder is because Girardi intentionally put the go-ahead run on base, which is quite simply poor strategy. The advantage gained by bringing in Marte to face Pierzynski was minimal because Pierzynski has been terrible against literally everybody this year. And it’s not like Quentin has been tearing the cover off the ball either (.323 wOBA). There’s no reason to give a poor hitting team like the White Sox free baserunners, especially in the late innings of a one run game.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Biggest Hit: Nick Swisher‘s homer

Despite the hole created by Vazquez, the Yankee offense continued to wear down John Danks, sending him to the showers after five innings and 118 pitches thrown. He faced 23 total batters, but 19 (!) of them saw at least four pitches in their plate appearances and 16 (!!!) saw at least five pitches. Yankee batters fouled off a ridiculous 26 pitches when Chicago’s starter was on the mound.

So after all that work, Linebrink found himself pitching with a three run lead to start the 6th. Marcus Thames, Curtis Granderson, and Brett Gardner slapped three consecutive singles with one out to trim the lead to two, and Derek Jeter plated another run with a ground out to third.

With the tying run on second, Swisher came to plate after breaking an 0-for-11 skid with a well-placed groundball single an inning earlier. After Linebrink missed well off the plate with a changeup, Swish jumped all over a 92 mph hitmeball left out over the plate and sent it into the Yankee bullpen. After being down 5-1 earlier in the contest, the Yanks’ rightfielder capped off a four run inning with a two run bomb that gave the Yankees their first lead of the game. The homer bumped the Yanks’ chances of winning from 37.9% to 69.3%, so yeah, it was a biggie.

Biggest Out: Swisher’s double play

Swisher giveth, and Swisher taketh away. Three innings before giving the Yankees the lead with the above-mentioned homer, Swish faced a two on, no out situation with a chance to get his team back into it while Vazquez was tossing up a nice picket fence (one run in the 1st, one run in the second, one run in the third). Of course he worked the count full, it’s what he does, but Danks pulled the string on a 3-2 changeup when Swish was looking fastball. The result was a tailor made 5-4-3 double play that killed the rally before it even had a chance to start.

Oy Vey Javy

A fourth-inning sight all too familiar to Yankee fans. AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

There’s no getting around it now. Vazquez isn’t just the weak link in the rotation, he’s the weak link on the 25-man roster. No one expected him to repeat last season’s ace-like performance, but we all figured that he would be a league average pitcher that gave the team bulk innings from the back of the rotation. After five abysmal starts in as many chances, all Vazquez has done is approximate what some Triple-A scrub could have accomplished. Not even a AAAA player, a AAAer.

Javy recorded just nine outs on Saturday, allowing eleven men to reach base (seven hits, four walks) and giving up three homers, two to Andruw Jones and one to Zombie Mark Kotsay. Just 46 of his 83 pitches found the strike zone, and only 29 of those pitches were fastballs. Vazquez threw just 18 fastballs for strikes all afternoon. Eighteen. That’s a completely unacceptable number, especially against a team as offensively challenged as the White Sox (.313 team wOBA).

I don’t know what the problem is, and I’m not going to pretend to make an educated guess. Vazquez’s next start lines up perfectly with Thursday’s off day, and at this point I can’t see how the Yanks wouldn’t skip his turn. Not only would it keep him away from the Red Sox next weekend, but it’ll also give him a chance to catch his breath and try to get back on track. The Yankees are 1-4 when Javy starts and 14-4 when anyone else does, so they’re no desperation yet. Progress would be nice, though.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Down goes Granderson

The loss is a loss, one of about 65 the Yankees will suffer this season, but the big blow is the injury to centerfielder Curtis Granderson. While rounded second when going first to third on a single in the 6th inning, Grandy came up lame and limped into third. He was immediately removed from the game and eventually found his way into the Carl Pavano Memorial MRI tube (/GAKIII’d). The results are not good – he has a Grade II strain of his left groin, and has already been placed on the disabled list.

In the best case scenario, he’ll miss 2-4 weeks, but it could easily be longer. Like obliques, groin injuries can linger if not taken care of properly, and the last thing the Yankees need is to have this hampering Granderson all season. I’ll be stunned if we see him before June.

Annoying Moments

Too many to count, really. Granderson’s injury created some lineup havoc, which led to the Yankees losing their designated hitter late. Joe Girardi micromanaged the living daylights out of this game, which is annoying enough, but that decision to pinch run Ramiro Pena for Alex Rodriguez in the 9th is almost comical. You’re gaining about half a step total going from first to home on a sprint, and it left no one on the bench should the pitcher’s spot come up in a 9th inning rally (unless Girardi was willing to burn Frankie Cervelli with Posada’s recent knee issue). It struck me as a completely unnecessary move that was made only for the sake of making a move. “Hey look! See, I’m trying…”

It would also be nice if Joba wasn’t just relegated to the 8th inning. A few four or five out outings won’t kill him.

Also, what kind of crap was that with Ozzie Guillen making Javy change his glove? You know he only did it to get in his head. Eh, whatever. I guess Ozzie has to do whatever he can to get his team out of last place.

Happy Moments

As frustrating as this game was, it was good to see the team fight back after falling into that big early hole. Their M.O. last season was to battle right down to last at-bat, and so far this year’s club has shown that same resiliency. Vazquez was awful, but his teammates picked him up and got him off the hook.

Watching Jorge Posada start to walk back to dugout on what should have been strike three but was called ball three was good for a laugh, though he did end up striking out on the very next pitch. That about sums it up.

WPA Graph

So close … yet so far. You can find individual player breakdowns at FanGraphs’ box score.

Up Next

Tomorrow’s rubber game features Phil Hughes and Mark Buehrle in another matinee, 1:05pm ET.