Bullpens prove the difference in weekend series

The Yankees executed the game plan well this weekend. They continued their penchant for taking pitches, which prevented each Angels’ starter from pitching the seventh inning. They knocked out Ervin Santana and Joel Pineiro after six, and tagged Scott Kazmir during that inning. The overall line for the Angels’ staters didn’t look too pretty:

17.1 IP, 22 H, 14 R, 14 ER, 6 BB, 8 K, 3 HR, 297 pitches (just over 17 per inning)

Photo credit: Christine Cotter/AP

That left the Angels bullpen to cover 9.2 innings during those three days, which usually means success for the Yankees. They take pitches not only to work favorable counts, but also to tire out the starting pitcher. This means more innings for the bullpen, and since most bullpens feature pitchers weaker than the team’s starters the Yankees typically feast. At least, that’s the idea. Over the weekend the Angels’ bullpen pitched very well, allowing just one run in those 9.1 innings. Their final combined line:

9.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 7 K, 0 HR

Even with the five walks the Angels relievers allowed less than a base runner per inning, an excellent feat against a lineup like the Yankees. All three hits came during Saturday’s affair, a game which the Yankees had well at hand before Scot Shields relieved Joel Pineiro to start the seventh. In the two close games, Friday and Sunday, the Angels relievers held the Yankees to no hits and just three walks while striking out five in 6.2 IP.

This stands in contrast to what the Yankees bullpen accomplished over the weekend. While the Angels relievers were busy keeping the Yankees off the base paths, the Yankees relievers proceeded to blow two close games. That’s not an indictment of the entire staff, of course. David Robertson pitched very well in his two-out stint on Friday, retiring both batters he faced. Instead, it was just two relievers who performed poorly for the Yankees, Joba Chamberlain and Damaso Marte.

Photo credit: Chris Carlson/AP

On Friday night Joba opened the inning by allowing a single and a homer. He continued his shakiness, allowing a single and a deep fly ball to the next two batters before settling down a bit and retiring the side on two easy fly balls. On Sunday Marte clearly didn’t have it, as he walked a guy and hit a guy before falling behind on Kendry Morales 3-0. There were plenty of questions to ask afterwards, including why Girardi let Marte throw that pitch to Morales. It was also questionable to remove Aceves after his 1.2 perfect innings. No matter the management, though, those two losses are on the relievers who allowed the runs (though Sunday’s loss is much easier to pin on Vazquez).

Other than those two performances, the Yankees’ bullpen did just as well as its Angels counterpart. Boone Logan, Sergio Mitre, Al Aceves, David Robertson, and Saturday’s Damaso Marte combined for the following line:

5.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K

The Angels just happen to run into a couple of bad performances. On another weekend perhaps the Yanks take better advantage of Fernando Rodney’s wildness, maybe they mount a rally against Brian Fuentes, maybe they can hit Jason Bulger and Scot Shields like the rest of the league has to this point. This weekend, though, the Angels bullpen won. The Yanks bullpen made a valiant effort, but two poor performances from otherwise good relievers were the differences in two games. That will happen.

2010 Draft: Day Two High School Arms

Back before MLB tried to increase interest and monetize it’s amateur draft (there’s nothing wrong with that), the event lasted just two days, with rounds 1-10 coming on the first day. Now it’s spread out over three days, with the first three rounds on the first day, the next 17 the next day, and the final 30 on the third day. Now when you call a player a “Day One” or “Day Two” talent, it’s much easier to pin down what exactly we have on our hands.

The Yankees have done a nice job of grabbing some very talented high school arms in the so-called middle rounds of the draft (a.k.a. Day Two) in recent years. Bryan Mitchell (16th round, 2009) highlights that crop, but it also includes Brett Marshall (6th, 2008) and Dellin Betances (8th, 2006). Obviously none of those guys have yet to pay dividends, but the chances they develop into impact big leaguers far exceeds that of a player normally drafted in those rounds.

Here’s a breakdown of some similar high school arms guys who are expected to come off the board in Day Two …

Photo Credit: BartlettHighSchoolBaseball.com

Taylor Morton, RHP, Bartlett HS (Tenn.)
Morton made a bit of a name for himself during last summer’s Tournament of Stars showcase event by striking out Bryce Harper, but he was an interesting prospect long before that garnered him some attention. Listed at a sturdy 6-foot-2, 190 lbs, Morton sits in the low-90’s with his fastball and has dialed it up as high as 95 on occasion, and there’s reason to believe he’ll add more velocity as he fills out. Unlike most high schoolers, his best secondary pitch is circle change that comes in around the high-70’s and fades away from lefties, and he also offers a loopy low-70’s curveball that he’ll need to tightened up.

Morton’s strength is his strong command, which stems from his athleticism and ability to repeat a sound delivery. He’s unique considering that most prep pitchers have nothing that resembles a changeup when they turn pro, so that hurdle has already been cleared. Given the Yanks historical success with teaching their prospects curveballs, there’s hope for his third pitch. Committed to Tennessee, Morton is expected to hear his named called somewhere in the 5th or 6th round.

Photo Credit: Daniel Boyette, The Press-Register

Daryl Norris, RHP, Fairhope HS (Alabama)
Similar to Brett Marshall, Norris has spent most of his high school career as a shortstop and really didn’t commit to pitching full-time until late in his prep career. He can definitely hit – he launched 13 homers as a junior – but his future is on the mound thanks to a fastball that is buzzing in at 94 this spring and a pair of solid secondary offerings. Both his low-80’s slurve and low-80’s changeup need work, but Norris has demonstrated the ability to spin the ball and should improve with more experience.

One of the best quarterbacks in Alabama throughout his high school career, the 6-foot-1, 210 lb Norris is an outstanding athlete and one of the top two-way recruits in the country. He’s committed to Mississippi State, where he’ll play the field and pitch but not venture out onto the football field, and is considered one of the tougher signs out there this year. The biggest downside is that there’s no projection left in Norris’ frame, so what you see if what you’re going to get. He’s a 6th to 8th round kind of talent.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Evan Rutckyj, LHP, St. Joseph’s HS (Ontario) (video)
First of all, it’s pronounced Root-skee. Secondly, along with fellow lefty Evan Grills of Sinclair HS in Ontario, Rutckyj is arguably the best Canadian pitching prospect available in this draft. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 190 lbs, he brings a 89-90 mph fastball that should gain another foot or so and he fills out and irons out his rough delivery. He also throws a wipeout slider from his low three-quarters arm slot, but his changeup is non-existent at this point.

Like most hosers, Rutckyj is also a hockey player, but he gave it up recently to focus on baseball, where he has more pro potential. There’s considerable upside here given his massive frame and easy velocity, but he’s a project that is going to require a lot of time and a lot of patience. Rutckyj has yet to commit to a college yet, which could mean that he’s eying a JuCo like Jake Eliopoulos, the top Canadian lefty in last year’s class, who declined to sign with the Blue Jays as a second round pick and headed to Chipola College in Florida. Rutckyj is expected to be a 6th or 7th rounder this June.

Photo Credit: RoswellBaseball.or

Andrew Smith, RHP, Roswell HS (Georgia)
Smith is an easy guy to notice on the baseball field because he’s very polished for a high schooler, and because he pitches with a confidence that borders on arrogance. Working primarily with a fastball that registers 89-91 and has touched 93, Smith pounds the zone relentless and works deep into games. He high-70’s curveball is solid but not overwhelming, and he has the makings a nice changeup. The delivery has a little funk to it, something that pro instruction will help clean up.

I’ve generally seen Smith ranked in the 6th to 8th round range, but the scouting report strikes me as someone a little better than that. I love the polish and the the aggressiveness, and you can dream on his 6-foot-2, 180 lb frame. Committed to a major program in UNC, Smith isn’t going to be an easy sign.

Fan Confidence Poll: April 26th, 2010

Record Last Week: 3-3 (36 RS, 20 RA)
Season Record: 12-6 (96 RS, 67 RA, 13-5 Pythag. record), 1.5 games back
Opponents This Week: Monday OFF, @ Baltimore (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. White Sox (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Javy’s struggles continue in loss to Angels

For three innings it looked like Javy Vazquez might grind his way through a decent start. His fastball command wasn’t there yet again, but the Angels didn’t get much off him the first turn through. By the fourth, though, everything caught up with him. He wasn’t throwing many fastballs, he was nibbling with his secondary stuff, and eventually he hung a critical pitch or two. The offense had its own struggles outside of the second inning, but after his fourth straight not-so-good start, Vazquez once again finds himself the center of attention.

Biggest Hit: Jorge avenges Cano

Photo credit: Christine Cotter/AP

Scott Kazmir started the inning with two straight inside fastballs to Robinson Cano, the last of which caught him square on the backside. Two years ago that might have stung a bit more, but now Kazmir tops out at 90. The HBP to Cano crossed at 88. Kazmir went back to his fastball on the first pitch to Posada. This one clocked 89 mph, but more importantly caught all of the plate. Jorge did what any good hitter would do, sending it over the center field fence to give his team a 2-0 lead.

The second was the only good inning the Yankees put together. A batter after Jorge homered, Marcus Thames hit a shin-high changeup to the wall, Granderson sacrificed him to third — and nearly got himself on base — Cervelli walked, and Jeter eventually scored Thames on a fielder’s choice. Those three runs felt big at the time, like they were just the beginning. Kazmir got a handle of the game, though, and wouldn’t score again until the sixth.

Biggest Pitch: Wood gives the Angels the lead

Photo credit: Christine Cotter/AP

Through the first three innings it looked like Vazquez might get through the start without any serious damage. After recording the first out in the fourth, Vazquez allowed a single, hit a batter, and gave up another single. That put the Angels on the board and set them up with runners in first and second with one out. That turned into a bases loaded situation six pitches later, after Vazquez walked Mike Napoli.

The good news: hey, it’s Brandon Wood, and he’s barely hitting .100. The bad news: oh look, hanging curveball. The Vazquez pitch stayed high in the zone, and Wood smacked it to left. Marcus Thames tried to make a play, but just couldn’t get to the ball in time. It fell right in front of him, then got behind him. Two Angels scored, giving them their first lead of the game.

Thames has hit well in his role as lefty masher this year, but he gives bak plenty of that production in the field. This is the second big run-scoring play that Gardner would have fielded. This is why defense matters. If Gardner makes that play, the Angels are held in check and the Yankees leave the inning with a lead. Of course, Thames had scored after a double earlier in the game, so it’s not a universal positive. But Gardner has been far from a liability on offense lately.

Honorable Mention: Morales’s blast

Photo credit: Christine Cotter/AP

There seemed to be a bit of confusion to start Kendry Morales’s at-bat in the seventh. Francisco Cervelli stood up and held out his arm, signaling for an intentional walk. This seemed like an odd maneuver. Morales hit well in the series, but he’s a much weaker hitter from the right side. Runners stood on first and second, so to walk Morales would give the Angels another runner in scoring position.

Apparently Girardi changed his mind after the first ball and let Marte pitch to Morales. That seemed like the right decision. They needed just one more out, and it’s probably not a good idea to walk the bases loaded when it forces two runners ahead. Marte didn’t hold up his end of the bargain, though. After two fastballs outside to put Morales ahead 3-0. The dugout warned Cervelli that Morales will swing 3-0, but he went back to the fastball anyway, this time one in the zone low and away. Morales, guessing fastball all the way, laid into it and crushed it over the center field wall to ice the game.

After the game Girardi said that he screwed up, but I think the only thing he’s guilty of is indecisiveness. I do not, however, think that an intentional walk was the right call.

Vazquez’s issues continue

Photo credit: Christine Cotter/AP

Vazquez threw 78 pitches through 3.2 innings, and only 29 of them were fastballs. This isn’t necessarily a bad strategy, since Vazquez does sport a good secondary repertoire. But it appears that his fastball velocity is a bit down this year, and he clearly isn’t commanding the pitch. Until he works out those issues we’ll just have to hope for non-disastrous starts. I do have confidence that he can find what’s wrong and correct it, as long as that problem doesn’t require medical attention.

His next start doesn’t come until Saturday, so he’ll have a five-day breather between now and then. I doubt he’ll miraculously round into form between starts, but he has to be better than yesterday, right? At least next weekend he won’t have to face Bobby Abreu.

WPA Chart

Ug-lee.

Next Up

The Yanks take tomorrow off to fly back east. They’ll be in Baltimore on Tuesday, with Phil Hughes taking the mound. Kevin Millwood goes for the Orioles.

Nunez & Romine keep on raking

In case you missed it, Chris Garcia had his second Tommy John surgery. Also, scroll down for tonight’s open thread.

Triple-A Scranton (5-4 win over Lehigh Valley)
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 3B, 1 BB, 1 K - just his fourth extra base hit of the year … all the others are doubles
Colin Curtis, RF: 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB
Eduardo Nunez, 3B: 4 for 4, 2 2B, 3 RBI – he’s 16 for his last 33 (.485) with more walks (fours) than strikeouts (one)
Juan Miranda, 1B: 0 for 2, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
David Winfree, LF: 1 for 4, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 4, 2 K - he’s just 2 for his last 19 (.105) … don’t worry, Jesus’ bat with resurrect soon enough
Jon Weber, DH & Reegie Corona, SS: both 0 for 3, 1 BB - Corona scored a run & committed a throwing error
Greg Golson, CF: 0 for 4
Romulo Sanchez: 6 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 2 WP, 7-2 GB/FB – 54 of 88 pitches were strikes (61.4%) … picked an old friend off first … finally brings his season K/BB ratio up over 1.00
Kevin Whelan: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – seven of his ten pitches were strikes
Royce Ring: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K – six of his 11 pitches were strikes
Mark Melancon: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-3 GB/FB – 13 of 17 pitches were strikes (76.5%)
Jon Albaladejo: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 0-2 GB/FB – 12 of 22 pitches were strikes (54.5%)

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Escape from LA Anaheim

Photo Credit: Chris Carlson, AP

Well I’m glad that’s over with. The Yankees don’t have to go back to Anaheim again this season, unless they happen to meet the Angels in the playoffs yet again. I’m not going to complain about a 3-3 west coast road trip, but I’m sure plenty of people will. Next up is a stop at the White House and a date with the 3-16 Orioles. I can’t wait.

Here’s your open thread for the evening. The Mets and Braves are your late ESPN Sunday night game (Pelfrey vs. Hanson), and you’ve also got NBA and NHL playoff action on as well. Talk about whatever your heart desires, just be nice to each other — and Javier Vazquez too.

Garcia undergoes second Tommy John surgery

Via Josh Norris, Chris Garcia had his second Tommy John surgery in four years last Tuesday. He missed the entire 2007 season the first time he had the procedure. Apparently the doctors had a little trouble when they took the replacement ligament from his knee. With any luck, Garcia will be throwing off a mound by Spring Training and ready to return to game action by May.

Whenever the Yankees need a 40-man roster spot this season, the first thing they’ll do is call up Garcia and place him on the 60-day disabled list. There’s no point in doing that now because he’ll accrue service time while on the DL, and there’s no benefit to starting his clock before it’s absolutely necessary.