Game 122: A-Rod back at DH (and out again in the 4th)

The Yankees got lucky when playing Kansas City this season. Both times they missed facing Zack Greinke. But when they face the Mariners they have drawn Felix Hernandez every time. In both of his previous starts he’s pitched a complete game, striking out 20 total. The Yanks will go in having scored 26 runs in their past three games.

A-Rod returns to the game to DH. Gardner stays in the leadoff spot, because Cervelli’s catching. If Brett picks up a couple of hits tonight I wonder what Girardi will do tomorrow. Would he drop Jorge to 7th to keep Brett atop the lineup?

Lineup:

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

And on the mound, number thirty-four, A.J. Burnett.

Update (8:30 p.m.): In the 4th inning as the clean-up spot in the lineup came up for a second time, the Yankees opted to pinch hit Austin Kearns for Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod had missed three days with a sore calf and did not run hard down to first on a ground ball in the second inning. This is not a good development for the Yankees.

Secondary market again under average for weekend set

The Seattle Mariners, as Cliff Corcoran detailed in his extensively entertaining series preview at the new Pinstriped Bible, aren’t a very good team. The team is 48-73 and have somehow managed to average 3.28 runs scored per game. It is no surprise then that tickets for the weekend are selling at 20 percent below average.

Surprisingly, tonight’s game — the one top-notch pitching match-up that features Felix Hernandez and A.J. Burnett — is the one with the lowest prices. Tomorrow’s game, an afternoon affair on a nice day, is selling strong, but with bad weather moving in on Sunday, the prices dip a bit. With so many New Yorkers out on vacation this week and next and an uninspiring Mariners club in town for some mid-August games, it’s no wonder ticket prices are a bit depressed. As always, grab your seats from RAB Tickets.

It’s about more than just baseball during HOPE Week

AP Photo, Kathy Willens

On Monday, the Yankees announced to their Twitter followers that the next five days would constitute HOPE Week. Called a week-long program that brings to light five remarkable stories intended to inspire individuals into action in their own communities, HOPE Week is about Helping Others Persevere & Excel, and when Vinny Milano saw the Twitter announcement, he immediately knew he had to get involved.

Better known to the Yankee world as Bald Vinny, leader of the Bleacher Creature, Milano fired back a reply to the Yankees. He offered up the his services and those of the Creature loyalists in the right field bleacher. A few days later on Thursday afternoon long after the Yankees had downed the Tigers and the stadium had emptied out, Milano and his friends found themselves back in their customary place conducting a different kind of roll call.

With the help of the Yankees’ staff, Bald Vinny and his crew chanted out the names of the children from The Beautiful People as these kids with special needs played a one-inning game with the Yankees. “The kids were turning around. The parents were turning around,” Vinny said to me. “People were coming up to us to tell us how cool it was.”

For Milano and the Creature, the act was a simple one that meant a lot to these children. “It just seemed like a perfect fit,” he said. “They were playing ball in our house and that’s how we do it at home.”

Daniel Fratto announces the HOPE Week festivities. Credit: AP Photo, Kathy Willens

The Beautiful People is an organization based out of Orange County, New York, that works with children ages 5 to 21. They try to give these kids with special needs — such as one with Spina Bifida or another who needs an oxygen tank at all — the opportunity to play sports just as anyone else would. They started with baseball after founder Peter Ladka got the idea while having a catcher. “I’d been spending some time thinking about how my family and I could give back to the community,” Ladka said. “I just got the idea that there have got to be families out there with kids that don’t get to enjoy that opportunity that I was experiencing.”

Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees joined these children on the field to cheer them on. Each of the players held a sign, and the kids enjoyed an afternoon of play on the most famous baseball field around. “There are very small magical moments,” Ladka said to MLB.com. “It’s not the big things. You see a kid learn how to throw a baseball, or a kid … actually hitting the ball out of the air. It’s little miracles that happen and they’re amazing. Talking about them now, I get emotional, and I’ve seen hundreds.”

For me, sitting at the stadium for the past two games, the moment that struck me came in the fourth inning yesterday when Paul Olden turned over the PA duties to Daniel Fratto. The 16-year-old looks far younger than his years, and he suffers from a severe immune deficiency syndrome that requires him to breathe with the assistance of an oxygen tank. He can’t play in the league and instead serves as The Beautiful People’s public address announcer. Without the nerves one would expect and with the calm of a seasoned veteran, he announced the bottom of the fourth to a crowd of 48,000 Yankee fans, and he was perfect. He could have done the whole game and could very well have a career behind the mic if his health allows him to. “He was outstanding,” Joe Girardi said after the game.

AP Photo, Seth Wenig
Jane Lang and Clipper head to the mound. Credit: AP Photo, Kathy Willens

The Beautiful People are only one of the many groups enjoying the Yanks’ HOPE Week. On Tuesday afternoon, Joe Girardi, Tino Martinez and Joba Chamberlain accompanied Jane Lang, a blind but very devoted Yankee fan, from her home in New Jersey to the stadium where she attends numerous games a season. Lang, born without sight, did not know that home plate was shaped like a home until Girardi explained it to her, and yet, she attends 30 games a season with her guide dog Clipper. She sees the game through crowd reactions, the sounds of the game and John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman. On Wednesday, the club honored Mohamed Kamara, an 18-year-old survivor of the civil war in Sierra Leone who supports his family from abroad and will be attending college in the fall. Meeting him and hearing his story, said Curtis Granderson, was “humbling.” Today, two sisters who were homeless until they were 16 yet never wavered in their commitment to academics are getting the full Yankee treatment.

For the Yankee players and the organization, this isn’t a one-off week. The team is devoted to this effort, and those who see it in action says this true commitment shines through. “One thing that amazed me was that a lot of the other players participated,” Jay Gordon who joined the Bleacher Creature yesterday said. “The three guys who were on the field the longest were Andy Pettitte, who was there the whole time, Burnett who I don’t think ever left, and Joba who was basically all over the place.”

Even as HOPE Week fades, the Yanks’ good deeds remain throughout the year. It truly transcends baseball rivalries and shows what happens when our heroes who play a game for a living devote their energies toward giving back.

AP Photo, Kathy Willens

RAB Live Chat

Hughes goes with ol’ No. 1, and it works

If Phil Hughes is going to develop into an ace, or even a No. 2 starter, he will have to further develop his secondary pitches. Last year, pitching out of the bullpen, he could survive mostly with his fastball and his cutter, since he’d face so few hitters. But when facing a lineup three or four times he’ll need another pitch or two, preferably off-speed, that will prevent hitters from timing his fastball.

Hughes does have an advantage here. His fastball can stymie major league hitters and his cutter has turned into an above average pitch, so he can still attack opposing hitters with effective pitches while he gets a better feel for his curveball and changeup. Sometimes that backfires and hitters get a feel for the fastballs, but for the most part Hughes has been able to avoid major trouble. This was the case yesterday.

In June and July we started to see Hughes employ the curveball more often, but he has laid off it a bit in his last two starts. Yesterday he threw it just 10 times out of 84 pitches, and four of those came in the first inning. One of them, of course, was Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer, the only damage the Tigers inflicted off Hughes. One of the others was Will Rhyme’s single. In other words, half the time he threw it in the first he got beat. Yet he still went back to it six more times in the next five innings.

While it might seem like the first inning results might have caused Hughes to shy away from the curveball later in the game, that might not have been the case. Sure, there’s a chance that he lost confidence after giving up a base hit and a homer, but there was something else at play yesterday. Of those 84 pitches, 57 were four-seam fastballs. Why so many fastballs? It was the same reason he leaned on the pitch so much earlier in the season. Opposing hitters just couldn’t do anything with it.

Hughes threw the four-seamer for strikes, 39 out of 57, which certainly helps. What helps more is the rate at which Tigers hitters swing and missed. Nine times they couldn’t even make contact with his fastball. That helped Hughes along to six strikeouts, the most he’s had in a start all month. The fastball it self, according to PitchFX, didn’t look too out of the ordinary. It averaged 91.36 mph, which is a bit below the season average of 92.5, and it had a 9.85 inch vertical break, which is right at his season average of 9.9. The horizontal break was a bit more pronounced, -6.93 inches compared to a season average of -5.7, so maybe there’s something there. Though, as we learned in a few Burnett starts, more horizontal break is not necessarily a good thing. (E.g., it could mean the ball is tailing.)

The Tigers’ lackluster offense certainly helped out Hughes, as the only player who hurt him was an MVP candidate. But that shouldn’t take away from his start, which can’t be classified as anything but excellent. Miguel Cabrera will hit homers, and apparently he really likes hitting them against the Yankees. Hughes not only kept down the rest of the Tigers hitters, but he also did it in an increasingly efficient manner, using just 40 pitches in his final four innings after using 44 in the first two.

At a time when he’s pitching more innings than he has in four years — and he’s even approaching that old benchmark — Hughes has continued to impress. He’s not mowing down hitters like he did earlier in the year, but that’s understandable. He’s still just 24 and is learning how to harness the repertoire that will complement his already excellent fastballs. That gives the Yanks an excellent combination: solid middle of the rotation starter this year, with the chance of an emerging ace next year. If, when the Yankees drafted Hughes in 2004, they were told this was how he’d develop, I don’t think there would have been a single complaint in the room.

Mailbag: Venditte, Draft Contracts, Signing Bonuses

We skipped the mailbag last week, but don’t worry, we’re back in full force today. Among the items on today’s menu is the amazing Pat Venditte, or really the Yankees decision to keep him cooped up in A-ball. There’s also a little draft talk, with an explanation about how those kinds of contracts work. And last, but certainly not least, we play off Mike Ashmore’s latest and greatest to see which Yankee farmhands received the largest signing bonuses, allowing them to live a little more comfortably in the minors.

Steve asks: Pat Venditte continues to have terrific numbers at each minor league level. While the ambidextrous pitcher is a great curiosity there doesn’t seem to be much interest to test him at the next level. He’s now 25 in A+ Tampa, which is on the old side. While it’s been written that the Yankees may not have him projected as a true prospect, somewhere along the line they will need to find out how far he can go. What is the hesitancy at this point?

I think it’s just a matter of the team not believing he’s an actual prospect, so he’s low on the totem pole. Other guys get moved up first because they’re of higher priority, so to speak. There’s no arguing the numbers, obviously, but he’s not the only reliever to perform well in A-ball history. His stuff is better from the right side but still nothing special, and he’s a nice gimmick for minor league teams always looking for funpromotions.

Not to sound harsh, but if it wasn’t for the whole switch-pitcher thing, no one would think twice about Venditte. He is what he is, a 25-year-old senior sign schooling younger batters. Think of it as a redux of Colter Bean or Chris Britton; the guy has such great numbers in the minors and we all want him called up, but when he does we watch him and say “oh … ewww.” Most of the time the Yankees are right about these kinds of guys, with the only obvious exception being John Axford. If they don’t believe Venditte has a future in the big leagues, he probably doesn’t.

Matt asks: Hey, I was wondering what the contract value of a draft pick actually means. When someone says a player signed for five million, is that just the bonus? Also when the details say that someone signed a five year, 9.9 million dollar contact, does that mean that player gets that much money for five years in the minors or is that when he reaches the majors?

It depends on the type of contract. If it’s a minor league deal, which most are, then it’s a straight bonus and the player gets all his money up front. At some point in June, the Yankees handed Cito Culver a check for $954,000, less taxes and what not. That must have been a cool feeling for Cito.

Major league deals are different, but they’re just like free agent contracts. The player receives a signing bonus and an annual salary set forth in the contract. They could receive the bonus up front, or it could be paid out over time. The guaranteed portion of the deal is the bonus and salary, incentives are not guaranteed, obviously.

Since we don’t have the full breakdown of Bryce Harper’s deal just yet, let’s use David Price as an example. He signed a six year deal worth $8.5M guaranteed after being the first overall pick in the 2007 draft, with the majority of that money coming in the form of a $5.6M signing bonus paid out in annual installments from 2007 to 2012. The contract also set his salary each year from 2007 to 2012, both in the majors and minors. The minor league salaries are the guaranteed money he’ll receive no matter what, the big league salaries will push the value of the deal to $11.25M. These deals are rare and are generally reserved for elite prospects, but this is a typical breakdown.

Like I said, the big league deals are the same as free agent contracts. There’s the guaranteed money plus incentives that can be earned on top of that. The only difference is that the player is optioned to the minor leagues for some length of time, and they don’t have the service time to refuse the assignment. For the player, the benefit of a big league deal is he goes right on 40-man roster, theoretically bringing him closer to the bigs, but it also puts the player in the union and gives them those benefits (like better health coverage and miscellaneous royalties).

I wrote this post at MLBTR back in April about the largest major and minor league contracts in draft history, but it obviously doesn’t include this year’s signees.

Tyler asks: Mailbag: Reading Mike Ashmore’s godfather minor league piece, I got to wondering; who are the players in the Yanks organization, not on the 40-man, who have received the largest signing bonus?

I’m sure you’ve seen it, but in case you haven’t, here’s Ashmore’s great article on minor league life that Tyler’s talking about. Don’t miss it, truly great stuff.

I thought this was a pretty neat question, and it was fun researching it. Unsurprisingly, most of the players who received large signing bonuses without going on the 40-man roster are high profile draft picks or international free agent signings. Andrew Brackman‘s $3.35M bonus is the largest the Yanks have ever given a player out of the draft, but of course that was part of a Major League contract. Ian Kennedy’s $2.25M bonus is the second largest overall and the largest they’ve ever handed out in a minor league deal, but he’s no longer in the organization, obviously.

This is the completely unofficial list I came up with. I can’t guarantee its accuracy, I think I got it right. The list is after the jump for space reasons, and I limited it to players who received $500,000 or more.

[Read more…]

Robbie, Phil power Yanks to 11-5 win

Before the Tigers came to town, the Yanks had been scuffling through August, and even after Monday’s tough loss, the Bombers’ fearsome offense had managed just one run over its previous 18 innings. Bad pitching though is the cure for what ails you, and powered by a Derek Jeter triple and a Robinson Cano home run, the Yanks sent 13 hitters to the plate in the sixth inning en route to an 11-5 blowout win. Over their last three games, the team has scored 26 runs or as many as they had plated in their eight prior contests.

Phil’s early troubles and late domination

AP Photo, Kathy Willens

The tale of Thursday afternoon will be about the offense, but Phil Hughes‘ pitching is what stole the show. He didn’t open the game sharp as Will Rhymes knocked a one-out hit, and Miguel Cabrera bombed a 3-2 hanging curve ball into the Yanks’ bullpen. It took him 24 pitches to get through the top of the first, and with the sun pounding down on the stadium, it seemed as though Hughes would not be long for the game. A 20-pitch second inning didn’t help the cause.

But Hughes found his rhythm and his command. After the first nine hitters knocked out seven foul balls with two strikes and after the Tigers had a good look at the Yanks’ youngster, Hughes settled down. He needed just seven pitches to dispatch the top of the Detroit order in the third, 14 in the fourth, 11 in the fifth and just eight in his sixth and final frame. He threw 61 of 84 pitches for strikes with six Ks en route to his 15th win of the year. It was a very solid start for Hughes.

The right-hander’s innings limit came into play this afternoon too. Once the Yankees scored nine runs in the 6th, it seemed a fait accompli that Hughes would see no more action. The score stood at 11-2, and the Yanks had spent 34 minutes at the plate. So Hughes, on a roll through six, would see no more action, and his innings would be saved for another day. It was an obvious and wise decision by the Yanks.

So many runs in the sixth

Robinson Cano, do you know him? Credit: AP Photo, Kathy Willens

As a spectator, innings such as the sixth are a sheer pleasure to watch. Throughout the first third of the game, the Yanks’ bat had been dreadfully silent. Rick Porcello needed just 43 pitches to get through the first three innings, and the Yanks didn’t knock out a hit until Mark Teixera singled in the fourth. Three more hits that inning plated two runs for the Yanks, and with the score knotted at two, Teixeira came to bat to start the sixth. The merry-go-round would not stop for 13 batters.

Walk, double, walk, single, walk, wild pitch, double, ground-out, walk, triple, ground out, home run, walk, ground out. 34 minutes, 13 batters, nine runs, six hits. It was a thing of beauty, capped by an Austin Kearns double, Derek Jeter’s triple off the wall and a towering Robinson Cano home run into Monument Park, his second extra-base hit of the inning.

The Tigers needed four pitchers to get through that mess, each worse than the last, and for the Yankees, it seemed as though the great offensive dam had broken. After nearly a week or just a hit or two with runners in scoring position, the team went 6 for 10 in those situations, and the early August slump seemed to be but a memory. For the Yanks, only Brett Gardner and Ramiro Pena did not get base hits.

A save to end all saves

This actually happened. Photo by Amanda Rykoff

With the score at 11-2 and Phil Hughes in showers, the Yanks handed the ball over to the only reliever who didn’t appear in Wednesday’s game. By hook or by crook, Sergio Mitre would finish up the final three innings of an 11-2 game and finish it he did. I will charitably say that Mitre pitched to the score.

He started his appearance out on a high end, striking out Johnny Damon. Jhonny Peralta, though, took Mitre deep, and while the crowd groaned, I appreciated Mitre’s willingness to throw strikes. After a single and a double though, Sergio needed to do something. Dan Kelly struck out, and then Austin Jackson knocked in a run. After a mound visit from Dave Eiland, Mitre got Will Rhymes to fly-out to end the 7th.

The Tigers plated a run in the top of the 8th to pull with six, but by then, the regulars had long since departed. Miguel Cabrera, Yankee killer, was off for the rest of the day, and a variety of other Tigers popped in for a cameo. Mitre settled down and induced two double plays over the final two frames. It was, as the stadium scoreboard proudly, broadcast his first career save and the Yanks’ 75th win of the season.

The Box Score

Is nice. I like. Fan Graphs/ESPN

Up Next

The Cliff Lee-less Mariners come to town, but they’re coming out with guns blazing tonight. Felix Hernandez, 1-5 but with a minuscule 1.93 ERA since the Infamous Joba Meltdown in Seattle, will face off against A.J. Burnett at 7:05 p.m. King Felix’s last start in New York was a dominant one.