A sense of uneasiness when Marte enters

Photo credit: David J. Phillip/AP

It came as no surprise last night when A.J. Burnett walked out of the dugout at end of the seventh. In the past, it might have been a bit more shocking. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing pitchers exit at around the 100-pitch mark, especially if he’s already completed seven innings. This year, however, it seems that Joe Girardi has become a bit more willing to let his pitchers cross that barrier. All of his starters, save for Vazquez, have started innings at or above 100 pitches.

When Burnett walked Nick Markakis with one out, though, it was clear he would leave the game. At 107 pitches and with his velocity fading — none of the seven fastballs he threw that inning broke 92 mph — the walk represented a logical end point for Burnett’s night. He had the game pretty well at hand, having dominated the Orioles for 7.1 innings, but there was a bit of trouble brewing. The walk brought Matt Wieters, the tying run, to the plate.

After Phil Hughes pitched seven innings on Sunday and CC Sabathia finished eight on Monday, the bullpen was well rested. Only Joba Chamberlain pitched on Tuesday, and only Mark Melancon, since optioned to Scranton, pitched on Sunday. Girardi had his pick of arms to face Wieters, who had homered off Sabathia on Monday. Normally this would have been Chamberlain for certain, but with Mariano resting a sore flank, Girardi wanted to use Joba in the ninth. His choice to face Wieters was lefty Damaso Marte.

When Girardi tapped his left arm on his way to the mound, I experienced a sinking feeling. Burnett had worked so hard, had pitched so well, and had out-dueled Orioles youngster Brian Matusz. If anyone could throw that all away with one pitch, I thought, it was Marte. There was nothing about the matchup with Wieters that made me comfortable. Even though he fares better against righties than lefties, I still would have preferred Al Aceves in that situation.

This runs counter to my initial feelings when the Yankees acquired Marte in 2008. After years of testing out lefty reliever after lefty reliever, it appeared that the Yanks had finally found their man. Though his numbers looked bad after joining the Yankees, much of that came in just one outing, a 40-pitch endeavor that never should have happened. I have no idea why Girardi left him in so long, but he had no business throwing anything past pitch 30. His poor start in 2009 left many Yankees fans sour on him, and even a dominant World Series run didn’t make many people more comfortable with him on the mound.

Marte has done little to quell the uneasy feeling this year. Though he didn’t allow a run of his own until Kendry Morales took him deep on April 25, he had a penchant for letting inherited runners score. In fact, he has allowed half the runners he has inherited to score — and that includes his strand of Markakis last night. In other words, while the Morales homer is the only blemish on his game log, he has still done plenty of damage. Those inherited runners hurt, mainly because Marte’s job usually comprises retiring just one batter.

Last night’s appearance, though, will perhaps make me less uneasy next time Girardi taps his left arm and calls for Marte. After missing with his first pitch he came back with a faster fastball, 92 mph, low in the zone. Count even, he then dropped a slider low and inside, a perfect spot to a righty who doesn’t hit lefties too well. Wieters took it for strike two. Marte came back with a similar pitch, this one a bit more under the hands, and all Wieters could do was foul it off. He didn’t bite on the next slider, which ended up in the dirt. On the last pitch, though, Marte shined. After the pitch in the dirt he elevated a fastball, this one 93 mph, and Wieters took the bait. He swung right under it for strike three.

That, of course, was only the second out of the inning, and with righty Miguel Tejada at the plate Girardi again went to the bullpen, this time to Aceves. And then, as if the baseball gods were telling me that my intuition sucks, Ace came within five or six feet of surrendering a game-tying homer.

I doubt I’ll actually feel less uneasy when Marte next enters a game. He has been shaky enough during his time in pinstripes that we don’t know what to expect. Last night’s batter faced, though, at least gives me a bit more hope. Not only did he do his job, but he did it well. I loved the pitch sequence, loved the location. A few more appearances like that and maybe I won’t curse Girardi for going back to Marte in big spots.

Park close to throwing off a mound

Buried at the bottom of Bryan Hoch’s latest notebook is a note that injured reliever Chan Ho Park is scheduled to throw off a half mound tomorrow, and could possibly throw a full mound session the next day. If all goes well, he should make a few rehab appearances in minor league games next week, which could perhaps have him back with the big league team in time for next weekend’s series against the Twins (my admittedly optimistic timetable).

Yankee relievers not named Mariano Rivera have a 4.53 ERA through 26 games, so CHoP’s return will be welcome. Of course, when your starters pitch as deep into the game as every non-Javy Vazquez Yankee starter has recently, the shaky middle relief becomes less of an issue.

Yanks’ battery leads the way to 4-1 victory

With the Yankees 4-1 win over the Orioles last night they’ve secured yet another series triumph. Their one series loss balances out with their one sweep, meaning that even if they lose tomorrow they’ll still have a .667 win percentage. They do have a good chance to sweep, too, as the pitching matchup favors them. Then again, it seems like the pitching matchup favors them every game these days.

Chalk up this win to Burnett and Cervelli. The former brought his best stuff and flummoxed Orioles hitters for 7.1 innings. The latter not only played some excellent defense, including an incredible catch while falling into the dugout, but also had a 3-3 night at the plate. Even when he made an out it was a sacrifice that led to a run.

Biggest HitBunt: Pena’s sacrifice

In case we haven’t made it lear, we use Win Probability Added (WPA) to determine the biggest moments of the game. You can click on the WPA link to read a full explanation of the stat. If you’re really interested in WPA and its applications, read this thread on The Book Blog. (And if you’re really hardcore, read the comments.) This is a long way of saying that I don’t think Pena was responsible for the biggest WPA swing of the game. He happen to be the guy who got the carousel started, though.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Through four innings Orioles starter Brian Matusz got through the Yankees’ lineup with few troubles. His only earned run came on Francisco Cervelli‘s triple, but even that wasn’t totally his fault. Most of the blame goes to Adam Jones, who dove for a ball that only he thought he could catch. A web gem it was not, and the Yanks took advantage a batter later when Pena grounded one to short. That was in the third. Two innings later, Matusz would again run into the buzzsaw that is the bottom of the Yanks order.

Matusz started the inning in the worst possible way, by walking Brett Gardner. That can cause problems. Cervelli then continued his good luck ways, blooping one into right. With runners on first and second with none out, and with the top of the order due up, sacrificing Pena was a pretty obvious choice. After popping one up and having it roll foul, he successfully laid down a good one. It went to the left side for Matusz to field. What followed made me think of the opening lines of this song. (Pardon the Fred Durst cameo; it was 1998, after all.)

Just as A.J. Burnett had done in the third, Matusz threw it past the second baseman covering first. That was more than enough leeway for Brett Gardner to score, breaking the 1-1 tie. Four batters and two walks later, the Yankees added another run to that tally. It would be enough to topple the Orioles.

Biggest Pitch: Burnett’s blunder

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Through the first two innings it looked like Burnett had stuff that would baffle the Orioles all night long. Garrett Atkins opened the inning with a single, but no problem, right? Burnett has actually been inducing grounders, so the double play was an actual possibility. But instead he walked Rhyne Hughes, bringing up Cesar Izturis in an obvious sacrifice situation. He laid it down and Burnett fielded, but he threw it too far to Cano’s glove side. The ball got past him, which allowed Atkins to score and give the Orioles their first lead of the game.

Though first two batters were reversed (hit-walk for the O’s and walk-hit for the Yanks), the two botched bunt situations were pretty much identical. The 7-8 hitters got on, setting up a sacrifice for the No. 9 guy, with the Nos. 1 and 2 hitters waiting to break open the game. Both pitchers threw the ball away, allowing the lead runner to score. The difference, of course, was that Burnett struck out the next three hitters, while Matusz recorded two outs before walking two straight to force in a run.

The dominance of Allen James

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Heading into last night’s start, we saw a bit of a different look from Burnett. Last year he was a high-strikeout, high-walk, high-flyball guy. This season, however, he’s struck out far fewer batters, just 5.40 per nine, compared to 8.48 per nine last year. His walks, though, are also down, 2.43 per nine to 4.22 last year. Meanwhile, his ground ball rate rose from 42.8 percent to 48.5 percent. It’s still early, and there’s no telling if these peripherals will hold up. Watching him deal, though, it sure looks like he knows what he’s doing.

Burnett allowed just one run last night, though because it scored on an error it was unearned. How a pitcher can skate by with an unearned run on his own error is beyond me, but then again I dislike the entire concept of earned runs. This time, though, he had his strikeout stuff, sitting down eight Orioles. Even better, three of them came with a runner on third and less than two outs. In fact, in every runner on third, less than two outs situation Burnett recorded a strikeout.

As if the return of his strikeouts wasn’t good enough, Burnett also recorded eight outs on the ground. With 7.1 innings pitched, Burnett recorded 22 outs. Sixteen of them were a strikeout or a groundout. There was nothing unimpressive about this start.

Can’t forget Cervelli

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

No one wants Jorge Posada‘s bat out of the lineup. He’s one of the top offensive catchers in the league, one of the few that can hit for power. Thanks to Francisco Cervelli’s torrid start, the Yanks aren’t missing Posada as much as they could. He was one of the heroes last night, involving himself in nearly every scoring situation.

In the third his leadoff triple led to the tying run. In the fifth his single put the Yankees in a favorable position. He even scored the run when A-Rod walked with the bases loaded. Then in the eighth his sacrifice put Brett Gardner on third with one out, which set up the Pena sacrifice fly.

That doesn’t even cover what he did while donning the tools of ignorance. The kid looks like a natural behind the plate. He blocks pitches well, using his glove and chest protector to keep the ball in front of him. He showed excellent tracking skills when he ran down that fly ball that was about to land in the Yankees dugout. There’s not much more you can ask of a backup catcher.

Joys

All accounted for above.

Annoyances

All accounted for above. Which is to say that errant throw in the third, but even that lasted all of a minute. Hard to stay annoyed when Burnett comes back and strikes out the next three guys.

WPA Graph

I would like to take this WPA graph behind the middle school and get it pregnant.

Next Up

It’s a getaway day for the Orioles, as they’ll play a 1 p.m. game tomorrow. David Hernandez against Andy Pettitte. And then the Red Sox.

Romine goes deep again in Trenton loss

Triple-A Scranton (12-4 loss to Norfolk)
Kevin Russo, CF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 2 BB – played center for the first time in his life … there’s no true CF on the roster now that Golson’s in the bigs & Curtis is on the DL, so I guess he’s the guy for the foreseeable future
Reegie Corona, 2B: 1 for 2, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K
Eduardo Nunez, SS, David Winfree, RF & Chad Huffman, LF: all 0 for 4 – Nunez drove in a run & K’ed twice
Juan Miranda, 1B: 0 for 3, 1 K, 1 HB, 1 E (throwing)
Jon Weber, DH: 1 for 4, 1 2B
Robby Hammock, 3B-C: 0 for 2, 1 R, 2 BB
Chad Moeller, C: 1 for 3, 1 R – not sure why he left the game in the 9th … probably just because it was a blowout … if they were going to call him up, he wouldn’t even have played considering the risk of injury
Matt Cusick, 3B:  0 for 1
Zach McAllister: 3 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1-4 GB/FB, 1 E (throwing) – 41 of his 58 pitches were strikes (70.7%) … 28 baserunners (4 HR) & 14 ER allowed in his last 15.1 IP
Amaury Sanit: 2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 3-0 GB/FB – 25 of 37 pitches were strikes (67.6%)
Zack Segovia: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 2-1 GB/FB – 18 of 26 pitches were strikes (69.3%) … three baserunners & zero runs allowed in his last 5.2 IP after putting 19 men on base & allowing ten runs in his previous six innings
Tim Norton: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 12 of his 20 pitches were strikes (60%)

[Read more…]

Game 26: Good A.J., or Bad A.J.?

Photo Credit: Nick Wass, AP

Between Phil Hughes‘ dominance and Javy Vazquez‘s suckiness and Andy Pettitte‘s awesome April and CC Sabathia just being the man, it seems like A.J. Burnett has been the forgotten man in the rotation. Hard to imagine when there’s only six pitchers in the game making more money than him, but that’s what’s going on.

Burnett has been pretty damn good in his first five starts, posting a 2.43 ERA, 3.37 FIP, and 4.33 xFIP in 33.1 innings. His strikeout rate is way down at 5.40 K/9, but so is his walk rate at 2.43 BB/9. Burnett’s ground ball rate is back up to 48.5%, his pre-2009 levels. The strikeouts (and sadly, the walks too) will regress back to the mean and he’ll finish with close to one an inning as he always does, but right now A.J. seems to be flying under the radar.

Here’s the lineup, which will face Brian Matusz and thins about pretty quickly after the five-spot…

Jeter, DH
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Thames, LF
Gardner, CF
Cervelli, C
Pena, SS

And on the mound, Allen James Burnett.

Despite some afternoon drizzle, the weather looks fine for tonight. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET, and will be broadcast on YES. Enjoy the game.

2010 Draft: MLB announces draft coverage

Via Conor Glassey, MLB has announced it’s official plans for coverage of the 2010 Draft. The event will again span three days, from Monday June 7th to Wednesday the 9th, though Day One will only feature the first and supplemental rounds. Day Two will run through round 30, and Day Three will wrap up the remaining 50 rounds. MLB Network will air a draft preview show at 6pm ET on Day One before broadcasting the draft when it starts an hour later. Days Two and Three will not be broadcast on television, but the conference call audio will be available online as always.

Unlike last year, the Yankees are off during Day One of the draft, so we can actually devote our full attention to it.

Record low attendance at last night’s game

Via Ross, last night’s game against the Orioles was seen by just 41,571 fans, a record low for the New Stadium. The rain earlier in the day probably had a little to do with it, and I can’t imagine many Orioles’ fans made the trip up to see their 7-19 club either. The previous low was set last April, when just 42,065 fans watched the Yanks beat the A’s.

Ticket sales for the 2010 season are ahead of last year’s pace, so last night’s game was probably just a blip on the radar.