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?

Game 32: Win or come back in a few hours

Photo Credit: Paul Sancya, AP

Day-night doubleheaders are fun for no one but the fans. I’m sure the players, the coaches, the beat writers, the grounds crew, all those guys probably hate it. I dunno about you, but I have a hard time complaining about watching two Yankees’ games in one day. Well, I guess I could complain if Javy Vazquez gets smacked around again, but I have a feeling plenty of others will pick up my slack.

Greg Golson, not Juan Miranda, is in the house, and there’s apparently a mystery pitcher waiting at the hotel in case they need to add an arm between games. My money’s on Jon Albaladejo. Here’s the lineup…

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

And on the mound, Javier Vazquez.

First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET, and the game can bee seen on YES. Enjoy.

Yanks add Golson, not Miranda

It seems the injury situation has changed the Yankees outlook. Instead of recalling Juan Miranda they’ve added Greg Golson to the roster (via Chad Jennings). I assume Miranda is still with the team, and we might see him activated before the second game. Alex Rodriguez is DHing in the first game, so perhaps they’ll option Kevin Russo after Game 1 in order to summon Miranda before Game 2.

Bullpen may be hurting, but not as badly as last year

For most of the past two weeks we’ve focused on the bullpen. Opposing teams have seemingly hit the Yanks’ relievers well, which induces a sense of angst among the fanbase. The starters have pitched so well, but it seems as though the lead isn’t necessarily safe once a non-Mo, or even at this point non-Joba, reliever enters the game. That’s mostly perception, I think, but there’s no denying the insecurity many of us have with the current bullpen.

Last year the problem was much worse. In 71 April innings the bullpen allowed 55 runs and opponents hit .267/.350/.498. Part of that was the starting pitching (and, really, it was mostly Chien-Ming Wang). The starters had pitched just 126.1 innings in 22 starts. That left more than three innings per game for the bullpen to cover. The bullpen would also find itself short at times because of Wang’s short starts. Still, there was no questioning the faults with the unit. Pitchers like Edwar Ramirez, Jon Albaladejo, and Jose Veras just weren’t getting the job done.

This year things haven’t gone quite bad. The relievers had to cover only 50 innings in April. The starters, even with Javy Vazquez‘s woes, averaged more than 6.1 innings per outing, which placed less pressure on the bullpen. Fewer appearances meant fewer runs, too, as the bullpen allowed just 24 in those 50 innings, holding opponents to a .237/.312/.366 line. True, there were some troubling performances mixed in there, but overall the situation didn’t look as bad as April 2009.

As we saw last year, the Yankees can rebuild the bullpen on the fly. They added David Robertson, Al Aceves, and Phil Hughes to solidify the unit last year. This year they’re already ahead of the game. Job Chamberlain already performs Phil Hughes’s job, so there’s no need to find a setup man mid-season. That leaves a few spots to fill in middle relief. I think that, after what we saw last year, the Yanks can certainly find the right guys for the job.

Al Aceves might be out for a while, but Chan Ho Park is on his way back. David Robertson might be struggling, but if those woes continue the Yanks can try out a number of arms in the minors, including Romulo Sanchez, who pitched very well in relief of A.J. Burnett on Sunday night. Boone Logan might be terrible, but he has options. Damaso Marte might keep me on the edge of my seat, but he’s still been mostly good (though he could cut down on the walks). And, like Aceves last year, maybe Sergio Mitre can find success as a short reliever as well as a mop-up guy.

If last year taught me anything, it was to not panic over early-season bullpen woes. There’s no guarantee that the team can correct the problem — and really, it hasn’t been a huge problem lately. But I think this current front office has proven that it is willing to make changes to the bullpen when necessary.

Plus, if the starters keep pitching well, the bullpen will play a lesser and lesser role, anyway.

Remembering the Kid in his prime

Ken Griffey scores the winning run during the 1995 ALDS. Photo Credit: Paul Sancya, AP

Ken Griffey, Jr. is tired. Despite his and the Mariners’ vehement denials this afternoon, rumors have been swirling this week that the Kid has been sleeping in the clubhouse. After an 0-for-3 tonight in which he saw just 12 pitches, he also appears to be sleeping at the plate and is now batting .200/.264/.225 through 87 plate appearances this year. His days are numbered.

For Yankee fans — this one, in particular — Griffey was a big thorn in the side of the team for the better part of the 1990s until one day, he wasn’t. To start the 2000 season, Griffey woke up in Cincinnati shrouded in irrelevancy, and he hasn’t been the same since. He’ll be toasted by the baseball literati when he retires later this year (or perhaps month), and he’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, untouched by the stain of scandal. But he just missed being the greatest. Those nagging injuries have limited to an average of 102 games a year since leaving Seattle, and today, his 630 home runs are often forgotten.

As Griffey nears the end, I can’t help but think of the days of his torture. In his career, Griffey faced the Yankees 572 times in 133 games and hit .311/.392/.595 with 36 home runs and 102 RBIs. He destroyed the Yankees in the 1995 ALDS when he hit .391/.444/1.043 with 5 home runs in as many games. In many respects, that ALDS was the pinnacle of Griffey’s career. On the grandest stage in baseball, when the Mariners and Seattle as a town needed it most, the Kid came through, and much to my chagrin, he earned that smile.

For Griffey, that series spelled redemption in a personal way too. He absolutely hated the Yankees. His disgust stemmed from an incident when his dad was playing in the Bronx in which Billy Martin would chase children out of the clubhouse, and he always believed that George Steinbrenner did not treat his father well. Griffey got it out on the field and seemingly vowed never to play in New York.

Yet, for all of the Kid’s bluster over the Bronx, Griffey and the Yankees were subject to numerous rumors as the years wore on. After three disappointing years with the Reds, Griffey found himself the object of trade rumors. The Reds wanted more payroll flexibility, and the team explored trading him. Griffey said he would go to the Yankees or the Braves, and Griffey’s grudge, said Jack Curry in 2002, had faded. Bob Nightengale seemed to enjoy dreams of an outfield that would have featured Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui and Ken Griffey, Jr.

But Griff’s next trip to the Bronx wouldn’t come in 2003 via a trade. In fact, Griffey didn’t set foot in Yankee Stadium again until 2008 when he came with the Reds and then later the White Sox. Even in the twilight of his career, he still managed to hit .348/.423/.522 with one final Yankee Stadium home run that year.

This year, the Mariners come to town at the end of June, and Ken Griffey’s place on the team isn’t that secure to expect him to stop by for one final visit to the Bronx. Even if we never see him again with that menacing lefty stance, taking aim at the short right field porch, I’ll always remember the Kid for 1995. It seems like a generation ago that Griffey plagued the Yankees, and his final days on the field are ticking by.

Vech leads Trenton to sixth win in a row

Update (10:36pm): As an astute commenter pointed out, the Sally League transactions say that  Graham Stoneburner has indeed been promoted to Tampa, while Jairo Heredia takes a step back to Charleston.

Josh Schmidt’s first foray into the Triple-A level lasted all of one day. Walt Ibarra’s back off the DL as well.

Triple-A Scranton was rained out. They’re going to play two tomorrow.

Double-A Trenton (2-1 win over New Britain) that’s their sixth win in a row
Justin Christian, LF, Austin Romine, DH & Brandon Laird, 3B: all 0 for 4, 1 K – Romine scored a run … he hasn’t caught in a few days either, I wonder what that’s about
Austin Krum, CF: 2 for 4, 1 CS
David Adams, 2B: 1 for 4, 2 K – still OPS’ing over .900
Dan Brewer, RF: 1 for 3, 1 K
Jose Gil, C & Luis Nunez, SS: both 0 for 3
Marcos Vechionacci, 1B: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI – that’s his third homers of the year, he had two all last year
Jeremy Bleich: 6.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 HB, 8-4 GB/FB – picked a runner off first … that’s his best start since his first one of the season … he needed an outing like this, just to build some confidence
Cory Arbiso: 1.2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 3-0 GB/FB – dude’s allowed three hits in 12.2 IP this year
Grant Duff: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-2 GB/FB

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