After 44 days away from the team because of a knee injury, Alex Rodriguez is back. The Yankees activated their cleanup hitter and third baseman before Sunday’s game, sending Aaron Laffey to Triple-A Scranton to make room on the roster. A-Rod is in the lineup this afternoon, and he’s … batting cleanup and playing third base. How about that?
Over the past two seasons, my expectations for A.J. Burnett have slowly diminished. Even on his best days, I find his pitching process torturous. His stuff, which was much better when he was younger, should play better, but his inability to command even his fastball makes for games that slog on. When I watch him on TV, I try to keep myself busy lest I start to find things to throw through the television.
Tonight was A.J. night on my own six-game road trip. It was something I couldn’t avoid, and I was prepared for the worst. I even found myself defending A.J. While walking around Target Field before the game started, I found myself getting defensive as Twins fans dismissed Burnett. “Don’t worry; A.J. sucks,” one fan said to a friend. Now, it might be OK for me to think that about Burnett, but when fans of another team say the same thing about a Yankee, I take it personally. Unfortunately, Burnett’s performance couldn’t settle my silent indignation.
In what was his shortest outing of the season, A.J. Burnett recorded just five outs against a punchless Twins’ lineup. When Joe Girardi pulled an irate A.J. from the game, the right-hander had faced 12 batters and seven of them scored. He walked three, gave up five hits and threw two wild pitches as the Yanks fell by a score of 9-4. With the Red Sox loss in Kansas City, the Yanks maintained their slim half-game lead in the AL East, but the post-game questions focused squarely on A.J. Burnett.
What is an A.J. game with a controversy anyway? This tale begins with a pitch to Joe Mauer that was a close one but called a ball. With two runs in and the Yanks down 4-0, A.J. thew a pitch to Mauer that just missed. Mauer walked, and A.J. was yanked. Eventually, Luis Ayala allowed all three of his inherited runners to score, and the Yanks were down 7-0 against the Twins before the third inning.
The rest of the game was a formality. The Yanks plated a few runs but never had a rally in them. Aaron Laffey made his debut and gave up a pair of runs over three innings of work. He wasn’t particularly impressive against lefties, and he wasn’t particularly awful. As waiver acquisition go, I can’t imagine he’ll be a key part of the Yanks’ October push.
The story that developed during the second inning and after the game though has sparked some debate. When Girardi lifted Burnett, he was caught on camera saying, “This is f**king bulls**t” toward Joe Girardi. Was he talking of his early hook? Of the home plate ump’s strike zone? Burnett left the field and went into the clubhouse, and Joe Girardi followed suit. A few seconds later, both came back out.
During the post-game scrum in the clubhouse, the reporters wanted to know about Burnett, and Joe Girardi didn’t want to talk about it. He grew terse on TV with Jack Curry and wanted no part in this discussion. In fact, he was as angry as he has been during his three years with the team. “I didn’t say anything back to him,” Girardi said. “You can write what you want, you can say what you want, but he was pissed. He thought he struck out Joe Mauer.”
The Mauer at-bat would be the story. Girardi says Burnett was upset about the Mauer at-bat and went into the clubhouse to review the video. The manager and his mercurial right-hander did not exchange words in the recesses of Target Field, and the two professed their admiration for each other. “Me and AJ have mutual respect for each other,” Girardi said. “I cheer for this guy, he cheers for me and we cheer for the team.”
Burnett echoed Girardi’s explanation, and Russell Martin did too. The Yanks’ catcher said he told the departing pitcher that the Mauer pitch was a good one. Burnett reacted to Martin’s statement with anger because he wanted to have a better outing. Frustration, though, was the word of the day. Girardi was frustrated with something — the reporters grilling him, his right-hander who is now 9-10 with a 4.96 ERA, the pitch to Mauer — and Burnett too was frustrated. Whether it was with Girardi or the strike zone or his inability to harness his stuff, it doesn’t really matter.
For now, the bigger concerns are about A.J.’s role in the rotation. He will pitch on Friday against the Orioles, Girardi said tonight. The club will stick with the six-man rotation through next weekend as they need a sixth starter for the double header. Still, the Yanks’ manager wants to see something better from A.J. “We need him to pitch like he’s capable of pitching,” he said. “The last few starts he has struggled but we have to get him back on track.”
After that, though, it’s anyone’s guess. A few weeks ago, Brian Cashman told everyone to smoke “the objective pipe” when it comes to Burnett, but even objectively, he isn’t pitching like one of the top five hurlers on the Yankees. His numbers are in fact worse at this point this year than they were last year. He is, however, one of the top five most highly paid pitchers on the club, and that contract seems to loom large. No one wants a $16.5 million long man in the bullpen who doesn’t hold the faith of his manager and pitching coach.
For now, Burnett got a vote of confidence from his manager tonight, albeit a lukewarm one, and the Yanks will send A.J. out there every five days. “When you’re struggling,” Girardi said, “the only thing you can do is keeping working. It’s not like there’s some magical potion you can take.”
Sorry folks, but I only have time for bullet points this weekend…
- Triple-A Scranton (win). Jesus Montero had a hit, and Jorge Vazquez had three. One was a double, one went over the fence. D.J. Mitchell threw six strong innings, allowing two runs.
- Double-A Trenton Game One (win). Corban Joseph had two singles, Zoilo Almonte doubled once, and Yadil Mujica doubled twice. Jeff Marquez allowed two runs in six innings in his latest rehab start.
- Double-A Trenton Game Two is still being played. Here’s the box score.
- High-A Tampa (win). Abe Almonte and Ronnier Mustelier (can we can just call him Ronnie?) each had two hits and one of Ronnie’s was a double. DeAngelo Mack had three hits including a homer. Brett Marshall gave up two runs in five innings and Dan Burawa chipped in two scoreless.
- Low-A Charleston (loss). Ramon Flores went hitless, but Kelvin DeLeon doubled. Shane Greene got rocked, six runs in seven innings rocked.
- Short Season Staten Island (loss). Mason Williams (one double) and Ben Gamel (two doubles) both had a pair of hits, but no one else in the lineup did anything of note. John Brebbia and Branden Pinder combined to throw three perfect innings to highlight the pitching staff.
- Rookie GCL Yankees (loss). Claudio Custodio, Isaias Tejeda, and Matt Duran all had two hits, and one of Duran’s was a double. Dante Bichette Jr., took a rare 0-for-5. Reynaldo Polanco allowed two homers (three runs) in two innings, and Mark Prior struck out a pair of batters in a perfect inning of relief.
Man, I despise weekend night games. They just feel so unnatural, almost like it’s a weekday, and that sucks. Anyway, here’s the lineup…
A.J. Burnett, SP
First pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm ET and can be seen on YES locally or MLB Network nationally.
Alex Rodriguez Update: A-Rod ran the bases, did the whole workout routine today, but he obviously has not been activated. Joe Girardi said it’s “very possible” that Alex will play tomorrow, but he wants to see how he feels when he shows up to the park first. The Yankees are off on Monday, I’m guessing they’ll wait until Tuesday to activate him.
Over the course of the season, we’ve seen that this Yankees team really has strong components, even if they don’t all work at the same time. They pitch pretty damn well, they hit just fine, they’re pretty strong defensively, and they have an amazing bullpen. And while the stats may back this up, what’s more important is that the Yankees have players that embody the concepts that make a team great. You can have a great FIP or wOBA, but who cares if your team isn’t filled with true ballplayers? Let’s break down the team and make sure that, along with the best run differential, the third best bullpen ERA, and the sixth best ERA as a team, the Yankees know how to play baseball.
A Team Leader
One of the most important parts of a team is having a leader that can accurately explain what your team is going through at any given time, push their own problems and accomplishments by the wayside, and really encompass what a team is all about. Luckily, the Yankees have been gifted in this area of team chemistry for a long time with Derek Jeter at the helm. Three thousand hits? Winning is more important. Horrible, ground ball-induced slump? Small stance changes. Red-hot streak? Trying to help the team. Even before his anointment as captain in 2003, Jeter has always lead the team. The other important thing is that Jeter bats leadoff. The only places a true leader can bat are leadoff and cleanup, which helps noble fans distinguish who is a real leader and who is faking it. You don’t want to be mislead by fake leaders such as Jason Varitek (bats 8th) or Chipper Jones (bats sixth). But Derek Jeter and Dustin Pedroia….those players can really carry a team to victory.
A Professional Hitter
Sure, some hitters can get on base, hit homers, see a lot of pitches or take walks. Sure, some hitters can spray hits everywhere or beat out infield singles. While these are moderately important traits for a hitter, the most important tool is the professional at-bat. You want a guy who goes up there, spits on his hands, kicks the dirt, and really gets into a batting stance. In that case, there’s only one player that really qualifies: Andruw Jones. You can tell, from his massive biceps to his amused smile, that he knows how to hit. He goes up there with his doctorate degree in “sitting dead-red,” and he swings the bat. And he really swings the bat! He is never cheated out of hits, which is one of the most important parts of being a professional hitter. Also, only a man who truly knew how to swing the bat could do this. I don’t see Brett Gardner putting homers in the third deck, all right?
A Proven Veteran
Six hundred plate appearances is a lot. That’s a lot of time to practice something you have to be good at. Multiply that by ten or fifteen years, and you’re talking about thousands and thousands of plate appearances. While some people might just have a knack for baseball the minute they hit the bigs, the more important thing is having a player who’s had more plate appearances than you can even count. You don’t even have to hit in most of them. The experience is all that counts, and the Yankees have plenty of experience. The most experienced member of the Yankees? Jorge Posada.
I’m not talking about this in number of actual plate appearances, even if he has the most (I’m not checking because this article isn’t about numbers), but in the way Posada has had almost an unfair amount of experience at the plate. Blowouts both ways, playoffs galore, every possible situation leverage-wise that you could think of – the man’s done it all in style. He’s the kind of guy who can share his knowledge on how to get hits in the clutch with the young core of the team. It’s insane to think he might be cut or left off the playoff roster. A resume like Posada’s is a necessity.
A Gritty Grinder
You know what’s coming with this one, right? In every baseball game, there are times where nothing is more important than hustle and grit. A player with a lot of grit can make close plays, dive headfirst into first base, and isn’t afraid to get their uniform dirty with a steal. A grinder goes out there and plays every day, every inning, every at-bat as hard as they can, with an almost indescribable amount of ferocity.
It’s true that no player on the Yankees can match up to the absolute grittiness of Dustin Pedroia. There is no one better than him at playing every inning as hard as he can. Even those jumps before each play – what does that say about him? He’s ready. He’s ready for the line drive that jumps up on him, the diving catch and the dramatic double-play. There is no one in the history of baseball more ready than Pedroia.
That being said, the Yankees will have to settle for a fairly gritty man themselves: Brett Gardner. Even though his outfield station takes away from some of his grittiness, the way he plays practically makes it all back. Gardner makes every play interesting, from his on-the-run catches to his crazy dives. His real hustle, however, comes from the basepaths. THere is something to be said for the way he busts his ass to first base. There is even more to be said about his constant first base sliding. Why, only a person who really knew how to play the game would dive into first base. Additional speed? Momentum? Pfft! These are all things Gardner knows are less important than his incredible grittiness. His dirty uniform says it all: I move. I move fast. I play every inning as hard as I can. I am truly gritty.
I’m glad to see that this team has just as much (if not more) heart and soul than it has power numbers. From Posada’s sagedom to Jones’ at bats and Gardner’s hustle, there’s nothing we have to worry about in terms of the product on the field. Sure you could talk about the numbers – Granderson’s home runs, Cano’s batting average- but anyone could do that stuff. What’s valuable is our team plays the game the right way – and they certainly do.
Via Susan Slusser, the Yankees have scouted Rich Harden’s last two starts, as have a number of other clubs. The 29-year-old struck out eleven Blue Jays in seven two-hit innings last night, easily his best start of the season. Oakland already placed him on trade waivers earlier this week, and we know the Yankees have been aggressively blocking starting pitchers. The Red Sox almost acquired Harden at the deadline before he flunked his medicals, so that’s a serious red flag. Joe wrote all about the right-hander before the trade deadline, and I think this might be due diligence more than sincere interest.
Despite being the payroll champions of baseball, the Yankees have turned to the waiver wire for a pair of pickups in the last week. First they claimed lefty reliever Raul Valdes off waivers from the Cardinals, then they claimed fellow lefty reliever Aaron Laffey off waivers from the Mariners. Two minor moves, certainly, but I think they tell us something about the team’s plans for next month.
The additions mean …
… that Manny Banuelos will not be called up September. A call-up was never really a sure thing to start with, especially given Brian Cashman‘s comments earlier this week. Cashman told Jack Curry yesterday that Laffey will join the big league team today and that Valdes will come up in September to be a third lefty, giving Joe Girardi some “inventory” for matchups in the season’s final month. Banuelos is already at 116 IP on the season (a career high) and doesn’t figure to go much beyond 130-140 IP on the year, so he’d have to work out of the bullpen for the big league team if they were planning to call him up after the season ends. It’s possible they still might, but adding the two southpaws this week makes it seem less likely.
Gus Molina’s DFA’ing means …
… that Jesus Montero will be a September call-up. Molina was the team’s third catcher, the only viable alternative to Montero if the Yankees wanted an extra backstop. Third catchers are a rite of September, they’re always among the first guys called up. It’s very likely that Molina will clear waivers and return to the Yankees, so yeah they probably would still be able to call him up for September, but it seems very unlikely given the way they just took him off the 40-man roster. Rumors of an imminent Montero promotion have been circulating for weeks, and sacrificing Gus’ 40-man spot seems like another indication that the team’s top prospect will be with the big league club in a little less than two weeks.