Game Four: Javy Returns

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP

The season is just three games old, but the Yankees’ new additions are already paying huge dividends. Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson have driven in the go-ahead runs in the team’s two wins, albeit with methods found on opposite ends of the offensive spectrum, and Chan Ho Park delivered three shutout innings of work Wednesday night.  The team’s’ fourth big offseason pickup will take the field tonight, when new-old Yankee Javy Vazquez takes the mound in Tampa for his first start of the season.

As Joe reminded us this morning, Javy’s first first start in pinstripes went as well as possible. Six years later, the Yankees hope from more of the same from the guy no longer being counted on as a front-end arm, but a back-of-the-rotation workhorse who only has to soak up innings and keep the team in the game. This older and wiser version of Vazquez is more than qualified to do just that, but for now he just has to go out and prove his inability to handle New York is nothing more than narrative.

With another lefty on the mound tonight, Joe Girardi goes with the same lineup that faced Jon Lester on Tuesday. That means Marcus Thames in left and Granderson in the nine-hole. Of course, David Price has a long way to go before he’s in Lester’s class, but he’s got just as much talent and is capable of going into Beast Mode on any given day.

Will Nick Johnson get his first hit of the year? Will Mark Teixeira? Will Derek Jeter hit a ball in the air? Answers to all that and more, tonight in Tampa.

Jeter, SS
Johnson, DH
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Swisher, RF
Thames, LF
Granderson, CF

And on the mound, the best fourth starter in the business, Javy Vazquez.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy the game.

Looking at Granderson’s new stance

Later tonight, the Yankees will trot out their lineup heavy on right-handed bats vs. Tampa’s David Price. Robinson Cano and Nick Johnson, two lefties who can handle southpaws will play, but Marcus Thames will sub for Brett Gardner. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the order will be Curtis Granderson, the Yanks’ center fielder who struggles against lefties. For the last few seasons, Granderson hasn’t done well against lefties, and today, Moshe Mandel at The Yankee U posits that this trend could change. Granderson, he discovered had adjusted where he positions his hands, and a few scouts think this new handset will prevent him from flying open against lefties. As the game unfolds tonight, keep an eye on Granderson’s ABs against Price. Perhaps there’s something to this after all.

Addendum: In other Curtis Granderson news, after the home run against Jonathan Papelbon on Wednesday night, John Sterling apparently started singing “The Grandy Man Can” to the tune of “The Candy Man Can” from the original movie version of Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. The good folks at It Is High, It Is Far, It Is….Caught captured this one and juxtaposed it with Sammy Davis Jr.’s version of the song. It’s a must-listen 45-second clip.

RAB Live Chat

Make sure you scroll down for some non-chat content.

Link Dump: Mo on West, The Nicks, Opening Day

A few links to keep chatters and non-chatters occupied for a bit this afternoon.

Bernie throwing out first pitch at home opener

After a rocky relationship with the Yankees in the first few years of his non-retirement, Bernie Williams has been around plenty over the past year or so. He’ll make another big appearance this year, throwing out the first pitch of the home opener, when the Yankees will hand out their World Series rings. Nice that Matsui will be in the house for the ceremony.

For those planning to attend, gates will open at 11, the ceremony will start at 12:15. Kristin Chenoweth, of The West Wing and other shows I’m not nearly as interested in, will sing the national anthem. You might not be able to see her from the upper deck.

Mo on West: “What does he want us to do, swing at balls?”

Few were pleased with Joe West’s comments about the pace of Yankees-Red Sox games. Count Mariano Rivera among them. In addition to the above quote, Mo laid down the law for West. “He has a job to do. He should do his job.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. He also notes that no, the players don’t particularly want to play four-hour games, but they’d rather take their time and get it right than rush and play sloppy baseball.

The Nicks slow down the game

Perhaps West should have focused his criticism on Nick Swisher and Nick Johnson specifically. Boston pitchers threw 506 pithes, and the Nicks saw 130 of them. As Joel Sherman notes, that’s 22.2 percent of the lineup seeing 25.7 percent of the pitches. In a lineup rife with patient hitters, that’s no small feat.

Indians in the East

Here’s an odd line from Peter Barzilai at USA Today. “[Rockies GM Dan] O’Dowd cringes as thinks back to realignment talks in the early 1990s when Indians owner Dick Jacobs discussed the possibility of playing in the AL East.” Uh, the Indians did play in the AL East in the early 1990s. It wasn’t until MLB changed the division format in the mid-90s that the Indians moved to the central. It’s clear that Barzilai refers to the possibility of the Indians staying in the East, but the phrasing is strange.

It would have been an odd trade-off for the Indians. They would have faced stiffer competition in the East, but would have benefitted by having the Yankees and Red Sox visit more often. It all worked out for the Indians, though, who won the Central from 1995 through 1999 and came within an two outs of winning the World Series.

Largest contracts by service time

At MLBTR, Mike takes a look at players who signed the biggest contracts at each level of service. While the Yankees have the highest paid position players in the five to six and six-plus categories, as well as the highest paid pitcher in the six-plus category, they haven’t handed out the largest contracts to players with little service time. It’s part of the Yankee advantage. They can afford to go year-to-year with most players, knowing they can afford the eventual free agent contract. Other teams don’t have that luxury, so they try to lock up their players to extensions.

Remembering Javy’s first first start as a Yankee

Tonight Javy Vazquez makes his Yankees debut against the Tampa Bay Rays. Only, it isn’t really his Yankees debut. That happened six years ago, on April 8, 2004. Though Vazquez was Joe Torre’s No. 3 starter, behind Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown, he didn’t start until the fifth game of the season. That was the year the team played two games against Tampa Bay in Japan. Mussina and Brown pitched those, and then pitched the next two games, played a week later, in Tampa Bay. That set up Vazquez, acquired from the Expos that off-season, to start the home opener against Chicago.

Vazquez delivers in his Yankees debut | Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Vazquez had quite a task on his hands. While the top two hitters in the White Sox lineup, Willie Harris and Jose Valentin, were no great shakes, the middle of their order appeared a powerful bunch. Magglio Ordonez, coming off an All-Star season in 2003, hit third. Behind him was Frank Thomas, who had rebounded in 2003 with a .404 wOBA after two sub-standard seasons. A third straight righty, Carlos Lee, came next. A solid hitter during the first five years of his career, Lee was poised for an even better 2004. Paul Konerko hit sixth, though he wasn’t long for the spot. He had a poor 2003, but was set to rebound in 2004.

(Strangely, after the lefty Harris and switch-hitter Valentin, Ozzie Guillen’s lineup featured seven straight right-handed hitters. Not something you see very often.)

Javy didn’t have any troubles to start. Harris flied out to Matsui in left, Valentin struck out swinging, and Ordonez popped one behind the plate. The Yankees went to work in defense of their new pitcher, scoring two runs in the first thanks to Scott Shoeneweis walking two straight to load the bases. With the lead in hand, Vazquez was in control. He worked around a pair of singles, including one by Thomas, in the second, and then avoided damage after walking the speedy Harris in the third.

A one-out walk to Thomas in the fourth proved costly, as tapper by Lee advanced him to second, and then a Konerko single scored him. That, however, was all the White Sox would manage off Vazquez. He retired the next 13 batters he faced, inducing seven ground balls and two infield pop ups while striking out one. The only batter to come close to another hit was Konerko, who hit a fly ball deep to center. Bernie tracked it down, though. With a 3-1 lead in hand, thanks to a Jorge Posada solo homer, Mariano Rivera came on to close it, securing a win for Vazquez in his pinstriped debut.

The Yankees could not have asked for more in Vazquez’s first start. He went eight innings, using just 106 pitches to record those 24 outs. Only five White Sox reached safely and only one came around to score. While he struck out only one from the fifth inning on, he struck out four in the first four frames. He also worked quickly, greatly aiding the game’s pace. It finished in just under two and a half hours, a great departure from the three games we saw to open the 2010 season.

Tonight Vazquez will face a lineup perhaps tougher than the 2003 White Sox. The middle of the Rays order — which features Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, and B.J. Upton — figures to be its strongest in years. The top of the order, too, with Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford, could cause problems for Vazquez. I don’t think we can expect anything like the eight innings Javy pitched in his 2004 debut, but I also have faith that he can work through the Rays lineup with minimal damage. I, for one, and pretty psyched to have him back in the rotation.

Some thoughts from Opening Night

Double-A Trenton awaits the pre-game introductions. (Photo Credit: Mike Ashmore)

One night isn’t enough to draw any conclusions from, but the first day of minor league baseball was very good to the Yankees. Here’s some quick thoughts…

  • The organization is clearly trying to avoid putting any undue pressure on Jesus Montero. Despite the fact that he’s the best hitter in the Triple-A Scranton lineup, he batted way down in the order last night, in the six hole. They did this with Austin Jackson last year, and eventually moved him up in the order when he got comfortable and started to produce. Either way, it’s good that they’re taking it easy on him. Being in Triple-A at age-20 is tough enough, he doesn’t need to feel like he has to carry the offense on top of that.
  • Boone Logan‘s hot spring carried over, for at least one game. He struck out four and recorded two more outs on the ground, and threw just four balls in two innings of work. I suspect that f he reasonably approximates this level of performance going forward, he’s going to first guy called up whenever the Yanks need an extra arm, not Mark Melancon.
  • From a fan perspective, it stinks to have Slade Heathcott start the season in Extended Spring Training. Between Andrew Brackman‘s surgery and Gerrit Cole not signing, the last time we got to see a first round pick start their first full season in the organization in a full season league was Ian Kennedy back in 2007. Yikes.
  • Hector Noesi is legit. He battled arm injuries for a few years, but now that he’s finally healthy he’s on his way to being one of the organization’s top pitching prospects. I was surprised when he was added to the 40-man roster after the year, but he’s got a low maintenance delivery and very good command of three pitches (89-91 mph fastball, changeup, curve). High-A Tampa is just a pit stop for him, he should in Double-A Trenton before long, and possibly even Triple-A Scranton at some point.
  • Chris Garcia’s injury is unfortunate, but frankly it’s not totally unexpected. He’s very easy to dream on with his size and power repertoire, but that injury prone label is well deserved. He said it felt serious last night, but hopefully the MRI says something different. I’m not getting my hopes up.
  • This team needs another high upside, high probability prospect in the worst way. I know that’s a lot to ask, but damn, it truly is “Montero and everyone else.” Hopefully Brackman maintains last season’s late success and becomes that guy.

It was a great Opening Night; all four affiliates won convincingly (combined score: 14-2) and the starting pitching was phenomenal (21.2IP, 10 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 17 K). The best part of all? We get to do it all again tonight.

Garcia’s injury casts a cloud over Opening Night

Two links to pass along before we get started. First, Baseball America put together a list of the youngest players in each league, but for whatever reason they forgot about Jesus Montero. His birthday is listed as November 28th, 1989, which should make him the youngest player in the Triple-A International League by more than two months. Further down the ladder you have Manny Banuelos, who is the youngest player in the High-A Florida State League by a good seven months.

Second, Padres executive vice president Paul DePodesta fired off a blog post about losing Chad Huffman on waivers to the Yanks. He throws some praise the player’s way.

And now, what you’ve waited all winter for. As per Opening Day tradition, you get the full lineups…

Triple-A Scranton (1-0 win over Buffalo)
Kevin Russo, 3B: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
Reegie Corona, 2B: 0 for 4, 2 K
Juan Miranda, 1B: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K – he kills this league
David Winfree, RF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – first homer of the season in the farm system
Jon Weber, DH: 1 for 3
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 2B - doubled in his first Triple-A plate appearance
Colin Curtis, LF: 0 for 3, 1 K
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 0 for 3
Greg Golson, CF: 0 for 3
Ivan Nova, SP: 4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 2-4 GB/FB – 34 of 49 pitches were strikes (69.4%) … left the game after a lengthy rain delay … rock solid season debut, if he keeps it up, he’ll be the first guy called up when the big league team needs a starter
Mark Melancon: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 5-0 GB/FB – 16 of 23 pitches were strikes (69.6%) … same as he always was
Boone Logan: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 2-0 GB/FB - 18 of 22 pitches were strikes (81.8%) … damn yo
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0-1 GB/FB – 7 of 12 pitches were strikes (58.3%)

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