Montero returns in SWB loss

After more than two full years at Double-A, Josh Schmidt is on his way up to SWB to help out the thin pitching staff. Also, Top Prospect Alert interviewed Corban Joseph.

Triple-A Scranton (10-2 loss to Columbus) they got their first look at an old buddy
Greg Golson, CF, Eduardo Nunez, SS, Juan Miranda, 1B & Jon Weber, DH: all 1 for 4 – Golson drove in a run & K’ed twice … Miranda committed a fielding error … Weber scored a run & K’ed twice
Reegie Corona, 2B: 3 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI – five for his last nine
David Winfree, RF, Jesus Montero, C & Robby Hammock, 3B: all 0 for 4 - Winfree committed a fielding error … Hammock scored a run K’ed twice … in case you missed it, Montero was in fact benched because he didn’t run out a grounder
Chad Huffman, LF: 2 for 4, 1 K
Amaury Sanit: 3 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3-3 GB/FB – 44 of his 65 pitches were strikes (67.7%) … not easy for a career reliever to spot start when the scheduled starter suddenly ends up in the big leagues
Kevin Whelan: 2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 2-3 GB/FB – exactly half of his 52 pitches were strikes … 232-121 K/BB ratio in 196 IP since joining the organization in the Gary Sheffield trade
Josh Schmidt: 3 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HB, 3-4 GB/FB – 35 of 52 pitches were strikes (67.3%) … welcome to AAA
Zack Segovia: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 14 of 23 pitches were strikes (60.9%) … first run allowed since April 20th

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Game 31: Four more on the road

It seems like the Yanks have been constantly on the road so far. That wouldn’t be too inaccurate a feeling, as they’ve played 18 of 30 so far away from Yankee Stadium. That will be 22 out of 34 after this four-game set in Detroit. Thankfully, this means more home baseball during the summer.

The Tigers originally had Dontrelle Willis scheduled to start tonight’s game. He’s had a pretty rough time the past three years, but things started to look up in 2010. He impressed the Tigers brass in spring training and earned a spot in the starting rotation. Through five starts and 29.1 innings so far Willis have been fine for a back-end guy. He has a 4.18 FIP and 4.65 xFIP against a 3.99 ERA, so the Tigers have gotten even more out of him than they could have expected, given his recent troubles.

Aussie-born lefty Brad Thomas will take his place on the hill. Though his name might not sound familiar, he’s no youngster. The Dodgers signed him as an amateur free agent in 1995. Five years later he made his major league debut for the Twins. He then made appearances in 2003 and 2004 before heading to the Red Sox and Mariners as a minor league free agent. The Tigers signed him this past December and put him in the major league bullpen.

This will be Thomas’s second start of the season. The first came in Texas and it didn’t go so well. He allowed eight hits and walked two through three innings, striking out just one. Four Rangers scored in that time, though the Tigers bullpen kept them scoreless and held on to win 8-4. Thomas most recently pitched on May 3, when he held the Twins scoreless in 3.2 innings, walking none and allowing four hits. This is the first time in his career he will face the Yankees.

With Andy Pettitte missing a start, Sergio Mitre gets the call this evening. He’s pitched well so far in mop-up duty this year, though I’m not sure he’s ready to go more than four, five innings. To that end, the Yankees have rookie Ivan Nova on call. We’ll probably see him if the game gets out of hand for either team.

Tonight is the first home game since former Tigers’ broadcaster Ernie Harwell passed away. If you want to read more about Harwell and what he meant to the game, I’d recommend Joe Pos’s take. To honor their long-time broadcaster, the Tigers have invited Jose Feliciano to perform the national anthem. He performed it at Game 5 of the 1968 World Series, which the Tigers won. They eventually won the whole series two games later.

In good news, via Chad Jennings, Chan Ho Park threw a 45-pitch bullpen session and should be ready for an extended spring training assignment. The Yanks could sure use him back in the bullpen. Al Aceves is also feeling better and could caddy for Javier Vazquez tomorrow.

Lineup:

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Marcus Thames, DH
8. Brett Gardner, CF
9. Randy Winn, LF

And on the mound, number forty-five, Sergio Mitre.

Yankees sign Rainiero Coa

Via MLBTR, the Yankees have signed 17-year-old Venezuelan catcher Rainiero Coa. A former shortstop/first baseman, he moved behind the plate and apparently his defense and arm are top notch, which is why the Yanks signed him. You can read more about him here. I’m assuming Coa will spend the summer in the Yanks’ Dominican complex, and if he’s actually a prospect, he’ll come to the States next season.

Montero benched for not running out a ground ball

Our long national nightmare is over. Chad Jennings has confirmed that uberprospect Jesus Montero was pulled from Friday’s game because he didn’t run out a grounder, and was also held out of this weekend’s games for the same reason. He will return to the lineup tonight. There was talk that Montero pulled up lame running to first (implying injury), but reports later indicated that he was seen warming up pitchers in the bullpen. If he was hurt, that never would have been allowed.

Good job by the organization to make sure that didn’t go unpunished. Montero has never experienced failure as a professional player, so it’s good to see them keep him in check. Hopefully this is the last we hear of this.

Yankees call up Ivan Nova, send down Sanchez

Via Donnie Collins, the Yankees have called up Ivan Nova in advance of tonight’s game. With Sergio Mitre and Javy Vazquez set to start the next two games after A.J. Burnett‘s short outing yesterday, the team was in need of a fresh long reliever, which is exactly what Nova is. He had a 3.15 FIP with a 32-12 K/BB ratio in 37 IP, plus a tidy 1.78 GB/FB ratio. I told you everything you need to know about Nova back in December.

Update by Ben (3:40 p.m.): Per Bryan Hoch, Romulo Sanchez is off the Yankee roster. He wouldn’t have been available for a few days anyway following his 52-pitch relief appearance. Of the remaining AAA pitchers on the Yanks’ 40-man, Jonathan Albaladejo now could come up without a corresponding DL move, and Mark Melancon will be eligible to rejoin the Yanks by the end of the week.

Building a better bench

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Even though the Yankees have been dealing with an inordinate amount of injuries over the last week or so, they haven’t missed a beat because of their part-time players. The most obvious example is Frankie Cervelli, who went 9-for-17 with three walks and just one strikeout in five starts while Jorge Posada nursed a sore calf last week, but Randy Winn has also stepped it up with a .400 OBP and one very big homer after Curtis Granderson hit the disabled list. Even Ramiro Pena has chipped in a little with the stick while catching everything hit within a ten foot radius as a spot starter and mid-game replacement.

One of our few mantras here says that it’s tough for the Yankees to build a decent bench because good, versatile players just don’t want to sign here as free agents. Why would Reed Johnson or Mark DeRosa or Jerry Hairston Jr. sign here when they could land similar salaries elsewhere yet be guaranteed more playing time? To have a shot at a championship? Please, they have families to support and having a greater opportunity to play this season will affect future earnings. Can’t blame them for that, we’d all like an early retirement.

That basically leaves the Yankees with three options for building a bench: trade, sign flawed free agents with a limited market, or promote from within. There’s always the Rule 5 Draft, which the Yanks tried this year with Jamie Hoffmann, but very rarely does that route prove fruitful. The Opening Day bench featured two homegrown products in Cervelli and Pena, while Thames and Winn represent those flawed free agents with limited markets. Winn didn’t hit a lick last year and was basically cast as a defensive whiz in the corner outfield spots who can run the bases, while the only thing Thames brings to the table is the ability to hit lefties.

Photo Credit: Winslow Townson, AP

Essentially, in building their bench, the Yankees have taken an approach similar to how they build their bullpen: Have lots of options in the form of cheap and interchangeable pieces. Relief pitchers are the mecca of volatility, but bench players aren’t too far behind. Even Hairston, widely regarded as one of the game’s best bench players, has seen his wOBA fluctuate from .245 to .387 to .312 to .206 in the last four seasons. If a player manages to get 250 plate appearances off the Yankees’ bench, the difference between a .350 OBP and a .300 OBP is thirteen times on base. A little BABIP luck or a few games with a particularly big  strike zone can account for that difference over a 162 game season. It’s all about sample size; the less a player players, the less predictable their performance is, so why pay big for that unpredictability?

Granted, Winn isn’t exactly buying store brand groceries with his $1.1M salary, but he’s still cheap. Thames is making just $900,000, the two kids are basically at the minimum. That’s a four man bench for less than $3M, with other minimum wage players like Greg Golson, Kevin Russo, Juan Miranda, and Eduardo Nuñez just a phone call away. All of the recent injuries have given the team a chance to see what they have in-house, and if they don’t like what they see, they can go out an make some small moves at the trade deadline to shore things up, just like they did last season. Bench players — especially for a team like the Yankees, who are basically set at all eight positions — are the opposite of critical.

Despite losing their starting centerfielder, starting catcher, starting second basemen, and primary designated hitter for various lengths of time in May, the team ripped off a six game winning streak and has outscored their opponents 60-35 this month. Of course starting pitching has a lot to do with that, but the bench players have stepped right in and done the job. Considering how volatile those part-time players can be, it just makes sense to build a bench on the cheap and have lots of options.

Yanks have few options for long reliever

The Yankees have two questionable pitchers scheduled for the next few games. Sergio Mitre hasn’t started a game since last year, and while he has looked mostly good in his 9.2 innings this year, he might not be long for the game. Even if he pitches well he has to deal with the fatigue factor, significant because he hasn’t pitched more than three innings since spring training. He appeared to tire late in his last appearance against Baltimore, leaving two sinkers up in the zone to the final batter, Ty Wigginton, who deposited the final one in the seats.

Then comes Javier Vazquez, who will make his first start since May 1 on Tuesday. He has yet to clear 5.2 innings this season, and even in his best start, a six-strikeout performances against the A’s on April 20, he left plenty of outs for the bullpen to cover. Maybe the layoff has afforded him the time he needed to rediscover his fastball command, but the Yanks can’t quite bank on that. They must prepare themselves for two consecutive short starts, just in case the worst case scenario becomes reality.

Photo credit: Henry Ray Abrams/AP

Under normal circumstances, the Yankees would have the situation covered. Al Aceves could pick up in long relief of Mitre tonight, and they could piece together a few appearances tomorrow if Vazquez continues to struggle. Romulo Sanchez then might be available on Wednesday to provide relief if the need arises. But with Aceves nursing a back injury sustained while pitching Saturday, the Yanks might have to look elsewhere for long relief. It would be one thing if this were an isolated injury. Aceves, however, has been battling back issues since the middle of last season.

As Marc Carig reports, Aceves might be ready to pitch in relief this evening. He woke up on Sunday feeling better, and with another day’s rest might be back in form. Given his recent history of back troubles, though, I bet the Yankees would love to give him another day off. That way he could still play caddy to Vazquez if needed. The team would still prefer to have a long reliever tonight, in case Mitre fades early or proves ineffective. No one currently in the bullpen appears particularly qualified for the role. Joe Girardi didn’t reveal much when asked about the possibility, but given the current roster construction it’s a strong possibility.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Who would they recall from Scranton, though? Mark Melancon would normally be a primary option, but today is only the seventh day after the Yankees optioned him. He’ll have to spend 10 days in the minors before they can recall him, unless they place someone on the DL. Since the Yankees will almost certainly recall someone from the 40-man roster, they’re left with just a few options. In fact, given the pitchers on the 40-man, they have just two.

First is a familiar name, Jon Albaladejo. He made a name for himself early in spring training by getting lit up nearly every time out. In 14 appearances for Scranton he’s pitched fairly well, allowing just three runs. Encouragingly, he has struck out 18, but also has five walks and two home runs, which bring his FIP to 3.57, much higher than his 1.76 ERA. He also hasn’t pitched more than 1.1 innings in any given appearance this year, so he might not be best suited for long relief right now. Knowing they can send him down the very next day, though, the Yankees might opt to recall him this evening.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

The more interesting option is Ivan Nova. Added to the 40-man roster this winter after a strong 2009 season, Nova has started the season strong in Scranton. He has started six games, throwing 37 innings to a 2.43 ERA and 3.15 FIP. He also does a decent job of keeping the ball on the ground. The most telling sign that the Yankees are at least thinking about recalling Nova is how they’ve scheduled him. He last pitched on May 3. Zach McAllister pitched the following night. Last night, though, McAllister pitched again. That’s not to say that the Yankees did it because they planned to recall Nova. They have, however, kept the option open.

Again, with concerns about Mitre’s stamina, recalling a long man for tonight seems like a smart move. The Yankees already have 13 men on the pitching staff, so they can send out someone easily. Sanchez appears a likely candidate because of his workload last night, but I don’t think the Yanks should get in the habit of sending down guys who have pitched effectively. After another disappointing performance, David Robertson might spend some time in AAA. The Yanks could then recall an outfielder once they option Nova. A defensive option would certainly help keep Marcus Thames‘s outfield innings in check.

While it’s no lock that the Yankees recall Nova, it certainly makes a degree of sense. He’d be available to relieve either Mitre or Vazquez, and would allow the Yanks to take their time with Aceves. It’s encouraging that he has recovered so quickly from his injury Saturday, but there’s no reason to push it. The Yanks have some flexibility now, so they might as well use it to their advantage. Adding Nova as a long man would do just that.