Game 11: Right back at it

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

I heart day games on a Saturday, especially after last night’s game was cut short due to the weather. I’ll take the win, but I feel cheated out of high quality baseball. The quick turn around is always a pleasure, nothing like watching two games in the span on 22 hours or so. A.J Burnett gets the ball for the third time this season, and just like CC Sabathia last night, he’s coming off a strong performance against the Rays in Tampa. He’s going to be opposed by Scott Feldman, who surprised pretty much everyone last year.

Here’s the lineup…

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

And on the mound, Allen James Burnett.

First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Nothing new to Gardner’s approach so far

On the afternoon of Opening Day, we linked to a profile of Brett Gardner, who would get the start in left field that evening. In it Gardner spoke about his place in the Yankees’ lineup and what it means for his approach at the plate. “The last thing [opposing pitchers] want to do is put me on base for those guys. So I’m going to get pitches to hit. It’s just a matter of being consistent with my swing, being consistent with my approach and going up there and having good at-bats.” I thought this signaled that Gardner would become a bit more aggressive, knowing he’d see a good number of strikes. We have yet to see such an adjustment.

A glance at the Plate Discipline section of Gardner’s FanGraphs page shows similar results as last year. He has actually swung at fewer pitches than he did last year while seeing more pitches in the zone, especially on the first pitch. He has made contact with more of the pitches he has actually swung at, but we’re talking about a pretty low percentage at this point. In 27 plate appearances he has seen 121 pitches, an excellent 4.48 rate. That has led to four walks, which will help. But what’s the cost?

We often caution against analyzing events based on small samples, and Gardner’s 27 PA certainly qualifies as such. This is just a gander at the results. In other words, this is what we’ve seen so far from Gardner. Basically, it’s the same as it ever was. Gardner continues to take pitches regardless of location. Sometimes this results in a walk, a hugely positive result for Gardner. Other times he’ll fall behind in the count quickly and have to react. Then again, he hasn’t done poorly in those situations so far, going 3 for 6 in plate appearances that started 0-2. That will obviously change as the season goes along. But it appears that so far, despite his low average over the first few games, he’s made the most of his approach.

This might actually be the best thing for Gardner. In recapping the Marliners’ blowout of the Tigers last night, Jeff Sullivan of Lookout Landing makes an interesting point about pitchers and the ability to throw strikes.

Chone Figgins drew three walks. He’s now up to nine in 48 trips to the plate. He saw 20 pitches tonight and swung at four. I’m beginning to think that if you go up to the plate and just stand there – seriously just stand there – you can Michelangelo’s David your way to a .360 OBP, because pitchers are that bad. Pitchers are so bad at throwing strikes against even the most punchless batters that they need the batters to help get themselves out, and if they don’t, it just turns into a walk-fest. Look at Felix in the seventh. Felix had an 11-2 lead. There was no point in messing around and doing anything other than throw the ball down the middle. And even one of the best pitchers in the league still threw 12 of 22 pitches for balls. Pitchers suck at throwing strikes, and for some reason it takes a hitter like Figgins or Reggie Willits, with a startling lack of true hitting ability, to recognize this and exploit it. Must be an ego thing.

I wouldn’t lump Figgins into the “lack of true hitting ability” category, but Sullivan does make a good point about Willits. He and Gardner appear to be comparable players. While Willits doesn’t get a ton of playing time he does make the most of his. In 808 career plate appearances he has seen 3553, or 4.40 per trip to the plate. He also owns a career .366 OBP, which make some wonder why he doesn’t get more playing time. After all, a player who gets on base that often and who has Willits’s speed can provide immense value, especially from the bottom of the lineup.

I do hope Gardner gets more chances to play. The Yankees feature a powerhouse lineup that has Nick Swisher in the eighth spot. They can afford to have someone like Gardner hitting ninth, taking pitches and getting on base at a decent clip ahead of the big hitters. With all the strike he sees maybe he’d benefit from swinging more, but we can’t be sure of that until he does change his approach. That appears not to be happening. If Gardner can stand there and build a .340 OBP from seeing tons of pitches and taking walks, doesn’t it make sense for him to keep the bat on his shoulders?

Sabathia, Yanks roll in rain shortened contest

For the first time in 2010, the Yankees on Friday night played a team that hasn’t appeared in an American League Championship Series within the last two seasons. The Rangers haven’t made the playoffs in over a decade, but they’re a formidable opponent that features the league’s hottest hitter and some of the best young arms in the game. Luckily for the Yanks, they had their best on the mound to keep the hot start going as the team won a game shortened by rain 5-1.

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Biggest Play: Curtis Granderson reaches on a fielder’s choice

All during the postseason, we saw the supposedly fundamentally sound Twins and Angels shoot themselves in the foot with botched plays game after game, and the same was true on Friday. Granderson stepped to the plate against lefty C.J. Wilson in the 4th inning with the bases juiced and the score tied at one. He fell behind 0-2 on fastballs before a third heater missed the zone for a ball. The fourth pitch was a slider that dove down, but Granderson got enough of it to tap it towards first. Long story short, Chris Davis threw the ball away as he attempted to turn the 3-6-3 double play (photo above), resulting in two runs for the Bombers.

As good as CC Sabathia was in this game (we’ll get to that a little later), Wilson matched him up until the 4th inning, and before the frame was over the Yankees led 4-1. With rain in the forecast and Sabathia on his game, that lead might as well have been 30.

Biggest Out: Nelson Cruz goes down on strikes

I’m going to go against the WPA grain here to say that Cruz’s backwards K to end the first was the biggest out of the night. Texas pushed across a run for a first inning lead when Vlad Guerrero drove in Michael Young on a sac fly, which brought the America League leader in homers (six), RBI (12), SLG (1.063), and OPS (1.510) to the plate with a man on second with two outs.

If Sabathia makes a mistake, there’s a very good chance the Yankees could have been down three runs before even coming to the plate, which changes everything. Instead, he got Cruz to foul off both a fastball and a changeup on the outer half for a quick 0-2 count, but couldn’t get him to commit to a slider and changeup in the dirt for the strikeout, so the count went even at 2-2. Cruz is a free swinger, but Sabathia and Frankie Cervelli didn’t mess around by trying to get him to chase something out of the zone, they went with the old reliable number one, pouring a 92 mph heater on the inside for a called strike three. The early threat was neutralized, the Yankees were down just one, and Sabathia would never look back.

For the record, WPA says that Michael Young’s fielder’s choice that saw Julio Borbon forced out at second with no outs in the 6th was the biggest out recorded by Sabathia on the night.

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Carsten Charles In Charge

The only thing that could stop the Yankees’ ace tonight was Mother Nature. CC Sabathia rolled right through the Rangers’ lineup after the first inning, striking out six in a row from the 2nd through 4th innings, and retiring 12 in a row from the 2nd through 5th. He threw 61 pitches through the first five innings, just 11 of which were balls.

Rain forced Sabathia from the game after just six innings and 73 pitches (58 strikes, 79.5%), which might not have been the worst thing in the world considering his massive workload last season. Every little break helps. Of the 22 batters Sabathia faced, not one saw a three ball count, and just five worked a two ball count. Only two got a first pitch ball. Two! Take a look at this strike zone plot, that’s what pounding the zone looks like.

CC struck out nine or more five times last year, but the first instance didn’t come until August 8th. He beat that by nearly four months this year. His initials stood for cruise control on Friday night, he had it all working and threw everything for strikes. Over his last two starts, Sabathia’s allowed just six baserunners (four hits, two walks) and one run in 13.2 IP with 14 strikeouts. I thought this guy was supposed to struggle in April?

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Happy Moments

It’s so easy to like Cervelli with his big doofy helmet and all out hustle and infectious energy, so it was fun to see him single in a run after Granderson’s fielder’s choice.

Brett Gardner stealing second on a pitch out. Fastest white guy in America. Granderson fouled off six pitches in an 11 pitch at-bat just prior to Gardner’s steal, which qualifies for one hell of an at-bat. Considering it was against a lefty, it’s even more impressive.

This win combined with the Blue Jays’ loss to the Angels gives the Yankees sole possession of first place in the AL East, and they’re tied with the Twins for the best record in the AL.

Annoying moments

There’s not much that could have bothered even the most pessimistic of fans this game. Nick Johnson got thrown out on a straight steal to end the 3rd, but the replay showed he was either safe, or damn close to it. That’s about it.

Oh, wait. What the hell Robbie Cano? Just one measly single tonight? That’s not going to cut it. He obviously needs Melky Cabrera or Larry Bowa or Mike Borzello.

WPA Graph

You can get the full breakdown at FanGraphs’ box score.

Next Up

Quick turn around, as these two teams are back at it tomorrow afternoon at 1:05pm ET. A.J. Burnett goes for the good guys, Scott Feldman for the Rangers.

Higashioka goes deep again in loss

Triple-A Scranton was rained out. Not sure when they’re going to make this one up, but Syracuse doesn’t come back to town until the end of May.

Double-A Trenton was rained out as well. They’ll make this one up as part of a May 22nd doubleheader.

High-A Tampa (8-4 win over Daytona)
Abe Almonte, RF, Corban Joseph, 2B & Myron Leslie, 1B: all 1 for 4 – Almonte scored a run & K’ed … CoJo doubled & drove in a run … Leslie drove in two
Jose Pirela, SS: 0 for 4, 1 K – 1 for his last 13 (.077)
Bradley Suttle, 3B: 0 for 2, 2 R, 2 BB, 1 K – 3 for his last 18 (.167)
Neil Medchill, LF, Melky Mesa, CF & Mitch Abeita, C: all 1 for 3, 1 2B – Medchill drew a walk, scored twice & drove one in … Mesa drove in two, scored once & K’ed … Abeita drew a walk, scored a run, drove one in & allowed a passed ball
Trent Lockwood, DH: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Brandon Braboy: 4 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 7-3 GB/FB
Craig Heyer: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K
Pat Venditte: 2.1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 2-0 GB/FB – they’ve got him on the multiple innings every three days schedule, which is what the Yanks put all their top relief prospects on
Phil Bartlewski: 0.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0-1 GB/FB

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Game Ten: Lefty vs. lefty

Photo Credit: Peter Morgan, AP

ofAs the Angels head out of town with their halos between their legs, the Rangers come on in fresh off being shut down by Indians’ lefty David Huff yesterday. They’ll get another lefty tonight, though CC Sabathia and Huff are on opposite ends of the southpaw spectrum. The Yanks’ ace flirted with a no-hitter last time out, and has pleasantly avoided his typical April slump in the early going. He makes his first home start of the campaign tonight.

Opposing Sabathia tonight is starter turned middle reliever turned setup man turned closer turned setup man turned starter C.J. Wilson, who is one of the few professional athletes worth following on Twitter. He struck out nine in seven shutout innings against the Jays in his first start, but missed his last outing earlier this week with a stomach bug. Hopefully he’s a little off his game tonight. Here’s the starting nine…

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

And on the mound, Carsten Charles Sabathia.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm and can be seen on YES. There’s some rain in the forecast, but it looks like there will be enough of a window to get this sucker in. Enjoy the game.

Update (10:14pm): The game has been called, so the Yankees win. Our regular recap will be along later tonight.

The Ho Train makes a stop on the DL

Who had Chan Ho Park in the “first to hit the disabled list” pool? The veteran reliever was placed on the 15-day DL today after he injured his hamstring while warming up last night. His replacement? Lefty Boone Logan, who has done a bang-up job for Triple-A Scranton so far this year (6.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 9 K). He threw 27 pitches just last night, so he might not be available until tomorrow.

Apparently CHoP could’ve just rested it and been available when the Yanks go out to the west coast next week, but the team didn’t want to risk. No point in doing so this early in the season.

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