The Yanks and Devil Rays are still slugging it out, and the three of us will all be out for the evening by the time this game wraps up. As the Yanks trail the Rays, though, we can talk briefly about Ian Kennedy’s return from the Minors.
On the surface,the numbers aren’t that pretty. He gave up five earned runs on two home runs — his second and third allowed of the season — in just five innings of work. His ERA is holding steady on the season around 8.48. But despite these numbers, there’s still a lot to like from Kennedy’s start tonight.
First, we can look at his pitch count and breathe a sigh of relief. While ol’ quick-to-the-bullpen Girardi yanked Kennedy after just five innings, it wasn’t because he had thrown an astronomical amount of pitched. In fact, Kennedy threw just 78 pitches and 49 of them (or 63 percent) for strikes. Except for a brief spell in the fourth, he wasn’t shy about throwing the balls over the plate and attacking hitters. This is a big change for Kennedy.
Next — and I touched upon it briefly above — his entire approach to pitching was better. He was content throwing strikes and letting hitters put the ball in the play. He had seven ground ball outs and five air outs, and he did only allow five hits while keeping his walk total down. His approach was a heckuva lot better than watching Kei Igawa chuck waist-high fastballs at the opposing hitters. You can see what Kennedy has, and it shows promise.
I know a lot of Yankee fans don’t like Ian Kennedy’s stuff. They see him as some soft-tossing junk-ball pitcher whom the Yanks should use as trade bait, but that’s just not the case. Kennedy doesn’t have the electric stuff of a Joba Chamberlain, but he will succeed. As a first step back to the Majors today, his outing could have gone a whole lot better, but it could have been way worse. He showed a marked improvement from the way he was throwing in April, and no matter what, I’d rather see Kennedy up there than Igawa any day.
Well, that was a short exile. Just 11 days after his demotion, Ian Kennedy is back with the Yankees. We’ve all certainly debated the pluses and minuses of his demotion and his quick return for the last 11 days. Let’s see how he does now that crunch time is here.
While in the Minors, Kennedy made two starts, one shortened so that he could pitch today. In 8.1 innings with Scranton, he allowed two hits and no walks while striking out eight. Those numbers are a far cry from the 8.37 Big League ERA he currently sports. In 23.2 innings prior to his demotion, Kennedy had allowed 28 hits and had a 20:15 BB:K ratio. Opponents were hitting .298 against him.
Kennedy’s biggest problem in April was his pitch count. He kept running up the counts early on, averaging over 7 pitches per out. If he’s throwing strikes today and finishing off hitters, all will be well.
For the Rays, Jim Duquette’s biggest mistake takes the mound. Scott Kazmir — yes, another lefty — makes his third start of the season. He’s 1-1 on the year. During his first start back from the DL, he gave up four runs, three earned, in four innings to the Red Sox. Last week, he shut down the Angels over six innings, allowing three hits while striking out six. He has walked three batters in each of his two starts.
The Yanks are sticking their righties out there against Kazmir. Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui both have the day off, but why Morgan Ensberg is hitting above the very hot Cano is beyond me. Game time’s at 4:10 p.m. Starting the Mets’ series at .500 sure would be nice. The Amazin’s, by the way, have just dropped their third out of four to a bunch of softball girls. Hopefully, the Yanks can avoid a similar fate against a much better club than the Nats.
As expected the Yanks dispatched Kei Igawa to Scranton today to make way for Ian Kennedy on the Big League roster. I’ll be back in a bit with the game thread, but I have to wonder if this it for Kei in New York. Baring some catastrophic injury, is there anything that would put him next on the Yankees starting pitching depth charts? With Jeff Karstens working his way back from injury and various young arms on the rise, Kei shouldn’t see anymore New York innings. · (21) ·
When Mark Melancon and J.B. Cox were promoted earlier this week, my thoughts instantly turned to Joba. The Yanks now have a bunch of arms moving their ways through the minors, and it seems that Brian Cashman wants to see what he has in the system as an 8th inning option.
Today, Tyler Kepner put those thoughts into words, and while Brian Cashman claims these recent moves are just individual promotions spurred on by separate development plans, it’s hard not to think about Joba. Kepner writes:
For Chamberlain to transition to the rotation, the Yankees need to have a replacement for him in the bullpen, and Cox is now at Class AAA, with Melancon a level below. Brian Cashman dismissed the idea that there was any connection, and he seemed weary of the topic when I asked him if the plan was still to have Chamberlain be a starter this season.
“Yes, but I just don’t want to be talking about it anymore,” Cashman said. “We’ve answered that question a thousand times. All these guys have individual game plans, and one has nothing to do with another.”
Maybe not, but I still don’t see how the Yankees can take Chamberlain out of the bullpen when he looks as dominant there as he did on Wednesday. Then again, maybe Cox and Melancon blaze their way to the majors, allowing Chamberlain to stretch out his arm as a starter in the minors for a few weeks. Chamberlain won’t throw 98 miles an hour as a starter in the Bronx, but perhaps he would still be overpowering.
Cashman is getting downright snippy about things. But really, there’s absolutely no way these moves aren’t part of some larger plan. It may not be about Chamberlain, per se, but it is about developing the Yanks’ minor league arms so that they are Major League-ready sooner rather than later.
As anyone who reads this site knows, we disagree with Kepner; it’s easy for the Yanks to move Joba into the rotation. Sure, he won’t throw 98 for 7 innings, but he’s always been a dominant starter. His peripherals — K/9 IP, BB/K, HR/9 IP — as a starter have been off the charts, and you just don’t waste those innings in the bullpen. This season, Chien-Ming Wang, the Yanks’ number one starter, has thrown 59 innings while Joba has hurled just over 17. The more innings of quality pitching, the better.
The Yankees can find 8th inning replacements for Joba. They can’t find a front-line starter quite as easily, and as Melancon, Cox and others work their way up, the plan for Joba will come into focus sooner rather than later. It’s just a matter of time.
Jim Baumbach tracked down one-time Yankee honcho Steve Swindal recently, and Swindal, now the head of a marine towing company in Florida, talked with the Newsday reporter. Swindal left the Yanks after a drunk driving incident and a subsequent divorce from George Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer. He says he still roots for the Yanks: “Honestly, I wish them the best. I’ll always be pulling for them, and I’d rather just leave it at that.” That’s a rueful quote if ever I heard one. · (11) ·
There? Doesn’t that feel good? The Yankees won, and they did so on a night when the second-place Red Sox lost. So despite their 20-21 record, they’re just three games — two in the ever-important loss column — in back of Boston. A win later this afternoon against Scott Kazmir could do wonders for the morale of Yankee fans.
Let’s do this one up, bullet-point style:
- Had someone told me in March that Mike Mussina would be 6-3 with a 3.99 ERA after nine starts, I would have wondered what that person was smoking. Had I been told that Mussina would share the AL lead in victories in mid-May, I would have just laughed in your face. But Mussina was masterful yet again tonight. He used a devastating fastball-curveball-change up combination to keep hitters off balance, and one at bat late in the game really showed me how Mussina has progressed this season.
At one point in the AB, Mussina dropped in a 64 MPH curve for a strike before coming back with an inside fastball that hit 85 on the YES gun. At that point, Al Leiter was gushing all over himself, saying how pitchers are great if they can get a 10-12 MPH separation between their fastballs and their breaking pitches. That Moose can get a 20 MPH separation and can throw these pitches for strikes leaves me rather optimistic that he can sustain this new-found effectiveness. Girardi is keeping him on a short leash in the late innings, and that’s a-ok with me.
- Over his last five starts, Mike Mussina is 5-0. He’s thrown 29.1 innings with a 2.76 ERA. He’s struck out 17 good for a respectable 5.25 per 9 IP, but he’s issued just 3 — three! — bases on balls. It will be nearly impossible for Mussina — or any pitcher — to sustain this Cliff Lee-ian pace, but as long as he’s stingy with the walks, Moose will find success.
- The Yankees offense isn’t exactly out of the woods yet. Despite their win tonight, the Yanks were just 7 for 31 off of Jamie Shields and the Tampa bullpen. The team is hitting just .194 this week against the Rays. Ouch.
- There is an offensive bright spot, however. Robinson Cano is now hitting .350 on the month, and his average now sets at .205, a whopping .050 higher than it was a little over a week ago. I’m really glad Robbie’s doing well; he’s one of my favorites on this team right now.
- On the other side of the spectrum — and you all had to know this one was coming — is our good friend Melky Cabrera. With his 0 for 4 performance tonight, Melky’s season average dips to .261. In May, he’s hitting .191 with a .224 OBP with a .319 SLG. Now that he’s hitting seventh in the order, the bottom three members of the Yankee lineup have been an offensive black hole lately, and I’m almost tempted to offer up a RAB poll: When will Robinson Cano’s batting average be higher than Melky Cabrera’s? That .056 gap isn’t as large as it seems.
All in all, it was nice to walk away from that game with a win. Shields was tough, but the Yankee pitchers were tougher. We’ll do it again at 4:10 p.m. when one of the prodigal sons returns.
A: To the DL!
Triple-A Scranton (11-6 loss to Louisville)
Justin Christian: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB
Jason Lane: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB
Juan Miranda: 0 for 4, 1 BB, 1 K – .313-.459-.478 vs RHP … .147-.196-.176 vs LHP
Cody Ransom: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI
Eric Duncan: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB
Nick Green & Greg Porter: both 1 for 4 – Green K’ed .. Porter scored a run
JD Closser: 1 for 2, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB – .368-.478-.474 in 7 games with Scranton
Heath Phillips: 1 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 E (throwing) – spot starting has not been kind to him
Bo Hall: 3.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 1-8 GB/FB
Steven Jackson: 2.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K – 28 of 38 pitches were strikes (73.7%)
Scott Patterson: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K – no baserunners, 4 K in his last 3.2 IP
By now, you know the drill: The pitching’s been good, but the hitting has not. Yadda, yadda, yadda. We’ve rehashed this all day; there’s no need to get into again.
The Yanks’ bats though will be facing quite the challenge this evening. James Shields, who threw a one-hitter in his last start, takes the mound for the Rays. There’s nothing like trying to break out of a slump against a legitimately good pitcher.
For the Yanks, Mike Mussina will attempt to continue his career resurgence. Moose has won his last four starts, throwing 22 innings to the tune of a 3.27 ERA. He strikes out only a few batters these days but walks even fewer. Moose will have to be on his game to give the lethargic Yankee offense any chance against Shields.
Joe Girardi mixes the batting order up today. Again.
The refrains are becoming part of the daily routine. “We need another bat.” “Add a bat.” “When will this team hit?”
Somewhere out there, in between a rock and a hard place, is a free agent with the offensive skills to boost the Yanks. This free agent hit .276 last year with a whopping .480 OBP and a .565 slugging percentage. Of course, that free agent is also facing a federal indictment and has featured prominently in the steroids scandals that have rocked baseball over the better part of the last five years.
I’m talking about none other than Barry Bonds.
Now, these days, it sure is easy to consider Bonds. From what we know, he’s basically waiting for some team to pick up the phone and call him. He can probably be in playing shape in quick order, and installing him in the middle of any Major League lineup makes the lineup better.
For the Yankees — a team not afraid to court controversy and attention — Bonds would be a bit anathema to the supposed youth movement in place. But — and this is a fairly significant but — Bonds would have a role on the team. He’s the splashy sort of signing that Hank Steinbrenner would love, and he would be a valuable insurance piece.
For all of those who say the Yanks have too many first basemen and too many DHs, as we’ve seen with Jorge and A-Rod, when one of those seemingly spare parts goes down, then what? If Jason Giambi gets hurt, the Yanks lose his awakening bat. If Johnny Damon goes down and Hideki Matsui has to slide into left, the Yanks have a gaping hole in their lineup. There is, in other words, always a place in the lineup for a bat that can still hit .276/.480/.565, and Damon and Giambi have been far from paragons of health over the last few years.
I’m not suggesting or advocating for the Yanks to sign Bonds. I’m simply saying that he’s out there, lurking and waiting. He could fix the offensive woes and create all sorts of headaches for the Yanks and for their opposing pitchers. What would you do?
Manny Ramirez admires his own home runs. Jonathan Papelbon prances around in his underwear after a win, but when ESPN runs a feature on what they view as improper celebrations, guess who gets the giant red X?
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