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%)

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Travel day

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP

Apparently the schedule makers felt the Yankees needed a full day to make the two-hour flight from Boston to Tampa today, because there’s no game. It’s amazing how we wait all winter for baseball, but as soon as it comes back, we get all impatient with scheduled off days. Or at least I do, anyway.

The good news is that the minor league season starts tonight, so that means the first of many DotF‘s will be up later this evening. Until then, you can kill some time with the Islanders, Devils, Mets, and/or Cubs-Braves (MLB Network). Remember, the free preview of Extra Innings runs through Sunday, so every baseball game is available for for all the see these days. Make sure you check in on the Angels-Twins game tonight (10pm ET first pitch), Hideki Matsui is starting his first game in the outfield since June 15th, 2008. That should be fun.

Report: Feds digging into A-Rod’s finances

The Anthony Galea/A-Rod story just won’t go away. Although MLB officials were reportedly “very happy” with Alex Rodriguez‘s explanation of his relationship with Dr. Anthony Galea, federal officials are digging into the Yanks’ third baseman’s financial records, according to a report in The Times. Galea, a Canadian doctor who has treated some high-profile U.S. athletes, is under investigation for allegedly supplying HGH and other performance-enhancing drugs to American clients, and the doctor treated A-Rod during the slugger’s rehab from hip surgery last year.

The Times says that the feds still want to meet with A-Rod, and the ongoing delay in arranging a time to talk have led them to contact others in A-Rod’s circle. Reportedly, the feds have asked A-Rod’s assistants, in the words of Michael S. Schmidt, “to determine the number of times he met with Galea, where they met and how much money Galea was paid for his services.” Investigators have also reached Angel Presinal, the tainted trainer who has been on the fringe of a few PED scandals over the past few years. As the season kicks into gear, this is one cloud I’d rather not see hanging above A-Rod’s head.

Baseball does not move fast enough for Joe West

Cowboy Joe has a problem: The glacial pace of Red Sox-Yankees games is getting under his skin, and the players just don’t respect him or the game.

“They’re the two clubs that don’t try to pick up the pace,” Joe West, umpire, crew chief at Fenway this week and sometimes singer/songwriter, said prior to last night’s game. “They’re two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest? It’s pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play.”

West’s rant came after players on both teams complained Tuesday night when they were denied time outs by home plate umpire Angel Hernandez. With reporters at the ready, West continued his tirade. “The commissioner of baseball says he wants the pace picked up. We try and still almost went four hours,” he said. “All of baseball looks to these two clubs to pick up the pace… The players aren’t working with us. This is embarrassing, a disgrace to baseball.”

A disgrace to baseball. Strong words coming from an umpire who once quit his job as a failed labor negotiation tactic.

The reaction to West has, unsurprisingly, been swift and somewhat critical. Rob Neyer supported West’s statements but wondered if the umpires should be at fault. Jason at It’s About The Money, Stupid highlighted West’s strike zone. Others have questioned West for speaking out in the first place. Umpires, many believe, should be seen and not heard.

But West has a point, and we’ll get to that in a minute. First, I’d like to address concerns about West’s strike zone as one reason for the game’s delay. The argument alleges that West doesn’t call low strikes, and thus, pitchers are throwing more pitches and the game takes longer. That is partially true, but if we take a look at the normalized strike zone, that argument breaks down. Via Brooks:

It’s true that Joe West doesn’t call a low strike, but he’s willing to extend the zone to his left a bit. By my count, he called nearly as many pitches that were strikes balls as he did pitches that were out of the zone strikes. That’s a spurious argument, and it detracts from West’s valid points.

The valid point is that Yankee-Red Sox games are very, very long. Sunday’s game took three hours and 46 minutes to play; Tuesday’s lasted three hours and 48 minutes. Even last night’s 10-inning affair went on for three hours and 21 minutes. According to figures from last year, an average major league game lasts around 2:52 while the Yankees play games that average 3:08 and the Sox 3:04. When the two teams play each other, they averaged nine innings in 3:30 last year, a good forty minutes slower than league average. Pick up the pace, indeed.

But, as always, the question remains: Does it matter? The Yankees and Red Sox both take more pitches than just about any other team in baseball, and the two teams were one and two in the AL in on-base percentage last year. As I said yesterday, the more pitches a team takes, the baserunners they have, the more runs they have, the more pitchers they see, the longer the game takes.

Meanwhile, from the money perspective, few fans care. In the New York area, YES Network enjoyed its second-highested rated regular season game ever on Opening Night, and NESN had its highest Opening Night ratings in its history. ESPN2, airing the game outside of the two major New England and New York media markets, scored a 2.4 rating, just a few thousand viewers behind the NCAA women’s championship game. The fans have repeated said they don’t mind the long games; they just want baseball.

In the end, I think Joe West’s claims are right. The Yankee/Red Sox games do take too long, and some of that is because the games are sometimes managed as though they are Game 7 ALCS chess matches and not just games one, two and three of the regular season. I think baseball should try to cut down on these lengthy games for the overall health of the sport. After all, we want to see game action and not David Ortiz spitting on his batting gloves for the fourth time in three pitches.

But Joe West is also wrong. It’s not his place to call baseball’s marquee teams an embarrassment. It’s not his place to yell at the players. Let Bob Watson spin his wheels arguing with teams over picking up the pace. The umpires just sound as though they’re whining in the face of baseball’s success, and that is what I find to be a disgrace to baseball.

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Update (5:09 p.m.): Mariano fires back

As Joe West’s comments reverberate throughout baseball, Mariano Rivera has slammed the umpire over his remarks. Brian Costello and George A. King III caught up with the Yankee closer who wasn’t too pleased to hear West complaining about having to do his job.

“It’s incredible,” Rivera said to the two Post reporters. “If he has places to go, let him do something else. What does he want us to do, swing at balls?”

Rivera, a player who has tremendous respect for the game and the umpires, didn’t hold back. “He has a job to do. He should do his job,” Rivera said. “We don’t want to play four-hour games but that’s what it takes. We respect and love the fans and do what we have to do and that’s play our game.”

On the one hand, it will, as Costello and King write, be interesting to see how West reacts the next time he’s behind the plate for a Mariano appearance. On the other hand, Rivera, the Yankees and the Red Sox should be insulted by West’s comments. As many have pointed out, West’s partiality is now in doubt, and Bud Selig should step in to calm this escalating situation.

RAB on The Shore Sports Report

Just a reminder, my weekly appearance on The Shore Sports Report with Mike Krenek and Joe Giglio is coming up at 4:05pm ET today. You can listen in on either FOX Sports 1030 AM or WOBM 1160 AM, and I’m willing to bet that you’ll be able to stream it online via one of those links as well.