CC’s spotty history on Opening Day

Photo credit: Elise Amendola/AP

On March 31, 2003, a 22-year-old CC Sabathia got the ball on Opening Day for the Cleveland Indians. He fared very well in his first opener, lasting seven innings and only allowing two runs. He did surrender eight hits and walk one, but he worked out of jams in a few innings. Heading into the bottom of the eighth Sabathia was the pitcher of record, having left with a 4-2 lead. David Riske ended that, though, allowing a game-tying home run to Marty Cordova.

The next year, CC was even better. Again he lasted seven innings, but this time he allowed no runs, surrendering just two hits, though he did walk four. The biggest difference was in his strikeout numbers. He set down nine of the 25 Twins he faced. Leaving the game with a 4-0 lead, it appeared Sabathia would get his first Opening Day win. Alas, it was not to be. Jose Jimenez, Scott Stewart, and Rafael Betancourt combined to allow four runs in the eighth, placing another ND on Sabathia’s record. The Indians lost again, this time with Chad Durbin surrendering a walk-off home run to Shannon Stewart.

In 2005 Sabathia was in line to make his third Opening Day start, but he opened the season on the DL. In 2006 he again got the nod, but this time suffered an injury during the start, straining his oblique and missing a month. His performance wasn’t very good that game, as he allowed three runs in just 2.1 innings against the White Sox. Still, we can chalk that one up to his oblique acting up. It was his first bad Opening Day start, after all, and at age 25 it appeared he had many, many more of them in his future.

Opening Day 2006 didn’t go too well for Sabathia, though it didn’t go poorly. He didn’t get hurt, which was an upgrade over 2005, but he also allowed three runs over six innings of work, allowing eight hits and walking run while surrendering two home runs. The Indians, for their part, rocked Jose Contreras early on, scoring five in the first, four in the second, and three in the third, staking Sabathia to a 11-2 lead after three. It would be his first Opening Day win, though not close to his best Opening Day performance. From there, though, it has been all downhill.

In his first start following his coronation as AL Cy Young, Sabathia bombed. For the third straight season the Indians opened the season against the White Sox, and for the third straight year it was something of a slugfest. Jim Thome took CC deep in the first inning for a two-run shot, and then did the same in his next at-bat, another two-run shot in the third. By this time the Indians had scored seven runs off Mark Buehrle, though, softening the blow. They maintained that 7-4 lead until the sixth, when Sabathia walked two before allowing an RBI single to A.J. Pierzynski. Jensen Lewis came in to clean up, but he and Rafael Perez combined to blow the lead the next inning. The Indians ended up winning the game, but CC got another no-decision to go along with his poor start.

Yankees fans had high hopes for Sabathia on Opening Day 2009, but again the big man flopped. He worked out of trouble in the first, but an Adam Jones started the scoring in the third. It all came undone in the fifth, when the Orioles went double-single-single-single-groundout/run-walk-walk. That final walk came with the bases loaded and one out. Sabathia then left the game, having surrendered six runs in just 4.1 IP. The damage might have been even worse had Brett Gardner not thrown out Melvin Mora trying to score on a sac fly.

On Sunday we saw yet another poor Opening Day start from Sabathia. He didn’t look great in the early goings, but he managed to limit the Red Sox damage to two runs through five innings. In the sixth, however, he was clearly gassed, and the Sox took advantage. He left the game having recorded one out in the inning and with the tying run on base. David Robertson promptly surrendered it, leaving Sabathia with an assured no-decision.

As he’s shown in years past, Sabathia is able to shake off poor season openers to post excellent seasons. Last year is a prime example. It took him almost all of April to get into his groove, but once he did we all forgot about his April woes. This isn’t to say that CC shouldn’t start Opening Day. I’m sure he’d have similar struggles in his first start no matter what turn in the rotation he took. It’s to say, though, that for the next year or five we shouldn’t have high expectations of Sabathia on Opening Day. We should, however, maintain our expectations for the season. The man is simply a beast.

The 2010 minor league primer

With the Major League Baseball season fully under way, that means the minor leaguers can’t be far behind. All four of the Yankees’ full season affiliates begin their 2010 seasons this Thursday, with Short Season Staten Island and the Rookie level Gulf Coast League Yanks following in June. In anticipation of the new season, I took part in a roundtable discussion about the Yanks’ farm system at Pending Pinstripes (parts one, two, and three), touching on topics like overrated players, underrated players, the top affiliate to follow, etc.

Rosters for Double-A Trenton and Low-A Charleston have been officially released, while Triple-A Scranton’s roster is pretty easy to piece together. High-a Tampa is the big question mark right now, but we still have a pretty good idea of who’s headed there. Let’s break it down…

Triple-A Scranton
Catchers: Robby Hammock, Chad Moeller, Jesus Montero, P.J. Pilittere
Infielders: Reegie Corona, Juan Miranda, Eduardo Nunez, Kevin Russo
Outfielders: Colin Curtis, Greg Golson, Jon Weber, David Winfree
Pitchers: Jon Albaladejo, Jason Hirsh, Kei Igawa, George Kontos, Boone Logan, Zach McAllister, Mark Melancon, Ivan Nova, Royce Ring, Romulo Sanchez, Amaury Sanit, Kevin Whelan

That’s an unofficial roster, so chances are they’ll add another arm, and maybe another position player or two. Kontos, obviously, is starting the season on the disabled list as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. The earliest he’ll be back is July or so, and even then he’ll start in the low minors and gradually work his way up.

I suspect the five starters will be (in no particular order) Hirsh, McAllister, Nova, Sanchez, and Igawa, and they’ll be backed up by a really stacked bullpen. Lefties, righties, you name it, manager Dave Miley will have plenty of options out there. Montero will lead the way offensively, but we saw what Weber could do in Spring Training, and Miranda’s spent the last two years tormenting the International League. The top of the order will likely go Russo-Nunez-Montero-Miranda-Weber, and that’s as good as it gets in the bush leagues.

Double-A Trenton (courtesy of Mike Ashmore)
Catchers: Jose Gil, Austin Romine
Infielders: David Adams, Neall French, Brandon Laird, Luis Nunez, Kevin Smith, Justin Snyder, Marcos Vechionacci
Outfielders: Dan Brewer, Edwar Gonzalez, Austin Krum, Damon Sublett
Pitchers: Cory Arbiso, Wilkins Arias, Jeremy Bleich, Noel Castillo, Wilkin DeLaRosa, Grant Duff, Chris Garcia, D.J. Mitchell, Lance Pendleton, David Phelps, Ryan Pope, Josh Schmidt, Eric Wordekemper

As Mike mentioned, that’s 26 players for 24 spots, so there’s still some movement to come. Perhaps Schmidt or Wordekemper heads up to Scranton, plus one of the spare infielders (Nunez?). There’s also the possibility of a phantom DL trip.

With Garcia, Pendleton, and Pope, it’s a pretty veteran rotation, guys who’ve been playing pro ball for a few years now. Mitchell and Phelps will get the other spots coming off fantastic years. Romine headlines the position players, but don’t sleep on Brewer or Adams, they can both really hit. The Thunder had trouble pushing runs across at times last year, but that doesn’t seem like it’ll be an issue this year.

High-A Tampa
Infielders: Walt Ibarra, Emerson Landoni
Outfielders: Jack Rye
Pitchers: Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, Jairo Heredia, Craig Heyer, Hector Noesi, Tim Norton, Adam Olbrychowski, Jon Ortiz, Brad Rulon, Pat Venditte, Ryan Zink

Obviously, this one’s incomplete. Don’t blame me, blame Guys like Corban Joseph, Melky Mesa, and Jose Pirela would make sense here, considering their performances at Low-A Charleston last season. We’re just going to have to wait and see here.

Low-A Charleston (courtesy of Robert Pimpsner)
Catchers: Jeff Farnham, Kyle Higashioka, J.R Murphy
Infielders: Carmen Angelini, Garrison Lassiter, Rob Lyerly, Luke Murton, Jose Mojica, Jimmy Paredes
Outfielders: Zoilo Almonte, Kelvin DeLeon, Taylor Grote, DeAngelo Mack, Justin Milo
Manny Barreda, Sean Black, Gavin Brooks, Caleb Cotham, Ryan Flannery, Shaeffer Hall, Dickie Marquez, Ronny Marte, Kelvin Perez, Jose Ramirez, Wilton Rodriguez, Francisco Rondon, Graham Stoneburner

We’ve got the same problem as Trenton here, too many players for too few spots. I suspect Murphy will start the year in Extended Spring Training before heading to Staten Island when their season starts. Considering Adam Warren and Neil Medchill aren’t listed here, I suspect they’re headed to Tampa.

The outfield is really tooled up with DeLeon, Grote, and Mack, and the infield is going to have some thump with Lyerly and Murton. Paredes will provide the speed, Angelini the errors. This is his last chance to revive his career as a prospect. The ’09 draft pick heavy pitching staff will probably feature Cotham, Hall, Rondon, Stoneburner, and Ramirez as the starters, with a ridiculously strong power-armed back of the bullpen with Brooks, Black, and Barreda. Charleston’s always a fun team to follow because you can dream on so many of the players, and this year will be no different.

As I’m sure you already figured out, Down on the Farm will return in full force Thursday evening. Scranton starts the season with four games against Buffalo (Mets), Trenton with four against Erie (Tigers), Tampa with a home-and-home-and-home-and-home against Lakeland (Tigers), and Charleston with four against Lexington (Astros). All four affiliates start the season at home. Should be a fun season, see you for DotF on Thursday.

A year of living dangerously

Photo credit: Mike Carlson/AP

Brian Cashman has been the Yankees’ GM since February 3, 1998. Since then, the team has reached the playoffs every season but one while taking home four World Series rings and six total AL titles. Still, the Cashman doubters always believe he has something to prove. Anyone could win with the money, they say. It didn’t take a baseball genius to sign CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira, they claim.

In one sense, that criticism isn’t far off. The Yankees, with their league-leading $200 million payroll, don’t need a genius in the Front Office. They just need someone who won’t mess things up. That is, in the world of New York baseball, easier said than done.

For a few years in the mid-2000s though with George Steinbrenner‘s baseball people in Tampa fighting it out with Cashman and his braintrust in New York, the team didn’t take advantage of its financial edge. They traded players with impunity, acquiring Javier Vazquez in a good deal one year only to see him depart the next. They dumped heaps of money on the old +- Randy Johnson – and the injured – Jaret Wright. They drafted poorly and seemed destined for high-priced mediocrity.

Then, after 2005, Brian Cashman put his foot down. Give me control of the team or I’ll walk, he threatened, and with George Steinbrenner’s health on the wane, Cashman had his team. Since then, the Yankees have reassembled their organization from top to bottom. They have prospects who aren’t going to flame out; they have put money into key big-name free agents who won’t be (too) overpaid. They have a development plan in place for young kids while maintaining the Steinbrenners’ win-now philosophy. Even with Hank Steinbrenner’s somewhat ill-advised decision to give A-Rod a blank check after 2007, the Yankees are on the right track. As Joe wrote in the preview, they have a plan.

In 2009, the plan paid off. The team won the World Series with contributions from the organization’s long-term projects and the team’s high-priced free agents. After winning, though, Cashman didn’t rest on his laurels. Faced with what passes for a payroll cap in Yankeeland, he retooled the team in his vision. He traded one of the team’s outfielders and a high-ceiling 19-year-old for Javier Vazquez, the piece that got away from 2004. He sent one of the team’s highly-touted position players and another Major League-ready arm to Detroit for Curtis Granderson. He let the World Series MVP walk; he let the All Star left fielder walk after a dysfunctional effort by Johnny Damon‘s camp to land a better deal than the market said he could get.

When the Yankees opened the season in Boston on Sunday, the team looked primed to play. They scored seven runs, and only a bullpen meltdown helped them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Despite the outcome, it was a promising start for an overhauled lineup.

This year, though, is truly Cashman’s year, and while it won’t determine his immediate future with the organization, it will showcase his talents as a GM. Did the Yanks make the right move in moving Robinson Cano to the five hole? Sticking Joba back in the bullpen and entrusting a starting spot to the youngest guy on the team? Letting the chronically injured Matsui walk in favor of the chronically injured but younger Nick Johnson? Bringing back Javier Vazquez for one year?

Building a baseball team is always a gamble, and the Yanks’ moves were relatively conservative. They didn’t dump heaps of money on Ben Sheets. They kept the pieces they thought could contribute most and still have strength and depth in the minors if and when they need to make the trade. They also bear the imprint of Brian Cashman, and this year, we’ll see what full autonomy means. The pieces he assembled from 2006 onward are paying dividends now. This team is his, and his approach is now, for better or worse, under the microscope of New York and its baseball-obsessed fans.

Former Yankees on Opening Day

On Sunday night we got to see the new Yankees in action. Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson batted in the starting lineup, while Chan Ho Park pitched two thirds of an inning out of the bullpen. But what about the guys they replaced? Here’s a rundown of how former Yankees fared in their new team debuts.

Hideki Matsui: 2 for 4

Photo credit: Jae C. Hong/AP

Matsui made an impresion in his Angels debut. With runners on first and second with two out during a tie-game in the fifth, Matsui singled to right field to give the Angels a lead. That chased Twins starter Scott Baker from the game. Then, with the Angels holding a one-run lead in the eighth, Matsui led off the inning with a 401 foot home run to center field. Kendry Morales followed with a shot down the left field line, sealing the Opening Day victory for the Angels.

Johnny Damon: 2 for 5

In his first at-bat as a Tiger Johnny Damon grounded out to second. No big deal. In his second at-bat he flied out to right. He was facing Zack Greinke, so again, it wouldn’t have mattered if Damon went 0 for 4. He didn’t, though. Leading off the sixth, he singled to right off Greinke, advanced on a Magglio Ordonez single, and then scored on a third straight single, this one by Miguel Cabrera. Then, with Roman Colon in for relief the Tigers broke open the game, and Damon contributed by doubling home two, including Austin Jackson.

Austin Jackson: 1 for 5

The Tigers found themselves down 4-2 heading into the seventh, but luckily for them Greinke had left the game by that point. Scott Sizemore walked and Ramon Santiago, pinch hitting for Adam Everett, singled, setting up Jackson with runners on the corners and none out. He lined a double to left for his first major league hit and RBI. He scored his first run one batter later on Damon’s double. He struck out looking twice in the game.

Phil Coke: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R

Joel Zumaya pitched a scoreless sixth for the Tigers, and then came out to start the seventh. After allowing an infield single to Jason Kendall, Jim Leyland lifted him for Phil Coke, who came in to face the lefty troika of Chris Getz, David DeJesus, and Scott Podsednik. Getz singled, DeJesus popped out in foul ground to third, and Podsednik singled. Kendall, had he been a bit faster, might have scored, but Austin Jackson gunned him down at the plate.

Melky Cabrera: 0 for 5

The Braves rallied for six runs in the first inning on Opening Day, handing Carlos Zambrano yet another poor season debut. Melky got things started with a walk and eventually scored on a Chipper Jones single after going first-to-third on a Martin Prado single. Melky made the last out of that inning, and then made outs in his next four plate appearances. He was the only Braves starter, non-pitcher, to not record a hit, though his walk did set up the definitive inning for the Braves.

Introducing Zen Baseball

As the Yankees and the Angels played an ALCS marathon on a cold and rainy Saturday night in October, I found myself on the edge of my seat and at my wit’s end at the same time. Extra-inning lead changes, blown opportunities, tightrope acts by the bullpen — it had me literally chewing my finger nails, literally pacing around my living room, literally a mess. It wasn’t, I realized later, that much fun.

When Game 3 finally rolled around, I wanted to try a new approach that I called Zen Baseball. It would still involve feeling the ups and downs of every at-bat and every pitch, but I also wanted to soak it in and have fun. I wanted to thoroughly enjoy postseason baseball with the knowledge that, no matter the outcome of the inning, the game, the series, I wanted to remember it as a I remembered the 1996-2001 run. Watching baseball couldn’t be a heart attack-inducing chore; it had to be something I wanted to do for the love of the game.

As the playoffs wore on, I further reflected on Zen Baseball. Here on River Ave. Blues and among those I follow on Twitter, the tension is palpable. If CC Sabathia walks a guy, if David Robertson hangs a bad pitch, if Joba Chamberlain scuffles with his breaking ball, Yankee fans break out the pitchforks. If Nick Swisher takes a bad route to the ball, if Jorge Posada can’t handle a bad pitch, if Brett Gardner misses the cut-off man, those watching the game, we’re ready to break out the lynch mob. What is exactly that Yankee fans are trying to prove?

Zen Baseball is the opposite of that. Zen Baseball is realizing that, over the course of 162 games, the bullpen will blow some, the tying run will be left stranded on base, the ball will take a bad hop, the starting pitcher won’t escape the third. Zen Baseball is realizing that even good teams will still lose 60 times a year, and Zen Baseball is just rolling with it. Zen Baseball is watching a bunch of people play a game we love and analyze to death, a game we wait for months on end during winter to come back and a game we mourn when the final out of the World Series is recorded, no matter which team walks away with the trophy. Zen Baseball is realizing that, as we nitpick, we still are fans who root for the same team and love the players on those teams.

Zen Baseball doesn’t mean I don’t care. Games don’t lose their tension, their importance, their immediacy. I’ll still question Joe Girardi‘s decision to micromanage the bullpen, to leave the starting pitcher in for a few batters too long, to pinch run, to pinch hit, to call for a bunt. I’ll still slap my head when the outfielders make bone-headed plays, and I’ll still feel the pain of defeat. But Zen Baseball is about recognizing how best to watch the game while realizing that a 162-game season is a marathon. We don’t need to down a bottle of antacids just to make it through Opening Week.

Later tonight, the Yankees and A.J. Burnett will face down the Red Sox and Jon Lester. It’s another thrilling pitching match-up in one of the game’s best rivalries. Let’s sit back and enjoy it. That, at its core, is what Zen Baseball is all about.

Joe’s Take: Enjoying baseball for the sake of baseball

Sunday was the new year. The first day of spring. Not only did we get the first meaningful baseball since November 5, but we got the Yankees. The team to record the last out of the 2009 season would also make the first out of the 2010 season. My body might have been at Easter dinner on Sunday, but my mind — or at least a good part of my mind — couldn’t stop thinking about baseball.

Once the game started, though, my joy became accompanied by tension. It’s there for every Yankee game, but especially on Opening Day. And especially against the Red Sox. I turned off Twitter and stayed away from the game thread, because inviting other people’s tensions would only make my own that much worse. Still, it was there. For much of the game the joy overpowered it, but in the late innings the tension hit hard.

That’s part of what I enjoy about watching the Yankees. It’s not only a hobby. It’s an unconditional emotional investment. As the Yankees go, so do I. That invites a lot of trouble if they lose or perform poorly. In last night’s game recap, you’ll notice that there were far more moments that annoyed me than made me smile. I went to bed happy because I got to see baseball, but not at the height of happiness, because the Yankees had lost.

Yesterday, 26 other teams got to play their Opening Days. Thanks to an subscription, I got to enjoy a good number of those games. Unlike the Yankees game, though, there was no tension. When Ryan Church hit a a three-RBI double off Ramon Ortiz to break open the Dodgers-Pirates game, I was glad. When Jason Heyward shellacked a Carlos Zambrano offering for a home run in his first major league at-bat, I was thrilled. When Billy Butler drove in two with a double off Justin Verlander I couldn’t have been happier. It’s not because I particularly like the Pirates, Braves, and Royals. It’s because nothing that happened could have annoyed me. It was pure, joyful baseball.

That feeling will never translate to the Yankees. The joy will be there, and it will be greater than with watching any other team. But there will alway be that twinge of tension. It will never go away, but after experiencing Opening Day for the rest of baseball I think I’d like to keep it to a minimum. I’ll never be happy when the Yankees lose, but I’d like to be less uptight afterwards. After all, there are 162 games, and as we saw last year, and in many years before that, literally anything can happen during a baseball season.

The Yanks are back tomorrow, and the tension potential is even higher because of their Opening Day loss. I’ll try not to let it get to me. There’s just too much joy in baseball to let things like losses in April get me down.

Open Thread: A night off

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP

Play a game, take the next day off. What is this, the playoffs? I’ll be here all week, folks.

Here’s the open thread for the evening. The Knicks are in action, plus you’ve got the Butler-Duke National Championship Game. There’s two new episodes of 24 on as well, which is where you can find me. You know what to do, so have at it.

Hughes strong in simulated game

While he waits for his first big league start of the year, Phil Hughes is biding his time down in Tampa in Extended Spring Training. The 23-year-old faced a bunch of young prospects today, throwing 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes, which worked out to being the equivalent of 8.1 innings. He struck out 12 and allowed just three hits. Hughes is scheduled to join the rest of the team for tomorrow’s game in Fenway, then will throw another simulated game on Saturday, when the Yanks will be in Tampa to take on the Rays.