Under Armour to sponsor Stadium Slugfest

When Yuri Foreman and Miguel Cotto take centerstage at Yankee Stadium this Saturday evening for the highly anticipated Stadium Slugest, Under Armour’s presence will dominate the ring. As CNBC’s Darren Rovell reported this afternoon, the sports apparel company has signed on to sponsor the title bout. The company will get signage throughout the ring and will air a commercial on the stadium’s giant jumbotron.

“We liked the opportunity of being part of the first fight in new Yankee Stadium and being live on HBO,” the company’s senior VP of brand Steve Battista said to Rovell. “We’re also focused on our current campaign of combine training and boxers go through a level of combine training that is levels above anything else.”

In other fight news, Todd DuBoef, president of Top Rank, the company promoting the fight, said that sales have been going “very well.” The stadium will be configured to seat 30,000 on Saturday night, and the coverage of games on YES has been inundated with ads for the bout.

Jorge returns to the lineup

Photo credit: Peter Morgan/AP

On May 19th, we heard the bad news. Jorge Posada might miss three to four weeks with a fracture in his foot. That wouldn’t sound good for any player, and it stung extra hard for a catcher in his late 30s. Three to four weeks? Might as well take the long on that one.

Yet Posada was determined to get back early. “I don’t need no four to six weeks,” he said before taking batting practice over the weekend. It was strange in the first place to hear about Posada not only taking batting practice, but also running sprints on the field so soon after the injury. Not even two weeks later, just a few days after removing the boot that protected his foot, he wanted back in the lineup.

Yesterday was a long shot. Clearly, if Posada wanted to return early he’d have to slide into the DH slot. The foot injury isn’t so much a concern for his hitting, or even his running. The big concern lies in his ability to squat for more than an hour a night. With the lefty Matusz going last night, Marcus Thames would undoubtedly serve as the DH. But tonight, with the righty Brad Bergesen on the mound, Thames will sit. Posada, it turns out, will get his first swings in just over two weeks.

Just over two weeks. It’s pretty crazy when you think about it. It’s not that Jorge’s a slow healer. We know he works back from injuries pretty quickly. Hell, he hadn’t even hit the disabled list until his shoulder pain became unbearable in 2008. But a foot fracture sounds serious. It certainly sounds like something that would take more than two weeks to heal. Yet here’s Jorge, back after spending just 16 days on the DL. One more than the minimum.

The Yanks will have to make a corresponding move, but don’t expect them to DFA Chad Moeller. As The Journal News reports, Posada himself expects the Yankees to carry three catchers for a bit. This makes sense. Jorge hasn’t done any catching since the injury, and he likely won’t do any for quite another few days, maybe even a week. Again, the concern is with his ability to squat and put pressure on the foot for an entire game. The goal with this move is to get his bat back into the lineup. For the next week, it appears he’ll serve as an upgrade to Juan Miranda, who is almost certainly en route to Scranton.

With the minor injuries he’s sustained this season, it feels like Jorge has been gone longer than two weeks. At the same time, it feels like he hasn’t been gone long at all. Two weeks for a foot fracture? Seems like nothing. In any case, it will be a joy to see him back in the lineup, hitting sixth. Whether it feels like he’s been gone for a while or he’s just left, it’s always a plus to get a boost from his bat.

Debating Andy the All Star starter

Photo credit: Andy King/AP

At 7-1 and sporting a nifty 2.48 ERA through 10 starts, Andy Pettitte is off to the best start of his career. As the Midsummer Classic fast approaches, talk is swirling that Pettitte should get Joe Girardi‘s call as the American League starter. In fact, Times national baseball writer Tyler Kepner made that very argument yesterday.

With the AL aces struggling, who would be a better choice than the 38-year-old lefty? After all, says Kepner, “no one can match Pettitte’s combination of record and ERA,” those two stalwarts of basic pitching stats. So let us ponder the question of Pettitte and the All Star Game.

There is absolutely no denying Pettitte’s value to the Yanks and his great 10 starts. Seven of his ten outings have been quality starts, and although his K/9 IP has dipped to 5.6 from a career norm of 6.6, his BB/9 IP has sunk to 2.5, and he’s allowed fewer than one home run every nine innings. By keeping free runners off base and allowing fewer home runs than he had last year at this point, Pettitte has seen his numbers improve markedly.

He is not, however, the best starter on the Yankees from a value standpoint. That honor belongs to Phil Hughes, tonight’s starter. The 24-year-old, 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA, has Pettitte beat in the three true outcomes categories. He’s striking out 9.1 per nine innings and has allowed 0.6 home runs per nine. His walk rate at 3.0/9 IP is slightly than Andy’s, but he has posted a 1.5 pitching WAR to Pettite’s 1.2. Hughes’ 3.63 xFIP tops Pettitte’s 4.12 mark by no small margin.

Yet, there’s something about Pettitte that makes him the front-runner for the symbolic mid-July start, and I believe that edge reaches to the essence of the All Star Game. Baseball’s showcase is nothing more than a glorified exhibition game/popularity contest (that counts for something but probably shouldn’t), and Pettitte is quite likely making a final pass through the Junior Circuit. In his career, Pettitte has swung from underrated to overrated and back again, but his career numbers are hard to deny. He’s 236-136 with a 3.87 ERA (and an ERA+ of 117). He has five World Series rings to his name, and on the verge of securing his 200th Yankee win, he’s a fan favorite in the Bronx. If anything, he deserves the honor.

Not everyone, though, agrees with that perception of Pettitte. As one of the many Yankees named in the Mitchell Report, he doesn’t carry a clean record, and as Will Carroll noted in his Under the Knife column yesterday at Baseball Prospectus, Pettitte, an admitted hGH user, has escaped much scrutiny and criticism over both his drug use and subsequent comments. We’ve watched people who have done worse, though, outshine the field in the All Star Game and the Home Run Derby over the past 15 years, and if the fans and players want to see the Andy Pettitte Good Bye Tour hit Anaheim for the All Star Game, it should.

As pitchers go this year, Andy Pettitte has thrown up some very impressive counting stats for a 38-year-old lefty who has clearly lost a few miles per hour on the fastball. He’s emerged as a smarter and better pitcher this year, and he’s now leading a very solid pitching staff in wins and ERA. He might not be atop those lists come July, but if Joe Girardi handed him the ball for the All Star Game start, few should complain all that much.

Javy’s return to the Stadium

Photo credit: Paul J. Bereswill/AP

Last time at the Stadium, they cheered Javy. The bullpen had completely melted down, turning what was once a 5-0 Yankee lead in the first into a 9-7 deficit in the ninth. The Red Sox threatened again, too, putting runners on first and third with two outs against Damaso Marte, who was in the midst of his longest 2010 appearance. With the righty Kevin Youkilis, who had homered earlier in the game, coming to the plate, Joe Girardi did not want to experiment by extending Marte further. He tapped his right arm while striding to the mound. The only right-hander warming in the pen was Javier Vazquez.

It took Vazquez just four pitches to strike out Youkilis, which kept the deficit at two and paved the way for a dramatic ninth-inning comeback. Vazquez heard cheers after Youkilis whiffed at strike three. It might have been the first time he heard sincere cheers all season. The first month of 2010, his return to the Bronx, had not gone according to plan. Vazquez, who had finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting in 2009, stumbled at the start. He gave up a lot of home runs to Tampa Bay. He had a better, but not at all good outing against Anaheim, and followed that with a similar start against Oakland. Then, against the Angels again, he didn’t even complete four innings.

Vazquez got a chance to please the home crowd on May 1, in a start against the White Sox. The Yankees had come from behind to beat the Sox the previous night, but they looked a bit flat at the start of that Saturday’s game. Vazquez didn’t help matters. He gave up runs in each of the first four innings, and was removed before recording an out in the fourth. Unsurprisingly, the fans in attendance booed him mercilessly. They applauded Girardi for rejiggering the rotation so that Vazquez would miss the Red Sox — twice. They came up with ridiculous and asinine proposals that would ship Vazquez out of town. More than a few just wanted him released.

Javy, of course, would have none of that. He responded to the extra rest by pitching his best game of the year, a seven-inning, two-run performance against the Tigers that resulted in a loss only because the Yankees scored no runs. He then thoroughly dominated the Mets, allowing just one hit through six innings. If not for a bunt that nicked his finger, he might have pitched a complete game. But his next time out, against Minnesota, he again faltered. That might have been a result of the finger — he displayed no command of any pitch other than his four seamer, which indicated a poor grip of the ball. Then again, it might have been just another bad start.

Last night, against the AL’s worst offense, Javy rose again. He breezed through the first few frames. The Orioles looked like they didn’t have a chance. Even when they did manage a hit, Javy induced a groundball to erase the runner. He made just one bad pitch, a 1-2 fastball that ran far too high in the zone. He did seem to tire by that point; after throwing 61 pitches in the first five innings, he needed 42 to get through the final two. He also worked out of a jam in the seventh, preserving the 1-1 tie and paving the way for the go-ahead runs in the bottom of the frame.

Photo credit: Paul J. Bereswill/AP

There were plenty of differences between Javy’s start on May 1, the one in which fans booed him off the field, and the one last night. Yet, there also weren’t so many. Command was obviously the No. 1 difference. Earlier in the season Vazquez could not spot pitches like he had in the past. He’s a four-pitch guy who doesn’t possess overpowering stuff, so command plays prominently in his approach. If he can’t spot the fastball, he’ll have trouble fooling pitchers with off-speed and breaking pitches. Last night his command appeared to be there, much like it was against the Tigers and Mets, and which it certainly was not against the Twins.

During his start on May 1, he averaged 89.58 mph and had a max velocity of 92.7 mph. Yesterday his velocity averaged 89.16 and maxed out at 91.3. The difference there, however, seemed to be in the break. He got a bit more on the horizontal plane, and a bit more on the vertical one. Both serve to help deceive batters. His curveball dipped a bit more, his slider broke much more sharply away from right-handers, his curveball displayed more vertical break, and his two-seamer ran in more on righties. The velocities were similar, but it was about the command and the movement. He used both to stymie the Orioles hitters.

He also varied his pitch selection much more. Against the White Sox he threw 36 four-seamers, 21 curveballs, 10 changeups, nine two-seamers, and seven sliders. Last night he employed a relatively even distribution of pitches. He went with the four-seamer 36 times again, but supplemented this with 18 changeups, 17 curveballs, 16 two-seamers, and 12 sliders. He threw more pitches, yes, which led to the higher totals, but he didn’t favor one secondary pitch. He laid off the slider a bit, but he used the other three equally.

Strangely, he generated more swings and misses against the White Sox. That included three on the four-seamer, two on the changeup, one on the slider, and three on the curveball. Still, the Sox pounded him. Agains the Orioles he induced four swings and misses on the four-seamer, two on the changeup, and one each on the slider and curveball. The difference, of course, is that between those swings and misses he still induced poor contact last night, where he let the Sox hitters get the barrel of the bat on the ball previously. Again, movement and command play the biggest part in that trend.

The Orioles do feature the worst group of hitters in the AL, which might lead some to continue doubting Javy. Yet, despite the ineptitude of the opposing hitters, Vazquez did pitch noticeably better. His pitches hit the catcher’s glove. He wasn’t afraid to use any of his pitches. He showed more movement on each of his pitches*. This might not be the Javy we see every time. But if he can throw like this, he’ll have good outings against even the better offenses.

*I deliberately chose to compare starts at Yankee Stadium, in order to avoid any possible PitchFX calibration issues. Also, thanks to Brooks Baseball for the excellent PitchFX tool.

Day To Day

Yet another Yankee player is now listed as day-to-day. It feels like there’s a new player in that club following every game. Nagging injuries have become the story of this team, and no one is safe from the bug. Derek Jeter caught it on Monday after getting hit in the leg. Mark Teixeira, after fouling a pitch off his foot in the first, is the latest to succumb.

In his recap last night, Jay from Fack Youk quipped that, “If there was a movie made about the Yanks this season, wouldn’t it have to be called Day-To-Day?” Who would star in this motion picture? It seems like just about every Yankee has played at least a supporting role.

Nick Johnson – back soreness – 3 days

Before Johnson was hurt, he was hurt. First he fouled a ball of his knee towards the end of camp, but he vowed to play on Opening Day and he did. Though he didn’t hit for most of April he did stay in the lineup. That is, until April 24 when he missed three days with back soreness. He came back fine from that, but it wasn’t long after that the soreness in his wrist became too great. He hit the DL, had surgery, and now has to wait until July, at the earliest, to return.

Jorge Posada – three injuries – 8 days total

While Johnson has suffered the most serious injury, Posada has been the most banged up Yankee in 2010. It’s not like he’s breaking down or anything. Two of his injuries have come from baseballs hitting him in inconvenient spots, and the other seems like a cascade from the first. That first one came when Jeremy Guthrie hit him in the knee with a pitch. That caused him to miss just one day, but it might have weakened his leg, leading to the calf strain that kept him out of the lineup for five days. Finally, he took a foul ball off the foot on the 16th and was day-to-day until the 19th, when the Yankees placed him on the DL with a foot fracture.

Alex Rodriguez – knee soreness/cramps – 1 day

The team said something about his knee hurting. Alex himself said it was just cramps. In any case, A-Rod got a day off on May 2nd. It seemed like just a routine day off. Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi have said that they’re trying to mix in a few off-days for Alex to keep him fresh. They could have played it off as just that, but apparently Joel Sherman of the Post found a source who said something about A-Rod’s knee. He’s hit just fine since then and has continued to play good defense, so the cramps story is easily believable.

Robinson Cano – knee contusion – 0 days

Everyone remembers hearing the sound of a Josh Beckett fastball ricocheting off Cano’s right knee. He tried to stay in the game, but after a pitch or two he jogged off the field. Surprisingly, he played DH the next day, and was at second the next. He is apparently an alumnus of the Derek Jeter School of Playing Hurt.

Al Aceves – bulging disc in back – 2 days

Before Aceves hit the DL he was listed as day-to-day, and on MOnday the 10th everything seemed cheery and optimistic. Aceves had hurt his back throwing a pitch in Boston the day before, and it looked bad. On Tuesday it was bad again, and the Yankees placed Aceves on the 15-day DL.

Nick Swisher – biceps soreness – a week or so

Swisher first faced biceps soreness on May 12th, but he played in a game or two before he came back for good on May 20th. For a while it seemed pretty bad. Girardi inserted Ramiro Pena as an emergency outfielder while leaving Swisher on the bench. He came back just fine, and has been raking ever since.

Marcus Thames – sprained ankle – a day or two

On May 19th Marcus Thames did something that, it seems, no other player or coach had before seen. After hitting a groundball single, he tossed his bat…in front of him. He then stepped on it, rolling his ankle. It looked worse than it really was, but it did keep Thames out of action for at least a game. On the 21st, two days after the injury, Girardi said he had him available to pinch hit. He made his next appearance on the 22nd, though he didn’t actually see a pitch. Girardi had him pinch hit against a lefty, but Jerry Manuel switched pitchers, so Girardi burned Thames and went with Miranda.

David Robertson – sore lower back – three games so far

David Robertson had to exit Saturday’s game with a sore back, which might or might not have stemmed from the liner he took off it earlier in the week. Again, it seems fine, and there hasn’t been a situation where he’s been needed. The starters have been that good.

Derek Jeter – leg injury of some sort – 0 days

Derek Jeter got hit in the leg with a pitch and eventually left the game. Jeter doesn’t get hurt, in his mind, so he didn’t miss any time.

Mark Teixeira – foul off the foot – we’ll see

Please, Mark, be like Derek and Robinson.

Vazquez dominant as Yanks win third in a row

There’s nothing quite like a four game series with a last-place team to help right the ship, and the Yankees next had the luxury of watching another last-place club roll into the Bronx for a three game set tonight. Javy Vazquez, really the only question mark on the team that doesn’t reside in the bullpen, gave it a go for the first time against the Orioles this season, and he gave the Yanks everything they were hoping for and then some.

"Maybe diving was a bad idea." (Photo Credit: Paul J. Bereswill, AP)

A-Rod With A Clutch … Uh …. Ground Into A Two-Run Error?

Remember when the Yankees used to wear down opposing starters and get to the other team’s bullpen by the 6th or sometimes even the 5th inning? Yeah, those days are long gone. Nine of the last ten opposing starters have completed at least six innings against the Yanks, not counting David Huff having to leave the game after taking a shot to the melon (he’s fine, we can joke about it now). Brian Matusz did the same tonight, and he even recorded the first two outs in the 7th before exiting with men on second and third.

"Oh crap ... not good." (Photo Credit: Paul J. Bereswill, AP)

He was relieved by former starter David Hernandez, who did exactly what he was supposed to do: he got a first pitch groundball from cleanup hitter Alex Rodriguez. Unfortunately for Hernandez, and Matusz as well, Miguel Tejada made a poor throw over to first and Ty Wigginton made an even poorer attempt at scooping the ball, leading to two runs crossing the plate and Alex being safe at first. It was just the way the Yankees planned to score the go-ahead runs, I’m sure.

In reality, the Yankees got away with squandering some opportunities earlier in the game. Derek Jeter‘s one out ground rule double in the 3rd went for naught, and a first and third with no outs situation in the 6th was wasted on a pair of infield popups and a strikeout. They’re getting away with blowing these opportunities because they have an easy schedule right now, but they have to start capitalizing soon. Bad teams find a way to lose, and that’s exactly what the Orioles did tonight.

You Jav To Hand It To Him

Photo Credit: Paul J. Bereswill, AP

The month of May was an odd one for the Yanks’ fourth starter turned fifth starter. Javy sandwiched a pair of brutal outings around two stellar ones, with a one batter faced/one strikeout relief appearance mixed in for good measure. No one’s really sure what to expect from him each time he takes the mound, and it’s a little bit more extreme than Good A.J./Bad A.J. We’re talking Great Javy or Awful Javy here.

Well, Great Javy made an appearance today, mowing down the Orioles until Corey Patterson (of all people) hit a solo homer to tie the game in the top of the 6th. Vazquez was cruising the entire way, throwing just 12 pitches in the 1st, 11 in the 2nd, 12 in the 3rd, nine in the 4th, 17 in the 5th, and 19th in the 6th, until he had to bear down and get himself out of trouble in the 7th. With the bases loaded (thanks to an intentional walk) and one out, Javy struck out Adam Jones for the second time, then got Julio Lugo to ground out harmlessly to short to end the threat. Earlier in the season, there would have been a total meltdown in this situation, but instead he bore down and got out of it. That’s a great sign, because it shows he’s building confidence and challenging guys and not pitching scared.

All told, Vazquez threw 103 pitches on the night, 63 of which were strikes. Remember, four of those pitches were intentional balls, so his ratio is a touch better than it appears. He completed seven innings for the just second time this season, allowing just four hits and the one run on the solo homer. He struck out seven and recorded nine ground outs to just three air outs. And yet, Javy almost didn’t get a win.

Until the two-run error in the 7th, the Yankees had scored a total of just four runs in Vazquez’s last four starts, so in the grand scheme of things it really didn’t matter how well or how poorly he pitched in those games. If your team doesn’t score runs for you, you’re not going to win. Period. Vazquez almost got hosed out of another potential win tonight, but he stuck it out and kept his team in it deep into the game.

Photo Credit: Paul J. Bereswill, AP

Hip Hip Hooray

Jeter’s double in the 3rd was the 450th of his career, moving him past Bernie Williams for second place on the Yankees’ all-time list. He’s still 84 two-baggers behind some guy named Lou Gehrig.

Ho hum. Another day, another two hits for Robbie Cano. His hit streak is up to 15 games, and his batting line is a stellar .366-.406-.615 on the season. The OBP and SLG are almost exactly what Prince Fielder put up last year, but of course Robbie’s not a first baseman.

Curtis Granderson picked up his fifth hit since coming off the DL, and four of those have come off lefties. The homer off Matusz tonight gives him three extra base hits off southpaws since returning, which is encouraging. It was also his first homer off a lefty since he took Joe Saunders deep last April the 22nd.

Nice and easy 1-2-3 8th inning for Joba Chamberlain on just eight pitches, and I was petrified the entire time. He got the job done, and that’s all that counts.

How about that groundout by Nick Markakis in the 9th? Mariano Rivera brought the cutter up and in, shattering the bat and allowing the ball to travel about 20 feet. That was vintage Mo right there, just devastating.

WTF? Booo!!!

Photo Credit: Paul J. Bereswill, AP

Mark Teixeira became the latest player to leave a game with an injury, as a foul ball off his foot ended his night in the 3rd. The good news is that x-rays came back negative and he’s just day-to-day with a bruise, but the bad news is that Jorge Posada‘s x-rays were negative when he suffered the hairline fracture on the bottom of his foot a few weeks ago. It took an MRI/bone scan to find the problem.

Marcus Thames and Frankie Cervelli popping up on the infield with men on the corners in that 6th, especially since they were both ahead in the count. Just terrible at-bats.

I remember complaining about walking the bases loaded at least once before in this space already this season, and sure enough they did it again in the 7th tonight. I know Javy got out of it, but damn, you’re asking for trouble when you do that. Getting away with it tonight just means they’ll try it more in the future.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the traditional box score while FanGraphs have everything else.

Up Next

Same two teams tomorrow night, with Phil Hughes taking on his former high school teammate Brad Bergesen.

Vazquez returns to lineup in Trenton win

Brandon Laird’s monster week won him Eastern League Offensive Player of the Week honors. Luke Murton did the same in the Sally League.

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Durham)
Greg Golson, CF & Jon Weber, DH: both 2 for 3, 1 BB – Golson drove in a run … Weber tripled & scored a run
Reegie Corona, 2B & Reid Gorecki, LF: both 1 for 3 – Corona drew a walk & K’ed … Gorecki walked, drove in a run, scored another & K’ed
Eduardo Nunez, SS & Matt Cusick, 3B: both 1 for 4 – Nunez K’ed
David Winfree, 1B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 RBI
Colin Curtis, RF: 0 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB – threw a runner out at the plate
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 4, 2 K – just five for his last 34 (.147) … at least he threw out a runner trying steal … while allowing five stolen bases
Zach McAllister: 6.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 9-6 GB/FB – 61 of 101 pitches were strikes (60.4%)
Boone Logan: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 13 of his 19 pitches were strikes (68.4%)
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 11 of his 16 pitches were strikes (68.8%)

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