Burnett and Vazquez looking to quell rotation worries

Throughout the 2010 season the Yankees have struggled in various areas. Early in the season the starting pitching, minus Javy Vazquez, was lights out while the offense plodded along. The bullpen had a poor first half. But then everything turned around. The offense went on a tear and the bullpen hunkered down while a few of the starters hit bumps in the road. With both Vazquez and A.J. Burnett struggling, there was concern with the rotation. Would it be strong enough to carry the team through October?

Baseball fans become concerned all the time. We wouldn’t be fans if we didn’t. But the concerns with the Yankees are nothing new. They crop up every season in some form or another, except maybe outliers like 1998. The rotation issue was just one of many the Yanks faced in 2010. And while it’s too soon to declare the issue behind them, things are certainly looking a bit brighter.

A.J. Burnett pitched well last night, putting behind him a second straight shaky August. He gave up three runs in six innings, though they weren’t particularly concerning. Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a Yankee Stadium Special and the other run came on a ground out. On the positive side Burnett struck out eight on the power of his curveball, which generated eight swings and misses. He threw it as often as his four-seamer, a good sign that the curve was working for him. If he can harness it from here on out he’ll be back in the conversation as the No. 2 starter.

The next real test comes on Saturday when Javy Vazquez makes his return to the rotation. It’s tough to expect anything from Vazquez now given what we’ve seen. He did put his rough start behind him and was a key part of the rotation from mid-May through mid-July. Then he hit another stumbling block, this one a bit more noticeable than before. After a rest and two successful long relief appearances he’s back in the rotation. A good start against Toronto would go a long way.

Burnett will never stop being a concern. Nor will Vazquez. We’ve seen their low points, so our minds will keep going back there when they take the mound. But it looks like both might be turning it around. Burnett found his curveball. Javy found (some of) his velocity. If they can put it together for a strong September I think that will dim a lot of the currently prevailing issues with the pitching staff. Combined with Andy Pettitte‘s eventual return, the Yankees’ staff isn’t looking so horrible right now.

Teixeira, bullpen back Burnett as Yanks win fifth straight

Winning a four game series is a difficult thing to do against any team, especially when you don’t know what you’re going to get out of your starting pitcher. A.J. Burnett wasn’t great but was good enough to win with the run supported given to him on Wednesday, and the bullpen did the rest behind him. The Yankees have now won five straight games, their longest winning streak since a seven gamer in early July.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Biggest Hit: Tex Marks The Spot

Mark Teixeira is on some kind of hot streak. The Yanks’ first baseman came into this game hitting .316/.410/.663 with 17 (!!!) homers since July 1st, and he has been making life especially miserable for the A’s this week. He put the Yanks on the board three batters into the game with a run scoring double off the left-centerfield wall on a ball that I thought was gone off the bat, but his biggest offensive contribution didn’t come until the next inning.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The Yanks had already extended the lead to a pair of runs, and up came Tex with the bases loaded and two outs and a chance to blow this baby open. It’s easy to get greedy in this, the Year of the Grand Slam, but a solid line drive base hit somewhere on the outfield grass would have plated at least one and made us all happy. Well, it wasn’t a solid line drive, but it didn’t drive in one either, it drove in two. Teixeira sent a 1-2 slider, the fourth straight slider Brett Anderson threw him, third base bound on the ground, but it was perfectly placed and split Cliff Pennington and Kevin Kouzmanoff. The ball rolled into shallow left while Eduardo Nunez and then Derek Jeter came around to score, pushing the Yanks’ lead up to 4-0. Sure enough, they needed every one of those four.

Biggest Out: Mo Closes The Door

This game had a weird feel to it, in that it was a whole lot closer than it felt towards the end. The A’s chipped away and put the tying run on base in the ninth inning against Mariano Rivera, and even had that runner get into scoring position. We never lose faith in Mo, but one dinky little bloop single and this game is probably still being played (okay, maybe not). Instead, Mo did what he always does, and closed out the win by striking out Kurt Suzuki. Piece of cake.

Believe it or not, the WPA swing of Suzuki’s strikeout (.117) was the single biggest play of the game.

Honorable Mention: Wood Escapes

One inning before Mo escaped his mini-jam, Kerry Wood had a mess of his own to clean up. Boone Logan recorded the first out of the eighth inning by striking out Jack Cust, then in came Wood with David Robertson having pitched in yesterday’s game. He got a quick groundout for the second out of the inning, but a single by Mark Ellis and a walk to Jeff Larish put two men on and suddenly one swing of the bat would have given Oakland a two run lead. Rajai Davis battled valiantly by taking curves in the dirt for balls and fouling off tough high fastballs, but he ultimately caved when Wood got him to ground out weakly to short on a slider. Easy as pie.

Quality Start A.J.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Under the microscope as always, A.J. Burnett delivered his best start since his complete game loss to the Royals a little more than two weeks ago. Obviously the A’s aren’t a worldburner offense (.312 team wOBA coming into this game), so we have to take this start with a grain of salt, but it was good to see Burnett go out and give the Yanks a chance to win. He hasn’t been doing that nearly enough this summer.

I honestly thought A.J.’s curveball was the best he’s had in weeks, and he even mixed in a few effective changeups for good measure. He threw 36 Uncle Charlies total (out of 91 pitches), 24 for strikes and got eight swings and misses, which is exactly where he needs to be with the pitch. Burnett retired eight in a row from the first through fourth innings, then pitched around trouble over his final two innings to reach the magical six inning plateau. His biggest mistake was a high fastball to Kouzmanoff, who sent the ball out to right for a two run homer that cut the Yanks’ lead in half.

In the end, Burnett’s final line was six innings, six hits, three runs (all earned), two walks, and a season high tying eight strikeouts. Obviously we can’t deem him cured based on this one outing, but it was an encouraging sign nonetheless. Maybe he found his release point or some other mechanical idiosyncrasy that allowed him to throw the curveball with some more consistency. That would really be the best thing to come out of this game, nevermind the win.


(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Tex is now 8-for-10 with two doubles and two homers in the series. In fairness, two of his hits today were bleeders that found holes through the infield, but when you’re hot, you’re hot. And damn is he hot right now.

Hooray for Curtis Granderson singling to the opposite field off a lefty. That would have been a minor miracle back in June. He also picked up another hit later in the game, again off a southpaw.

Frankie Cervelli was pinch hit for in the eighth inning, though I’m not sure if it was just Joe Girardi attempting to generate an insurance run, or if he was banged up. Cervelli really took a pounding back there an inning or two earlier, with one shot off the inside of his right knee looking particularly painful. Lance Berkman went to the plate for Frankie, and doubled to the right-centerfield wall on the first big league pitch he’s seen in over two weeks.

Jorge Posada had a legitimate beef when he got tossed for arguing balls and strikes one batter after Berkman’s double, the ball was literally in the other batter’s box. It was pretty funny to watch him go back and draw a line in the dirt with his bat showing where the pitch crossed the plate, we don’t normally see Jorge do things like that. Good thing they had Chad Moeller around.

Austin Kearns broke an 0-for-19 skid with a single and Derek Jeter picked up just his third hit in 36 trips to the plate.

Not only did the Yankees win, but so did the Rays and Red Sox. That means the lead in the division remained at one, and the lead on the Wild Card remained at eight games. The magic number to clinch a playoff spot did drop down to 22, however, which is always a good thing.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs all that other stuff.

Up Next

These same two teams will wrap up the four game series tomorrow afternoon when CC Sabathia takes to his mound against Dallas Braden. I can’t imagine the locals will be kind to him, but then again I don’t blame them.

Montero goes deep while SWB splits doubleheader

Various notes…

  • So it turns out the Tzu-Wei Lin signing will not happen. Apparently the kid never bothered to sign the contract. Go figure. (h/t MLBTR)
  • Melky Mesa, Bradley Suttle, and manager Torre Tyson were all named to the High-A Florida State League postseason All Star Team.
  • Meanwhile, Rob Lyerly was the only Yankee farmhand named to the Low-A South Atlantic League postseason All Star Team. Congrats to everyone.

Triple-A Scranton
Game One (4-3 loss to Buffalo in 7 innings)
makeup of an August 12th rain out
Reid Gorecki, RF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 E (throwing)
Kevin Russo, 2B: 3 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB – second straight game with a two-bagger
Jesus Montero, DH: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K – just three away from tying his career high of 34 doubles, set back in 2008 … he’s already set a new career high with 18 homers
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 K
Colin Curtis, CF, Brandon Laird, 3B & P.J. Pilittere, C: all 1 for 3 – Curtis drove in a run & K’ed twice … Laird K’ed
Chad Huffman, LF & Eric Bruntlett, SS: both 0 for 3 – Huffman K’ed
Hector Noesi: 6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HB, 1 WP, 6-5 GB/FB – 71 of 99 pitches were strikes … 147-27 K/BB ratio in 153.2 IP

[Read more…]

Game 133: Surviving A.J.

You can do this, A.J. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Yankees have managed to win four games in a row, a streak spanning from one A.J. Burnett start to the next. They’ve won games started by a pair of kids barely old enough to drink (legally), a forgettable journeyman, and a bonafide ace in the interim, and now it’s up to the enigmatic righty to get the job done. All we need is a crafty lefthander and a knuckleballer and we’d have hit on all the key demographics.

The Athletics are a good matchup for A.J. because they’re not going drive the ball out of the park or even to the wall that much, so he needs to make sure he doesn’t help them out with walks and let rallies spiral out of control. Easier said than done, but Burnett’s capable of doing it, and he really needs to start doing it tonight. New month, fresh start.

Thankfully the Yanks have really ramped things up offensively, scoring 20 runs in the past two nights and 84 runs in their last dozen games, an average of exactly seven runs per game. With any luck, they’ll give A.J. and the rest of the pitching staff a little breathing room. Here’s the lineup that’ll go to work against Brett Anderson, a great young starter having an injury riddled year…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
Cano, 2B
Thames, DH
Kearns, LF
Granderson, CF
Nunez, 3B
Cervelli, C

And on the bump, it’s that Burnett guy.

First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Get ready for some good A.J. bashing on the four-letter. Enjoy the game.

Rotation Shuffle: Moseley out, Vazquez back

Javier Vazquez will take a turn in the starting rotation, replacing Dustin Moseley on Saturday against the Blue Jays, Joe Girardi announced this afternoon. The decision came as little surprise as Moseley has gotten hit around over this last four outings while Vazquez has made two impressive bullpen appearances, flashing better stuff and velocity. Since beating Boston on August 8, Moseley is 2-1 but is averaging fewer than five innings a start. He’s walked 13 and struck out 11 while giving up five home runs en route to a 6.41 ERA. Meanwhile, since losing his rotation spot amidst a dead-arm period, Vazquez has thrown nine strong innings in relief. He’s allowed two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out eight. We questioned whether Vazquez truly tweaked his mechanics or was experience the placebo effect of a new role role, but no matter the answer, the Yanks feel comfortable enough to move him back to the rotation after a two-week stint in the pen.

One year later, the same Jeter conundrum

Yankee history, personified. Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Derek Jeter picked a bad time to get old.

For nine years, Derek Jeter made the Yanks’ 10-year, $189-million contract they gave him after the 2000 season look like a great deal, and then he turned 36. With one month left before Jeter’s final regular season game under this deal, the Yankee Captain is having the worst season of his career. Mired in a 2-for-30 slide, Jeter is now hitting .266/.332/.376 on the season, and he’s on pace for career lows in every triple-slash category. His OPS is .130 points below his career average, and although he’s out-pacing the average American League short stop, he may put up an OPS+ below 100 for the first time he was just a 21-year-old rookie.

It hasn’t been easy for the Yanks to diagnose Jeter’s problems this year. His isolated patience — on-base percentage less batting average — is .066, not far off from his career norm of .071, but his .298 BABIP is well below his lifetime .356 mark. He’s not striking out, and he’s not really walking. Yet, he’s also not hitting the ball with authority as his ground ball rates are up and his line drives are down. He’s swinging at way too many pitches out of the strike zone and is making bad contact with those pitches. In other words, he’s having a very bad, no-good, rotten season (for him, at least).

We can talk about Jeter’s swing, his personal frustration and his poor approach at the plate — as Frankie Piliere has this afternoon — but for the Yankees, the future matters more than the present. Jeter is a free agent, and as we’ve explored in the past, he wants to get paid. Now, he doesn’t just want a token contract for a reasonable-but-still-high amount; he wants to be recognized as the face of the Yankees. He wants, in other words, to be treated like A-Rod.

The tabloids today tackle just that subject. In his 3UP column, Joel Sherman ponders the nature of Derek Jeter. “If his name were not Derek Jeter,” Sherman writes, “the Yanks would have definitely moved him to eighth or ninth in the lineup and possibly considered playing Eduardo Nunez at shortstop more.” I disagree with playing Nunez more, but Jeter shouldn’t and wouldn’t be batting at or near the top of the Yankee lineup if he were any other short stop with a .332 on-base percentage.

Sherman eventually broaches the delicate topic of money. He doesn’t believe Jeter would get more than a one-year, $7-million deal on the open market — in other words, Marco Scutaro money. Jeter, according to John Harper’s anonymous sources, will expect more. The Daily News columnist rounded up some people who wished to remain nameless, and surprisingly, none of them had nice things to say. “”Knowing Jeet,” one player said to Harper, “he’s not going to let an off-year, if it turns out to be an off-year, play a role in what he thinks he should get paid. He just doesn’t think like that. He’ll be more convinced than ever that he’ll come back and hit .330 next year.”

Another of Harper’s supposed former teammates echoed those concerns: “The question is whether Cashman and the others think this is the start of a decline, and if so, are they going to factor it into the negotiations or just pay him for being the face of the franchise all these years? Knowing Derek, he’ll say all the right things, but he won’t give an inch based on his numbers this season.”

I grew up with Derek Jeter, and it’s tough for me to admit that he’s getting old. No one likes to come face-to-face with their own mortality and their own aging, but that’s very likely what’s happening with Derek Jeter. His eye isn’t as discnering; his bat speed not as quick; his fielding more suspect. But age is not on his side.

Take a quick gander this:

That list represents every single short stop in Major League history who, at the age of 36 or older, played 75 percent of his games at short stop and played at least 200 games before calling it quits. It isn’t a very long list, and it isn’t one filled with successful players. Now, few of these guys could approach peak-era Derek Jeter in terms of offensive production, but history and age aren’t on Jeter’s side.

Any agreement the Yankees and Derek Jeter reach this winter will set the tone for the immediate future of the franchise. They can risk overpaying Jeter for the good will of his 3000th hit and the end of his career. They can play hardball with Derek and risk ill will from everyone. But they can’t expect to pay Derek Jeter $18 million and A-Rod north of $25 million in 2013 and 2014 and compete at a high level. Even the Yankees’ resources are limited, and poor investments at such high levels are tough to overcome.

The easy answer is one of hope. We have to hope Derek Jeter can kick in gear as the Yanks head for October. We have to hope he can defy age. We have to hope he can battle back the question marks. And we have to hope he’ll reach an amicable deal with the Yankees. Anything else might just be too depressing to ponder. After all, none of us are getting any younger.

Jonathan Albaladejo’s big chance

Today’s September 1st, so that means dozens of prospects, former big leaguers, has-beens, never will-bes, and more will join the 30 big league teams as they expand their rosters down the stretch. For most of the clubs, it’s a time to give some youngsters a look or back off their young starting pitchers, stuff like that. For a guy like Jon Albaladejo, who the Yankees will activate before tonight’s game, it’s an audition for a future job.

(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Albaladejo, the portly 27-year-old righthanded reliever, failed to make the Yanks’ Opening Day this season for the first time since joining the organization following the 2007 campaign, and that’s because he was simply atrocious in Spring Training. He appeared in five games, recorded just eight outs, and allowed 16 (!!!) hits and 11 runs. He walked a pair and struck out just one. With last year’s stellar relief corps intact (plus some new additions), it was going to be tough enough for Albie to crack the bullpen to start with, but his performance in camp cemented his trip to Triple-A Scranton.

With his sinker-slider approach apparently no longer doing the trick, Albaladejo decided to reinvent himself as a more traditional power pitcher. The sinker was replaced with a more traditional four-seamer that has registered in the mid-90’s, the slider with a 12-to-6 curveball. Well, he still throws the sinker and slider on occasion, but they’re nothing more than his third and fourth pitches right now. That’s pretty good for a reliever.

The results of the change were staggering. Albaladejo struck out 82 batters and walked just 18 in 63.1 innings this season, and opponents hit just .170 off him. A mere 22 of the 113 righthanded batters he faced with Scranton this year reached base, and exactly double that number went down on strike three. Along the way he saved 43 games, setting franchise and International League records. Clearly, the new Jon Albaladejo was a force to be reckoned with, and it’s just a matter of proving himself against big league competition now.

Albie showed off his new approach in a brief late-July call-up, when he allowed a run and struck out three in 2.2 innings of work spread across a pair of appearances. Basically a one inning pitcher all season, he appeared to fatigue in the second inning of his first appearance, when he allowed a single (the baserunner was then erased on a caught stealing) and a walk before giving way to Chan Ho Park, who of course allowed the inherited runner to score when he served up a homerun ball on the second pitch he threw. It wasn’t much to judge the new Albaladejo by, but it was obvious that all the talk of his new fastball-curveball combo was more than just talk, it was reality.

September, like Spring Training, isn’t the best time to evaluate players because of the diluted talent pool, but sometimes we’re forced to do it. That’s what the Yankees are going to have to do with Albaladejo, who’s going to be out of options next season. He’s either going to have to stick with the big league club out of Spring Training in 2011 or be placed on waivers before going to the minor leagues. Given the dearth of quality relievers and Albie’s kick-ass Triple-A performance, there’s a pretty good chance someone will give him a whirl. Hell, someone claimed Chan Ho freaking Park off waivers, Albaladejo’s not making it through.

David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Kerry Wood figure to remain Joe Girardi‘s primary righthanded setup relievers down the stretch and rightfully so, which means Albaladejo’s going to have to make the most of whatever playing time he gets. That’s probably going to be sixth and seventh inning work in close but probably still trailing games or blowouts. And remember, Albie’s not just pitching for a job with the Yankees next year, he’s basically auditioning himself for the other 29 clubs as well. Perhaps the Yanks could net something in a trade after the season than risk losing him for no return off waivers.

Jon Albaladejo’s reemergence this year was just one of several pleasant pitching surprises in the farm system this season, but unlike the rest of the guys down there, the Yanks don’t have the luxury of time in this case. Surely they’ve been evaluating him all season long, but this month they’re going to get a crash course look at what he can do against Major League hitters and use that to make a decision on his future with the organization. Hopefully he takes advantage of it.