Former WFAN radio personality and current My9 sports host Russ Salzberg, who is a client of my dad’s and a good family friend, has a new weekly web show. Every Wednesday from from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m., Salzberg is taking calls and discussing sports right here on the Fox 5 website. Give him a listen and a call and tell him RAB sent you. The number’s 201-330-3466.
We all slept a little easier last night following the Yankees’ win over the Rays, but that’s all it was: a win. Singular. One win in a season that’s nowhere close to being over with a long stretch of terrible play not far enough away in the rear view mirror to rest easy. The Yankees have still lost ten of their last 14 games and are just as close to last place as first place (two games), so they’re not out of the woods yet. Last night’s win was a positive first step, but that’s it, nothing more.
Tonight’s series opener in Baltimore will be a tough challenge in more ways that one. First of all, the Yankees will definitely be without the services of Joba Chamberlain, who Joe Girardi said will sit tonight no matter what after pitching in each of the last three days as well as in four of the last five. David Robertson is probably a no-go as well; he threw 27 pitches last night and has thrown 119 pitches in five appearances over the last eight days. If the Yankees have a smallish lead late, there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to see Boone Logan and Luis Ayala do the heavy lifting. Furthermore, the Orioles are starting rookie lefty Zach Britton (who got pushed back after they got rained out last night), a sinkerballer that the Yankees have never seen before. We know how that usually goes.
The good news is that Camden Yards always seems to brings out the best in the Yankees’ offense. They scored 21 runs in two games there earlier this season, and last year this same cast of characters (give or take a catcher) hit a collective .289/.371/.446 in Baltimore, a 118 OPS+. It won’t hurt that the Orioles’ pitching staff has the fifth worst ERA (4.37) and fourth worst FIP (4.43) in baseball in 2011, the Yankees could certainly use all the help they can get at the moment. An offensive explosion, I’m talking double-digit runs and an unmerciful amount of homeruns, is what I’m hoping for this evening. I want them to Amaury Sanit-proof tonight’s game and early, we can all do without a nail-biter or hair-puller-outer for once.
Like I said, tonight’s game is just the next step in getting out of this slump. There are still some big time questions about the pitching staff and a whole lot of hitters still trying to right the ship, and it’s not all going happen at once. The Yankee have a favorable schedule coming up – eight of their next eleven games come against losing teams – but then again they didn’t exactly take care of business against the White Sox and Royals recently either. It can be very easy to overstate that one win, the one that got them off the schneid, but make no mistake about it, the Yankees still have a long way to go before they’re out of the hole they dug themselves this month. The process continues tonight.
Aaaand exhale. Boy, as badly as the Yankees needed Tuesday night’s win, I think we fans needed it more. We were all starting to get a loony over here. It sure was fun to finally get to back putting one … wait for it … on the left side*.
A-Bombs From A-Rod
I think I might have to start writing posts about how players need rest more often. Just a couple of hours after I said that Alex Rodriguez needed a day or three off, the Yankees’ cleanup hitter went out and hit a game-tying homerun in the fourth and a go-ahead homer in the sixth against the Rays. The first came off one of Jamie Shields’ patented two-strike changeups, a no-doubter deep into the left-center field seats. It was classic A-Rod, turning around the pitcher’s best pitch for a shot that reminds you just how absurdly talented he really is. The second homer was a 1-0 fastball out over the plate, not quite a no-doubter but a well-hit ball to dead center.
Alex’s slump has been the center attention during this rough stretch, but he now has three homers in his last six games and has actually hit safely in nine of his last dozen games. Two homers aren’t enough for me to declare the slump over, not even close, but it’s certainly an encouraging sign. The offense has such a different feel to it when he’s hitting, it’s not even funny.
Holy cow David Robertson. Ivan Nova predictably worked himself into a one out, bases loaded jam the half inning after A-Rod gave the Yankees a one run lead, but in fairness the third baserunner was put in intentionally. Joe Girardi stormed out of the dugout to lift his starter and give the ball to the only man qualified to escape the jam, Fireman David Robertson™.
The first batter was B.J. Upton, the same guy that hit the go-ahead homer the night before, but Robertson showed him no respect with six straight cutters that PitchFX clocked at 93, 94, 93, 94, 94, and 95. The first three were either fouled off or taken for strikes, the next two taken for balls, but Upton swung through the final one for a strikeout. That brought the certifiably terrible Casey Kotchman to the plate, a and he took a cutter (94) for strike one, fouled off a curve for strike two, then stared at a 96 mph cutter inside for the called strike three. Fireman David Robertson™ at his best.
I would have pulled Nova earlier in the inning, but I give Joe Girardi some props for not slaving to The Formula and saving Robertson for the seventh just because it’s “his inning” with Rafael Soriano on the shelf. He was clearly the best option at that point, so good for him for being a little more relaxed with his innings assignments. In terms of WPA, the two strikeouts improved the Yankees changes of winning by 13.3% and 12.9%, respectively. The total WPA of the inning was +0.262, which would qualify as the second greatest escape job of Robertson’s career. Bravo young man.
Not So Super Nova
The final line says one run on four hits and two walks in 5.1 IP, but I thought Nova was extremely shaky in this one. He needed 20 pitches to get through the first (just one baserunner, a Johnny Damon single) and another 22 to get through a 1-2-3 second inning. The third inning required another 24 pitches, though it featured a homer and a single (thankfully in that order and not the other way around). Nova was seemingly behind in the count all night, and Rays fouled off one out of every five of his pitches en route to extending at-bats and making life miserable for the Yankees.
It was a classic bent but don’t break performance, but those are pretty common with young pitchers. They make you sweat, but hey, Nova got the job done at the end of the day, and that’s all that mattered on Tuesday night. But boy would I love him to find a strikeout pitch, that would make life so much easier.
Insurance runs! That Yankees haven’t scored many of those lately, leading to a few blown leads and losses, but they took advantage of some Rays’ errors and well-placed balls in play to score an extra two runs in both the seventh and ninth. Chris Dickerson blooped an RBI single into center for his first hit in pinstripes and Brett Gardner slapped a grounder just beyond a diving Elliot Johnson for another run in the final inning. Derek Jeter also drove in runs with a fielder’s choice and an infield single. The Yankees had four hits in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position and are now 7-for-14 in those spots over the last two games. Hooray.
Just to quickly recap the rest of the offense: Curtis Granderson took an 0-for-5 (you are forgiven, Curtis), Mark Teixeira went 1-for-3 with a walk, Russell Martin 1-for-4, and Brett Gardner finished 3-for-4 (including a gorgeous bunt base hit). Jorge Posada went 2-for-3 with a double in his first start since Friday, and believe it or not he’s not reached base in eight of his last 13 trips to the plate. I’ll take it. Robinson Cano went 1-for-4 with a strikeout and saw a total of six pitches. Do the math. Hint: that’s a three pitch strikeout and three first pitch balls in play. Jack Curry says hitting coach Kevin Long had a “heart-to-heart” talk with Robbie about being more selective at the plate since Monday, but since then he’s seen a total of 15 pitches in eight plate appearances since. Cano can get the bat on almost any pitch, but my concern is that he’s swinging at strikes just because they’re in the zone. Pitches in the zone aren’t always good to hit, he needs to learn (or be reminded) that taking a strike is okay every so often.
Joba Chamberlain, working for the third straight day, still ran his fastball up to 96, and although he didn’t strike anyone out, he also didn’t walk anyone and recorded all four outs on the ground. I’ll take it. Amaury Sanit was shaky with a five-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, so Girardi turned to Mariano Rivera for the final out to make sure the losing streak came to an end.
I’m so happy about the win that I won’t even make a big fuss over the latest stupid sacrifice bunt in an early inning, this time the third. Of course it didn’t work and the runner was stranded at second. They’ll learn one day, I hope.
WPA Graph & Box Score
The Yankees are heading to Baltimore for another quick two-game series starting Wednesday, when Bartolo Colon takes on Jeremy Guthrie.
* Michael Kay’d
Dan Szymborski took a look at some potential impact call-ups in an ESPN Insider-only piece, and has Jesus Montero ranked as number one. His ZiPS system projects a .274/.328/.481 batting line for Montero at the big league level the rest of the way, which is pretty freaking awesome. Dellin Betances (4-3, 4.38 ERA) and Manny Banuelos (3-3, 4.42 ERA) rank fourth and fifth on the ten player list. Szymborski doesn’t say the teams should call these players up, just who ZiPS projects best over the remainder of the season.
Carlos Silva will pitch for Triple-A Scranton on Thursday, so he’s getting closer to the bigs…
Triple-A Scranton (7-3 loss to Lehigh Valley)
Kevin Russo, DH: 0 for 3, 2 BB
Dan Brewer, LF-RF: 3 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB – had just one hit in his last 17 at-bats (.059)
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 5, 1 PB, 1 E (catcher’s interference)
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K – seven homers in his last eight games, including three multi-homer games
Justin Maxwell, CF: 1 for 5, 4 K – 60 K in 136 at-bats (44.1%)
Brandon Laird, 3B-LF: 1 for 4, 1 K
Jordan Parraz, RF: 0 for 3 – left the game limping for an unknown reason
Doug Bernier, 3B: 0 for 1
Ramiro Pena, SS: 1 for 4
Luis Nunez, 2B: 0 for 4
David Phelps, RHP: 4 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 4-2 GB/FB – 54 of 94 pitches were strikes (57.4%) … not his best night
Ryan Pope, RHP: 3 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 Balk, 2-1 GB/FB – 30 of 50 pitches were strikes … wonder if they’re trying to stretch him out to 50-60 pitches so he can a multi-inning middle relief guy, though I could be (and probably am) completely wrong
Andy Sisco, LHP: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 17 of 31 pitches were strikes (54.8%)
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 1-0 GB/FB – threw just three pitches, one of which was a strike
Keith Law posted his first mock draft this afternoon (Insider req’d), and he has a surprise name going first overall: Virginia LHP Danny Hultzen to the Pirates. “I’m having a hard time seeing Hultzen as the best player on the board,” says KLaw, “but under Neal Huntington the Pirates have long considered value relative to cost in their drafts, sometimes preferring to spend less in the first round when they see opportunities to spend their savings on other appealing prospects in later rounds.”
He has the Mariners taking Rice 3B Anthony Rendon with the second pick, and the Diamondbacks grabbing UCLA RHP Trevor Bauer with the third. UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole falls all the way to … the Royals at five. As if their farm system needs more help. The Yankees aren’t included in the first round mock because they don’t pick until 51st overall, but you can still get a feel for who’s going where and what some teams are thinking.
The Yankees just got to Tampa yesterday but they’re already on their way out, flying up to Baltimore following tonight’s finale of the two-game set. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, the Yanks are just 2-5 at Tropicana Field in their last seven games there dating back to last season. Hooray for cherry picking. Here’s the latest group of guys that will try to get out of this funk…
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B – shakes fist … give the guy a day or two off
Robinson Cano, 2B
Russell Martin, C – wow, five games in a row
Jorge Posada, DH
Brett Gardner, LF
Chris Dickerson, RF – he was called up and Rafael Soriano was placed on the DL, in case you missed it.
Ivan Nova, SP
Another weird 6:40pm ET start, but whatever. No YES tonight, the game is on regular old My9. Try not to throw the remote at the TV.
The Yankees have recalled outfielder Chris Dickerson from Triple-A Scranton, placing Rafael Soriano and his balky elbow on the disabled list in the corresponding move. Another MRI apparently showed nothing but inflammation. The moves get them back to a normal four-man bench and seven-man bullpen.
Dickerson is a lefty batter, something the Yankees have lacked on the bench since Eric Chavez‘s injury. He was hitting .248/.370/.354 with eight steals in eleven attempts in Triple-A, and that’s pretty much his game: some power (career .178 ISO at the Triple-A level), gets on base (.380 OBP), runs a little bit (65 SB in 81 attempts, 80.2% success rate), and plays sound defense at all three outfield spots. Dickerson’s useful but not a savior, though the Yankees needed to get rid of that ridiculous eight-man bullpen.