Game 15: Coney’s Back

Look alive, fellas.

After a year-long hiatus from the YES Network, David Cone returns to the booth to call tonight’s game in Toronto. I don’t know about you, but Cone was easily my favorite YES announcer during his time here, and I welcome him back with open arms. I look forward to many FanGraphs references, occasional inappropriate language, and better insight than any of the other color guys. No offense to those guys, but today is a great day for Yankees’ fan. Welcome back, Coney.

Here’s the lineup, which is still lacking a certain third baseman…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, 3B
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, CF

A.J. Burnett, SP

Ready for the curveball? Tonight’s game is not on YES, it’s on My9 instead. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET. Enjoy, I know I will.

Injury Updates: Although he’s not in the lineup, Alex Rodriguez did take batting practice before the game, which is obviously a good sign. If his oblique issue was that bad, he wouldn’t be swinging a bat … Frankie Cervelli has been playing in Extended Spring Training and could begin an official minor league rehab assignment by the weekend … Colin Curtis is expected to miss the rest of the season after having surgery to repair his injured shoulder. That sucks. He hurt it diving for a ball in Spring Training.

Shameless Plug: Make sure you check out Russ Salzberg’s call-in show that airs live on the web every Wednesday from 11am-2pm. Click the link to find the phone number and the rest of the info.

The plan for Kevin Millwood

Via Brian Costello, Brian Cashman confirmed that Kevin Millwood will make his next start for Triple-A Scranton sometime this week. He just threw seven one-hit innings for Double-A Trenton on Sunday, so sometime this weekend is a safe bet. The Yankees have 11 days left to evaluate Millwood before the opt-out clause in his contract kicks in, so it looks like they’ll get to see him make two starts for Scranton before the decision needs to be made.

Carlos Silva, on the other hand, is not scheduled to pitch anytime soon. He’s in Extended Spring Training right now and is undergoing a conditioning program.

Jonathan Mayo interviews Cito Culver’s Jonathan Mayo ran around to each camp in Spring Training to speak to all of last year’s first round picks, and today he published his interview with the Yankees’ Cito Culver. The video is a touch over six minutes long but it’s certainly worth watching; the two talk about some changes the Yankees have made to Culver’s stance, his typical day, how he worked out during the bitter Rochester winter, the expectations of being a first rounder, all sorts of stuff. There’s a lot of yes sir’s involved, Cito’s certainly a polite kid. The video is on YouTube but it won’t let you embed it, so you’ll have to click through the link to watch.

Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Away from home for only their second series this season, the Yankees will play a pair of games in Toronto this week. It’s kind of an oddly timed series, just two games sandwiched between two off-days. But it’s Yankee baseball, so who are we to complain?

Last year the Yanks had trouble with the Jays, and actually finished 8-10 against them. Thankfully for the Yanks, these aren’t the 2010 Blue Jays. They lost a few key players during the winter, and while they’re stronger in the long run, they’re definitely weaker for the 2011 season. The Yanks definitely have an opportunity to jump out ahead here and steal a pair of games before heading down to Baltimore.

What Have They Done Lately?

(Charles Krupa/AP)

After looking like the Blue Jays of 2010 during the first week of play, the Jays have slipped considerably in the last week and a half. That includes three straight losses to the Red Sox, in which they managed just one run per game. Before that they managed to let Seattle put up an eight spot on them. Things just aren’t looking that bright for the Jays currently.

Blue Jays On Offense

Yep. Bautista can still pop one. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Last year the home run was the Jays’ calling card, as they led the league by a decent margin. This year they’ve hit only 13, which ranks them 19th among the 30 teams. In fact, hitting for power has been a general problem for the team this year. They’ve hit just 24 doubles, which ranks 24th in the league, after finishing second last year. That’s an enormous problem for a team built like the Jays. They’re not an on-base type of squad — last year they ranked 26th with a .312 OBP — so when they’re not hitting for power they struggle to bring around runs.

Three players, really, have carried the Jays on offense to this point. Jose Bautista has kept up his power hitting ways, smacking three homers so far. While he likely won’t hit 54 again, he remains a legitimate power threat. He’s backed up by J.P. Arencibia, who has two doubles, two triples, and two homers already. Yunel Escobar has taken to his new home north of the border, hitting .333/.414/.563 with a double, two triples, and two homers this season. Jayson Nix, too, has stepped up, hitting .256/.356/.462 through 45 PA.

The biggest disappointments this season have been Adam Lind and Aaron Hill. They were in the same position last year, meaning their performances in 2011 became all the more important. Hill is just 14 for 60 (.233) so far, with three doubles and three walks. That production, a .262 wOBA, isn’t worst among his peers, but it’s not far from it. Lind, whom the Jays are trying at first base this season, has a nearly identical wOBA, .268, and also ranks near the worst of his peers. Travis Snider, a full-time player for the first time in his career, has also disappointed, hitting .151/.250/.245 in his first 60 PA.

At some point, at least one of Lind, Hill, and Snider will turn it around. There’s just too much talent there for all three of them to tank. Yet that’s not guaranteed to happen in this series. The Jays have really struggled at the plate lately. We know that momentum can shift in any given moment, but it’s tough to count on these struggling players at the moment.

Blue Jays On The Mound

(Elaine Thompson/AP)

Game One: Kyle Drabek. Tonight marks Drabke’s seventh major league start, though his first against a team he has previously faced. Last year he ended his season against the Yankees, tossing six innings and allowing three runs in a losing effort. This year the 23-year-old made the team out of spring training and put on a show in his first start, striking out seven Twins in seven innings on his way to a Blue Jays victory. But things haven’t been so easy for him since then.

The Twins, remember, currently sport the league’s worst offense, which could have played into Drabek’s success. In his next start he pitched only six innings, while facing two more batters and throwing two more pitches than his previous start. He also allowed a ton more balls in the air, walked more batters, and struck out fewer. And then in his last start, against the hapless Mariners, he recorded one fewer out while throwing 11 more pitches than his previous start. He all the sudden didn’t look as dominant.

This year his weakness has been the free pass. He has issued 11 to the 77 batters he has faced. This plays into the Yankees hands, as they are one of the more patient teams in the league. They’ve already seen him, so that stigma of getting beat by guys they see for the first time is erased.

Game Two: Brett Cecil. Just hearing the name Brett Cecil makes many Yankees fans cringe. He faced the Yankees five times, and generally gave them fits. What sticks in our heads are the two eight-inning performances in which the Yankees seemingly hit everything on the ground. What gets lost is that his final two outings weren’t all that great.

On September fifth he lasted 6.1 innings, but allowed three runs in the process. He walked four and struck out only three in that time, so things could have gone far worse. The Blue Jays did win the game, though, which makes the positive aspects of the game more forgettable. Then, in his final start of the season, he gave up three runs in just 5.1 innings. This time the Yanks hit plenty in the air. Again, Cecil won. He won’t get that lucky all the time.

As with Phil Hughes, Cecil threw far more innings last year than he had in the past. Also as with Hughes, he experienced reduced velocity in spring training and into the year. He hasn’t been quite the ground balling machine he was last year, and even allowed 10 fly balls in his previous start against the Red Sox. Overall he has been generally unimpressive this season, which is good news for Yankees fans. Maybe we’ll finally see them beat Cecil this year.

Bullpen: The Jays underwent a bullpen overhaul this winter, as they lost both Kevin Gregg and Scott Downs to free agency. But they did make a few pick-ups, including Frank Francisco, who returns to action this evening. Shawn Camp, Jason Frasor, and Carlos Villanueva have performed well so far. That is, their late-inning force appears to be in full effect. The Yankees can weaken that strength, though, by forcing Drabek and Cecil from the games early.

Blue Jays Featured Blog: Drunk Jays Fans.

Saving David Robertson’s Arm

The Puffy Face is catching on. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Once Rafael Soriano signed on the dotted line of that damned contract, one thing became very clear about the 2011 Yankees: they were going to have a dynamite bullpen. At least on paper anyway, because Mo knows these things almost never work out as planned. The season is only 14 games old, but aside from two Soriano meltdowns the relief corps have performed as expected. Their 2.98 FIP is the best in the AL by nearly half-a-run (Cleveland is second at 3.42) and their 2.37 K/BB ratio trails only the White Sox (2.88). So far, so good.

Joe Girardi has proven to be a fine bullpen manager, not over-working his core guys and not burying the sixth and seventh relievers for two weeks at a time either (though I’m sure Hector Noesi disagrees). His bullpen management skills are probably overblown since his predecessor was as bad as it gets in that department, but I don’t think anyone really has a huge problem with how he works his relievers. Sure, we all disagree with an individual pitching change from time to time, that goes without saying, but as far as the big picture goes, he’s just fine.

However, as this season has started unfold, one of Girardi’s most annoying tendencies has become even more painfully obvious: the guy just loves marrying relievers to specific innings. Loves it. Makes the in-game decisions nice and easy and the post-game questions even easier. Why’d you bring that guy into the game in that spot? He’s my X inning guy. Bam, end of story, next question. Joba Chamberlain in the seventh, Soriano in the eighth, Mariano Rivera in the ninth. That’s the plan and Girardi’s sticking to it, hell or high water.

Of course, rolling out Joba, Soriano, and Mo in the late innings probably is the best course of action to win a single game, but baseball’s a marathon. To be quite frank about it, David Robertson can not be warming up in the sixth inning of every game just in case the starter gets into trouble, and then not pitch of he doesn’t. It just can’t physically be done. Those pitches thrown in the bullpen count against his arm even if they don’t show up in the box score. Sometimes Girardi will just have to go against The Formula™ and let him pitch the seventh inning to keep him fresh and spread out the workload, even if it makes him unavailable for a day or two. That’s life. I don’t know why Joba and Robertson aren’t interchangeable in that seventh inning role anyway, but that’s just me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of having Robertson available as the fireman, using his strikeout-heavy ways to get out of a jam mid-inning. But he doesn’t need to be on call for that role every single day, especially since he’s warming up for it more often than not. Ultimately, I’m just concerned about the health of his arm and his effectiveness. If you warm up day after day like that, you’re not fresh when you finally do come into a game even if you’ve had the last four days off.

The Yankees have played an inordinate number of close games this season (already five one-run and one two-run game out of 14), so at some point the bullpen workload will start to even out. Mo and Joba won’t make the 104 appearances they’re on pace for and chances are Boone Logan will get into more than 58. Robertson has appeared in six games already, putting him on pace for right around 70, which is a perfectly reasonable number. Hopefully Girardi will cut down on all those complete game shutouts he’s been throwing in the bullpen though.

The RAB Radio Show: April 19, 2011

The Yanks are in Toronto this week, which might be a good thing. The Blue Jays have been playing like crap, and they’re sending out one inexperienced pitcher, and another who has gotten lit up this season. Still, something doesn’t feel right about this. Maybe it’s the lingering effects of last season, maybe it’s the unpredictable nature of AL East games. But Mike and I don’t have the best feeling about this series.

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A-Rod ‘begged’ Yankees to sign Melky this winter

Via Jon Heyman, Alex Rodriguez “begged” the Yankees to sign Melky Cabrera this past offseason after the two trained together in Miami over the winter. For what it’s worth, Melky showed up to Royals’ camp legitimately in the best shape of his life this spring, but it hasn’t helped him with his play. After signing for $1.25M, the Melkman is hitting just .274/.280/.397 in 75 plate appearances this season, which is worse than what he did with Atlanta last year in terms of OBP, but better in terms of SLG. Either way, it still stinks.

I assume that if the Yankees had listened to A-Rod, Melky would have filled the Andruw Jones role of lefty mashing fourth outfielder. The problem with that is that Cabrera is a .274/.330/.390 career hitter against southpaws, his weaker side. Hey, Melky was a fun and energetic guy with a knack for big hits, but Alex should really stick to hitting baseballs.