Sori blows it as Lillibridge saves it, twice

It wasn’t supposed to get any worse than Monday. I mean, six no-hit innings from Phil Humber? What’s worse than that? Turns out that watching your $35 million eighth inning guy blow a lead and having two potentially game-winning ninth-inning hits taken away on great defensive plays is much, much more infuriating.

Rafael says: "No win for you Ivan!" (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Ivan Nova‘s Big Day

"Please let Soriano preserve this lead." (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

This was a big start for Nova, who was essentially pitching for his spot in the rotation whether you agree with it or not. Juan Pierre gift wrapped the first out of the game, trying a drag bunt on Nova’s first pitch only to get thrown out. He needed just eleven pitches to navigate the first inning, then just eight to get through the second, setting the pace for the night. The Yankees’ right-hander pitched into the seventh inning for the first time in his career, giving up a run only when Alex Rios came around to score after he should have been out twice (once on the fly ball Curtis Granderson couldn’t reel on, and then again when Robinson Cano dropped the throw on the steal attempt).

The key for Nova in this game was clearly his curveball. He did an okay job of locating his fastball away to both lefties and righties, but his ability to get that curve over for a called strike or bury it in the dirt for a swing-and-miss (which he got three of) is what allowed him to be so successful. The impatient White Sox hitters put nine of 13 balls in play on the ground and worked just five three ball counts in 25 plate appearances against Nova. The final line was five singles, two walks, and the one run in six-and-a-third innings of work, but unfortunately it was just the latest in a line of strong pitching performances that went wasted.

"Lol whatevs." (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Eighth Inning Guy™

Rafael Soriano has now appeared in ten games with the Yankees, and only once has he managed to not allow a baserunner: his first outing of the season. The damage tonight was hitting Carlos Quentin with a pitch and surrendering a go-ahead two-run homerun to Paul Konerko on a meatball cutter over the plate, turning a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 deficit with five defensive outs to go. The two baserunners he allowed after that are just salt on the wound.

Joe Girardi said after the game that he has no plans to change that damned 7th-8th-9th inning formula, meaning Soriano will still be force fed high leverage work even though he’s done little to deserve it. The next time I see this guy on the mound, it’ll be too soon.

Where’s The Offense?

Three runs in two games, one of them coming on a solo homer by Brett Gardner of all people. Don’t get me wrong, the White Sox have a pretty good rotation and Gavin Floyd is no chump, but three runs in two games? This team has to do better than that, they can’t have the opposing starter open the seventh inning by throwing his 73rd pitch. Just an awful showing over the last two days, this lineup is better than this.

Oh, and the best part was that stupid sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning. Three outs left to play with and the man with the second most homeruns in the league (Granderson) just gives away an out. It was made even worse because not only has Matt Thornton struggled tremendously this season, but he also walked the next batter. Who knows what happens if they let Grandy actually try. I don’t know when the Yankees moved to the National League, but someone in the dugout needs to start using their brain once in a while. The bunt increased the team’s chances of winning by -6.1%, so it was a backwards move.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)


Brent freaking Lillibridge man. You know what the worst part is? That guy isn’t even an outfielder, he came up as a middle infielder but learned other positions because he couldn’t hit enough to play everyday and needed to up his versatility. Tuesday was his 29th career game in the outfield and eighth (eighth!!!) in right field. Alex Rodriguez and Cano did everything right, hitting the ball hard and deep towards the short porch, but that kid made two unbelievable plays. Just tip your cap to him in the ninth, nothing you can do there.

It’s a good thing Mark Buehrle is pitching tomorrow, because the lefty hitting Nick Swisher sure does need a day off. He’s hitless in his last 15 at-bats now, might even be 16. I don’t really care to look right now. Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and A-Rod combined to go 0-for-9 with two walks and that brilliant sac bunt, and those three are pretty much carrying the offense right now. Eric Chavez had a great night in the field, but he went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and saw just seven pitches total. The two runs, as you probably know, came on solo homers by Cano and Gardner. Ironically enough, both guys showed bunt earlier in the at-bat. Le sigh.

Boone Logan is officially out of my doghouse now, he did a nice job on Sunday and then struck out Mark Teahen to lead off the ninth in this game. Yeah, Pierre singled after that, but it was a crummy little infield hit. It happens. So good job Boone, keep it up. David Robertson did some fine work wiggling out of trouble in the seventh inning. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s been the best non-Mariano Rivera reliever on the team so far. Buddy Carlyle has appeared in three games thus far and has gotten zero swings and misses. It’ll blow up one of these days.

The Yankees grounded into at least one double play for the 12th consecutive game, with Granderson doing the honors on Tuesday. Just in case you’re wondering, the all-time record is 34 straight games by the 1949 Red Sox. No one is close to them, the second longest streak belongs to the 1961 Athletics at just 22 games. The Yankees have a long way to go.

WPA Graph & Box Score

For the first time all season, the Yankees lost two games in a row. They’re last club to do that, so … yay? has the box score and video highlights. I recommend watching Lillibridge’s two catches if you haven’t seen them already, they really are spectacular. Too bad they robbed the good guys of game-winning (or at the very least, game-tying) hits. FanGraphs has some other stuff.

Up Next

The best and worst part of baseball? They play every day. The Yankees will send Bartolo Colon to the mound against Buehrle tomorrow night, though it’ll be up to the offense to wake up. If you’re interested in going, there are plenty of dirt cheap tickets available on the secondary market, so check out RAB Tickets.

Maxwell goes deep again in Scranton win

Graham Stoneburner has been placed on the disabled list due to a stiff neck, making room on the roster for Dan Brewer. Dellin Betances is expected to return to the mound on Thursday, finally back from his blister issues. The MRI on Jesus Montero‘s groin came back clean, so he’ll just rest for a few days and go from there.

Josh Norris took some lengthy video of Slade Heathcott, Gary Sanchez, and Dan Burawa from yesterday’s game, so check it out.

Triple-A Scranton (8-5 win over Charlotte) faced on old buddy
Greg Golson, RF: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K –
Frankie Cervelli, C: 1 for 5, 1 R, 2 K, 1 PB – apparently the plan is for him to catch tomorrow, then they’ll see where he’s at and decide whether or not to activate him
Jorge Vazquez, 1B & Chris Dickerson, CF: both 1 for 3, 1 R, 2 K – JoVa doubled, walked, and drove in a run … Dickerson walked twice and plated a run
Justin Maxwell, LF: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 K – eight for his last 32 (.250), but six of those hits have left the yard
Jordan Parraz, DH: 0 for 2, 1 R, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 HBP
Brandon Laird, 3B: 0 for 5
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 3, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 BB – beast game right there … good to see him rebound from that awful start
Ramiro Pena, SS: 1 for 5, 1 R, 2 RBI
Adam Warren, RHP: 5.1 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4-5 GB/FB – 60 of his 100 pitches were strikes
Josh Schmidt, RHP: 2.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 1-2 GB/FB – 26 of 46 pitches were strikes (56.5%)
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1-0 GB/FB – ten of 18 pitches were strikes (55.6%) … give him a chance (to replace Rafael Soriano!)

[Read more…]

Game 20: Back on track

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Last night was a miserable, ugly, grotesque showing of a baseball game that we should never speak of again. Thankfully, the Yankees play again today and we all have a chance to forget about … what were we talking about again?

Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, LF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, DH
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, 3B
Brett Gardner, LF
Gus Molina, C

Ivan Nova, SP

Want some good news? The Yankees are the only team in baseball that has yet to lose back-to-back games this season, and they’re 18-4 after being shutout since 2008 according to Pete Caldera . No YES Network tonight, the game will be broadcast on My9 locally and MLB Network nationally. First pitch will be thrown a little after 7pm ET, so sit back and try to enjoy.

Yankees waiting on results of Hughes’ tests, more scheduled

Via Peter Botte and Marc Carig, Phil Hughes underwent four hours of medical examination today, including not one but two MRI’s (shoulder and elbow) as well as a series of vascular tests. The results, however, are not available yet, and in fact the right-hander is scheduled for even more tests tomorrow. Mark Feinsand reported last night that Hughes is going for a full body scan and the Yankees are concerned about a non-structural issue, such as an aneurysm. That would be bad, remember Ian Kennedy had one in 2009 and missed basically the entire season. Get well soon, Philbert.

For Nova, a start most crucial

Over the past few years, the Yankees have not shown much patience when it comes to developing their young pitching arms. At various points since 2008, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy have been bounced around in various roles, moved from one level to the other with a short leash or flat-out traded away. If that, as we have seen, is how the Yanks treat their top prospects, imagine how the club, always in win-now mode and without the luxury of a large cushion in the American League East, might feel about its less heralded arms.

Ivan Nova, tonight’s starter, is one of those less heralded arms. Never ranked among the Yanks’ top prospects — Baseball America hasn’t included him in the top ten while our own Mike Axisa ranked him eighth — the Yanks like his fastball and poise, but his breaking pitches haven’t matured into Major League out-pitches yet. Furthermore, he has struggled getting through the lineup multiple times, and in fact, lately, he’s just flat-out struggled to get through the lineup period.

On the season, Nova is 1-2 with a 7.63 ERA. In 15.1 innings, he’s given up 19 hits and nine walks on nine strike outs, and while no one has left the yard against him yet, opponents are hitting a robust .306/.411/.452 against him. With a line drive rate of 15.1 percent, the walks along with some seeing-eye grounders have gotten him in trouble. His FIP is only 4.02 and his xFIP is 5.31. Essentially, he’s not pitching well, but because he’s keeping the ball in the park, he’s not pitching as badly as his numbers might indicate.

Yet, Nova could very well be pitching for his job tonight. The Yankees have Kevin Millwood waiting in the wings, and while the 36-year-old hasn’t been lighting up the gun in the minors, he has gotten 14 innings’ worth of outs in two starts. He also holds a May 1 opt-out, and after his AAA start this Thursday, the Yankees are more than likely going to activate him.

Tonight, thus, isn’t Nova’s last start. Because the Yanks don’t have any off-days and Millwood wouldn’t be able to take the mound until next Tuesday at the earliest, the 24-year-old will pitch this weekend as well. This evening’s outing though is an audition. Nova has to give the Yankees innings and get outs without pitching them into a big hole. He couldn’t have drawn an easier opponent.

As a team, the White Sox are hitting .241/.306/.370. They have the fourth fewest walks in the AL and love to swing at everything. They’ve managed to plate just one run in one of their last 28 innings, and against right-handers, they’re hitting an even-worse .235/.296/.373. This is the perfect team for a struggling pitcher to face, and if Nova can’t keep things close, he is not an ideal fifth starter right now for the Yankees.

Perhaps it’s not fair for the team and the fans to put so much pressure on Nova to perform. We try not to judge players based on how they do over the first few weeks of the season, and we know the Yanks are high enough on Nova to have entrusted him with a rotation spot. But we also know that Nova is under team control for half a decade longer while Kevin Millwood could leave in five days. We know that Nova has made it out of the 5th just once this year, and we know the Yanks need their innings and Ws. For a young starter in late April, Nova faces a key test tonight. How he does will determine what the Yanks do over the next few turns through the rotation.

Salvaging The Sheffield Trade

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It’s been a long time since the Yankees traded Gary Sheffield to the Tigers for three pitching prospects, so long in fact that Sheff added 299 hits and 54 homers to his resume after the trade despite (essentially) retiring two seasons ago. New York simply had too many high-priced outfielders and not enough spots, with both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui just completing year one of identical four-year, $52M contracts while Bobby Abreu (plus the two years and $31M left on his contract, counting the option) came on board in a midseason trade. Sheff was the odd man out.

In return, the Yankees acquired three promising young arms. The best of the bunch was Humberto Sanchez, who was rated as the 57th best prospect in the game by Baseball America just weeks after the trade. A few weeks after that, he blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery. He came back the next year and managed to earn a September call-up, leading to his only two big league appearances. The Yankees released Hungry Hungry Humberto after the 2009 season, and he’s since bounced to the Taiwanese and Mexican Leagues. The least interesting piece in the trade was Anthony Claggett, who sat in the minors until making two disastrous appearances for the Yankees in 2009. He was lost on waivers that September and hasn’t been back to the majors since.

The third player in the trade wasn’t a headliner like Sanchez or a throw-in like Claggett, just a solid secondary piece in the form of a decent relief pitching prospect. That man is Kevin Whelan, the only player in the trade yet to reach the big leagues and the only player in the trade still with the Yankees. A catcher that the Tigers Texas A&M turned into a pitcher, Whelan was a classic hard-thrower with command issues. He struck out 110 batters in 78.1 IP in Detroit’s farm system before the trade, allowing just 39 hits. The problem was the 37 walks and seven wild pitches. Whelan lived up to the billing in his first year in the Yankees’ organization, striking out 96 batters and walking 54 in 82.1 IP (45 hits). He’s battled various injuries and the same control issues in the four full years since the trade, essentially removing him from the prospect map and relegating him to the organization arm bin.

Scheduled to become a minor league free agent after the season, Whelan is doing his best to raise his stock. The table on the right shows his game log from this season, and you can see that he’s done a swell job of throwing strikes and avoiding the free pass so far. The lone run he’s surrendered came on a solo homer in his first game of the season. It’s not just those eight appearances either, Whelan’s last two months in 2010 were excellent as well (19 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 26 K). It’s not much, but it’s the 27-year-old’s best stretch of health and effectiveness since the trade. I don’t have a recent scouting report for Whelan, so for all I know he could be doing it with smoke and mirrors, but he worked off a low-to-mid-90’s fastball with a devastating splitter (the pitch responsible for all those whiffs and the lack of hits) in the past. Until I hear otherwise, I’m just going to assume the same (or something reasonably close to it) holds true today.

The Yankees, as you’ve probably already noticed, have a spare bullpen spot to play with. It’s currently occupied by Buddy Carlyle, but it’s also been filled by Hector Noesi and Luis Ayala in the past few weeks. I’m not saying the Yankees should cut ties with Carlyle now and call up Whelan, but I would have to think he’s at least in the conversation for a call-up if/when another one is needed. Like I said, he’s going to become a free agent after the season, so the club should at least take a look at him at the big league level and see what he has to offer, even if he just ends up as the third piece in a trade. It’s better than losing him for nothing.

The Yankees have set a precedent when it comes to Triple-A relief arms having excellent seasons, often leaving them in the minors instead of promoting them to the show and giving them a chance. And you know what? They’ve been right about these guys. Chris Britton has spent the last two years pitching in an independent league. Jon Albaladejo reinvented himself last year and still garnered so little interest from MLB teams last year that he bolted for Japan this winter. Colter Bean, Sam Marsonek, the list goes on and on. For all we know Whelan could be the next in that dubious line, but if he has anything to give at the big league level, the Yankees should see what it is at some point this summer. They just might end up with something to show for the Sheff trade after all.

The RAB Radio Show: April 26, 2011

Tough loss last night, but those happen. There were positives, though. More important, of course, is the game at hand this evening. Ivan Nova has plenty on the line, as Kevin Millwood’s opt-out date approaches. They found a mechanical flaw that might have affected him his first few times out, but how many times have we heard that line?

Then there’s Phil Hughes, who will undergo tests and scans today as the Yankees try to figure out why his arm feels dead. There is plenty of speculation, but that’s all we have until the Yankees announce the test results.

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.