Open Thread: Opening Day

The Yankees are off today, but there’s still plenty of baseball action going on. The Marlins visit the Mets with first pitch scheduled for 1pm ET (SNY), plus you’ve got the Cardinals-Reds (1pm ET, ESPN), Indians-White Sox (2pm ET, ESPN2), Cubs-Braves (4pm ET, ESPN), Giants-Astros (7pm ET, ESPN2), and Twins-Angels (10pm ET, ESPN2). Also, the Extra Innings free preview starts today and runs through Sunday, so you’ll be able to watch any game your heart desires. The late games with Vin Scully are always a treat.

If you want, go ahead and use this as an open thread to talk about any of today’s games. Enjoy.

Trial By Fire: Chan Ho Park and the 7th inning

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa, AP

Last night’s game represented Phase I of a bullpen experiment. With 2009’s primary setup man moving into the rotation, Joe Girardi will have to go through the sometimes painful motions of figuring out who belongs where in the bullpen pecking order again this year. Much like 2009, David Robertson was brought into a sticky situation – a strikeout situation – in the 6th inning, but Girardi opted to deploy Chan Ho Park in the 7th inning even though Robertson had thrown just six pitches.

GM Brian Cashman did nothing but gush when he signed Chan Ho Park, and he certainly looked the part with six stellar spring outings (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K). Of course, Spring Training stats mean nothing, so Park’s audition for a late inning setup job started yesterday. Summoned out of the bullpen to face three guys who don’t exactly represent power threats (Marco Scutaro, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia), he didn’t just relinquish the Yanks’ two run lead, but he left the game with the go-ahead run in scoring position.

After sitting 93-95 with his fastball during his relief stint with the Phillies last year, Park sat 90-93 last night, which really isn’t that big of a deal since it’s April and it was his first outing for the year. Once the weather warms up and he gets some more innings in, he should be back up to normal velocity. More importantly, he was missing his spots big time. Just look at where Jorge Posada set up and where the pitch ended up on Pedroia’s homer. It was supposed to be a fastball down and away, probably to try and get a double play ball, but it ended up at the letters and out over the plate. Pedroia’s a good hitter, and he did what good hitters are supposed to do.

What I really want to touch on is why Park was brought into the game in that spot anyway. Robertson had thrown just those six pitches, and had plenty more in the tank if Girardi wanted to give him at least start the 7th. Instead, the manager needed to begin the process of figuring out who are going to be the team’s late inning, hold a small lead in a big game relievers. It’s not always going to pretty, and there will be plenty of times when such an audition costs the team a game, which is exactly what happened last night. But as we’ve seen in the past two years, we’re looking at short-terms losses for long-term gains.

Despite his fantastic spring and rock solid relief work for the Phillies last year, no one really knows what to expect out of Park in the AL East. He has the traits that lead you to believe he’ll be successful – he gets groundballs, throws strikes, can go multiple innings – but until we see him out there, we have no idea how he’ll respond. That’s why it’s important to get him out there in these kind of spots sooner rather than later. To make a decision and figure out his role as soon as possible. Will he continues to miss those spots, or is that just a function of throwing only seven starts in camp? It’s trial by fire, plain and simple.

Easing Park into it by starting him out in lower leveraged innings may sound like a good idea, but that just prolongs the process. He’s 36-years-old, not some rookie that has to learn the ropes. He should know the routine and know what’s expected of him. There’s no sense in dragging this out, run Park out there in this big spots in April and let’s see what he’s got. Is there a chance he’s the next LaTroy Hawkins? Sure, but right now we have no idea. He didn’t get off to a good start last night, but one outing and 22 pitches isn’t enough of anything to base a decision on. He’ll get another chance to prove himself, probably this series, and that’s just the next step in determining his value to the 2010 New York Yankees.

Fan Confidence Poll: April 5th, 2010

Record Last Week: 0-1 (7 RS, 9 RA)
Season Record: 0-1 (7 RS, 9 RA), 1.0 game back
Opponents This Week: Monday OFF, @ Red Sox (two games, Tues. & Weds.), Thursday OFF, @ Rays (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Pitching staff fails Yanks in opener

The Yankees and Red Sox played just one game last night, but it felt like two. It’s not because it was a typically drawn out Yankees-Sox game, though it did clock in at three hours and 46 minutes. Instead, it felt like two games because while the Yankees looked solid through five innings, they fell apart later in the game. That rests mostly on the pitching staff, but there were also failures to capitalize in critical situations.

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP

Biggest hit: A-Rod‘s 7th inning double

The Yankees scored seven runs last night, but the biggest positive swing in their WPA came on a hit that did not score a run. After the Red Sox tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees sent the heart of their order to bat in the seventh to answer. Mark Teixeira drew a leadoff walk, setting up Alex Rodriguez. He was clearly looking fastball on the first pitch, and Ramon Ramirez served him one, straight and on the inside part of the plate.

The ensuing hit would have left just about every other ballpark in the league, but at Fenway it was just a dent in the Monster. Still, it left the Yankees in an excellent position to take the lead, which they did one batter later. Robinson Cano took a weak hack at the second pitch. Teixeira, already with a poor lead, didn’t get a great jump toward the plate. Thankfully, Dustin Pedroia double clutched, allowing Tex to slide in safely.

Biggest out: Swisher’s double play

Later that inning, after Jorge Posada singled home A-Rod and Curtis Granderson drew a walk, Nick Swisher came up with two on and one out. Hideki Okajima was pitching pretty poorly and the Yanks had him on the ropes. Swisher took two close pitches for balls to start the at-bat, putting him in good position. He hacked at a high fastball on the next pitch, fouling it off. Then he swung at a pitch in a similar location and grounded it sharply to third. Around the horn, inning over.

This is when the Yankees really needed to strike. Yes, the bullpen should have been able to hold the lead, but with Boston’s reliever pitching so poorly they had an opportunity to make the endgame moot. Swisher’s DP killed that rally. It didn’t take the Red Sox long to erase what the Yanks had done in the seventh.

Biggest pitch: Pedroia’s homer off Park

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP

From the moment Chan Ho Park entered the game it was clear that he was having trouble controlling his pitches. His first three pitches, all fastballs, missed the target. Marco Scutaro sat on two more fastballs before slapping a 3-2 slider to center for a base hit. Jacoby Ellsbury, thankfully, looked at strike three. Then came Pedroia

Here’s the sequence: Changeup low, called for a strike. Slider inside, ball. Fastball, high and in, ball. After the two straight inside pitches Jorge set up low and away, waiting for a fastball. Park delivered, but the ball sailed toward the spot of the previous pitch. So, in essence, Park delivered a second straight 90 mph fastball to the same spot. It’s no wonder that Pedroia got his bat around on the ball, sending it high and over the monster for the tying runs.

Park allowed no home runs last season once he moved to the bullpen. There was no way that would last. I’m just stunned that he broke his streak so quickly.

Why leave in Sabathia?

It’s easy to second guess a manager, so I won’t say Girardi was wrong to leave in CC to face Youkilis in the sixth. But after Pedroia walked and Victor Martinez doubled to set up the Sox, I’m not sure CC was the guy to face Youkilis. Under normal circumstance he would be, but these weren’t normal circumstances. It was the first game of the year, CC was up around 100 pitches, and Youkilis had already scorched one off him earlier in the game.

After the game Girardi said that the plan was to have Sabathia go through Ortiz, but at some point you have to make adjustments. Robertson could have come in at that point. Youkilis strikes out his fair share, and Robertson can deliver the strikeout pitch. He also fares well against lefties, lessening the concern of him facing Ortiz. Considering CC looked gassed and wasn’t hitting his spots, I would have thought a call to the bullpen prudent there.

It’s tough to argue with leaving in the ace, and again I don’t think it was necessarily the wrong move by Girardi. But I did wonder why CC stayed in to face Youk, all circumstances considered.

Annoying moments

While plenty of moments annoyed me in this game, none was as frustrating as Youkilis’s triple. Not because CC stayed in to face him, but because it would have been a double had Swisher not misplayed the ball. It was a complete misread. There was no chance he was catching it, but he still pursued it that way, rather than cutting backward and trying to stop it before it got to the wall. Pedroia and Martinez still would have scored, but Youk would have been standing on second, or maybe even first, rather than third. That loomed large two batters later.

Small quibble with Beltre’s at-bat there. He’s pretty bad at hitting breaking pitches. Over his career he’s shown a much greater ability to hit fastballs than sliders and curves. So why serve him high heat on the first pitch? It seemed like a situation where dropping a curve for strike one would have worked. Did the Yankees have a different scouting report?

Who can forget Gardner’s horrible throw on Scutaro’s single to left? With two outs he didn’t have much of a chance to get Drew at the plate, though it looked like he might have known that. I’m not sure where he actually tried to throw the ball, but it ended up where no one was standing. That allowed Mike Cameron to take third and Scutaro to take second. A hit from Ellsbury would have tied the game for the Sox. Thankfully, CC dropped a slider on him and ended the inning.

Joba in general was annoying. He pitched just 1.1 innings, but threw 32 pitches. He predictably went to the slider on a 3-2 count to Mike Cameron, and it dropped below the zone for ball four. Also, Joba’s lucky that Pedroia laid off the first-pitch slider that got called for a strike. That was a hanger, and might have been Pedroia’s second big fly of the night.

Finally, while Marte wasn’t hitting his spots at all, Jorge has to catch that high fastball that allowed Youkilis to score.

Things that made me smile

Photo credit: Elise Amendola/AP

Not to get too negative here, there were a number of moments that made me smile. Clearly, Jorge’s homer off the Pesky Pole, followed by Granderson’s long home run were great moments. Granderson’s catch on Beltre’s sac fly also brought a smile to my face. Yes, it cut the lead in half, but it was a fine play in center by Granerson.

Brett Gardner‘s at-bat against Josh Beckett in the fourth was, dare I say it, gritty. He took five straight pitches to draw a 3-2 count, fouled off two, and then slapped one to left to plate a run. The five straight takes to start the AB ended up working in Gardner’s favor, though I do wonder why he didn’t slap that 3-1 pitch to left.

The most enjoyable play of the game came just moments later. After Jeter singled home Swisher, the Yanks pulled the classic double steal. Jeter broke for second, and Victor Martinez bit, firing the ball down to second. Did he not know who was on third? Gardner broke for the plate immediately and scored without a throw. That’s the kind of play we look out for in high school.

Next up

Day off today, though there’s plenty of baseball to enjoy as the other 28 teams open their seasons. The Yanks are back against the Sox. This one’s at 7:05 on YES.

WPA graph

Just because I love these things. You can check out the player breakdown at the FanGraphs boxscore.

Game One Spillover Thread II

One more thread for the last few innings.

Game One Spillover Thread


Game One: Opening Night

The last time the Yankees played in a game that mattered, they walked off the field as World Champions. Following an offseason of trades and free agent signings, plus a Spring Training completely devoid of major controversy, the boys in pinstripes are ready to step out onto the field to defend that World Championship. The 2010 season isn’t going to wait around for any drama, it’s kicking things off with a good ol’ fashioned Yankees-Red Sox matchup in Fenway Park the night before the other 28 teams play their first games.

The new season means a new beginning, and all of that magic from 2009 will have to be recreated. We don’t know if CC Sabathia will be able to ward off his April demons, but we know he’s the guy we want on the mound in October. We don’t know who’s going to pitch the almighty eighth inning, but there’s about three or four guys out in the bullpen that we’re comfortable seeing out there. We don’t know if this is the year that age catches up to Derek Jeter or Jorge Posada or Andy Pettitte or Mariano Rivera, but if it is, then damn, it sure has been one hell of a ride.

Here’s the first lineup of the new season…

Derek Jeter, SS
Nick Johnson, DH
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Jorge Posada, C
Curtis Granderson, CF
Nick Swisher, RF
Brett Gardner, LF

And on the mound, the Villain from Vallejo, CC Sabathia.

First pitch is scheduled for 8:05pm ET, and the game is being broadcast nationally on ESPN2. If you’re in the NY area though, that broadcast is being blacked out and we’ll have to watch on YES. Same deal if you’re in enemy territory, NESN will have the game in New England.

Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the 2010 season.