Pettitte returns as Yanks pound Twins 7-1

Much attention has been paid to the Yankees’ slumping bats of late, but it looks like a return to their home park has helped wake the offense. The next thing on the agenda is to get everyone healthy, and part one of that process started today when Andy Pettitte returned to the mound after missing a start.

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Biggest Hit: Jeter Drives In Thames

The Yanks jumped on Francisco Liriano for a quick run in the first inning, but rarely is that enough to win. The frigid cold Marcus Thames (four for his last 24 coming into this game) reached base to lead off the second in pretty much the only way he gets on base these days: he got hit by a pitch. Looked painful too. Anyway, he trotted down to first only to find himself on second one pitch later courtesy of a Frankie Cervelli sacrifice bunt. Brett Gardner roped a ball into left for a well struck out, the second of inning.

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Up stepped Derek Jeter, who like Thames has been down in the dumps for the last week or two (two for his last 25 coming into this game). Knowing that the Yankees’ captain has swung at the first pitch more this season than he has in the past (16.1% in 2010 vs. 12.7% in 2009), Liriano attempted to catch him out in front of a changeup, but Jeter didn’t bite. After spitting on another change, Jeter reached out and slapped a 93 mph fastball the other way (video). Thames hustled around third and slid in under the tag for the Yanks’ second run of the game.

It was the first of two hits on the day for Jeter, who has at least one knock in his last three games and is slowly starting to come out of his funk.

Biggest Out: Delmon Gets Doubled Up

After the Yanks took the early lead the 1st, Minnesota threatened to answer right back in the top of the 2nd. Justin Morneau slapped a single into right before Pettitte walked Michael Cuddyer on four pitches to put two men on with no outs. Luckily for Pettitte and the Yanks, Delmon Young was the next man to come to the plate, and that guy hasn’t met a pitch he didn’t like. He went way out the zone to hack at a slow breaking curveball, and the ball bounced harmlessly to Jeter, who initiated the 6-4-3 double play.

Morneau reached third on the play, but the Twins went from a situation where they’d be expected to score 1.53 runs to a situation where they’d be expected to score 0.37 runs. The next batter – Brendan Harris – squared a curveball up and smoked it back through the box, but it ended up in Pettitte’s glove in one of those “hey look what I found” grabs. The Twins exited the inning with zero runs to show for their efforts.

Dandy Andy’s Back

The classic Pettitte shot. (Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP)

After being skipped his last time through the rotation because of some mild elbow inflammation, Pettitte came out and looked like his usual self. He was throwing five pitches for strikes and held the Twins to just two singles over 6.1 innings, retiring all but three of the final 17 batters he faced. Andy’s day ended after 95 pitches, a little earlier than usual, but there was no need to push him coming off an elbow issue.

Pettitte finished the game with a 1.79 ERA, the lowest of his career after his first seven starts of the season. It’s the fourth best ERA in the league, yet just second best in the Yanks’ rotation.

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Piling On

I was talking to Joe during the game, and after Damaso Marte retired Jim Thome to end the 7th, we agreed on one thing: score more runs to give Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera a day off. Little did we know the Yankees were listening. They obliged with four runs in the bottom of the inning, coming on a pair of long, long two run homers by Mark Teixeira (video) and Jorge Posada (video).

Tex’s shot didn’t reach the upper deck in rightfield, but it came damn close. It plopping down into rich people sitting in the suite level. Posada’s blast hit the top of the wall that separates the home bullpen from Monument Park, bouncing up high enough for a fan seated above the restaurant to reach out and grab it. It was a nice barehanded play, if I say so myself. The four insurance runs kept the Yanks’ primary high leverage relievers on the bench out in the bullpen, which trickles down and improves the team’s chances of winning tomorrow.

Happy Things

There were a number of things that made me smile in this game. First, how about that defense? Brett Gardner made a diving grab to record the very first out of the game, then Nick Swisher matched him with a diving play of his own a little later. Robbie Cano snared two line drives from two consecutive batters in the 4th inning (Joe Mauer and Morneau, of all people), turning the second one into a 4-3 double play.

Swisher’s left biceps was still giving him trouble, so he batted from the right side exclusively in this game. It wasn’t a problem with the lefty Liriano on the mound, but you could tell he was uncomfortable against the righty Jesse Crain in the 7th. The guy has never faced a non-knuckleball big league pitcher throwing from the same side in his life, so who could blame him for being uncomfortable? Dude still managed to work a walk, after falling behind 0-2 no less. That’s fantastic.

(In case you’re wondering, Wilson Betemit drew a total of five walks after 0-2 counts during his big league career. Swisher’s done it seven times since becoming a Yankee.)

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Alex Rodriguez continues to smoke the ball, going 2-for-4 with a double off the very top of the wall in right-center. It sounded gone off the bat, and with another half-second gust of wind, it would have been. The Yanks’ third baseman is hitting the quietest .354-.439-.542 over his last 57 plate appearances ever.

It was only one batter and even a broken clock is right twice a day, but Marte did a great job striking out Thome – who represented the tying run – to end the 7th. He got the future Hall of Famer to swing and miss at two fastballs before sweeping in a slider for a backwards K.

Boone Logan recorded the last six outs to end the game, and with Chan Ho Park set to come off the disabled list tomorrow, hopefully it’s the last we see of him for a while. Nothing personal Boone, but you gotta go.

Minnesota is now 3-25 in the Bronx during the Ron Gardenhire era. I love it.

Sad Things

David Robertson looked fantastic when he retired Cuddyer to get the second out of the 7th, but he followed that up by walking Young after getting ahead 0-2 and allowing a first pitch single to Harris. He’s still working throgh some things, but it’s pretty frustrating that he goes from dominant one batter to lost the next.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has your traditional box score, FanGraphs all that other stuff.

Up Next

The series is already in the bag, but these same two teams have to finish off the three game set tomorrow. Sergio Mitre spot starts against Nick Blackburn in another matinee.

Trenton makes it nine wins in a row

Former Yankee farmhand Ben Julianel called it a career. He’s probably best know as the guy they traded to Florida for Ron Villone before the 2006 season, but he had a pretty nice year out of the bullpen for Tampa & Trenton in 2004.

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Charlotte)
Kevin Russo, CF: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K – they’re going to really start to move him around to increase his already strong versatility
Reegie Corona, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 K, 1 SB
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K – obligatory link to this
David Winfree, 1B & Jon Weber, DH: both 0 for 4, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 2 K – nice little four game hitting streak
Chad Huffman, LF, Reid Gorecki, RF & Matt Cusick, 3B: all 1 for 3 – Huffman hit a solo jack, K’ed & threw a runner out at second¬† … Gorecki K’ed … Cusick scored a run
Zach McAllister: 7 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 8-7 GB/FB – 57 of 82 pitches were strikes (69.5%) … he had a six pitch inning … 52 hits allowed in 45 IP
Mark Melancon: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – 11 of his 18 pitches were strikes
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – eight of his 12 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Another series win

"Ladies." (Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

Another home game, another rock solid win for the Yankees. Whenever the Twins play in the Bronx, they must feel like the Yanks felt all those years playing in Anaheim. This series is already in the bag, so tomorrow’s house money day with The Sergio Mitre Experience on the mound.

I recommend going out and enjoying yourself on this gorgeous Saturday evening, but if you’re stuck in front of a computer, then use this as your open thread. The Mets-Marlins are on WPIX, plus the Cardinals-Reds (MLB Network) are on as well. Anything goes, so have at it.

A closer look at Marte

Note: This was written prior to Marte’s appearance against Thome this afternoon. Sure, he was able to get Thome out, but he still made a few mistakes that ended up not hurting him. That’s baseball!¬† I’m hesitant to say “Marte is back” as a result, though he did look improved.

Photo Credit: David J. Phillips / AP

With all the issues the Yankees are currently facing, the bullpen is relatively low on the list of major concerns for the team. Joba has looked great of late, Mariano is Mariano, Park and Aceves should be returning shortly, and our AAA callups Ivan Nova and Romulo Sanchez impressed in their short stints. With major and minor injuries throughout the roster, the struggles of Damaso Marte, David Robertson and Boone Logan aren’t going to be front page news in Yankeeland. After all, two of the three are just lefty specialists (one likely to be sent down when Park returns) and Robertson could be sent to AAA to work on his issues. Whatevs. But make no mistake, all is not well on the left-turn front.

Let’s take a look at last night’s game. Marte entered with a man on second and Joe Mauer at the plate. Marte misses on a first pitch slider outside. He returns with a fastball for a called first strike. It had good velocity but ended up nowhere near where Cervelli set up. At this point, I’m fairly worried. If there’s a short list of guys you absolutely do not want to miss on pitches, Mauer is on it. Then, for some reason, Damaso leaves a slider without much movement in the center of the plate, about belt high. Against Joe Mauer he’s fairly fortunate the ball was only smoked for a single, scoring Denard Span from second. Unfortunately, Brett Gardner attempted to nail Span at the plate and his throw was way up the line. Why he did that is a mystery to me.

Herein lies the problem: Marte was brought in as an expensive reliever (the contract extension still seems a bit of a blunder as of this writing) with the one goal – to get out tough lefties. He hasn’t done it with much regularity a a Yankee and while Burnett had command issues (and certainly not helped by a pygmy-sized strike zone), wouldn’t you rather have the better pitcher face the better hitters? Mauer’s no slouch against lefties, either. He hits them to the tune of .313/.376/.417. I understand why Joe made the decision and it’s much easier to second guess the Yankee manager from the comfort of my garden apartment, but I’d argue you’d rather have the better pitcher in against the better pitcher, especially if neither has much of a platoon split. All of Burnett’s pitches are better than Marte’s offerings.

Back to the action. So Mauer moves up to second and Morneau is now the batter. Morneau hasn’t been phenomenal against left-handers throughout his career, but as Mike noted in last night’s recap, why let their only really dangerous hitters beat you? With first base open, you’d think they’d not give Morneau anything to hit, if not walk him altogether, right? On the sixth pitch of the at bat, Morneau slams another high slider with little break. Boom! Double! Mauer scores. With the lead gone, Girardi then intentionally walks Michael Cuddyer (a righty) to get to Jason Kubel (a lefty, who has managed to do virtually nothing but walk and strike out all year). He flies out to Marcus Thames, inning over. But the damage was done. If not for A-Rod‘s heroics, Marte likely becomes the game’s goat, though true to form, Randy Winn would have given him a good run at it.

Damaso has some alarming peripherals this year. Now bear in mind, he hasn’t had many innings to accumulate a definitive sample size, but the numbers etch out many of his struggles. Let’s first take a look at plate discipline:

On the year, Marte is eliciting an O-Swing % of 16.2%, which basically says that his stuff doesn’t have a lot of movement where hitters bite at balls slicing out of the zone. In fact, batters are only swinging at a total of 31.6% of Marte’s pitches, about 15 points lower than league average. It gets worse. Only 40.4% of Marte’s pitches find themselves in the strike zone, but hitters are hitting 92% of them. I don’t need to tell you that’s a bad combination.

His velocity is is about 1 mph slower than it had been in 2009 and 2 mph slower than 2008, the year he was traded to the Yankeees. He’s getting older and it’s still very early, so that might go up as he finds himself further removed from shoulder surgery. Maybe more alarming is his PitchFX data. As a Pirate in 2007, his fastball had good vertical rise – moving 9.5”. Today it moves almost 2 ” lower, but a bit more in on left-handers. In 2007 his slider was a also a different looking offering. It was quicker and tighter than it is today – the pitch had a horizontal break of 1.0 inches and a vertical break of -4.6 inches. Now, in 2010, strictly as a LOOGY, Marte’s horizontal break is -7.6 inches and it moves vertically -2.1 inches. Essentially, his new slider is a larger, sweeping pitch that moves across the plate significantly more. We can’t gather any truly damning evidence, as Marte has been injured but this far he’s shown to be a different pitcher.

Unfortunately, that pitcher is also walking close to a career high at 6.14/9 while striking out a career low at 7.36/9. Girardi’s continually given Marte high-leverage situations, even as he has allowed inherited runners to score at an alarming rate (half of his 8 inherited runners have scored), and has issued far too many walks to yield good reults. A look at his shutdowns/meltdowns paints another grim picture. Marte has four meltdowns and not a single shutdown, which accompanies his team-low “clutch” score at -0.59.

Damaso Marte‘s career sample suggests he should at least be an excellent option to get lefties out, if not more. This isn’t just some guy pulled from the stands. He’d been a closer – and an effective one at that – and we like to defer to the greater sample if we can. In his case, his track record is very, very good. But he hasn’t done much good this year and with the exception of last year’s playoffs, has overall been an unmitigated disaster in New York. It’s still very early in the season and I’m optimistic he can return to form, but given the volatility of relievers, Marte’s lesser stuff and his injury history, it’s not crazy to think Marte could find himself DFA’d at some point, contract and all.

There don’t appear to be better lefty specialist options (*cough* Boone Logan) in house, so Girardi surely wants to give Marte every opportunity possible to come in and be a reliable specialist. At this point in the season it’s understandable. But at what point do you say enough is enough? If his appearances continue to resemble last night’s, we may be looking at a new slew of matchups quicker than we think.

Vazquez skipped again

While Tuesday’s rainout forced the Yankees to use Sergio Mitre for a second straight start, it also afforded them some flexibility the next time through the rotation. They’ll use it to skip Javier Vazquez’s next start, which would have come Monday or Tuesday against Boston. Instead he’ll start the series opener against the Mets Friday night at Citi.

Clearly, the Yanks want Vazquez to get a few more starts under his belt before placing him in a high-pressure game. They’re not going to be able to have Vazquez skip the Sox every time through, and at some point he’s going to have to pitch in a big game. Skipping his last start seemed to work, though, so maybe they’re in the process of getting him back on track.

Also, make sure to check out injury updates on Nick Johnson and Chan Ho Park below.

Injury Updates: Chan Ho Park & Nick Johnson

Finally, some good injury news. Prior to this afternoon’s game, GM Brian Cashman confirmed that Chan Ho Park would be activated off the disabled list in time for tomorrow’s game. He’s been on the DL for just about a month with a hamstring issue, but apparently he’s good to go after make two rehab appearances (one in Extended Spring Training, one in Triple-A) last week. With Al Aceves on the shelf for the foreseeable future, getting CHoP back is going to be a nice boost to a bullpen that been pretty shaky before the 8th inning.

Meanwhile, the news for Nick Johnson isn’t as promising. He received a cortisone shot in his wrist, and there’s only a 50% chance that it’ll take care of the inflamed tendon. If it doesn’t, he’ll have to go under the knife, which means 4-6 weeks before he could even pick up a bat. They’ll know whether he needs surgery or not within ten days or so. Just putting it all together, Johnson might not be back until August if he has surgery since he’ll need time for a minor league rehab assignment and what not.

Game 36: Andy Returns

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

After missing a start with some minor elbow inflammation, Andy Pettitte returns to the bump this afternoon as the Yankees look to pick up yet another win over the Twins at home. Minnesota is sending Francisco Liriano out there as they try to win for just the fourth time in the Bronx during the Ron Gardenhire Era, and all he’s done this year is post a 2.24 FIP with a 50.9% groundball rate (zero homers!) in six starts. He’s completely annihilated lefthanded batters as well (1.64 xFIP), so it might be a tough day for Robbie Cano and Brett Gardner. Here’s the lineup that’ll try to figure him out…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF – I guess the bicep is okay
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, DH
Thames, LF
Cervelli, C
Gardner, CF

And on the mound, Andrew Pettitte.

Nothing like a Saturday game under the sun. First pitch will be at 1:05pm ET, and the game can be seen on YES. Enjoy.