Game 16: A-Rod’s back

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

After two games and three days off, Alex Rodriguez returns to the lineup tonight after dealing with some minor back/oblique stiffness. I’m actually surprised, I figured they’d give him the extra day off with the scheduled off day coming tomorrow just to be completely sure he’s healthy, but hey, I’m not complaining. The Yankees could use the offensive help to back Bartolo Colon, who is making his first big league start in like, two years. Here’s your starting lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Nick Swisher, RF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Andruw Jones, LF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Curtis Granderson, CF

Bartolo Colon, SP

After a brief visit to My9, the Yankees are back on YES tonight. David Cone and Ken Singleton will have the call when this one starts a little after 7pm ET. Enjoy.

Cervelli to begin rehab assignment on Thursday

Via Bryan Hoch, Frankie Cervelli is expected to begin and official rehab assignment with High-A Tampa tomorrow. Once that happens the team has 30 days to activate him from the disabled list, though that’s almost never a problem. Cervelli has been catching in Extended Spring Training this week, and usually these guys get about two weeks worth of at-bats before coming back, if that. The end of the Gus Molina era is rapidly approaching, which is a damn shame. Anyone named Gus is okay in my book.

Positive report from Hughes’s first workout

For anyone looking for the latest on Phil Hughes throwing a baseball, Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York has a tidbit on his first throwing session. According to Larry Rothschild, relayed through Joe Girardi, Hughes “had some life on the ball when he was long tossing.” I’m not sure exactly how one shows life during long tosses, and the PR skeptic in me thinks this is just Rothschild saying what people want to hear. He probably could have said, “It’s tough to tell anything from one long toss session,” but that’s not going to sate anyone’s hunger for updates on the situation.

If you’re a Baseball Prospectus subscriber, you can get a further glimpse into Rothschild’s personality in his Q&A with David Laurila. He comes off as a humble man, but he also clearly watches his words with the media. That only further plays into my skepticism of his report on Hughes. He also makes some general statements on how stats have affected his job, which is probably the most interesting part of the interview.

The Obligatory Brandon Wood Post

I don’t think there’s anything less enjoyable in baseball than watching a highly touted youngster struggle, but unfortunately it comes with the territory. The Brandon Wood story is pretty well known¬† by now. He was a first round pick in 2003 and unmercifully annihilated the minors in 2005 (.321/.381/.667 with 53 doubles and 43 homers in 134 games), which is why Baseball America twice ranked him among the top six prospects in the game. The Angels finally cut ties with Wood yesterday, designating him for assignment almost four years to do the day after his big league debut. So … what does this have to do with the Yankees?

(AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

In case you hadn’t noticed, Eduardo Nunez hasn’t been doing much playing this season. Sure, he’s on the bench, but through the team’s first 15 games he’s appeared in one as a defensive replacement (played three whole innings) and has come on to pinch-run twice. That’s it, he’s just rotting away on the bench. And that’s fine, you don’t want to take Derek Jeter or Robinson Cano out of the lineup just to keep Nunez fresh, but it’s not really what’s best for Eduardo’s long-term development.

Nunez’s name has popped up a few trade rumors already, most notably for Cliff Lee last summer, though he’s also been linked to the Royals (for Joakim Soria) and Braves at various points as well. As a 23-year-old with true middle infield staying power and a history of making contact with six full years of team control left, it’s easy to see why he has value around the league. And that’s why he should be playing every day, not twiddling his thumbs on New York’s bench.

If the Yankees are going to make a move on Wood – which I don’t expect them too – they should do it with the intention of having him serve as the utility infielder while Nunez goes back down to Triple-A Scranton to play every day. Acquiring Brandon Wood wouldn’t necessarily be geared towards hoping he lives up to some of his potential, it would be about helping Nunez develop into the best possible whatever he may be for the Yankees, whether that’s a trade chip, utility infielder, Jeter’s successor, or something else entirely. If the Yankees really consider him a future everyday shortstop at the big league level, he should be playing more than he has.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Brandon Wood without mentioning his historic awfulness. The guy has a career .205 wOBA in 494 plate appearances. That’s a 22 OPS+. Among players with at least 400 PA through their age 26 season, that’s the second lowest OPS+ in baseball history. Only the immortal John Vukovich was worse (18 OPS+ from 1970-1974). Who knows, maybe the change of scenery will help, maybe Kevin Long will help (the two already have a relationship), who knows? This is more about Nunez’s development, Wood would just be a warm body to keep on the bench.

As I said, I don’t expect the Yankees to pursue the former Halo. A utility infielder is not a glaring need for them, but it is for some other clubs, especially those with higher waiver priority (though I bet a trade takes place first). Wood’s a legitimate middle infielder with some power in his bat, and the shine of being a former top prospect still exists to a certain extent. He’s out-of-options and will be arbitration eligible after the season (not that he’ll make much money, but still), so he offers little roster flexibility. Either way, it would behoove the Yankees to add a middle infielder to their bench so that Nunez could get some all-important playing time in the minors.

Prior placed on the 7-day DL with groin injury

Updated (Wed., 2 p.m.): One day after making his first appearance with AAA Scranton, Mark Prior has landed on the seven-day disabled list, reported last night via Twitter. Times beat reporter Ben Shpigel followed up this afternoon: Prior has been sidelined by a groin injury, but Mark Newman, the club’s senior vice president of baseball operations, says the injury is “not serious.” Based on Prior’s injury history, I was concerned this trip to the DL was shoulder-related, but it sounds as though Prior could be back on the mound in a week or two.

The RAB Radio Show: April 20, 2011

The Yanks took a tough loss last night, but plenty did go right. Mike and I talk about how the executed the game plan against Kyle Drabek, how David Robertson did his job marvelously, and every other silver lining we could find. If they execute the game plan tonight against Cecil, who has been struggling, they could walk away with a split series.

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

This is not how to use a 41-year-old closer

(Kathy Willens/AP)

What do you do if you have one reliable starter and a bunch of question marks behind him? Build a better bullpen. Heading into the season, it appeared that the Yankees had assembled its best group of relief arms, at least to start a season, in many years. With a closer in the setup role, two setup men in lesser roles, two lefties, and a flexible long man spot, the Yankees had created a backup plan should some of their starters falter. Yet something did not seem right about it.

In his Expanded Horizons column last week, Baseball Prospectus’s Tommy Bennett tackled the issue (subscriber only, sorry). Teams that hand a lot of innings to their bullpens, even good bullpens, don’t have a long track record of success. This makes plenty of sense. Using the Yankees as an example, they have four reliable relievers: Rivera, Soriano, Robertson, Chamberlain. If their starters are going six or fewer innings most starts, that leaves them with three innings to cover. Eventually one of two things will happen. Either Girardi has to start using the other guys in the pen, or else those four get burned out. Last night we might have seen a bit of the latter.

The off-days early in the season have helped lessen the workloads on the Yanks relievers. Though they’ve played 15 games, that has covered 20 days, giving the bullpen some free rest. But that doesn’t make them immune from overuse. In fact, it appears that overuse is just what is currently happening.

Mariano Rivera might seem superhuman at times, but behind the myth is a 41-year-old man. He has kept himself in pristine physical condition, and so can do things that other 41-year-olds cannot. But even he has limitations. WIth last night’s appearance he has now thrown in five of the team’s last six games, which is five of the last seven days. That’s a heavy workload for any reliever, never mind one who is busy fending off the ravages of age. Yes, he has been in a position to get a save or a win in each of his 10 appearances — 10 in 15 games — but that doesn’t excuse the overuse. Girardi simply cannot let something like that happen to such an important pitcher.

The overuse doesn’t end with Rivera. Joba Chamberlain has also appeared in 10 of 15 games and has pitched in four of the last six. Soriano has appeared in just eight of 15 games, though even that seems like a lot. That’s an 86-game pace, which would be nine more than Soriano’s previous career high. David Robertson has seven appearances, but as Mike wrote yesterday, he has warmed up in just about every game. We can’t be sure what kind of physical toll this takes on him, but it can’t be good for him to be taking some to the mitt every single game.

Eventually this will have to change. The Yankees will not have the advantage of five days off in a 20-day span. They are, in fact, headed for a 17-game streak from late April into early May, and things don’t get easier from there. The top four relievers will need to sit out sometimes when the team has a small lead late in a game. This could come into play as early as tonight. Maybe Girardi would go back to Soriano, and there’s a chance he’d use Chamberlain. But can he really justify using Mo yet again — for the sixth time in eight days, for the 11th time in 16 games? That would be quite irresponsible.

Unless the starters can start pitching into the seventh inning, this is going to be a year-long issue. No bullpen is stocked with reliable relievers. Even the best in the league has its weak points. Eventually, the Yankees will have to use those weaker arms in relatively tight spots. If they don’t, they’re going to burn out the reliable ones — which, in turn, means they’ll have to rely on those weaker arms in relatively tight spots. It’s a tough spot for the team, but eventually something will have to change. This usage pattern simply cannot last all season.