Nova, Betances dominate for SWB and Trenton

Jorge Vazquez is going to take his hacks in the Triple-A Homerun Derby next week. He still leads the International League with 20 homers (next highest is 16) despite missing close to three weeks with a shoulder issue. Adam Warren replaced the injured Kevin Whelan on the All-Star Game roster, so congrats to him. Kei Igawa has been placed on the disabled list for an unknown reason and Naoya Okamoto has been released. Josh Norris spoke to a scout who recently watched Triple-A Scranton, so check out his comments.

Triple-A Scranton (6-2 win over Buffalo)
Chris Dickerson, LF & Greg Golson, CF: both 0 for 4, 2 K – Golson scored a run
Terry Tiffee, 1B & Jorge Vazquez, DH: both 2 for 4 – Tiffee drove in a run, scored a run, and struck out … JoVa doubled, homered, drove in two, and scored twice
Brandon Laird, 3B & P.J. Pilittere, C: both 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI – Laird scored and struck out … Pilittere whiffed twice
Jordan Parraz, RF: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 SB – 14 for his last 31 (45.2%)
Luis Nunez, 2B: 0 for 2, 1 RBI
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 3
Ivan Nova, RHP: 7.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 10 K, 4 WP, 7-6 GB/FB – 72 of 98 pitches were strikes (73.5%) … left the game after getting hit in the foot with a batted ball, but he walked off under his own power, so hopefully he’s okay … otherwise, great start, he must be mad they sent him down, unless he pitched poorly, in which case he was disappointed … whatever narrative fits best
Randy Flores, LHP: 0 IP, zeroes, 1 HBP – brought in to face one lefty, and he hit him … he’ll fit right in with the big league team
Logan Kensing, RHP: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 0-1 GB/FB – 18 of 29 pitches were strikes (62.1%)

[Read more…]

A-Rod may skip All-Star Game

Via George King, there’s a chance Alex Rodriguez will skip the All-Star Game next week to give his ailing right knee some rest. It’s been bothering him for at least two weeks now, though Alex did tell King that it’s “getting better.” A-Rod was voted as the starting third baseman for the All-Star Game and deservedly so; he leads all big league third baseman with 4.1 fWAR and 3.3 bWAR. As great as it would be to see a bunch of Yankees in the All-Star Game, I’d rather them stay home and get healthy.

Game 86: Bartday!

(Photo Credit: Flickr user r0sss via Creative Commons license)

It’s my favorite day of the week, Bartday. Bartolo Colon will make his second start off the disabled list, and his first looked like vintage Bart. He was fastball heavy, throwing the two-seamer inside to lefties for called strike threes, getting batters to stare at the four-seamer on the outer half. It’s gorgeous. Here’s the lineup…

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

Bartolo Colon, SP

First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally or MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Mariano Rivera Update: Mo threw today and felt fine, so he’s available to pitch tonight if needed. He will, however, skip out on the All-Star Game next week.

DJ3K Notes: RAB contest, Jordan Brand t-shirts

Jordan Brand has unveiled the designs for its DJ3K commemorative t-shirt.

As Derek Jeter returns home tonight sitting on 2997 hits, the Yankee captain appears destined to join the exclusive 3000-hit club this weekend before the All Star Break, and the marketing frenzy is hitting overdrive. Secondary ticket prices are through the roof (and you can find whatever deals remain on RAB Tickets) while Jeter’s promotional partners are building hype too.

This afternoon, Jordan Brand e-mailed us about a series of items designed as part of their DJ3K collection. On the field, Jeter will be sporting special spikes and batting gloves while Jordan Brand is also releasing a sneaker. For the fans who want merchandise, the t-shirt above will on sale at all major sporting goods stores for $25 once he reaches the milestone. A blue version will be on sale as well.

Furthermore, don’t forget to enter our own DJ3K contest. The details are available in this post, but the short of it is simple: Become a fan of RAB Tickets on Facebook and enter, before the first pitch tonight, with a prediction of the game, the inning and count of Jeter’s 3000th hit. The winner will get two tickets to a sporting event of their choice courtesy of TiqIQ.

Despite Jeter’s status as a lightning rod for controversy and criticism this year, the next few days should be a lot of fun in the Bronx. No one has ever reached 3000 hits as a Yankee, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that accomplishment. As ‘Duk wrote at the Big League Stew today, let’s enjoy it.

Baseball America’s Midseason Top 50 Prospects

Baseball America posted a midseason (half) update to their preseason top 100 prospects list, and you can see the list for free. You’ll need a subscription to see the analysis, however. Jesus Montero fell from number three overall to number eight, though they caution everyone to not “be swayed by [his] so-so first half, his hit/power tools are still the same.” Manny Banuelos jumps from number 41 to number 13 (“Was dominating in spring training, but stuff isn’t as firm now as it was”) and Dellin Betances from 43 to 26 (“Impressive stuff, but Betances rarely makes it look easy”). Gary Sanchez (preseason #30), Andrew Brackman (#73), and Austin Romine (#98) did not figure into the updated top 50.

BA also put together a stock up/down report (subs. req’d), with J.R. Murphy making the Stock Up section. “[Scouts] report he’s improved significantly on defense, as he threw out 27 percent of opposing baserunners and polished up his receiving. He’s still an offensive catcher, but he’s more of a catcher than ever before.” We’ve heard about the improved defense before. Brackman made the Stock Down section: “His fastball velocity remains inconsistent but has more consistently dipped into the average range … Brackman’s confidence has taken a hit, and scouts report he throws his curve when he most needs a strike.” One good, one not so good.

The bullpen is currently bare

Steak goes on the Meat Tray, and the Meat Tray should probably stay in the bullpen. (From Flickr user dulouz cats via Creative Commons license.)

The biggest complaint last night was not about Phil Hughes‘s shaky first. It wasn’t about his inability to put away batters, nor his lack of a clean inning. In fact, it had little to do with Hughes at all. Running through the comments on the game recap and on other social outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, the biggest complaint was the mere presence of Sergio Mitre. That has something to do with Hughes, since he only pitched five innings and forced the bullpen to enter the game early. But everyone seems willing to overlook that and heap the blame on Mitre, whose disastrous inning proved to be the difference* in last night’s game.

If you don’t believe in the fallacy of the predetermined outcome, that is.

Having Mitre in the game was surely a problem, but given the situation and roster composition it’s hard to argue with his presence. Take a gander at the 40-man roster and see if there are any better alternatives. The only pitchers who aren’t in the majors have something that makes them something of a worse choice than Mitre. They have:

Dellin Betances: It’s pretty clear why he’s not in the MLB bullpen.

Andrew Brackman: He hasn’t transitioned well to the AAA bullpen, so AA is a greater possibility than the majors.

Steve Garrison: He’s currently getting shellacked at AA. He throws with his left arm, so if the Yanks thought he could help in the pen he likely would have been up at some point during this big bullpen shuffle. An early season injury has cost him, and his last start skews his numbers a bit.

Brian Gordon: He certainly could be helping the Yanks out of the bullpen right now, but it’s understandable why they have him working as a starter in the minors. We’ve already seen this season how important pitching depth can be.

Ivan Nova: Same deal as Gordon. He’d probably work very well in the bullpen, when he could focus on his fastball and curveball. But his best starts this year have come when he mixes all four of his pitches, so it’s probably best at this point to have him continue doing that in the minors. They’ll need him for a start sooner or later, anyway.

Pants Lendleton: He’s only two years younger than Mitre, and I have a hard time making a case that he’s as good.

Ryan Pope: Dude just got demoted to AA from AAA, so he’s far removed from the issue at this point.

Kevin Whelan: He’s on the seven-day disabled list in AAA.

Perhaps at a point later in the season we’d see Nova or Gordon taking Mitre’s spot. But for now, with nearly three months of baseball left to play, preserving starting pitching depth takes a slight precedence over the bullpen. That’s probably the biggest reason why Mitre is on the roster right now.

Regarding the complaints that he should not have been the one to enter the game, I find it hard to disagree. The Yankees had other options at that point, and a 3-0 lead is far from insurmountable, especially with the A lineup. Girardi could have gone to Cory Wade, who didn’t pitch in Tuesday’s game, or Hector Noesi, who hasn’t pitched since Sunday (and threw just two pitches in that game). Maybe Girardi didn’t want to use Wade, since Cleveland hit him around on Monday. I don’t quite buy that, but it’s not enough to raise a stink. But when it’s combined with the non-use of Noesi — he’s pitched just 6.2 innings since mopping up for Freddy Garcia against Boston in early June — it becomes an issue. There is little reason to trust Mitre over Nova, especially in a game that the Yanks can still salvage.

The hand wringing is likely for naught, as the Indians did have a strong hold on the game. Even if Noesi or Wade had entered the game in the eighth and held the Indians scoreless, the Yanks would have faced Chris Perez to open the ninth. He’s been good this season, but has a propensity to walk guys and doesn’t strikeout many (at least this year). But he shut down the Yanks immediately upon entering the game, and I imagine, since he’s done it most of the season, that he would have held down the top of the order at the start. And so that three-run rally might not have even gotten off the ground if Mitre didn’t allow those two runs in the eighth.

For the time being Sergio Mitre is the unfortunate product of the Yankees bullpen situation. Three of the seven guys they’d counted on to start the season are on the 60-day DL, and two aren’t coming back this season. That means the Yanks have some mixing and matching to do, and Mitre gives them just one more option. He’ll be gone soon enough, as the Yankees shop at the deadline and perhaps get Rafael Soriano back. We can gripe in the interim, and rightfully so. But until the Yankees make an acquisition or get back a pitcher from the DL, he’s going to be sitting in the bullpen and sometimes agitating us with his presence.

Phil Hughes and the need to pitch downhill

Phil Hughes made his first start in nearly three months last night, dancing around danger for five innings and allowing just two first inning runs. He gave up six hits (all singles), two walks, and two hit batters, throwing 87 pitches and getting just two swings and misses.  “People are going to say it’s a good outing, but we know that he can be better,” said Joe Girardi afterwards. “We know that he can be downhill more …  I talked about with the extra days off and the first outing, my concern was that he would be up a little bit. That’s what we saw.” And up he was…

That heat map comes courtesy of David Golebiewski at Baseball Analytics and shows the location of Hughes’ fastballs last night. Everything is up in the zone, and a fair amount of it is towards the middle of the plate. There’s nothing wrong with pitching up in the zone if you have enough fastball to get away with it, but right now Hughes doesn’t. He sat mostly 91-92 mph last night with a few 93’s mixed in, up from earlier in the year but still down from last season, when he’d routinely flirt with 94-95.

Hughes is a big dude, listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 lbs. on the official site, but he’s so not outrageously tall that driving the ball down into the bottom third of the zone should be that difficult. He’s a fly ball pitcher (just 35.2% grounders for his career) because he’s up in the zone so, and that’s why he had so much trouble with homers in the second half last season. It sounds easy, but it only is in theory: Hughes has to pitch down in the zone given his present stuff. Pitching upstairs consistently just won’t work like it did in the first half of last year.

Of course, one start doesn’t tell us much. Perhaps he was just amped up and overthrowing, leading to pitches up in the zone. Did Phil look better than he did in April? Obviously yes, it would have been tough to look any worse. But he still had the same problem with putting guys away, so instead of trying to strike everyone out, it might be time to switch to (ugh) pitch-to-contact mode, even if it’s just temporary. Getting the ball down in the zone will help that, and maybe dabbling a two-seam grip would be worth a try as well.