Portending a Soriano return to the eighth

When the Yankees signed Rafafel Soriano in late January, they thought they were getting a lockdown late-inning reliever. As the closer for the 2010 AL East Champions, Soriano had posted a 1.73 ERA in 62.1 innings while recording 45 saves and notching 8.2 strikeouts per 9 innings to just 2.0 walks. As a one-time setup man-turned-closer who had thrived in the East, the Yankees figured he would fit easily into the 8th inning role.

Before he hit in the disabled list in May, the club couldn’t have been more wrong. Lest we forget, Soriano had appeared in 16 games for the Yanks and just once had he posted a 1-2-3 innings He has so far walked 11 — only three fewer than all of last year — while striking out just 10. His 5.40 ERA with a 5.92 xFIP and an ugly 1.73 WHIP tell the story as well, and he had been booed off the mound a few times before inflammation in his right elbow shelved him. Considering how poorly he had pitched, we shouldn’t expect the Yanks simply to hand him back the setup role, right? Wrong.

After the Yanks’ nightcap loss in Cincinnati yesterday, Joe Girardi spoke with reporters about his injured players. Soriano is only now beginning a throwing program, but that’s not stopping the Yankee skipper from giving him his job back. “My inclination is Soriano would still be our eighth-inning guy, we got to see how he feels and how he’s throwing the ball. But my inclination is Soriano,” Girardi said. “That’s what we brought him here to do.”

On the one hand, Girardi’s statement isn’t much. Soriano won’t be eligible to come off the DL until around July 13. Hopefully, by then, he’ll be throwing like vintage Soriano and not like the Yanks’ early-season Soriano. Plus, the Yankees need the bullpen depth. With Soriano, Pedro Feliciano, Joba Chamberlain and Damaso Marte on the shelf, the Yanks have $17 million worth of arms on the shelf while David Robertson, Cory Wade, Luis Ayala and Boone Logan will be tasked with getting key outs. Saying that Soriano will be a key cog in the bullpen when he returns is akin to proclaiming that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow.

On the other hand, though, why? David Robertson — and Joba before him — has proven himself more than capable of holding down the eighth. While Robertson’s wild tendencies and his 5.9 walk rate are alarming, that he strikes out so many batters allows him some leeway with the bases on balls. In the intangibles department, he throws with confidence and hasn’t allowed himself to be fazed by high-leverage jams. At least with Robertson, the Yanks have a pitcher who has excelled in that role while Soriano, this year at least, hasn’t show them much.

Of course, the ideal solution would be the one first proposed earlier this winter when the Yanks signed Soriano. I had originally wanted the high-priced reliever to serve as a fireman, but Joe Girardi seems to prefer labels. Soriano was The Eighth Inning Guy before, and he will be when he gets back. The better use for either Soriano, if he’s throwing well, or Robertson, if he continues to do what he does best, would be as a fireman. Use these guys as the situation and not the inning dictates. After all, it’s more important to get to the 7th or 8th with the three-run lead intact than it is to watch a lesser reliever surrender a big hit while the better arms wait for their assigned inning. The Yanks’ bullpen — so far a strength — could be even stronger.

Ultimately, as much as Soriano hasn’t been as advertised this year, the Yanks and their fans should be rooting for him to return healthy and effective. The bullpen needs depth badly right now. That said, I’m not so keen on the idea of simply sticking him into the setup role right away, but that does seem to be the way Girardi manages.

Banuelos, Mitchell strong in wins


  • Slade Heathcott, J.R. Murphy, and Kyle Roller have all been promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa. I assume Heathcott and Roller are ready to play and will be activated off the disabled list soon. Finally, a reason to follow Tampa.
  • Going the other way are Kyle Higashioka and Kevin Mahoney, which sucks for them. Higashioka is hitting .268/.362/.463 this month and has homered in his last two games; dude didn’t deserve a demotion, not with his defense.
  • Kramer Sneed is scheduled to start for Charleston tomorrow in place of Nik Turley. That could mean promotion or injury.

In other news, Mark Prior threw in outfield today, his second time doing so in three days. It’s still unclear how much longer he’ll be on the disabled list though. Gus Molina also has a minor toe problem that has kept him out of the lineup for a few days, but it’s no big deal.

Triple-A Scranton (10-5 win over Norfolk)
Austin Krum, CF: 1 for 4, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB – threw a runner out at second
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB – four multi-hit games in his last ten contests
Mike Lamb, DH: 1 for 4, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K – he’s going to play first and DH, primarily
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
Terry Tiffee, 1B: 2 for 5, 1 RBI, 1 E (throwing) – Jorge Vazquez’s injury must be serious enough if they brought in him and Lamb
Jordan Parraz, RF: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K – I find it very hard to believe that’s just his fourth homer, seems like he’s hit much more
Greg Golson, LF: 0 for 4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
P.J. Pilittere, C: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB – day game after a night game, hence no Jesus Montero
Doug Bernier, SS: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Greg Smith, LHP: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 8-3 GB/FB – 51 of 81 pitches were strikes (63%) … picked a runner off first, which is no surprise, he’s got a dynamite move
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 0.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 0-1 GB/FB – 18 of 32 pitches were strikes (56.3%) … nothing’s working, sheesh
Josh Schmidt, RHP: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – ten of 14 pitches were strikes (71.4%)
Randy Flores, LHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1-2 GB/FB – eight of 13 pitches were strikes (61.5%)

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Keith Law on Williams and Gamel

Yesterday we heard Keith Law’s unflattering opinion of Cito Culver, but today he posted something on two other Short Season Staten Island hotshots: Mason Williams and Ben Gamel (Insider req’d). “Mason is loose-bodied and an above-average runner, but needs to get a lot stronger and to work on recognition of offspeed pitches — he struck out twice in ugly fashion on breaking balls,” said KLaw. “He glides forward when he strides, reducing his time to recognize non-fastballs, but there is some bat speed there and it’s a great baseball body.”

As for Gamel, Law said he “at least showed that he recognized the difference between a ball and a strike, but struggled with picking up the changeup, not a huge shock for a teenaged hitter with only ten games of pro experience to that point. He has good hip rotation but tries to get his arms extended on balls on the inner half, which is just going to result in a lot of weak contact or foul balls … The fact that he showed a clue at the plate (on a night when most of the lineup was flailing) is a real positive.” I like Gamel but he’s going to have a hit because his defensive value in the corner outfield figures to be small. Having a decent approach less than a month after your 19th birthday is a pretty good start.

Open Thread: The Giambino Returns

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

It’s been three years since the Yankees parted ways with Jason Giambi, but he’s coming back to the Bronx this weekend as a visiting player with the Rockies. Yeah, he came to Yankee Stadium with the A’s in 2009, but I think it’ll be little different now since some time has passed. Giambi hit .260/.404/.521 as a Yankee and is hitting .262/.361/.639 this year, and he’ll be Colorado’s designated hitter during the three game series. He was a big time personal fave, so I’m looking forward to seeing him one last time. I miss the taters.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. Very light baseball schedule today, though MLB Network is carrying a game (teams depend on where you live). That’s pretty much it, but use this thread to talk about whatever you want. Go nuts.

Jeter, Colon, Chavez continue rehab in Tampa

Derek Jeter, Bartolo Colon, and Eric Chavez are continuing to progress in the rehab for their various injuries down in Tampa. Jeter threw for the third straight day but has not been cleared to start running, which is what really matters when it comes to his calf issue. He’s expected to increase his workouts in the coming days. Colon was able to run sprints in the outfield for the first time since injuring his hamstring, and he has continued to play long toss as well. He’s scheduled for a bullpen session tomorrow. Chavez ran the bases for the first time today, going from home to first about a half-dozen times today. He’s been hitting for a while now, but this is the first time he’s run on anything more than a treadmill. Great news for all three but especially for Colon and Chavez, who have started testing their leg/foot injuries.

Montero’s early-June benching due to lack of “energy”

Jesus Montero‘s two game hiatus earlier this month came because the organization felt his play lacked “energy,” says Andrew Marchand. “It is all in becoming a first-rate professional and he is still in the middle of that process,” said Mark Newman, who basically runs the farm system. Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Butch Wynegar added that he thinks Montero “is almost bored here in Triple-A.” My opinion is well known: get the kid the big leagues, like yesterday. Forcing someone to change their behavior almost never works, and there’s a very simple solution here. Just do it.

Austin Romine headed to Futures Game for second straight year

Rosters for the 2011 Futures Game were released today (USA, World), and the only Yankees farmhand headed to the game is Austin Romine. He participated in last year’s game as well. The eligibility rules are weird and I can never seem to nail them down, but it’s something like a maximum of two players per club and no one can go more than twice (which disqualifies Jesus Montero). Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos simply haven’t pitched well enough to make the game, same deal with Gary Sanchez on the position player side.

Romine is currently on the disabled list with a concussion, but he has resumed baseball activities and is expected back within a week. He’ll be ready in plenty of time for the Futures Games, which will be played the Sunday before the All-Star Game (July 10th) in Arizona. Romine is hitting .298/.362/.421 with a .356 wOBA this year, and is on pace to finish with careers highs in many offensive categories.