Ace versus ace, or at least that’s what it felt like coming into the game. Bartolo Colon had pitched that well in his first two starts of the season, and he was strong again in the series opener against the Tigers on Monday, but it took a late rally to secure the win.
Ninth Inning Heroics
Let’s start at the end and work our way forward. The ninth inning started with a beast of an at-bat by Curtis Granderson, who fouled off seven Jose Valverde pitches before drawing a leadoff walks. The only problem was that he was erased a few pitches later when he over-slid second on a steal attempt. At -.141 WPA, it was the most damaging play of the game for New York. Sure enough, Mark Teixeira drew a four pitch walk (one of the balls went to the backstop) as the next batter, then moved to second on an Alex Rodriguez single that was more of a botched defensive play than a hit. Valverde was clearly wild, and he fed Nick Swisher three consecutive 94 mph fastballs. The first was up out the zone, the second was a little further down and Swish swung through, the third was in his happy zone and the Yankees’ right fielder sent it back up the middle to drive in the go-ahead run. It was the biggest play of the game for the good guys at +.306 WPA. An insurance came around to score on a wild pitch one batter later.
This inning, along with the first, was really the only time the Yankees’ offense looked like itself. They wore Valverde down and let him work himself into trouble, capitalizing on a mistake pitch to regain the lead. Jim Leyland left his closer in to throw 35 pitches but just 19 strikes (about 54%) in the inning, and the middle of the order made him pay. I can’t imagine Valverde will be available tomorrow, but it’s pretty clear that Leyland has no trouble running his pitchers into the ground.
The Airing of Grievances (Part One)
The Yankees had a chance to retake the lead in the eighth inning, when Secret Weapon Al Alburquerque™ walked leadoff man Russell Martin. Since the team is oh so desperate for runs these days, Brett Gardner bunted him over to second on the very first pitch. Nevermind that Gardner a) had reached base in each of his five previous plate appearances and in eight of his last nine, or b) that SWAA™ had walked the first batter and just may have been wild, or c) that the two worst hitters in the lineup (Eduardo Nunez and Derek Jeter) were due up, gosh darn it, the book says you should bunt and bunt they did. Nunez grounded out on the drawn in infield and Jeter struck out, stranding the runner in scoring position. The bunt was completely and utterly asinine (-.025 WPA). I’m sorry. there’s no other way to describe it. When small ball attacks, part too many to count.
Big Bad Bartolo
Someone’s going to have to make a compilation video of all these called strike threes on the two-seam fastball inside to lefties and away from righties at some point. That thing is gorgeous. Colon made basically two mistakes all night, leaving a pair of pitches out over the plate that Alex Avila drove over the fence to the opposite field. They were impressive shots, that’s no gimme in Comerica Park. Bartolo struck out seven and walked none in seven innings, getting ten ground balls against just two air outs. He was efficient (97 pitches) and held his 92-94+ mph heat into the late innings. The Yankees hit the scrap heap mega-millions jackpot with Bart, regardless of what happens from here on out.
The Airing of Grievances (Part Two)
The Tigers did score one other run off Colon aside from the two homers, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why things went down the way they did. It was the third inning, so early in the game, and the uber-annoying Ramon Santiago was standing on second base after a one out double. Miguel Cabrera, the one guy you look at in Detroit’s lineup and say “we can’t let him beat us,” came to the plate with Santiago still on second with two outs, and for whatever reason Colon pitched to him. I mean, that’s an obvious don’t pitch to him spot, if not an outright intentional walk. But nope, Bartolo threw Miggy two fastballs, and sure enough the second wound up in right field for an RBI single. I don’t get it, pitch around the guy and take your chances with Brennan Boesch (who went 0-for-4 on the night). There’s still three more games left to be played in the series, so hopefully they learned from this (painfully obvious) mistake.
Jorge Catches Up To The Heat
Let’s face it, there have been times this year when Jorge Posada has looked completely done. I mean done done, and as recently as last week. But Posada has showed some signs of life lately, doubling on Sunday and having another hit taken away by a diving second baseman in the same game. It’s not much, but it’s something. Jorge came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the first inning, and frankly I don’t think many of us expected him to do anything productive against the flamethrowing Justin Verlander. The first pitch of the encounter was a changeup out of the zone for ball one, but Posada got no respect after that. He saw nothing but fastballs the rest of the at-bat, and here’s the velocities according to Gameday: 98 (called strike), 99 (ball), 99 (swing and miss), 99 (foul), 99 (foul), 99 (ball). The eighth pitch was a heater clocked at 100, but Posada caught up to it and drove it over Austin Jackson’s head for a ground-rule double. Two runs scored but it should have been three if not for the unfortunate hop, but damn, looks like Jorge might have something left to offer after all. He went 2-for-5 in the game and has three hits in his last seven at-bats, not counting the hit he should have had if not for that great defensive play on Sunday.
Verlander … man that guy is a freak. Look at his velocity graph, his hardest fastballs came after he’d already thrown 110 pitches, including his hardest at 100.3 mph. He’s simply a physical marvel, a pitcher just isn’t supposed to do that, not with his workloads in recent years.
Everyone in the lineup had at least one hit except for Granderson, who drew a pair of walks. A-Rod and Nunez were the only guys to reach base just once, though the latter hit a ball off the left field wall for a double (he got thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple). Gardner went 1-for-1 with two walks and has managed to get his season OBP up to .325 thanks to his hot week. Overall, the Yankees drew eight walks as a team, but they went just 2-for-14 with men scoring position. The two hits were Swisher’s single in the ninth and Posada’s double in the first.
Joba Chamberlain did some fine work in the eighth with the score tied, allowing just a single to Cabrera (forgivable) and retiring the other three men he faced. We even got our first fist pump of 2011. Mariano Rivera was flawless in the ninth for his 11th save. That was his third appearance in as many days, so you have to figure Rafael Soriano (who pitched on Saturday and Sunday) will get the call in the ninth inning on Tuesday. Joba and David Robertson will be the setup men with a little Boone Logan mixed in. Of course, CC Sabathia‘s a fine candidate to handle all nine innings himself.
The Yankees now have 13 steals in 22 attempts this year after getting caught two more times in this game. There was the Granderson over-slide in the ninth, and Jeter got thrown out trying to take second base in the first inning. In fairness, I’m about 90% sure that was a hit-and-run gone wrong. Grandy swung at a pitch well out of the strike zone and Jeter kept looking in to see if/where the ball was hit. But still, a 59.1% success rate on stolen base attempts is completely unacceptable; that has to be better, otherwise don’t bother running.
WPA Graph & Box Score
Same two teams tomorrow night, when Sabathia gets the ball against Brad Penny.
Mike Ashmore has an update on reliever Grant Duff, who has a screw in his elbow and is coming back from a stress fracture that caused him to the miss the second half of last year. He’s pitching in Extended Spring Training now and could be back with an affiliate as soon as next week. Noaya Okamoto is the on the phantom disabled list, allowing Wilkins Arias to be activated.
Triple-A Scranton (3-1 win over Gwinnett)
Greg Golson, CF: 2 for 5, 2 RBI, 1 K – left the game after reaching on an error in the 7th, so presumably it was an injury
P.J. Pilittere, PR-1B: 0 for 0 – came in for Golson
Kevin Russo, 2B: 1 for 5, 2 K
Jesus Montero, C: 3 for 5 – yawn
Jorge Vazquez, 1B-3B: 1 for 5, 1 K
Justin Maxwell, LF-CF: 0 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K – those are strikes 38 and 39 … Austin Jackson-esque
Brandon Laird, 3B-LR: 1 for 3, 2 BB – had four walks all year coming into the game
Jordan Parraz, RF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K – threw a runner out at the plate
Ramiro Pena, SS: 0 for 2, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K – left the game after fouling a pitch off his instep in the fifth, which has the potential to be very bad
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 2, 2 K
Gus Molina, DH: 0 for 4, 1 BB, 2 K
Hector Noesi, RHP: 5.2 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 Balk, 1 HB, 2-5 GB/FB – 57 of 85 pitches were strikes (67.1%) … that’s better than last time out, when he walked everyone
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 1 K – threw just three pitches … that’s just his fifth strikeout of the year (in 12 IP)
Luis Ayala, RHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1-0 GB/FB – ten of 16 pitches were strikes (62.5%) … and the rehab stint is officially underway
Ryan Pope, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – seven of nine pitches were strikes … he’s off the disabled list now
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 11 of 15 pitches were strikes (73.3%) … dude’s been a beast this year
Via Marc Carig, all circulatory and vascular tests performed on Phil Hughes have come back negative, so he doesn’t have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. A specialist looked at the young righty in St. Louis today following last week’s battery of tests. Obviously this is good news, but if it’s not TOS, then what the hell is it?
Robinson Cano said after yesterday’s game that he expected to play in tonight’s game despite a bruised left hand, but that won’t be the case. The second baseman is not in the lineup for tonight’s series opener against the Tigers, but hopefully it’s just one of those “give him the extra day just to make sure he’s healthy since it’s only early-May” type deals. The good news is that precautionary x-rays turned up negative, so there’s no (obvious) break. Here’s the starting nine…
Bartolo Colon, SP
First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET, and the game can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.
Come join Jonah Keri, author of The Extra Two Percent, plus Ben and I for an informal discussion on American League East baseball this Wednesday at Foley’s at 5:30pm. Unfortunately, we have to limit that part of the evening to 30 attendees so only ticket-holders will be able to get in. After the talk, we’ll stick around to watch the Yankees take on the Tigers. Everyone is welcome to join us at Foley’s for that part of the evening. Click here to sign up for the discussion (it’s free!), though there are only a few tickets left.
Unfortunately, Jonah won’t have books on hand to sell, but those of you who have already purchased The Extra Two Percent can bring a copy in for him to sign. Jonah will be happy to sell IOUs for signed copies that he will mail to you within the next week. Even if you can’t make it to the discussion, come hang out and watch the game afterwards. We’ll have a blast.
Take it away, Joel Sherman…
When I was at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, a member of the team told me something I found interesting: After Ivan Nova’s poor relief appearance on April 19 in Toronto, Freddy Garcia pulled the young righty aside. Usually pitchers pair up with the same partner every day to play catch and Garcia and Nova are partners. Garcia asked Nova what pitch he thought was most important to his repertoire. Nova replied his curveball. So Garcia told Nova that the youngster was not working on the pitch enough. So Garcia said this is what would be done moving forward: While the two played catch, Nova would flip 40-plus curveballs. Garcia’s point was that catch is not just about loosening an arm or keeping it fit. The idea is never to do anything without meaning. Garcia wanted Nova to get such a good feel for the curve that he could throw it in any count comfortably.
On Sunday against the Blue Jays – the team that crushed him in relief a few weeks earlier – Nova struck out five: The finishing pitches on each were curves and three of those were called third strikes. With runners on in the second, fourth, fifth and sixth, Nova recorded the final out of the inning with his curve.
Both the increased usage and effectiveness of Nova’s curveball was obvious in his last two starts. PitchFX says he threw just 37 curves (14.5% of his total pitches) in his first three starts (not counting that relief appearance), 21 for strikes (56.8%) and just one for a swing-and-miss (2.7%). His last two starts have featured 58 curveballs (30.5%), 36 for strikes (62.1) and five for swings-and-misses (8.6%). In terms of effectiveness, the pitch went from almost exactly average in the first three starts to more than two runs above average in the last two starts. It’s a big difference.
All the extra curveballs have come at the expense of the changeup, which he’s thrown just twice in his last two starts (one in each) compared to 43 (!!!) in his first three starts. Nova’s never missed bats with his fastball despite solid (but not great) velocity and probably won’t ever miss bats with it because he has almost no deception in his delivery, so it’s going to be tough for him to succeed long-term as a guy that throws 98% fastballs and curves. Phil Hughes had success with that approach in 2010 because he could actually reach back and throw a fastball by hitters (9.2% whiff rate on the fastball, 11.5% on the cutter last year). Nova has gotten a swing-and-miss on 3.8% of his fastballs this year and just 1.8% last September. They’re completely different animals.
That doesn’t mean anything for right now though. The curveball heavy approach is clearly working and there’s no reason for Nova to change it, but there’s a pretty good chance that the league will adjust at some point. It’ll then be up to Ivan to adjust back if he wants to remain a successful starter. It’s the baseball circle of life.