Game 96: You know Sergio?

After a month-long stint on the disabled list due to an oblique strain suffered while taking batting practice, sinkerball specialist Sergio Mitre is making his long awaited return to the starting rotation this afternoon. Well, I’m not sure how true that last part is, we’d all rather have Andy Pettitte out there. But until he comes off the disabled list (or the Yankees swing a trade), Mitre is the team’s best option for that rotation spot.

Joe Girardi said that Mitre will be limited to about 90 pitches today, but he’ll be paying extra attention once he hits the 75 pitch mark. That’s what Mitre threw in his last rehab outing, so if he starts leaving some pitches up after that point, you know why. Sadly, Jonathan Albaladejo was optioned to Triple-A to make room for Mitre. The Chad Ho Moseley monster just will not die.

The other big story of the game is Alex Rodriguez and the pursuit of his 600th career homer. My money is on him hitting it in the first inning today, a three run shot off Kyle Davies. Just like his 500th. Here’s the lineup…

Jeter, SS
Granderson, CF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Thames, RF – eek
Curtis, LF
Pena, SS

And on the bump, it’s Sergio!

Game Notes: Brett Gardner had some kind of stomach issue but should be available off the bench, no biggie…Nick Swisher expects to be back tomorrow. Game starts at 1:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Albaladejo optioned for Mitre

To make room on the active roster for Sergio Mitre, the Yankees have optioned Jonathan Albaladejo back to AAA Scranton. In two appearances for the Bombers this week, the right-hander had given up a run on two hits and a walk in 2.2 innings. He struck out three and appeared to be throwing better than he had in his other Major League stints. Right now, the Yanks’ 25-man roster now features Chad Gaudin, Dustin Moseley, Sergio Mitre and Chan Ho Park. Even if the team feels they need a long man today to caddy for Mitre, who will throw between 75 and 90 pitches today, that’s a lot of dead weight in the bullpen. I have to believe another move could come as early as tomorrow.

The Joba conundrum from someone who’s been there

A few weeks back I had the chance to meet Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster. I’ll start off by saying he was an extremely nice, down to earth guy, and from now on I’m a fan of his. While I only had a few minutes to talk to him, my first question was what he thought the Yankees should do with Joba Chamberlain. As a pitcher who has had success in both the rotation and then pen, I was intrigued on what he had to say on the subject.

Dempster first said they need to just make up their minds one way or another, which I completely agree with. The bouncing around Joba has been through isn’t helping anyone and they need to make a decision and stick with it. It’s pretty interesting to note, that while Dempster has pitched in both roles, in his 12 full seasons, he had a defined role and wasn’t switched back and forth. The closest he had to being bounced around was in 2005 where his first 6 appearances were starts and he spent the rest of the season in the bullpen. That is clearly the easy way to transition, from the rotation to the pen not the other way around. There’s no building up of innings or stamina, and once he was moved to the pen, he stuck.

Dempster believes, primarily because of pitching in the AL East, that Joba should probably remain in the bullpen. He mentioned the way lineups wear you down and how the pitch counts can grow pretty quickly, especially for a guy like Joba who racks up a lot of strikeouts. While I do disagree with him in that I am fully in the Joba as a starter camp, it is interesting to think about what Joba’s career path might have been like coming up in another division, or even in the NL as a starter. Obviously there’s no way the Yankees can ease their starters into the big leagues against weaker competition than the AL East, but the bullpen might be the way to go, as long as there is a set path to get a good young pitcher back to the rotation. While both Joba and Hughes have somewhat followed this path, it wasn’t by design, instead it was by necessity.

After talking with Dempster I decided to take a look at his career arc and found that after his time in the bullpen he became a much better starter. Phil Hughes may have gotten a boost in confidence last year in the pen, but Dempster had a full 3 seasons of relieving, and came out of it significantly improved in the rotation. In his 3 years as a starter before going to the pen Dempster had a 4.6 BB/9 ratio and a 6.9 K/9 ratio. In the three years since he’s been back in the rotation he’s at 3.2 BB/9 and 8.1 K/9, all coming in the NL.  While there are likely a ton of reasons why Dempster improved, I wouldn’t be shocked if spending time in the pen was one of the main factors. As much as I want Joba in the rotation (and wanted him there for 2010), I really hope he can take advantage of his time in the bullpen to help him as a starter down the road.

My few minutes with Dempster certainly made me think about what’s going to happen with Joba’s future and how the (hopefully) temporary banishment to the bullpen (and yes, it was a demotion) makes him better down the road As much as I want Joba in the rotation (and wanted him there for 2010), I really hope he can take advantage of his time in the bullpen to help him as a starter down the road (even if with the Diamondbacks).

Waiting on 600, the rain and Haren, Yanks trounce Royals

The Yankees and the Royals played a quick 2:33 game last night, but with an 85 minute rain delay stuck into the bottom of the 5th inning, I didn’t leave Yankee Stadium until nearly 11 p.m. last night. Meanwhile, the game on the field itself seemed to take second stage to the Dan Haren drama that’s still unfolding. The Yankees didn’t care. A-Rod didn’t hit his 600th home run, but he went 2 for 4 as the team slapped around Brian Bannister and the Kansas City bullpen en route to a 7-1 win.

Biggest Hit: Robinson Cano‘s first-inning double

Robinson Cano likes what he sees. Credit: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

The Yankees got off to a very quick start against Brian Bannister tonight. On the sixth pitch of his lead-off at-bat, Brett Gardner roped a double down the right field that Alex Gordon misplayed into a three-base hit. Derek Jeter swung at the first pitch and grounded back to Bannister. After Mark Teixeira was hit by a pitch and A-Rod walked, Robinson Cano laced a three-run double into center field.

For the Yankees playing the Royals, they wouldn’t need more runs. Cano’s hit gave the Yanks an 80.6 percent win expectancy, and the club never ended a inning with their WE below 83 percent. Had it not been for the rain and Jorge Posada, this would have been a rather unmemorable win. The Yanks went about their victory in a business-like fashion, pounding out 11 hits and six walks against a Royals club that isn’t in the same league as the Bombers.

Biggest RBI: Jorge Posada’s first-inning double

After Robinson Cano’s double put the Yanks up by three, Jorge Posada followed with a double of his own into right field. As Cano touched the plate, Jorge has a mark to celebrate. The run batted in was his 1000th as a Yankee. The crowd of 46,801 gave Posada a standing ovation, and the Yanks’ catcher barely acknowledged the mark.

In the grand scheme of the game, Posada’s 1000th RBI isn’t as big a milestone as A-Rod’s impending 600th home run. Pages of players have reached the mark, and RBIs aren’t a stat over which the batter has much control. But of the 13 catchers in the Hall of Fame, only six have topped the 1000-RBI plateau. Jorge is in some rarified company as he makes his case for Cooperstown. He should get there easily.

The Best of the Pen

Let's keep Jonathan Albaladejo for more than a week. Credit: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Outside of some first-inning thunder, the Yanks’ bats weren’t at their best tonight. They went just 4-for-18 with runners in scoring position, and plated a few off of some of the Royals’ relievers who were forced to get 10 outs after the rain delay. For the Yankees, though, their pitchers did the job. A.J. Burnett was, if not masterful, quite effective through five innings. He allowed four hits and walked just one while striking out three, and because of the rain, he threw just 58 pitches.

After the monsoon that flooded Yankee Stadium passed through, Chad Gaudin pitched three serviceable innings as a reliever. He allowed a run in the 8th, but he kept the Royals from ever creeping back into the game. Jonathan Albaladejo struck out two in the 9th while sitting in the low 90s with his fastball. When Sergio Mitre is activated later today, Dustin Moseley should get the axe.

Odds and Ends

I had no idea the Bronx was under a tornado watch last night. Neither did this guy. Credit: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Alex Rodriguez didn’t launch his 600th home run tonight, but he went 2 for 4 with a walk. This game was a stark contrast to those ABs in between his 499th and 500th home runs. During that span, he triple-slashed just .111/.306/.148. As long as he hits, that home run will come on its own.

Derek Jeter appeared to be visibly frustrated after his first-inning at-bat ended on the first pitch. With a runner on third, he tapped back to the pitcher. He failed to knock out a hit in his other four plate appearances and nearly drew the ire of the crowd when he hit into a double play in the 8th, jeopardizing another A-Rod plate appearance.

Props go out to the Yankee grounds crew tonight. As I stood in Section 424, visiting with a RAB regular, it was hard to believe the game would go on. Lightening and thunder crashed around us, and we were soaked to the bone. When the tarp came off, the outfield resembled a lake, but between the grounds crew’s sweeping efforts and the fast-draining system in place, the field was good to go. That was some rainstorm.

The Boxscores

If only they were all as stress-free as this WPA graph. Zen Baseball would rule the world.

(ESPN Box and Fangraphs box)

Up Next

The Yankees continue their four-game set against the Royals as Kyle Davies (4-6, 5.45) and Sergio Mitre (0-1, 2.88) square off in a 1:05 affair. A-Rod hit home run number 500 off of Davis back in 2007. Could history repeat itself? Only ti…oh, never mind. Game-time temperatures are expected to be in the low-to-mid 90s with a heat advisory and thunderstorm watch in effect.

Stark: Yanks ‘never close’ on Haren

The Dan Haren Saga’s long night’s journey into day continues as Jayson Stark files a missive on ESPN. He says the Yanks and the D-backs were, according to his sources, “never close” to a trade tonight despite rumors to the contrary. The sticking point, it seems, is Joba Chamberlain.

The two teams did swap names Friday, the source said. But the Yankees rejected a Diamondbacks proposal that would have sent Joba Chamberlain, highly regarded pitching prospect Ivan Nova and two other prospects to Arizona for Haren.

The Yankees, instead, have proposed an entirely prospect-based deal, which Arizona rejected. Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall told reporters in Phoenix that other teams had made offers of “at least equal value” to what the Yankees proposed.

Another sticking point between the two teams, the source said, is how much of the $33 million remaining on Haren’s contract the Diamondbacks are willing to pay. Arizona’s initial proposal would have required the Yankees to assume Haren’s entire contract. The Yankees, and other clubs the Diamondbacks have spoken with, want the quality of the players in the deal to be dependent on how much of Haren’s money Arizona is willing to pay.

Earlier in the evening, Arizona team president and CEO Derrick Hall went on the record and echoed Stark’s sources. The Yanks, he said, are not leading the pack. “We are not close on a deal with the Yankees, and there are some other teams involved that have deals of at least equal value out there. I would not categorize the Yankees as a front-runner,” he said.

In terms of Stark’s information, we could debate whether or not Ivan nova is truly “highly regarded” until the cows come home, but if the Yanks didn’t want to trade Joba and Nova plus lesser prospects for Haren, I have to question the wisdom of rejecting such a deal. The Yanks have pigeonholed Joba into the bullpen where he has great peripherals but so-so results. He’s three years into a Major League career and will be arbitration-eligible after this season.

Haren, on the other hand, would immediately become the team’s second best pitcher, and he’s signed to a below-market contract through 2012 with a reasonable team option for 2013. My bet is that, with the Yanks way they seem intent on using Joba, Dan Haren will outperform Joba over the next three seasons. With both players set for free agency after 2013, that calculation should be a large part of the equation.

Our recap of the Yanks’ 7-1 victory over the hapless Kansas City Royals will be published shortly.

Laird goes deep again in Trenton win

Manny Banuelos  was named baseball’s fifth hottest prospect in this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. Jesus Montero was in the team photo, though both Zach McAllister and Cito Culver were included in the Not So Hot section.

Triple-A Scranton (5-4 loss to Rochester)
Kevin Russo, DH, Chad Huffman, LF & Greg Golson, CF: all 1 for 4 – Russo walked & K’ed thrice … Huffman doubled, drove in a run & K’ed … Golson got caught stealing &  K’ed three times
Reegie Corona, 2B: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K – 12 for his last 34 (.353)
Chad Tracy, 3B: 3 for 4, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI – musta seen me dis him last night
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 4, 2 K – bust!
Jorge Vazquez, 1B & Reid Gorecki, RF: all 0 for 4 – JoVa K’ed three times, Gorecki once … Gorecki committed a fielding error, but he also threw a runner out at third
David Phelps: 5 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 3-6 GB/FB – 57 of his 96 pitches were strikes (59.4%)
The Ghost of Kei Igawa: 2.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1-3 GB/FB – 22 of 37 pitches were strikes (59.5%)
Mark Melancon: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K – four of his six pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Rosenthal: Yanks in the lead for Haren

Update (8:51pm): Piliere hears that talks are “moving forward,” and the teams are discussing secondary pieces. Jesus Montero is not in the deal according to Piliere’s sources, but Joba Chamberlain might be.

7:31pm): Ed Price says that no deal is imminent, but Arizona is determined to trade Haren before his next start on Tuesday. Rosenthal’s updated story says Ivan Nova “fits the profile” of the kind of pitcher the D-Backs want, and Frankie Piliere confirms that he’d be a key piece in a trade. It’s also worth noting that Zach McAllister‘s father works in Arizona’s scouting department, for what it’s worth.

6:29pm: Via Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees have become the front-runners for Dan Haren, with the Diamondbacks informing other interested teams that they are in “advanced negotiations” with one club. Bob Klapisch says GM Brian Cashman is deciding whether or not to pull the trigger. There’s no word on the package that would be going back to Arizona, but Jayson Stark reported earlier today that the Yanks would only get serious about a deal if they could get him for prospects. Arizona is reportedly looking for pitching, pitching, and more pitching in return.

Ben explored the possibility of a Haren trade earlier this afternoon. Stay tuned, people. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.