Game 14: CC FTW

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Yankees are looking to win their fourth series in five tries today, and for the second straight weekend they’ll try to do that with CC Sabathia on the mound on Sunday night. But that’s not the interesting part, the opposing starter is. You might remember Alexi Ogando from his relief appearances against the Yankees last year, both in the regular season and in the ALCS. Well he’s a starter now, and so far he’s allowed just four hits and no runs in two starts totaling 13 innings. That’s amazing enough, but listen to his back story.

The Athletics first signed Ogando as a 19-year-old out of the Dominican Republic way back in 2002. He was an outfielder back then, and he actually played pretty well in Rookie and Low-A ball: .297/.357/.482 with 14 homers and nine steals in 431 plate appearances. The Rangers then grabbed him in the Double-A phase of the 2005 Rule 5 Draft and turned him into a pitcher despite the hitting performance. However, Ogando never made it to Spring Training in 2006. He got busted as part of a human trafficking ring in the DR, in which players were marrying women to help get them a visa and into the United States. Ogando admitted his involvement and was denied a visa for the season.

So instead of coming to the States, he pitched in the Dominican Summer League and worked on the conversion to pitching. Although he was originally told that he would be granted a visa after a year, he was banned from coming to the United States for the next four years as well. All he could do was pitch in the DSL and international tournaments during that time, his prime development years. Ogando was finally granted a visa last February, so the Rangers sent him right to Double-A and he ended the season in the big leagues. That’s slightly more interesting than your typical “climbing the ladder” story, no?

Anyway, here’s tonight’s lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, 3B
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF – hooray for hitting ninth

CC Sabathia, SP

Alex Rodriguez is out with that stiff back/oblique, and since they have the day off tomorrow, he’ll get two full days of rest. Like I said yesterday, better one game now than a whole bunch later. ESPN has the broadcast; first pitch will come a little after 8pm ET, so enjoy the game.

Rotation Note: Bartolo Colon will start on Wednesday, so he’s essentially replacing Phil Hughes in the rotation and the Yankees are keeping everyone on turn. They could have skipped some people if they wanted thanks to a pair of off-days next week.

Yankees put Hughes on anti-inflammatory medication

Via Brian Heyman, the Yankees have placed Phil Hughes on anti-inflammatory medication even though all parties involve insist the right-hander is healthy. “I think you can look at every pitcher’s arm and probably see some inflammation, ” said Joe Girardi. While that’s certainly true, this is still a little concerning just because the idea of an arm injury is scary. Something clearly isn’t right with Hughes, and I suppose some inflammation is better the alternative, meaning something more serious.

Millwood superficially strong in Double-A start

Kevin Millwood made his first start outside of Extended Spring Training today, firing seven one-hit innings for Double-A Trenton. He lost the no-hitter with two outs in the sixth, throwing 88 pitches (53 strikes, 60.2%). It’s good that he accomplished his goal of stretching his arm out and building strength, but the performance isn’t as exciting as it appears on the surface.

Millwood walked four batters and struck out just three, generating just three (unofficial) swings-and-misses. Ten ground outs to five air outs is nice, but a guy with all that big league time shouldn’t be walking that many guys or missing so few bats in Double-A. There’s no word on his stuff – radar gun readings or what not – but I’m sure recent scouting reports of “terrible” still apply. Millwood said after the game that he isn’t sure what the next step is, but his opt-out date is exactly two weeks away. He’s got two more starts to show that he’s still got something left in the tank, but right now I remain highly skeptical.

Checking in on Mark Melancon

Twelve months ago, righty reliever Mark Melancon was the sixth best prospect in the Yankees’ farm system (in my opinion, anyway). He had always dominated the minors with a low-90’s fastball and a hammer curveball, but struggled in his various stints with the big league team. In 15 career appearances with the Yankees, he allowed 20 hits and uncharacteristically walked ten in 20.1 IP, allowing 13 runs. Team officials were “always perplexed” by Melancon according to Buster Olney, because his strike-throwing ways never carried over into the big leagues.

The Yankees traded Melancon to Houston at the deadline as part of the Lance Berkman swap last summer, after he’d walked 31 in 56.1 IP at Triple-A. His control issues followed him back to Scranton, but Melancon has thrived in his short time with the Astros though, striking out 28 and walking just nine in 25.1 IP. He’s allowed just four hits and a walk in eight scoreless innings this year, striking out nine with a ground ball rate near 70%. For whatever reason, it just didn’t work in New York, but the Yankees didn’t exactly give Melancon the biggest of leashes either. They had some relief depth and used it to fill another hole. It’s the kind of move you expect a contender to make.

Nearly sent down, Hughes’ concerns landed him on DL

When the Yanks placed Phil Hughes on the disabled list on Friday with what the team is terming a “dead arm,” we originally reported the move as a demotion. Initial reports had Hughes heading to AAA to work on his stuff, but those were subsequently deemed false. It seems though that they weren’t too far off the mark: The Yanks were going to send Phil Hughes to the minors before the pitcher intervened.

According to a George A. King III report in The Post today, Hughes’ own reticence kept him in the Bronx but on the shelf. The club was going to send him down, but Hughes didn’t feel more pitching would help his velocity woes. King writes, “Hughes couldn’t exactly say what the problem was, but he didn’t believe continuing to pitch — even in the minors — was the right way to inject life into his dead right arm.” Hughes himself talked in more guarded tones. “After 30 pitches, there was nothing there. I felt like a reliever who had thrown four straight days,” he said.

Clearly, that’s not what you want to hear from your 24-year-old right-hander who was lined up to be the team’s third starter this year. Hughes, who had no tests done before the DL trip, will start a long-toss program soon with an eye toward building up arm strength. It’s worth noting that Phil’s 192 innings last year were a career high by a significant amount. Hopefully, this truly is only a dead arm.

Garcia tames Rangers on rainy Saturday

With the stench of a record-setting six double plays still on their uniforms, the Yankees took the field on Saturday afternoon looking to get back on the winning side of things. The starting pitching has been sketchy at best early in the season, and everyone was understandably skeptical when Freddy Garcia toed the rubber in the first inning. Sweaty Freddy is already operating with a slim margin of error, but add in the fact that he’d thrown one inning in the last two-and-a-half weeks, and well … I was scared.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Like A Chief

Even without Josh Hamilton, the Rangers have a great offense. The lineup is deep and balanced, capable of beating you with power and/or speed. And they were no match for Garcia’s slow, slower, and slowest approach. Sweaty Freddy threw 84 pitches on the afternoon, and not a single one clocked it at more than 87.5 mph according to PitchFX. He threw “fast”balls, curveballs, changeups, sliders, splitters, you name it. It was a good old fashioned junk festival, yet Texas squared very few pitches up and mustered just two hits off the Yankee starter.

It’s impressive enough that Freddy silenced the Rangers bats like that, but it’s even more impressive that he did it in an almost constant rain and brutal cold. He’s been around, this guy has pitched through everything and it showed today. Garcia changed speeds not only with different pitches, but within the same pitch as well. One changeup would be 83, the next 78. As cliche as it sounds, he straight up “pitched” today, mixing everything up and keeping the Texas batters guessing. Tip your cap to the guy, I think CC Sabathia‘s seven shutout innings against the Twins two weeks ago is the only other game by a Yankees starter that tops this one. Freddy brought the pain on Saturday.


The puffy face means something good happened. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Of course, Garcia’s fine pitching work was only half the battle, the Yankees had to score some runs as well. They took care of that right in the first inning, when Mark Teixeira clubbed his fifth homer of the season. Nick Swisher was on first after turning an 0-2 count into a 3-2 count and then into a single, so this shot counted for two. The most impressive thing about the homer? Tex was batting right-handed (against the lefty Derek Holland), and he hit it out to the opposite field. It was his first opposite field homerun as a right-handed batter since 2008, his fourth since 2005, and the tenth of his career. We’re talking about a guy with 280 dingers to his credit.

Two innings later, Teixeira helped tack on what proved to be the game-winning run. Derek Jeter led the third inning off with a walk, then moved over to third on Swisher’s double. Tex handled a 0-2 fastball and drove it to center, plenty deep enough for Jeter to jog home on the sacrifice fly. RBI’s are stupid except when someone on your favorite team has a lot of them, and Teixeira now leads the American League with 14.

An Almost-Meltdown

Because he hadn’t started in so long, Garcia was lifted after six innings even though his pitch count was still very manageable. Joba Chamberlain struck out two in a scoreless seventh, but things got out of hand in the eighth. Rafael Soriano, the all-important Eighth Inning Guy™, wasted no time giving the Rangers some life, allowing a leadoff ground-rule double to Mitch Moreland. A Julio Borbon ground ball move Moreland over to third, but then Soriano walked Ian Kinsler on five pitches. Just like that, Texas had the tying run at the plate with the heart of the order due up.

Elvis Andrus, who I still hate after his garbage infield hit barrage in the ALCS, slapped a single to right to plate the Rangers’ first run and again put men on the corners. Michael Young followed that up with a junkie infield single, and all of a sudden the tying run was in scoring position (go-ahead run on first) with the 4-5-6 hitters due up. Soriano threw Adrian Beltre nothing but cutters and sliders, hanging a few but lucking out because they were either a) fouled back, or b) crushed deep into the outfield before being blown just foul by they wind. Serious, Beltre missed a three-run homer by about five feet, tops. The seventh pitch of the encounter resulted in a lead-preserving 4-6-3 double play, ending a 27-pitch outing for Soriano.

I guess the good news is that Rafi’s missing velocity came back; he threw several pitches at 93-94 and averaged a little over 91. Soriano didn’t get one swing-and-miss though, and he’s already allowed six earned runs this year after allowing just a dozen total last year. There was talk after the game that he has trouble pitching in the cold (in fairness, it was ugly out today, cold and wet), but this guy spent the first five years of his career pitching in Seattle. You’d think he’d be used to it by now. If the cold really is that much of an issue, they’re going to have to find someone to take his place on the roster if the Yankees make the postseason, because that kind of performance simply won’t cut it.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)


After Soriano’s near-blowup, Robinson Cano got the runs back with a two-run homer off the right field foul pole in the next half-inning. That was Holland’s 112th pitch of the day, which seems completely ridiculous since a) it’s April, b) they were losing, c) he’s 24, and d) he spent nearly three months of last season on the disabled list with a shoulder issue. I get that Nolan Ryan wants to extend his pitchers and get to work a little deeper into games, but my goodness.

Alex Rodriguez left the game in the sixth inning with what was called “stiffness” in his lower back and oblique. Joe Girardi said after the game that he’ll see how A-Rod feels tomorrow before deciding whether or to put him in the lineup. Given how great he looks at the plate, I wouldn’t have any problem if they played it safe and gave Alex tomorrow off. Better one day now than a whole bunch later.

It’s amazing how much better Jeter looks against left-handed pitching than he does against right-handed pitched. He only reached base once today (on that walk), but he also drove a ball deep to left-center that the wind knocked down. In the middle of the summer, that ball might have been a homerun, which would have been no small feat for the Cap’n.

Swisher and Andruw Jones had two hits apiece, and Curtis Granderson beat out an infield single. Mariano Rivera was himself in the ninth, reminding everyone what a real eight-figure reliever looks like after Soriano’s sloppy inning.

Believe it or not, this was Garcia’s first scoreless start of at least six innings since September 19th, 2006. For some perspective, the Yankees starter that day was … Jeff Karstens. Yeah, it’s been a while.

WPA Graph & Box Score has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score.

Up Next

For the second straight weekend, the Yankees will play the rubber game of their series on ESPN’s Sunday Night broadcast. CC Sabathia gets the ball against Alexi Ogando. Just win series, baby. Just win series.