Game 114: Welcome back, Tex

I feel sorry for that baseball. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Even though Marcus Thames did a more than admirable job filling as the three-hole hitter during the last two games, I think we’re all happy to have Mark Teixeira back with the team. The Yanks’ first baseman missed those games because his wife had the nerve to give birth during the season, but he returns just in time to face one of his favorite pitchers, Bruce Chen. Tex isn’t just 9-for-14 off Chen in his career, six of those nine hits have left the yard and two others have gone for doubles. That includes a 2-for-3 effort a few weeks ago. Welcome back Tex; now please, don’t ever leave us again.

The other big story of the night is Curtis Granderson‘s supposedly revamped swing. He downplayed the changes, though it still sounds like there some pretty significant adjustments made. The results probably won’t be immediate, but stranger things have happened. Here’s the lineup…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Thames, DH
Kearns, LF
Granderson, CF
Cervelli, C

And on the bump, it’s the big man, CC Sabathia.

Another game out in the midwest, so this one doesn’t start until a little after 8pm ET. Once the game starts, you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Modell’s, Yanks team up for discount day-of-game tickets

Once upon a time, Yankee fan used to be able to walk up to the stadium and buy day-of-game tickets in reasonably priced areas of the season. Since the arrival of Alex Rodriguez, though, day-of-game ticket sales in the Bronx have all but dried up. Today, the Yankees and Modell’s announced that the two companies are teaming up to bring back that tradition but with a hitch.

Beginning this Monday, the Modell’s flagship store at 234 W. 42nd St. between 7th and 8th Avenues will sell a limited number of discounted day-of-game tickets. These seats will go on sale at noon for night games and 8 a.m. for day games and will be limited to four per person, per game. While the two companies did not say what seats will be available, the Mo Saver tickets will be offered at up to 50 percent off face value.

The Yankees have already sold 3.7 million tickets this year — or an average of approximately 46,000 per game — and this discount booth may be a great way for fans who are priced out of the secondary market to find good seats available for cheap. “This is a great opportunity and service that we are thrilled to offer to New York Yankees fans. Whether you are visiting and looking to take in a game at the world-famous Yankee Stadium or a New Yorker making last-minute plans on a game day, the new ticket booth is conveniently located at Modell’s Times Square to offer amazing deals on game tickets,” Mitchell Modell, CEO of the eponymously named store, said. “We expect the new service to be an instant hit with local fans and tourists alike.”

Link Brigade: Hughes, Gardner, Cliff Lee, Mo, Pitching

I’ve come across plenty of good stuff today, all worthy of at least a mention here. Hopefully these can get you through the rest of your working day.

Phil Hughes, then and now

Friend of RAB Jay Jaffe, in his new digs at Pinstriped Bible, takes a look at the difference between Phil Hughes‘s first 13 starts and his last eight. There are some pretty stark differences, especially in his strikeout and home run numbers. He also digs into some PitchFX data, a conversation that continued on Twitter later in the afternoon. Harry Pavlidis supplied some stats on his cutter. I’d click through the entire feed to see the other stuff he came up with.

The upshot: Hughes has allowed just one home run on his curveball all year.

The other side of the Gardner argument

Yesterday Ben wrote an article about Brett Gardner and what his slump means for the Yankees’ off-season. It’s always suspect when a player exceeds all expectations for a good portion of a season, so when Gardner slumped I understood the concern. At Pending Pinstripes, Greg Fertel takes a look at the argument from the other side, noting that as long as Brett turns around to average production from here on out he’ll serve as a quality outfielder next year, allowing the Yanks to spend potential Carl Crawford money elsewhere. Say, on a pitcher like…

The market for Cliff Lee

At TYU, Stephen R., an excellent mid-season addition to the site, exhaustively examines Lee’s possible landing points. To him it comes down to three primary contenders: the Yanks, the Dodgers, and the Rangers. Given the state of baseball and how each team is currently constructed, I like the Yanks’ chances in this one. It’s tough not to.

Jack Curry on Mariano Rivera

Perhaps the best off-season addition for the Yankees didn’t come on the field, but instead on their broadcast crew. Jack Curry has been wonderful in his new role. He even, from time to time, dusts off the writing chops he employed at the New York Times. This time he’s written about Mo and his ability to shake the pressure and do what he does.

Does pitching really win championships?

We know the old adage, and we’ve seen it at work plenty of times. But at ESPN (insider only, unfortunately), FanGraphs’ Jack Moore examines the past five years of playoff data and tries to determine if it actually holds true. Better pitching does give a team an advantage, but it might not be as great as you think. There are plenty of other factors that go into building a championship team.

Very quietly, a bullpen turnaround

After its stellar work during the 2009 season, most figured that the bullpen would once again be a strength for the Yankees in 2010. For the most part the personnel remained the same and we figured their roles would as well, so it was reasonable to expect similar results. Naturally, the opposite happened, and the Bullpen of Doom resurfaced in April.

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

The strikeout heavy squad from last year (8.44 K/9 in ’09, second best in the biz)  struck out just over seven batters per nine innings through the season’s first two months, and unsurprisingly their overall performance suffered. On a macro-level, the bullpen had a 4.55 ERA (4.53 FIP, 4.40 xFIP) through the end of May and ranked towards the bottom third of the league. On a micro-level, there simply was no one reliable in the bullpen besides the great Mariano Rivera.

Dubbed the 8th inning setup man barely a week into the season, Joba Chamberlain was shaky right from the get-go despite strong peripheral stats. The underlying data suggest a rebound at some point, but the Yankees couldn’t afford to wait around for that happen in the ultra-competitive AL East. David Robertson, the natural alternative for high-leverage work, was battling consistency issues himself. Al Aceves, last year’s do-it-all relief stud, went down with a back injury in early May, and of course Phil Hughes had been successfully moved into the rotation.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Chan Ho Park, the late offseason roll of the dice, was a complete bust, serving up gopher balls like they were going out of style. Damaso Marte was utterly dominant against southpaws (.146/.200/.268 against) but shaky versus righties (eight walks, just one strikeout) so he wasn’t a viable option in anything other than matchup work. Sergio Mitre had a nice go of it early on, but he served as the de facto long man until Andy Pettitte‘s barking elbow forced him into the rotation for two turns and an oblique injury landed him on the shelf. Up and down went names like Mark Melancon, Romulo Sanchez, Ivan Nova, and Jon Albaladejo, none really given an opportunity to establish themselves with the big league team.

Unlike last season when it was easy to pinpoint exactly when things started to turn around for the relief corps (the mid-to-late May makeover, dumping Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez in favor of Aceves and Robertson, shifting Hughes to the bullpen), this year’s resurrection has been a bit more subtle. There haven’t been any wholesale personnel changes, just a few minor tweaks here and there and some injuries. Really, it’s not the bodies that are different, just their performance.

Joba has lost exclusive rights to the 8th inning job, since demoted to middle relief until he finds his way. In seven appearances since the demotion, he’s allowed just two hits, three walks, and zero runs against six strikeouts while rediscovering some velocity. The lessening of Joba’s role wouldn’t have been possible if not for Robertson’s turnaround. The diminutive righthander has held opponents to a .188/.310/.200 batting line against with 10.44 K/9 since the start the June, and he’s been ever better of late: .091/.216/.091 against and a 12.51 K/9 over the last 38 days. He hasn’t allowed an extra base hit since the series with the Diamondbacks.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

With Marte on the disabled list with a shoulder issue, Boone Logan has stepped in as the lefty specialist and stepped up his game. Most of us wanted him nowhere near the team in the early parts of the season, and why would we? Opponents tattooed him for a .286/.390/.400 batting line until his latest demotion to Triple-A, but in Marte’s stead he’s been straight money. Overall, he’s holding batters to a .100/.156/.200 line since returning, and get this, lefthanded batters are 0-for-16 with seven strikeouts and a hit by pitch during that time. He and Robertson have really been the central figures of this turn around, they’ve stepped up in a big way and solidified the late innings.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the addition of Kerry Wood. First and foremost, it was an obvious upgrade over CHoP, but it also gave the team a veteran guy with experience in high leverage work. He’s certainly not the Kerry Wood of old, but he still strikes out a ton of batters and is effective enough to be a viable middle reliever, if not more. His work in last night’s comeback win should not be understated.

Overall, the bullpen has gone from those unimpressive numbers in April and May (once again: 4.55 ERA, 4.53 FIP, 4.40 xFIP, 7.15 K/9) to being one of the better relief outfits in the game since (3.07 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 4.06 xFIP, 7.98 K/9 since the start of June). The improvement has largely been under-the-radar since there were no major moves, it’s just a matter of the guys that were already here turning things around and getting back to being the players we expected them to be.

Pondering roster moves for the returning pitchers

During the next two weeks it sounds like the Yankees plan to bring in the cavalry for its pitching staff. First up could be Al Aceves, who faced four batters in Scranton on Tuesday and is scheduled to start for Trenton on Friday. Then, as Josh Norris relays, Andy Pettitte is in line to make a rehab start on Tuesday. That will be a boon to the pitching staff, though for the most part they’ve pitched pretty well recently. So well, in fact, that I wonder what two pitchers will lose their roster spots when Pettitte and Aceves return.

(AP Photo/Ray Abrams)

Aceves is a bit tougher to peg, since there’s no guarantee he’ll actually make a return. He has been out since he hurt his back mid-pitch on May 8. Since then he’s been through plenty, getting multiple epidurals and having his rehab shut down twice. This time through has been a bit more smooth in that he’s actually pitched in a live game. But when it comes to back injuries there are no guarantees. His return will largely depend, I’m sure, on how he feels following his outing on Friday.

Another rehab appearance might be in the cards, and the Yanks might even want to see if he can pitch on back-to-back days before activating him. Because he pitches in relief I suspect they’ll want to see him pitch more frequently than every third day before they let him face major league hitters. That could put his return anywhere from next weekend against Seattle all the way to September. That is, again, if he returns at all.

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

It’s unclear how many rehab starts Pettitte will make, though I’d guess he’ll make two. That would mean his second one comes on Sunday the 22nd, but with both Scranton and Trenton on the road that day I’m not sure what they’ll do. What I am sure of is the roster move that will correspond to Pettitte’s return: the designation of Chad Gaudin for assignment. He has served his purpose, but Dustin Moseley has been the superior pitcher. Pettitte’s return will move Moseley to the bullpen, where he can play the role of long man. DFAing Gaudin works in two ways, since the Yankees will also need to clear a 40-man roster spot in order to reinstate Aceves from the 60-day DL.

This leaves in question what the Yankees will do when Aceves returns. They have just four pitchers who still have minor league options: Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, David Robertson, and Boone Logan. After Joba’s kind-of demotion, Joel Sherman reported that the Yankees would not send him to the minors. They obviously won’t send Hughes or Robertson because of the prominent roles they play. Logan has been on the Scranton Express this season, but he doesn’t seem like the choice either. Not only has he been much better during his current stint, but Joe Girardi loves having a lefty in the bullpen. I doubt he goes down to Scranton again.

Chances are, then, that we don’t see Aceves until September, when rosters expand. That will give him enough time to build up stamina, allowing him to fill his previous role of hybrid long man and setup guy. It will also allow the Yanks to retain their depth, since Sergio Mitre would be the only logical casualty if Aceves returned before rosters expand. The same goes for Damaso Marte. Chances are we’ll see him pop up in a couple of rehab appearances towards the end of August, with a return in September.

The Yanks, then, will have a surplus of pitching to get them through the final month. They’ll have not only a glut of effective bullpen arms, but they’ll have spot start options if, like last year, they want to rest their starters before the playoffs. September could prove interesting, too, because of all the bullpen arms vying for postseason roster spots. It’s a good position to hold right now. The more options for the bullpen and the rotation, the better.

Javy Vazquez and the lost fastball velocity

Aaaand the pitch. Credit: AP Photo, Tony Gutierrez

Lost in the aftermath of a thrilling Yankee victory last night was another mediocre start by Javier Vazquez. Pitching in temperatures nearing 100 degrees, Vazquez, thanks in part to his defense, labored through 4.1 innings, and his final line — 8 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 1 K — doesn’t do much to inspire confidence. After a great run through late May, June and the first half of July, Javier Vazquez has seemingly run out of steam.

Last night’s affair caps off a rough stretch for Vazquez. Over his last 28 innings, he’s allowed 20 earned runs for a 6.43 ERA while giving up 36 hits and seven home runs with 10 walks and just 15 strike outs. His FIP clocks in at 6.35, and while earlier this season he couldn’t locate his pitches, this time, he doesn’t seem to have much on them.

“It’s been very frustrating for me, the velocity,” Vazquez said after his start. “I don’t have any life on my fastball. All the swings and misses I’m getting are on my change-ups and curveballs.”

The results bare out the pitcher’s own observations. Of the 82 pitches Vazquez threw last night, the Rangers swung and missed at just four of them. According to the Pitch F/X data, those swings came on pitches that were 77, 75, 68 and 65 miles an hour. In other words, none of them were on fastballs.

As with last week’s outing against the Red Sox, Vazquez’s heaters weren’t too hot. He started the game out with a few heaters that didn’t crack 85 and hit 88 only once in the first inning. The fastest pitches he threw were a pair of four-seamers in the third that just eked above the 89-mph mark and the final pitch of his outing. For the first time all season, his fastball velocity never cracked 90.

Vazquez, as the Yanks said last weekend, has been going through a dead-arm period, and he doesn’t need his velocity to excel. As Mike Mussina showed, smart pitchers with pinpoint command and very good breaking pitches — two traits Vazquez possesses — can keep hitters guessing with a slow-slower-slowest approach to pitching. The Yankees need that from Javy right now.

In an ideal world, the 34-year-old with the fifth most innings pitched among active players would get some time off before the playoffs. But when it comes to starting pitching, the Yankees are a little short-handed right now. Andy Pettitte is still a week to ten days away from rejoining the team, and Phil Hughes is fast approaching the magic 175 IP mark, his soft cap for an innings limit. If the Yankees need to monitor Hughes’ workload to keep him fresh for the playoffs, they can’t ease up on Vazquez at the same time. When Pettitte comes back, the Yanks can use Dustin Moseley to give Vazquez an extra day off now and then, but until then, their starters must go on turn.

So the Yanks will continue to run Javy out there every five days. Without an extra pitcher — say a Cliff Lee — the team has few options, and despite the results, it’s an easy choice to make. They won’t overtax Hughes, a future starting pitcher, to coddle Javier Vazquez, a one-year rental. Instead, they’ll hope he can make the best of it and work through a dead arm period. With no days off until the 26th, the Yankees are going full steam ahead through the dog days of August.

As the fans sigh in frustration at another slow fastball, though, Vazquez does as well. “I’ve got a lot of innings on my arm,” he aid after yesterday’s game. “Maybe it’s catching up to me. I reach back and see 88. It’s kind of frustrating.”