Burnett adjusts with the curveball

Photo credit: Andy King/AP

In his rain-shortened start last night, A.J. Burnett threw 75 pitches. He ran into trouble a couple of times, thanks to three hits and two walks, but each time was able to work out of it without incurring any damage. The only thing that came close was Justin Morneau’s warning track shot, which I thought was long gone when it leapt off the bat. At the end of five the game remained scoreless.

Burnett’s night came to a premature end after those five innings, thanks to the first rain delay, and first game suspension, the Twins have endured at their new stadium. The book is all but closed on him, with only the possibility of a win still looming. Given his limited exposure in the game — he probably could have pitched into the seventh once again — it’s tough not to like what we saw from Burnett. He had troubles at times, but where last year he would have let the game get way from him, this time he kept things under control.

One thing that leaps out last night is that he threw his curveball 23 times out of 75 pitches. Burnett has cut back on the curve this year, throwing it just 23.5 percent of the time. It doesn’t appear that his decreased curve usage has been an anomaly in a short sample. Even he has admitted several times this season that he’s just not feeling the curveball. His increased use of a two-seam fastball has led to higher groundball rates, a positive, but as David Golebiewski of FanGraphs notes, it has been a detriment to his strikeout rate.

It was clear in the first inning last night that Burnett did not have a good feel for his curve. He missed badly with it a couple of times, and didn’t hit the strike zone with the five he threw in the first. He went back to it a few times later, only to find similar results. The nasty curve on which Burnett has made his reputation would not help him very much. Yet, as I mentioned above, he didn’t abandon it completely. Instead it appeared he took a bit off it, using it more as an off-speed pitch than a breaking pitch. It worked fairly well, generating three swinging strikeouts and another called one.

If Burnett can continue to adjust in-game when his best curveball isn’t working, he might be able to avoid the meltdowns with which we became familiar last year. It’s pretty clear that he’s not comfortable throwing his changeup — he did only once last night, and that was on the ball I thought Morneau had hit into the St. Croix river. If he can keep batters off-balance with that pitch and induce grounders with his two-seamer (eight of the 12 balls in play were on the ground), he can be and effective pitcher even when he’s not feeling his best. He demonstrated that last night, and he has put the Yankees in an excellent position to pick up a win.

The problems with a popularity contest that counts

Every year since I started blogging about baseball in 2004, I’ve taken up the topic of the stupidity of the All Star Game. I have no problem with the game itself, and when I had the opportunity to attend the 15-inning affair at Yankee Stadium in 2008, I had a blast. But no matter how thrilling that Mid-Summer Classic was, I can’t get past the fact that the All Star Game counts for something.

To recap, the problem arose in 2002 when the AL and NL both ran out of pitchers after 11 innings with the score still tied at 7. Because there are no ties in baseball, Bud Selig came off looking the fool when he announced that the game would end without a victor. Heaven forbid a glorified exhibition game end with no winner. To combat this problem, Selig announced that the All Star Game, of all things, would determine home-field advantage in the World Series. A pre-season coin toss would be just as arbitrary.

With the decision to make the All Star game count quickly becoming an engrained part of this July affair, MLB hasn’t addressed the problems with the way the teams are selected. The fans — those who drive ratings and the game’s success — still choose who gets to start, but they aren’t very good at it. Instead of picking the best players at each position, the fans just vote for the most popular, and the leagues aren’t represented, at least at first, by the real All Stars.

This year’s voting is no exception and, in fact, serves to highlight the problem. Let’s take first base in the AL. When MLB unveiled the early voting results, the lead vote-getter at first base was Mark Teixeira. I don’t know many Yankee fans who think number 25 is off to an All Star start. On the season, Teixeira is hitting .209/.327/.378 with 7 home runs, 30 RBIs and 37 strike outs. At this pace, he’ll strike out a career-high 133 times. The AL WAR leaderboard shows seven first basemen better than Teixeira, and Justin Morneau, the AL’s top first baseman, has received nearly 140,000 fewer votes than Teixeira.

At short stop, the same absurdity repeats itself. Derek Jeter — .276/.320/.396 with declining defensive numbers — leads the entire American League in votes. The WAR leader at short in the junior circuit is Elvis Andrus, and he has received 400,000 fewer votes than DJ.

Around the horn, the voting makes more or less sense. Robinson Cano should be leading at second base, and few will question Joe Mauer or Evan Longoria as All Stars at their respective positions. Of the Ichiro-Nelson Cruz-Carl Crawford outfield trio, only Crawford truly deserves to be there, but Cruz and Ichiro ain’t chopped liver.

On a personal level, I’d love to see Jeter and Teixeira start the All Star Game (and I’d love it even more as a Yankee fan if they could put up numbers to deserve it). But as a supporter of a team that has a legitimate shot at playing in the World Series and one who understands the benefits of home field advantage, I’d rather see the best players at their positions earn that Mid-Summer Classic starting berth.

The All Star Game should count or it should be a popularity contest. As long as it remains parts of both, the voting system will be as flawed as Bud Selig’s misguided concept. This time, it counts, and yet, it shouldn’t.

Yanks & Twins suspended due to rain

Photo Credit: Andy King, AP

For the first time in who knows how long, a Minnesota Twins home game was delayed by rain. That delay turned into a suspended game after the Yanks and Twins played through about four innings of steady downpour. It was just too much by time the 6th inning rolled around, so the umpires called for the tarp. The rain just never let up.

Early on, it looked like the Yankees were stuck with the bad version of A.J. Burnett. He put two men on base in both the 1st and 2nd innings, but managed to escape unscathed thanks to some well placed ground balls. Burnett settled down very nicely after that, retiring nine of the final ten batters he faced with a well-placed bunt single by Denard Span representing the only blemish. He threw just 75 pitches in five innings work, getting seven ground outs to just two fly outs, and he gave the team exactly what they having been getting of late.

As for the offense, well it still looked pretty stagnant. Brett Gardner slapped a single in the 1st only to be erased on Mark Teixeira‘s double play ball two pitches later. Alex Rodriguez led off the 2nd with a single, but was taken off the basepaths when Robbie Cano grounded into a double play immediately after he reached. After a Derek Jeter single and a four pitch walk to Gardner to kick off the 4th, Teixeira swung at the first pitch (first damn pitch!) and popped out to foul territory. A-Rod stuck out on a pitch at his eyes, and Cano flied out harmlessly to center to end the threat.

It truly was a microcosm of the last week for the Yankees. They had opportunities to make something happen, but just didn’t capitalize. They’re stuck in some kind of rut and it’s the ugliest, most frustrating brand of baseball I can imagine. Scott Baker threw just 50 pitches in his five innings of work because 11 of the 17 men he faced saw no more than three pitches in their at-bat. The Yankees don’t roll like that. They’re supposed to work the count and grind away at-bats, not give in on pitcher’s pitches. Until they get back to doing that, they’re going to continue to be inept offensively.

The game will be resumed tomorrow after at 5:05pm ET, and my guess is that Sergio Mitre will be on the bump unless the Yanks open up a lead in the top half of the 6th. The regularly scheduled game will then start at 7:10pm ET, or a 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first game, whichever comes later. Nothing like using the bullpen twice in one day.

Tampa has no answer for Furbush

In what could easily be the final minor league start of his career, Stephen Strasburg will face the SWB Yanks this Saturday. Let’s all hope that Jesus Montero does something amazing that day.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 loss to Louisville)
Greg Golson, LF-CF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 K
Curtis Granderson, CF: 0 for 3, 1 K – played seven innings in the field by design …. the plan is to have him take tomorrow off, play Thursday, then rejoin the big league team on Friday
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 2 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4 – threw out two of three baserunners
Jon Weber, DH & Reegie Corona, 2B: both 1 for 3
Chad Huffman, 1B-LF, Reid Gorecki, RF & Matt Cusick, 3B: all 0 for 3
Ivan Nova: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 7-5 GB/FB – 44 of his 81 pitches were strike (54.3%) … he left his last start after getting hit by a comebacker, so it’s good to see he wasn’t hurt too bad
Zack Segovia: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2-2 GB/FB – 27 of 38 pitches were strikes (71.1%)

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Game 45: No More Dome

Photo Credit: Craig Lassig, AP

At long last, the eyesore known as the Metrodome is long gone (for baseball purposes, anyway), replaced with brand spankin’ new Target Field. It’s still extremely early, but so far the park is playing almost exactly neutral with regards to total offense (1.011 park factor), but it’s greatly suppressed homers so far (0.623 HR factor). Of course, there have only been 21 games played there, so who knows.

On the mound for the Yanks will be acupuncture aficionado A.J. Burnett, who’s put 37 men on base and allowed 18 runs in his last three starts (17.2 IP) after being so strong in his first half-dozen outings. He’ll be opposed by Scott Baker, who the Yanks smacked around pretty good eleven days ago. The last time the Bombers won back-to-back games was against these same Twins a little more than a week ago. They’ve got to win one before they can worry about winning two, so let’s start that streak tonight.

Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Brett Gardner, CF – sigh
Mark Teixeira, DH
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robbie Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Juan Miranda, 1B
Frankie Cervelli, C
Kevin Russo, LF

And on the mound, Allen Burnett.

Because of those silly Midwestern states, first pitch tonight is scheduled for 8:10pm ET. It’s a My9 broadcast tonight, not YES. Enjoy.

Update: And we’re in a rain delay. No word when, or if they’re going to resume.

Update II: Game’s been suspended. They’re going to resume this sucker tomorrow at 5:05pm ET, then play the regularly scheduled game at 8:05pm ET.

Vazquez’s bullpen session goes well, will start Thursday

Via Mark Feinsand, Javier Vazquez‘s bullpen session went swimmingly this afternoon, and he will indeed start Thursday against the Twins. Joe Girardi was adamant prior to Sunday’s game that Vazquez was going to make that start, but given the Yanks’ recent run of injuries, none of us were confident in that actually happening until his side session went well. Finally, some good luck when it comes to an injury.

Aceves reaggravates back injury

On the disabled list with a bulging disc in his back for two weeks now, Al Aceves suffered a bit of a setback today when he felt more pain while working out in Tampa. He cut his work on the field short, and he’s heading back to New York for what I presume is more tests and what not. Aceves felt better after receiving a cortisone shot last week, but apparently it didn’t do enough. The more time he misses and the more setbacks he has, the more likely surgery becomes. Simply as that.