Rally falls short in Hughes return to rotation

The story coming into Wednesday night’s game was Phil Hughes‘ return to the rotation, and the story at the end of the night was the Yankees’ third loss in their last four games. Hughes was adequate at best, but the offense couldn’t muster a damn thing until it was too late.

Pitched from the stretch way too much.

Hughes’ Return

For the most part, Hughes looked like 2010 second half version of himself. He had no trouble getting strike one or even strike two, but strike three proved rather elusive. The Indians fouled off 25 of his 87 pitches, and only twice did they swing and miss. Phil’s fastball velocity was fine (mostly 91-93 mph) and held it pretty well throughout the start, but his location was awful (seemed like everything was in the middle of the plate) and his curveball had more tumble than bite. Again, basically the same thing we saw after the All-Star break last year.

The first inning was pretty messy, especially when you include Russell Martin throwing the ball into left field on a steal attempt of third, and Hughes allowed the leadoff man to reach in four of five innings. He didn’t have a single 1-2-3 inning but did a fine job of pitching around trouble after that first inning, when the two runs scored. Five innings and two runs probably would have been five innings and four or five runs against a better team, but at least Hughes settled down after that ugly first and can build on those last four innings. He really needs to improve that location though, that was the ginormous red flag.

Mastered, Son

Of course, what Hughes did was of little consequence to the outcome of the game because the Yankees had no answer for Justin Masterson. They wouldn’t have score a run off him if the had five outs per inning. Masterson’s sinker was running all over the plate and touching at high as 97, harder than I ever remember him throwing before. The Yankees had men on first and second with no outs in the second but didn’t get another runner past first base until the eighth inning. He dominated them, no other way to put it.

Pretty much the only highlight for New York.

Too Little, Too Late

The Yankees did manage to push three runs across in the ninth inning, but it was just a little too late. The low-leverage dream team of Boone Logan (gave up a solo homer to a lefty) and Sergio Mitre (walked the bases loaded, then walked in a run) allowed Cleveland to score a pair of insurance runs in the seventh and eighth innings, which were ultimately the deciding runs. Nick Swisher was the only player to consistently hit the ball hard, falling victim to great plays by Matt LaPorta (diving on a ball down the line) and Grady Sizemore (jumping at the wall) before his ninth inning double dropped in over Michael Brantley’s head. The three runs will help the Pythag. record, but that’s pretty much it.

Leftovers

Nothing nice, Boone.

Derek Jeter doubled to right in the ninth eighth, his 2,997th career hit. Hopefully the milestone hit comes Friday, when I’ll be in the stands. If he doesn’t do it then, then just get it during the homestand so we can all move on.

Mark Teixeira went hitless in four at-bats and is down to a .243 batting average with a .347 OBP. That’s not exactly $180M contract, three-hole hitter on a World Series contender production. Alex Rodriguez had two hits and fantastic diving stop to help Logan escape a jam in the sixth inning. Robinson Cano and Martin also had hits, but that’s pretty much it offensively.

The trio of Logan, Mitre, and Luis Ayala combined to put eight men on base in three innings, all while Hector Noesi warmed up and twiddling his thumbs in the bullpen. The kid needs to go down and pitch regularly as a starter, because his role on the team is undefined and his usage is completely erratic. That whole situation is moronic, it’s like they’re going out of their way to devalue an asset. Then they’ll trade him and he’ll perform well, and they’ll wonder why he didn’t pitch like that in pinstripes.

The microphones in the booth picked up no fewer than three cans of (presumably) soda being opened, by my count. One for each run, I guess. The Yankees lost their first series since being swept by Boston seven series ago. Seven out of eight ain’t bad.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs everything else.

Up Next

One more series before the All-Star break, and it’s a four gamer against the Rays at home. Bartolo Colon will start things off against Jeff Niemann on Thursday night. Jeter’s chase for 3,000 has ticket prices through the roof, but RAB Tickets can get you there (relatively) cheap.

Montero hits the disabled list, SWB loses

Jesus Montero was placed on the seven-day disabled list retroactive to Monday with that minor back issue. Mike Lamb was placed on the disabled list as well. Shaeffer Hall and Ryan Pope are going back down to Double-A Trenton. Seems like Hall was only up for the one spot start. P.J. Pilittere was activated off the phantom disabled list to fill one of the roster spots.

Triple-A Scranton (7-5 loss to Buffalo)
Chris Dickerson, CF: 1 for 5, 1 R, 2 K
Greg Golson, RF, Terry Tiffee, DH & Gus Molina, C: all 1 for 4 – Golson hit a solo jack, walked, and scored another run … Tiffee doubled and came around to score … Gus drove in a run and whiffed twice
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 3 K – one hit in ten at-bats since coming off the disabled list, with five strikeouts
Brandon Laird, 3B: 3 for 4, 1 2B, 3 RBI – six hits in his last 12 at-bats
Jordan Parraz, LF: 1 for 3, 1 K
Luis Nunez, 2B & Doug Bernier, SS: both 0 for 4, 1 K
Adam Warren, RHP: 5 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 6-3 GB/FB – 68 of 107 pitches strikes were strikes (63.6%) … scattered the hits, I guess
George Kontos, RHP: 1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 24 of 37 pitches were strikes (64.9%)
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 0-3 GB/FB – five of eight pitches were strikes
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 3-0 GB/FB – 12 of 23 pitches were strikes (52.2%)
Buddy Carlyle, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 2-1 GB/FB – nine of 13 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Injury Updates: Feliciano, Soriano, Marte

Got some injury updates, courtesy of Chad Jennings. Pedro Feliciano has been shut down for a week with soreness in his throwing shoulder. He had been making light tosses off a mound as he rehabs from a torn shoulder capsule. Rafael Soriano is on his way back, throwing a bullpen yesterday and reporting no problems. He’ll throw another one tomorrow. Damaso Marte (remember him?) threw a bullpen today, though it’s unclear how long and with how much effort. Either way, good news for him and Soriano.

Game 85: Hughes Returns

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Anna Moony via Creative Commons license)

It’s been nearly three months since Phil Hughes started a game for the Yankees, but he makes his return from what was ultimately described as shoulder inflammation tonight against the Indians. He sandwiched two strong rehab outings around a so-so- one, but the results really don’t matter. His fastball was reportedly back and the brain trust decided Hughes at his present state was a better option than Ivan Nova. I’m just happy he’s back. Phil’s always been a personal fave, but I didn’t need to tell you that. Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

Phil Hughes, SP

First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

Notes: Mariano Rivera will get today off, but he told reporters that he will “definitely” be ready to go tomorrow … The Tribe activated Matt LaPorta from the disabled list today, but Asdrubal Cabrera is out of the lineup after rolling his ankle last night. Net gain for the Yankees.

Site News: We’re working on fixing some database bugs, so the site might be a little sketchy tonight, in that it might go down periodically. Just a heads up.

Yankees demote Pendleton, outright Carlyle, release Texeira

Via Bryan Hoch, the Yankees sent Pants Lendleton to Triple-A Scranton to make room on the 25-man active for Hughes. There’s still no word about the 40-man roster move though, they have to get Phil off the 60-day disabled list somehow. In other news, Buddy Carlyle has been outrighted to Triple-A Scranton. That means he cleared waivers and agreed to go to the minors after being designated for assignment last week.

Update: Kanekoa Texeira has been released to make room on the 40-man, according to Hoch. That was pretty predictable.

Innings innings innings (and it’s not just CC)

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Not to beat that old drum again, but it’s amazing how strong the Yankees’ starting rotation has been despite all the questions coming into the season. Their 3.63 ERA is fifth best in the American League and tenth best among all teams, and their 3.84 FIP is fifth and 13th best, respectively. If you prefer xFIP to adjust some of the homerun stuff, they’re second and tenth best, respectively. No matter how you slice it, the Yankees rotation has been one of the ten or so best in baseball during the first half of the season. I don’t think many of us saw that coming.

Aside from the overall performance, the other thing that really stands out is how deep the starters are pitching into games. It all starts with CC Sabathia obviously, who completed seven innings for the fifth straight start last night and 13th time in 19 starts this year. He hasn’t thrown fewer than five innings in a start since May 8th of last year, a stretch of 46 straight starts. Furthermore, that game was the game in Fenway when they called for the tarp with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, when Sabathia had two strikes on the hitter. He had to be lifted at just 85 pitches due to the lengthy delay, so it’s safe to say he would have finished the fifth in that game too. The last time he failed to complete five innings in a start because of something other than rain was his final start of 2009, when the Rays rocked him for nine runs in 2.2 IP.

Joe wrote about A.J. Burnett‘s performance in the late innings earlier today, mentioning that he’s completed at least five innings in all 18 starts this year. That’s noteworthy because he finished five innings only 21 times last year, so he’s definitely improved in that regard. Bartolo Colon has thrown at least six innings in nine of his 11 starts, with the two exceptions being the beating he took in Texas and a 5.1 IP start against the Angels. Freddy Garcia got rocked by the Red Sox a few starts ago, but otherwise he’s lasted at least five innings in his other 14 starts. Twelve times he’s completed six innings, six times he’s completed seven, including three times in his last four starts. Ivan Nova had gone at least five innings in all but five of his 16 starts before being demoted, and two of those five came in his first three starts of the season.

Overall, Yankees starters have thrown 526 IP on the season, the eighth most in the AL and 14th most in baseball. Every single team ahead of them has played at least 86 games while the Yankees are only at 84 because of the April rain outs. On a rate basis, it’s an average of 6.26 IP/start, the fifth best in the AL and sixth best in all of baseball. Already 60 times this year they’ve gotten at least six innings from their starter, more than seven out of every ten times. Compare that to 2009 and 2010 (table to the right), and you’ll see that they’re actually above the league average in percent of starts with at least six innings for the first time in the Sabathia-Burnett era.

The more innings the starters throw the better, because the back-end of the bullpen has been hit pretty hard with all kinds of injuries: short-term (Mariano Rivera‘s triceps), medium-term (Rafael Soriano‘s elbow), and long-term (Joba Chamberlain‘s elbow, Pedro Feliciano’s shoulder). Whether or not Burnett can keep pitching deep into games or Garcia and Colon can hold up all year remains to be seen, but their early season impact on the pitching staff in terms of soaking up innings and sparing the bullpen is something that’s already done and in the bank.

When in doubt, pull A.J. out

There aren’t many positives to take from A.J. Burnett‘s 2011 season. If we’re grasping at straws we can say that it’s an improvement on his 2010 season, but that consolation goes only so far. Of the 112 qualified starters, he ranks 95th in FIP and 74th in ERA, and is striking out about a batter less than his career average. In fact, his strikeout rate is barely better than last year’s, while his walk and home run rates are just about the same. On Monday he incited a collective groan among the Yankee faithful when he blew the 2-0 lead that the Yankees had handed him in the top of the seventh. It felt like more of the same for Burnett.

One thing Burnett has actually done this year is avoid early exits. In all 18 of his starts he’s gone at least five innings. That might not seem like a big deal, but when the expected No. 2 has a year like Burnett’s 2010, we look in odd places to find positives. In those first five innings he has actually pitched fairly well. THere are a few innings that are worse than others — the 4th seems to be a problem for him, at least for the 18 innings this year — but overall he’s not all bad to start off a game. It’s when he gets into the later innings that things fall apart.

To be clear, most pitchers follow a similar trend as the innings progress. It’s the simple effect of the pitchers having seen them more often. But with Burnett it’s quite a standout. Five of the 15 homers he’s allowed this season have come in the sixth and seventh innings, and many of them have ruined otherwise winnable games. It truly starts to get bad as he faces hitters for the third time, when they’re hitting .292/.379/.508 against him. Such are the perils of being a two-pitch pitcher.

This isn’t to say that Burnett always needs to exit after five innings. There are some games where he’s going strong. For instance, he’s pitched into the eighth three times this year, going 1.2 innings and allowing just one hit and a walk. But it’s pretty clear, both in the stats and in our eyes, that he sometimes just falls apart after five or six. Given what we know about Burnett’s volatility and what we know about his failures once the lineup turns over a second time, there shouldn’t be any hesitation to pull him when he starts to show signs of vulnerability. In other words, the Kearns homer on Monday never should have happened, because he should have been out of the game after Duncan’s single. What followed was a movie we’ve seen too often.

It does seem that Burnett has made some improvements from his 2011 season, particularly at the beginning of games. He’s not getting shelled and handing it to the bullpen in the third, which is a dull but real positive. But it’s clear that he’s prone to lose it once hitters see him for a third time. There are times when he can get through those late innings, when his curveball has plenty of bite and he can locate his fastball. But when signs of trouble appear, Joe Girardi should waste no time in removing him from the game. We’ve seen it, and the stats bear it out. The Yankees are better served with a reliever than watching another late-inning Burnett implosion.