Oppenheimer, Eppler in Japan to watch Darvish

Via NPB Tracker on Twitter, we learn that the Yankees have sent Director of Professional Scouting Billy Eppler and VP of Amateur Scouting Damon Oppenheimer, two of their top player evaluators, to Japan to check out the 24-year-old Yu Darvish. The right-handed Iranian Japanese pitcher is 10-6 on the season for the Nippon Ham Fighters with a 2.05 ERA. In 20 starts spanning 158 innings, he’s struck out 174 while allowing just 5 home runs and 40 walks. He reportedly features an array of pitches including an upper 90s fastball, a slider, a change, a curve and what the Japanese call a shuuto, and this isn’t the first time the Yanks have expressed interest in him. They sent scouts to watch him earlier in the season, in 2009 and 2008 as well.

Darvish’s situation will present an interesting test case for Japanese pitchers coming to America. He isn’t eligible to be an international free agent until after 2014 when he will be, at just 28 years old, entering his prime, and so far his numbers dictate a big payday. He has a career ERA of 2.18 with a career K/9 of 8.4 and a career K/BB of 3.2. In March, Jeff Passan speculated that Nippon Ham could get upwards of $75 million if they posted Darvish sooner rather than later and that Darvish’s arrival in the U.S. isn’t a matter of if but when, and when that day arrives, the Yankees will be in on him.

Yanks’ Killer Bs movin’ on up

We heard the rumblings late last night, and now it’s official: Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances have been promoted to AA Trenton. The two young phenoms, both subjects of recent glowing scouting reports by Frankie Piliere, join Andrew Brackman, Hector Noesi and Adam Warren in a power-packed rotation just a train ride away from New York City. Here’s to hoping the Yanks’ pitching future is now one step closer.

Game 123: Getting Javy back on track

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

It’s Javy day, and the Yanks’ coaches have their work cut out for them. Vazquez, brought in to give the Yanks some quality innings from the back of the rotation this season, has hit a speed bump as he suffers through a dead-arm period. After running through May, June and July with an 8-4 record and a 3.29 ERA, Vazquez’s stuff has all but deserted him.

Over his last three outings, Vazquez has gone 0-2 with a 7.24 ERA, but those numbers tell only part of the story. Against Boston two weeks ago, Vazquez was throwing low-80s fastballs, and he hasn’t regained the velocity he flashed earlier in this summer. Opponents have hit .306/.403/.597 off of him over his last 13.2 innings, and he’s allowed four home runs while walking 12. Earlier this week, it took him 106 pitches to get 12 outs.

The Mariners may very well be the cure for what ails him. Against Seattle this season, Vazquez has pitched quite well. In 13 innings over two starts, he’s allowed just three runs on nine hits and four walks while striking out 15. He was in line for the win in his last outing, but an eighth inning Joba collapse gave the Mariners the win. Seattle will counter with Jose Vargas who is 9-5 with a 3.15 ERA. In his July 8 start against them, Vargas held the Yanks to one run on nine hits over seven innings, but the Bombers rallied late against the Seattle bullpen to take the game.

The lineup please:

Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Robinson Cano 2B
Marcus Thames DH
Jorge Posada C
Austin Kearns LF
Curtis Granderson CF
Eduardo Nunez 3B – First Major League start

The game starts at 1:05 and will be on the YES Network.

A-Rod Injury Update: Joe Girardi updated the media on the State of A-Rod this morning, and the news, while not very different from what the team said last night, it sounds as though A-Rod won’t be available any time soon. “I don’t expect him to play this series, and I’m not sure he’ll even play in Toronto,” Girardi said. Clearly, having him attempt to play last night was a mistake.

Andy, Nova and the plan going forward

In a brief column in The Post this morning, Joel Sherman drops in some interesting tidbits about the Yanks’ pitching plans for September. First, he notes that the Yankees are not that worried about Andy Pettitte‘s groin injury and that the lefty will be back early next month. “Pettitte is not going to have a season-ending groin injury,” Brian Cashman said to Sherman. In the meantime, Dustin Moseley, who has impressed the Yanks despite a FIP of 6.29, will continue to make starts as Pettitte heals.

Next, Sherman drops in an intriguing note: As the season dwindles down, the team plans to call up Ivan Nova to make “at least” two or three starts in order to “give increased rest to the rotation.” With Nova in the fold, the Yanks can give Hughes and Vazquez some extended rest without overtaxing Pettitte after a layoff of what will be nearly seven weeks. Nova is 12-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 23 AAA starts. He’s struck out 115 while walking 48, and although he profiles as a back-of-the-rotation guy, he’ll be just fine for a few late-season starts.

Ramiro Pena’s offensive season

Ramiro Pena’s triple on Wednesday night helped boost his OPS from .456 to .486.  On the list of worst Yankee offensive (in more ways than one) seasons since 1950 his game Wednesday night dropped him from 8th worst to 10th worst (min. 100 ab’s, see chart below).  I bring this up to not bash Ramiro Pena, but just to show how truly inept he is with the bat.  Now that Eduardo Nunez has been called up to the big leagues, there is no justification for having Pena start a game.

Pena will stick around because of his glove, but that doesn’t mean he should be getting any meaningful at-bat’s.  Sure Nunez isn’t a great fielder and is a very flawed hitter, but he’s Babe Ruth with the bat compared to Pena.  We know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Ramiro Pena simply will not be productive batting.  Nunez probably won’t be great, but there’s just about no way he can be worse than Pena.  So why, with Nunez eligible, did Pena get the start Thursday against the Tigers?  Maybe they didn’t want to throw Nunez right in, especially in a day game.  Maybe they wanted to bring him into a game as a reserve first to get his feet wet which they were able to do with a 9 run lead.  Whatever the reason, Pena, who remarkably already has 120 plate appearances (heading into Thursday) should end the season with no more than 150.  He’s been that bad.

His triple the other night was his 2nd extra base hit.  In 28 starts he has 3 two hit games.  Of the other 9 Yankee seasons since 1950 with an OPS less than .500, and SLG and OBP’s below .250, 4 of them happened before the DH existed (though non-pitchers).  Of the other 4, 3 were in the 70’s and 2 were in the 80’s.  Yes, it has been 23 years since a Yankee has been so poor offensively.  If it wasn’t for risk of injury, the Yankees might be better off having the DH hit for Pena and have the pitchers hit for themselves.  It’s coming down to that.  All of this is a simple plea to Joe Girardi, do not start Ramiro Pena.  Ever.

Felix king as Mariners blank Yanks 6-0

Three batters into the top of the first, the usually-punchless Mariners found themselves enjoying a 3-0 cushion. With King Felix on the mound, those runs would be more than enough, but Seattle battered A.J. Burnett for three as the game progressed. Hernandez, meanwhile, was untouchable. He allowed just four hits in eight innings and struck out 11 as the Mariners beat the Yanks 6-0.

Felix earns his nickname

Total domination. AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Last weekend, we celebrated how the Yanks had managed to play two four-game sets against the Royals and miss Zack Greinke both times. This week, we curse the scheduling gods for their retribution. The Yanks and Mariners have faced off in three series, and each time, Felix Hernandez has taken the mound. Each time, the Mariners have won.

For all the aces the Yankees have faced this year — the Jon Lesters, the Roy Halladays, the Cliff Lees — none have dominated more than Felix Hernandez, and tonight was no exception. Using a fastball sitting above 94, a change-up in the upper 80s and a set of 85-mph breaking balls, Hernandez was nearly untouchable. At one point, he struck out five Yanks in a row and ended the game with 11 Ks. It was, as that Avis commercial says, total domination.

On the season, Hernandez is now 3-0 against the Yanks in three starts. He’s thrown 26 innings and has given up a solitary earned run on 15 hits and eight walks. He’s struck out 31 Yankees. I’m glad they won’t have to face him again.

A.J. struggles early

Oh, look a home run by Russell Branyan. AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

By now, the Bad A.J./Good A.J. meme has grown tired. A.J. Burnett is what he is: an overpaid, inconsistent pitcher who’s with the Yanks for the next three seasons. Tonight, we saw A.J. struggle early. He gave up a single to Ichiro, inexplicably walked Chone Figgins and then after a stolen base, gave up a booming home run to Russell Branyan. It was the fourth long ball Branyan had blasted in the Bronx in seven games this year, and he would return for an encore performance later in the game.

As the evening wore on, it was clear that A.J. had no command. In 7 innings, he gave up six runs on 12 hits while walking three. He struck out just four Mariners, and a weak-hitting team teed off on him as though it were batting practice. His 92-mph fastballs were all over the place, and he couldn’t throw the curve for strikes. For Burnett, now 9-11 with a 4.80 ERA on the season and 0-3 with a 6.08 ERA in August, it was business as usual.

After the game, Burnett spoke with reporters about his struggles, and his comments, on the surface, seem insensitive. He claimed that only the home runs were hard hit and that he was only concerned with the long balls. “If I don’t give up those home runs, it’s a 2-0 game. Those are the only pitches I’m worried about,” he said, adding later, “I’m not worried about all the other hits, but the two home runs bother me.”

For Burnett, those comments have to be a coping mechanism. No one knows better than A.J. that his results are not where they need to be and where the Yanks want them to be this year. He’s underperforming his ERA by nearly a full year, and his strike out totals as well as his fastball velocity are down a few ticks this year. The Yankees need to get A.J. back on track if they’re going to win in October, but right now, the dominant A.J. is nowhere to be seen.

A-Rod leaves early

The only other noteworthy part of this game was a fourth-inning substitution. As we reported earlier, the Yankees had to pull A-Rod after he felt his calf grab during his second-inning at bat. The Yankees now anticipate that he’ll miss more time, but a DL trip is unlikely. Ramiro Peña will get the bulk of the third base playing time.

I believe the Yanks made a mistake playing A-Rod tonight. Had they sat him out, they could have put him on the disabled list retroactive to Monday, and he would have been eligible to be activated near Sept. 1 when rosters expand. Now, they’ll sit him and hope he can heal without a trip to the disabled list. It was a costly move in a game against a dominant pitcher, and while the Yanks shouldn’t give up before a pitch is even thrown, using A-Rod tonight could come back to haunt them.

Funny baseball picture! Unfunny baseball game! AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

WPA Graph

Down, down, down.

Box Scores: FanGraphs, ESPN

Up Next

These two clubs go at it again at 1:05 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Javier Vazquez (9-9, 4.89) will look to get back to his winning ways against Jason Vargas (9-5, 3.15).

Albaladejo becomes first IL’er to 40 saves in win

Adam Warren and Ivan Nova ranked one-two in this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet, which is pretty cool. Also, Frankie Piliere posted full scouting reports for both Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, so make sure you check ’em out.

And in case you missed it, Zach McAllister has been traded to the Indians to complete the Austin Kearns deal. His lack of an out pitch finally caught up to him in Triple-A, and he had been passed by too many pitching prospects to count this season. Frankly, he had no long-term role on the Yanks, so they moved him before his stock dropped even more.

  • Triple-A Scranton won. Jesus Montero singled and struck out twice, though Greg Golson, Colin Curtis, Brandon Laird, and Chad Huffman all one-upped him with multiple hits. Eric Bruntlett out did everyone with four hits, including a double. Lance Pendleton allowed four runs in 5.2 innings before Jon Albaladejo recorded his 40th save of the season, the first reliever ever to do that in the International League. Pretty amazing that he’s either gotten the save or win in 43 of the team’s 74 wins.
  • Double-A Trenton won. Justin Christian doubled twice, Dan Brewer once. Corban Joseph and Austin Romine also picked up a hit each. Nothing exciting on the pitching side, just a scoreless inning from George Kontos and four uneventful outs from Ryan Pope.
  • High-A Tampa got destroyed. Bradley Suttle doubled and walked twice, continuing his recent hot streak. Melky Mesa did the same thing, but his hit was a triple. Adam Olbrychowski allowed seven innings in just one inning after Shaeffer Hall allowed six in five. I’m not mad, I’m impressed.
  • Low-A Charleston won big. Slade Heathcott had three hits including a double and J.R Murphy made up for a hitless showing by walking three times. Kelvin Castro went deep, and DeAngelo Mack, Luke Murton, Kevin Mahoney, and Francisco Santana also had multiple hits. Brett Marshall struck out six and allowed just three hits in six innings as he continues his impressive return from Tommy John surgery.
  • Short Season Staten Island lost. Rob Segedin and Gary Sanchez both singled, but Cito Culver went hitless and instead drew a walk. Casey Stevenson had three knocks. Nothing special on the bump.
  • Rookie GCL Yanks lost. Mason Williams singled and struck out in three at-bats in his pro debut. Angelo Gumbs drew a walk, Ben Gamel singled, and Ramon Flores disappointingly failed to reach base in four attempts. The pitching was rather unspectacular.