Down and away wasn’t working for Marte

The seventh inning wasn’t supposed to happen like that. As Mike noted earlier, it was a trial by fire of sorts for Chan Ho Park. He failed in his initial assignment, though it’s likely he gets another chance in the near future. Maybe not in the next two games, but we’ll certainly see Chop in the seventh, and perhaps the eighth, again soon. His command just wasn’t there last night. It happens to the best of them.

With David Ortiz coming to the plate, Joe Girardi made the predictable move and called for his lefty, Damaso Marte. Just a few days removed from a “cranky” shoulder, Marte was pronounced in full health for Opening Day. Clearly, he would enter the game to face Ortiz if an appropriate situation arose. This seemed like it. Runner on second, two outs, tie game. As we saw, though, the sequence didn’t go well. Let’s take this pitch by pitch.

Pitch 1

As you can see, Jorge sets up low and away for the slider. Marte missed big time, overthrowing the pitch and sending it well to Jorge’s left and in the dirt. Still, it’s just one pitch. The runner on third rather than second doesn’t much matter, unless Marte has another wild pitch in him.

Pitch 2

It looks like Posada wanted the same pitch, same spot. He set up, and Marte missed again, though not nearly as badly. It wasn’t encouraging, though, that Marte missed with two straight sliders. That’s supposed to be his money pitch against lefties. The idea is to get Ortiz to misread it as a fastball and then give one of those long, loping swings and miss.

Pitch 3

Finally, Jorge calls for a fastball. He sets up low and away, even though Ortiz has had problems on the inside pitch over the past year or so. Marte unleashed one, missing his spot by a decent amount. This is where the pitch ended up.

Ortiz circa 2006 puts that pitch onto the Mass Turnpike. It was right around his waist and at a spot he could get his arms extended. Marte reached back and slung it at 93, which was probably his only saving grace. If that cranky shoulder caused him to hold back on his velocity, Ortiz might have been able to do more with it. Then again, maybe it was Ortiz’s slow bat rather than the pitch speed that caused the swing and miss.

Pitch 4

Again, setting up low and away. Posada and Marte had a plan here, though again I’m not sure I get it, considering Ortiz’s trouble with inside pitches. ESPN didn’t show Jorge giving the sign. Marte threw fastball, though maybe Jorge called for a slider. In any case, Marte threw one upstairs and Jorge couldn’t compensate.

I honestly hope that was a cross-up, because if not it reflects even more poorly on Jorge. Yes, the pitch was nowhere near the setup, but he still has to catch that. It’s more understandable, of course, if Jorge was expecting slider low and away and got fastball upstairs.

Pitch 5

Just for good measure, another low-away setup:

Apparently Jorge did call for fastball this time, because the pitch was even higher than the previous one. This time he caught it. Not that it mattered. It was ball four, and Ortiz isn’t the type to sprint around and take the extra base.

For reference, here’s where each pitch ended up:

That brought on Joba, who recorded the final out in the seventh before pitching his own sloppy eighth inning. Hopefully these were just some early season jitters. The bullpen looked like crap last night, and we all know that they’re better than that.

Open Thread: Opening Day

The Yankees are off today, but there’s still plenty of baseball action going on. The Marlins visit the Mets with first pitch scheduled for 1pm ET (SNY), plus you’ve got the Cardinals-Reds (1pm ET, ESPN), Indians-White Sox (2pm ET, ESPN2), Cubs-Braves (4pm ET, ESPN), Giants-Astros (7pm ET, ESPN2), and Twins-Angels (10pm ET, ESPN2). Also, the Extra Innings free preview starts today and runs through Sunday, so you’ll be able to watch any game your heart desires. The late games with Vin Scully are always a treat.

If you want, go ahead and use this as an open thread to talk about any of today’s games. Enjoy.

Trial By Fire: Chan Ho Park and the 7th inning

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa, AP

Last night’s game represented Phase I of a bullpen experiment. With 2009’s primary setup man moving into the rotation, Joe Girardi will have to go through the sometimes painful motions of figuring out who belongs where in the bullpen pecking order again this year. Much like 2009, David Robertson was brought into a sticky situation – a strikeout situation – in the 6th inning, but Girardi opted to deploy Chan Ho Park in the 7th inning even though Robertson had thrown just six pitches.

GM Brian Cashman did nothing but gush when he signed Chan Ho Park, and he certainly looked the part with six stellar spring outings (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K). Of course, Spring Training stats mean nothing, so Park’s audition for a late inning setup job started yesterday. Summoned out of the bullpen to face three guys who don’t exactly represent power threats (Marco Scutaro, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia), he didn’t just relinquish the Yanks’ two run lead, but he left the game with the go-ahead run in scoring position.

After sitting 93-95 with his fastball during his relief stint with the Phillies last year, Park sat 90-93 last night, which really isn’t that big of a deal since it’s April and it was his first outing for the year. Once the weather warms up and he gets some more innings in, he should be back up to normal velocity. More importantly, he was missing his spots big time. Just look at where Jorge Posada set up and where the pitch ended up on Pedroia’s homer. It was supposed to be a fastball down and away, probably to try and get a double play ball, but it ended up at the letters and out over the plate. Pedroia’s a good hitter, and he did what good hitters are supposed to do.

What I really want to touch on is why Park was brought into the game in that spot anyway. Robertson had thrown just those six pitches, and had plenty more in the tank if Girardi wanted to give him at least start the 7th. Instead, the manager needed to begin the process of figuring out who are going to be the team’s late inning, hold a small lead in a big game relievers. It’s not always going to pretty, and there will be plenty of times when such an audition costs the team a game, which is exactly what happened last night. But as we’ve seen in the past two years, we’re looking at short-terms losses for long-term gains.

Despite his fantastic spring and rock solid relief work for the Phillies last year, no one really knows what to expect out of Park in the AL East. He has the traits that lead you to believe he’ll be successful – he gets groundballs, throws strikes, can go multiple innings – but until we see him out there, we have no idea how he’ll respond. That’s why it’s important to get him out there in these kind of spots sooner rather than later. To make a decision and figure out his role as soon as possible. Will he continues to miss those spots, or is that just a function of throwing only seven starts in camp? It’s trial by fire, plain and simple.

Easing Park into it by starting him out in lower leveraged innings may sound like a good idea, but that just prolongs the process. He’s 36-years-old, not some rookie that has to learn the ropes. He should know the routine and know what’s expected of him. There’s no sense in dragging this out, run Park out there in this big spots in April and let’s see what he’s got. Is there a chance he’s the next LaTroy Hawkins? Sure, but right now we have no idea. He didn’t get off to a good start last night, but one outing and 22 pitches isn’t enough of anything to base a decision on. He’ll get another chance to prove himself, probably this series, and that’s just the next step in determining his value to the 2010 New York Yankees.

Fan Confidence Poll: April 5th, 2010

Record Last Week: 0-1 (7 RS, 9 RA)
Season Record: 0-1 (7 RS, 9 RA), 1.0 game back
Opponents This Week: Monday OFF, @ Red Sox (two games, Tues. & Weds.), Thursday OFF, @ Rays (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

{democracy:88}

Pitching staff fails Yanks in opener

The Yankees and Red Sox played just one game last night, but it felt like two. It’s not because it was a typically drawn out Yankees-Sox game, though it did clock in at three hours and 46 minutes. Instead, it felt like two games because while the Yankees looked solid through five innings, they fell apart later in the game. That rests mostly on the pitching staff, but there were also failures to capitalize in critical situations.

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP

Biggest hit: A-Rod‘s 7th inning double

The Yankees scored seven runs last night, but the biggest positive swing in their WPA came on a hit that did not score a run. After the Red Sox tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees sent the heart of their order to bat in the seventh to answer. Mark Teixeira drew a leadoff walk, setting up Alex Rodriguez. He was clearly looking fastball on the first pitch, and Ramon Ramirez served him one, straight and on the inside part of the plate.

The ensuing hit would have left just about every other ballpark in the league, but at Fenway it was just a dent in the Monster. Still, it left the Yankees in an excellent position to take the lead, which they did one batter later. Robinson Cano took a weak hack at the second pitch. Teixeira, already with a poor lead, didn’t get a great jump toward the plate. Thankfully, Dustin Pedroia double clutched, allowing Tex to slide in safely.

Biggest out: Swisher’s double play

Later that inning, after Jorge Posada singled home A-Rod and Curtis Granderson drew a walk, Nick Swisher came up with two on and one out. Hideki Okajima was pitching pretty poorly and the Yanks had him on the ropes. Swisher took two close pitches for balls to start the at-bat, putting him in good position. He hacked at a high fastball on the next pitch, fouling it off. Then he swung at a pitch in a similar location and grounded it sharply to third. Around the horn, inning over.

This is when the Yankees really needed to strike. Yes, the bullpen should have been able to hold the lead, but with Boston’s reliever pitching so poorly they had an opportunity to make the endgame moot. Swisher’s DP killed that rally. It didn’t take the Red Sox long to erase what the Yanks had done in the seventh.

Biggest pitch: Pedroia’s homer off Park

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP

From the moment Chan Ho Park entered the game it was clear that he was having trouble controlling his pitches. His first three pitches, all fastballs, missed the target. Marco Scutaro sat on two more fastballs before slapping a 3-2 slider to center for a base hit. Jacoby Ellsbury, thankfully, looked at strike three. Then came Pedroia

Here’s the sequence: Changeup low, called for a strike. Slider inside, ball. Fastball, high and in, ball. After the two straight inside pitches Jorge set up low and away, waiting for a fastball. Park delivered, but the ball sailed toward the spot of the previous pitch. So, in essence, Park delivered a second straight 90 mph fastball to the same spot. It’s no wonder that Pedroia got his bat around on the ball, sending it high and over the monster for the tying runs.

Park allowed no home runs last season once he moved to the bullpen. There was no way that would last. I’m just stunned that he broke his streak so quickly.

Why leave in Sabathia?

It’s easy to second guess a manager, so I won’t say Girardi was wrong to leave in CC to face Youkilis in the sixth. But after Pedroia walked and Victor Martinez doubled to set up the Sox, I’m not sure CC was the guy to face Youkilis. Under normal circumstance he would be, but these weren’t normal circumstances. It was the first game of the year, CC was up around 100 pitches, and Youkilis had already scorched one off him earlier in the game.

After the game Girardi said that the plan was to have Sabathia go through Ortiz, but at some point you have to make adjustments. Robertson could have come in at that point. Youkilis strikes out his fair share, and Robertson can deliver the strikeout pitch. He also fares well against lefties, lessening the concern of him facing Ortiz. Considering CC looked gassed and wasn’t hitting his spots, I would have thought a call to the bullpen prudent there.

It’s tough to argue with leaving in the ace, and again I don’t think it was necessarily the wrong move by Girardi. But I did wonder why CC stayed in to face Youk, all circumstances considered.

Annoying moments

While plenty of moments annoyed me in this game, none was as frustrating as Youkilis’s triple. Not because CC stayed in to face him, but because it would have been a double had Swisher not misplayed the ball. It was a complete misread. There was no chance he was catching it, but he still pursued it that way, rather than cutting backward and trying to stop it before it got to the wall. Pedroia and Martinez still would have scored, but Youk would have been standing on second, or maybe even first, rather than third. That loomed large two batters later.

Small quibble with Beltre’s at-bat there. He’s pretty bad at hitting breaking pitches. Over his career he’s shown a much greater ability to hit fastballs than sliders and curves. So why serve him high heat on the first pitch? It seemed like a situation where dropping a curve for strike one would have worked. Did the Yankees have a different scouting report?

Who can forget Gardner’s horrible throw on Scutaro’s single to left? With two outs he didn’t have much of a chance to get Drew at the plate, though it looked like he might have known that. I’m not sure where he actually tried to throw the ball, but it ended up where no one was standing. That allowed Mike Cameron to take third and Scutaro to take second. A hit from Ellsbury would have tied the game for the Sox. Thankfully, CC dropped a slider on him and ended the inning.

Joba in general was annoying. He pitched just 1.1 innings, but threw 32 pitches. He predictably went to the slider on a 3-2 count to Mike Cameron, and it dropped below the zone for ball four. Also, Joba’s lucky that Pedroia laid off the first-pitch slider that got called for a strike. That was a hanger, and might have been Pedroia’s second big fly of the night.

Finally, while Marte wasn’t hitting his spots at all, Jorge has to catch that high fastball that allowed Youkilis to score.

Things that made me smile

Photo credit: Elise Amendola/AP

Not to get too negative here, there were a number of moments that made me smile. Clearly, Jorge’s homer off the Pesky Pole, followed by Granderson’s long home run were great moments. Granderson’s catch on Beltre’s sac fly also brought a smile to my face. Yes, it cut the lead in half, but it was a fine play in center by Granerson.

Brett Gardner‘s at-bat against Josh Beckett in the fourth was, dare I say it, gritty. He took five straight pitches to draw a 3-2 count, fouled off two, and then slapped one to left to plate a run. The five straight takes to start the AB ended up working in Gardner’s favor, though I do wonder why he didn’t slap that 3-1 pitch to left.

The most enjoyable play of the game came just moments later. After Jeter singled home Swisher, the Yanks pulled the classic double steal. Jeter broke for second, and Victor Martinez bit, firing the ball down to second. Did he not know who was on third? Gardner broke for the plate immediately and scored without a throw. That’s the kind of play we look out for in high school.

Next up

Day off today, though there’s plenty of baseball to enjoy as the other 28 teams open their seasons. The Yanks are back against the Sox. This one’s at 7:05 on YES.

WPA graph

Just because I love these things. You can check out the player breakdown at the FanGraphs boxscore.