Hirsh flirts with a no-hitter in Scranton win

Apparently Dellin Betances has returned to the mound in Extended Spring Training, and was sitting 92-95 with half-decent control. If true, he should back in games by May. Also, Damon Sublett is on the disabled list with a thumb injury.

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Louisville)
Kevin Russo, 3B: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 1 E (fielding)
Colin Curtis, RF & Juan Miranda, 1B: both 2 for 4 – Miranda hit a solo jack & scored another run
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 1 for 4
David Winfree, DH: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C: 2 for 3, 1 BB – breaks out of a little 2 for 19 (.105) slump … he did allow two stolen bases though
Chad Huffman, LF & Greg Golson, CF: both 0 for 4, 1 K – Golson stole a base
Reegie Corona, 2B: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K
Jason Hirsh: 7.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 10-10 GB/FB – 62 of 101 pitches were strikes (61.4%) … he lost the no hitter & the shutout on the last batter he faced, the #9 hitter who took him deep …
Jon Albaladejo: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2-0 GB/FB – half of his 22 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 19: And now the fun begins

"All clear, Mr. President." (Photo Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)

Tonight, for the first time all year, the Yankees are going to play a team that isn’t expected to compete in any way this season. The Red Sox, Rays, Angels, Rangers, and A’s have combined for a 54-45 record with a +46 run differential so far, so it’s pretty impressive that the Yankees escaped 18 games against the group six games over .500 with a +29 run differential. Awaiting them tonight are the not so good Orioles, who have the game’s worst record (3-16) and second worst run differential (-36). It’s about time the Yanks got a bit of a breather.

On the mound will be the Phil Hughes, who you surely remember flirted with a no-hitter against the Oakland last time out. Baltimore is the site of his worst career start, but it feels like that was a lifetime ago for the young righthander. It’s certainly possible, but it would be a shock to all of us if Hughes struggled like that again tonight.

Here’s the lineup that’ll get a crack at Kevin Millwood, who is 0-3 but sports some seriously strong peripherals (8.10 K/9, 1.35 BB/9, 3.58 XFIP)…

Jeter, SS
Gardner, LF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Granderson, CF
Swisher, DH
Winn, RF

And on the mound, St. Phil.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET, and can be seen on My9, not YES. Enjoy the game.

Quick Note: Nick Johnson changed his number today, back to the #36 he wore during his first stint in pinstripes. I guess living in Jose Molina’s shadow was just too much. His back is reportedly doing better, and he should be back in the lineup by tomorrow or Thursday.

Administrative Note: We’ve made some coding changes to the site this week, and as such, some people may not see the comments displaying properly. If you’re not seeing our usual nesting/threaded styles, clear your browser cache and refresh the page. That should clear everything up. If it doesn’t, contact us via the box at right.

Yankees sign righthander Erik Olivo

Via the Dominican Prospect League’s Twitter feed, the Yankees have signed 19-year-old righthander Erik Olivo for $300,000. He apparently works at 90-94 mph with his fastball and checks in at 6-foot-3 and 185 lbs, meaning there’s plenty of room for growth. In 11 relief appearances for Tainos Del Norte of the DPL, Olivo’s struck out 23 and allowed just ten hits in 22 IP. The bad news? How about 18 walks. So he’s got some stuff to work on. They all do.

Pettitte, Rivera, Jeter and Posada all walk into a bar…

The Core Four pose for the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. Click to enlarge.

We hear a lot about the Yanks’ Core Four these days. Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and, of course, Derek Jeter make up the Yanks’ elder statesmen. They’re widely respected by opponents, have played together at the Big League level since 1995 and each own five New York Yankees World Series rings. In this day and age of free agency and player movement, that three of them have played together for so long with only Pettitte’s brief, three-year departure from 2004-2007 to mar the foursome is a testament to their baseball longevity.

As these four Yankees bask in the glow of their fifth championship, Tom Verducci from Sports Illustrated brought them together for an intimate lunch and a resulting magazine cover. The interview covers a wide range of topics from their experiences in the minors to their family plans, and I wanted to highlight some of it.

SI: I want to go back to 1992, when Andy was throwing to Jorge, a converted second baseman, in Class A in Greensboro, N.C. Posada: Go back to 1991. I was catching a bullpen from him [at short-season Class A] Oneonta, and he’s throwing me knuckle- balls. The ball hit me right in the knee. I said, “No more knuckleballs.”
Pettitte: I had a knuckleball when I signed.
Jeter: Yeah, you’re still throwing knuckleballs.
Pettitte: I’d get two strikes on somebody and throw it as hard as I could. Struck everybody out. And then they told me after the first year, “You’ve got to can it.” They said, “After you’ve pitched for 10 years in the big leagues, if you want to break it back out, you can.”
SI: So now you can throw it again.
Pettitte: It’s no good now. I lost it.
SI: How about when Jeter showed up in Greensboro? He joined you guys on August 20, 1992.
Posada: [Laughs.] Good-looking fellow.
Rivera: Where was I?
SI: Fort Lauderdale, High A.
Posada: You were older. Let’s make sure everybody knows that. He’s the oldest.
Rivera: I saw Jeet….Oh, my God. I was with my cousin [former major league outfielder Ruben Rivera] in Tampa. We were playing, if I’m not mistaken, the Cardinals in St. Pete. I looked at Jeet [who was in the Gulf Coast League before Greensboro]. . . . I was skinny.” This boy was dying. I was like, Who is that?
Posada: He comes in the clubhouse, and he’s got high tops, with an ankle brace. And remember that Louisville Slugger bag that you stick your bats in? He had that. I was like, Wow, this is our first-rounder?
Rivera: And throwing the ball away. . . . But I saw the hitting. He hit the ball hard, and far. I said, “Wow.” …
SI: Mariano, I remember you once said you cried a lot in the minor leagues, right?
Rivera: Not that I cried a lot. I did cry, like two, three times. That was my second year, in Greensboro, 1991. Because I couldn’t communicate. But imagine, I came from Panama. My first year, in Tampa, most of the people I played with spoke Spanish. So I was fine. My second year I went to Greensboro. And no Spanish at all. It was hard. I think that was one of the toughest times that I had.

Later on, the four talk about their family lives:

SI: How long are you going to do this? I’m assuming you guys all are in the same boat as far as that goes. Does anybody plan out, “I want to play X number of years?”
Rivera: I don’t think so. I mean, how many times have I retired?
Jeter: He retires every other year.
Rivera: Every contract I think, Well, this is it for me. Jeter: [Points at Pettitte.] Him, too. “This is my last year. One more year.”
Pettitte: What are you talking about? I was [retired]. I was.
Rivera: I was retired every year after my contract was up. [But] I’m still going.
SI: This game keeps pulling you back.
Rivera: I love this game. This is what I know how to do. For me, it’s kind of hard to just leave and be competitive. I’m competitive.
Jeter: It’s tough to leave when you’re having fun…

Rivera: I think it’s easier for [Jeter] because he doesn’t have a family. He can do this until…he’ll be 40 and have no kids still. But to me, and I can talk about Andy and also Sado, you miss your kids. You miss your family. This year it has hit me hard, especially in spring training. My kids were in New York. I was in Tampa. And I was missing them a lot. So that line, where’s your family and where’s your game . . . how do you draw that line? How long are you going to do this? How long are they going to support you? And then flying, and those things that petrify you. I’m petrified by flights. I suffer on those flights.

Verducci’s story highlights how these four players make up a unique core of athletes. For many of us who came of age when Jeter, Rivera, Pettite and Posada arrived in New York, they are the Yankees, and I wonder when we’ll see it again. Rivera isn’t sure it will happen soon. “The beauty about this group of guys is it’s family,” he said. “As a family we all pull for one another. It’s beautiful. I don’t think you will have this, or see this, again, in any other sport. Period.”

The interview isn’t yet available online, but a different part of the discussion is. The four talk about changes to the game since they started player, and that too is illuminating. Players get bigger; the strike zone changes; their teammates retire, get traded or let go. Still, there they are, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, Yankees through and through.

The marginalization of David Robertson

The Yankees’ 2009 season started to turn around once they remade the bullpen, and part of that remake was permanent arrival of David Robertson. The then-24-year-old righty stabilized the middle innings thanks to a nifty fastball-curveball combination with a penchant for inducing swings and misses and retiring batters without the aid of the defense. He got some big outs in the postseason, and was poised to assume even greater responsibility in 2010.

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa, AP

In the early going, Robertson seems to have morphed into Joe Girardi‘s fireman – the guy who enters the game in the middle of an inning to escape a jam. It probably has something to do with his astronomical strikeout rate, which is perfectly fine. It’s a smart way to deploy a valuable reliever. However, more often than not, Robertson finds himself out of the game after escaping said jam, often despite throwing very few pitches.

In three of his six outings this year, Robertson has thrown no more than six pitches. The most egregious example came during Friday’s loss to the Angels, when he was brought in to face Torii Hunter with a runner on first and one out. He escaped the inning by striking out Hunter after Bobby Abreu was caught stealing, needing just six pitches to get the job done. Robertson was fresh and in most cases would have been sent back out to start the next inning. But no, it was the almighty 8th inning, so Joe Girardi summoned Joba Chamberlain, who eventually cost the Yanks the game with a meatball pitch to Kendry Morales.

There really was no reason why Robertson couldn’t remain in the game. There was no difference in platoon advantage, and he was well-rested after not working in eight days. Instead, a highly valuable asset was removed from the contest after just a marginal gain for what amounts to nothing more than a job title.

Although I bitch and moan about Girardi’s bullpen maneuvering on a game-by-game basis, he obviously does a very good job with handling his relief corps over a 162 game season. However, he doesn’t seem to have full confidence in Robertson, using him in a way that strikes me as “let’s quit while we’re ahead.” He did what we asked of him, now let’s make a change before he has a chance to get into trouble, something like that. Maybe it’s just me.

Robertson is a high quality reliever, yet his usage appears to be limited. He’s capable of getting five or six outs during one appearance, but is often used for an inning or less. Sure, his ERA stands at an ugly 7.71 because of that grand slam Abreu hit during the home opener, but even that shot only decreased the Yankees’ chances of winning by just 2.6% because of the situation. The two run homer Joba allowed to Morales was in a much higher leverage spot, and reduced the Yankees chances of winning by a whopping 25.4%.

Robertson’s strikeouts are very real, and they’re what make him so valuable. I don’t think he’ll strike out 13 guys for every nine innings pitched forever, but there’s no doubt he’s a double digit K/9 guy for the foreseeable future with that curveball. The walks are a bit high but they’re trending downward, and he’s just as effective against lefties as he is against righties. On any other team, Robertson would be pitching later in the game in high leverage spots, but because of the Yankees’ bullpen depth and pecking order, he’s stuck working middle relief duty. That doesn’t mean Girardi and the Yanks couldn’t give him a little more responsibility and ask him to get some bigger outs after cleaning up someone else’s mess.

Or course it’s still early, so right now my observation of Robertson’s usage comes from a tiny sample. The Yankees have a tremendously valuable asset in Robertson, and they would be wise to use him more judiciously.