A reader has two tickets available for tonight’s game, located in Section 434B, Row 13, Seats 35-36. That’s in the upper deck in left field. Face value of the tickets is $25 each, so $50 for the pair. They’re hard tickets, so you’d have to be able to meet the seller in midtown (39th and 3rd) to pick them up. Email me if interested.
With the recent spate of bullpen ineffectiveness, Yankees fans have pined for one of the few steady presences in the bullpen, Al Aceves. He’s been on the DL since earlier this month with a bulging disc in his back, an injury that sounds pretty bad. It sure looked bad when he hurt it mid-pitch in Boston. He has since received a cortisone shot, and claims that it feels much better. That’s good news for the bullpen if Aceves can return to his 2009 form. A look at his early season peripherals makes me wonder, though, whether the back has been a lingering issue all season.
In 2009 Aceves helped save the bullpen. The unit posted a 6.46 ERA in April, and that was no fluke. They allowed far too many baserunners, and almost half of opponents’ hits went for extra bases. Aceves got the call by month’s end and helped stabilize the endgame. He not only generated excellent results, including a 3.54 ERA, but he had the components to back it up. In 84 innings he struck out 69 to just 16 walks and 10 home runs allowed, which amounted to a 3.75 FIP. His xFIP, which normalizes the HR/FB rate, was a bit higher, at 4.09, but from my experience this is a common occurrence among relievers.
This season his breakdown has changed a bit. He walked four batters, a quarter of his 2009 total, in just 12 innings. Worse, he struck out just two batters. That represents quite a slide in K/BB ratio, from 4.31 to 0.50. This meant more balls in play, and thankfully most of those were ground balls. In fact, he essentially replaced his missing strikeouts with ground balls, which, while not as positive an outcome, is a far better one than allowing more fly balls and line drives in place of strikeouts. Still, it can be rather tough surviving in the majors with a 1.50 K/9.
In terms of pitch type there doesn’t seem to be much different with Aceves’s approach. He threw a few cutters this year in place of curveballs, but that’s about it. The cutter, however, appears to be the only pitch that has lost velocity this season. Baseball Info Solutions data has that as a 2 mph drop, while PitchFX measures it as only 1 mph below last year. According to his pitch type values the cutter has actually been more effective than last season, though that only considers an at-bat’s ultimate pitch. Perhaps Aceves has had trouble locating the pitch in order to set up batters. Batters are whiffing at it far less — 2.4 percent this year to 8 percent last year — and are putting it in play more often, 31.7 percent this year and 22.5 percent last year. Those are not positive changes.
We’re dealing, of course, with small samples. Aceves has appeared in just 10 games so far and has pitched 12 innings, so we can’t get a real accurate read on him. Maybe his lack of work plays into the change. He threw just 12 innings in the team’s first 29 games, which put him on pace for 67 innings. He threw 84 innings last year and was only on the roster for 137 games. Another possible cause is a lingering back issue. Aceves had problems with it at the end of spring training, and while it didn’t necessitate a DL trip it probably lingered a bit, coming to a head in Boston on the 8th. If it was the back that caused him problems, we might see a better Aceves upon his return.
While a bulging disc can be a pretty serious injury, it sounds like the Yankees might have lucked out. Aceves did report feeling better just before the Yankees placed him on the DL, so I’m not sure how much to trust his most recent statement, but if it is accurate then they might get back a useful setup man in a couple of weeks. The layoff, too, might help him get back to form. His back probably needed rest anyway, and the DL stint provides just that. When he returns, maybe, finally, the Yankees will be rid of Boone Logan.
In the box score, a 10-6 loss doesn’t look nearly as lopsided as last night’s Yankees/Rays affair was. Just one day after a heartbreaking loss to the Red Sox, the Yanks had to contend with a very hot first-place Tampa team. Jason Barlett homered to start the game, and the Yanks never caught up. Joaquin Benoit had to get the save after Andy Sonnanstine gave up four runs with two outs in what was a 10-2, but it just wasn’t close.
Towering Hits: A home run for the bad guys, a home run for the good guys
When the visiting team leads off with a home run, it sets a certain pace for the game. With that one swing, Tampa dropped the Yanks’ win expectancy from a neutral 50 percent to 40.9 percent, and Bartlett’s shot was the biggest one-AB swing in the game. For the Rays’ short stop, it was his first home run since he led off against Joba Chamberlain Sept. 9 with a blast into left field at Yankee Stadium.
Still, despite the WE swing, it wasn’t what I would consider to be the biggest hit of the game. That honor belongs to John Jason’s ground rule double. As the fourth inning rolled around, we could clearly see A.J. Burnett struggling with his stuff. Two walks and a hit batter doomed Burnett in the third, and this time around, a pair of infield singles and a double steal had the Rays set up with two runners in scoring position and no one out. John Jaso laced a ground-rule double into left field, plating two. The Rays would add two more runs — both with two outs — as A.J. Burnett couldn’t stifle the potent heart of the Tampa lineup.
Burnett just flat-out did not have command tonight. He toughed it out through 6.2 mostly to give the bullpen a rest, but he faltered in the big spots when he needed a third out in the fourth inning. His 67 strikes and 49 balls are telling.
For the Yankees, they’re big hit belonged to Alex Rodriguez. While his booming shot off the restaurant in straightaway center field did little to alter the game, I opted to highlight his shot because he’s flashing the power again. After ending April with a .250/.337/.440 triple-slash line and just two home runs, A-Rod has powered four over the fence this month. He now finds himself with a .295/.379/.503 line for the season. Small victories.
Biggest Out: A double play, a bases-loaded threat
For the Yanks, two at-bats loom large. Down 6-2 following A-Rod’s home run, the Yanks seemed on the verge of mounting a rally. Robinson Cano singled, but then Francisco Cervelli tapped into a double play. Despite his dash down the line, the relay throw beat the Yanks’ catcher by half a step, and the team seemed ready to roll over with the bottom of the order up.
Yet, the Bombers had something in them. On the next play, Marcus Thames hit a single to left, and instead of tossing his bat behind him, he threw it in front of him. It rolled down the line, and in an effort to avoid slipping, Thames twisted his ankle. He is day-to-day with a strained ankle, but the Yanks do not anticipate a DL stint.
Following Thames’ freak injury, Juan Miranda walked, and Randy Winn — now just 1 for his last 12 and 3 for his last 24 — reached on an error. Derek Jeter came up as the tying run with two outs and grounded out to short. Jeter ended the game with his OPS below .700, and nearly 70 percent of his batted balls have been grounders. Hopefully, Jeter’s bad play at the plate is just a slump, and as a A-Rod has this month, so too will Jeter snap out of it soon. That out effectively sealed the deal for Tampa as the Yanks’ win expectancy dropped to 6.7 percent.
Death by Bullpen
Where would this game have been though without another disastrous night from the bullpen? Hoping to keep the score close without burning through his top relievers, Joe Girardi gave Boone Logan the ball. He retired Gabe Kapler in the 7th, and that’s the only nice thing I can say about this outing.
To start the 8th, Logan walked the left-handed Jaso on eight pitches and then gave up an RBI double to Sean Rodriguez. For Logan, it was another night where he faced three batters, retired one of them and saw another two runs added to his ERA.
With Logan out, Girardi went to Mark Melancon, and Melancon disappointed. He allowed the run he inherited from Logan to score and two others in eighth. Gabe Kapler struck out, but the damage had been done. Tampa Bay had a 10-2 lead and even a two-out, four-run rally by the Yanks could put the tying run only in the on-deck circle.
For the Yanks’ bullpen, tonight marked the fourth straight day of pain. Since the Joba/Mariano meltdown against the Twins, Yanks’ relievers have now allowed 19 runs — but only 16 earned — over their previous 10.1 innings spanning four games. Tonight, the only complaining I can do is over the fact that Boone Logan is still with the team; he shouldn’t be. Otherwise, the Yanks aren’t going to go to their overworked relievers in a four-run game, but the bullpen has to get outs to keep the team in the game. It’s been downright ugly.
Paul O’Neill Rule
Because this entire game could be filed under “annoyances” — after all, the Rays scored a run from second on a fly ball to deep center — let’s instead hope that the Paul O’Neill Rule will be in effect later tonight. That rule stipulates that a team which scores late in the game has momentum coming into their next contest. The Yankees will send Andy Pettitte (5-0, 1.79) to the mound at 7:05 p.m. with, well, someone in right field to staunch the bleeding. The Rays will counter with James Shields (4-1, 3.00), and hopefully, that late offensive burst will carry over into the final game of this two-game set.
That ninth inning rally was mere smoke and mirrors. The Yanks’ WE peaked at 2.3 percent after Ramiro Peña’s RBI single.
Via Marc Carig, Jorge Posada will miss 3-4 weeks after an MRI showed a hairline fracture on the bottom of his right foot. He took a foul ball of his foot in Sunday’s game, and the injury was originally believed to be minor. There was talk that Posada could have returned to the lineup as soon as today, but so much for that.
Obviously he’s going to hit the disabled list and the team will need to call up another catcher. Chad Moeller is the obvious candidate, but he’s not on the 40-man roster so a move would have to be made (Nick Johnson to the 60-day DL?). In fact, there’s only two catchers on the 40-man as it is, so they’ll need to make a roster decision regardless of who they bring in.
Update (11:18pm): Joe Girardi said during the postgame that x-rays were negative and that Thames was not expected to be placed on the disabled list, which I guess is good news. I just hate seeing that dead 25-man roster spot.
9:33pm: Sprained left ankle. Time to call up another reliever.
9:27pm: Marcus Thames left tonight’s game after literally stepping on his own bat running out a single in the 6th inning. Not sure if it’s an ankle or a knee or what, but it was obvious from the replay that stepping on the bat did the trick. He was lifted from the game after trying to walk it off, and was replaced by Ramiro Pena. We’ll update this post as more info becomes available.
Triple-A Scranton (7-5 win over Indianapolis)
Kevin Russo, LF & Reegie Corona, 2B: both 1 for 4, 1 K – Russo was hit by a pitch, doubled & scored a run … Corona walked & drove a run in
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 2 for 5, 1 RBI, 1 SB – he was robbed of a homer when the LF made a leaping catch at the wall
David Winfree, RF: 1 for 5, 1 R
Jon Weber, DH: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 K – 9 for his last 26 (.346) to get his AVG up to .244
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB – the double was off the very top of the CF wall, it actually looked out watching on TV … he also hit a ball right on the screws in his final at-bat, but Pedro Alvarez made a nice leaping catch at the hot corner … also threw out two would be basestealers, one of whom we know well
Chad Huffman, 1B: 3 for 3, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB – 12 for his last 31 (.387)
Reid Gorecki, CF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI
Matt Cusick, 3B: 0 for 4
Romulo Sanchez: 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 6 BB, 7 K, 3-4 GB/FB – just 54 of his 105 pitches were strikes (51.4%) … effectively wild
Grant Duff: 1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – threw 20 pitches, 15 for strikes
Zack Segovia: 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 15 of his 23 pitches were strikes (65.2%)
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – 14 of his 22 pitches were strikes (63.6%)
The bullpen has faltered. The lineup, while it has scored plenty of runs in the past two games, isn’t at its strongest. This is a game where A.J. Burnett needs to step up and turn in a performance that will 1) allow the Yanks to skirt by with four or fewer runs, and 2) give the bullpen a night off. A complete game might be asking a bit much — Burnett hasn’t pitched one since August 17th of last year, and hasn’t pitched a nine-inning one since May 16, 2007. Pitching into the eighth, however, will suffice.
It won’t be an easy task. While Burnett pitched well against the Rays earlier this year, they’re still an incredibly tough team. Their 5.31 runs per game ranks second in the A.L. this season. First, of course, is the Yankees, at 5.77 runs per game. The Rays hitters, however, haven’t fared all that well against Burnett. Only Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, and B.J. Upton hold career OBPs of over .300 against him. Then again, we’re talking pretty small samples here. Burnett’s performance will depend far more on his two-seamer and curveball than how well the Rays hit him historically.
The Rays not only rank second in run scoring, but also first in run prevention. They have allowed just 2.97 runs per game this season, almost a run per game less than the second-ranked team. That second-ranked team? None other than your own New York Yankees. Wade Davis has been the least effective run preventer in the Rays rotation, but even he has a 3.38 ERA. As I mentioned this afternoon, Davis is pitching well above his peripherals. Tonight would be a great one for a statistical correction.
Posada and Swisher are still out of the lineup. Last night Swisher said one more day, and, via Chad Jennings, he said the same today. His injury still doesn’t sound bad — he already had an MRI on it — so let’s just hope he’s back before we have to endure any more of Marcus Thames in the field. Jorge Posada‘s foot is still hurting, and he’s undergone some tests. Girardi said he’d be the emergency catcher, but man, I can’t imagine having to squat on a bum toe. I expect he’ll come back as a DH before catching his next game.
1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Brett Gardner, CF
3. Mark Teixeira, DH
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Francisco Cervelli, C
7. Marcus Thames, RF as best he can
8. Juan MIranda, 1B
9. Randy Winn, LF
And on the mound, number thirty-four, A.J. Burnett, number thirty-four.