The Blue Jays have scratched right-hander Josh Johnson from tonight’s start with right triceps tightness. They say it’s precautionary and he will make his next start in five days. Former Yankee Aaron Laffey will be on the bump instead.
Even though the Yankees have positively stunk against southpaws this year (61 wRC+), I’d much rather see them face the soft-tossing Laffey instead of a potential dominator like Johnson. My only real concern is Travis Hafner, who has started just two of the last six and three of the last nine games because of all the left-handers the team has seen of late. With J.A. Happ scheduled to pitch tomorrow it could be three starts in the last eleven games if Joe Girardi sticks to his platoon guns. That’s an awful lot of time off and Hafner has been way too productive (191 wRC+) for the team to risk him losing any rhythm and timing at the plate. · (70) ·
This one had ugly potential and you know exactly what I’m talking about. The starter struggled early and the offense hasn’t done much of late, so for a while it looked like we would all be tuning into the NFL Draft by the middle innings. Instead, the Yankees mounted a comeback and held on to take the series opener from the Blue Jays by the score of 5-3.
What They Do Best
The Yankees were held to five runs and just one extra-base hit during the three games against the Rays earlier this week, but they got back to pounding the ball against left-hander Mark Buehrle in the series opener against the Jays. Vernon Wells continued to pummel both his former team by clubbing a second inning solo homer to straight-away center field and into Monument Park. Frankie Cervelli continued to show surprising power with a solo homer to left in the fourth inning — he fell behind in the count 0-2, worked it full, fouled off two two-strike pitches, then homered — but it was what happened between the solo dingers that made the difference.
The third inning started innocently enough with a Lyle Overbay strikeout, by Jayson Nix got the rally started with an infield single to the shortstop. Brett Gardner followed with another infield-ish single as the ball glanced off the second baseman’s glove and into very shallow center. Ben Francisco flied out harmlessly to left for the second out, which I considered a positive result. Francisco’s been terrible this year and anything that didn’t end the inning (i.e. a double play) was a win for the Yankees.
So, anyway, that brought Robinson Cano to the plate with two outs and two on. He took a first pitch fastball on the inner third for a strike, but then Buehrle fed him three straight … cutters? sliders? junkballs? who knows … down and away that were ruled balls. They were very borderline pitches I thought. Buehrle and catcher J.P. Arencibia talked out the next pitch, which ultimately was the same as the first, a fastball on the inner half. Cano pulled his hands in and yanked the ball deep to right for a three-run homer that turned a two-run deficit into a one-run lead. No-doubter, gone off the bat. Not many hitters can hit that pitch that far and keep it fair, but then again not many hitters are Robinson Cano.
My Kingdom For A Scoreless First Inning
For the 11th time overall and sixth time in the last eight games, the Yankees surrendered runs in the very first inning. Hiroki Kuroda did the honors on Thursday, coughing up a two-run homer to Edwin Encarnacion as part of an ugly inning that included four hits and a walk. Kuroda allowed a solo homer and a double in the second inning before settling down and throwing four more scoreless innings. He retired 13 of the final 14 men he faced, and the one base-runner reached when Overbay booted a routine ground ball at first.
This was a classic grind-it-out start for Kuroda, who threw 65 strikes out of 103 total pitches (63%). More than a few of those pitches were up in the zone or way wide, especially early on. Kuroda’s command wasn’t sharp and his splitter tumbled more than it fell off the table, so this was a tough one. He hung in and gave the team six innings rather than folding after two though, something the Yankees have seen their starters do more than they would like of late. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but three runs in six innings is plenty good considering how ugly things were early on.
The Blue Jays had just two base-runners after the second inning — the Overbay error in the fourth and an infield single off Joba Chamberlain‘s barehand in the seventh. Joba, David Robertson, and Mariano Rivera finished things off in relief of Kuroda and were all pretty dominant. Very excellent job by the bullpen in this one. Joba was fine, by the way.
Nix and Ichiro Suzuki were the only Yankees with multiple hits, and they had two singles a piece. Nix also made two very nice plays at third base on hard-hit balls to his right, ranging before making a strong throw to first. Ichiro stole a base, his first of the season. BGardner made a very nice diving (lunging, really) catch to go with his single and walk. Overbay was the only Yankee who failed to reach base.
The Yankees had runners at first and second with one out in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, and not only did they fail to score any tack-on runs, but they didn’t even manage to advance those runners to third base. Nitpicking, I know, but it was still annoying. They do remain undefeated (7-0) when scoring at least five runs this year, so that’s cool.
We saw something in this game we almost never see: the umpires changed their call on a bang-bang play at first base after having a conference. Francisco tried to bunt for a hit and although the throw beat him to first, the umpires felt Edwin Encarnacion bobbled the low throw. First base ump Chad Fairchild must have originally thought he snowconed it. Honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a call on a bang-bang play at first overturned like that. Never happens. So weird.
Cano fouled a pitch off his right foot in the first inning, right off the toes, but he remained in the game after being looked at my trainer Steve Donohue between innings. He was walking gingerly just a bit after that but played the rest of the game without a problem. Bullet dodged.
The Yankees have allowed 87 total runs this season, and 18 of those 87 have come in the first inning (21%). They haven’t allowed more than 13 runs in any other inning. Is it a sample size thing? Will this even out as the season progresses? Do they need to change their game plans the first time through the order? Who knows, but that has to stop. They can’t keep playing from behind every night.
Same two teams will play game two of this four-game set on Friday night, when Ivan Nova gets (yet) another opportunity to prove he belongs in a big league rotation. Right-hander Josh Johnson will be on the bump for the Blue Jays. RAB Tickets is the place to go for last-minute ticket deals.
OF Thomas Neal has been placed on the DL after leaving last night’s game with a hamstring issue according to John Sadak. Neal was a candidate to replace Ben Francisco as the right-handed bench bat, but I don’t think a move was imminent. UTIL Kevin Mahoney has been bumped from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A Scranton to fill the roster spot.
Triple-A Scranton (4-1 loss to Columbus)
- 2B Corban Joseph: 1-5, 2 K — wonder if he’ll see some more action at first base anytime soon
- 3B David Adams: 2-3, 1 BB
- LF Zoilo Almonte: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB
- C Austin Romine: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI — first homer of the year
- CF Melky Mesa: 0-4 — no strikeouts is a moral win
- RHP Chien-Ming Wang: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 13/4 GB/FB — 51 of 81 pitches were strikes (62%) … he was sitting 87-89 in the first inning and 85-87 in the fifth inning, so there’s still some work to be done in the arm strength department even though he’s never going to get it back to 93+ again
Low-A Charleston (7-0 loss to West Virginia)
- CF Jake Cave: 1-4, 1 HBP
- SS Cito Culver: 2-4, 2 K — five hits in his last 12 at-bats (.417)
- DH Greg Bird: 1-4, 1 HBP
- 3B Dante Bichette Jr.: 0-4, 1 K
- LHP Daniel Camarena: 5 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 1 Balk, 4/5 GB/FB — 55 of 74 pitches were strikes (74%) … has allowed at least five earned runs in three of his four starts
Both Double-A Trenton and High-A Tampa had scheduled off-days.
The Yankees just went 3-3 on a six-game road trip that featured six games on turf and in a stadium with a roof. They’re back home in the Bronx to start a ten-game homestand with fresh air and real grass. Outdoor baseball is the best.
Anyway, the Blue Jays are in town for four games and these games are far more important to them than they are to the Yankees. That doesn’t mean they’re insignificant, but Toronto didn’t make all those moves this winter to finish April in the AL East cellar. They need to put some distance between them and New York while the Bombers are dealing with all their injuries. The Yankees, on the other hand, need to generate some offense after getting shut down by the Rays this week. Unfortunately, they’ll have to do that against a left-hander tonight. Here’s the lineup that will face Mark Buehrle…
- CF Brett Gardner
- DH Ben Francisco
- 2B Robinson Cano
- LF Vernon Wells
- C Frankie Cervelli
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- SS Eduardo Nunez
- 1B Lyle Overbay
- 3B Jayson Nix
And on the mound is the 2004 Olympic bronze medalist, Hiroki Kuroda.
It’s a little chilly but otherwise nice and clear in New York. Great night for baseball. The game is scheduled to start at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.
Kevin Youkilis Update: Youkilis (back) is not available at all tonight. He tried to take some swings today but he isn’t ready yet. Joe Girardi said this isn’t a DL situation just yet and they are hoping he can return on Saturday.
Derek Jeter Update: Jeter (ankle) held a press conference today that wasn’t newsworthy, really. He said he’ll be back at some point even though he refused to set a specific target date. He’s disappointed by the setback, yadda yadda yadda.
Via Andy McCullough: Curtis Granderson and his fractured right forearm took approximately 15 swings in the batting cage prior to yesterday’s game. “A couple more days of that and he’ll go out on the field [for regular batting practice],” said Joe Girardi.
Granderson, 32, missed all of Spring Training and estimated he would need approximately 50-75 at-bats during a rehab assignment before being ready to rejoin the team. He could get like ten at-bats per day in Extended Spring Training, but he’ll also need a few regular minor league games just to get back into a routine and build up some stamina. Two weeks strikes me as optimistic, but it sounds like there’s a chance Granderson could return to the lineup sometime in mid-May. · (2) ·
The Blue Jays made all their big offseason moves with an eye on winning the AL East title, and if they’re going to win the division, these are the games they need to win. The Yankees are far from full strength due to injuries and these clubs are scheduled to play ten times through mid-May, which is right about when New York is expected to start getting some of their walking wounded back. If the Jays want to go from pretenders to contenders, these games are borderline must-wins.
What Have They Done Lately?
Well, Toronto is 1-2 so far in those borderline must-win games. The Yankees took two of three up north last weekend, then the Blue Jays lost another two of three to the Orioles in Baltimore this week. The Jays are 9-13 with a -29 run differential overall, and despite yesterday’s win they have lost six or their last nine games.
Manager John Gibbons’ club is averaging 3.9 runs per game so far, which is a bit below-average. They are closer towards the bottom of the league with a team 89 wRC+ and near the top with 26 homers. The Blue Jays lost a legitimate game-changer in SS Jose Reyes two weeks ago, when he suffered a severe ankle sprain sliding into second base. He had a team-leading 182 wRC+ and five steals in ten games before the injury.
The club’s new-look lineup is anchored by two big right-handed bats, RF Jose Bautista (112 wRC+) and 1B Edwin Encarnacion (96 wRC+). They aren’t off to torrid starts, but both guys can hit the ball out of any part of any park in a moment’s notice. Former Yankee LF Melky Cabrera (74 wRC+) is in the middle of the lineup mix as well, ditto the AL homerun leader C J.P. Arencibia (151 wRC+). He’s gone deep eight times … and has a .286 OBP.
Psychopath/3B Brett Lawrie (-3 wRC+) headlines the rest of the lineup, which also features SS Munenori Kawasaki (75 wRC+), CF Colby Rasmus (118 wRC+), DH Adam Lind (110 wRC+), 2B Maicer Izturis (30 wRC+), OF Rajai Davis (93 wRC+), and UTIL Emilio Bonifacio (39 wRC+). UTIL Mark DeRosa (59 wRC+) gives the veteran presents and C Henry Blanco (12 wRC+) is on the roster for one reason and one reason only. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Starting Pitching Matchups
Thursday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Mark Buehrle
The Yankees will get yet another opportunity to excise their demons against left-handed pitchers in the series opener tonight. The 34-year-old Buehrle struck out seven in seven innings against New York last weekend, allowing three runs and walking one. He owns a 5.87 ERA (4.36 FIP) through four starts, and as always the peripherals are unimpressive: 6.26 K/9 (15.12 K%), 2.35 BB/9 (5.7 BB%), and 40.2% grounders. His ground ball rate has been heading south for a few years now, but Buehrle is a guy who has outpitched his peripherals his entire career. Can’t really evaluate him like we do everyone else. The long-time White Sox ace uses three different mid-80s fastballs — four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter — and an upper-70s changeup to keep hitters off balance. A low-70s curveball will also make an occasional appearance. The veteran New York lineup and veteran Buehrle have seen plenty of each other over the years. There are no surprises to be had.
Friday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Josh Johnson
Johnson, 29, is three years removed from his last full season as an ace-caliber pitcher, but he isn’t nearly as bad as this year’s 6.86 ERA and 4.59 FIP indicate. The right-hander is missing a ton of bats (8.69 K/9 and 19.4 K%), but his walk (4.12 BB/9 and 9.2 BB%) and ground ball (41.8%) numbers are far off from the elite marks he posted with the Marlins before Tommy John surgery. Johnson’s four-seamer (and seldom used two-seamer) sits in the 91-95 mph range, and his swing-and-miss mid-80s slider is a wipeout pitch he’ll throw to both righties and lefties. A hard upper-80s splitter-changeup hybrid and upper-70s curveball round out his repertoire. The Yankees have seen Johnson just twice before — they hung four runs on him in 5.1 innings last week, and the other start came way back before elbow reconstruction in 2009.
Saturday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP J.A. Happ
A few weeks ago, Happ went from being the guy the Yankees smacked around in the 2009 World Series to the guy who broke Curtis Granderson‘s forearm with an errant pitch in Spring Training. The 30-year-old southpaw has pitched to a 3.68 ERA (3.83 FIP) in his first four starts of the season, posting solid strikeout (7.77 K/9 and 20.7 K%) and walk (3.68 BB/9 and 9.8 BB%) rates to go along with extreme fly ball tendencies (35.5% grounders). Happ uses two- and four-seam fastballs that sit right around 90 mph to set up his low-80s changeup, his primary offspeed pitch. Low-80s sliders and upper-70s curves are his clear fourth and fifth pitches. The Yankees saw Happ twice last summer after was traded to Toronto, and they roughed him up both times.
Sunday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP R.A. Dickey
Dickey, 38, has yet to really get it going this season — 4.66 ERA and 4.26 FIP in five starts — after winning the NL Cy Young Award last year. He struggled last April as well — 4.45 ERA and 5.24 FIP in five starts — so I’m guessing he’ll figure out it and start dominating before long. Dickey is a feel pitcher after all, and the cold early-season months are conducive to, well, a lack of feel. His strikeout (7.45 K/9 and 19.1 K%) rate is fine but the walk (4.34 BB/9 and 11.1 BB%) and ground ball (41.4%) totals leave a lot to be desired at the moment.
Dickey’s trademark knuckleball is actually two knuckleballs — he throws a hard 76-81 mph knuckleball as a put-away pitch when ahead in the count and a softer 68-76 mph knuckleball almost like a get-me-over pitch when behind in the count. I highly recommend this 2010 Amazin’ Avenue post for more on the duel-knuckleball phenomenon. Dickey throws his knuckleball(s) roughly 90% of the time with the other 10% being filled by low-80s fastballs. He doesn’t have a UCL in his elbow, you know. The Yankees did not see Dickey last weekend but they faced him three times from 2011-2012 during the Subway Series. There’s really not much preparation you can do for a knuckleball, it’s the epitome of a see it and hit it pitch. Oh, remember when I said Blanco was on the team for one reason? Well, this is it. Here’s there to catch the knuckleball.
The Orioles did the Yankees a favor and forced the Blue Jays to play eleven innings yesterday, so Toronto’s bullpen is a little taxed coming into the series. Setup men LHP Darren Oliver (3.24 FIP) and RHP Esmil Rogers (2.77 FIP) both pitched yesterday, as did closer RHP Casey Janssen (0.27 FIP). Oliver threw two innings, the other two guys one each. LHP Aaron Loup (3.39 FIP) is the middle innings lefty and he’s pitched in each of the last two games.
Gibbons has two other lefties at his disposal, including one-time Yankees nemesis LHP Brett Cecil (3.02 FIP). He’s no longer a starter though, just a traditional middle reliever who will face both righties and lefties. Former Yankee LHP Aaron Laffey (4.62 FIP) was claimed off waivers from the Mets a few days ago and has yet to appear in a game for the Jays this season. He started on Saturday for the Amazin’s and should be ready to pitch by now. RHP Steve Delabar (2.86 FIP) rounds out the bullpen. The Yankees are in pretty good bullpen shape, but check out the Bullpen Workload page for exact usage details anyway. My preferred Blue Jays blogs are Drunk Jays Fans and Tao of Stieb.
12:09pm: The police said Williams showed “clues of impairment” and was driving 50-53 mph in a 40 mph zone according to Mark Feinsand.
12:00pm: Via Greg Auman: Top outfield prospect Mason Williams was arrested in Tampa early Thursday morning on a misdemeanor DUI charge. He was pulled over after weaving and speeding at 2:45am, then he failed a field sobriety test. His blood alcohol level was under the 0.08 threshold in Florida, however.
Williams, 21, is hitting .271/.400/.371 (130 wRC+) in 18 games for High-A Tampa so far this year. He missed the second half of last season after having surgery to repair a shoulder injury suffered while diving for a ball. I ranked him as the team’s second best prospect a few weeks ago, but Baseball America had him in the top spot. Don’t drink and drive, kids. · (81) ·
The Yankees were flat-out dominated by Rays right-hander Alex Cobb last night, who held them to three singles and a walk in 8.1 scoreless innings. The loss capped off six-game road trip that saw the Yankees score five total runs with one extra-base hit in the final three games. Stuff like that happens, every team will have a few ugly series throughout the year, but the road trip as a whole featured some warning signs on the offensive side of the ball. Not full blown reasons to panic, but cracks in the dam.
The Schedule Isn’t So Favorable Anymore
After facing Jon Lester on Opening Day, the Yankees saw nine right-handed starters in the next nine games. It would have been eleven righty starters in eleven games had the two games against the Indians not be rained out. That was a pretty awesome coincidence because it allowed the team to trot out its very best lineup day after day for close to two weeks. It was a very nice early season routine.
Since that stretch of nine straight games with right-handed opposing starter, the Yankees have seen six left-handed starters in their last ten games. They’re scheduled to see two more lefties during the upcoming four-game series against the Blue Jays, then after that they will see the Astros (one lefty starter in the rotation), the Athletics (two lefties), and Rockies (two lefties). Those nine straight games against a righty was an anomaly, the product of some fortunate roster building (by the other teams) and scheduling. The Yankees don’t hit southpaws at all and they’re going to start seeing them a lot more regularly in the coming weeks.
Early Overachievers Coming Back To Earth
The Yankees have one of, if not the best pro scouting department in baseball. They constantly unearth productive players from the scrap heap, particularly when it comes to veteran retreads. This year they’ve struck gold with Hafner (192 wRC+) and especially Vernon Wells (156 wRC+), the latter of whom has resurrected his career after two amazingly awful seasons with the Angels. His production so far is like, 95th percentile stuff. He’s exceed expectations that much.
As great as two have been, it’s unreasonable to expect them to hit like that in the long-term. You could count the number of true-talent 150+ wRC+ guys in the league on one hand, and those two don’t belong to that club. That isn’t to say they’ll hit Quad-A players going forward, but there will be some performance decline. It’s inevitable. Frankie Cervelli (129 wRC+) belongs in that mix as well, though I don’t think Kevin Youkilis (119 wRC+) is playing way over his head. It’s tough to count on Hafner, Wells, and Cervelli continuing what they’ve done during the first 20 team games.
The Underachievers Aren’t All that Great
Regression to the mean works two ways — while guys like the three I just mentioned cool off and return to Earth, the guys who are underperforming will heat up to replace some of that lost production. The only problem is that the guys who are underachieving so far just aren’t all that good to begin win.
Ichiro Suzuki (49 wRC+) was a sub-90 wRC+ guy in his last 1,400 plate appearances or so coming into 2013. Eduardo Nunez (35 wRC+) came into the year with a career 88 wRC+ in parts of three seasons. Jayson Nix (51 wRC+) … Ben Francisco (-25 wRC+) … Lyle Overbay (75 wRC+) … those guys haven’t been productive offensive players for years now. Maybe one or two of them will get super duper hot and replace whatever the Yankees lose from Wells & Co., but we’re not talking about offensive dynamos having a few bad weeks here. They’re poor hitters hitting poorly.
The Calvary Is Coming … But Who Knows What To Expect
If things go according to plan, Curtis Granderson (forearm) will return to the lineup in mid-May, Mark Teixeira (wrist) will return in late-May, Derek Jeter (ankle) will return right after the All-Star break, and Alex Rodriguez (hip) will return shortly after that. Those are four pretty significant bats the team could be welcoming back to the lineup in the coming weeks, but there’s no way of knowing how they will perform once they return.
Wrist injuries are known to both linger and sap power, so Teixeira is very much a question mark. Maybe he’ll be fully healed, maybe he’ll struggle to put together quality swings. A-Rod now has two bad hips and who knows what that means going forward — will he be able to use his lower half in his swing? Jeter’s ankle is a concern because he’s already suffered one significant setback, plus he’s a 38-year-old shortstop who needs to be able to make quick side-to-side movements. Players like Jason Kendall and Stephen Drew have suffered significant ankle breaks in the not-too-distant past and it took both guys weeks before finding balance at the plate and returning to their previous levels of production. It’s great these guys are coming, but we won’t know how much they can contribute until they actually get out on the field and back in the lineup. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have them than not have them, but I don’t think they should be counted on as offense saviors. There are just too many unknowns.
I didn’t see a single pitch of tonight’s game and I only caught the last inning and a half on the radio, so tonight’s recap won’t be too detailed. Based on the box score, I picked a pretty good game to miss. Right-hander Alex Cobb held the Yankees to three singles and a walk in 8.1 innings of work, and it wasn’t until there were two outs in the ninth inning that New York had a man reach third base. Robinson Cano and Travis Hafner did bat while representing the tying run in the final frame though, and that’s really all you can ask for after being lulled to sleep for the first eight innings.
Brennan Boesch is going to get most (i.e. all) of the blame for Tampa’s two-run rally in the fifth, but all he did was allow the runners to advance a base. That whole rally started when Andy Pettitte hit Jose Molina (!) with a pitch in a two-strike count (!!) to leadoff the inning (!!!). That is a major no-no. Pettitte almost pitched out of the mess before Ben Zobrist’s two-run single, then Sean Rodriguez stretched the lead with a solo homer an inning later. Three runs (two earned) with ten strikeouts and one walk in six innings is some damn fine work by Andy, just not damn fine enough to win.
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerdier starts, and ESPN the updated standings. The Yankees scored just five runs in the three games at Tropicana Field and head home on the heels of a 3-3 road trip. Not great, not awful. Acceptable, I guess. The Blue Jays will be in the Bronx for a four-game weekend series starting Thursday night, when the pitching matchup will be Hiroki Kuroda against Mark Buehrle. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch any of the four games, I’m sure there are plenty of good seats left.