We had a full year to gush over Mariano Rivera‘s greatness. It didn’t seem like long enough. And it still feels wrong that he’s not closing the door this year.
During that year we saw fans show their appreciation. Teams honored Mo with ceremony after ceremony, paying tribute with gifts as though he were an ancient king. Most pervasively, we saw the media stumble over themselves to gush about Mo.
His peers talked about his greatness, but it felt as though we didn’t hear enough of their stories. What did it feel like to stand there in the batter’s box against Rivera?
We get answers in the recently published book, Facing Mariano Rivera, edited by David Fischer. It contains stories of nearly 100 opponents who faced Rivera. (It also contains contributions from guys like Paul O’Neill, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and other teammates who never faced him, plus a number of pitchers and managers.) If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to stand in the box and know what pitch is coming, and still not be able to hit it, this book will help get you there.
There is, to be sure, plenty of fluff praise for Rivera, the standard praise of his composure and class. But nearly every player says one thing that really stands out, that helps you more fully understand the opponents’ mindsets when they faced Rivera – with the game close enough for him to be in there, but still seemingly out of reach.
Here are two of my favorite excerpts:
Salmon debuted in 1992, when I was 10, thus at the very peak of my baseball card collecting phase. We all chased after his rookie card, and I’m fairly certain that we all had at least one. It really is no surprise that baseball cards lost all value when internet commerce was even in its infancy.
In his fourth season, Salmon accomplished something that at the time was insignificant. He recorded the first hit off of Mariano Rivera. He in fact recorded two that day, including a double. In his third at-bat he walked, which ended Mariano’s day. That was in 1995, when Rivera was still a starter.
In 13 at-bats after that, including postseason, Salmon went 0 for 13.
A lot of closers grunt and snort and spit, they scowl at you, and throw the ball under your chin, trying to intimidate you, which makes you want to bear down and beat them all the more. Mariano was never like that on the mound. He was pleasant; his demeanor was disarming, it was life facing an old friend. I think that works to his advantage. Hitters don’t have that extra motivation you might have against guys you despite who are flaunting their stuff and pointing to the sky and talking trash.
Mo faced 1,013 different hitters during his career. Who was the toughest of them all? When asked last spring, Mo didn’t hesitate when he answered.
The toughest – and thank God he retired – (former Mariners DH) Edgar Martinez. Oh my God. I think every pitcher will say that, because this man was tough. Great man, though – respected the game, did what he had to do for his team. That’s what you appreciate about players, when a player come and do what is right for the game of baseball, for his team and teammates.
Martinez must have traumatized Mo when the latter was a rookie in 1995. In 7 PA he went 6 for 7 with two homers, a double, and a walk. Even when Mo was Mo in 1996, Martinez went 2 for 2 with two doubles. After that Martinez went 3 for 10 with three walks, two intentional. He was on an 0 for 6 slide against Rivera before he singled on August 14, 2004, the last time the two faced each other.
Just how badly did Mo want to beat Martines?
I think what makes him great is his command and his location; knowing where to throw the pitch. A good example is when I faced him in the 2000 American League Championship Series. I made the last out of the game. He got me out with a sinker inside. I never remember him throwing me a sinker before. that was the first tim I ever saw a sinker from him. He knew when to change his plan, when to go with something completely new, something different that you’re not expecting.
If you’re missing Mariano, and I sure am, this book is a nice little reminder of the greatness we witnessed night in and night out for so many seasons. You can flip around and read stories at random. I’ve been trying to find as many current players as possible, reading their stories when the Yankees face them this year.
There is something of a graphical element, since the book contains breakdowns of every hitter’s at-bats against Mo, so the hardcover might be better. But if you’re using Kindle on a tablet, it should render just fine.
The three-game winning streak is over. The Yankees were, once again, burned by poor defense, as a Brendan Ryan error and a Carlos Beltran misplay contributed to four Brewers runs and the 5-4 loss on Saturday night. Even the best infield defender on the team is botching plays these days. The Yankees give their opponents too many extra outs. It’s awful.
I only saw about ten minutes of the game, and in those ten minutes Dr. Dellin Betances struck out both men he faced to escape a bases loaded situation in the sixth inning. He threw seven pitches, four of which drew swings. All four swings missed. Betances overwhelmed Scooter Gennett and Carlos Gomez. It was awesome. Joe Girardi‘s been using him in a fireman role for a few weeks now and this was his biggest situation of the year, to date.
Other than that, CC Sabathia gave up three monster home runs, two of which came after Ryan’s two-out error. I see his 23.3% HR/FB rate and think there’s no way it can continue — that would be the all-time single-season record by a mile — but then I see homers clanking off the windows of restaurants and wonder why I should expect it to regress. Sabathia pitched well outside of the homeruns, which really means very little in the grand scheme of things. Every mistake is getting crushed and the big inning is unavoidable.
The Brewers took the lead after Beltran failed to reel in a very catchable fly ball to right, a ball that went for a double instead of an out. Beltran seems to be playing the game in slow motion right now, and I don’t mean in a Robbie Cano “he makes everything look so effortless way” either. The Yankees got a triple from Brett Gardner and solo homer from Mark Teixeira earlier in the game, and pinch-hitter Alfonso Soriano knotted it up with a jam shot through the shift. Very winnable game that will go down as a loss.
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has some other stats, and ESPN has the updated standings. The Yankees and Brewers will play the rubber game of this three-game series on Sunday afternoon, when David Phelps makes his second start of the season against old foe Matt Garza. That is the final game of this six-game, two time-zone road trip.
Minor League Update: I don’t have time for a full update tonight, but here are the box scores: Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston. Greg Bird homered and drew two walks, so he’s right back to where he left off last season. Peter O’Brien went deep too.
Before he wore pinstripes, CC Sabathia helped the Brewers to their first postseason berth in a quarter-century. Milwaukee acquired him from the Indians at the 2008 trade deadline and rode his left arm to October, starting him on three days’ rest in each of his final four starts of the regular season, then again for his first postseason start. Here’s that stretch of games:
That four starts, 28.2 innings, and 434 pitches in a 12-day stretch. That September 28th game was a must win against the Cubs, which clinched the club’s spot in the playoffs.
Sabathia was a monster during his half-season with the Brewers (1.65 ERA, 2.44 FIP, seven complete games, 17 starts) and he’s beloved in Milwaukee because of it. Robinson Cano was booed mercilessly when he returned to New York, but that won’t be the case tonight. Sabathia is going to get a huge ovation for something that happened six years ago, and that’s pretty neat. Here is the Brewers lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- LF Brett Gardner
- RF Carlos Beltran
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- C Brian McCann
- 3B Yangervis Solarte
- 2B Brian Roberts
- SS Brendan Ryan
- LHP CC Sabathia
It is cool and a little cloudy tonight, so I bet the Miller Park roof will be open again. Last night was actually the first time it was open for a game this season. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.
I did not notice this during Tuesday’s game, but, according to Danny Knobler, the Yankees have stopped shifting their infielders behind Hiroki Kuroda. He simply isn’t comfortable with it. The Rays don’t shift behind David Price for the same reason. Knobler says New York’s other pitchers will groan whenever a base hit goes through the vacated hole created by the shift, but that’s normal. It’s human nature.
The Yankees went into Friday’s game with a .310 BABIP as a team, higher than the .298 AL average. That’s not really surprising, the defense has been a mess, particularly on the infield and in right field. They’re even botching plays on balls they get to. Kuroda has a .311 BABIP, so there’s no difference between how many balls are being converted to outs behind him compared to the rest of the staff. We don’t know how long they haven’t been shifting behind him though. It sounds like they were doing it earlier in the season and recently stopped. Either way, the pitcher has to be comfortable. That’s the most important thing. · (9) ·
As a team, the Yankees have one of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball. They came out of last night’s game with a 19.6% strikeout rate, below the 20.5% league average and the tenth lowest rate in the game. Guys like Derek Jeter, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Brian Roberts, and Yangervis Solarte have had little trouble putting the ball in play, and that’s five-ninths of the starting lineup right there.
And then there’s Brett Gardner. He has a career 18.2% strikeout rate and last season it was 20.9%, both of which are more or less league average when you consider baseball’s perpetually increasing strikeout rate. (MLB has set a new record high for strikeout rate in each of the last seven seasons.) This season as been different though. Gardner has a 24.4% strikeout rate, by far the highest of his career. His 6.1% swing-and-miss rate is also a career-high (but still below the 9.3% league average). He’s been piling up the whiffs in 2014.
Gardner isn’t oblivious to the strikeout issues he’s had these last few weeks and he’s working to correct them. He cites a mechanical flaw and says he isn’t planning any kind of major overhaul to his game. That would be a little silly at this point. From George King:
“I have been striking out too much,’’ said Gardner, who didn’t whiff Wednesday night against the Angels in Anaheim after fanning seven times in the previous four games. “My mechanics have been a little off, rushing the swing and swinging with my head moving. I have been swinging and missing more than I would like.’’
“I have to do a better job, but I don’t want to change my game. I have to be aggressive so when I get a pitch to hit, I put the ball in play and use my speed,’’ said Gardner, whose 31 Ks were tied for 22nd among AL hitters Thursday. “I felt better [Wednesday].’’
Even if you’ve never playing anything higher than Little League, you know that too much head movement during your swing is a recipe for swinging and missing. If you can’t see the ball properly, you’re not going to hit it. Gardner isn’t chasing more bad pitches or anything like that — 23.0% swing rate on pitches out of the zone, down from 23.6% last year — he’s just coming up empty when he does swing. The swing-and-miss punishment fits the head movement crime.
Gardner struck out 12 times in his first 40 plate appearances of the season (30%) and more recently he had a stretch with 11 strikeouts in 27 plate appearances (40.7%), which is just way too high, especially for a non-power hitter. He has gotten better as the season has progressed …
… but it’s clear there is still some work to be done. It’s not like Gardner isn’t hitting at all — both his AVG (.283) and OBP (.352) are better than last season (.273 and .344), he’s just hitting for zero power (.053 ISO) — he’s just struggling to put the ball in play. It’s actually kinda amazing he’s remained as productive as he has despite the high strikeout rate.
The most important thing is that Gardner isn’t chasing more pitches out of the zone. That would be a real big concern. Since his plate discipline seems to be fine and he’s identified a mechanical issue with his head, I think it’s only a matter of time before he snaps out of his swing-and-miss funk. It’s frustrating, I know it is, but as long as Gardner is getting on base, stealing bases (7-for-7 this year), and playing high-end defense, he remains a productive player for the Yankees and worthy of an everyday lineup spot.
Just like that, the Yankees have a three-game winning streak. Things sure turned around in a hurry, huh? Just as the Yankees planned, big offseason additions Masahiro Tanaka and Yangervis Solarte carried them to a 5-3 win over the Brewers in Friday night’s series opener in Milwaukee. Let’s recap the victory:
- Money Well Spent: It’s hard to believe the Yankees are paying Tanaka $22M this season to go 0-for-3 with three strikeouts at the plate. Luckily he can pitch a little. Tanaka allowed two runs on seven hits and one walk in 6.1 innings of work, striking out seven and getting eight ground outs compared to four in the air. Things got a little dicey in the sixth and seventh innings, but a well-timed double play and the bullpen helped him escape both jams. Tanaka now has a 2.57 ERA (3.07 FIP) in 49 innings this year. That’ll do just fine.
- Minor League Contract Well Spent: It is May 9th, and a minor league journeyman leads the Yankees with 18 RBI. That would normally be bad, but Solarte has been so damn good that it’s an overwhelming positive. He swatted his second career homer on Friday night, this one a three-run shot against Yovani Gallardo in the fourth inning. It was a hanging breaking ball, pretty much right in his wheelhouse. Solarte has come back to Earth a bit but he still has a .304/.387/.461 (135 wRC+) batting line. Once again, that’ll do just fine.
- Tacked On: Brian Roberts continued his hot hitting with a double down the right field line to score Brett Gardner for the team’s fourth run of the day. Mark Teixeira drove in their fifth run of the ninth with a ground ball. Pinch-runner Ichiro Suzuki scored from third after stealing third base. He replaced Carlos Beltran, who blooped a double. Tanaka was cruising early in the game, but those extra insurance runs are always appreciated.
- Leftovers: Adam Warren got a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play with men on the corners to end the seventh, then he tacked on a scoreless eighth as well. David Robertson struck out the side and allowed a solo homer in the ninth for his sixth save in six chances … everyone in the starting lineup reached base at least once except Derek Jeter, Teixeira, and Tanaka. Gardner, Brian McCann, and Beltran each had a base hit and a walk.
For the box score and video highlights, go to MLB.com. For some other stats, go to FanGraphs. For the updated standings, go to ESPN. These two teams will play the second game of this three-game series on Saturday night (yes, a Saturday night game, blargh) when CC Sabathia faces off against Kyle Lohse.
Setup man Shawn Kelley is day-to-day with a back issue, Joe Girardi announced. An MRI came back clean. He’s never had any back problems in the past, only a long history of elbow injuries. Kelley threw 34 stressful pitches on Monday and another eleven on Tuesday, though who knows if that contributed to his balky back. Adam Warren pitched the eighth inning on Friday and he’ll take over as setup man for the time being, just as he did when David Robertson was on the DL a few weeks ago. · (1) ·
Some notes and roster moves:
- OF Tyler Austin (groin) will be activated off the DL and in the Double-A Trenton lineup tomorrow, according to Matt Kardos. Between the groin problem and the nagging wrist injury last month. Austin has played in only 14 of the team’s 35 games this year.
- Both 1B Kyle Roller and RHP Branden Pinder have been promoted from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A Scranton, according to Josh Norris and Chad Jennings. Roller was moved up to make room for C/RF Peter O’Brien, who was bumped up to the Thunder yesterday.
- To make room on the RailRiders’ roster, RHP Yoshinori Tateyama was released and RHP Chris Leroux was sent to Double-A Trenton, according to Donnie Collins. Leroux was in the big leagues last week. Ouch. IF Corban Joseph has been placed on the temporarily inactive list, which usually means he had to leave the team to deal with a family issue.
- In other news, RHP Luis Severino made the “In The Team Photo” section of this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. CF Mason Williams was in the Not So Hot section, unfortunately.
Triple-A Scranton (3-2 win over Durham)
- RF Ramon Flores: 0-3, 2 BB — 26/22 K/BB in 31 games
- 3B Zelous Wheeler: 2-5, 1 RBI
- SS Dean Anna: 0-3, 1 RBI
- LF Zoilo Almonte: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K
- 1B Kyle Roller: 0-2, 2 BB, 1 K — nice Triple-A debut
- C Austin Romine: 2-4, 1 R, 2PB — he’s been hitting well of late, good to see
- RHP Joel De La Cruz: 5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 8/2 GB/FB — 50 of 77 pitches were strikes (65%)
- RHP Jose Ramirez: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 15 of 26 pitches were strikes (58%)
- RHP Mark Montgomery: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — eight pitches, five strikes
Today is a good day. First of all, it’s Friday, and that’s almost always great. Second, it’s Masahiro Tanaka‘s day to pitch. That is always awesome. The right-hander has been the staff ace and has somehow exceeded expectations so far. I don’t know how he’s done it, but he has. Tanaka gets his first taste of the National League tonight, which means he’ll also have to hit. My prediction: 20-strikeout no-hitter and 4-for-5 with two homers and two doubles. Mark it down.
Tanaka will have to face Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez tonight even though the appeal of his three-game suspension was heard sometime earlier today. Apparently it takes a few days to hand down a ruling and he might be available all weekend. Bummer. Gomez was suspended for his role in a brawl with Gerrit Cole and the rest of the Pirates. The Yankees won’t have to face the injured Ryan Braun this series, so I guess we shouldn’t complain Milwaukee’s other great player is playing. Whatever. Here’s the Brewers lineup and here’s the Yankees lineup:
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- SS Derek Jeter
- RF Carlos Beltran
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- C Brian McCann
- 3B Yangervis Solarte
- LF Brett Gardner
- 2B Brian Roberts
- RHP Masahiro Tanaka
Temperatures are in the mid-60s and it’s sunny in Milwaukee, so the Miller Park roof will probably be open for the game. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 8pm ET and can be seen on My9. Enjoy.
J.J. Schwarz | C
Schwarz attends Palm Beach Gardens High School in Florida and starred for the Team USA club that won the 18U World Cup in Taiwan last fall. He is the son of former big league right-hander Jeff Schwarz, who received two cups of coffee in the mid-1990s but otherwise bounced around the minor leagues for most of his career. Schwarz is committed to Florida.
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 193 lbs., Schwarz is one of the best all-around catching prospects in the entire draft. He’s a good defender behind the plate thanks to his footwork and overall receiving skills, plus he has a strong arm. A quick, low-maintenance swing and advanced approach give him the potential to hit for both average and power down the road. He isn’t fast at all, but that is to be expected. Schwarz has gotten high marks for his makeup and feel for the game. He has clearly benefited from his father’s instruction over the years.
In their latest rankings, Baseball America, Keith Law (subs. req’d), and MLB.com have Schwarz as the 45th, 71st, and 90th best prospect in the draft class, respectively. The Yankees love to hoard catching prospects and I don’t expect that to stop even with Brian McCann, John Ryan Murphy, and Gary Sanchez at the upper levels. They don’t pick until the second round (55th overall) because of their offseason spending spree, but there is a chance Schwarz will still be available when their third round pick (91st overall) comes around, at which point I think he’d be a real coup.