Well, it took a little longer than we all would have liked, but the Yankees won their first game of 2014 on Thursday. They avoided what would have been a pretty embarrassing sweep with a 4-2 win over the Astros. It wasn’t the easiest win in the world, but a win is a win and they needed it.

(Bob Levey/Getty)

(Bob Levey/Getty)

The First Lead of 2014
The first two games of this series were so ugly that, not only did the Yankees never hold a lead, but they were trailing after every single inning. The Astros scored in the first inning in the first two games and they did it again on Thursday, pushing a run across on a rookie mistake. More on that later. It looked like we were all in for more of the same after that early run.

Thankfully, it all changed in the third inning, when the Yankees put together an extended rally to score two runs and take their first lead of the season. Brian Roberts flew out on the first pitch to start the inning, but after that they had a six-pitch at-bat (Ichiro Suzuki single), a five-pitch at-bat (Yangervis Solarte single), a two-pitch at-bat (Brett Gardner single to score Ichiro), an eight-pitch at-bat (Derek Jeter walk), and a four-pitch at-bat (Carlos Beltran sac fly to score Solarte). They fouled off five of eleven two-strike pitches to extend at-bats. Excellent little rally full of … dare I say … professional at-bats.

The Yankees scored their third run in the fifth inning, but that one was a little more straight forward. Solarte doubled on a ball just out of the reach of a diving Robbie Grossman, then Jeter singled him in on a Jeterian hit to right. The same base hit to right we’ve been watching since 1996. The throw home was cut off and Jeter was tagged out between first and second, so the inning was over right after the run scored. Hey, it counted. that’s all that matters.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Bend, Bend, Bend Some More, But Never Break
Thursday’s start was a real grind for Ivan Nova. He simply had no idea where anything was going. Not his fastball and certainly not his curveball. Only eleven of the 24 curves he threw were strikes (swinging or otherwise) and only 47 of his 88 pitches were strikes overall. Only 53%. Nova wasn’t missing just off the plate either. He was bouncing 55-footers, missing a mile outside, way up out of the zone, all over the place really. Tough battle for him.

And yet, Nova held the Astros to two runs on six hits and five walks in 5.2 innings. He only struck out one against the five walks, giving you an idea of how tough this outing was. One of those two runs scored in the first, when Solarte made a rookie mistake by going for the 5-4-3 double play with the bases loaded rather than throwing home for the force out and potential 5-2-3 double play. Nova limited the damage that inning by getting a double play with his sinker, something he did all game. He got four ground ball double plays in his five full innings, two of which ended innings with multiple runners on base.

This was the kind of start that, a year or two ago, would have snowballed out of control on Nova. That ability to get by when nothing is working is what separates the promising youngsters from the bonafide big leaguers. Sure, a better offense might have crushed Nova given his control problems, but he doesn’t get to pick his opponent or the days when everything is working. This was an Andy Pettitte-esque outing for Ivan. A total grind, but he kept it together and didn’t let things get out of hand. Well done.

The New Bullpen
Mariano Rivera is gone. So are Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Aside from David Robertson in the ninth inning, the Yankees came into the year with no clearly defined roles in the bullpen, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We saw Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno pitch when they were losing big on Tuesday, David Phelps when the game was a little closer on Wednesday, and a completely different crop of pitchers on Thursday.

Nova left a runner on first base when he exited the game with two outs in the sixth, giving way to Adam Warren. Warren struck out the next batter on three pitches, then tacked on a scoreless seventh inning as well. He faced four batters, got two strikeouts, one weak ground ball back to himself, and a weak infield pop-up. Only needed 14 pitches too. I’ve been curious to see what Warren could do in a short relief role for a while now, and he did not disappoint on Thursday. He could be a real middle innings weapon.

As expected, Shawn Kelley took over Robertson’s old role as the eighth inning setup man. He got lucky when Jose Altuve ripped a line drive right at Solarte, but otherwise he struck out the next two batters without much issue. I was a little surprised when Joe Girardi didn’t bring in Matt Thornton to get the left-handed Marc Krauss, not that I thought he should have. Just seemed like a move he’d make. Robertson, in his first official save chance as the team’s closer, retired the side in order in the ninth on a fly ball, a strikeout, and weak ground ball back to himself. He threw only 13 pitches. Piece of cake.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Solarte Partay
How about that for your first big league start? Solarte made a mistake by not throwing home in the first inning, but otherwise he had an outstanding game. His first career hit was a ground ball single up the middle, his second a bloop hustle double in front of Grossman, his third an infield pop-up that fell between the infielders. He also drew his first career walk in the ninth inning. If the Astros were a better defensive team, he could have easily gone 0-for-3. Instead, Solarte went 3-for-3 with a walk, a run driven in, and two runs scored in his first career start. Not a bad day at the office.

Leftovers
The four through seven hitters went a combined 0-for-15 with a walk (Roberts) and three strikeouts, all by Frankie Cervelli. Not a good night for those guys. Alfonso Soriano went 0-for-4 and is still hitless on the season, but he did hit two line drives right at infielders. He ran into a little bad luck on Thursday. Hopefully he’s starting to come out of it.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Gardner and Jeter both went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run driven in, seeing a combined 37 pitches from the top two spots in the lineup. Ichiro went 2-for-4 with a double and deserves some props for scoring a big insurance run from second on Solarte’s infield pop-up single. He put his head down and ran hard the whole way. I’m really hoping he pulls a 1996-98 Tim Raines this year, the former star who becomes a kick ass part-timer.

There was a three or four-minute delay with two outs in the top of the ninth because the umpires lost track of the count and went to the new replay system to review it. I guess that’s reviewable? Seems weird. Since it happened in the seventh inning or later, the umpires can go to the review on their own, without a challenge from the manager. They confirmed the count was 3-1 and one pitch later, Solarte walked.

Jacoby Ellsbury replaced Soriano for defense in the late innings, just in case you were worried he did not start because his calf was bothering him. He took over in center and Gardner slid over to left, so their outfield for the last six defensive outs was Gardner, Ellsbury, and Ichiro. That’s a pretty excellent defensive outfield right there.

The Yankees still have not hit a homerun this year, by the way. The last time they started the season with three straight homerless games with 1998, and the last time they went four or more games without a dinger to start a season was 1990. They hit a homer on Opening Day every year from 1999-2012. Am I the only one amazed by that?

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some additional stats, and ESPN the updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are off to Toronto for a three-game weekend series against the Blue Jays. Masahiro Tanaka will make his long-awaiting debut in the opener on Friday night, which has been pushed back from 7pm to 7:30pm ET for whatever reason. I guess it has to do with the pregame ceremonies. Righty Dustin McGowan will be on the bump for the Jays. Can’t wait for Tanaka, you guys.

Categories : Game Stories
Comments (88)

Sure, the Yankees opened their season in Tuesday, but now the 2014 season is officially underway. The minor league season started today and all four of the team’s full season minor league affiliates were in action. Here are some quick notes before we get to the games.

  • RHP Jose Ramirez (oblique), UTIL Ronnie Mustelier (hamstring), 1B Greg Bird (back), LHP Nik Turley (arm), and RHP Jose Campos (being eased back in) are among those opening the year on the DL. Slade Heathcott (knee) and OF Tyler Austin (wrist) are working their way back after being slowed in camp, like Bird and Campos. They should join their teams soon.
  • Following today’s starter, LHP Manny Banuelos, the High-A Tampa rotation will be LHP Eric Wooten, RHP Rafael DePaula, LHP Daniel Camarena, and RHP Brett Gerritse. Wooten is a former independent baller who had 88 strikeouts, nine walks, and one homer allowed in 90 innings at three levels last season. The rotations for the other levels can be found right here. [Josh Norris]
  • Here is Baseball America’s minor league roster analysis for the AL East, if you’re interested.

Since it’s Opening Day, here are the full lineups and results.

Triple-A Scranton (4-1 win over Syracuse)

  • 2B Jose Pirela: 1-4, 1 R, 2 K, 1 E (fielding) — led off the game with the team’s first hit of 2014
  • 3B Scott Sizemore: 3-3, 1 R, 1 BB — can opt-out of his deal on May 1st
  • LF Zoilo Almonte: 0-4 — drove in the first run of the year with a GIDP
  • 1B Russ Canzler: 2-4, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI — he always mashes at Triple-A
  • C John Ryan Murphy: 0-4 — threw out the only runner who attempted a steal … as expected, he’ll get the majority of the playing time behind the plate.
  • CF Adonis Garcia: 0-4
  • RF Ramon Flores: 2-4, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 1 K — threw a runner out at home … very nice Triple-A debut
  • DH Austin Romine: 0-4
  • SS Zelous Wheeler: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K — was drafted as a shortstop and has played a handful of games there each year, so it’s not an entirely new experience to him … SS Carmen Angelini replaced him for defense in the ninth
  • RHP Bruce Billings: 5 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 6/4 GB/FB — picked a runner off first … 53 of 82 pitches were strikes (65%)
  • RHP Preston Claiborne: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/1 GB/FB — eight of 15 pitches were strikes (53%)
  • RHP Danny Burawa: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 13 of 17 pitches were strikes (76%) … if he continues to throw pitches like this, he’ll be in the big leagues later this year
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 1 IP, zeroes, 1/2 GB/FB — eight of 14 pitches were strikes (57%)
  • RHP Matt Daley: 1 IP, zeroes, 3 K — nine of 13 pitches were strikes (69%) … caps off an excellent day for the bullpen

Read More→

Categories : Down on the Farm
Comments (49)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

(Bob Levey/Getty)

The Astros have been baseball’s worst team for three straight years and there’s little reason to think they will be substantially better in 2014. And yet, they are on the verge of sweeping the big bad Yankees. Everyone outside New York is loving this. The Yankees can’t worry about any of that though. They just need to grab a win tonight to avoid the sweep and a disappointing post-game flight up to Toronto.

The lineup has a new look tonight, though nothing crazy and it’s not a response to the last two games. Brian McCann is sitting against the lefty Brett Oberholtzer, and so are Kelly Johnson and Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is fine, it’s just a scheduled day off as they look to keep him healthy following his little calf problem late in camp. With three games on the Rogers Centre turf coming up, sitting him tonight isn’t a bad idea. It’s too early in the season to push guys physically. Here is the Astros’ lineup and here is Joe Girardi‘s starting lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. SS Derek Jeter
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. LF Alfonso Soriano
  6. C Frankie Cervelli
  7. 2B Brian Roberts
  8. RF Ichiro Suzuki
  9. 3B Yangervis Solarte
    RHP Ivan Nova

It’s hot and humid in Houston, though not as hot as the last few days. It’s also been raining on and off for most of the day, but again, Minute Maid Park has a retractable roof. They’re playing tonight no matter what. First pitch is scheduled for 8:10pm ET (/shakes fist) and you can watch the game on YES. Try to enjoy.

Categories : Game Threads
Comments (308)
  • Yankees rank 13th in Baseball America’s farm system rankings
    By

    Baseball America published their updated farm system rankings yesterday (subs. req’d), which were topped by the Pirates. Even with RHP Gerrit Cole graduated to MLB, they still have a pretty stacked system. The Red Sox and Twins round out the top three while the Brewers and Angels predictably rank 29th and 30th, respectively. They never seem to have good farm systems.

    The Yankees rank 13th, though that is because Baseball America considers RHP Masahiro Tanaka a prospect. Both Keith Law (#20) and Baseball Prospectus (#23) ranked them lower without Tanaka, understandably. “[Tanaka's] acquisition masks a down year from the system last year at the upper levels. New York’s volume approach internationally, plus three first-rounders in a potentially strong 2013 draft, infused talent to the lower levels,” said the write-up, which also listed RHP Bryan Mitchell as a sleeper. The minor league season begins today.
    · (16) ·

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

The start of the season has a way of magnifying things. We can’t help it. We’ve been baseball starved for months and while Spring Training is fun in its own way, it can’t compare to meaningful games. Once the season starts and we see new faces in new uniforms, we get excited and look at things a little too deeply. I did it just this morning. If that CC Sabathia start happens any other day of the year, I probably wouldn’t think twice about it.

That same idea applies to the offense. The Yankees haven’t hit a lick these last two days, especially against Astros starters Scott Feldman and Jarred Cosart (combined 11.2 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K). New York’s offense went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position last night and 2-for-8 in those spots on Opening Day. Few things are are frustrating as stranding runners. The much-hyped outfield is hitting a combined .103 with a .212 OBP while the oft-criticized infield has hit .278 with a .350 OBP. Up is down, black is white, nothing makes sense anymore.

That’s because the season is two games old. The Yankees as a team have had 73 plate appearances so far. That’s a small amount for a single player, nevermind an entire team. If these last two games happened in the middle of June — and trust me, they’ll stop hitting for a few games several times this year, that’s baseball — we’d notice but not think much about it. Because it’s the start of the season, it’s a Really Big Deal.

“We’re going to be fine, man. We haven’t been able to put anything together offensively, but we have what it takes to play better and win ballgames. We don’t need to worry about it,” said Carlos Beltran to Mark Feinsand after last night’s game. “That’s part of when a team is cold. Sometimes you put a few guys in scoring position and you have difficulties getting those guys in. It’s just the second game of the season. It’s important to win and every win counts, but we’ve had good pitching from them, so you have to give credit for what they’ve been doing.”

I mean, of course there’s a chance the Yankees really do stink offensively despite all the new additions. That’s always possibility but I find it very hard to believe. Jacoby Ellsbury (calf) and Alfonso Soriano (flu, shoulder) were behind the other position players in camp because of injuries, Mark Teixeira (wrist) and Derek Jeter (legs) are coming back from lost seasons, so it’s no surprise they look rusty. The offense has positively stunk these last two games, but it has been just that, two games. It’s annoying but hardly a cause for concern at this point.

Categories : Offense
Comments (52)
(Stacy Revere/Getty)

(Stacy Revere/Getty)

The Yankees designated Eduardo Nunez for assignment on Tuesday, giving them ten days to trade him, release him, or slip him through waivers. That is down to eight days now, and considering the waiver process takes three days, it’s really more like five days. This situation could be resolved before the start of next week.

According to Marly Rivera, the Astros and Mariners* are among the teams with interest in Nunez. The middle infield bar is pretty low around the league right now, especially at shortstop, so I figured there would be some interest. That the Yankees couldn’t work out a trade before designating him suggests interest isn’t that high though. For what it’s worth, George King hears Nunez is expected to wind up elsewhere, either through a trade or waivers.

* As you surely remember, the Mariners wanted Nunez as part of the failed Cliff Lee trade a few years ago, so their interest now is not surprising.

Since he’s been designated for assignment, Nunez has pretty much zero trade value. He had very little trade value before being removed from the 40-man roster, but this clinches it. The Yankees forced their own hand with the move and other teams know they have to move him. That’s the way the DFA game has been and always will be. If they were to ship him to the Astros or Mariners, the likely return would be a nondescript non-40-man minor leaguer, cash, or a player to be named later. Don’t get your hopes up.

Nunez, 26, has hit .267/.313/.379 (86 wRC+) in parts of four seasons, in a league where the average shortstop put up a … wait for it … 86 wRC+ from 2010-13. His offense isn’t the problem, especially since he can steal bases on top of the league average-ish production. The issue has been and always be his defense, which hasn’t improved after years and years of work. This has been a career long problem and his career started in 2005.

The Yankees are short on shortstops right now, especially with Brendan Ryan hurt. Derek Jeter appears to be healthy and is moving fine in the field, but at age 39, he’s not someone who can play the position day after day. Joe Girardi‘s going to mix in some DH days every once in a while. He has to. Dean Anna is the backup shortstop, Yangervis Solarte the emergency backup, and the Triple-A starter is Carmen Angelini according to Chad Jennings. (Addison Maruszak was released yesterday according to Donnie Collins.) The 25-year-old Angelini had a 73 wRC+ at Double-A Trenton last year, so yeah.

Even though his defense is nightmarish, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Nunez slipped through waivers and went to Triple-A (he can’t elect free agency since it would be his first outright assignment), at least until Ryan returns. The Astros and Mariners and whoever else probably won’t give up anything of value for him in a trade, so keeping Nunez around as an emergency backup plan is better than losing him for nothing. Especially with no shortstop at Triple-A. If he doesn’t stick around, they’ll have to find someone just like him to stash in the minors.

Categories : Hot Stove League
Comments (60)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

(Scott Halleran/Getty)

The Yankees dropped their season-opener to the Astros on Tuesday for more than a few reasons, including a rebuilt offense that didn’t show up until about the seventh inning. CC Sabathia shoulders most of the blame because he was awful, allowing six runs in six innings. Doesn’t matter who you’re playing, climbing out of a 6-0 hole is tough for any lineup.

That game really was a tale of two Sabathias. He was abysmal in those first two innings, allowing all six runs on six hits, including two homers and two doubles. Over his final four innings, Sabathia kept Houston off the board and held them to a walk and two singles, one of which didn’t leave the infield. Five of his six strikeouts came in those final four innings and only one of the 14 batters he faced after the second hit the ball in the air. Sabathia was terrible the first two innings and pretty damn good the final four.

As I mentioned yesterday, the mid-start turn-around was so drastic that you have to think some kind of adjustment was made. Maybe Sabathia did it on his own, maybe pitching coach Larry Rothschild pointed something out, maybe it was Brian McCann. We’ve seen CC struggle early in a start before figuring it out before, so Opening Day wasn’t that unique, but it was especially noticeable on Tuesday. For what it’s worth, Sabathia chalked it up to adrenaline.

“It got out of hand early,” said CC to Chad Jennings after the game. “That’s been the toughest thing for me. I do get so excited. I feel like I’m a kid again. I would sleep in my uniform if I could the night before Opening Day. I think it’s just the nervousness, the jitters, wanting to start the season off good so bad, I end up pitching bad.”

It’s very possible Sabathia’s adjustment was simply calming down, but whatever it was, it should show up in the results somewhere. His velocity held steady all game — his fastball averaged 89.7 mph on Tuesday, down from 90.3 mph on Opening Day last year — and while Sabathia said he starting throwing his new cutter in the later innings, PitchFX didn’t pick any up. Maybe the system is broke, maybe the cutting action was so big they were classified as sliders. Who knows?

Whenever Sabathia struggles, it seems like it’s because he misses his location. That sounds obvious, I know. Sure, he gives up the occasional hit on a pitcher’s pitch like everyone else, but the Astros punished him early because he was missing out over the plate. I’m going to point this out again:

Jesus Guzman L.J. Hoes homers

Those are the homers by Jesus Guzman (left) and L.J. Hoes (right). Dexter Fowler swatted a similar pitch to center, leading off the game with a double. Belt high offerings right out over the plate. That’s no way to pitch.

So did Sabathia’s location improve in innings three through six? To the PitchFX data:

Sabathia Opening Day Location

Just to be clear, that is looking from the catcher’s perspective.

I was hoping there would be a big blob of blue pitches over the middle of the pitches and a bunch of red on the edges, but no dice. That would have been cool. Sabathia threw 99 pitches in the start, including 50 in the first two innings and 49 in the final four, so the sample is split right down the middle. That’s convenient. There are two things going on in this graph that I want to look at specifically, so let’s make life easy:

Sabathia Opening Day Location1

Like I said, two things I want to look at, hence the colored ovals. To the details:

Yellow Oval: The Astros had eight right-handed or switch hitters in the lineup, so these pitches are more or less in the wheelhouse. Belt high and right out over the plate. Sabathia threw seven pitches in this general area in the first two innings, resulting in the two homers, Fowler’s double, Jason Castro’s run-scoring fielder’s choice, a foul ball, a called strike, and a swing and a miss. In innings three through six, he threw only two pitches in this area, getting a foul ball and a swing and miss. If you want to count that one extra pitch at the top of the zone that’s hiding under the yellow oval, that’s another swing and miss. So yes, Sabathia did a better job of staying out of the danger zone in those final four innings.

Blue Oval (or cyan, whatever): I’m not going to count pitches and look at individual results here. I’m pointing this part of the strike zone out because it’s the outer half of the plate and generally the bottom half of the zone. With those eight righty bats in the lineup, that where you’d want a left-hander to pitch, down and away. Sabathia didn’t throw too many pitches down there in the first two innings — he was really all over the place in those two innings, geez — but he did a much better job of locating the ball down and away in his final four innings. Getting the ball out of the wheelhouse and instead burying it down there is a surefire way to improve performance.

Location is very important but it is just one piece of the pitching pie. I also want to look at whether Sabathia changed up his pitch mix as the game progressed, so here’s the breakdown:

Batters Faced 1st Pitch FB FB% CH% SL%
Innings 1-2 13 6 40.0% 24.0% 36.0%
Innings 3-6 14 9 55.1% 20.4% 24.5%

That is … the exact opposite of what I expected. I thought Sabathia would have thrown fewer fastballs and particularly fewer first-pitch fastballs in those last four innings. Instead, he threw more fastballs than he did earlier in the game. He really pounded the zone with his heater late. Very surprising, at least to me. I guess he just got into a groove and was better able to drive the ball down and away to all those righties.

At some point between the second and third innings, something happened that helped Sabathia better locate his pitches, particularly his fastball. The PitchFX data confirms this. We have Point A (innings 1-2) and Point B (innings 3-6), but no knowledge of Sabathia got there. Maybe he did just calm down. Maybe it really is that simple. I can’t help but think some kind of mechanical adjustment was made, something that helped him get the ball down and get it on the outer half of the plate against righties.

“I just think it was a matter of relaxing. I didn’t want to go out and overthrow and be all over the place, but I think backing off didn’t help either so I got to find a place in the middle where I can pitch good,” said Sabathia to Jennings and Jorge Castillo. “I’ve got 34, hopefully, more starts left. I’m definitely not going to pitch like I did tonight in the first two innings. I know I can pitch, and I know I can get guys out. I feel great. I’m not going to beat myself up about this.”

Sabathia has always been super-accountable and when he struggled last year, he crushed himself after every start. Tuesday though? Eh, no big deal, I’ll be fine. I wonder if that is a function of knowing the problem and knowing how to solve it. Sabathia stunk last year and he always seemed to be looking for a fix. There were no answers and he as clearly frustrated. This year, it seems like he knows what was wrong in those first two innings and knows the solution. He found it in the middle of the start. That he didn’t tear into himself after the game may be an indication that is the case.

Let’s not try to soften the blow here, Sabathia was terrible overall on Opening Day. He didn’t give the Yankees much of a chance at all. That he turned it around literally between innings and settled down is encouraging. We don’t know what changed, but something did. I guess there’s always a chance nothing changed too. We are talking about the Astros. It’s early in the season though and this is the time for optimism, so let’s say he fixed something. Sabathia has a big test against the Blue Jays on Sunday, so we ‘ll get to see if whatever adjustment was make between the second and third innings on Tuesday is a sustainable formula for success.

Categories : Analysis, Pitching
Comments (23)

The dream of 0-162 is still alive. The Yankees dropped their second game of the season on Wednesday night, losing 3-1 to the Astros. Houston is 2-0 for the first time in eleven years. Really glad the Yankees are taking advantage of his soft early-season schedule, you guys.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Who Needs Runs When We Have Each Other?
Believe it or not, the Yankees had a bunch of chances in this game. They just couldn’t capitalize on any of ‘em. Their only run scored on a double play (more on that in a bit) and they stranded a runner on second in the third, a runner on first in the fourth, runners on the corners in both the fifth and sixth, and runners on second in both the seventh and eighth. Jacoby Ellsbury flew out and grounded out to end the third and fifth inning rallies, respectively.

The Yankees went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and the biggest RISPFAIL came in the eighth, after Carlos Beltran led off the inning with an opposite field double. The next three batters, the 4-5-6 hitters, all struck out. Brian McCann went down on five pitches, Mark Teixeira on four pitches, and Alfonso Soriano on six pitches. Matt Albers got eight (!) swings and misses out of the 15 pitches he threw those guys. I don’t even.

The early-season offensive ineptitude reminds me of the 2002-ish through 2008 Yankees, who never seemed to hit in April. I remember there used to be columns written pretty much every year about trading for Ken Griffey Jr. to improve the offense. Eventually those teams hit and hit a ton, and I suspect this offense will do the same at some point. Right now though? These last two games have been a hot mess. When Brian Roberts (3-for-4 on Wednesday) has been your most productive hitter, you’ve got issues.

(Bob Levey/Getty)

(Bob Levey/Getty)

Death By Dexter
Poor Hiroki Kuroda. He must have feel 2013 never ended. The Yankees gave their ace only 3.19 runs of support per start last season, the third lowest among qualified starters. They couldn’t buy a run for him on Wednesday* even though he held up his end of the bargain. Kuroda held the Astros to two runs on three hits and one walk in six innings, striking out five. He got seven ground ball outs and six fly ball outs.

* Well, they did score the one run. Wouldn’t want to sell them short.

Unfortunately, all three of those hits were extra-base hits, including a solo homer by Dexter Fowler to lead off the game. Two innings later, he tripled to center and scored on Robbie Grossman’s ground out. Fowler’s killed the Yankees these last two games. Four total hits, all for extra bases. Kuroda pitched around a Grossman one-out triple in the sixth, his final inning. Two triples and homer with no other hits allowed. It’s the first time a pitcher has done that since … Felix Doubront against the Yankees last September. Lame.

Aside from some long at-bats, Kuroda looked like vintage Hiroki Kuroda, mixing sinkers with splitters and sliders and whatever else he has in that bag of tricks. I chalk the long at-bats up to early-season rust. Joe Girardi told Chad Jennings before the game that they plan to treat Kuroda like Andy Pettitte this year, meaning they won’t push him deep into the game or much beyond 100 pitches. That’s why his night ended at six innings and 91 pitches. Sounds like a plan to me.

(Bob Levey/Getty)

(Bob Levey/Getty)

Leftovers
So about that run-scoring double play? It was Yangervis Solarte‘s first career at-bat. He pinch-hit for Kelly Johnson against the left-handed Kevin Chapman with runners on the corners and no outs in the seventh. Yeah, it scored a run, but that double play took the wind right out of the Yankees’ sails. I know he had a great spring, but Solarte isn’t exactly a weapon off the bench. He shouldn’t pinch-hit for anyone in a big or semi-big spot.

David Phelps really doesn’t look right. He was sitting 87-88 mph all spring and he was throwing max effort to hit 90 in this game, giving up a solo homer and putting two other guys on base in his 1.1-inning outing. Phelps missed more than two months with a pair of forearm strains in the second half last season and I dunno, he doesn’t look so hot right now. Maybe keep him out of close games for a little while. Matt Thornton (one ground out, one intentional walk) and Shawn Kelley (ground out) cleaned up Phelps’ mess in the eighth.

Roberts and Brian McCann (2-for-4) combined for five of the team’s seven hits. Beltran (double) and Brett Gardner (single) had the others. Gardner, Ellsbury, and Derek Jeter each drew a walk. Teixeira built upon his strong Opening Day by going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Soriano looks like a mess right now and has gone 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in each of the first two games. He did miss a ton of time of camp with the flu, so maybe he’s just behind. Same with Ellsbury and his calf. Maybe.

The Astros had a pre-game ceremony for Jeter before the game, giving him a set of golf clubs and a pair of fancy cowboy boots. Former Yankees (and Astros) Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens were both on hand. The Astros then came out of the dugout to give Jeter a standing ovation before his first at-bat, which was kinda weird considering they still have another game tomorrow.

Adam Warren has warmed up in each of the first two games, and given how Girardi always makes sure his guys are rested, he might not be available tomorrow. He’s almost certainly a better late-inning option over the current version of Phelps. That reminds me: don’t forget about our Bullpen Workload page now that the season has started.

If you’re looking for a good omen, the Yankees have been held to two runs or less in their first two games of the season for the first time since … 1998. That turned out okay.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and video highlights, go to MLB.com. FanGraphs has some more stats and ESPN has the updated standings. Spoiler: the Yankees are still in last.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Hilariously, the Yankees will try to avoid being swept (!) by the Astros (!!!) on Thursday night. That’s another 8pm ET start. Those are the worst. Give me 7pm or 10pm, nothing in between. Ivan Nova and left-hander Brett Oberholtzer will be the pitching matchup.

Categories : Game Stories
Comments (84)
Apr
02

Game Two: Bounce Back

By in Game Threads. · Comments (300) ·
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

(Scott Halleran/Getty)

Opening Day did not go according to plan last night, but that is nothing new for the Yankees, really. They’ve now lost three straight Opening Days and five of their last six. None of those previous losses crippled their season either. It sucks, get over it. There’s another game tonight.

While the offense did not show up until Scott Feldman was out of last night’s game, they will be facing a very different pitcher tonight. Jarred Cosart is a young power arm with both a huge fastball and huge strike-throwing problems. He walked more batters (35) than he struck out (33) during his MLB debut last summer — he did have a 16/5 K/BB in Spring Training, for what it’s worth — and if he has trouble finding the zone tonight, the Yankees have the kind of lineup that can take advantage. Alfonso Soriano is only true swing at everything hacker among the regulars.

Hiroki Kuroda is making his first start of the season and we really didn’t see all that much of him this spring. He only threw 11.1 innings during Grapefruit League play, instead doing a bunch of work in minor league games. With CC Sabathia still an unknown the three unpredictable younger guys at the back of the rotation, Kuroda needs to be the staff ace again, someone who Joe Girardi & Co. can count on for a quality outing every fifth day. Tonight he will be charged with getting the team their first win of 2014 and stopping a losing streak before it even begins. Here’s the lineup, which is the same as last night’s:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. SS Derek Jeter
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. DH Alfonso Soriano
  7. LF Brett Gardner
  8. 2B Brian Roberts
  9. 3B Kelly Johnson
    RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Another hot and humid day in Houston, with on and off showers all day. The retractable roof at Minute Maid Park means we don’t have to worry about any of that. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 8pm ET and you can watch live on YES. Enjoy the game.

Categories : Game Threads
Comments (300)
  • Update: Yankees slotted $3.2M for draft, $2.2M for int’l free agency
    By

    6:00pm: Baseball America (no subs. req’d) has the individual slot values for the draft and international pools. The international slots are for used in trades. The Yankees are slotted for $1,018,700 for that 55th overall pick. Their third rounder falls all the way to $585,100.

    12:00pm: Via Jim Callis: Bonus pools for the draft and international free agency have increased 1.7% this year. The Yankees have been slotted $3,202,300 for the 2014 draft, the second smallest pool, ahead of only the Orioles. They have also been slotted $2,193,100 for international free agency, which is more middle of the pack (17th most).

    The Yankees forfeited their top three draft picks — their first rounder and the compensation picks for Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano — to sign free agents last winter, so their first selection is in the second round, 55th overall. That may change slightly if Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales ever get around to signing. That $3.2M pool still gives them enough cash to sign a big money prospect or two, as long as they grab cheap college seniors in rounds five through ten to compensate. They’ve done that the last two years.

    Based on what we heard over the winter, the international spending pool is meaningless this year. The Yankees are said to be planning a huge spending spree, upwards of $15M on prospects and then another $15M in penalties. They reportedly have some agreements already in place. If they do spend huge like that, they will not be allowed to sign anyone to a bonus larger than $300k the next two years. That might not matter with an international draft looking more and more likely. The international signing period opens July 2nd.
    · (31) ·

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