The Forgotten Relievers

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

As predictable as it was, the trio of Kerry Wood, Joba Chamberlain, and David Robertson have emerged as Joe Girardi‘s trusted righthanded setup crew over the last few weeks while Boone Logan has taken advantage of Damaso Marte‘s injury to become his go-to-lefty. With the Yankees still in the division race and a few wins away from clinching a playoff spot, he’s leaned heavily on those four plus Mariano Rivera in the late innings of close games. Heck, even Chad Gaudin seems to emerged as that next guy, the one who’s just outside of the regular setup crew that sees plenty of work in what we’ll call “various” situations.

It’s still September though, and the Yanks have a full arsenal of relievers on hand aside from those six mentioned above. They’ve called up three extra arms this month, and remember, they had a 13-man staff before that with Lance Berkman on the disabled list. The call-ups and spare long men haven’t seen much action at all (as you’d expect), so let’s recap where each of those guys stand…

Jon Albaladejo

The Triple-A relief ace hasn’t appeared in a game since Sept. 12th, which is when he worked the final 1.1 innings of a game in which the rest of the team was busy getting shut down by Cliff Lee and the Rangers. Since being recalled at the start of the month he’s appeared in four games, throwing three innings and allowing a pair of hits and a walk while striking out three. Those three baserunners each reached in his last appearance, so the three before that were pretty solid except for some hit by pitches. Albie seems to be the favorite among the extra, sparsely used relievers, probably because he has seniority.

Sergio Mitre

Girardi’s love affair with Mitre always seemed questionable at best, especially since their relationship dated back to their time in Florida and Serg never really did anything on the field with the Yanks to stand out. He last appeared in a game on Sept. 13th, when he gave up the walk-off homer to Reid Brignac, the only batter he faced. Prior to that he had appeared in just one game since August 27th, and two since August 20th, so that’s three total appearances in the last 32 days. Clearly, he’s just a “break glass in case of emergency” long man right now.

Dustin Moseley

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

To be perfectly honest, I had completely forgotten that Moseley existed until Ben mentioned his name last night. The last time he pitched was his start in Texas against Lee, the same date as Albie’s last game, when he pitched admirably for six innings before turning back into Dustin Moseley in the seventh. His only other appearance this month came on Sept. 4th, which is when Girardi brought him in with runners on the corners and two outs against the Blue Jays only to watch him give up a double to Lyle Overbay to tie the game. You remember that, it was the mother of all second guess moves.

Royce Ring

Recalled last Wednesday, Ring has yet to appear in a game for the big league team. The lefty last pitched on Sept. 9th, when he faced two batters in Game Two of Triple-A Scranton’s playoff series with Columbus. He walked one and got the other to ground out. Ring is the definition of a LOOGY, so his appearances-to-innings pitched ratio is well below one this year. At some point Girardi will call on him to get a lefty out, maybe even tonight since Logan has faced multiple batters in each of the last two games.

Romulo Sanchez

Sanchez was promoted over the weekend and Girardi hasn’t called on him yet. Before that he was recovering from an apparently minor elbow injury that had him on the Triple-A disabled list, so he hasn’t pitched in an actual game since August 24th, his only outing in the last 32 days. For a guy that’s wild as it is, I can’t imagine that’s a good thing. Luckily he won’t be seeing any high leverage work anytime soon.

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Javy Vazquez

Oh Javy, how the mighty have fallen. It’s seems like ages ago that the righty posted a 2.75 ERA during an 11 start stretch from mid-May to mid-July, but now he’s so out of favor that he’s nothing more than a highly paid mop-up man. Vazquez hasn’t pitched since starting in Texas on Sept. 10th, when he allowed four runs in five innings of work. He has warmed up a few times since then, but Girardi seems completely disinterested in using him. Given his disappearing fastball and hit-me-breaking ball, can you blame him?

* * *

The Yanks’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot is down to just five, so any combination of Yankee wins and Red Sox losses totaling that number will put the Yanks in the postseason for the 15th time in 16 years. Barring another epic slump, they’ll clinch that spot by the end of the weekend, giving Girardi a chance to rest his regulars and line up his rotation and all that. That’s when Albaladejo and Ring and Mitre will really start to see some action, and chances are Moseley and Vazquez will make some spots starts as they try to line up CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, and Phil Hughes for the ALDS.

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Robbie, Phil power Yanks to 11-5 win

Before the Tigers came to town, the Yanks had been scuffling through August, and even after Monday’s tough loss, the Bombers’ fearsome offense had managed just one run over its previous 18 innings. Bad pitching though is the cure for what ails you, and powered by a Derek Jeter triple and a Robinson Cano home run, the Yanks sent 13 hitters to the plate in the sixth inning en route to an 11-5 blowout win. Over their last three games, the team has scored 26 runs or as many as they had plated in their eight prior contests.

Phil’s early troubles and late domination

AP Photo, Kathy Willens

The tale of Thursday afternoon will be about the offense, but Phil Hughes‘ pitching is what stole the show. He didn’t open the game sharp as Will Rhymes knocked a one-out hit, and Miguel Cabrera bombed a 3-2 hanging curve ball into the Yanks’ bullpen. It took him 24 pitches to get through the top of the first, and with the sun pounding down on the stadium, it seemed as though Hughes would not be long for the game. A 20-pitch second inning didn’t help the cause.

But Hughes found his rhythm and his command. After the first nine hitters knocked out seven foul balls with two strikes and after the Tigers had a good look at the Yanks’ youngster, Hughes settled down. He needed just seven pitches to dispatch the top of the Detroit order in the third, 14 in the fourth, 11 in the fifth and just eight in his sixth and final frame. He threw 61 of 84 pitches for strikes with six Ks en route to his 15th win of the year. It was a very solid start for Hughes.

The right-hander’s innings limit came into play this afternoon too. Once the Yankees scored nine runs in the 6th, it seemed a fait accompli that Hughes would see no more action. The score stood at 11-2, and the Yanks had spent 34 minutes at the plate. So Hughes, on a roll through six, would see no more action, and his innings would be saved for another day. It was an obvious and wise decision by the Yanks.

So many runs in the sixth

Robinson Cano, do you know him? Credit: AP Photo, Kathy Willens

As a spectator, innings such as the sixth are a sheer pleasure to watch. Throughout the first third of the game, the Yanks’ bat had been dreadfully silent. Rick Porcello needed just 43 pitches to get through the first three innings, and the Yanks didn’t knock out a hit until Mark Teixera singled in the fourth. Three more hits that inning plated two runs for the Yanks, and with the score knotted at two, Teixeira came to bat to start the sixth. The merry-go-round would not stop for 13 batters.

Walk, double, walk, single, walk, wild pitch, double, ground-out, walk, triple, ground out, home run, walk, ground out. 34 minutes, 13 batters, nine runs, six hits. It was a thing of beauty, capped by an Austin Kearns double, Derek Jeter’s triple off the wall and a towering Robinson Cano home run into Monument Park, his second extra-base hit of the inning.

The Tigers needed four pitchers to get through that mess, each worse than the last, and for the Yankees, it seemed as though the great offensive dam had broken. After nearly a week or just a hit or two with runners in scoring position, the team went 6 for 10 in those situations, and the early August slump seemed to be but a memory. For the Yanks, only Brett Gardner and Ramiro Pena did not get base hits.

A save to end all saves

This actually happened. Photo by Amanda Rykoff

With the score at 11-2 and Phil Hughes in showers, the Yanks handed the ball over to the only reliever who didn’t appear in Wednesday’s game. By hook or by crook, Sergio Mitre would finish up the final three innings of an 11-2 game and finish it he did. I will charitably say that Mitre pitched to the score.

He started his appearance out on a high end, striking out Johnny Damon. Jhonny Peralta, though, took Mitre deep, and while the crowd groaned, I appreciated Mitre’s willingness to throw strikes. After a single and a double though, Sergio needed to do something. Dan Kelly struck out, and then Austin Jackson knocked in a run. After a mound visit from Dave Eiland, Mitre got Will Rhymes to fly-out to end the 7th.

The Tigers plated a run in the top of the 8th to pull with six, but by then, the regulars had long since departed. Miguel Cabrera, Yankee killer, was off for the rest of the day, and a variety of other Tigers popped in for a cameo. Mitre settled down and induced two double plays over the final two frames. It was, as the stadium scoreboard proudly, broadcast his first career save and the Yanks’ 75th win of the season.

The Box Score

Is nice. I like. Fan Graphs/ESPN

Up Next

The Cliff Lee-less Mariners come to town, but they’re coming out with guns blazing tonight. Felix Hernandez, 1-5 but with a minuscule 1.93 ERA since the Infamous Joba Meltdown in Seattle, will face off against A.J. Burnett at 7:05 p.m. King Felix’s last start in New York was a dominant one.

Royals slap around Mitre to top Yanks

Pitching in place of the injured Andy Pettitte, Sergio Mitre was anything but effective Saturday afternoon. Down 2-0 to the Royals after the first inning, Mitre made it through just 4.1 innings before getting the hook. He allowed seven runs on seven hits, and although the Yanks loaded the bases with two outs in the 9th, they couldn’t top Kansas City. The Royals won 7-4 as A-Rod failed to launch his 600th home run.

Turning Point #1: A first-inning error

From the start Mitre didn’t have his best stuff. He couldn’t command his pitches, and his sinker wasn’t sinking. Scott Podsednik led off the game with a single to center, and then Mitre hit Jason Kendall on the elbow pad with a 3-2 pitch. With Billy Butler up, Podsednik and Kendall put on the double steal, and the Royals were set up. They had two runners in scoring position with the heart of their order up.

The Yankees, though, caught a break. Billy Butler hit a hard ground ball to Alex Rodriguez. Although the speedy Podsednik broke for home, A-Rod had to just check Kendall back to the bag and make an easy throw across the diamond to nab the slow Bulter. Instead, though, A-Rod fired home. Although his throw actually beat Podsednik to the plate, it was up the first base side of the dish. As Posada swiped across to tag the runner, he failed to secure the ball with his throwing hand, and it popped out. Podsednik was safe, and Kendall moved to third on Jorge’s error.

The next batter — Jose Guillen — drove in the second run with a sac fly, and although Mitre got out of the inning with an Alex Gordon double play, the Royals had a 2-0 lead they would never surrender. While Posada got the error, the play was a bad one by A-Rod as well. Facing the Royals’ pitching and with no outs in the top of the first, the Yanks should have just given up that run to get the out. Had the inning unfolded as it did, the Royals would have walked away with just one run there, and the Yanks would have been a swing away from a tie game.

Turning Point #2: A-Rod doesn’t advance

As the game and the 110-degree heat wore on, Mitre fell further behind. By the bottom of the 4th, the Yankees were on the wrong end of a 6-0 score and hadn’t done much of anything against Kyle Davies. But a Mark Teixeira home run seemed to awaken the Yanks, and after A-Rod tapped out an infield single, Robinson Cano looked to keep the rally going. Cano hit a scorching ground ball ticketed for center field, but somehow, Yunieksy Betancourt made a diving play on the ball. He flipped to Chris Getz at second, and Cano was out at first by mile. The next batter, Jorge Posada, blasted a home run to make it 6-2, but it coulda, woulda, shoulda been 6-4.

Betancourt’s dive was the talk of the game, but the key part of the at-bat came a few pitchers earlier. One of the tosses from Kyle Davies wound up in the dirt, and Jason Kendall couldn’t find it. Cano tried to wave on A-Rod, but the Yanks’ third baseman seemed ill-prepared to attempt to advance. So he stayed at second.

With a full nod toward the fallacy of the predetermined outcome, had A-Rod advanced on that potential wild pitch and Cano hit the same ball up the middle, it would have gone through. Betancourt wouldn’t have been playing at double play depth, and he wouldn’t have made the dive. I’m not faulting Alex for it; after all, the ball didn’t get too far away from Kendall. But it’s just one of those little things that are easy to overlook and can cost the team a shot at narrowing a sizable gap.

Sergio Mitre did not have his best stuff this afternoon. Credit: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Turning Point #3: A blown call on the final out

Obviously, the final out is a turning point in the game because the losing team has no more chances, but today’s was especially galling. After All Star closer Joakim Soria retired the first two Yankees, Derek Jeter doubled and Curtis Granderson walked. If Mark Teixeira were to reach base, the Yankees would have the winning run at the plate in the persona of Alex Rodriguez. Thoughts of a game-winning, walk-off grand slam as A-Rod’s 600th home run were dancing through our collective minds.

But, thanks to a bad play, it was not meant to be. On a 2-2 pitch, Teixeira hit a slow roller up the middle. Betancourt fielded the ball and fired to first. On the bang-bang play, Chad Fairchild called Teixeira out, and the Yanks’ first baseman looked incredulous. The replay, via YES’ super slow-motion camera, showed that Teixeira’s foot was on the base before the ball was in Billy Butler’s glove, and the Yankees were unfairly denied a shot at winning or extending the game.

I hate to harp on the umps in a game that found the Yanks losing by three with one out left, but the reality is that it took YES all of 30 seconds to show the replay. It wouldn’t have ruined the pace of the game had the umps conferred to get the call right, and it would have given the Yanks another batter. The argument against instant replay remains weak as always.

Odds and Ends

Despite the score, Dustin Moseley gets a tip of the cap for his effort today. In brutal heat, he threw 4.2 very effective innings, giving up no runs on just one hit. He struck out only one, but he also walked only one. As Joe Girardi isn’t sure that Mitre will make the start on Thursday, Moseley is probably under consideration as well.

Derek Jeter, after starting the game 0 for 3, went 2 for 5 with a double. He was visibly frustrated when he tapped out to the pitcher but hit the ball with authority later in the game. Hopefully, he’s coming around.

Nick Swisher entered the game to pinch hit in the 8th and laced what should have been a double into left-center field. Rick Ankiel made a spectacular diving catch to save the out. Swisher and Brett Gardner should be good to go tomorrow.

A Sad WPA Graph

This one went in the wrong direction. (Fangraphs box, ESPN box)

Up Next

The Yankees end their homestand with the series finale against the Royals at 1:05 p.m. on Sunday. Phil Hughes will look to make a strong start after scuffling last week. He’ll face Sean O’Sullivan, who is making his second consecutive start against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. I wonder if one pitcher has ever made two starts in a week at the same stadium against the same club but while pitching for a different team.

Albaladejo optioned for Mitre

To make room on the active roster for Sergio Mitre, the Yankees have optioned Jonathan Albaladejo back to AAA Scranton. In two appearances for the Bombers this week, the right-hander had given up a run on two hits and a walk in 2.2 innings. He struck out three and appeared to be throwing better than he had in his other Major League stints. Right now, the Yanks’ 25-man roster now features Chad Gaudin, Dustin Moseley, Sergio Mitre and Chan Ho Park. Even if the team feels they need a long man today to caddy for Mitre, who will throw between 75 and 90 pitches today, that’s a lot of dead weight in the bullpen. I have to believe another move could come as early as tomorrow.

Mitre starting tonight for Triple-A Scranton

Via LoHud, Sergio Mitre will make his final rehab start for Triple-A Scranton tonight, and is scheduled to throw 75 pitches. He will be starting on three day’s rest, and the idea is to stretch him out a bit more before he takes Andy Pettitte‘s place in the rotation on Saturday. Seems kind of aggressive, but so be it. One start on short rest won’t kill him.

In the interim, I suspect the Yankees will call up an extra reliever until they activate Mitre before the game on Saturday. Jon Albaladejo, Romulo Sanchez, and Mark Melancon are the only relievers in Scranton on the 40-man roster, though Melancon is in no shape to be called up at the moment (1.91 WHIP since the end of April). Hopefully it’s Albie.

Replacing Andy Pettitte

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

It’s not quite the worst case scenario, but it’s pretty damn bad. The Yankees lost Andy Pettitte yesterday for what GM Brian Cashman estimated to be four-to-five weeks with a Grade I groin strain. Sergio Mitre, coming off an oblique injury, will take Andy’s spot in the rotation for now, just like he did earlier in the season. That’s all well and good if this was a short-term thing, but we’re talking about a month long fill-in here. It could be even worse if Pettitte’s 38-year-old body doesn’t recover as quickly. There has to be a backup plan.

The Yanks sacrificed some pitching depth this offseason when they traded Ian Kennedy, who is having a decent enough season out in the desert (4.83 FIP, 4.32 xFIP). He assuredly would have been given the first crack at that rotation vacancy if he were still around. Luckily the Yanks still have plenty of options to fill that spot, some internal, some external. Let’s run them down.

In-House

Mitre is first in line for the open rotation spot simply because he’s the incumbent sixth starter. His spot starts against the Tigers (4.1 IP, 4 R) and Twins (5 IP, 1 R) were acceptable, even though the Yanks lost both games. Mitre has definitely looked better this season than he did last, but we have no idea what the injury will do to him. Chad Gaudin is another possibility out of the bullpen, but he’s been a mess this year and I suspect he’s a “break glass in case of emergency” option only. Ditto Dustin Moseley.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Down in the minors, the Yankees have two viable starter options in my opinion: Ivan Nova (above) and Jason Hirsh. Zach McAllister has the shine of being a former top prospect, but he’s spun his wheels in Triple-A this year. He’s been far too hittable (.298 AVG against), hasn’t missed nearly enough bats (5.38 K/9), and isn’t getting ground balls either (37.4%). Sorry, that’s not deserving of a promotion. Tim Redding has been good in the minors this season (3.23 FIP, 84.2 IP), but we’ve all seen this movie before. It doesn’t have a happy ending.

Nova has a leg up on Hirsh simply because he’s already on the 40-man roster. His three inning cameo with the big league team earlier this season was mixed in with 103.2 innings of 3.92 FIP, 52.1% ground ball pitching in the minors. Not a set-the-world-on-fire performance, but certainly worth a look. Another thing Nova has in his favor is his schedule. He starts today from Scranton, which lines him up perfectly to start on Saturday, Pettitte’s next scheduled turn. If nothing else, they could keep Nova lined up with that spot so if he does get called up, the transition is seamless.

Hirsh actually spend a chunk of the season pitching out of Scranton’s bullpen before moving back into the rotation when the team decided Romulo Sanchez was better utilized in relief. As a starter this year, Hirsh has pitched to a rather ugly 4.96 FIP in 74 IP, with the big problem being the 11 homers he’s given up. That homer rate is high compared to the rest of his career, but I’m not sure you can call a guy up and count on the regression happening in the show. Hirsh isn’t on the 40-man either, which would require another move. That’s simple enough though, since Al Aceves can just slide over to the 60-day DL retroactively.

So out of the internal options, Mitre is Plan A, Nova Plan B, and I guess Hirsh and Gaudin duke it out for the title of Plan C.

(AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

Trade

The first name everyone will talk about here is Ted Lilly. He’s a former Yank that reportedly begged the team to bring him back as a free agent after the 2006 season only to watch them pick up Kei Igawa instead. Lilly has been rock solid in Chicago, though he missed the end of last season and the start of this season after having surgery to fix a debridement in his pitching shoulder. Unsurprisingly, his already not-so-great velocity has been further reduced, and his strikeout rate is down one full whiff per nine innings from the past few years.

Lilly is arguably the best starting pitcher on the market considering what should be a relatively low cost, so the Yanks will have plenty of competition for his services. His season marks of 4.62 xFIP and 4.58 tRA are right on par with Mitre’s career marks (4.29 and 4.64, respectively), so the upgrade might be minimal. The upgrade in name value is considerable though, too bad that doesn’t affect anything on the field.

Roy Oswalt and Dan Haren are pipe dreams, the Yanks aren’t going to make a major move like that to fill a hole for one or two months. I suppose Ricky Nolasco fits in this category as well. Ben Sheets has been dreadful on the road (6.29 FIP), Kevin Millwood has been dreadful everywhere (5.03 FIP).  Brett Myers of the Astros is a bit more realistic, and he is very much available. He’s having a nice bounceback season (3.71 FIP) and throws a ton of innings (at least six in all 19 starts), but again there will be plenty of teams interested in acquiring him. Former Yank Jay Westbrook (4.34 FIP) is another guy like Lilly and Myers. Got the name, not guaranteed to outpitch the in-house options.

If the Yankees do make a trade, the real question is about cost and what Cashman is willing to pay for a guy that might only be in the rotation for six or seven turns, maybe less. Since none of the reasonable targets currently available is an elite arm, I suspect not much.

Waiver Trade

If Cashman does make a deal for another starting pitcher, I’m willing to bet this is the route he takes. Waiver trades take place after the July 31st trade deadline, when any player on any team’s 40-man roster has to clear trade waivers (100% revocable) to be a traded. If a player is claimed, he can only be traded to the team that claimed him. Almost every player clears, situations like Alex Rios last year are few and far between. Pretty simple, and very rarely are their any complications.

Last year Cashman waited until August to essentially purchase Chad Gaudin from the Padres (he cleared trade waivers beforehand), who then went on to be very servicable down the stretch. We’re talking low risk, low cost, low expectations here.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Someone like Jeremy Bonderman (4.27 FIP) could make sense here if the Tigers fall out of the race, though his salary (still owed more than $5.5M this year) is an issue. Detroit has already swallowed everything left on Dontrelle Willis’ and Nate Robertson’s contracts this year (more than $21M), so I can’t imagine they’d be willing to do that again. There’s always Brian Bannister (right), who was connected to the Yanks last year before they acquired Gaudin, but he’s not exactly setting the world on first this year (5.26 FIP). Dave Bush (4.98 FIP)? Meh.

That about sums up the state of the waiver market, but remember, right now there are eight-frickin-teen teams within six games of a Wild Card spot. Some of those clubs will inevitably drop out of the race over the next few weeks, and more players will become available.

The Yankees have the comfort of a three game lead in the division and a six-and-a-half game lead for the Wild Card if it comes down to that. They’re in a position where all they have to do is maintain the status quo while Pettitte is out, they don’t have to worry about playing catch-up. Of course that shouldn’t stop them from trying to field the best team possible, and might mean finding someone besides Mitre to start every five days. Remember, Phil Hughes is going to need a breather every now and then to avoid an unnecessarily dangerous increase in workload, so they’re probably going to need another spot starter at some point.

Mitre and Nova are solid sixth and seventh starters, but of course they’re not going to replace what Andy was doing this year. Solid outings every five days and enough to keep the team in the game is really all we could ask for, and if the Yanks don’t get that, Cashman will do something about it. I’m sure of it.

Injury Updates: Mitre, Aceves, Johnson

Earlier today we learned that Damaso Marte had to be placed on the disabled list with a bout of shoulder tendinitis and then A.J. Burnett left his start with lacerations on his right hand. While those two are only the latest in a slew of injured Yankees, we have some updates on the guys working their ways back to the Bronx.

Sergio Mitre threw a side session this afternoon after making a rehab start for Triple-A Scranton on Thursday. He will return to the team for the start of the Angels’ series on Tuesday. You have to figure that’s the end of the line for one of Chad Ho Moseley trio, and after today’s outing, Moseley may have thrown his final pitches for the Yanks. They should have traded him before he could opt out when his stock was at a high.

Two other key cogs aren’t close to returning. After suffering yet another setback, Alfredo Aceves will begin a throwing program this weekend by tossing off flat ground. With some major back problems plaguing him, Aceves isn’t coming back to help the bullpen anytime soon, and anything the Yanks get out of him this season is a bonus. He may have to explore surgery after the season is over.

As for Nick Johnson, he has restarted his rehab after feeling pain in his wrist earlier this month. His new plan involves “aggressive wrist exercises,” but he is still a few weeks away from true baseball activities such as swinging a bat. Like Aceves, anything they get out of Johnson the rest of the season is gravy.

Feel free to use this update as tonight’s open thread. We’ll be back later with Down on the Farm and the recap of this afternoon’s Rays-Yanks affair.