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Phil Hughes is the new A.J. Burnett and the search for offense

*The title for this post sounds like a weird sports/fantasy/adventure 80s movie, doesn’t it?

I know, I know, I keep harping on Phil Hughes, but can you blame me? Look at his game log – look! He’s only effective against anemic offenses and just about anybody with a bat and a pulse crushes him. The dude has a 5 ERA for a reason and his WHIP is abysmal. And speaking of WHIP, take a look at Joba Chamberlain’s game log. It is FUGLY. Both Hughes and Chamberlain will be free agents after the season is over, but they’re still around right now, stinking up the joint… Is there any way to turn them into a positive?

The answer is probably a resounding ‘no.’ Does any contender need pitching this badly? (Or, maybe the question is, "Does any contender want pitchers this bad?") But, if the Yankees could somehow find another team that has a surplus of bats, then maybe they could find someone who is either going to be a Free Agent or has some money left on their contract the Yankees could eat. 1st and 3rd base seems like a logical place to start as Mark Teixeira’s season ending surgery seems to be only a matter of time and Lyle Overbay is… well, Lyle Overbay. A-Rod could easily be ineffective, suspended or just never even make it back – who knows. And there’s probably too much of a log game in the corner outfield spots what with Ichiro and Vernon Wells, who we’re stuck with until at least the 2014 All Star break.

Why anyone would agree to take Hughes and Chamberlain for anything is beyond me, but I can’t help but try to think positively. Maybe Hughes could flourish in a bigger ballpark – maybe Chamberlain just needs a change of scenery. Who knows… if there’s anyone who has pitching problems the way the 2004 thru 2008 Yankees did, maybe Hughes and Chamberlain could fill a hole. I wouldn’t count on it, but the Yankees need to add a bat – and I think some addition by subtraction via an exit for Hughes from the rotation would be another positive step.

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Death by Bullpen

Before I start complaining, let’s have a round of applause for the return of Andy Pettitte and his effective pitching. Even when he doesn’t have his best control, he’s still great. I know the Minnesota Twins aren’t exactly the most difficult of opponents, but Andy got it done last night.

OK, now on to the complaining: Joba Chamberlain did his job, but as the rest of the Yankees pen… meh.

Corey Wade seems to have lost it. Last year and the first two months or so of this season were great, but since then, Wade just can’t get it done. I wonder if he’ll ever find it again. Justin Thomas has the distinct advantage of being left handed, which will probably prolong his career (and his stay with the Yankees), but this kid doesn’t exactly look like the goods And after these bumbling baboons required the assistance of David Robertson, he wasn’t exactly sparkling either.

Now I know David Robertson (2012: 61 games, 57 IP) didn’t pitch great, and Joba Chamberlain probably needs all the work he can fit in during a reasonable time frame to get his act together, but frankly, the middle relief guys are going to have to be better than this. If the Yankees hand the middle guys a 6-0 lead with 6 outs to go, they need to do better than this. It’d be nice if, just one time, the middle guys could protect the back end guys. Can’t they just, for once, come up with a 1-2-3 inning against a demoralized, nearly last place team that will probably lose 95 games this year?

Meh, guys. Very meh.

Scrappy is BACK – Ramiro Pena to get called up to replace A-Rod

I know the little infielder that is known as Scrappy around my house isn’t the greatest player in the world, but we love us some Ramiro Pena, and now that A-Rod’s hand is broken, he’s on his way to join the team. It sure has been a busy couple of weeks in Yankee Land.

Just to recap:

  • Brett Gardner had another setback and now is having what sounds like season ending elbow surgery
  • Nick Swisher is day to day with a hip flexor (or whatever the hell that’s called), making the outfield that much thinner, at least temporarily
  • then KABOOM! Ichiro Suzuki is suddenly a Yankee, patrolling right field, at least temporarily, and then moving to left field when Swisher returns… or so I heard on the radio
  • A-Rod gets hit in the hand by King Felix, breaking that shiz, and now Scrappy becomes the back up infielder, surely giving Jason Nix and Eric Chavez a lot more work at 3rd base

Whew!

Not to be too indelicate, but what the FUCK is going to happen next? Hopefully, something good – Joba Chamberlain may only be days away from rejoining the team, and that sure would be a boost to the bullpen. I was just about ready to close the book on Freddy Garcia, but last night’s start was a bit above average what with his 7.1 IP and 9 Ks, but 3 ER is nothing to get too excited about. Still, not a bad start, but I’d rather see what David Phelps can do at this point. (Also, it’s fair to point out that the Mariners suck at hitting – their team average is under .200 in their home park.)

Today’s day rubber game is one the Yankees really need to win for two reasons:

  1. the Mariners totally blow
  2. they got swept in a four game series by Oakland, who is not bad at all, but sheesh – four loses in a row to the same team… that’s assy

Hisashi Iwakuma is barely even a starter – he’s bee a reliever for most of the year, as far as I know, and when Ivan Nova starts, the Yankees generally win, so… let’s go Scrappy!

“Say it ain’t Mo!” The Yankees Next Closer

As the hours blend into days, Mariano Rivera’s injury truly sinks in, and it’s time to stop being sad and move on.  Mo insists he will return to the team and can never be replaced anyway, but someone will have to step up in his role for now.  Who will it be?

I think this is an enormous opportunity for the Yankees to break with convention and stop using designated roles for their two best relievers.  Instead, when it gets to the 8th and 9th inning, Joe Girardi should look at who’s coming up in the 8th inning and line up the best pitcher to face the best hitters.  For example, if the 2, 3 and 4 hitters are due in the 8th inning, I think I’d like to see the best pitcher available face (David Robertson or Rafael Soriano) those hitters rather than saving that pitcher for the bottom of the order in the 9th.

If Phil Hughes continues to struggle and the Yankees have a serious need in their bullpen, he could slot in there nicely.  We know he’s had great success out there and I’ve never been a huge fan of his work as a starter, so it seems like a good match.  Not only that, but Hughes is well suited to be an old school, multy innings reliever in the style of Goose Gossage or Sam Malone.  Or even a young Mariano Rivera, who would dominate the 7th and 8th innings.

Who knows what will happen… and suddenly, the Yankees biggest strength (the bullpen) now has a serious question mark.  The Joba Chamberlain injuries loom even larger!

The Streak Is Over

So many inspirational phrases come to be mind; before the game, it was something to the tune of, "The line must be drawn here! This far, no farther! And I will make them pay for what they’ve done!"

Make who pay, you ask? Uhm, Joe Girardi for calling all of those bunts; the Yankees offense for not knowing how to bunt; A.J. Burnett for coughing up a lead; Freddy Garcia for coughing up a lead; Joba Chamberlain for giving up that homer; the Yankees offense for their continual RISP failures; Jorge Posada for throwing a hissy fit when Girardi moved him down to 9th in the batting order… you know, those things.

During the bottom of the 9th, with a runner on second and one run in, Mariano Rivera came running out to the mound, shouting to his teammates: "Infielders, outfielders – my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come, when the ability of our team to win a game fails, when we forsake our friends and refuse to play [cough] Jorge [cough] But it is not this day! This day we play! For all that you hold dear, for your pride and vanity, we stand together, Yankees of New York!"

But after the game, it went more like this:

"Win at last, win at last; thank god all mighty, the Yankees have won at last!"

"Ask not what the Yankees can do for you, but what you can do for the Yankees!"

"It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is…" OK, maybe it’s not like that one at all.

It’s kind of like that part at the end of The Two Towers: "Victory! We have victory!" Yeah, it felt that way, except instead of facing an insurmountable army (300 style), it was just a matter of the Yankees getting out of their own way. All teams slump, but its tough when a team slumps for so long – but the first big hurtle has been jumped – a win has been secured. It’s time to march into Baltimore and kick ASS!

Yankees Win Tied Game Before Extras

I have to admit, I was about ready to throw in the towel on last night’s game once it was tied up at 3. It’s pretty hard to win one of those games on the road once you get to so late an inning, but the Yankees found a way to get it done.

The Pitching:

Justin Verlander might have started out slow, but he hung in there and gave his team 6 IP or 3 run ball, which is a decent outing – maybe not when you consider it took him over 120 pitches to do it, but impressive, nevertheless, especially considering his hardest thrown fastballs came in his last inning of work – those pitches he K’d Derek Jeter on were in the high 90s. I know a lot of people have been noting that Jeter’s bat has been a little slow this season, but few can catch up to the kind of heat Verlander was bringing. Too bad for him he was so wild last night – despite hitting 100 with his fastball.

While poking around the Yankee Blogosphere, I’ve seen some rumbling concerns that Bartolo Colon is throwing two many fastballs. While it is true that both his four seam and two seam fastballs make up about 85% of the pitches he’s thrown this year, the results clearly indicate that it’s not a problem. Sure, I’d love it if he mixed in a few extra change ups and sliders, but whatever – his four seam fastball has been topping out in the mid 90s (huh – that’s when pop music stopped being relevant, too, but probably just a coincidence) and his two seamer is devastating - it’s like Charlie Sheen’s four seam fastball from Major League – The Terminator or the Eliminator or something… well, except it’s the two seam version. And two seam it does! It can be difficult to explain to pitch movement to non baseball people, but when you say, “Watch this next pitch move,” and Colon uncorks one of his two seam fastballs, whipping across the strike zone and finishing in on a righty’s hand, even the most novice of observers will be heard to comment, “Holy Shiite! What the hell was that?” It’s that amazing.

The Tigers have a realized on their team named Alburquerque? “You just can’t predict baseball.”

Nice outings by Joba Chamberlain and the flawless Mariano Rivera. Mo is probably off tonight, so if the dice fall right, we’ll see Rafael Soriano get the ball for the save tonight. Should be fun!

The Bunt:
There wasn’t a ton of good things to say about the Yankees offensive performance last night (felt like there was a solid hour or longer where they didn’t get a hit), but they got some runs early and some more late, and that’s enough. Even a struggling Verlander is a tough match up, so no big deal. What is a big deal was that stupid bunt.

After the aforementioned Alburquerque walked Russell Martin, Brett Gardiner bunted on the first pitch. Given that Gardner went to bunt immediately, I can only assume that Joe Girardi called this from the bench. Why? Gardner is red hot and knows how to work a walk – why bunt when Alburquerque is wild? With Eduardo Nunez and Derek Jeter coming up? These guys look like they’re both poised to hit an RBI single to send Martin in from second? I think not. Let Gardner swing there. I don’t have any problem with small ball or bunting or whatever you want to call it, but that bunt was a pain in my ass!

Tonight:
Tonight, he that is called The Other Big One takes the mound. (He’s not called that, nor is Colon called The Big One, but I think we might want to start considering calling them The Twin Boulders or something.) As always, I like Sabathia’s chances to be effective and go late in the game, but with these crazy 6:05 start times (that’s local in Chicago, 7:05 here in greater NYC), who knows what will happen? Also, I’d like to see a pizza eating contest between Sabathia, Colon and Ramiro Pena. Pena is gritty!

Freddy Garcia And Bats Combine to take Games 2 and 3 From Rangers

Another home stand over, another series victory.

After Friday night’s rough outing from Ivan Nova, the Yankees got 6 shut out innings from Freddy Garcia – maybe the last place you’d look in the Yankees rotation for a pick-me-up performance. I suspect that Garcia is the the kind of pitcher who performs better on extra rest, but I don’t have the data to back it up; just notating that he exceeded expectations against a good hitting team after not having started a game in a few weeks. (Garcia did get that one relief inning in Boston, so this is only his second appearance of the young season.)

CC Sabathia just didn’t have it last night, most notably with his awful fastball control. The ESPN announcers can credit the text bats all they wish, but if CC is going to throw his fastball right down the middle like that, it’s akin to putting the ball on a t-ball stand for big league hitters, never mind a good hitting team like Texas. Sabathia is, however, an elite pitcher, so he has his secondary pitches to keep him in the game through 6.1 innings, most notably his change up to right handers and several good sliders. Last night, it was the Bronx Bombers doing it Bomber Banter style with homer after homer: Robinson Cano, Russell Martin and Curtis Granderson all contributed with the long ball. Martin and Eric Chavez also contributed via the 2 out RBI, so these guys were all getting it done box score style. Meanwhile, Derek Jeter, the anti-box score hero, contributed with a hit of his own, but I don’t feel like he’s in the zone yet, but I do think he’s close now. Chavez has continued to prove himself to be a valuable piece as he’s hit well in limited duty and has played a solid third in A-Rod’s absence – hopefully, A-Rod’s stiffness is a thing of the past by Tuesday. For next year, the Yankees are probably better off going with a right handed bat who can also play left field for Garnder as a DH so A-Rod can spend more time there. The guy is a beast at the plate, but I just don’t trust him to stay healthy if he has to play 150 games in the field.

We got to see the big three again last night – Joba Chamberlain was not great in relief and surrendered a run, but Rafael Soriano was downright nasty as he took down all three batters he faced with authority. Mariano Rivera came in and was Mo – that’s all there is to that.

I do want to take a second and mention that the new ESPN Sunday night baseball crew is twice as bearable as the old one. I guess they got a new director in there, too, because everyone is a lot more focused on what’s happening on the field rather that showing us the announcers in the booth, talking about nonsense or pimping topics/interviewing other things/people that have something to do with something that’s going to be on ESPN on another day. I think this puts ESPN slightly behind of FOX Sports in my ‘Totally Unbearable To Watch Sports On Your Network’ race – meaning FOX is currently the most unbearable.  On the other hand, ESPN’s constant badgering of the Yankees leading MLB in home runs was annoying – I don’t care what anybody says, LEADING THE LEAGUE IN HOME RUNS IS NOT A BAD THING!

The Yankees are off today and will be back tomorrow at Toronto to face the Blue Jays. The Jays will be pesky again this year, but I don’t see them as a playoff team this year.

Yankees Take Rained Shortened Series Against Orioles

I read a Yankees blog that jokingly heralded this series as a battle for first place – it was true, but in April, it’s not to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, the Yankees find themselves at the top of the AL East while the Red Sox are 2-9, so for now, life is good. Sure, the Baltimore orioles look like a better team with an improved roster, but they still have problems and their pitching is still suspect – and that’s coming from a Yankee fan. I think the Os will be pesky this year, but nothing more.

There’s lots to smile about so far this season:

  • AJ Burnett looks like he’s finding his way through his 2010 troubles (which I still maintain weren’t that bad – drop a comment if you disagree and we’ll battle it out!) with some decent starts
  • CC Sabathia looks good even when he’s not happy with the way he’s throwing
  • The offense is showing plenty of signs of life, particularly when it comes to power. Jorge Posada has only 7 hits on the early season, but 5 of them are home runs… figure that out!
  • Joba Chamberlain has regained his vintage form, and suddenly, the bullpen is a force to be reckoned with. If a starter can go 6 innings and limit the opposition to to 3 or 4 runs, the Yankees have a decent chance of winning that game.
  • Batolo Colon has pitched great as the Yankees long reliever – without him, last night’s come from behind win would have not happened.

There’s lots to frown about, too.

  • Pedro Feliciano is done for the year and Damaso Marte might be available by September. Maybe. Perhaps once Manny Banuelos has pitched a significant number of innings as a starter in the minors, he can join the major league pen to finish off his 2011 innings limit. Otherwise, Boone Logan will be the go to guy all year long when it comes to lefties out of the pen – not that its a bad thing, Logan can certainly throw, but he makes me nervous sometimes. He’s certainly better than Phil Coke.
  • Phil Hughes is making Burnett’s 2010 season look like Aaron Small‘s 2005 season. If Hughes is truly healthy, I assume he’ll come around at some point; again, I’d take 6 innings of 4 run ball from him and call it a day, but right now, he can’t get out of the fifth inning.
  • It’s pretty wild that we still haven’t seen Freddy Garcia on the mound this season (except that one relief appearance) – If I were a betting man, I’d go all in on Garcia getting shelled his first time out.
  • Brett Gardner has yet to find his swing yet and I’m not liking his at bats at all. I was surprised Girardi didn’t go to the bench and bring in Andruw Jones in the 9th inning
  • I wish I could say I was shocked when Derek Jeter hit a ground ball to short stop last night in the 9th inning, but that’s his new favorite spot to ground out to dating back to last year. Before 2010, I think the negative broadcaster quote everyone loved to say was ‘Passed a diving Jeter!’ in reference to his limited range at short stop, but this year it’s definetly, “Jeter hits a ground ball to short.” You know, like last year.

The Yankees have the Texas Rangers coming in this weekend, minus Josh Hamilton. The Rangers have a ton of young starters this year, and if they aren’t left handed, I’m hoping the Yankees tee off on them… if they are left handed starting pitchers, be prepared for our beloved bombers to take a beating at the plate.

Yankees Pitching Takes Down Twins

You can’t draw it up much better.

Sure, it’d be nice if your starter went nine innings every time out – seven or even eight would also be great.  But when you’ve got a bullpen like the Yankees, 6 IP of 3 run ball will do.

That’s just what Ivan Nova gave the Yankees tonight, and one of those runs that came around to score was probably a tough one to swallow, but if  that’s how you have to take the win, I’m sure Nova will take it.  The Twins have some good bats, but I thought Nova looked pretty good out there, and if this is the start of something he can maintain, Nova is going to win ten games this year.

Nova hands the ball over to what might end up being one of the best three headed monster bullpens that baseball has seen in the last few seasons.  Joba Chamberlain looks like he’s found his old rhythm, Rafael Soriano is too good, and Mariano Rivera – well, we all know about Mo, and Micheal Kay is so enamored with his greatness that it’s more interesting to him to analyze his uniform than his performance, because the higher socks look that Mo is sporting this year is less consistent throughout his career than his performance, which is always GREAT.

Alex Rodriguez had a nice homer to left and Jorge Posada is starting to look like he’s enjoying the DH position with a homer of his own.  Brett Gardner just missed a hit that probably would have blown the game wide open, but that’s how it goes.  Russell Martin continues to show us his tools and I think he’s going to win a lot of Yankee fans over very quickly if he keeps this up.

Tomorrow, CC Sabathia makes his second start of the year and hopefully, it will be more Sabathia-like.

Yankees Start Off 2011 With Power, Bullpen

Smell the grass! Feel the rain on your skin! Embrace the cold! It’s Opening Day at Yankee Stadium!

I can’t truly express how pleased I am to be writing about an actual game rather than off the field decisions and situations – it’s been a while!

Another season of New York Yankees baseball kicked off yesterday on an ugly day at the stadium as CC Sabathia faced former Yankees farm hand Austin Jackson, who was touted as a major prospect before being traded, along with Phil Coke, for my favorite newish Yankee, Curtis Granderson. Predictably, Jackson struck out to start things off – he lead the league in Ks last year and, not to be out done, he added 3 to his early season total yesterday, but also managed a hit. He’s a nice player, and maybe he’ll grow out of his K troubles one day, but for now, I don’t miss him.

Rather than grind you with the minutia of the entire game, lets just hit the highlights and notable players in yesterday’s contest.

CC Sabathia went 6 IP, gave up 6 hits, 2 walks, 7 Ks (thanks again, Jackson), and only 2 ER because of the error on Robinson Cano when he failed to catch a ball at first base that Mark Teixeira pretty much put in his glove for him. CC didn’t have his best stuff and Cano dropped a ball he should have had, but that’s life, I suppose; it was cold and raining, and I’m glad I wasn’t out there watching, neve mind playing. CC is a notoriously slow starter, so any time you win one of his starts in April, you have to be happy.

Granderson was everywhere, making diving or running catches in the outfield and hitting a no doubter off Phil Coke, which is particularly exciting given that Coke is left handed and Granderson’s lifetime numbers are not great off lefties. Coke, of course, is not exactly a great pitcher, but still, seeing the ball out of a lefty’s hand is an issue for Granderson, so any time he does it, I’m happy.

Jeers to Alex Rodriguez (note: I’m not an A-Rod hater, but we have to call him out here) for not running when he thought he hit a home run – he probably could have had a triple instead of settling for a double, but I’m not going to lose my mind over it – it’s the first game and the Yankees won, so I’ll let this pass.

Mark Teixeira hit that monster home run in the third inning; does anyone think for a second that this is the start of Teix actually getting off to a fast start? I do not, but time will tell. In any case, he certainly knocked the crap out of that one.

Cheers to the Yankee bullpen: the combination of Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera shut the Tigers down for three innings, and their dominance sure made yesterday’s contest look like a 6 inning affair. Obviously, we’re all hoping that Joba’s good 2010 peripheral stats can turn into more success in 2011 and Mo is obviously a god in this town and the Yankees snagged one of the great closers in the game to be the setup man, so you hope you can draw it up like this for a ton of Yankee wins. I think this three headed monster can power this team to a ton of late innings victories, so I think we have a lot more outings from this tandem to look forward to.

A quick word about Justin Verlander: this guy is good. His final line of 6 IP and 3 ERs might not look good, but the 8 Ks and the high velocity on opening day in cold weather was impressive. The one mistake to Teixeira with runners on and his high pitch count from the first inning led to his undoing, but don’t read anything into that. If the Yankees can avoid Verlander for the rest of the year, it’ll be a blessing.

No hits for Derek Jeter yesterday, so no 3000 hit chase update. (He did manage a walk and a run scored.)

BASEBALL IS BACK!

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