April 2009

Hughes in relief, David Robertson, Citizens Bank Park

citizenspark_350.jpgBy Glenn Giangrande
Hey everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve been wrapped up in work here at YES mostly, though I did manage to take a day trip down to Philadelphia for a game at Citizens Bank Park. It’s a gorgeous place, and a great one to see a game. Dave Bush of Milwaukee came five outs of a no-hitter; my heart sank in the eighth inning when Matt Stairs launched a moonshot that hooked right into the right field foul pole, breaking up the no-no bid with a pinch hit homer. Fun times though, no doubt. Run a Facebook search on my full name if you want to see the pics. My profile’s public and it’s got the Philly pics in their own album. I don’t have anything to hide!
 
I thought I’d celebrate my return to blogging with a few quick hits. Where to begin, where to begin…
 

  • Phil Hughes, reliever?  If everyone wants to tout the idea of putting Joba Chamberlain back in the bullpen if Chien-Ming Wang returns healthy, why can’t Wang’s return push Hughes to the bullpen? Not that it’s an idea that’s been discussed or anything, but why is everyone so adamant about Joba being a reliever? It must only be because he’s done it regularly. Remember, Joba only solidified the ‘pen because he was necessary when Kyle Farnsworth and the like couldn’t do the job in ’07.

 

  • Anyone else wonder if the Brett Gardner era is over before it began? I’m the same guy who said that Gardner was going to run away with the starting CF job in Spring Training, but it’s May now, not March. Gardner might simply be a 4-A outfielder, albeit one with A++ speed.

 

  • I love Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres. One of the best players many baseball fans still don’t know about. Put him on the all-underrated team right next to Raul Ibanez.

 

  • Mark Melancon deservedly has the attention of those who follow the Minors as a guy who can be a breakout pitcher this season, but I really think David Robertson deserves equal focus.

 

  • How young does Ramiro Pena look? 15? 16?

 

  • Which New York hockey team had the more productive year: the one that blew a 3-1 lead in the first round of the playoffs or the team that secured the No. 1 pick in the draft?

 

  • Not only did David Wells sit with the fans on Opening Day, but I spotted him outside Yankee Stadium signing autographs for about 20 minutes long after the game was over. A stand up move by the lefty, though I cannot in good conscience call him Boomer. I reserve that name for Mr. Esiason much like many Giants fans refuse to call LaDanian Tomlinson “LT,” even though they are indeed his initials.

 

  • I just dropped major dollars on car repairs. My car’s a 1997 Plymouth Breeze. 150,000+ miles. Can I get it to 200,000?

Angels vs. Yankees: 4/30/09 Lineups

yankees.jpgYANKEES (11-10)
Derek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Hideki Matsui DH
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada C
Nick Swisher RF
Melky Cabrera CF
Ramiro Pena 3B

Pitching: A.J. Burnett (2-0, 5.47)

angels.jpgANGELS (9-11)
Chone Figgins 3B
Maicer Izturis DH
Bobby Abreu RF
Torii Hunter CF
Kendry Morales 1B
Mike Napoli C
Howie Kendrick 2B
Juan Rivera LF
Erick Aybar SS

Pitching: Anthony Ortega (0-1, 7.20)

Thursday tidings

joba_250_043009.jpgBy Jon Lane
George King has coined the newest Yankees catch phrase: Phi Sigma Joba Starter (PSJS) nation. Here’s hoping the loyal order of the Joba-to-the-bullpen army was served with a reality check with Joba Chamberlain’s finest start since that 1-0 win over Josh Beckett and the Red Sox in Boston on July 25, 2007.

Yeah, right. This debate will never go away. Though I am guilty of adding kindling to the fire by only presenting the other side of the story, Chamberlain has to stay in the rotation. This won’t be an issue until (if) Chien-Ming Wang returns healthy and back in form, but people won’t stop talking about it. To be fair, this is indeed a tasty storyline and an excellent problem worth discussing, not those “revelations” from that new book coming out on some (in)famous baseball player.

Here’s why Chamberlain is a starting pitcher, case closed:

Imagine a rotation with Chamberlain and Phil Hughes pitching brilliantly? The jury will still be out on Hughes for awhile, but best-case scenario is you have two outstanding homegrown starters pitching well in a group that includes CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Remember, Andy Pettitte probably isn’t coming back after this season, so the long-range forecast includes Chamberlain, Hughes, Wang (he’s down, but not out) and Ian Kennedy if he can finally scale the roadblocks that have prevented him from pitching in the Major Leagues. Not too bad of a future for a win-now franchise, eh?

Everyone makes a fuss about how Chamberlain threw 97 MPH as an unhittable, intimidating reliever. Here’s something few actually talk about: He’s 4-1 with a 2.85 ERA in 16 career starts and has allowed 82 hits and struck out 91 in 88 1/3 innings – and he’s still getting warmed up. The next time anyone brings up how he’s only throwing 92-93 instead of 97 must be re-told the story on how Burnett has matured from setting speed records to a pitcher that locates and changes speeds.

Out-of-the-box storytelling from Peter Abraham on how Chamberlain’s approach against Miguel Cabrera and one pitch decided the game. This eliminates any doubt about Chamberlain’s capabilities as a starter. This sequence started a run of 10 straight Tigers batters retired by Chamberlain, five by strikeout.

One of my readers summed it up best: For years the story has been the Yankees’ lack of quality pitching. At this rate they will have a lot of rounds to spare. Too many arms are never – EVER – enough. Want proof? See last season. 

_______________________

Abraham compiled a report from Alex Rodriguez’s extended spring game in Tampa: 1-for-6 with a homer and two walks.

Another bad April for Mark Teixeira, his worst since 2003. Here’s a breakdown of his batting average, and on-base and slugging percentages for each April the past seven seasons:

2003     .188     .288     .344
2004     .276     .432     .552
2005     .262     .321     .485
2006     .293     .391     .495
2007     .231     .346     .341
2008     .290     .355     .490
2009     .197     .365     .364

Worried? You need not be.

Mariano Rivera has allowed a home run in his last two appearances, notes Kat O’Brien. He gave up four all of last year and hasn’t surrendered more than four since 2001 and five since 1995, when he began his career as a starting pitcher. Reason to worry? Uh, no.

For those who care (I don’t), the book on A-Rod says he may have been taking steroids since high school. I quote Al Davis, “Just win, baby.” Do that and nobody will talk about this stuff.

Risky business to fall behind early

By Joe Auriemma

jeter_pena300_042909.jpgThe Yankees have done it before. This is
nothing new in the life of a Yankees fan. The team has had notoriously slow
starts in past seasons. Last season was no different, however,
unlike previous years, the hole that the team put themselves in was
just too deep of which to get out.

It’s really a risky proposition
for any team in the American League East to fall behind in a division so deep. The
Yankees and the Rays both have started this season off slowly, but they
are still within striking distance and one nice winning streak away from
forging to the top of the division once again. Some may say it’s too soon
to panic and that this is a very small sampling size of games. That may
be true, but it’s never too early to be concerned. The Yankees are only
four games behind the Blue Jays, but any extended losing streak can
increase the games back number to double digits, especially with the
way the Red Sox and Blue Jays are playing right now.

Just
looking at the last couple of seasons in the AL as a
reference, it’s very hard to win a division when you are really far
behind to start the season. To use May 1st as the first marker, last
season the Yankees were behind both division-leading Tampa Bay and the Red
Sox. Now, they were only three games back at the time of May 1st, but
they continued to play inconsistent ball, while the other teams
thrived, giving the Yankees an insurmountable season-long climb that
would end with a third-place finish. In the AL Central, the Chicago
White Sox had the lead on May 1st and eventually won the division. The
Angels started off well, had the division lead early and built a major
lead by late August, securing another AL West title.

Going back
to 2007, Boston built a 5.5 game lead on the Yankees by May 1st, and
wouldn’t you know it, they held off the Yankees to win the division. Now,
the Yankees did win the Wild Card, but they were always playing catch
up, and, in fact, the Red Sox built themselves a commanding lead in
mid-July, but even with a hot second half the Yankees could not come
back and win the AL East. The Indians and Angels had the division lead
on May 1, 2007, and wound up winning the division.

The
biggest deficit by a team on May 1st over the last three seasons that
has been overcome to win a division was the Minnesota Twins in 2006,
who came back from nine games. However, that season the Detroit
Tigers were only one and a half games back on May 1st and wound up
winning the Wild Card. The Yankees were only one game back and won the
division. Out in the west, the A’s played well in April and were a half
game back of Texas and won the division.

This is certainly not
an exact science of who will win a division and there is a lot more
baseball to be played, but if recent history has shown us anything, the
teams that play well at the beginning of the season usually have pretty
good seasons and the teams playing catch up have a difficult climb the
rest of the way through their schedule.

That old adage says you are what your record says you are, but one nice winning streak puts that old adage to bed.

Yankees-Tigers: 4/29/09 Lineups

yankees.jpgYANKEES (10-10)
Derek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Hideki Matsui DH
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada C
Nick Swisher RF
Melky Cabrera CF
Ramiro Pena 3B

Pitching: Joba Chamberlain (0-0, 3.94).

tigers.jpgTIGERS (11-9)
Curtis Granderson CF
Placido Polanco 2B
Magglio Ordonez RF
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Carlos Guillen DH
Gerald Laird C
Brandon Inge 3B
Josh Anderson LF
Ramon Santiago SS

Pitching: Rick Porcello (1-2, 3.75).

Possibilities are endless

hughes_250_042909.jpgBy Jon Lane
It’s one start. One start, or a handful, doesn’t make a person a success or a failure. But Phil Hughes Tuesday night?

Wonder-Phil

Phil the Thrill

Ful-Philling

Phil Franchise (copyright: Peter Abraham)

“I don’t think you can do any better,” said manager Joe Girardi.

Monday night showed you why Phil Hughes was touted as one day being The Franchise. He showed, for one night, why he wasn’t traded for even the great Johan Santana and that patience can be a virtue even in Yankee-land. That said, watch Hughes get rocked on Sunday and those who today are proclaiming him The Franchise will start demanding his demotion, and the hiring of Bobby Valentine and Steve Phillips to run the club.

Brian Cashman said it best the day he announced he was staying with the Yankees: If the Yankees spend money, they’re criticized for doing so frivolously. If they build a program – gee, what a concept – they take heat for blowing off a chance to win right now.  You can’t have it both ways, folks. But what Hughes provided in his best start since that night he tossed 6 1/3 no-hit innings is optimism that Cashman’s vision will actually work. You don’t proclaim Hughes a success off one start, but you neither call Chien-Ming Wang a lost cause nor Joba Chamberlain a failed starter either.

The Joba-back-to-the-bullpen campaign is gaining tremendous steam, one that will blister the sports talk radio airwaves if he flounders tonight against the Tigers (YES HD, 7 p.m.). If Chamberlain throws six-seven splendid innings, that will pave the road for what will be a difficult decision, but an excellent problem to have.

Picture this: Hughes builds off Monday night. Chamberlain gets into a grove. Wang finds himself. Brian Bruney comes back healthy and Mark Melancon proves to be the real deal. How tempting would it be for the Yankees to add Chamberlain to a late-inning mix with Bruney and Melancon?

It’s risky business. I echo Ron Guidry telling Mike Francesa during the winter that you cannot continue to yank Chamberlain up and down like a yo-yo. And it takes time for power pitchers, especially young ones in their early 20s with an injury history like Chamberlain, to ratchet up velocity and nail down location at the same time. But if Hughes shows he’s here to stay, you can’t move him to the bullpen (ditto a two-time 19-game winner).

I’ve said for months that Chamberlain should be a starter and won’t waver now. But in the interest of fairness, the other side of it is while potential 20-game winners don’t come around often, neither does a close-to-a-replacement-as-humanly-possible for Mariano Rivera. And Joba-to-the-bullpen means less, if not the elimination, of Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez and Damaso Marte, that’s something to seriously consider for the greater good.

The Wang project will take at least a few weeks, enough time for a full evaluation. Wang is the wild card here. If he’s completely shot or a major physical problem reveals itself, Hughes and Chamberlain join Andy Pettitte as the back-end starters. The only thing for Hughes to do is pitch to win, not to avoid going back down to Scranton.

“We want him to pitch great and stay in the rotation,” Girardi said. “What you want as a manager is to have more starters throwing well than spots you have.”

What you have here is a storyline that is tasty and compelling, and one that will build towards a climax if everything goes to plan. It’s better than last season, when injuries and ineffectiveness forced Girardi to hand starting roles to Sidney Ponson, Darrell Rasner, Dan Giese and everyone’s favorite, Carl Pavano.

How do you see this playing out?

Yankees-Tigers: 4/28/09 Lineups

yankees.jpgYANKEES (9-10)
Derek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Hideki Matsui DH
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Melky Cabrera CF
Jose Molina C
Ramiro Pena 3B

Pitching: Phil Hughes (3-0, 1.86 in three starts for Triple-A Scranton)

tigers.jpgTIGERS (11-8)
Curtis Granderson CF
Placido Polanco 2B
Magglio Ordonez RF
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Carlos Guillen DH
Gerald Laird C
Brandon Inge 3B
Josh Anderson LF
Adam Everett SS

Pitching: Edwin Jackson (1-1, 2.77)

Yankees adjust pricing for Legends Suites

The following statement is from Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner:

“A few weeks ago I indicated that in light of the economy we would review the pricing of a small number of our premium locations at Yankee Stadium; specifically, our Suite Seats. I mentioned a small number of locations because in excess of 3.4 million seats, including 37,000 full season equivalents as well as approximately 85% of all our premium locations have already been sold. Yet, there are a few hundred Suite Seats in our premium locations that have not been sold on a full season basis.

As a result, and for many of our fans who have already purchased full season Suite Seats in such premium locations, the Yankees are announcing today a program that adjusts certain prices and benefits affecting such Suite Seats.”

For the 2009 regular season only, the following price adjustments and benefits are being adopted effective immediately for a few hundred Legends Suite and Delta Sky 360 Suite Licensees.

A. The full season Legends Suite and Ticket Licenses in the first row in Sections 15A, 15B, 24B and 25 will be reduced from $2,500 to $1,250 per regular season game. All fans who have purchased such full season Suite and Ticket Licenses will receive, at their choice, a refund or a credit.

B. The full season Legends Suite and Ticket Licenses in the first row in Sections 11, 12, 13, 27B, 28 and 29 will be reduced from $1,000 to $650 per regular season game. All fans who have purchased such full season Suite and Ticket Licenses will receive, at their choice, a refund or a credit.

C. All fans who purchased full season $2,500 Legends Suite and Ticket Licenses in the first row, in Sections 16 – 24A, will receive an equal number of complimentary Legends Suite Seats in the first row in Sections 16 – 24A for each of the remaining regular season games during the 2009 regular season.

D. All fans who purchased full season $1,250 Legends Suite and Ticket Licenses will receive an equal number of complimentary Legends Suite Seats in the $1,250 Legends Suite price category for 24 games during the 2009 regular season, as selected by the Yankees.

E. All fans who purchased full season $850 Legends Suite and Ticket Licenses will receive an equal number of complimentary Legends Suite Seats in the $850 Legends Suite price category for 8 games and in the $500 Legends Suite price category for 4 games during the 2009 regular season, as selected by the Yankees.

F. All fans who purchased full season $600 Legends Suite and Ticket Licenses will receive an equal number of complimentary Legends Suite Seats in the $500 Legends Suite price category for 10 games during the 2009 regular season, as selected by the Yankees.

G. All fans who purchased full season $500 Legends Suite and Ticket Licenses will receive an equal number of complimentary Legends Suite Seats in the $500 Legends Suite price category for 8 games during the 2009 regular season, as selected by the Yankees.

H. Future 2009 regular season sales of full season $1,250, $850, $600 and $500 Legends Suite and Ticket Licenses, will receive comparable (dependent upon the price of the Legends Suite and Ticket License) benefits during the 2009 regular season, subject to availability.

I. The Delta SKY 360 Suite and Ticket Licenses in the first row in Sections 218A – 222 will be reduced from $750 to $550 for each regular season game. All fans who have purchased such full season Suite and Ticket Licenses will receive, at their choice, a refund or a credit.

In addition, for 2009, so as to encourage fans to purchase full season ticket plans in the Field Level Sections 115 – 125, the Yankees are also adopting a program affecting a few hundred seats. And, for our fans who have already purchased, on a full season basis such Field Level seating priced at $325 Sections 115 – 125, the following program is being adopted effective immediately:

A. Going forward all fans when purchasing, on a full season basis, three (3) full regular season ticket plans priced at $325 per regular season game in Sections 115 – 125 will receive a fourth full regular season ticket at no additional cost.
                                                           
B. All fans who have purchased full season plans priced at $325 per regular season game will receive complimentary regular season tickets within Sections 115 – 125 for remaining regular season games during the 2009 regular season as follows:

1. If you purchased two (2) or three (3) full season tickets you will receive two (2) tickets for every other regular season game, commencing with either the Thursday evening game on April 30, 2009 or the Friday evening game on May 1, 2009 and alternating for the remainder of the season.

2. If you purchased four (4) or five (5) full season tickets you will receive two (2) tickets for every regular season game during the balance of the 2009 regular season, commencing with the Thursday evening game on April 30, 2009.

3. If you purchased six (6) or seven (7) full season tickets you will receive three (3) tickets for every regular season game during the balance of the 2009 regular season, commencing with the Thursday evening game on April 30, 2009.

4. If you purchased eight (8) full season tickets you will receive four (4) tickets for every regular season game during the balance of the 2009 regular season, commencing with the Thursday evening game on April 30, 2009.

The manager is not a magician

By Jon Lane
Jerome Preisler eloquently comes to Joe Girardi’s defense by sharing a volley and serve with a reader. The manager cannot hit, run, throw or field, and – be fair – anyone would have asked Mariano Rivera for a four-out save Friday night. If a decision works, the manager is a genius. If it fails, he’s a moron. That’s the nature of the beast.

The biggest knock on Girardi is the Yankees, playing under supreme expectaions, failing to avoid the slow start that dogged them in the past and finally caught up to them last season. Just like last year, injuries have been, to steal a line from Tom Coughlin, a cancer. Let’s see where we’re at by the All-Star break.

What the Yankees have done, despite looking horrendous at times, is play hard, as Preisler points out here:

Without rehashing the entire weekend, this team is playing hard. If it wasn’t, or if Girardi had made some really serious managerial blunders, then, yes, you can say he shows a failure of leadership.

Want proof? Look at John Tortorella’s New York Rangers. Given two chances to bury the Capitals, they’ve played dead both times and are already being declared dead before tonight’s Game 7. That team is choking literally and figuratively. Their coach, hours after benching Sean Avery for being stupid, trumped that stupidity by throwing a water bottle and waving a stick at a fan.

The Rangers’ brain trust fired Tom Renney because his heartless team stopped playing for him. The Yankees haven’t stopped playing for Joe Girardi. Team Tortorella’s offensive game, especially on the power play, still stinks. Here’s what effect a managerial change would have on the Yankees at this time: None.

Proving ground for Phil Hughes

hughes_370_042809.jpgBy Jon Lane
This is a photograph taken the night of May 1, 2007 in Arlington, Texas. The man below the scoreboard is Phil Hughes and the numbers above him do not tell the whole story. Here was Hughes, 24 days shy of the legal drinking age, on a Major League mound for the second time in his life and he was working the Rangers for a no-hitter along with 10 strikeouts entering the seventh inning. He was eight outs away when he threw an 0-2 curveball to – get this – Mark Teixeira. His 80th pitch would be his last. Hughes grabbed his left hamstring, and was forced from the game and immediately to the disabled list.

The performance was a tease. The injury was a distant early warning. Since 5/1/07, Hughes has won five games – none since September 27, 2007 – thanks to repeated ailments that has his career in stop-and-go traffic. Tonight, a 22-year-old right-hander, “The Sure Thing,” is being asked to halt a four-game losing streak and the latest round of panic attacks amongst the Yankees fan base.

One night after I wrote an open letter to CC Sabathia telling him it was time to play stopper, Hughes is starting the latest “Biggest Game of the Season.” There will be a lot more “big games” and “must wins” if the Yankees continue to stare down the barrel of a losing streak, along with calls for the heads of Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman. Yes, it’s April 28, 2009 and the Yankees have been through worse. This time, they are without Alex Rodriguez, Chien-Ming Wang, Xavier Nady and Brian Bruney, while Johnny Damon is fighting an aching left shoulder and Hideki Matsui brittle knees.

But a team that spent $423.5 million on people is a game under .500 and have watched the Red Sox run off 11 straight wins employing a brand of baseball they’re incapable of doing at the moment: killing with speed, locking down the seventh and eighth innings of tight games, and delivering in the clutch. The Yankees’ problems with runners in scoring position are like stubborn acne. Monday night they were 1-for-9. They have one hit in their last 25 at-bats in the pinch and are batting .223 in such situations.

Memo to Hughes: You’re 5-7, 5.15 in your career. You’re better than that. Tonight begins your chance to show that you can be an answer to Jon Lester. To Justin Masterson. To Manny Delcarmen. Homegrown prospects thriving in the big leagues. The Yankees have shown patience with you, refusing to make you the centerpiece in a deal for Johan Santana. Your legacy will not be written until years later, yet tonight is a big step. For your team. For your confidence.

One good start from Hughes will get the wheels turning towards better days, beginning with a rotation that will meet expectations once CC Sabathia (Monday’s hard-luck loser) and A.J. Burnett find their footing, and Chien-Ming Wang finds his way back. Hughes’ presence, combined with Joba Chamberlain’s underwhelming performances as a starter, has refueled the Joba-to-the-bullpen debate. I don’t remember exactly, but it was either Mike Francesa or one of his callers who theorized that the Yankees “neutered” Chamberlain by making him a starter, taking away the balls-to-the-wall mentality of letting it all go at 97 MPH that made him unhittable.

I will not go there. This topic is burnt to a crisp from where I sit and I’m amazed that it has such shelf life. Whether the Yankees actually cave in and put Chamberlain back in an eighth-inning role depends on a lot of variables, namely Bruney’s health and Mark Melancon’s effectiveness. The first and most important step commences with how No. 65 does tonight in Detroit.