By Jon Lane
I, like many, am still trying to comprehend Joe Girardi’s decision to pull David Robertson after he used 11 pitches to get two clean outs in the 11th inning.
Alfredo Aceves was the eighth pitcher used in Game 3. Girardi also employed eight men, including the starting pitcher in Game 2 as well as Game 2 of the ALDS. All that amounted to was playing with fire and getting away with it, because until Monday the Yankees were unbeaten in postseason play. But on Monday, Girardi finally got burnt, and at the worst possible time. His whole bullpen except for Chad Gaudin was burned with CC Sabathia today going on three days’ rest.
Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland cited matchups and declined to elaborate further when presented with the fact that Howie Kendrick, who greeted Aceves with a single to set up Jeff Mathis’ walk-off double, was 1-for-2 lifetime against Robertson and had never faced Aceves. (And in case you wondering, Mathis had never faced Robertson and was 0-for-2 with a strikeout against Aceves.)
“We have all the matchups and all the scouting reports,” Girardi said. “And we felt that, you know, it was a better matchup for us.”
Three at-bats to me doesn’t seem like a concrete body of work to make such a critical decision. These numbers would have worked out a lot better. In the second half, Robertson was 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 21 innings pitched. Aceves was 5-0, but with a 4.65 ERA and 33 Ks in 40 2/3 IP. Robertson’s ERA in the first half was 3.57, while Aceves’ was 2.49. I also don’t need to explain how big Robertson has been since the start of the playoffs.
Oh, Aceves also allowed a run on a hit with two walks in 1 1/3 innings in Game 2.
Aceves made a serious impact as a swingman when he was promoted to the Majors in May, but hasn’t been the same pitcher since another one of Girardi’s strange decisions: when he made a spot start against the Twins on July 9 after Chien-Ming Wang was lost for the season due to injury rather than call up a stretched-out Sergio Mitre to fill the void.
Of course, people are calling for Girardi to be fired immediately. Chill. Girardi’s Yankees won 103 games and own a 2-1 lead in this series, and you know what they say about momentum being as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. Girardi is also not to blame for the Yankees leaving 10 men on base and going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
A team that scored a league-high 915 runs are 0-for-16 with RISP with 22 stranded in its last two games. The Yankees need to get it going against Scott Kazmir, who has pitched well against them, or another loss evens the series with A.J. Burnett opposing John Lackey on the road in a swing game. I’m not crazy about those odds.
By Jon Lane
Derek Jeter is and will continue to be the big story until his inevitable passing of Lou Gehrig on the Yankees’ all-time hits list. Not only can you watch him take his first crack Friday night on YES at 7 p.m., there are other storylines to follow while the team continues this mythical surge towards the postseason. The Yankees are an astounding 40-13 since the All-Star break. By way of comparison, the 1998 team was, on this date, 42-22 in the second half and 103-41 overall.
At 91-50, Version 2009 owns a nine-game lead over the Red Sox with a magic number to clinch the AL East down to 14 following a four-game sweep of the Rays. There was Jeter, of course. There was Jorge Posada’s pinch-hit, three-run home run that gave the Yankees their 45th come-from-behind victory. And, including Joba Chamberlain after a rough first inning, Yankees pitchers held the Rays hitless for 8 2/3 innings.
The biggest difference in Chamberlain from the second inning on during another abbreviated outing (55 pitches in three innings) was his pace. After Jeter told Chamberlain something pretty animated during that first inning, instead of shaking off his catcher and thinking to the point of burning wood, Chamberlain worked with vigor. He needed only 14 pitches to retired the Rays in the second and nine in the third, and was throwing 95 by the end of his night. You can debate until the cows, horses and chickens over the Yankees’ handling meticulous of Chamberlain, but it’s up to Chamberlain to work with rhythm and urgency. Once he takes the mound to start a playoff game, all rules are null and void. Chamberlain can rear back, not think and just throw. By then we’ll have a great idea of how good he is and how good he can be.
Did you notice that Alfredo Aceves threw three of those hitless innings? There were concerns over Aceves during his second-half slump following issues with his shoulder and back. It looks like Ace is back on track to being Ramiro Mendoza Version ’09.
How fitting was it to see Posada get the biggest hit on the night Jeter tied Gehrig and is it for Andy Pettitte to be the starting pitcher on the night Jeter may pass The Iron Horse? Pettitte and Jeter won four World Series together and have been teammates for all of Jeter’s 15 seasons except those three the left-hander spent in Houston. Also keep in mind that the last time Pettitte saw the Orioles he took a perfect game into the seventh inning. Might Pettitte dare flirt with history again while Jeter makes some of his own? Tomorrow at the Stadium will be compelling, for more reasons than one.
by Glenn Giangrande
By Glenn Giangrande
Me thinks it’s time to proclaim Phil Hughes a reliever for the remainder of the 2009 season.
By Jon Lane
The fact that the Yankees are 32-22 and tied for first place is nice enough. How they continue to find ways to win along with an unshakable confidence that there’s always a chance to win is one of the remarkable storylines of the season. Even during an eventual loss Wednesday night, cameras caught A.J. Burnett gesturing to his teammates, “That’s one,” after Jorge Posada’s seventh-inning home run trimmed the Yankees’ deficit from three to two.
There’s an amazing vibe around the team that has carried over to every game. Melky Cabrera’s eighth-inning heroics on Thursday led the Yankees to their league-leading 19th come-from-behind victory and it was the second time they rallied from down at least four runs.
“I think our club feels that we could come back at any time,” said Joe Girardi. “Sometimes when we don’t get it done we feel like, ‘Wow, we didn’t get it done.’ There is confidence in that clubhouse. Keep us close and give us a chance.”
Jerome Preisler was with me at the game outlines a series of subplots that defined the win, including Cabrera ducking Burnett’s attempt at another pie to the face.
Don’t look now, but the beleaguered bullpen has allowed only one run over their last 11 innings (Ian Kinsler’s solo homer off Alfredo Aceves on Thursday). During the Yankees’ current 17-5 run, relievers are averaging more than three innings a game and are 6-3 with a 3.15 ERA.
David Robertson, who needed to throw only one pitch to earn the win, is 5-0 in his career with two one-pitch victories, owns a 2.08 ERA in 11 appearances this season and may finally stick around awhile.
“Guys are starting to settle into their roles now,” said pitching coach Dave Eiland. “Early on, guys were pitching out of their roles and the starters weren’t going as deep in their games, and guys not used to going multiple innings were going multiple innings and came back on shorter rest. It starts and stops with starting pitching. If they can take us to the middle or late innings, the bullpen has a way of working itself out.”
By Jon Lane
I’m trying to figure out how and why the Yankees are handling Chien-Ming Wang.
Here’s someone coming into 2009 who was 46-15 with a 3.74 ERA in three seasons and slotted in between CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett in the team’s revamped rotation.
Alright, Wang started 0-3 with a 34.50 ERA,
allowing 23 runs on 23 hits over six innings. Apparently he wasn’t completely over the foot injury that ended his season in 2008 and that contributed to the poor results. So the Yankees disable him to allow him to start from the beginning and clear his head. He throws 13 scoreless innings in two rehab games for Triple-A Scranton. One more was scheduled before his return to the big-league rotation, but that was changed when Joba Chamberlain was struck by a line drive in the first
inning of a game last Thursday, which meant Wang was told to return to New York and serve as a needed arm in a depleted bullpen.
That’s fair. You could not blame the Yankees for making a move they didn’t want to make. The problem now is Wang is stuck in purgatory and the reasons are perplexing. Last night, after Chamberlain was removed after laboring for four innings, was the ideal spot to give Wang not just work, but quality work; the score was 3-1 Rangers in the bottom of the fifth.
Alas, Joe Girardi summoned Alfredo Aceves, who for reasons known only to Girardi pitched a meaningless ninth inning of an eventual 11-1 Yankees win the day before. Wang has thrown three innings in the last nine days. Aceves has been the best out of all of Mariano Rivera’s set-up men.
Alas, Aceves (who has been real good) gave up three runs on four hits in two innings and the Yankees lost 7-5. Girardi said Aceves was his choice because he was the hot hand. So why pitch him in garbage time, in the middle of the game, while a two-time 19-game winner is sitting confused on the bench?
“I just felt like we’d go to Ace,” Girardi said.
Meanwhile, it’s hurry up and wait with Wang, out of the rotation with Phil Hughes pitching well and no chance he goes to the Minors because he’s out of options. The Yankees hope A.J. Burnett can turn it up tonight and lead the Yankees to a series win over a first-place team, but would it hurt to give Wang some work?
“This is very hard for me,” Wang told reporters in Arlington, Texas, before yesterday’s game. “At least I could pitch. Now I don’t know what to do.”
And observers of the team are left wondering why.
By Jon Lane
For those new to following the Yankees, or ones who skim past the transactions section, Brian Bruney was signed by the Yankees in May 2006 shortly after the Arizona Diamondbacks designated him for assignment. In layman’s terms, Bruney was plucked off the scrap heap. There was no break out the fancy buffet press conference welcoming him to New York City and shirts/jerseys stitched with BRUNEY 38 weren’t made for sale up and down River Avenue or at your local retail outlet.
There’s that old as Angel Berroa saying about one man’s trash. The Yankees took a flier on Bruney and caught lightning when the right-hander’s explosive fastball made him an important member of the bullpen. In the last few weeks we’ve all learned just how important. This is not the older than cavemen expression, “Don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” The Yankees are feeling the effects of Bruney’s absence and bracing for what may turn out the worst possible news.
Bruney has pain in his right elbow and has no clue why. He’s been disabled for the second time in a month and is visiting with Dr. James Andrews, synonymous with the famous procedure called Tommy John surgery. Dr. Andrews’ recommendation will be the difference between a suspension bridge to Mariano Rivera, and one made of fraying rope and decaying wooden planks that connect two ends of a mountain.
David Robertson is back with the Yankees. Mark Melancon could get another shot. Others (read Phil Coke and Alfredo Aceves) will see further action in the seventh and eighth innings. In short, the Yankees will evaluate internal options and not make a panic move, which is the right thing to do. But that’s not stopping the speculation. Our partners at River Ave Blues run down a list of options that could be made available in a trade. One name in particular intrigues me, Huston Street.
Street’s career is regaining traction four seasons removed from his Rookie of the Year campaign in Oakland. He was traded to Colorado in the Matt Holliday deal and earned back his closer’s role after Manny Corpas pitched poorly. He’s 25 years old, has pitched in the postseason, and is now working for a last-place team that may be sellers at the trade deadline. That means he’s going to cost the Yankees at least one high-end prospect (Zack McAllister?). Street is 7-for-7 in save opportunities with the Rockies and currently has a scoreless streak of 11 innings in 12 games. He’s a free agent after the season, so it’ll behoove the Rockies to not lose him for nothing.
If you’re the Yankees, do you make a play for Street? Yes. He’s young and battle-tested (only time will tell if he’s New York tough), and this won’t turn out to be an Eric Gagne situation. For those who forgot, the Red Sox acquired Gagne from the Rangers for Kason Gabbard, David Murphy and Engel Beltre, and to say he was a failure in Boston is a compliment. (Of course, in spite of Gagne, the Red Sox won their second World Series in four seasons.)
One more nugget, Street’s 101 career saves are the fifth-most by any player before the age of 26. If he pitches well enough in New York, the Yankees could decide to extend him and groom him as Rivera’s successor, which finally (you’d think) would end this Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes to the bullpen nonsense. The one player in the organization that has the look of the post-Rivera closer is Melancon, but give me production over potential any day, as long as that production is young , still peaking and a cost that doesn’t tear apart the farm system Brian Cashman is painstakingly rebuilding.
Street hits all those checkpoints and more.
By Glenn Giangrande
I just can’t take it anymore. The Yankees bullpen is like a train wreck that I DON’T want to watch.
In defense of Joe Girardi, he was dealt a tough hand when he lost Brian Bruney to the disabled list and Damaso Marte apparently was pitching hurt. That being said, about half the active ‘pen at minimum is downright unreliable right now. Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, and Jonathan Albaladejo can’t be trusted in big situations, but they also can’t be counted on to keep games close when the Yankees are down. Girardi also doesn’t seem to trust David Robertson much, and I can’t imagine Mark Melancon helped himself by walking the bases loaded in the ninth against Boston Tuesday night. Aside from Phil Coke and Mariano Rivera, it’s ugly out there.
So where on the planet is there to turn? For starters, Alfredo Aceves and his career .228 BAA deserve a chance to pitch some meaningful late innings. I’m not counting on Chien-Ming Wang’s return, so I’ll leave Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain out of the equation for now. Casey Fossum was signed to a Minor League deal after being cut loose by the Mets, a team that like the Yankees are dealing with a bullpen in dire straits. I guess Fossum is no worse than the current options, but anyone out there think he’s a real solution to the problem? Is there even an realistic external solution to be had? It’s too early to talk trade, not that the relief market is going to be any better than usual, and Fossum is clearly the best the Yankees could do via free agency.
On a brighter note, did anyone out there catch Family Guy this past Sunday? I was dying. Lauren Conrad-Bill Cosby sex tape, Mr. Magoo driving with Lindsay Lohan … there was some tremendous stuff. If you want your mind taken off the Yankees’ relievers, check it out on your preferred Internet TV portal of choice.
Derek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Nick Swisher RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada DH
Melky Cabrera CF
Jose Molina C
Angel Berroa 3B
Pitching: Phil Hughes (1-0, 0.00)
RED SOX (15-10)
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
David Ortiz DH
Kevin Youkilis 1B
J.D. Drew RF
Jason Bay LF
Mike Lowell 3B
Jason Varitek C
Nick Green SS
Pitching: Jon Lester (1-2, 5.40)
The Yankees have recalled Alfredo Aceves from Triple-A Scranton to serve as the long man out of the bullpen. Anthony Claggett was optioned back.
By Jon Lane
T-minus seven days until the start of the Yankees’ 2009 regular season in Baltimore on April 6. However, the team breaks camp on Wednesday and will be in the Bronx Thursday for a workout at their plush new digs. Me and my YESNetwork.com colleagues will be there to document the latest news and initial impressions of the new Yankee Stadium. The next night, the palace receives the first of two dry runs when the Yankees play the Chicago Cubs in an exhibition affair (YES HD, 7 p.m.)
First, the Yankees play another Spring Training game today in Dunedin, Fla., against the Blue Jays. This is their lineup:
Derek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Hideki Matsui DH
Nick Swisher RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Cody Ransom 3B
Jose Molina C
Brett Gardner CF
Pitching: Andy Pettitte, Damaso Marte, Brian Bruney, Jose Veras , Edwar Ramirez.
Gardner made news this past weekend when he was formally named the Yankees’ starting center fielder. Joe Girardi made it clear that this will not be a platoon situation between Gardner and Melky Cabrera. Gardner will be playing every day until further notice, thus his chance to follow in the steps of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Bobby Murcer, Mickey Rivers and Bernie Williams – at least until Austin Jackson is proclaimed Major League ready.
Gardner’s been a great story. He’s a spunky 5-10 package who was a walk-on at the College of Charleston. His big-league debut was inauspicious: .153 (9-for-59) in 17 games last season before he was demoted. And while he owns a paltry .228 average (29-for-127) in 42 games, he batted .294 (20-for-68) from August 15 until the end of the 2008 season.
This spring, Gardner hit .385 (20-for-52), with two doubles, two triples, three home runs, six RBIs, with a .448 OBP and was 5-for-7 in stolen base attempts. By way of comparison, Cabrera’s line through Sunday was .340 (18-for-53), 3 doubles, 1 triple, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 2-for-3 in SB attempts, .417 OBP, but his regression (.249 in 2008, including an August demotion) was virtually impossible to ignore.
Gardner provides elements not seen around the Yankees in recent years and his lefty bat adds balance to the lineup, but don’t count out Cabrera. He’ll make the team as a valuable reserve outfielder who can spell Johnny Damon, Xavier Nady or even Gardner (who could shift to one of the corners) late in games with an arm that can be the difference between winning and losing. He’s also only 24, so whether it’s with the Yankees or elsewhere as midseason trade bait, Cabrera still has a chance to prove that last season was an aberration.
Girardi said he’s thinking of eschewing a long reliever in favor of Jonathan Albaladejo. Why? Nothing against Albaladejo, who’s had a fine spring, but even elite starters get shelled early and there’s that innings limit on Joba Chamberlain. The rest of the bullpen will be feeling the heat, literally and figuratively, once the weather warms up. Brett Tomko, Dan Giese or Alfredo Aceves are better suited to eating innings and keeping the Yankees in the game should they face an early deficit.
Don’t look now, but Ramiro Pena has a realistic shot of making the team as the utility infielder who helps hold the fort until Alex Rodriguez returns. Pena’s glove has been world class since Day 1, but his bat showed tremendous improvement this spring. His chief competition, veteran Angel Berroa, is batting .358, compared to Pena’s .321, but you cannot underestimate the value of a slick glove, especially at shortstop. And giving a homegrown prospect a taste of the Majors bodes will for his future, too.
Bill Madden cites Pena’s progress and Derek Jeter’s declining range to his left. Also, I covered Pena and fellow prospect Jesus Montero at last summer’s Futures Game, when Pena showed off his defensive skills and discussed overcoming a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
According to Peter Abraham, Girardi said no decisions on these roster spots have been made yet and this could carry into the Cubs series.