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
Mariano Rivera sealed the Yankees series-clinching win over the Angels, one that put a bug in the Halos’ heads – finally, not the other way around – if the teams are to meet again next month. Victory was attained when Ian Kennedy gutted out the eighth inning, his first Major League inning since last August when he was tattooed on the same field. Yes, he walked two batters and hit another, and his first out was a line drive right to Ramiro Pena at third base, but Joe Girardi looked him in the eye and told him it’s your day, your time, now get the job done. And he did.
Alfredo Aceves, Phil Hughes, Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin and Brian Bruney were unavailable – would you trust Bruney in that spot anyway? – so Girardi summoned Kennedy based on some strong Minor League rehab appearances and Dave Eiland’s vote of confidence. You can feel the consternation – John Sterling endlessly second-guessed the move while calling the game on the Yankees’ radio network – and negativity wondering if Girardi had gone mad at the most inopportune time. He had decided to rest a handful of starters, the AL East and home field advantage not yet secured, against their annual tormentors since 2002. Then he put the game in the right hand of one who underwent May surgery for an aneurysm and a year earlier was 0-4 with an 8.17 ERA in 10 games (nine starts).
It’s easy to complain, even when a team is 40 games (now 41) games over .500 and older players are banged up with a cross-country flight awaiting them. When Erick Aybar flied out to left to end the eighth with the bases loaded, you exhaled with satisfaction. Rivera would close and the Yankees would have one of their best wins in a season filled with many.
With guts comes glory, and win or lose, respect. Kennedy is back from a serious health issue a lot sooner than anyone expected. Whether he sneaks onto the postseason roster or not (probably not), he’ll pitch in the Arizona Fall League and receive a golden opportunity to start for the Yankees in 2010.
“Just to be pitching is an accomplishment,” Kennedy said. “And then to be pitching here, and in a big situation, there are no words to describe it. It got a little crazy, but I was glad it worked out barely. These are big, important wins for us.”
The magic number is five. The Red Sox are in town this weekend. The indeterminable Joba Chamberlain starts against Jon Lester tomorrow night. You want to see the Yankees enter the postseason healthy and winning, so the games remain important. For one day, Kennedy played his part while emerging victorious from not only a game, but the biggest battle of his young life.
Two things to keep an eye on today: David Robertson will throw a bullpen session and Jerry Hairston Jr. will undergo a second MRI on his left wrist. The Yankees need Robertson to be their seventh/late-inning fireballer and Hairston to fill multiple roles off the bench. If he’s forced to miss at least the ALDS, Pena can fill the void to a point. He’s yet to play in the outfield, which would make Eric Hinske’s presence more important.
By Glenn Giangrande
Me thinks it’s time to proclaim Phil Hughes a reliever for the remainder of the 2009 season.
By Jon Lane
Wow! Such fervor on YESNetwork.com these days. The source of it is a 23-year-old kid from Nebraska who set a standard so high as a set-up man that everything he does is measured against it. And each time he fails or simply takes his lumps, his destiny has to be altered permanently.
Yeah, here we go again. Joba Chamberlain belongs in the bullpen. It’s a topic that just won’t go away (at least we’re not discussing PEDs, the height of annoyance, this time) and right now it’s hot. Chamberlain has labored as a starter, Chien-Ming Wang is not in the rotation and everyone in the Yankees ‘pen not named Mariano Rivera can’t be completely trusted. Since we live in a town that demands instant gratification, Joba to the ‘pen will solve all the Yankees’ problems.
I’m not suggesting this is an argument without merit. It is. Chamberlain was fantastic in his eighth-inning role and only midges off Lake Erie dented him in 2007. Pitching out of the ‘pen allows him to go from zero to 100 using his best two pitches (2 > 4, writes Chris Shearn) while thriving off his emotion. Somebody has to eventually replace Rivera and Chamberlain is currently the best candidate to do it. Many made their points and they’re all valid. Kim Jones is practical. Mike Francesa is angry. Jerome Preisler combines passion with historical precedent. You the readers are speaking too. At last check of our homepage poll, it was 171-5 with the belief that Chamberlain will be back in the bullpen before season’s end. I can’t scientifically prove it, but there are probably many who initially believed in Joba the starter have since changed their tune, which is their right.
I’m not budging. Why are we drawing conclusions after 21 career starts? Does Joba have to be Rick Porcello or Justin Verlander, two guys off the top of my head who instantly met (or meeting) success as rookie starters? Do enough people study the cases of Roy Halladay, Tom Glavine or Zack Greinke, the latter who four seasons ago was 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA and now 8-1, 0.84 with five complete games? (Greinke also overcame social anxiety disorder and depression, another layer to his amazing story.)
Another question: Does anyone notice if Chamberlain was pitching in Kansas City?
Look, Joba the starter has been a tease and often frustrating, but 99 out of 100 young starters pegged for greatness experience a learning curve, and some longer than others. If Chamberlain is moved back to the bullpen, you stunt his development and reduce the innings pitched the Yankees are trying to limit anyway. Furthermore, each time Phil Hughes is lights out, he’s the phenom everyone was dreaming about. Every time he bombs – which will happen again – he’s a bust and belongs either in the ‘pen or the Minor Leagues. You can’t have it both ways and the Yankees have made the choice to build not for only this year, but rebuild a program they hope will come close to winning four World Championships in five seasons.
A big part of that is learning from failure and learning how to lose. Chamberlain deserves the same education. Once he’s a finished product he’ll have four dominant out pitches and a fully matured state of mind. I’ll take an elite starter over someone who only gets three outs and isn’t assured of pitching in every close game.
Another perspective: The problem isn’t Joba the starter. It’s the construction and handling of the current bullpen. Alfredo Aceves needs a defined role and why Jose Veras is continually asked to get big outs I’ll never figure out. David Robertson is back in the bigs. Use him and not just for mop-up duty. Thankfully for the Yankees, Brian Bruney will be back, and this time every extra precaution will be taken. That will leave you with Bruney – not Chamberlain – as your eighth-inning guy, and young guns Robertson, Mark Melancon and Phil Coke as the underbelly.
A nicely-laid plan unless the Yankees manage to swing a deal for Huston Street.
About Wang: Use him too. Don’t wait another nine days to dust him off, but don’t just shrug your shoulders and put him back into the rotation. Injury or not, Wang’s ERA was still 34.50 after three starts and that’s your judge and jury. Hughes got hurt and failed last year. He’s earning his way back. Now it’s Wang’s turn.
By 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?
By Jon Lane
It’s a bit past 12:30 p.m. and the Opening Ceremonies are under way as 50,000-plus have jam-packed this beautiful new facility, open for business and the first official game between the Yankees and Indians.
John Fogerty and Bernie Williams performed live, and Michael Kay and John Sterling are introducing Yankees alumni. As timing has it, the Milwaukee Brewers play the Mets tomorrow. Willie Randolph is the Brewers’ bench coach and that’s allowed him to participate this afternoon. Our own David Cone received a nice ovation, as did Randolph, Rich Gossage and Tino Martinez.
I’ll be back with much more, including more thoughts on today. A quick update on Xavier Nady: He was to see the team doctor this morning, but told me just before 11:30 he had not yet been examined. Nady was placed on the 15-day DL today and pitcher David Robertson was called up from Triple-A Scranton. Joe Girardi’s reasoning was to wait and see if Nady will in fact miss the season or if the news turns out better than expected.
Indians pitcher Carl Pavano was introduced to loud boos. The one-time Yankees’ colossal failure smirked at the ovation, a few writers up here snickered at the reaction.
The 2009 Yankees were just introduced. Here’s who received the loudest ovations:
Two minutes until first pitch. Here’s a shot of the military’s presenting of our colors.
First pitch: 1:09 p.m., a ball to Grady Sizemore. The game time temperature is 56 degrees.
First out: Sizemore grounds out to first base.
First strikeout: Victor Martinez whiffs to end a clean top of the first for CC Sabathia.
The Yankees were happy just to have come home, but especially happy to be in their new digs off a nine-game road trip, the team’s longest to begin a season since 1985. Think about it: You spend six weeks in Florida, come home and instantly fall in love with your new home and three days later have to go away for nearly two weeks. After an 0-2 start in which the worst of cynics declared the season over, the Yankees are home at 5-4 and look to build off two quality wins. Not too shabby.
Hours before the pregame ceremonies, Joe Girardi told the media he had this day circled on the calendar for awhile and that the anticipation was only going to grow as the day progressed. He still takes the same route to the new Stadium (Exit 6) off the Major Deegan Expressway, which takes him directly to River Avenue. He, like everyone else, can’t help notice the venerable “House That Ruth Built” slowly and painfully being dismantled. Normally upon the opening of a new building, the old one is parking lot, but like a stubborn old goat, the original Yankee Stadium still casts a shadow over its plush neighbor.
“It’s strange driving by the old Stadium and it’s still there,” Girardi said.
Babe Ruth built the place across the street. This facility was built by George M. Steinbrenner, regarded as the architect of the Stadium that combines elements of past, present and future. The Boss is in attendance today, but keeping a low profile.
“I don’t think Opening Day is the same without him here,” Girardi said. “This is George’s creation. He’s been part of it for so long. To say the Yankees, you say Mr. Steinbrenner.”
Right after Bob Sheppard’s pre-recorded voice introduced Derek Jeter was something pretty cool. The bat on home plate prior to Jeter’s first plate appearance was used by Babe Ruth to hit the first home run in the first game at the original Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923. The Babe hit a three-run homer off Boston’s Howard Ehmke to spark the Yankees to a 4-1 win. The bat was taken directly to the Yankees Museum here at the new Stadium, where it will be on display until the All-Star break.
No such luck for Jeter. Facing last season’s Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee, Jeter filed out to center. Johnny Damon, however, is now forever down in history as the first player to record the first hit here: a single to right center field.
Lee, 0-2 with a 9.58 ERA coming in, got into immediate trouble. He plunked Mark Teixeira in the right triceps to put runners on first and second for the Yankees’ newest cult hero, Nick Swisher.
Someone asked Swisher before the game if there’s anybody he’s not best friends with, and I tend to wonder if there’s ever a moment when he doesn’t smile. Probably not. His grin was especially wide after he received a surprise gift in the mail, a shiny new pair of Nikes. If I were to guess, Swisher probably didn’t get a wink of sleep last night.
“If you can’t ready for today, man, you’ve got problems,” Swisher said. “I love what I do. I absolutely love what I do, and it shows. I add that because that’s my personality.”
Taking a break from batting practice, Swisher walked into the clubhouse bellowing like a little kid at the amusement park, “Opening Day! New York Yankees! 2009!”
Swisher’s first official at-bat in pinstripes: a fly out to center field. Jorge Posada came up with two out and Lee’s pitch out already over 20, but grounded to first.
First hit by a visiting player: Ben Francisco’s two-out double to left field. Sabathia worked out of trouble after walking the next batter.
Here in the bottom of the second, Robinson Cano led off with a base hit. Coming off a down 2008, Cano is 14 for 35 (.400) on the season. The Yankees were wise not to trade him, just like they were smart to hold on to Swisher when it was thought they had a glut of outfielders.
Brett Gardner flies out to left to end the second. Off to check out the game atmospheres at the Hard Rock Cafe and NYY Steak
I’m back from checking out the Hard Rock and NYY Steak. While chatting with ESPN’s Hannah Storm, Jorge Posada belted the first home run at the new Yankee Stadium to Monument Park in dead center field to tie the game at 1-1. It was also a milestone homer. Posada’s jack was the 223th of his career, passing Don Mattingly for No. 8 on the all-time franchise list. Ironically, Jose Molina, another catcher, belted the final homer at the old place.
There’s lots of ground to cover about the activities here at Yankee Stadium. I’ll gradually catch up while tracking what’s a tight ballgame.
Interesting observation from an ESPN producer standing behind me. This wall behind the bleachers in right field has signs representing each year the Yankees became World Champions. “They didn’t leave room for a new one,” the producer said. Should the Yankees win No. 27, that will be an offseason project.
Meanwhile, Sabathia’s day is done after throwing 122 pitches (70 strikes) in 5 2/3 innings. Not efficient, but he leaves a game tied at 1-1.
Nice job by Phil Coke, who came in with a 9.82 ERA,
to get Sizemore to fly out to left and leave the bases loaded to end the top of sixth. The Yankees have to build off that and get something started here.
The love fest is over (for now). Jose Veras allowed a walk and a double to start the seventh before Jhonny Peralta doubled home two runs. When he’s off his game, Veras, booed off the mound, cannot find the plate and it cost him today.
Today’s attendance: 48,271. Two thousand standing room only tickets were not sold before the game.
Thanks to the bullpen, the natives are now restless. The Indians have exploded for eight runs in the seventh off Veras and Damaso Marte, the back-breaker Sizemore’s grand slam to right field. Since 1998 the Yankees have won 11 consecutive home openers, 16 of their last 17 and 22 of their last 25 since 1983.
It’s 10-1 Tribe after Victor Martinez’s solo shot. Fans hollered, “We want Swisher!”
With the game in the ridiculous stage, here are some highlights on the action at the Hard Rock and NYY Steak from earlier today.
Hard Rock opened at 10 a.m. and was packed to where by 2 p.m. there was a two-hour wait. A few people were getting restless, but the majority were having a blast.
Mike Mancini, hanging out with a group of Connecticut natives at the bar, made a three-hour trip, without a ticket, from Hartford. He was loving the appeal of watching a game within the Stadium confines and a fun atmosphere, certainly not a consolation prize.
“It’s been worth the trip,” Mancini said. “We drove three hours, in traffic, to hang out at the Hard Rock. We’re here drinking with our Pisans and have the beautiful Jillian behind the bar!”
Ron Lombardi of Mountain Lakes, N.J. is another ticket holder who
explored views from his seats for the first four innings and the Hard
Rock before he and his group settled into the laid-back atmosphere of
NYY Steak. Part of the decor is a wall affixed with signatures from Yankees greats of the past. And although Lombardi had not yet been served his main course, NYY Steak’s greens had him sold.
“This is a steakhouse,” Lombardi said. “The appetizers are good.”
Jacques Lamour, general manager of NYY Steak, told me you can have your initials carved within the bone of the rib eye, one of the many beef options dry-aged for 21-28 days.None of Steak’s dishes are frozen except the lobster tails and ice cream, everything else starts from scratch. If not for a light wallet and work obligations, I would have sampled a cut!
There’s been some confusion over the scheduled examination of Xavier Nady’s right elbow. One day after it appeared his season was over, suddenly there’s a tiny ray of light.
Nady had a second X-Ray late this morning and will visit orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lewis Yocum, known for performing Tommy John surgery and receive a CT scan tomorrow. After that, there will be a closer look of the MRI he received in Tampa to see what’s going on with the bone.
Nady’s was disabled this morning, so it’s not like the Yankees have to make an immediate decision. The medical team is exhausting all options to avoid another Tommy John surgery, which Nady first had done in 2002.
“If you can avoid surgery at all costs, that’s what you want to do,” Nady said. “If there’s a chance at rehab, obviously that’s the way to go. You want to be 100 percent sure of what’s going on in there, have every test done and look at everything. I went through that surgery before and would like to avoid it myself.”
Not much else to report from the clubhouse except the obvious fact that both Marte and Veras are disappointed with their respective failures. Marte blamed location; all of his pitches were right down the middle. Veras shouldered all the blame because his leadoff walk of Mark DeRosa led to the bottom falling out.
“I’m better than that,” he said.
Outside of Mariano Rivera and Brian Bruney, the bullpen has been either real good or real bad. Today was terrible, but better to figure this out heading into Game 11 than in September.
By Jon Lane
How good the Yankees bullpen turns out is obviously to be determined, but on paper it’s deep and offers a strong support system for Mariano Rivera. Behind Rivera are two locks, Damaso Marte and Brian Bruney. Figure on either Alfredo Aceves or Dan Giese making the team as a long reliever and the underbelly being determined among a group of candidates.
The sure things
Marte wasn’t the reliable set-up man he was in Pittsburgh. His ability to strike out a batter per inning is neutralized by his 4.04 BB per 9 IP walk rate. I’d prefer him as a LOOGY and to see Phil Coke emerge as the second left-hander who can pitch multiple innings and get key outs late in games.
Bruney has meant business since reporting to camp last season 25 pounds lighter, but his 2008 campaign was interrupted when he injured his right foot trying to cover first base on April 22 in Chicago. Although it was the same injury that put Chien-Ming Wang out of commission, Bruney not only defied the odds and returned on August 1, he was brilliant, pitching to a 1.83 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 18 hits allowed in 34 1/3 innings. Any concerns over Joba Chamberlain starting should be assuaged by Bruney’s presence.
The underbelly candidates
Edwar Ramirez has tendinitis in his right shoulder and will be examined today by Dr. Allen Miller. I’m not sold on him anyway. Yesterday I mentioned there’s no middle ground with him; once opposing hitters figured out how to read his change-up, Ramirez was unable to adjust. He’s either real good or real bad, as indicated my these monthly splits once he became one of Joe Girardi’s key relievers:
May: 1-0, 0.77 ERA, 8 H, 5 BB, 10 K, 11 2/3 IP
June: 0-0, 7.36 ERA, 10 H, 6 BB, 13 K, 11 IP
July: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0 H, 3 BB, 16 K, 11.1 IP
August: 2-1, 6.94 ERA, 15 H, 4 BB, 13 K, 11 2/3 IP
September: 0-1, 8.44 ERA, 8 H, 5 BB, 6 K, 5 1/3 IP
Coke was a pleasant surprise last year, holding opponents to a .160 batting average while allowing one earned run in 14 2/3 innings. He whetted the Yankees’ appetites to where he was considered a candidate to start before the team re-signed Andy Pettitte. I’m excited to see a lot more of Coke, 26, who showed me in a small sampling of work and through brief discussions he’s emotionally equipped to handle pressure situations.
Jose Veras is lights out when he’s on his game, but like Ramirez was vulnerable to the gopher ball (7 HRs in 57 2/3 innings) and issued 4.53 walks per nine innings pitched.
David Robertson will get a longer look for as long as Ramirez is on the shelf, but ultimately may fall victim to a numbers game. He turns 24 in April and may not be ready for significant innings, so more seasoning in Triple-A can only help.
The super sleeper
Mark Melancon earned a ton of press in today’s papers and for good reason. Despite the bevy of righty relievers vying for roster spots, Melancon showed off his electric stuff throwing 30 pitches during Sunday’s session, even getting Derek Jeter to whiff on a couple and breaking Robinson Cano’s bat. He is already being projected as the next Chamberlain in an eighth-inning role and perhaps Rivera’s successor in two years.
Melancon, the Yankees’ ninth-round pick (284th overall) in 2006, went 6-0 with a 1.81 ERA in 19 outings at Scranton – this after missing all of 2007 due to Tommy John surgery. He’s probably ticketed for Scranton in April, but Girardi said he’s “in the mix” and you could see him with the big club sooner rather than later, especially if the Yankees are looking for another Joba-like spark to their bullpen.