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 Jon Lane
The Yankees have rallied to win games 48 times this season, 14 via the walk-off hit, the team’s most since doing it 17 times in 1943. Joe Girardi feels that belief system was born during the memorable May series against the Twins, when three of the first four games were won on the Yankees’ final at-bat.
“I think there’s that feeling that you can always do it, because we’ve done it so many times,” Girardi said. “When guys have confidence, they’re different players. There’s no doubt about it. When you have success in situations, guys learn how to relax. The more success you have, the more you relax. That’s what allows guys to do that.”
Brett Gardner – that X-Factor – was once again in the middle of it. Not since Homer Bush in 1998 have the Yankees been able to deploy such a weapon.
“It’s just another way that you know you can win a game,” Girardi said. “It’s a great element to have as a manager. In these close games there’s always a spot where you look for him to be able to do it.”
Good for Ian Kennedy, a good guy who’s had some tough luck and is coming back from surgery to remove an aneurysm. Kennedy pitched three perfect innings for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre against Durham in the International League finals Wednesday, striking out six.
By Jon Lane
I suggested yesterday that Andy Pettitte deserves to start Game 2 of the ALDS ahead of A.J. Burnett. That was more to extol the virtues and merits of Pettitte than to condemn Burnett, who upon first glance has been a frontline starter his first season in New York.
But because there is rarely any middle ground with Burnett, because there have been times when the right-hander has been absolutely electric, it can be frustrating to see a net result of 10-8 with a 4.29 ERA. When he’s on, he takes over a game and captivates a city. When he’s off, whoa boy.
Burnett hasn’t won a game and owns a 6.54 ERA in a seven-start stretch since his last victory on July 27, and that includes the 7 2/3 scoreless innings he tossed against the Red Sox during that Friday night epic at Yankee Stadium. Last night the bad A.J. showed up in Baltimore. He allowed six runs on 11 hits (two home runs) and two walks in 5 1/3 innings and, worse, a television audience saw him lose control of his emotions (again).
You demand excellence from Burnett, for obvious reasons. You also want to see him succeed. He has the talent. He’s stayed healthy. He’s provided life and wisdom to the Yankees’ clubhouse beyond whipped-cream pies. Best of all he’s been accountable. He hasn’t blamed Jorge Posada or anyone and nobody has to tell him he must turn it around.
“I take these as a little bump in the road,” Burnett said. “I’m not going to stew on it too long and let it bring me down, because I thought I turned a good corner the last start and I’ve got to pitch in five days. I can’t let it affect me too much.”
Burnett’s next postseason appearance will be his first and a Game 3 start is not a demotion. It’s either a chance to sweep, a swing game or the nightmare scenario of avoiding an embarrassing sweep. The Yankees are paying Burnett $82.5 million over five years. At times he’s been money. Other times he’s been worth 82 cents. Next month, there is no choice but to be priceless.
? Nick Swisher is hitting .200 at home with 20 RBIs, but .283 on the road with 52 RBIs. Strange, but his overall numbers are 23-72. The Yankees acquired Swisher in an offseason trade with the White Sox for Wilson Betemit. Swishalicious.
? He can sometimes make you want to pull your hair out, but Robinson Cano batted .347 with 19 runs scored and 16 RBIs in August. He’s already set a career high with 22 homers and his.320 overall average is his finest since 2006 (.342). I’ve killed him in this space over his inability to hit with runners in scoring position, but since August 27 he’s bumped his average in that area from .204 to .221.
? Mariano Rivera has saved 34 consecutive games, a personal best, and has 38 on the season. In his last 29 innings, he’s allowed one run while striking out 29. He might pitch forever.
? Jeter Meter: Nine hits from Lou Gehrig’s franchise record (2,721).
? Ian Kennedy threw batting practice for the first time since surgery in May to remove an aneurysm from below his right biceps, another step towards pitching in September’s instructional league and the Arizona Fall League. He’s 1-4 with a 6.14 ERA in 13 Major League games, but Kennedy’s story is far from finished. The humbling experience is maturing him and I see him earning a spot in the Yankees’ rotation within two years.
By Jon Lane
The majority of Yankees fans got their wish Monday night. Joba Chamberlain pitched in the eighth inning.
Those in the minority reigned supreme over water coolers and caffeine fixes. Joba Chamberlain pitched eight superlative innings to defeat the Indians, allowing two runs on five hits with two walks and five strikeouts. In between, he made a diving catch that would have made the late Kirby Puckett blush. In the end, he swatted away those annoying midges like gnats, kept his velocity in the high 90s (97 MPH in that eighth inning) and improved to 3-1 while lowering his ERA to 3.71. His eight innings of work – and great ones at that – were a career high and the first time Chamberlain went that long since a Single-A game in 2006.
Yep, put him in the bullpen. Take a 23-year-old potential franchise pitcher who neutralized the Tribe with everything in his arsenal and relegate him to one inning and three outs. That’s exactly what the Twins did with Johan Santana after in 2002 he led the Majors with 15 wild pitches.
Oh wait. I’m sorry. I erred. The Twins showed something wholly fickle in this town – patience while allowing evolution to take its course. They transitioned Santana into their rotation in 2003 after he spent four months as a reliever. He won his last eight decisions and pitched Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees. You know the rest of his story.
Yet the voices still ring loud. Heaven forbid Chamberlain gets into a jam by walking a batter or allowing a base hit, he’s a failure as a starting pitcher. The next time he gets lit up – and he will because Santana and all the great ones get lit up – we’ll have to continue to endure this.
Here’s something refreshing: The Yankees right now have SIX legitimate starting pitchers. Is that a problem? Really? Can you honestly have enough starting pitching? If you believe that you must be president of the Sidney Ponson Fan Club. Just wait until 2010 when Ian Kennedy is healthy. This is all part of building a program, folks.
Thanks mainly to Joba the starter, the Yankees completed a 5-2 road trip and are winners of 15 out of 19. They lead the AL East by one game and open a seven-game homestand tonight against the Texas Rangers (YES HD, 7 p.m.). Chamberlain starts again Saturday against the reeling Rays.
The Yankees set a Major League record Monday night as they played their 18th consecutive game without an error (they were tied with the Red Sox, who played 17 straight error-free from June 11-30, 2006). The Yankees are 14-4 during this streak and a big part of it has been Mark Teixeira and his perfect fielding percentage. By no coincidence, Derek Jeter’s clip stands at .990 with only two errors, on pace for his best totals of his career.
And by the way, Teixeira’s hitting streak is at 14 games. You think the Red Sox executive offices are under siege for not doing whatever it took to bring him to New England?
Jeter’s single in the third was the 2,600th hit of his career
By Jon Lane
The Yankees play the third of a four-game homestand this afternoon when they welcome the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Joba Chamberlain is back on the mound to face off against Kyle Kendrick.
Chamberlain looked sharp his last time out, throwing three innings of one-run ball with no walks and three strikeouts to bounce back from a terrible start to the Grapefruit season. But even though Phil Hughes produced his first bad start of the spring Saturday in Bradenton (two hits — both solo home runs — three walks, two strikeouts in three innings), Hughes led our homepage poll as of 11 a.m. by a slim 932-895 that asks whether he or Chamberlain should be the Yankees’ fifth starter.
Will another strong performance from Chamberlain assuage more concerns that he’s better off in the bullpen? We’ll have this poll up one more day, so we’ll see where you stand by this time tomorrow morning. Don’t forget to also sound off on our message boards about this and other topics surrounding the Yankees.
Brett Gardner CF
Cody Ransom 3B
Nick Swisher 1B
Hideki Matsui DH
Xavier Nady RF
Jose Molina C
Angel Berroa 2B
Todd Linden LF
Eduardo Nunez SS
Pitching after Chamberlain:
Brian Bruney (Today’s Quick Cut and in my view the Yankees’ best choice to set up Mariano Rivera)
Kei Igawa (Your 2009 New York Yankees fifth starter — insert sarcasm wherever you prefer)
Dave Robertson (Fighting for a spot in the front end of the bullpen)
Robinson Cano (right shoulder tendinitis) and Damaso Marte (left shoulder inflammation) will have MRIs done today and be examined by team physician Chris Ahmad. Brian Cashman referred to these injuries as “yellow flags” and hopes rest and recovery will do the trick. Then again, Jorge Posada’s shoulder was no big deal and Alex Rodriguez was supposed to only have a cyst drained. Historically, the Yankees are overly cautious when it comes to diagnosing injuries, and rightfully so.
UPDATE: Each MRI revealed no structural damage. Cano has bursitis and Marte inflammation. According to The Journal News, Cano will DH or pinch hit before returning to full-time action on Friday, while it’s unknown when Marte will pitch again.
Three years ago, George Steinbrenner denounced the World Baseball Classic, but Cashman took the high road despite seeing two of his players return from the competition nicked up.
“You have some great storylines going on,” Cashman said. “It doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. Of course we’d love to have our entire team here together, working every day.”
Seeing Posada catch four innings on Sunday was reassuring. Although his throwing arm wasn’t tested, it was another big step forward. Next for Posada is catching CC Sabathia Tuesday against the Pirates, the same night Mariano Rivera will make his spring debut. The YES Network will air these two significant steps as part of its live telecast beginning at 7 p.m.
Ian Kennedy was optioned to Triple-A on Sunday, a blip on the radar, but notable considering he remains a vital part of the Yankees’ future. Cashman predicted “a big year” for the right-hander, but this shows you how much further both Hughes and Chamberlain are ahead of the team’s first-round pick (21st overall) in 2006. That said, Kennedy is 24 years old and unless the Yankees are blown away (or desperate) at the July trade deadline, there’s no reason to cut the cord.
Reliever Mark Melancon was also among eight players reassigned to the Minor League camp. Looking for another Joba Version 2007 or possibly Rivera’s successor? Melancon is your man.
1:28 p.m. Following a four-pitch leadoff walk to Eric Bruntlett, Chamberlain whiffed Jason Donald on three pitches and caught Ryan Howard looking to strand Bruntlett at second base.
1:47 p.m. Another good inning for Chamberlain, who retires the first two batters and survives Geoff Jenkins’ two-out double to escape the second unscathed.
2:06 p.m. Another scoreless inning for Chamberlain, though he had some help when Jose Molina gunned down Bruntlett trying to steal second base. Joba also hit the next batter (Donald), but showed some mettle. This, folks, is a very good sign being that it’s a Spring Training game in which Chamberlain is experimenting with different pitches and techniques while still working his arm into season shape.
2:22 p.m. The line on Joba Chamberlain: three innings pitched, two hits, no runs, no walks, three strikeouts, one hit batsman. He threw 48 pitches, 27 for strikes. Yankees lead, 2-0.
By Jon Lane
Andy Pettitte his spring debut this afternoon against the Blue Jays. Pettitte and the Yankees, as you know, were at a stalemate before compromising on a one-year deal worth $5.5 million with an additional $6.5 million in bonuses.
Not that Pettitte will rebound from a down season to win 20 games like Mike Mussina last year, but he will be better now that he’s healthy and free from the HGH admissions that weighed heavily on his mind.
Furthermore, having won in New York, Pettitte offers an invaluable intangible to CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and the Yankees’ young arms. His wisdom, experience and insight will become especially valuable late in the season and the take here is that Pettitte still have a few big games left in him.
Brett Gardner CF
Melky Cabrera LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Jorge Posada DH
Nick Swisher RF
Jose Molina C
Angel Berroa 2B
Justin Leone 3B
Ramiro Pena SS
The center field derby
Brett Gardner: 6-for-18, 2 HRs, 5 R, 2 SB
Melky Cabrera: 4-for-15, 0 HRs, 2 R, 0 SB
Don’t look now
Phil Hughes’ Grapefruit line: 7.2 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs, 3 walks, 8 strikeouts, including three hitless innings on Sunday (two walks, four strikeouts).
Andrew Brackman was optioned to Single-A Charleston. J.B. Cox, George Kontos and Kanekoa Texeira were reassigned to the Yankees’ Minor League camp.
Alex Rodriguez is undergoing hip surgery this morning. Pete Caldera of The Bergen Record tracks the A-Rod stock market.
Cody Ransom is getting his share of press. This column by The Record‘s Ian O’Connor is an absolute must-read. This alone makes you want to root for Ransom.
Strictly in baseball terms, the Yankees can get back with Ransom at third base for a month or so. He’ll be that much more valuable to the team once Rodriguez returns.
A few updates from Peter Abraham:
Andy Pettitte’s line: 1 2/3 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 Ks, 31 pitches
Dan Giese gave up a solo home run to Russ Adams in the third.
Brett Gardner’s hot spring continues. Gardner went yard with a two-run shot (his third of the spring) to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the bottom half of the third. Melky Cabrera was hitless in two at-bats entering the fifth.
Gardner later reached first on a bunt single and was moved to third on Cabrera’s two-out base hit. However, Cabrera got caught between first and second and Gardner, breaking for home, was tagged out. Gardner is 2-for-3 with two RBIs and Cabrera finished 1-for-3 before he was replaced in left field by Austin Jackson.
The news was not so good for Ian Kennedy. The right-hander got tagged for five runs on five hits in two innings, including Travis Snider’s solo homer with one out in the sixth.
By Glenn Giangrande
If I hear the phrase “Generation Trey” one more time, I’m going to explode.
I specifically remember reading an article in which Joel Sherman first coined the phrase and Michael Kay has run with it on Yankees broadcasts ever since. While I understand how it seems like every player has to have a nickname nowadays, it’s inappropriate on a number of levels.
First, there is a chance that a not-so-far-off day will come in which two of the three are not going to be Yankees. Who’s to say that Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy will be long for pinstripes? Both have already come close to being dealt away.
Second, should we really be invoking memories of the Mets’ “Generation K,” Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen, and Paul Wilson? All three were derailed by injuries and health problems, with Isringhausen being the one who fought back to carve out a very respectable career as a closer.
Third and finally, why must we have names for players who have yet to accomplish very much? I understand Joba Chamberlain was a phenomenon a couple of years ago and seems primed for a distinguished run with the Yankees, but give him and the others a chance to develop before even thinking about hitting them with labels.
Just let the kids stand on their own.
By Jon Lane
The Yankees left at 8 this morning for the 2 1/2-hour trek to Fort Myers for a game against the Minnesota Twins. Ian Kennedy starts for New York against Scott Baker.
Brett Gardner CF
Cody Ransom 2B
Nick Swisher 1B
Jorge Posada DH
Xavier Nady RF
Melky Cabrera LF
Angel Berroa SS
Justin Leone 3B
Francisco Cervelli C
Note that Nady, Swisher, Cabrera and Gardner all made the trip. Each are competing for playing time in the outfield, while Swisher starts at first base to get some at-bats. Normally, veterans like Posada don’t make these types of trips, but 1) yesterday was his first game action since last July 19 and 2) teams are required to send at least one of their big names on the road.
The Cabrera-Gardner competition will get press throughout the spring, but Nady-Swisher is an intriguing storyline. Speculation over whether either will be traded has died down for the moment. The hope here is that both remain on the roster. Both offer depth, and Swisher’s personality has been refreshing and contagious to a group that needs positive vibes given the A-Rod melodrama and the annual World Series or bust expectations.
You can track today’s game here. I’ll be listening to the Twins’ radio feed and will check in with updates from time to time.
1:24 p.m.: Already 2-0 Yankees and kick-started by Brett Gardner, who led off with a single, stole second and scored on Cody Ransom’s single (Ransom came home with the second run on a throwing error). It’s only Game 3, but you think Gardner is hungry to prove a point?
Ian Kennedy then retires the Twins in order.
1:32 p.m. Justin Leone’s one-out homer puts the Yankees ahead 3-0. It would have been four if not for Angel Berroa’s failed attempt to turn a leadoff single into a double.
1:35 p.m. Gardner, your 2009 Opening Day center fielder, is 2-for-2 with a single and a double.
2:01 p.m. The Yankees have eight hits in 2 1/2 innings, but left the bases loaded without scoring a run. Sound familiar?
Cabrera popped up with runners on second and third and one out. Remember that he’s out of options, so if Gardner wins the CF competition, the Yankees will either have to find a place for Cabrera or risk losing him should he not clear waivers.
2:04 p.m. Kennedy’s line: 2 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts. He left a runner stranded at third to end the second.
2:17 p.m. Gardner drew a one-out walk, the third time he’s reached base. Minutes later he swiped second base. The Twins announcers said he has a little element of Lenny Dykstra, as in when he plays, you notice him.
2:23 p.m. Swisher flies out to end the threat. Still 3-0, Yankees
2:48 p.m. Cabrera grounded out to end the top of the fifth. He’s 0-for-3. Jorge Posada left the game after going 2-for-3. He is 4-for-5 in two games. 3-1, Yankees.
3:02 p.m. Austin Jackson pinch-hit for Gardner, who is batting .429 (3-for-7) with a homer and two stolen bases in three spring games.
3:20 p.m. Competition report: Cabrera finished hitless in three at-bats and is 0-for-5 in two games. Swisher went 2-for-3 and Nady 1-for-3.
4:17 p.m. Yankees lose 5-4 to fall to 2-1 on the Grapefruit Season. The Twins snuffed a late rally in the ninth.
By Joe Auriemma
Don’t give up on the young arms just yet Yankees fans. I know that Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy did little to convince everyone that they had the stuff to be good Major League pitchers last season, but I still think they need more time. Jim Kaat has always said that pitchers need at least 50 to 75 starts of game experience in the Minors before they are fully developed for the Major League level. This is definitely something I agree with.
Now I know some pitchers have made the leap to the Majors and done quite well with a lack of Minor League experience, but for most pitchers it takes that extra time to develop that devastating out pitch, the confidence to get Major League hitters out and build up enough arm strength to be able to go a full season.
In one year, the opinion of the Yankees Minor League system has gone from a top-tier system with many quality arms to one that most critics are calling an overrated group. I have been covering the Yankees Minor League system with our Down on the Farm features for the last three seasons and the one thing that I can safely say is that these pitchers are still the quality arms everyone thought they were just one year ago.
Was Kennedy ready for the Major League spotlight last season? No, definitely not. Does he still have good stuff? Absolutely. Will Hughes bounce back? Given the chance I think he will mature and be a very solid, if not very good pitcher for the Yankees for years to come. Am I the crazy person that not only asks himself questions, but also answers them? Apparently.
It’s not just Kennedy and Hughes. The Yankees are also very impressed with Mark Melancon, who they could actually be lining up as the closer of the future. Melancon has a good four-seam fastball that has hit 96 on occasion and a wicked curveball. He also has a changeup and is starting to open some eyes down in Tampa.
Phil Coke and David Robertson were pretty effective out of the bullpen last season. Coke has the versatility to be both a starter and reliever and the good thing about him is he’s a lefty. He also has terrific composure and could become a very nice option out of the bullpen this season. As for Robertson, he came on strong in the Majors last season going 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA in his first 11 games and then faded in his last 14 games with a 2-0 record and an 8.00 ERA, but all-in-all he was pretty effective.
Andrew Brackman is another name that you are going to hear about in the near future. This 6-foot-10 giant certainly has the stuff to be effective with the big club, but control is something that needs to be worked on down on the farm.
Dellin Betances is another big time prospect and I mean that in every sense of the word. He is another tall pitcher at 6-8 and has the stuff to be a quality pitcher with the Yankees for many years to come. Again, control is an issue, but that is what the Minors are all about.
Humberto Sanchez, Zach McAllister and Christian Garcia are also pitchers that are definitely on the Yankees’ radar, so please don’t give up on the pitchers down in the Yankees Minor League system just yet. Let them develop and give them a chance.
By Jon Lane
One story that received attention in the middle of the A-Rod melodrama was Chien-Ming Wang, a two-time 19-game winner recovering from a torn Lisfranc ligament now flying under the radar. Wang broke into the Majors at age 25 and made such an impact, erstwhile manager Joe Torre had to remind us – and himself – that he was still a youngster and a rookie not expected to carry a rotation. Yet he was the horse of the staff whose lone weakness remains his 1-3, 7.58 ERA record in four postseason starts. With CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett here, Wang is a No. 2 or 3 starter teams would kill for to be their ace.
Barring an injury or a near-perfect Grapefruit season, Phil Hughes and
Ian Kennedy will begin the season in Triple-A. The worst-case scenario
is the duo pitches full and healthy seasons for Scranton and move into
the Major League rotation in 2010 a year older and wiser. Not too
The Yankees’ projected starting rotation:
If this holds form, Sabathia would start the Yankees’ home opener on April 16 and the rotation for the first series April 24-26 at Fenway Park would be Wang, Pettitte and Sabathia. Remember that the Yankees want to retain an innings limit on Chamberlain, whose health will be guarded more closely than Fort Knox. As the projected fifth starter, Chamberlain will be skipped whenever the Yankees encounter an off day.
New York Daily News columnist John Harper is cautiously optimistic, but provides plenty of reasons to get excited about A.J. Burnett.
Tyler Kepner of the New York Times wrote this in January and I agree wholeheartedly:
To me — and to the Yankees, from what I can tell — there’s really no debate anymore about Joba Chamberlain’s role. Look, the Yankees already have a lights-out setup man: Brian Bruney. In 31 games from the bullpen last season, Bruney’s earned run average was 1.95, and opponents hit .153. In 30 games from the bullpen last season, Chamberlain’s E.R.A. was 2.31, and opponents hit .211. So, Bruney was actually better. Besides, if the Yankees make the playoffs, Chamberlain will probably have thrown so many innings as a starter that he’ll have to be a reliever in October, anyway. Chamberlain has the stuff to be an elite starter, and Bruney has the stuff to be an elite setup man — with the top prospect Mark Melancon poised to contribute as well. To me, it’s really pretty simple.
Joba is a future ace and you don’t put that big of a talent in an eighth-inning role. Many people don’t want to accept it, but Chamberlain is a starter today and tomorrow. Case closed.