The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Pregame notes: “Hopefully it’s just a day-to-day thing”09.09.11

Nick Swisher’s left elbow has bothered him from time to time, but not quite like it did on his first throw from the outfield yesterday.

“I threw it and said, ‘Wow, that didn’t’ feel right,’” Swisher said. “… I know what feels right, I know what doesn’t feel right. After yesterday’s game, I was like man, I’ve got to check this thing out. I don’t like going to the training room man, it’s not my thing. But there are some times. You can’t be a hard head all the time, man, and you actually have to go in there. We’ll just see what they say and figure it out from there.”

Swisher will see the Angels team doctor at some point, probably today. He’s expecting to play tomorrow, but it’s hard to know anything for certain at this point. Joe Girardi called Swisher day-to-day.

During these past three days — when the Yankees had that long rain delay, followed by the four-hour-plus game, followed by extra innings in Baltimore — Swisher actually played all three days, but that’s only after he’d been off on Monday. Girardi said he didn’t believe playing those three games had a real impact on the elbow.

“I think it’s just one throw, really, more than anything,” Swisher said. “I don’t know what it is, so I’m going to see the doctor and find out. So, we’ll see. I’m not nervous about it but I’d feel a lot better if the doctor said ‘hey man, this is what you’ve got. It’s going to be OK.’ Because I’ve never had something like this before. (This is) more sharp pains. Hopefully, it’s just a day-to-day thing.”

• Jesus Montero is getting a designated hitter start against a right-hander today, and Girardi hinted that he might do that more often. “I think you want to see more,” he said. “You don’t want him to sit too long between games, either. You want to get him back in there. He’s swung the bat very well, showed patience and showed the ability to make adjustments.”

• Aside from Swisher, all of the Yankees regulars are in the lineup, but the bullpen is thin beyond Mariano Rivera and Dave Robertson. It’s possible, in the next couple of days, that the Yankees will have to move a starter to the bullpen. “We might need someone,” Girardi said. “I’m not saying they won’t start again, but we might need someone in the bullpen. Soriano’s went a bunch of days in a row, Ayala’s went a bunch of days, Wade’s went a bunch of days, Logan’s went a bunch of days. I have Robby and Mo available tonight, but after that, I have to see.”

• If the Yankees don’t get distance out of Bartolo Colon, Girardi said he’s not sure Hector Noesi could be used for a truly extended outing (he threw back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday, including multiple innings Wednesday). So, if the Yankees need a true long man, Girardi said it would likely be either George Kontos, Andrew Brackman or Dellin Betances. “Could be one of the kids,” Girardi said.

• Speaking of the kids, Betances is here mostly to get his feet wet and get a look at life in the big leagues. He’s active, but unlike Montero, Betances isn’t expected to play a significant role down the stretch. “You never know,” Girardi said. “He might pitch in a game, he might pich great and you might use him more. I don’t have any specific plans for him, in a sense, but we’ll see what happens.”

• Today is Betances’ normal day to pitch, which is why the call-up waited until now. He went to Tampa to throw a regular bullpen after the Triple-A regular season, then spent one day at home in New Jersey before flying to California yesterday afternoon.

• Girardi expected Betances to be the last September call-up. He said there was talk about calling up Manny Banuelos, but the Yankees didn’t think this was the time to do it. “They talked about him and decided not to,” Girardi said. “They looked at his year and said they weren’t going to call him up yet.”

• The Yankees rotation is not set beyond Sunday. “We’ll wait to see how we get through this weekend,” Girardi said. “Larry and I are still talking about it.”

• I’m sure he doesn’t speak for everyone, but Brett Gardner said he actually feels no different today — after those long three days of rain and extra innings — than he would at the start of any other West Coast trip. “No, not really,” he said. “I feel pretty good, especially after that long flight last night. I feel better today than I expected to. It’s obviously not ideal and something everybody has to deal with.”

ANGELS
Erick Aybar SS
Howie Kendrick 2B
Bobby Abreu DH
Torii Hunter RF
Mark Trumbo 1B
Alberto Callaspo 3B
Vernon Wells LF
Peter Bourjos CF
Jeff Mathis C

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 174 Comments →

Random thoughts on the way back home07.22.11

Last time the Yankees played at home, they were still feeling warm and fuzzy in the glow of Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. Seems like that was three months ago. This eight-day road trip was a long one.

“Obviously you’d like to have done better,” Joe Girardi said. “But after how we started losing the first two, we finished up pretty good and it will be nice to get off the turf and get home for a while. I think we have 10 games in 10 days, and I think our guys are looking forward to that.”

Just a few thoughts before I get back to New York.

• Phil Hughes gets the ball tonight. It will be his first start at home since the start that convinced the Yankees he needed to go on the disabled list. It’ll be interesting to see if that curveball is as good as it was in Toronto.

• Be careful what you wish for at the top of the order. I can’t see Derek Jeter being dropped to the bottom, so moving Brett Gardner to the top only pushes Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher down a spot. As always, I’m of the belief that lineup construction doesn’t matter all that much.

• Also worth considering (as Sweeny Murti pointed out a couple of days ago): In the eight games since the all-star break, Gardner is hitting .517 with a .576 on-base percentage. In the eight games before the break, he was hitting .207 with a .281 on-base percentage. I think he’s the right choice at the top, but you have to accept that he’s a streaky hitter.

• Big spot in the seventh inning, who would you trust more: Luis Ayala, Hector Noesi or Cory Wade? Who do you think Girardi would most trust? I’m honestly not sure the right answer to either of those questions.

• Gardner, Jeter, Andruw Jones and Jorge Posada have each taken turns as the most anger-inducing Yankees hitter this season. Now it seems to be Mark Teixeira’s turn. He’s also a streaky hitter, and he always talks about waiting for that next hot streak that will turn his batting average around.

• Girardi when asked if he’ll have to eventually take Teixeira out of the No. 3 hole if the batting average doesn’t improve: “He has taken his fair share of walks and gotten on base. That’s the one thing Tex does. Sometimes people look at average a lot. We’re going ot look at on-base percentage too because he does take his fair share. You hit .250 and you’ve got a .370 on-base percentage or .360, you’re doing OK.” It’s a fair point — and Teixeira does have a higher OBP than Cano — but Girardi overestimated the numbers a little bit. Teixeira has a .240 average with a .341 on-base.

• If the Yankees are going to trade for a starter, they really only have a spot for a legitimately elite pitcher. They have plenty of No. 3 types. To find someone obviously better than what they have is going to cost a lot in terms of young players. Maybe it’s worth it, maybe it’s not, but it would be costly.

• I’ve always liked but never loved U2, but I absolutely loved this performance on Letterman. I’m surprised I haven’t broken the internet watching it over and over again the past few days. Say what you will about Bono, but the guy has a terrific voice and knows how to deliver a song.

• Kind of surprised that Eric Chavez was able to get in the field this quickly. Not much to lose there, I guess. The Yankees need to find out before July 31 whether he can help them in the second half.

• Dave Robertson just keeps doing it. Rafael Soriano has a longer track record, and there’s a lot to be said for that, but it’s hard to imagine him coming back and throwing any better than Robertson.

• George Kontos has to get to New York eventually, right? The Yankees could actually use a long man now, and Kontos has 64 strikeouts and a .210 opponents batting average in Triple-A. Also worth mentioning that D.J. Mitchell and Lance Pendleton just put together terrific back-to-back starts.

• Speaking of Triple-A guys: Jorge Vazquez’s numbers have fallen off quite a bit, but Kevin Russo is really hitting again. And if you were waiting for Jordan Parraz to fall off, it doesn’t seem to be happening.

• If Russell Martin really is a Gold Glove caliber catcher, and he keeps hitting exactly like this — low batting average with occasional pop — is he worth bringing back next season? All things considered, isn’t he still one of the better everyday catchers in the league?

• Don’t let the fact that you gave up on Boone Logan in the first half — or that he misplayed a ball three nights ago — keep you from seeing the fact he’s pitching much better. I know I’m usually a glass-half-full kind of guy, but since May 28 opponents are hitting .196 with four walks and 17 strikeouts against Logan.

• There’s still something very fun about talking to a guy who just got his first big league call-up. It was fun when I was covering the minor leagues, and it’s just as fun now that I’m covering the big leagues.

• Martin made the right choice. He put in a good effort and did everything the right way, but the mustache had to go. It was time. It really was, “ugly as (crap).”

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 394 Comments →

Yankees at the break: The bullpen07.12.11

This was supposed to be the Yankees obvious strength, instead they’ve spent the season plugging holes and moving Dave Robertson into later and later innings. At this rate, he’ll be their designated 10th-inning reliever by mid-August. The Yankees bullpen has held it together despite a series of injuries and a few disappointments.

First half
The problems started when Pedro Feliciano couldn’t break camp. Pretty soon Phil Hughes was hurt, which forced Bartolo Colon out of the bullpen and into the rotation. Then Rafael Soriano went on the disabled list. Then Joba Chamberlain needed Tommy John. If not for Robertson’s all-star performance, the Yankees bullpen would be a mess. Given the situation, though, it’s been pretty good. CoryWade’s been a nice pickup, Luis Ayala has given the Yankees more than they could have expected, Hector Noesi has filled in from minor league system and Boone Logan has finally had some success after a brutal beginning. All things considered, the situation could be much worse.

Second half
At this point, Damaso Marte actually seems closer to a return than Feliciano, but the guy the Yankees really need to get back is Soriano. He would give the bullpen some of the late-inning depth that made it so imposing when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. Logan’s shown some recent signs of getting himself straightened out, and that could also be huge in the second half (he was certainly crucial in the second half last season). Every year, relievers are among the most discussed trade possibilities, but it’s worth remembering that last year’s bullpen addition – Kerry Wood – had ugly numbers and was coming back from an injury when the Yankees acquired him. You just never know who might make the difference in a bullpen.

The minors
The Yankees have already seen a long line of long relievers up from Triple-A. At this point, George Kontos might have moved to the top of the pecking order. Temporarily lost in the Rule 5 draft this offseason, Kontos has been outstanding with a 2.26 ERA and 59 strikeouts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Back from Tommy John surgery, he seems to have regained a lot of his prospect status. The Yankees also have right-hander Kevin Whelan and veteran lefty Randy Flores putting up good Triple-A numbers. And don’t forget the name Tim Norton. He was terrific before a shoulder injury, and Donnie Collins has reported that he could be back soon.

Beyond the relievers on the verge of the big leagues, the Yankees have had great success with some of the college relievers that they drafted last year. Chase Whitley has already pitched his way to Double-A, Preston Claiborne has a 1.17 ERA and 24 strikeouts in his past 10 outings at High-A, and Tommy Kahnle has a 68 strikeouts and a .194 opponents batting average in Low-A. Ryan Flannery, a 47th-rounder in 2008, has 13 saves and has allowed a total of two walks out of the Tampa bullpen (and this is the second year in a row he’s shown outstanding control). Everyone’s favorite switch pitcher, Pat Venditte, has pitched pretty well in Trenton after a miserable first month.

One question
Is there a new version of Hughes or Chamberlain waiting in the system?
In the past, the Yankees had great success moving Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain out of the Triple-A rotation and into a big league setup role. Could they try a similar trick this season? The Triple-A rotation has been impressive, and guys like Adam Warren and David Phelps have fastballs that might translate to late-inning success. Ivan Nova, too.

The future
The Yankees have Mariano Rivera under contract for one more year, so they don’t have to find his replacement just yet. Soriano can opt out after this season, but surely that’s not going to happen after an injury. Robertson is just now eligible for arbitration, so he’ll still be incredibly cheap. Those are three pretty important pieces coming back next year, and the Yankees should get Chamberlain back at some point next season. There are pieces already in place for next year and beyond. What’s left is for the Yankees to sort through their upper-level pitching depth to decide who can help their rotation, and who’s better suited for a bullpen role in the near future.

Associated Press photos of Rivera and Robertson, headshots of Kontos, Claiborne and Chamberlain

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 238 Comments →

Second-half question: Was Soriano worth it?07.11.11

The Yankees don’t build teams to win in the first half. It’s nice that the Pirates are still in the playoff hunt, but being in the hunt doesn’t mean much around here. The Yankees build teams to win in the postseason, and in that sense, Rafael Soriano might still be worth the money.

Dave Robertson has emerged as a dominant setup man, and guys like Cory Wade and Luis Ayala have been a real boost, but to make the Yankees bullpen nearly as good as it seemed to be in spring training, they’ll need someone like Soriano. He’s been out since May 17, but he’s closer to a return than any other injured Yankee.

“If I had to guess who would be first it would be Soriano,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s getting to a point where we could see him in a game fairly quickly.”

Sure, the Yankees could target a reliever at the trade deadline — bullpen arms are always available — but they’ve learned the hard way that relievers are an unreliable lot. They knew that before they signed Soriano, and they certainly know that now that they have him under contract. Soriano’s a sunk cost, and he’s at least as good as anyone the Yankees could acquire.

There’s risk involved with every reliever. The Yankees have already taken a risk on Soriano. The second half is the time to actually get something out of him, or consider him this season’s worst investment.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 91 Comments →

Pregame notes: One more day off for Rivera07.05.11

The Yankees are giving Mariano Rivera another day of rest.

Rivera played catch this afternoon and said he still felt some soreness around his right elbow. He’ll be in the bullpen and available on an emergency basis, but the Yankees are planning to stay away from him.

“I feel better today but I think we’ll do another day off,” Rivera said. “I felt it a little bit. I could pitch, yes. Can they use me? Yes. But if I can by for another day, it would be much better, wiser.”

The problem is in the muscle on the back side of Rivera’s elbow, more or less at the base of the triceps. Rivera wasn’t cleared to throw a baseball at all yesterday, so the fact he played catch seems to be a good sign.

“Basically you know your body and those things are going to happen,” Rivera said. “You always have some aching feelings and soreness. I’m not concerned because I haven’t done nothing wrong. I suspect that it’s something that’s going to come and go away the same way that it came… I don’t think I ever felt 100 percent, I think, from the first day I started playing baseball. But if I feel 95 percent, I’ll be playing. Like I said, I can pitch now, but I don’t want to take a chance.”

Without Rivera, the Yankees will once again have Dave Robertson as their closer. Luis Ayala is available tonight, but Girardi is planning to stay away from Cory Wade — who’s thrown three of the past four days — so the bullpen is a little short in the late innings again.

“If we had to I was going to put (Robertson) in that spot (last night),” Giradri said. “I was comfortable doing that, but what it does is it shortens your bullpen, and that can become an issue.”

• Kind of funny: Rivera said if he felt good and thought he should play, he would plead his case to trainer Gene Monahan first because that’s the hardest person to convince. Rivera could start with Girardi, but… “I listen to Geno,” Girardi said.

• In other injury news, Eric Chavez felt some sort of lower abdominal discomfort this morning and is on his way to New York for tests. His lower back problem turned out to be nothing, and he was working out again. He went through a normal workout yesterday, felt good, then work up this morning with the problem. “They said his workout was great yesterday, too,” Girardi said.

• Rafael Soriano is scheduled to throw a bullpen tomorrow. “He’s only thrown fastballs,” Girardi said. “He’s got to throw to some hitters, some BP, and he’s probably got to go on the rehab. I think getting him back after the all-star break, like the first day, I don’t think that’s very feasible. I would hope not too far after that.”

• During this final stretch before the all-star game, Girardi wants to give all his regulars a little bit of rest and today was Mark Teixeira’s turn. “Some of the other guys got some days, and this would be his day,” Girardi said.

• Russell Martin had caught four days in a row, that’s why he’s out of the lineup. Girardi said Martin will probably get one more day off before the all-star break.

• Posada at first? “I feel pretty good,” Girardi said. “It think he’s done a pretty good job over there for us. He seems to know where to be at all times. He’s made some good plays on some ground balls, so I’m pretty comfortable.”

• Girardi said he’ll have to wait and see whether Derek Jeter will be cleared to play tomorrow.

• Pretty good chance Rivera won’t be going to the all-star game. “We’re just going to have to see,” Girardi said. “Depends how he feels. It might be a thing where the three days might help.”

• Any chance the all-star snub adds some motivation for CC Sabathia? “I think CC has enough motivation all the time when he goes out there,” Girardi said. “But it could. He might want to show people, I’m the league leader in wins and I belong on the all-star team, but I don’t think CC ever gets caught up in that.”

INDIANS
Michael Brantley LF
Asdrubal Cabrera SS
Travis Hafner DH
Carlos Santana 1B
Orlando Cabrera 3B
Grady Sizemore CF
Austin Kearns RF
Cord Phelps 2B
Lou Marson C

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 12 Comments →

Postgame notes: “My moment is coming to play every day”07.02.11

Eduardo Nunez won’t be the Yankees starting shortstop much longer, and he knows that. Best-case scenario is that he’ll be in the lineup two more days. If he’s playing much longer than that, something’s gone wrong with Derek Jeter’s rehab.

“I’m Eduardo Nunez, I’m not Derek Jeter,” Nunez said. “He’s a Hall of Famer. I’m this young guy. I have to learn a lot and do my best… I know he’s coming back, but I play hard, and one time my moment is coming to play every day. These two weeks have been an opportunity for me to show my manager, my staff and everybody that I can play (every day) one day in my career.”

Nunez made this team because of his bat, and after tonight’s 4-for-4, he’s hitting .309 as Jeter’s replacement. The eighth-inning insurance run he drove in gave the Yankees some breathing room on a night they seemed to hold their breath a lot.

The obvious knock on Nunez is his defense. He has a strong arm and plenty of range, but he’s showing some of the inconsistency that you might expect, but not necessarily like, from a young player. Tonight, his biggest throw was a good one. After dropping a throw from Curtis Granderson, then losing track of how far away the ball had rolled, Nunez saw Jose Reyes break for third base and fired a strike to Alex Rodriguez.

The throw beat Reyes, and that’s why the Yankees got the call. Rodriguez thought he got Reyes’ jersey. Reyes thought Rodriguez missed him altogether. Jerry Layne made the call, and Nunez had squashed the Mets last chance to get back in the game.

“He belongs here,” Mark Teixeira said. “He’s a guy that’s going to play in this game a long time, and he’s showing with this stretch here, these past couple of weeks, that he can play at this level.”

Said Joe Girardi: “When you have guys go down, a lot of times it’s kids who have a chance to step up. And he’s stepped up big time.”

I messed up while recording Nunez, but here’s Girardi’s postgame interview. Nunez actually did his interview in the press conference room, and let out a sigh of relief when it was over. He did a nice job, though. Handled himself really well in there.

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The Reyes play at third base will probably be the most talked about play of this game. Nunez said the throw from Granderson was “a good sinker” and he lost track of the ball a little bit after it bounced away.

Jose Reyes: “I thought I had a good chance to make it to third base, that’s why I went there. He called me out. That’s part of the game… (The umpire) was running to third base. I don’t know if he got a good view. I thought I got there safe but he called me out.”

Eduardo Nunez: “I think we have the play very close and have to throw perfect. I did my best.”

Alex Rodriguez: “I think I just touched a little bit of his sleeve. I saw the replay three or four times and I couldn’t even tell then… I wasn’t sure. I thought I got a little bit of the sleeve. Whether I did or not, you guys had a better view than I did.”

Umpire Jerry Layne: “You see what it is. It was a close play at third base, and I’m not going to comment about the ejection. I had him tagging him, you know, on the side by the belt/buttocks area for an out… I called what I saw.”

• Ivan Nova had runners on base all night, but got away with one run in five innings. His strikeout of Angel Pagan with the bases loaded in the fifth was arguably the most important at-bat of the night. “He was in trouble his share tonight,” Joe Girardi said. “But he did a good job making big pitches when he had to.”

• Girardi said Nova was going to pitch one more inning at the most, and when he had a chance to break the game open in the top of the sixth, he decided to go to the pinch hitter. He said he also liked the matchup of Luis Ayala against the bottom of the Mets order.

• Why go to right-hander Cory Wade to replace right-hander Ayala when Lucas Duda pinch hit in the sixth? “Ayala is more of a sinkerballer,” Girardi said. “You think about left-handed hitters, a lot of times they’re low-ball hitters. He has the curveball and changeup, where Ayala has the slider. They’re just two different guys, and htat’s why I like him in that situaton.”

• Ultimately, I have no idea why Girardi decided to let Boone Logan bunt for himself in the eighth inning, but it worked.

• Robinson Cano didn’t score on a Nunez single that dropped between players in the sixth inning. Girardi said Cano couldn’t tell whether it was caught, and since he wasn’t sure, he retreated. It was easy to see third base coach Rob Thomson waving him home. “It’s a tough read for Robbie,” Girardi said. “If you make the wrong read and he catches it, you’re out. If you make the wrong read and he doesn’t catch it, you’ve still got another shot.”

• Girardi said he was hoping to not use Mariano Rivera tonight, but with the top of the order coming up, he didn’t want to take any chances. “That situation with what’s coming up in the order with Beltran and Murphy, I wasn’t going to mess around,” Girardi said.

• Four scoreless innings from the bullpen, including key outs from Cory Wade and Boone Logan. “It makes it easier for us now that we have an idea exactly what we have,” Girardi said. “In the beginning when we were calling people up, you had to learn them as quick as possible and try to figure out which situations they’re most capable of being successful, but we’ve had them a little while and it definitely helps out to have that little background when you’re bringing them in.”

• Nick Swisher has a season-best eight-game hitting streak. He’s hitting .379 during the streak.

• Hard to imagine Rodriguez’s ninth-inning double staying in the park at any other stadium. “I wasn’t sure, but I thought it was (gone),” Rodriguez said.

• Brian Cashman said before the game that it’s unlikely Jeter will play the full nine innings tomorrow.

• Cashman also said Rafael Soriano threw a 32-fastball bullpen and could be back the first series after the all-star break — that’s best-case scenario — but Eric Chavez had a mild setback with a strain in his back. He’s eligible to be back next week, but Cashman said that probably won’t happen.

Associated Press photos, unfortunately there weren’t any good ones of Nunez tonight so we’re leading off with a shot of Granderson

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 44 Comments →

Looking for upgrades: The pitching staff06.27.11

Two weeks from the all-star break and a little more than a month before the trade deadline, the Yankees are at a point where they can — sort of — figure out what they need to add for a second-half push toward the playoffs. Making this picture a little less clear is the status of their injured players who could provide a significant boost if/when they get healthy.

On the pitching staff, the preseason concern has become a surprising strength, and the preseason strength has become a surprising concern. These are three areas where the Yankees might look to upgrade their pitching staff in the second half.

Starting pitcher

The Yankees rotation has been better than anyone could have expected, and that’s despite injuries to Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon. The Yankees, though, will surely kick the tires on alternatives, if only to add depth and peace of mind.

Trade market: Hit-and-miss.
A starting pitcher will be traded before the deadline, history tells us that much. The question is whether an addition would be an upgrade over the Yankees in-house options. If Hughes and Colon come back and pitch well – and both Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova continue to pitch well enough – then the need for a starter will be minimal (though the want might still exist). If Hughes or Colon suffers a setback, Garcia or Nova regresses, or A.J. Burnett falls into last year’s habits, then the Yankees will need someone. Carlos Zambrano and Brett Myers seem to be available targets, but are they worth the headache? The Twins have been disappointing and could shed starting pitchers at the deadline, but are they more reliable than what the Yankees already have?

In-house: The kids.
Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos are still in Double-A and both are pitching well (though still working on some control issues). Not so long ago, the Yankees had Hughes and Alan Horne dominating in Double-A as highly regarded prospects, but the Yankees left them there, and there’s not much reason to expect the Yankees to change course and suddenly rush Betances or Banuelos without at least a brief stop in Triple-A. More likely options might be Carlos Silva, Hector Noesi or someone from the David Phelps-Adam Warren-D.J. Mitchell trio in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Warren is probably at the top of that pecking order with Phelps is currently on the DL.

Setup reliever

Joba Chamberlain is lost for the year, and Rafael Soriano is almost certainly lost until after the all-star break. Dave Robertson has been terrific in the eighth inning, but the Yankees are mixing-and-matching in the sixth and seventh, still searching for one-inning relievers to complete that bridge to Mariano Rivera.

Trade market: They’re all relievers. Last year, the Yankees took a chance on Kerry Wood, and that move completely changed the bullpen. At the time of the trade, though, Wood was coming off injury and had ugly numbers with Cleveland. He came to the Yankees as a complete wild card and became a dominant setup man. The Yankees could go looking for something similar, but relievers are an unreliable group. Based on what Wood was doing at this time last year, he would not have looked like an especially attractive target. There will be risk in anyone the Yankees go after, though some big names seem to be on the market, including Padres closer Heath Bell.

In-house: Untested. The Yankees have had success plugging minor league starters into bullpen roles, and that’s occasionally worked as a stepping stone to the big league rotation. Right now, they seem to be trying something similar with Noesi.* They also might have found something in Cory Wade, though his innings have been limited. Andrew Brackman has moved to the Triple-A bullpen, but the results have not been encouraging. The Yankees have looked at Kevin Whelan and they’ve run through a series of long-relievers, but so far Noesi has been the call-up standout and Luis Ayala has been better than expected. George Kontos still seems to be pitching himself toward a call-up in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Left-handed reliever

The Yankees top two left-handed relievers should be Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte, but those two proven veterans have yet to pitch this season because of injuries. In their place, Boone Logan has been erratic, unable to repeat last year’s second-half success.

Trade market: Still relievers. The same problem that applies to the setup trade market applies to the lefty trade market: These guys tend to be unpredictable. The Yankees could take their chances on a veteran, with hopes that he doesn’t fall into either the Logan Trap of ineffectiveness or the Feliciaino/Marte Trap of arm problems. The Phillies just released J.C. Romero, who actually had solid numbers against lefties this season but passed through waivers without a claim. Logan has struggled all season, and the Yankees haven’t traded for a replacement yet, which might say something about the market.

In-house: Minor league veterans. The Yankees have signed some lefties for the Triple-A pitching staff, and those might be legitimate options. Randy Flores has pitched well out of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen, holding lefties to a .233 average with nine strikeouts, seven hits and one walk. Greg Smith has pitched well out of the rotation, but that’s only 14.2 innings and he has almost zero bullpen experience. If he could pitch in relief, Smith could give the Yankees a second lefty who doubles as a long man. It’s also worth noting that Whelan has had tremendous success against left-handers, but he’s currently on the DL and his first stint in New York was so short, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees trusting him with the bizarre role of right-handed lefty specialist.

* In my mind, this is why it makes sense to have Noesi playing a bullpen role while Brian Gordon gets a few spot starts. Noesi’s role could be a long-term thing. The Yankees have a very real need in the late innings, and if Noesi adapts to the role, he could be a significant boost the rest of the way. The current rotation opening is a no-doubt-about-it part-time job. Gordon is going to get one or two more starts before Hughes is ready, and obviously they’re going to skip him when they can. He had great numbers this year, so the Yankees are riding the hot hand for a while. They’re hoping for more than a short-term contribution from Noesi.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 72 Comments →

Postgame notes: “It looked like a piece of cake for him”06.20.11

After the longest outing of Ivan Nova’s young Major League, the focus in the Yankees clubhouse seemed to be on Nova’s eighth pitch of the night. It was the one pitch that cost him a run, but it might have been his biggest pitch of the night.

There were no outs, runners at the corners and the defending National League MVP had just fouled off a first-pitch fastball. That’s when Nova went to his changeup for a run-scoring double play that started a string of 22 of 24 batters retired.

“The last couple times, I wasn’t throwing too many changeups, maybe one or none in a game,” Nova said. “Tonight, we started with changeups to their third and fourth hitters, the power hitters, because you don’t want to let them hit your fastball. I started mixing from the beginning, and we kept doing that through the end of the game.”

Nova leans heavily on his fastball and curveball, and both are good pitches, but when he was struggling a month ago, it was his reluctance to throw anything beyond those two pitches that got him into trouble. He had to mix it up, and tonight he did that. Russell Martin said it was the first time he remembered Nova having both a sharp curveball and a sharp slider, and Joe Girardi was thrilled to see his 24-year-old going to the changeup, especially against left-handed home run hitters in a homer-friendly ballpark.

“It’s impressive,” Girardi said. “We’ve seen this kid take some steps forward and do some really good things for us, and we’ll continue to work with him and try to teach him. And I think he’s learning on the way. That’s what you do when you’re a young starter, you take what you did the last start and try to learn from it. And I think he’s doing that. He’s making adjustments as he needs to make adjustments.”

Nova didn’t walk anyone tonight, and after those back-to-back singles that opened the bottom of the first inning, he allowed just two more hits the rest of the way. He’s not usually a strikeout pitcher, but he struck out a season-high seven, including the last batter he faced on a nice breaking ball on the outer half.

“He looked poised today,” Martin said. “It looked like he felt confident even though he had to battle that first inning. After that, it looked like a piece of cake for him.”

My audio of Nova is awful — he was standing right underneath a speaker that was blasting some song I’d never heard — so here’s the Martin audio. He’s always pretty good at talking about his pitchers.

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• Alex Rodriguez came out of the game just because Girardi wanted to get him off his feet, but Rodriguez admitted that he’s feeling a little banged up lately. “I feel okay,” he said. “Just okay. Nothing north of that, that’s for sure.” He said the shoulder’s not a problem, he’s just played a lot lately, and Girardi said he’s planning to have Rodriguez in the lineup tomorrow.

• Rodriguez said his diving play at third base didn’t bother his shoulder. “A lot of guys are banged up,” he said. “It’s part of the long summer. I don’t think there’s a guy in Major League Baseball that feels 100 percent right now. I’m no exception.?”

• One advantage to having a former National League catcher behind the plate for an interleague series: “When I got here, the first thing I asked (Martin) was, ‘Do you know the hitters well?’” Nova said. “He said yes, so I didn’t shake any time. I trust my catcher, so whatever the sign was, I just threw it.”

• Nova acknowledged that he thought about this ballpark’s reputation while he was throwing in the bullpen pregame. He was especially focused on staying down in the zone, keeping hitters from elevating in a homer-friendly park. “He’s a tough guy to evelvate the ball on because he’s got so much movement,” Martin said. “And for the most part he keeps his fastball down. He’s just really a tough guy to elevate, so when you’ve got a guy who keeps the ball down like that, you’re not really to worried about the long ball.”

• Girardi said he never really considered sticking with Nova for the ninth inning. Nova had already thrown more innings than ever before, and Girardi didn’t want to send him back out there at 105 pitches. Nova said he was surprised to be taken out and thought he could have finished it.

• Girardi’s plan in the ninth was to stick with Luis Ayala until a runner got on base, then he wanted to go to Boone Logan to face a lefty. Logan hadn’t pitched since June 12. “We wanted to get Boone in a game,” Girardi said.

• Logan hit Votto with his first and only pitch, but Girardi didn’t indicate any thought of no longer using Logan. “It’s not what you want to do, but we’ll move forward,” Girardi said.

• After Logan put a second runner on base with no outs, Girardi said it was a no-brainer to go to Mariano Rivera, even though there was another lefty coming to the plate. At that point it was a save situation. “It’s his job,” Girardi said. “That’s what we have him for, and that’s what he’s done for a long time.”

• In a homer-ballpark, the Yankees did most of their scoring with a series of singles — and one double — in the first inning. “I thought our guys were ready to hit right from the start,” Girardi said. “Nobody tried to do too much. There’s all this talk about this ballpark being a home run ballpark. Our guys just took what they gave them, hit hard line drives and we scored runs.”

• Girardi said the decision to replace Jones with Brett Gardner was strictly for defense and had nothing to do with the ankle injury or Jones not running out the play.

• Nova was hilarious talking about his first big league at-bat. He said the first fastball looked like it was 100 mph. “The first pitch he threw me was 85,” Nova said. “The second one was 90-91. I was like, ‘What the hell? What are you trying to do with me? Keep throwing 85.’ I got a chance to hit and pitch in the big-leagues, so I’ll take that. It was a really good experience.”

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 302 Comments →

Pregame notes: Opportunities on the way06.10.11

Joe Girardi said he wasn’t holding out much hope. The Yankees doctors had seen Joba Chamberlain’s MRI results, and the Yankees manager was sure that their diagnosis was correct.

“I was pretty convinced that he was going to have surgery,” Girardi said.

Dr. James Andrews confirmed the diagnosis today, and Chamberlain will have surgery on Thursday. He’s likely lost for a year or so, certainly through the rest of this season and probably well into next season.

A Yankees bullpen that was seen as an overwhelming strength at the start of the spring training schedule now includes only three relievers who were projected to make the team when camp opened — Mariano Rivera, Dave Robertson and Boone Logan — and two of those three have been thrust into more significant roles than expected. Now it’s Luis Ayala who seems poised to take a larger-than-expected role. The Yankees will try some young guys, but Ayala’s experience essentially makes him the new Robertson, while Robertson becomes the new Chamberlain (who was already the new Rafael Soriano).

“(Ayala)’s become real important,” Girardi said. “He’d kind of taken Robby’s spot in the sixth, and now he’s going to be moved up to Robby’s spot in the seventh, so he’s become real important for us. He is a guy that has experience. He’s pitched in the back end of games, which I think is important. What we’ve seen from him is he has his good sinker, he comes in and throws strikes and he has a slider. He’s not afraid. He’s been through this before.”

The Yankees are expected to make a move before tonight’s game. We already know Kevin Whelan is on his way from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Once he arrives, he’ll be the first of what could be several internal options the Yankees look at in the late innings, trying to see who else might fit.

“You could see some guys that are going to get an opportunity, and we’re going to see what they can do,” Girardi said. “Obviously, when you start talking about pitching in the back end of games, a lot of times you prefer power arms or a lot of deception, and there’s some young kids down there — and some young kids in Double-A, and you probably even go down further — that have that, and they don’t have the experience. Some of them might get it.”

• Russell Martin texted Girardi this morning to say his back was feeling better, but the Yankees coaching staff told Girardi that Martin’s still not ready to play. Girardi said it’s just tightness. “We are going in the right direction,” Girardi said. “Maybe tomorrow is feasible. Maybe on Sunday. I’m hoping by this weekend we can play him.”

• Without Martin, the Yankees have leaned on Francisco Cervelli, who’s been throwing the ball into center field more often than the throws it to second base. Girardi and Tony Pena have been working with him to fix a mechanical flaw. “It’s similar to with a pitcher,” Girardi said. “If that front shoulder flies a little bit early, that ball’s taking off. And that’s what’s happening with him.”

• Girardi said Martin’s injury do not have him thinking about making a move to call up a catcher. “I think we’re OK for a while just because we do have Jorge in case of emergency,” Girardi said. “It would be different if we didn’t have Jorge.”

• Speaking of Posada, his son is feeling better two days after surgery. “He’s doing good,” Posada said. “He’s doing better.”

• Talked to Damaso Marte for a little while this afternoon. He’s playing catch, but only from about 20 feet. Much beyond that, his shoulder still feels sore. Playing light catch, though, the ball comes out “nice and easy” and Marte is still hopeful that he’ll be able to get himself back at some point after the all-star break.

• On Wednesday, the Indians optioned Shelley Duncan to Triple-A. It goes without saying that I was hoping to see him this weekend. He’s an easy guy to like, and an easy guy to root for.

• The Indians are one of the biggest surprises in baseball, a first-place team expected to finish at the bottom of the AL Central. “They’ve played well,” Girardi said. “They’ve pitched. Offensively, a lot of left-handed hitters. A lot of those guys are switch-hitters as well. They’re a young team that’s played well and they’ve gotten Grady Sizemore back. They’ve gotten huge contributions from Asdrubal Cabrera and there’s some experience there in bringing in Orlando Cabrera which I’m sure has helped out a lot and has helped out these young kids. Hafner, even though he’s been hurt, has had a pretty good year. I mean, this is a pretty good club, and they have some guys that have struggled but they’re still winning.”

• Tony Gwynn is one of the few players who would know, and he says the last 10 hits are the hardest to get on the way to 3,000. Derek Jeter is 10 away right now. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to get 3,000 hits,” Girardi said. “But I would imagine if I was at 2,990 it would be on my mind. But sometimes things just have a way of working out where it looks like it’s on your mind but it’s really not, or it’s on your mind and it looks like it’s not. I don’t think he’s ever going to let us know, but I’m sure it’s possible.”

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 178 Comments →

Postgame notes: Teixeira day-to-day06.08.11

The Yankees lost sole possession of first place in the American League East tonight. They could have lost much more.

Mark Teixeira seems to be relatively OK after being hit in the right knee by a first-inning pitch. Teixeira gets hit quite a bit, but this one was different. Teixeira was left squirming in the dirt, and he had trouble walking off the field, even with help from Joe Girardi and Tony Pena.

“My concern was that he fractured his kneecap,” Girardi said. “Tex has been hit a lot in three years that we’ve had him, and I’ve never seen him show that much pain before. He’s tough. He’s played with a broken toe and a lot of ailments. He was in a lot of pain, and that was scary.”

Girardi said Teixeira will probably not play tomorrow. Teixeira said not to rule it out.

“I always hope to play tomorrow. Always,” he said. “If I’m alright to go tomorrow, I’m going to go.”

First place on June 8 is something the Yankees want. Teixeira is someone they need. At this point in the season, Teixeira’s health immediately became the greatest concern. X-rays were negative, and Teixeira was diagnosed with a contusion (basically a bone bruise). He said there was never much swelling, and it wasn’t too painful after the game.

“It hit right there, kind of in between the knee cap and the side of the knee,” he said. “It was actually a lucky place. If it hits on the knee cap, it might do a lot of damage, so I feel lucky in that regard.”

Said Alex Rodriguez: “There are certain guys you can’t go without, and Tex is one of those guys. He’s in the middle of our lineup, and he produces day in and day out on both sides. I had a little bit of a flashback to the postseason when he got hurt running down the bases. You talk about him or Robbie, there are some guys that are irreplaceable.”

Here’s Teixeira.

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• Freddy Garcia threw a total of 46 pitches tonight. That’s all it took for Girardi to realize his starter didn’t have it. “He was up. He was behind. His stuff wasn’t crisp tonight,” Girardi said. “It’s really the first start we’ve seen that from him. He struggled, and they jumped on him early.”

• Girardi suggested that it seemed like the Red Sox were sitting on Garcia’s offspeed pitches. Garcia said that’s nothing new. “Probably,” he said. “But when I’m pitching I have to concentrate and throw strikes. I don’t have the chance really to make any adjustment. Everybody is sitting on my offspeed, but if you throw it where you want to hit the spot (you have success). If you don’t do that, that’s when you get hit.”

• Garcia said he would have liked to have had a chance to get himself straightened out, but he also seemed to understand Girardi’s decision to pull him early. “Next time, hopefully do my job,” he said.

• Ultimately, it’s hard to argue with the decision to pull Garcia in the middle of the second. Luis Ayala pitched 1.1 hitless innings, and Hector Noesi was tremendous. Technically, I guess the David Ortiz two-run homer stands as the difference, but it’s impossible to pin this loss on Noesi. The rookie keeps proving his value around here. He allowed a total of three hits through six innings. “He gave us a chance to get to where we were,” Girardi said.

• The last Yankee to pick six innings in relief? Kei Igawa, who did it on April 28, 2007 against the Red Sox. He got the win in a 3-1 game that day.

• Raise your hand if you thought you’d be reading about Kei Igawa tonight.

• The Yankees best players tonight were two guys who didn’t start the game. Noesi had his six innings of excellent relief, and Jorge Posada went 3-for-3 with a walk and the RBI single that brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth. “I wasn’t even in the lineup,” he said. “It’s one of those things. Throw you out there and hopefully you can produce.”

• Posada’s first two hits came off Jon Lester, his first two hits off a left-hander this season. That broke an 0-for-27 streak against lefties.

• Derek Jeter had two hits to move within 12 of career hit No. 3,000.

• Nick Swisher also had two hits, including a two-run double. That’s a good game following a good road trip.

• Girardi said Eric Chavez was examined and it was determined that he’s better, but not better enough to begin running and going through baseball drills. “He’s still not there,” Girardi said.

• Ortiz flipped his bat after the home run. Girardi seemed bothered by it, but not too bothered by it. “I didn’t really care for it,” he said. “I don’t know if he was upset that he missed some pitches earlier. I’ve got a young kid on the mound. I don’t know if he was upset that he came in hard on him. When it happens to you, you’re going to defend your guy. If it’s our guy, I’m going to say there was nothing intentional about it.”

• The Yankees are 1-6 against the Red Sox this season, including a sweep the last time the Red Sox played at Yankee Stadium. “We go back and forth with these guys,” Rodriguez said. “One year we were 0-8 and then we tied it 8-8. It goes back and forth, we play these guys so many times. We have a lot of respect for each other. Right now, they’re playing very well, and they’re very comfortable on our home field.”

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 91 Comments →

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