Familiar problem exposed in Texas • 04.26.12
They’ve always had faith that CC Sabathia would get going, they’ve trusted the Hiroki Kuroda would find some consistency, and they’ve known that a good starting pitcher — on a really good night — he can shutdown even deep and powerful lineup. Losing two out of three against a team like the Rangers didn’t teach the Yankees a whole lot, unless they needed to learn that they’re not a perfect team and can be beaten by a the team with the best record in the league.
The real issue with these three games is that it exposed what the Yankees already knew to be true: That they have a real problem in their rotation.
Sabathia and Kuroda pitched well this series, but the Yankees expect those two to pitch well this year. They’ve also come to expect that Ivan Nova will pitch well tomorrow. Their problem is that Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia have been bad, and those struggles were only magnified by Michael Pineda’s season-ending injury, Andy Pettitte’s ongoing minor league process and the fact that D.J. Mitchell is the only Triple-A starter with an ERA below 5.25.
“I think we’re pitching deep, but like anything else, I think we have some of our guys have got to get going,” Brian Cashman said. “They’re better than what they’ve shown in the first three weeks of the season at the Major League level and Triple-A. Other guys we’re feeling really good about. Do I feel that we have depth? Yeah. You have to acknowledge, at the same time, we’ve got some guys that we’ve got to get on track.”
Maybe you’d prefer to give Mitchell or David Phelps a shot, but right now the Yankees don’t have a can’t-miss alternative to Hughes and Garcia. They’re choosing not to skip Garcia’s next turn because they need to have him pitch to get things sorted out. They’re also committed to Hughes, trusting that talent will eventually be enough for consistent success.
But how long is the rope?
“Every outing like this is disappointing in its own way,” Hughes said after last night’s letdown. “It’s tough to deal with. The last start wasn’t good by any means. None of them have been good, so it’s a tough thing to deal with. You just hope things get better before they get worse. I’ll do everything in my power and do my best to try to do that.”
Hughes is still having trouble putting away hitters. His fastball velocity has been good, but his location has been bad. His secondary pitches — including his curveball — are hit-or-miss. When he came to spring training, Hughes was pitching for a job. He needed to pitch well to give himself a chance to stick in the rotation. Now that the Yankees have little choice but to keep Hughes in the rotation, he has to pitch well to give them a chance to win some games.
“That’s the case all the time,” Hughes said. “Whether we have guys coming back up or not, I’m trying to get this thing right for the team more than anything. We need wins, and we need our guys to do their jobs. I’m just not doing it right now. I don’t think it really matters what the situation is. If you’re not performing, something has to change.”
The Yankees can’t stick with him forever. At some point, with both Hughes and Garcia, it will be time to roll the dice with someone else.
Associated Press photo
Monday notes from the minor league complex • 03.26.12
I doubt the Yankees would ever frame it this way, but essentially they have to decide whether Phil Hughes will be more like the 2010 version of himself or the 2011 version. So far, he’s very clearly looked more like 2010, and he’s been able to maintain that level of performance throughout the spring.
“The beginning of that year, you come in and that real-season adrenalin starts to kick in,” Hughes said. “Everything is a little bit better, a little bit crisper. I don’t think I’m pitching that well at this point, but that’s not to say that it can’t be there when April rolls around and we get things going. I feel like I’m close.”
Hughes’ fastball velocity has been fairly consistent this spring, and I talked to one scout today who said he wouldn’t be surprised to see it topping out a little higher a month or two into the season. He’s started throwing a harder, tigher curveball, and his changeup seems to be even better than it was in 2010. He’s walked two hitters all spring.
“I think he’s very close (to 2010) right now,” Francisco Cervelli said. “He’s got to keep working, because the season is long. He has to keep getting stronger.”
He looks strong right now, and if he keeps pitching at his 2010 level, I’ll be surprised if Hughes isn’t in the rotation come Opening Day.
• Hughes was pitching for the High-A team. The Low-A group was also in Tampa today. Triple-A and Double-A were on the road in Clearwater. The Low-A Charleston lineup is really, really impressive. Check it out at the bottom of this post.
• Andy Pettitte will throw his second batting practice tomorrow, but Larry Rothschild said he’s not sure what comes after that. He’s also not sure whether Pettitte will get in a game this spring, but he doesn’t seem to be ruling out the possibility.
• Joe Girardi was home visiting his ill father this morning but Rothschild, Rob Thomson, Billy Eppler and Brian Cashman were among the Yankees decision makers watching Hughes pitch.
• Center field prospect Mason Williams and catching prospect Gary Sanchez have been moved from the Tampa group to the Charleston group (which was expected). J.R. Murphy has been moved from Trenton to Tampa. Those assignments are more in keeping with where they’ll almost certainly open the regular season.
• Speaking of Sanchez, he and Tyler Austin hit back-to-back homers in the Low-A game today.
• I didn’t see it, but apparently Ravel Santana made his spring debut today. He’s back from a ankle injury.
• George King reported yesterday that the Phillies might be interested in Ramiro Pena to help them fill their sudden hole in the infield. Today I heard it’s true that the Phillies might have some interest, but only at a cheap price. They’re not willing to give up much. Today the Phillies signed Chin-lung Hu to give them some utility depth.
• Very good to see P.J. Pilittere this afternoon. The former Yankees minor league catcher is now a coach in the Yankees system. Very good guy. Could be a natural manager some day.
• Here are today’s lineups for Tampa and Charleston. This might be the actual Opening Day lineup for Charleston, and it’s loaded with legitimate prospects. Pretty impressive, actually.
Eduardo Sosa CF
Kelvin Castro 2B
Ramon Flores LF
Rob Segedin RF
Kyle Roller 1B
J.R. Murphy DH (went to catcher in the seventh)
Zach Wilson 3B (made a nice play in the field today)
Carmen Angelini SS
Francisco Cervelli C
Mason Williams CF
Ben Gamel LF
Dante Bichette 3B
Gary Sanchez C
Tyler Austin RF
Cito Culver SS
Angelo Gumbs 2B
Reymond Nunez 1B
Anderson Feliz DH
• Finally, I’ll be hosting a chat here on the blog at noon on Wednesday. Stop by if you can. I’m sure we’ll jump into the rotation decision and some of the guys who have made noise this spring.
Associated Press photos
There are 10 spring training days left on the schedule. The 11th day is an off day, and 12 days from now, the Yankees will open their regular season against the Rays. That’s not a lot of time — two more turns through the rotation — and by then, the team plans to have six starters narrowed down to five.
“I think we still need to see more,” Joe Girardi said yesterday. “I think everyone needs to see more, and we’ll continue to look at it. You’d like to be able to (choose a rotation), but we don’t have to rush into it so we’ll probably sit down and talk about it sometime next week as a group, but just continue to observe right now.”
This afternoon, Phil Hughes will make his next spring start in a minor league game. Up to this point, he’s been just as good as — if not better than — anyone else in the competition. His arm strength has returned, his offspeed pitches have been effective, and the results have been consistent. Hughes has been sharp, looking very much like a pitcher out to prove he deserves his spot back.
“I know what we’ll get from Phil Hughes if he’s healthy,” Brian Cashman said last week.
Does that mean Hughes has a leg up? Do the Yankees have a leader board already in mind?
“I could go back and forth right now,” Giradi said. “I really could, (and) we do because that’s what we see.”
Associated Press photo
Up and down through the middle of March • 03.19.12
The off day seems like a good time to take a look at some of the players making an early impression — one way or another — in Yankees camp. In some cases — Jose Gil hitting .667 or Robinson Cano hitting .185 — the numbers up to this point mean absolutely nothing. Gil isn’t likely to play his way onto the big league radar, and Cano isn’t going to play his way out of the big league lineup. But in some case, players are making an impression that just might matter at some point.
.333/.385/.667 with five doubles
Seems like not much has been written about Granderson’s spring, but he’s been driving the ball consistently, which seems to be a good sign that he might be able to pick up where he left off. Obviously spring training numbers don’t mean much, especially when a lot of these at-bats have come so early in camp, but Granderson has at least given reason to believe last year’s breakout season wasn’t a fluke. So far, so good.
1.08 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, five strikeouts, one walk
Andy Pettitte might complicate things down the road, but for now, the Yankees are still trying to pick five starting pitchers from a group of six. And right now, Hughes is making a strong case that he belongs. With fastball velocity that’s much better than last spring, and fastball command that seems to be improving every time out, Hughes has been a very effective starter this spring, with the lowest ERA and lowest WHIP of any rotation candidate. Freddy Garcia’s hand injury did nothing to hurt Hughes’ cause.
0.00 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, seven strikeouts
A fairly late addition to Yankees camp, Rapada is trying to win the one open spot in the Yankees bullpen, and he’s making a pretty good case for the job. Through 5.1 innings, the lefty specialist has allowed just two hits while striking out seven. He has a track record of getting out left-handers in the big leagues, and depending on what the Yankees want from that last bullpen spot, might have emerged as a favorite to win a big league job.
.065/.121/.097 with seven strikeouts
I’m a real believer that spring training numbers — especially at this point — don’t mean much. But there were plenty of fans who weren’t sold on Ibanez in the first place and his slow start has done nothing to ease those concerns. A lot of his spring at-bats have come against lefties, which he will hardly ever face in the regular season, but he’s admitted that his timing is off right now. Results in spring training might not mean much, but there are certainly plenty of people who would like to see some results at some point.
54.00 ERA, four walks, no strikeouts
Two spring outings. That’s it. It’s a tiny sample size from a pitcher signed to a minor league deal, so it shouldn’t be even a blip on the radar. However, Miller is an intriguing possibility as a former elite prospect trying to work his way back from a series of injuries. He’s still just 27 years old with a past that makes people wonder “what if?” but his early spring impression did nothing but make him one of the first cuts. Not many pitchers have thrown particularly poorly in Yankees camp, but Miller certainly did.
Zero games played
He was always a long shot to make the team, but with Raul Ibanez struggling, Branyon might have been able to open some eyes and at least give the Yankees something to consider. Instead, he’s missed most of camp with soreness in his back. His situation wasn’t particularly good to begin with, but it’s only gotten worse as the injury has lingered.
NOWHERE TO GO
D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps
0.54 combined ERA, 16 strikeouts, six walks
Adam Warren and Dellin Betances have also pitched well this spring, but Phelps and Mitchell have been true standouts. Problem is, it’s hard to know what these numbers mean from two guys who are clearly no higher than eighth and ninth in the rotation pecking order. The addition of Andy Pettitte does nothing to help open a door for them, but they’ve been impressive.
.368/.455/.474 with three stolen bases
The only problem with Maxwell is what to do with him. A shoulder injury robbed him of last year’s second half, but he was productive when he played, and he’s been terrific this spring. The toolsy outfielder might be a great fit on the bench if the Yankees had a spot for him. Instead, his big spring might only help his trade value because he’s out of options and the Yankees don’t seem to have room for him.
.292/.370/.625 with two home runs
No doubt about it, Rodriguez has been good this spring. But unlike Granderson, the questions surround Rodriguez have little to do with his ability to hit. They’re all to do with his ability to stay healthy. So far, Rodriguez has shown no signs of injury, but he showed no signs last spring either and wound up on the disabled list. There’s very little Rodriguez can prove this spring. His only test is whether he can stay on the field through the end of October.
Associated Press photos
Spread across two different spring training sites, separated by a little more than two hours worth of highway, a little less than half of the Yankees projected big league pitching staff got on the mound this afternoon. Phil Hughes faced the Twins in Fort Myers. CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Boone Logan and Cory Wade faced the Phillies in Tampa.
Their combined line: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K.
Most of the attention was naturally on Rivera, and that’s probably the way it’s going to be throughout the season. If the expectation is that he’ll retire at the end of the season, then every one of his outings carries a little extra significance. There’s a little added appreciation to every step along the way. Rivera, Logan and Wade each pitched a hitless inning today, but the bulk of the innings belongs to the starting pitchers.
Before the game, Sabathia told Russell Martin that he wanted to work on his two-seamer and his changeup, and those pitches were the focus of the afternoon. Sabathia wasn’t happy with his fastball command last time out, but he was much better this time, and he got better in the second and third innings.
Sabathia: “Felt good. The fastball command was pretty good, the secondary pitches were working. I still got a little ways to go, you know. I still want to work on my two-seamer. But I feel good today… Fastball command (improved). Getting it in on righties, and Russ did a good job making sure we got a lot of those. He called a lot of two-seamers which is something that we’ve been working on all spring. He did a good job of working in things we were trying to do.”
Martin: “He was great. What I liked about him was he had some good velocity. I don’t know how hard he was throwing, but it felt like the ball was jumping out of his hand. And he threw some good changeups. He threw his curveball for strikes. We talked before the game, he wanted to work on his two-seamer a lot and his changeup, I think we did a good job of that today. We threw some two-seamers in for lefties, made them uncomfortable. Locked a guy up with a slider for a puncy. Threw some good changeups down in the zone off his fastball. He was good today.”
3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
Joe Girardi went on the road to see Hughes make his second spring appearance. Last time out, Hughes’ arm strength was much better than at this time last season, and his fastball remained in the low 90s this afternoon. I wasn’t there to see it, but it seems to be another solid step forward.
Hughes: “The cutter wasn’t as good as it was last time, but the curveball was much better. Fastball location was much better, as well. Command-wise, it was a lot better, especially in the second and third innings… It seemed like my fastball was good. It was jumping on hitters a little bit based on the swings I was getting. That was a positive thing. Being able to work out of some trouble with guys on, they put together some good at-bats in the first and I was able to get around those.”
Girardi: “I thought he had everything today. Fastball location was much better, he threw some good changeups, curveballs and cutters. I was very pleased. I thought it was a nice step in a positive direction for him. A lot of times at this point in the first couple starts, I’m focusing on the good things. Knowing that they are rusty, you don’t expect them to have their A stuff a lot of times. You want to see what they’ve got the first couple starts. I was pleased.”
• Dave Robertson is supposed to get his walking boot off tomorrow, but that’s subject to change depending on how he feels. “If he comes in and he’s walking okay and it’s not too painful, he’ll come out of the boot,” Girardi said. “If it’s still pretty painful, we’ll put him back in the boot.” For whatever it’s worth, Robertson seemed to be walking much more easily today.
• Eduardo Nunez could be in a game as early as Tuesday. “We’ll have him take BP Tuesday, and if he has no problem, I’ll put him in the game,” Girardi said.
• Really nice game by Chris Dickerson here in Tampa. He made a nice running play in center field, had the two-run single that gave the Yankees the lead, and he stayed in a rundown long enough to let runners advance to second and third. I’m still surprised no team thought they could carry him as a fourth outfielder this year. He’s a nice player.
• Russell Martin stole another base today. That’s four steals in five games for the Yankees catcher. “I’m putting a little pressure on Gardy,” Martin said. “That’s all I’m doing.” Might be working because Gardner also had a stolen base today. It was Gardner’s second.
• Derek Jeter went 2-for-3 — and had another hit taken away by a nice catch in center field — in the Yankees 3-1 win against the Phillies. Dickerson, Robinson Cano, Gustavo Molina, Bill Hall, Justin Maxwell and call-up-for-the-day Austin Krum also had hits in the win. … Francisco Cervelli went 3-for-3 in the 5-1 loss to the Twins. Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Gary Sanchez, Jayson Nix and Corban Joseph also had hits in that game, as did call-up-for-the-day Walter Ibarra.
• Clay Rapada, Chase Whitley and Kevin Whelan were able to keep the shutout intact in Tampa. … In Fort Myers, Adam Warren allowed one run through three innigns, but the game unraveled when Graham Stoneburner allowed a solo homer in the seventh inning and Adam Miller gave up a three-run homer in the eighth. All five Twins runs came on home runs.
• Add Dan Burawa to the injured list. Girardi said today that Burawa hurt his ribcage yesterday. “He’s probably down for a little bit,” Girardi said. Burawa seemed to be making a pretty good impression this spring but was still just here to get his feet wet. He’s not realistically in the big league picture this season.
• Once again Girardi said Austin Romine is making steady progress from his sore back, but the Yankees are staying extra cautious. There’s no rush to get Romine into regular duty in spring training. “If he’s a backup here, he’s not going to play every day,” Girardi said. “And if he’s in the minor leagues, he’s going to play every day, so you can work him up to three and four days in a row down there. That’s not a problem. I want to see him playing healthy before we leave; that’s the most important thing.”
• A lot of guys up from minor league camp today, but center field standout Mason Williams wasn’t among them. Girardi said today that he expects Williams to come up for a big league game at some point this spring. Girardi’s never seen him play, but “I’m interested,” he said.
• After fracturing the bone around his eye earlier this spring, A.J. Burnett has returned to Pirates camp. He’s still expected to miss two to three months.
• During a surprise Facetime conversation, Alex Rodriguez, Dave Robertson and Tino Martinez spoke with Stephanie Decker, the mother that lost both legs while protecting her two children from a tornado in Indiana last week.
• Want further proof that Mariano Rivera pretty much sets his own schedule in spring training? Here’s Girardi’s I-have-no-idea answer to a question about what’s next for Rivera after today’s debut appearance: “He’ll probably have some days where he has a couple days off. He might throw an inning, do a bullpen the next time, then throw an inning again. He usually gets his seven or eight appearances in, so he’s got plenty of time to do that. There’s no rush.”
Associated Press photos
Tuesday notes: “I didn’t want any excuses” • 03.06.12
Joe Girardi didn’t exactly rip Phil Hughes this morning, but he did address the fact that Hughes wasn’t in great shape last spring. Girardi talked about expectations, entitlement and work ethic, and Girardi more than implied that he wasn’t happy with the way Hughes approached last spring.
“There’s a concern,” Girardi said. “The thing is, I’d seen him work very hard before. But yeah, it does question where their mindset is. Where’s their mindset?”
“I think you could tell by the way he came into camp that there’s a little bit more of an edge,” Girardi said.
After the game, Hughes was very good about addressing those conditioning concerns. It’s not the kind of thing players like talking about, but Hughes touched on a little bit of everything, from the disappointment of last season to the notion that complacency might have played a role.
“Last year was a failure and I didn’t want to do that again,” he said. “I didn’t want any excuses coming into spring. I needed to be strong and I needed to pitch well, so that’s on me. Everyone can want you to succeed as much as they want but at the end of the day I have to go out and do it.”
On last winter’s training program: “Maybe I thought I needed more rest than I really did in that off-season. Maybe just didn’t push it as hard as I could have. At the end of the day, it falls on me, and I paid for it with a disappointing year.”
On this winter’s training program: “I don’t think there was necessarily a message sent in my direction. I did my offseason program on my own. I actually had to call the team and make sure it was OK that I did it. So it wasn’t like I was being punished and sent to boot camp somewhere. It was something I wanted to do.”
• In his first spring start CC Sabathia allowed hits to the first three batters he faced, then he retired the next five. “I’ve still got a little work to do, but my arm feels good and my body feels good,” Sabathia said.
• Someone asked whether Sabathia can more easily dismiss some of those first-inning hits because they were helped by the wind. “No because the two balls that were outs in the next inning were crushed,” he said. “It’s just baseball.”
• Hughes was at 38 pitches when he came out of the game in the third inning. He laughed about Larry Rothschild’s trip to the mound that inning. “That was kind of a stall there, a little bit,” Hughes said. “I think he talked about the hitter that was up there. I’m pretty sure he was making it all up.”
• With Hiroki Koroda pitching tomorrow, the Yankees starters will slide into their regular five-game routines. It’s pretty much the usual rotation — with Hughes and Sabathia on the same day — from here on out. Girardi said Sabathia might pitch in a minor league game when it comes his turn next week.
• Despite the fact he played today, Derek Jeter said he’s planning to play tomorrow. He didn’t explain, but it’s pretty easy to look at the schedule and figure out why. Tomorrow and Friday are home games. Thursday and Saturday are on the road. Jeter might not be Mariano Rivera, but he’s got some clout.
• Girardi said he didn’t think Mark Teixeira was scheduled to play tomorrow, so if he’s out of the lineup, don’t read anything into it. Today’s thumb incident — he jammed his thumb a little bit applying a tag — seems to be a non-issue.
• George Kontos came through long toss yesterday with no problem. He was cleared today to resume full workouts with core work and regular lifting. He’ll do long toss again tomorrow and hopes to be in a bullpen within a few days.
• Zoilo Almonte’s perfect spring training came to an end with an 0-for-1 afternoon. He was 5-for-5 until now.
• None of the Yankees had more than one hit. Justin Maxwell and David Adams each had doubles — Adams’ came off former Yankees prospect Dan McCutchen — and there were singles from Jeter (first hit of the spring), Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Melky Mesa, Chris Dickerson and Ramiro Pena. Mesa showed off his arm a little bit, throwing out Jake Fox at third base from center field.
• Brett Marshall had the pitching line of the day with 1.2 hitless innings. Graham Stoneburner allowed a run on four hits through two innings and Chase Whitley gave up three runs and five hits in the eighth.
Associated Press photos
Pregame notes: “It’s just too early” • 03.03.12
Joe Girardi said this week that Ivan Nova is not guaranteed a rotation spot. So can he start earning his spot today in Clearwater?
“It’s just too early,” Girardi said. “I want to see Nova go out and throw strikes.”
Girardi said he told the pitchers early this spring that their first few outings are strictly preparation. He told them to get ready, stay healthy and prove themselves in the last few weeks of the spring schedule. Nova has two innings today, and it’s more about getting his work in than making an impression.
• Raul Ibanez has his second straight start at DH, and oddly enough, each start has come against a left-handed starter (the Phillies are starting Cole Hamels today). Girardi said he doesn’t get “caught up” in lefty-righty matchups this early in spring training. Even though Ibanez was signed to hit against right-handers, Girardi just wants him to get some at-bats right now.
• Andruw Jones, who isn’t making today’s trip and didn’t get an at-bat yesterday, will start in the outfield tomorrow. Of course, that’s going to be against a right-handed starter.
• Phil Hughes just finished throwing live batting practice — or a sim game, whatever you want to call it — and now Adam Miller is doing the same. Colin Curtis and Francisco Cervelli are the hitters. Larry Rothschild and Triple-A pitching coach Scott Aldred are watching.
• CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda are throwing sides today in Tampa.
• The position players not making the trip will stay behind to go through regular drills. There’s a specific note that Jones and Curtis will get some work in left field. The hitting groups in Tampa:
Group 1: Robinson Cano, Francisco Cervelli, Derek Jeter, Andruw Jones
Group 2: Colin Curtis, Gustavo Molina, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira
• Tomorrow, Adam Warren, Graham Stoneburner and Brett Marshall are each throwing bullpens. Hiroki Kuroda will throw a sim game to Brandon Laird and Zoilo Almonte.
• Today’s available pitchers: Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Michael O’Connor, Chase Whitley, D.J. Mitchell, Juan Cedeno and Clay Rapada. Only the first six are actually expected to pitch.
• Today’s second string: C Gary Sanchez, 1B Jorge Vazquez, 2B Corban Joseph, SS Ramiro Pena, 3B Brandon Laird, LF Chris Dickerson, CF Dewayne Wise, RF Cole Garner, DH Justin Maxwell
UPDATE, 10:52 a.m.: The Phillies are going with Jimmy Rollins plus some outfield regulars.
Jimmy Rollins SS
Shane Victorino CF
Hunter Pence RF
Jim Thome DH
Ty Wigginton 3B
John Mayberry Jr. 1B
Domonic Brown LF
Erik Kratz C
Michael Martinez 2B
Moving forward: The rotation • 10.10.11
Brian Cashman calls it the “key the kingdom,” and the game treats it as such. Starting pitching is the highest commodity in baseball these days, and the Yankees have made it a priority ever since the winter of 2008 when they signed CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, essentially setting the stage for the 2009 World Series.
It was a priority again last season, and it will be a priority again this winter.
That priority starts with Sabathia. If he opts out, as he’s expected to do, the Yankees will lose their ace. The top starter on the free agent market is C.J. Wilson, who’s been awfully good these past two years in Texas, but that’s the extent of his rotation experience. Sabathia is a proven commodity, even with his so-so last two months of the regular season.
Beyond Sabathia, the Yankees have Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes returning. They also have Hector Noesi and a series of young, minor league starters who could compete for spots.
Otherwise, the Yankees have to choose their targets and decide who rounds out the group.
Freddy Garcia opened some eyes this season, and he could be worth a return trip the Bronx. Bartolo Colon’s second half should raise some red flags, but he certainly gave the Yankees more than they could have expected. It’s probably safe to say Brian Gordon’s time has come and gone.
Is Wilson just the guy to bring some left-handed balance, and a reliable No. 2 behind Sabathia? Is someone like Edwin Jackson worth a middle-rotation spot? Is someone like Rich Harden worth the health risk? Is there a pitcher on the trade market who’s worth dangling Jesus Montero?
Moving forward means answering those questions, but first things first, it means resolving the Sabathia issue and giving the team a legitimate No. 1.
Associated Press photo
Postgame notes: “That’s just how A.J. is” • 10.05.11
It took A.J. Burnett exactly six pitches to walk his first batter tonight. Larry Rothschild went to the mound after five hitters, Cory Wade was throwing in the bullpen before the third out, and the only thing that let Burnett escape the first inning was a leaping, falling catch by Curtis Granderson.
That was the beginning of Burnett’s biggest start of the year, a game that saved the Yankees season and salvaged some of Burnett’s.
“That’s A.J.,” Russell Martin said. “He wasn’t that erratic. That’s just how A.J. is, really. I didn’t have to say anything to him. I gave him a little neck message, and he went back to work … Gave him a little rubdown, sort of like a boxer in his corner.”
It was occasionally a high-wire act, but like Martin said, that’s A.J. He walked four and gave up four hits, but he also gave the Yankees 5.2 innings on a night they gladly would have accepted four. After Wade got loose in the first inning, the Yankees didn’t have to use a reliever until the sixth.
“A lot of times, for starters, that first inning is the toughest inning to get through, and you kind of get your feet wet,” Joe Girardi said. ” He hadn’t started a game in a while, in about eight or nine days. But he got through it, and then he pitched really well.
“… I was proud of what he did. In a must-win situation for us, he pitched one of his best games of the year. I’ve said all along, the Tigers swing the bat. To be able to shut them down, he gave up the one solo homer and gave up a double and proceeded to get out of that inning. We were all excited for him and very proud of what he did.”
For Burnett it was redemption. No one rips A.J. Burnett quite like A.J. Burnett, and even tonight he was a little bit hard on himself — said he should have pitched deeper, gave the defense a ton of credit — but he also stuck with his mantra of staying positive.
“Maybe it took me 25 to 30 (pitches) to get loose,” he said. “Maybe. I don’t know. I was just letting it go, and if it didn’t go for a strike, it didn’t go. I wasn’t worried about it. I got the ball and was able to do it again. I was able to find somewhat of a rhythm after that. It was a little nerve-racking in the first. I hadn’t been out there in a while.”
The Yankees didn’t plan to have him out there this time, but Friday’s rain forced their hand, and Burnett forced a winner-take-all Game 5. It started out nearly as bad as the Yankees could have imagined, but on night of redemption and second chances, Burnett got it going and kept the Yankees alive.
“I knew I was overthrowing, but I wasn’t going to think about it,” he said. “When you think about it, that’s when it goes more south… I wasn’t going to let little things bother me. I didn’t care if I walked eight, whatever. How many hits, how many homers you give up, I was just going to get the ball back and let it fly. I took that approach tonight, and it worked.”
• Burnett said it more than once, and it was true every time: “We don’t win tonight without defense.” A double play, Derek Jeter snagging a line drive, a few nice plays by Alex Rodriguez and — of course — Curtis Granderson’s pair of run-saving catches in center field.
• Granderson said it was his second catch, the Superman dive into left-center, that was the more difficult of the two. “Because of the distance I had to go,” he said. “The first one, I didn’t have to move too far, but I did have to freeze on it. It does make that play very difficult. Once you end up on your heals, now it’s hard to go ahead and generate some speed. For the second on, to have to go as far as I did and then to have to leave my feet like that, the good thing I thought if I do miss that one, Gardner is there. For the first one, if I miss that one, there’s nothing there but the wall back there and some ivy.”
• No surprise, but Girardi committed to Ivan Nova absolutely getting the start on Thursday.
• Girardi also said CC Sabathia will be in the bullpen on Thursday. “I plan on him being available to us,” Girardi said.
• With Cory Wade up in the first inning, Girardi said he was fully prepared to make a move that early. “I can’t tell you that I was going to take him out, I can’t tell you I was going to leave him in,” Girardi said. “But I had the guy up in case that first inning got away from us a little bit.”
• Girardi wasn’t sure what he would have done if there were another base runner after Jhonny Peralta’s double in the fourth inning. “Very possible I make a change there, yes,” Girardi said. Burnett struck out the next two batters and stayed in the game.
• How wild was that first inning? Girardi said he thought it was Wade he had getting loose, but he wasn’t sure. After all that happened tonight, he was perfectly willing to believe it was Phil Hughes.
• Speaking of Hughes, he finally got in a game with a scoreless eighth inning. Jesus Montero also saw his first division series action with two hits, including a pinch-hit RBI single in his first career postseason at-bat.
• Alex Rodriguez got his first two hits of the division series. They both came in that six-run eighth when struggling Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher also had hits. “I said our guys are having decent at-bats,” Girardi said. “They have a pretty good pitching staff here. There was a lot of talk about it. I talked about Adrian Beltre today. It doesn’t take much for a guy to be a huge impact. I thought Al had a huge RBI after getting down 0-2 in the count, I thought that was a big RBI.”
• Jeter on his two-run double that put the Yankees on the board: “I actually thought he caught it. After seeing the replay, the ball bounced right back up to him, and he bare-handed it. From my vantage point, all I saw was his back. That’s why I stopped at second. I thought he had caught it and that was double play. Austin has run down a few of my fly balls over the years. But fortunately for us, that one fell in.”
• Two more hits for Brett Gardner who’s having a nice series. His batting average is up to .385 in these first four games.
• We’ll give the Captain the final word tonight: “We enjoy playing at home,” Jeter said. “If you are going to win a championship, you have to play well at home, you have to play well on the road. We were fortunate to get a split here and bring it back to New York on Thursday. I’m pretty sure our fans will be vocal, excited and so will the Tigers. It’s going to be a challenge for us. Hopefully we can win one more game.”
Associated Press photos
Freddy Garcia will start tomorrow’s rescheduled Game 2, and it sounds like there was never much chance of CC Sabathia getting the ball. In fact, Joe Girardi hasn’t committed to Sabathia pitching on Monday. It’s still possible, he said, the he’ll wait until Tuesday to pitch his ace again.
“You’re asking a guy to pitch on Sunday and Thursday, and he threw on Friday,” Girardi said. “To me, it’s too much… You don’t want to send a guy out there if he’s not physically as good as he can be. I’m not saying that any starting pitcher is going to be 100 percent, but if you have a couple games that you can choose from and he can be 95 percent one day and 80 percent the other day, I’m going to take him at the 95 percent.”
Right now, Girardi expects Sabathia to be his Monday starter, but he won’t set that in stone until Sabathia checks in Sunday and confirms that he feels strong enough to pitch the next day.
As for Tuesday’s Game 4, it’s obvious that A.J. Burnett is the leading candidate to start for the Yankees, but Girardi said he hasn’t discussed it with Burnett. For now, Burnett is available as a long man, and if the Yankees get into a crazy situation tonight, Burnett will be available to pitch multiple innings.
“I think you worry about today’s game today,” Girardi said. “You worry about tomorrow’s game tomorrow. That’s what you do.”
How much has this series changed now that Sabathia and Justin Verlander are, essentially, pitching only once.
“It can potentially change a lot, but I don’t think we’re ever going to know,” Girardi said. “That’s for people to sit around and talk about. You’ve got two aces going, a 1-1 game, and now they’re conceivably only going to pitch once each. It changes the complexion of it, but none of us really know if it would have changed the outcome.”
Here’s Girardi’s press conference.
• Girardi quickly dismissed any notion that Alex Rodriguez might be bothered by playing four games in a row. He said the fact Rodriguez sat out the regular-season finale is a non-issue. “If it wasn’t New York and it wasn’t Alex this wouldn’t have been such a big deal that a guy was a little cranky,” Girardi said. “He played on turf a couple of days. I think you probably could have askd about 10 of our players in Tampa on Wednesday if any of their knees were a little cranky from playing on the turf and you probably would have gotten about seven yeses. Because it’s Alex, it’s a big deal.”
• Rodriguez actually did early work in the field yesterday and today. When I got to the park this afternoon he was taking grounders at third.
• Same thing for Russell Martin. Even with four days in a row and a day game after a night game, Martin is still expected to start every game behind the plate. “He’s ready to go,” Girardi said.
• The closest Girardi would come to confirming Burnett as his fourth starter was to say he’s a “great candidate” to start that game. “He’s pitched well against this team this year,” Girardi said.
• If not Burnett, Phil Hughes is the obvious alternative. “He’s an option,” Girardi said. “He’s not really stretched out over the last two weeks, but I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen in the next couple games with the rain in the forecast. ”
• Girardi said he never put a real plan together because he was quickly convinced last night’s game was not going to continue, but he probably would have used Burnett had the game resumed after the rain delay. “That’s probably what I would have done,” Girardi said. “I didn’t even think about that, because when I came in, I looked at the radar and it didn’t look too good. I heard TBS say there was a window and I was wondering where that window was.”
• Girardi said it’s not up to him, but his hope is that MLB will postpone the start of tonight’s game if there’s rain in the forecast for the first few innings. He’d rather not burn out a starting pitcher in another delay.
• The Tigers have not changed anything about their lineup. They’d have to lose a player to do so, so they’re going with their vLHP lineup against the right-handed Ivan Nova.
• Andy Pettitte is here, but there’s no ceremonial first pitch tonight, so the thinking seems to be that he could be throwing out the first pitch tomorrow. Could the Yankees have Mariano Rivera throw to Jorge Posada before Game 1, then have Pettitte throw to Derek Jeter before Game 2?
Associated Press photos