The LoHud Yankees Blog

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


Yankees injury report03.19.12

A quick rundown of the injuries suffered in Yankees camp this spring…

Robinson Cano
Bruised hand
Hit by a pitch last night, Cano was pulled from the game, then he went for x-rays that came back negative. He’s going to be reevaluated on Tuesday, but the Yankees don’t seem overly concerned.

Derek Jeter
Sore left calf
Jeter felt some soreness in his calf during Wednesday’s game in Dunedin. He finished the game but hasn’t played since. Today he’s scheduled to get treatment at the stadium. He hasn’t done baseball activities since Thursday. He’s expected to play Tuesday.

Russell Martin
Tight groin/hamstring
Martin was scratched from yesterday’s road trip because of some stiffness that he says is between his groin and hamstring. He felt something similar a few years ago and decided to be cautious about it this year. He’s expected to play Tuesday.

Nick Swisher
Sore groin
An MRI came back negative, but Swisher hasn’t played since feeling something “tug” running out of the box on Wednesday. He’s been going through regular baseball drills and is expected to play on Tuesday. Like Martin, Swisher said he wouldn’t have come out of the lineup if this were the regular season.

Dave Robertson
Bruised right foot
The most infamous Yankees injury of the spring seems to have resolved itself. Robertson stumbled down a step while carrying a box at his house and he hasn’t played in two weeks, but he threw a bullpen yesterday and is scheduled to throw another one tomorrow. He could be in a game within a week or so and the expectation is that he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

Freddy Garcia
Swollen right hand
Hit by a comebacker on Wednesday, Garcia has been shutdown for a few days. He’s skipping a scheduled minor league start this afternoon but could be back in a game as early as Friday. X-rays showed no broken bones, and Garcia’s simply been waiting for the swelling to go down.

Eduardo Nunez
Bruised right hand
Although he still had the hand wrapped after the game, Nunez played last night and said everything felt fine. He’s now played in back-to-back games after missing nearly two weeks because of soreness than lingered longer than expected. He suffered the injury when he was hit by a pitch in Clearwater.

Ramiro Pena
Sprained right ankle
Pena is scheduled to take batting practice off Brad Meyers on Tuesday, which seems to indicate that he’s pretty close to returning from a sprained ankle suffered while sliding into second base on Thursday. He’s been walking around the clubhouse with no noticeable limp.

Austin Romine
Sore back
Romine missed time with a sore back last season as well, so the Yankees decided to be extra cautious when his back began feeling sore this spring. Romine has not played in a game and just started taking swings two days ago. He might be able to get in a game late in spring training, but he’s spent most of his time just trying to make sure the back doesn’t become a lingering issue.

George Kontos
Sore oblique
Injured in his first bullpen of the spring, Kontos waited longer than expected before getting back on a mound, but he finally made his spring debut last night with a 1-2-3 eighth inning.

Russell Branyan
Sore back
Something of a wild card for the Yankees platoon DH job, Branyan hasn’t had a chance to plead his case because he’s been shutdown with a sore back. He received epidurals last week, but it’s still not clear when he’ll be ready to play.

Manny Delcarmen
Strained lat
The former Red Sox reliever hasn’t pitched in a game this season, but he threw a bullpen yesterday. Based on the timing of other pitchers he seems to be on track to get in a game in about a week.

Dan Burawa
Torn oblique
The biggest long-term injury of the camp could force Burawa to miss significant time. The young relief pitcher seemed to make a fast impression — both Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman mentioned him at different points — but he had to shut it down at

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Jeter, Martin and Swisher scratched03.16.12

Derek Jeter was pulled from todays lineup because of a tender left calf. Joe Girardi said hes decided Jeter wont play again until Tuesday, but he labeled this as more precautionary than anything. He hasnt forgotten what happened to Jeters other calf last year.

Also, Russell Martin was scratched because of soreness in his left groin. Its unclear whether it happened on yesterdays play at first base.

Nick Swisher has told Girardi that his tight groin feels better, but Girardi decided not to play him today either.

UPDATE, 10:14 a.m.: Here’s the basic injury update…

Derek Jeter
Went through normal drills in Tampa yesterday, but while the Yankees were on the bus home from Viera, Girardi got a call saying Jeter’s left calf was “tender.” That’s not the same calf that Jeter hurt last year, but Girardi considered last season’s injury to be a cautionary tale.

“My alarm was he hurt his calf last year,” Girardi said. “I said, even though it’s the other calf, I said we’re going to be smart about this. I told him, ‘Don’t even go out today.’ I think he could hit today and take BP, but just let it calm down.”

Russell Martin
Girardi planned to have Martin catch seven or eight innings today, but instead Martin showed up and said his left groin was “stiff.” Girardi’s not sure whether it’s connected to yesterday’s awkward play at first base. For whatever it’s worth, Martin said yesterday that he was fine on that play, banged his shoulder into the ground but nothing else.

“He will not catch today and I’m not sure when he’ll play again,” Girardi said. “… I don’t think Russell will be out but a couple of days, but you never know. You don’t know how guys respond.”

Nick Swisher
Pulled from Wednesday’s game because of a sore groin, Swisher went through drills yesterday and told Girardi that he’s feeling better, but Girardi is being extra cautious — hard to blame him given the current state of nagging injuries — and so he won’t play this afternoon. Girardi said it’s possible Swisher will play tomorrow.

Freddy Garcia
Was scheduled to pitch on Monday’s off day, but Girardi said he doesn’t expect that to happen. However, there seems to be a chance that Monday will be the only start Garcia actually skips. Too early to know for sure, but Girardi didn’t seem to be ruling out any other start.

“His hand looks better,” Girardi said. “(But) he still has some swelling in there.”

Eduardo Nunez
As scheduled, Nunez will not hit again today. It will be his third day off in a row. He’s scheduled to try to hit again tomorrow. He still hasn’t played since being hit by a pitch in the right hand last Monday.

Ramiro Pena
Out with a sprained right ankle suffered in yesterday’s game. Although Pena said yesterday that he thinks he’ll be out only a day or two, Girardi still thinks it might be longer. Girardi mentioned Tuesday as a possible return for Pena.

“I imagine he’s going to be a couple of days,” Girardi said. “The way I saw him walk off the field yesterday, I wasn’t extremely encouraged.”

Russell Branyan
Has yet to play in a spring training game and had multiple epidurals this morning to try to help his sore back.

Austin Romine
Still not doing anything baseball related because of his sore back.

“He’s doing better,” Girardi said. “He’s probably pretty close to getting on the field to do some baseball activities. He feels much better, he feels much stronger, and that was the feeling we wanted him to have.”

Dave Robertson
Said this morning that he’s going to play catch today, but he’s still not sure when he’ll be on a mound. Robertson said he’s “doing well” but Girardi had too many other players on his mind today and forgot to check on his setup man.

“I forgot to ask about him,” Girardi said. “I had so many other guys to talk about.”

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Thursday notes: “I don’t expect miracles”03.15.12

Both Joe Girardi and Freddy Garcia said pretty much the same thing today: It’s just too early to know anything for certain. Garcia had his right hand heavily wrapped this morning, but he’s still not sure how much time he’ll have to miss after being hit by a comebacker on Wednesday.

“Right now I don’t think about it,” Garcia said, “because I went to the hospital yesterday, they took x-rays and everything is fine. So, I just have to wait. I move my fingers good, so I don’t think I have to have any problems.”

Girardi said he’s expecting at least one more day of treatment. The injury seems to be close to the same spot where Eduardo Nunez has experienced soreness for a week and a half now.

“I don’t expect miracles,” Girardi said. “When you’ve got swelling in your hand, it’s going to take time to get rid of it. I’m not going to scratch him, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he didn’t make his next start on his day. Maybe a couple of days later or something.”

• The entire Yankees rotation is supposed to get an extra day of rest next time through.

• Two more notes about Michael Pineda’s fastball: 1) Girardi said he hasn’t seen any signs of Pineda trying to overthrow just to reach 95, and 2) Pineda said he’s much more focused on hitting his spots than hitting the mid-90s.

• Russell Martin on Pineda’s fastball: “I think he was like 88-90 in Clearwater, so it’s coming along. I’m not worried about it. I just want to see the guy pitch. He’s a pitcher like anybody else out there. I just wanted to see him execute pitches. His velocity, he has it in him, it’s just a matter of time. As soon as you put on your uniform, you’re in New York and you get the juices flowing, the velocity is going to pick up no matter what.”

• And if you’re looking for more fastball specifics: “(Pineda) was a little inconsistent trying to throw his fastball away to right-handers. It looked like he was pulling off a little bit.” Martin said it’s an easy thing to correct and could be fixed in a single bullpen.

• Ramiro Pena was trying to steal second base, and just as he went into his slide, his spike stuck in the dirt. That’s when he sprained his right ankle, not when he actually made contact with the bag. He estimated that he’ll miss only two or three days, but Girardi said that might be optimistic. “We’ll see about that,” Girardi said. “I imagine it’s going to be pretty sore tomorrow. Sometimes adrenaline helps you out in a situation like that.”

• Nick Swisher told Girardi that his tight groin didn’t get any worse last night, and he was fine when he came to the stadium this morning. Girardi hopes to have Swisher in the lineup tomorrow.

Other injury updates:

Dave Robertson was scheduled to play catch today and on track to throw a bullpen this weekend.
Russell Branyan still hasn’t played this spring and is getting an epidural for his sore back.
George Kontos threw another batting practice.
Manny Delcarmen is throwing off a half mound.

• The Nationals announced a strained hamstring for Chien-Ming Wang, who stumbled trying to cover first base. It’s obviously a tough break for a guy who finally seemed to be healthy and effective again.

• Martin was knocked down on the play that left Wang injured. “It happened in slow motion,” Martin said. “It was weird. I tucked pretty good. If I had fell differently, it could have been worse. I kind of just rolled with it. It’s the ninja coming out right there.”

• Apparently the Yankees saved all of their excitement for after the media was down in the clubhouse. They won the game 8-5, having rallied with four runs in the seventh and two runs in the eighth. Jose Gil is hitting .750 this spring and had a two-run single. Melky Mesa and Bill Hall both doubled in the game. Hall and Justin Maxwell each had two hits, continuing a nice spring for Maxwell (he’s hitting .375 with two stolen bases). Maxwell, Jayson Nix and Andruw Jones each stole a bag today.

• Clay Rapada pitched into and out of some trouble, but finished with 1.1 scoreless innings. Mike O’Connor and Adam Warren combined for a scoreless ninth. In between, Brett Marshall allowed two runs in 2.1 innings and Juan Cedeno was charged with a run in his two-thirds of an inning.

Associated Press photos

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Notes from winter ball: Phelps heating up in Arizona11.03.11

Trying to build on a solid but injury shortened Triple-A season, David Phelps first three Arizona Fall League starts were uninspiring. He allowed three earned runs each time, never throwing more than 3.1 innings. His past two outings have been more what the Yankees were hoping to see.

In his past two starts, Phelps has pitched nine innings, allowing two runs on six hits and one walk while striking out seven. And that’s without throwing more than 67 pitches.

Phelps is one of those guys who was brought in to observe late in the season. The Yankees clearly believe he can play a role next season, and his Fall League stint is about building a few more innings before shutting things down for the winter.

• Speaking of young starters: Hector Noesi keeps getting better in the Dominican. After two not-so-great outings, Noesi pitched six innings without an earned run in his most recent start. He struck out five, walked one and dropped his winter ERA to 3.38 through three starts.

Ronnier Mustelier, the utility man from Cuba, continues to hit in the Fall League. He’s batting .390/.405/.610 while playing third base (played mostly outfield and second base in Tampa this season). He’s new to the Yankees farm system, and a little old for a low-level prospect, but so far he’s been a steady hitter.

Jorge Vazquez, the Yankees slugging Triple-A first baseman, is hitting .320/.400/.587 through 75 at-bats in Mexico. He has 21 RBI and 23 strikeouts. That’s pretty much the kind of hitter he is.

• Outside of the Arizona Fall League, there are only four Yankees with more than 20 winter at-bats. One of them is Vazquez. The other three are Jose Gil (an organizational catcher), Luis Nunez (an organizational infielder) and Jose Pirela (a borderline shortstop prospect). Pirela didn’t do much in Double-A this season, but he’s hitting .389/.421/.500 in Venezuela.

Corban Joseph has a modest four-game hitting streak in the Fall League. He’s been kind of up-and-down in Arizona.

Ramiro Pena has played in one game in Mexico. He went 1-for-4.

• Reliever Chase Whitley is a fast riser in the Yankees system, and he has nine strikeouts with one walk in his past seven Fall League outings. That’s a total of 9.1 innings in those appearances. Opponents are hitting .178 against him, and that’s usually an offensive league.

• Class-A reliever Dan Burawa is getting knocked around in Arizona. He was charged with five earned runs today and has a 9.00 ERA through 10 appearances. He’s been charged with multiple runs in each of his past three outings.

• Nine of Pat Venditte‘s 12 appearances in Mexico have been scoreless, but he’s twice allowed multiple runs, pushing his ERA to 4.15. More telling is the fact hitters are batting .238 with 11 strikeouts and just one walk against him.

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Postgame notes: “There is some concern there”09.23.11

Bartolo Colon hasn’t won a game since the beginning of August. He has a 5.09 ERA with a .298 opponents batting average since the all-star break, and he’s lost his past four decisions.

The lightning might be out of the bottle.

“When we went into this year, we weren’t sure how many innings we could get out of him,” Joe Girardi said. “There is some concern there, so we’ll continue to evaluate as we move forward… It’s location, it’s movement and it’s some velocity, as well. That’s why there are concerns.”

Colon seems baffled. He said he never looks at the scoreboard to see velocity, and the fastball seems to be coming out of his hand the same as it was earlier this season. Girardi, though, said the Yankees reports have his fastball a couple of miles per hour slower. Girardi doesn’t believe Colon is hurt, and Colon himself said he feels just fine.

“I feel the ball coming out of my hand well,” he said. “For some reason (it’s not as good). I don’t see anything different, I just need to continue working hard to go back to the way I was before.”

The Yankees will have CC Sabathia pitch a simulated game on Sunday, lining him up to start Game 1 of the division series. Girardi said the rest of his rotation is TBA. Earlier this season, Colon seemed to be the Yankees second-best starter, and at times he still looks like a viable option, but his past two outing have lasted a total of seven innings.

“When I pitched against Anaheim (two weeks ago), I threw the ball and had the movement on the ball and the velocity,” Colon said. “There’s no question that I’m going to get it back.”

Here’s Girardi’s postgame press conference.

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• Girardi said that no one who came out of tonight’s game was removed because of injury. Colon came out because he was ineffective. Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira were removed because the game was out of hand.

• CC Sabathia on the decision to throw a sim game instead of make another start: “I want to be on five days going into Game 1, so we’ll do it on Sunday… I think it will be fine. I’ll throw the simulated game, probably 45 pitches, then I’ll be ready to go on Friday.”

• Girardi left open the possibility of using only a three-man rotation in the first round. “It’s possible that you could go with three-man because only one guy would have to pitch on short rest,” Girardi said. “Sabathia, of course, said he would have no problem with that.

• Colon’s explanation of why he fell down in the first inning: “The pitch that I threw to Longoria, I threw the ball and I landed on my heel. My cleat got stuck.”

• The Yankees tied their season-high with 14 strikeouts. They had four players strike out at least twice, including Jorge Posada, who matched his career-high with four strikeouts (this was his sixth career game with four Ks).

• The Yankees also matched their season-high with four errors. It was the fourth time they had four errors in a game this season. In the previous four seasons, they had a total of four games with four errors.

• The Yankees used 16 different pitchers during this four-game series. Only Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes didn’t pitch.

• Ramiro Pena snapped an 0-for-28 with his sixth-inning single. He had another hit in the seventh. All told, Pena has a hit in two big league games this season, tonight and June 15 in Texas. Both were two-hit games.

• Andrew Brackman and Dellin Betances both made their big league debuts. The last time two Yankees pitchers made their debuts in the same game was April 20, 2004 against the White Sox (Alex Graman and Scott Proctor).

• Yes, Proctor pitched in this game as well. Random.

• Derek Jeter had his first two-error game since June 2, 2007. It was the 14th two-error game of his career.

• Jesus Montero now has a hit in 10 of his first 14 career games. He went 3-for-3 and reached base in each of his five plate appearances.

• Really impressive start for Rays rookie Matt Moore, who was starting a big league game for the first time. “The young man has good stuff,” Girardi said. “Eleven strikeouts in five innings. I think we saw as high as 97, a 3-2 changeup. He’s got outstanding stuff.”

• An ugly game for the Yankees, and Girardi said it’s easier to move on because of what happened yesterday. “We got down a lot,” he said. “Our guys tried to chip away and we had some opportunities, it was just too much.”

Associated Press photos

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Postgame notes: “There’s some concern there”09.18.11

Ten starts in a row, Freddy Garcia didn’t allow a single home run. When he finally coughed one up on August 29, it was the only run he allowed all game. Since then, Garcia has allowed multiple home runs in three straight starts, including two tonight to Adam Lind.

“I try to make good pitches, and sometimes I’m not able to do it,” Garcia said. “That’s why I’ve been giving home runs… Last three starts, I don’t be doing my job. I’m really frustrated about it, but that’s part of the game. Sometimes you pitch good. Sometimes you pitch bad. You just have to go continue to try to do the best that you can do, and hopefully everything goes well for you.”

This weekend did little to clarify the Yankees rotation situation. Bartolo Colon couldn’t pitch beyond the fourth inning on Saturday, and Garcia couldn’t get out of the fifth today. At times, one of those two has been the Yankees second-best starter, but they’ve struggled recently.

“Bart had a good start on this road trip and had one that wasn’t so good,” Joe Girardi said. “Freddy’s kept us in the games. We talked at the beginning of the season how we worried about innings for both these guys. There’s some concern there, but they’ve just got to find a way to get it done.”

Garcia said tonight’s home run was a good pitch, a splitter that Lind put a good swing on. The second was a slider that “didn’t do much.”

As good as Garcia has been this season, there is some risk with him. He’s never been an overwhelming or overpowering pitcher. His value is in his experience and savvy, and sometimes that leaves little margin for error.

“He’s just missing some spots, that’s all,” Girardi said. “That’s going to happen. Freddy’s not going to be a huge strikeout guy and they’re going to put the ball in play. If you miss some spots, that’s the chance you’re going to take.”

Here’s Garcia.

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• The Yankees won only four of 10 on this road trip, but they still managed to gain two games in the standings. After today’s game, the team just seemed relieved to be finally going home. “From now on every game is important,” Alex Rodriguez said. “Every game is meaningful. We’re looking forward to playing at home, playing well, start cleaning up some of the small mistakes that we’ve been making. We understand we’ve got to get better.”

• After Monday’s makeup game against the Twins, the Yankees play their final 10 games against the Red Sox and Rays. With seven games at home against those two teams, the Yankees home stand could either put the division away or make it a race to the finish. “It will be a great opportunity to do that there,” Mariano Rivera said. “We still have to perform good and take care of business at home, get this thing over.”

• The Yankees magic number to clinch a playoff spot is five, to clinch the division is seven.

• Obviously Brandon Morrow completely shutdown the Yankees offense today. “He had us baffled all day with his slide,” Rodriguez said. “He probably threw 70 to 75 percent sliders, which is a very high percentage for him. He’s usually the opposite, 70 to 77 percent fastball guy.”

• Of the Yankees five hits, three were by Eduardo Nunez, and Nunez was the only Yankee to advance beyond first base.

• Of course, Nunez also made the second Yankees base-running mistake of the weekend. “He’s just making an aggressive turn,” Girardi said. “In that situation, you’ve got to know the score. You’re not going to get to second unless it really bounces off himn, so you’ve got to be cautious there. He was just overaggressive.”

• Why not pinch hit for Ramiro Pena in the eighth? “Pena’s had some success off him,” Girardi said. “Grandy is 1 for his last 15 with 10 strikeouts. If we had a couple guys on, I might have pinch-hit Grandy and taken a chance.”

• Impressive Yankees debut by Raul Valdes, who retired four of the five batters he faced, including all three left-handers. The Yankees have been giving Aaron Laffey a lot of chances to emerge as a legitimate second lefty candidate, but that Valdes appearance might earn a few more looks. I still don’t think the Yankees will actually carry a second left-hander in the postseason, but I’m sure they’d like to have a backup option in mind.

• Random fact about tonight’s game: The phone from the dugout to the bullpen stopped working for a while. “The phones haven’t worked real good here the last couple days,” Girardi said. “Danny (Iassogna) handled it and we used the policeman’s walkie-talkie for a few minutes, then they got the phones working again.”

• Girardi’s assessment of going 4-6 on the road and still gaining two games in the standings: “I think we are fortunate,” he said. “We’ve got to go home and play better, there’s no doubt about it. At times, we didn’t swing the bats on this trip. Is it good pitching? Is it fatigue? I don’t know, but I know our guys are pretty worn down. Now they’ll get to sleep in their own beds and hopefully catch up a little bit.”

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Pregame notes: Rodriguez on track to return next week08.09.11

The tarp just came off the field and it looks like there’s at least a chance of starting tonight’s game on time. I thought there was no chance just a few hours ago, but Joe Girardi said he’s been hearing that the game will probably be played.

On to big picture news.

Alex Rodriguez ran the bases today. He did his usual batting practice and fielding drills, but it’s the running that’s most significant. Girardi said Rodriguez is still on track to begin a rehab assignment this weekend — either Friday or Saturday, Girardi said — and it’s a good bet that he’ll be with the Yankees next week on the road.

“I don’t know if Monday is realistic,” Girardi said. “Part of it probably depends on where he starts and how he feels in those next couple of games. But I think next week is realistic.”

Girardi said he’s not sure how many rehab games Rodriguez will need.

“I guess theoretically it could be one, but you can’t really say,” Girardi said. “You don’t know how he’s going to feel and you don’t know if he’s going to have his timing. You don’t know if he’s going to feel stable on his knee running the bases. You can’t just throw a random number out there. When he’s ready, we’ll have him back, I can tell you that.”

• Phil Hughes starts Saturday. Freddy Garcia starts Sunday. For now, the Yankees are sticking with a six-man rotation. “I don’t know how much longer we’ll stick with that,” Girardi said. “Obviously we’ve got the split doubleheader in Baltimore and we have to be prepared for that too.”

• Could either Hughes or Garcia be available out of the bullpen? “We’d probably stay away from them,” Girardi said. “If we had to, yes, but our bullpen is in pretty good shape.”

• Sergio Mitre is going for a second opinion after being diagnoses with a pinch nerve in his shoulder. An MRI showed no structural damage, but a nerve problem is causing Mitre to lose considerable arm strength (fastball velocity suddenly dropped by about 6 mph, he said). The second opinion is determine whether surgery is necessary, but Mitre is going into it believing he has  “90 percent” chance of surgery. How long he’s out depends entirely on how quickly the nerve recovers.

• According to the latest AP update from Tampa, Pedro Feliciano threw 42 pitches in the bullpen today and is scheduled for live batting practice on Friday. Even so, Girardi said Feliciano is still a longshot to pitch for the Yankees this season.

• Other Tampa updates via the AP: Ramiro Pena started swinging a bat… Damaso Marte threw a 32-pitch bullpen… Mark Prior pitched in another rookie league game.

• Once again out of the Yankees lineup, Jorge Posada seemed just as frustrated today as he was after he and Girardi had their conversation on Sunday. Posada spoke only briefly. “You wouldn’t expect any player to be necessarily happy if he’s taken from a role,” Girardi said. “I was a full-time catcher and reduced to less catching. I didn’t like it. I just kept working at it and trying to get better. As a player, that’s really the only thing you can do – be prepared and when you get your chance, perform and do the best you can.”

• Russell Martin’s mustache is no longer the worst Yankees look of the year. A.J. Burnett has gone with totally blonde hair. It’s… a curious decision. Martin literally offered a no comment on the situation, but he did laugh a little when I brought it up.

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

Associated Press photos

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Postgame notes: “He’s getting closer to what he was”07.17.11

The mechanical difference in Phil Hughes’ curveball is very small. He used to spike his index finger, which forced him to “choke” the ball in order to grip it. By choking the ball, Hughes was able to generate movement but not velocity. Without velocity, Hughes had to release the pitch noticeably higher than his fastball in order to get it over the plate.

Essentially, all he’s done is remove the spike. That lets him hold the ball more loosely, which lets him throw it harder, which makes his breaking ball delivery more similar to his other pitches.

“I thought I made some improvements with it and gave guys less time to react, and that’s what you’re aiming for,” Hughes said. “You want to fool them, but at the same time you don’t want them to be able to readjust for a slower breaking ball. It wasn’t as big, but I felt like I fooled a couple more guys than I normally would with my other one, so that was a good thing as well.”

Take today’s second Blue Jays at-bat for example. Eric Thames went down looking at an 0-2 curveball. Hughes speculated that, in the past, Thames might have recognized the curveball in time to foul it off, letting the at-bat continue and forcing Hughes to find another way to get him out.

“My old one could be anywhere from 72 (mph) to 75-76 if I really threw it hard,” Hughes said. “This one I saw some 78s and mainly 75-76, which is mainly where I want it to be. I look more at the swings and not necessarily velocity, and just make sure there wasn’t a hump in it… I felt like I could throw it for a strike, too. Maybe a little bit easier just because I don’t have to really factor in as much break because it’s shorter and harder. I felt like I could probably throw it for a strike a little easier. When in doubt, I went to it, and it was pretty good for the most part.”

One knock on Hughes last season was his inability to put hitters away. He’d get ahead in the count, but an at-bat would continue. Best-case scenario was an increased pitch count. Worst-case was a hitter staying in the fight long enough to scratch out a hit. Hughes didn’t have the same problem today, and although his first five outs came on the curveball, his last three strikeouts came on the fastball.

Hughes said that, even with slightly diminished velocity later in the game, his fastball became better because of location, and because the Blue Jays had to respect the offspeed stuff.

“It just shows you he’s getting closer to what he was,” Joe Girardi said. “I don’t think you can quantify it, but I thought he took a big step today. That’s what we wanted to see from him. Next time, he’ll be on normal rest and his normal routine, so I hope that helps him as well.”

Here’s Hughes.

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• Hughes tried to plead his case to pitch the seventh, but the Yankees thought the heat at Rogers Centre had been too taxing and didn’t want Hughes back out there. It felt boiling in this building, with no breeze and the sun baking the turf. Hughes said he would have sworn it was over 100 degrees.

• Hughes didn’t thrown any changeups, but he had a reason for staying away from the pitch today. “The couple of lefties that are in their lineup, our reports are that they stay on changeups pretty well, Snider and Lind,” he said. “Obviously if my changeup were my second pitch I’d go to it, but as a fourth option, I just felt like there was a couple of other pitches that I could go to for that.”

• Sweeny Murti brought up an interesting point. Would it make sense for Hughes to keep his old curveball as a slower alternative? “Not necessarily,” Hughes said, “because I can always slow the other one down if I need to, kind of roll it in for a strike. As long as I stay feeling comfortable with this one, I don’t really see the need for both because they both kind of do the same thing.” Oh well. I thought it was an interesting idea.

• This was really the first time Russell Martin caught Hughes when he was pitching well. “There’s some life behind the ball,” Martin said. “I don’t know what the radar gun was saying, but it was jumping out of his hand today. From what I’ve seen in the past, that’s what he’s used to doing. Elevating the ball when he has two strikes, doing different things. Just knowing he can throw it by guys has to feel good for him.”

• Speaking of Martin, he said the Yankees have a “system in place” to deal with potentially stolen signs, and he now considers it a non-issue. “We’re not going to worry about it anymore,” he said. Apparently fans were giving him a hard time all night about stolen signs.

• Brett Gardner had his third three-hit game of the series. He also stole two bases, and the Yankees only scored in innings when Gardner got on base. “After taking three or four days off, you worry about your timing and things like that,” Gardner said. “For me, the first game back after the break, I saw the ball well and managed to square up a couple balls. Things are going well so far for me.”

• Gardner’s big series has come with him hitting all over the lineup, including leading off today. “It’s all the same to me,” he said. “My job is to get on base no matter where I hit in the lineup. The last couple days, I’ve been able to do that and make a few things happen.”

• Two very nice plays by Ramiro Pena to help get out of the fifth. “The bunt play was good,” Hughes said. “And then I joked with him he was just trying to protect his face with the other one. That happens. I’m not very good on those balls back to the mound, so I have a lot of respect for guys when they can make those plays.”

• The Yankees run in the first inning snapped a stretch of 11 straight games without a first-inning run. That was their longest stretch since 13 straight games in 2006 (that’s according to Elias, of course).

• Nice work by the Yankees bullpen. Cory Wade, Dave Robertson and Boone Logan combined for three hitless innings. They walked none and struck out five. Logan struck out the side in the ninth.

• Jorge Posada played in his 1,790th game as a Yankee, passing Bill Dickey for sole possession of eight place on the franchise’s all-time games played list.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 214 Comments →

Yankees at the break: Shortstop07.13.11

Derek Jeter is still a universally beloved Yankees icon, but he now has his share of detractors who appreciate his past and dread his future. He’s sparked more debate than any other Yankee this season, but he’s also provided the year’s most memorable moment.

First half
The batting average is the exact same, but Jeter is hitting for less power and drawing fewer walks than he did last year. He’s remained in the leadoff spot at least partially because Brett Gardner has struggled in that role (and because Curtis Granderson has laid claim to the No. 2 spot in the order). Defensively, he seems roughly the same as last year, still without a ton of range, but as sure-handed as anyone. After a calf injury cost him the second half of June, Jeter returned as a significantly better hitter in the days leading up to the all-star break. He’s been driving the ball for the first time this year.

Second half
If the last week was a sign of things to come, then the Yankees are in good hands. It wasn’t only the 5-for-5 game on Saturday, even in the days leading up to that unforgettable performance, Jeter was hitting line drives for the first time this season. But the bulk of the year suggests last week was an outlier. It’s hard to expect him to return to his 2009 form, but he left some reason for hope heading into the second half.

The minors
Most of the shortstops in the Yankees system seem to be little more than role players – if that – at the Major League level. Walter Ibarra is having a nice year in Tampa, but this is also his third year at that level. Jose Pirela hasn’t done much in Trenton, and the Yankees know what they have in Ramiro Pena. That’s why there’s considerable focus on Staten Island, where last year’s first-round pick Cito Culver has been pretty good after a slow first week. He’s been outstanding against lefties – batting average around .500 against them – and the Yankees have no doubt that he can handle the position defensively.

One question
Why is Jeter so good in the first inning?
It’s easy to understand why so many fans prefer Brett Gardner in the leadoff spot, but Jeter’s hitting .281 with a .342 on-base percentage as the Yankees leadoff hitter this season, and he’s been unusually good in the first inning. When leading off the game, Jeter is hitting .404/.475/.500. Is that a matter of experience? Is he better prepared for the game to begin than any starting pitcher he’s going to face? Is that a meaningless statistic?

The future
Unless Culver flies through the system – which isn’t likely to happen – the Yankees have two shortstop options for the next few years. They can stick with Jeter, or they can find a new place for their iconic captain and hand the position to Eduardo Nunez. He’s not as polished as Jeter, but Nunez has shown why the Yankees like him. He can hit, he can run and he has a powerful – if erratic – arm. It remains to be seen how long Jeter can hold down the position, but the Yankees have an alternative in place.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 562 Comments →

Postgame notes: “It’s good to have the hard choice”07.03.11

This weekend was a perfect snapshot of why the Yankees had such a difficult decision to make, and why they finally made the done they did.

Ivan Nova was good on Friday. Without his best stuff, Nova allowed one run through five innings. He would have gone out for a sixth, but the Yankees chose to pinch hit for him in an attempt to break the game open.

Nova was good on Friday, but Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia were better on Saturday and Sunday. Colon pitched six scoreless yesterday, Garcia allowed one run through seven innings today, and tonight the Yankees will fly to Cleveland while Nova prepares for a return to Triple-A.

“It’s good to have the hard choice, but it was a tough one,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “He’s grown into being a starting pitcher in the major leagues, and he was learning on the job. He was doing well with it and had progressed, but this should be a bump in the road for him if he keeps going and progresses like he should. Good players get through stuff like this, so hopefully that’s what he does.”

Rothschild said the Yankees talked about several options, but Joe Girardi said it ultimately came down to either a six-man rotation or optioning Nova to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The six-man rotation always seemed a little too far out of the box. The Yankees briefly discussed Nova in the bullpen, but they worried it would hurt his development.

“In a lot of other places he wouldn’t be out of the rotation, but because guys are throwing so well, it just happens,” Girardi said. “He’s not the first guy that has thrown the ball extremely well and has had to go down… Going into spring training would you have said we had an excess of starting pitching? I probably would have said no, but the guys have thrown great. This kid, he’ll be back at some point. We know that.”

All around the Yankees clubhouse, the team seemed to feel badly for Nova. But they also seemed to understand the situation. Every option came with its positives and negatives, but the Yankees wanted to get Phil Hughes back, they wanted to keep all of their veterans in the rotation, and they wanted to keep Nova on an every-five-days schedule.

“It sucks the moves that correspond with it,” Hughes said. “I feel bad for Nova, but I’m real excited to get back. I’m ready, and I feel up for it.”

Here’s Girardi.

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• A lot going on today, huh? The rotation decision, the all-star announcements, the blown save by Mariano Rivera, the errors by Ramiro Pena and finally the Yankees first loss in a week. “When you have two outs in the ninth inning and (Rivera)’s on the mound, you feel pretty good about your chances,” Brett Gardner said. “Things just didn’t work out our way today. We’ve been playing really good baseball. We let one get away from us today, but we can’t let what happened in the ninth inning with two outs change the way we feel about ourselves the last couple of weeks.”

• About Rivera: Russell Martin said it was simply a nice job of hitting by Lucas Duda and Ronny Paulino. He thought those pitches were good, but the Mets did just enough with them. Of course, it started with the Jason Bay walk. “Bay has had some success off of Mo,” Girardi said. “He was going to be somewhat careful and not just throw one down the middle. He missed his spots a little bit and ended up walking him.”

• About Pena: Three errors in Cincinnati last week, then two errors in two innings today. Very strange for a player as good defensively as Pena. I wasn’t in the group when Pena talked, but the consensus seemed to be that Pena was simply trying to get himself in position when the ground ball went through his legs, and the second error was a ball that took a hop and hit the heel of his glove. That one should have ended the 10th inning before Bay had a chance at a game-winner.

• One late-inning bright spot: Gardner’s throw. Outfielders are always taught to never give up on a ground ball that looks like it’s going to be caught, but Martin said he was impressed that Gardner actually stuck with that ball. A lot of outfielders would have quit on the play when it looked like Pena had it. “Just a case of not giving up on it,” Gardner said. “Backing him up in case something happens, and sure enough something did happen. I knew I had plenty of time.”

• Another late-inning bright spot: Boone Logan. The Yankees only lefty has been much better lately, and this time he should have gotten two key outs in the 10th inning. He would have gotten out of the inning — including a Carlos Beltran strikeout — if not for the second Pena error.

• Rivera had converted 26 consecutive saves against the National League, including two in the World Series. It was tied for the second-longest streak of interleague saves (Troy Percival also had 26, Eric Gagne had 29)

• The Yankees were told today’s game was likely to start at 4 p.m., but just before 2, they were told to be ready by 2:30. That didn’t give Garcia enough time to warmup — which tells you something about what he might be like in the bullpen — and that’s why he was just walking out of the bullpen when R.A. Dickey was getting ready to throw his first pitch. “I went to the umpires and I went to Terry Collins and said, ‘Our guy needs more time,’” Girardi said. “‘I don’t know what to tell you but he needs more time. He’s not going to be ready by 2:30.’ And they pushed it back a little bit.”

• Robinson Cano, by the way, seemed especially upset at the sudden game time announcement. The Yankees didn’t take batting practice today, and Cano felt they didn’t have time to get ready. “You could see how it went the first three innings,” he said.

• When Russell Martin was called out between second and third, Girardi argued that he was never tagged. The third-base umpire thought he was tagged, and when he asked the second-base umpire, the second-base ump said Martin was out of the baseline.

• Regardless of Jeter’s return, Girardi is hopeful that Eduardo Nunez will be available tomorrow. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and we’ll make a decision,” Girardi said. For whatever it’s worth, Nunez thought he could have played today.

• Mark Teixeira on the Home Run Derby: “I’d been texting with David (Ortiz) a little bit. I told him if I was on the team we’d talk, but if I’m not on the team, I’m not going to go to the Home Run Derby. It’s just too long of a trip and I’m going to spend those days with my family.”

• Would Curtis Granderson want to take that spot? “If no one else is left and I’m the last one left, then I’ll do it,” Granderson said.

• CC Sabathia wasn’t upset at not making the all-star team. “Not at all,” he said. “I wasn’t going to pitch anyway.” Sabathia said, since he won’t be able to pitch, he won’t go as a replacement player.

• Obviously the Yankees were rooting for Dave Robertson to make the team, and they’re still hoping he can find a way to get on the roster. “He’s definitely pitched like an all-star,” Martin said. “He’s the guy I want on the team. I think he can get anybody out.”

• As I’m posting this, Jeter is 0-for-1 with a walk, strikeout and throwing error. The important thing seems to be that the weather is letting him play, which seems to keep him on track to play tomorrow. Always nice when the minor league teams have special uniforms when a big-name guy is on a rehab assignment. I once watched Cole Hamels pitch wearing a pink t-shirt for Mothers’ Day. Literally, the uniforms for the day were pink t-shirts with numbers that were falling off some guys’ backs. Hilarious.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Notes, Podcastwith 47 Comments →

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