Relief (Long) On The Way

Joe Girardi announced before the game that the Yankees will recall a long reliever before Tuesday’s game.  That makes a lot of sense (it has for awhile now) especially because, as Greg pointed out in the comments of a different post, you really don’t know what to expect with Joba throwing 65 or so pitches.  Will that equate to five innings or three?  I don’t think anyone really knows the answer and therefore you had better be ready to provide six innings of relief.

The question is, who gets the call?  Jeff Karstens is pitching in AAA tonight which would seem to eliminate him, but if he is removed from his start early that would be a big sign.  Other than Karstens, the next logical guy would be (gulp) probably Igawa.  I don’t think the Yankees will add someone to the 40-man roster to make this move and since Chase Wright is in AA right now, there aren’t many other choices.  They could surprise us with Steven White, but I would guess Igawa gets the nod based on the investment they have made in him.  



Here’s My Question

Ok, close your eyes.  Actually, don’t do that because you won’t be able to read what I am writing, but just pretend for a minute.  Imagine it is March and I tell you the following things about the Yankees season 1/3 of the way through.

1- Mike Mussina leads the pitching staff in wins

2- Jason Giambi leads the offense in home runs

3- Jorge Posada has played in 18 games

4- Robinson Cano is hitting .219

5- HUghes and Kennedy (who are both injured) have combined for 14 starts and 0 wins with an ERA over 8.

Be honest, if I told you all of that in March, what would you think the team’s record would be right now?  I probably would have guessed they were ten-games under .500 in that scenario and therefore, I take 27-27 as a good sign.  Sure, they have played flat, made mistakes, had horrible stretches of hitting and pitching, but they are .500 and right in the thick of things.  As an added bonus, teams like Cleveland and Detroit have struggled badly meaning the path to the wild card (not that I am thinking about that right now) is more open than in year’s past.

The question of course is where do they go from here?  Rasner has stepped in to fill one of the rotation holes and now we will see if Joba can do the same.  Posada could be back on Tuesday and the offense looks a lot better since A-Rod returned.  The bullpen is going to be a problem if Girardi keeps trying to force Farnsworth into the 8th innning, but Ramirez has looked great and there are options in the minors that could be called up soon.  

Call me an optimist, but 27-27 considering everything is ok by me- 108 games to go. 

Tuesday For Joba

It’s official, Joba is pitching Tuesday in the rotation and will be in it for the remainder of the year.  Per ESPN, Joba will be limited to 65-70 pitches in his start and Peter Abraham adds that Joba will be increased to 75-80 from there and then 85-90.  I haven’t found anything on it, but I can’t imagine he will be allowed to go very far beyond 100 in the immediate future.

The question is, how will they keep him under 140 innings?  Ultimately, Joba is going to be a six-inning pitcher.  If you figure 20 starts left in the season and the fact that he is right around 24 innings, he has 116 to go or around 5-2/3rs a start.  That could put some strain on the pen, but the Yankees have to get Joba up to 140 this season because 2009’s rotation could be severly challenged innings-wise.

Figure Hughes will not throw more than the 110 he pitched last year and Kennedy probably will be lucky to get to 160 this year.  With Mussina gone and Pettitte probably gone, the Yankees will have some rotation problems heading into 2009 if they are going to rely on the kids.  But, that is a worry for another day, for now we can just focus on Joba starting Tuesday.  It should be fun to watch. 

Guess Who Is Back?

I hear that the Yankees moved their AAA farm team from Columbus to Scranton to save Chris Britton gas money.  (thank you, I will be here all season)

Seriously, this guy epitomizes the "Columbus Shuttle" of yesteryear, but I still don’t know why he hasn’t been given an honest shake.  Depending on what Joba does/feels, he may not be around for long this time, but maybe someday the Yankees will give him a chance to show he belongs in the bigs.  Yeah right, they never will, so soak it all in again Chris, you won’t be here for long.   

Wasted Spots

Ok, I know everyone wants to chuck Hawkins off the roster right now, and I can’t disagree, but that is only one of the wasted sports on the Yankees’ roster right now. 

Start off with Duncan and Ensberg.  When Wilson Betemit gets the call over them with a lefty on the mound, you have a problem.  Not that you can blame Girardi for trying something different last night, the two aren’t hitting, but why keep them on the team?  I think you will see some moves with the two of them soon.  Jason Lane has an opt-out in his contract if he doesn’t make the big leagues by Saturday and he has 10 HR’s at Scranton. Also, the club just signed Ben Broussard and assigned him to Scranton.  Furthermore, the Yankees chose to send Alberto Gonzalez to the minors when they activated Betemit from the DL and I think they may change their minds and bring him back as well. 

Russ Ohlendorf mystifies me.  He has a great sinker, but he can’t seem to make it work.  To be fair, the Yankees keep changing his role and that hasn’t helped, but he needs to be replaced on the roster by a true long reliever.  Jeff Karstens has made two rehab starts in Scranton and he has gotten shelled, but I would expect to see him called up as soon as he straightens things out, possibly earlier if the Yankees decide to not fill Kennedy’s rotation spot with Joba.  

I led this post with Hawkins and I think it is time for the Yankees to cut their losses.  He was a worthy gamble and the Yankees essentially picked up a draft pick by "swapping" him for Vizcaino.  But, whether it was "numbergate" or some other reason, he simply hasn’t worked out.  The Yankees should eat the contract and get him out of here, Chris Britton would be a better choice.  I have no idea what the bullpen will look like in August, but I would guess it will be very different.  Cox and Melancon could certainly be a part of it and Bruney and Albie could be back. 

Lastly, how about bringing up Brett Gardner?  .281/.399/.443 in Scranton with 18 steals.  Melky has followed up his stellar April (.299/.370/.494) with an abysmal May (.195/.241/.268).  He’s still young and keeps showing flashes, but after almost 1200 career AB’s his lifetime #’s are .272/.336/.387.  It wouldn’t hurt to give Gardner a try and see what he can do. 

Feel Better?

Well, that was a pretty good weekend, wasn’t it?  And, it is worth comparing that last year’s team was 21-29 after 50 games, 14.5 back of Boston.  Now they are 25-25 and 5-games back of TAMPA?  Ok, no disrespect to the Rays, but let’s view this as 4.5 games behind the Red Sox. 

So, they are back to square one and not that far behind Boston, that has to be an equal or a better situation than last year, right?  Well, that answer is not so easy to determine.  On the morning of May 30, 2007, the Yankees had scored 258 runs, allowed 239 and had guys like Chase Wright and Tyler Clippard as part of their rotation.  As of now the Yankees have scored 222 runs while allowing 223 with guys like Morgan Ensberg and Jose Molina as part fo their regular lineup for a significant part of the season.  I think most of us would assume that the lineup will perform better, especially with the return of A-Rod and the upcoming return of Posada, but what do you make of the pitching? 

It is only 16-runs better than last year and when you think about the guys the Yankees were using then, that isn’t encouraging.  But, if you are an optimist, you will assume that Hughes and Kennedy have to pitch better (right?) and Joba, who was merely a name this time last year, will stabilize the starting rotation. 

Maybe we should just be happy that instead of a 36-15 start in 2007, the Red Sox have "only" come out of the gate at 31-22.  I suspect there is better baseball to be played in Boston, but I also think that holds true in the Bronx.  After 50 games, it’s an early, but not insurmountable lead for Boston, and that is a nice change from 2007.   

Who Were Those Guys?

Hold on a sec, was that Ian Kennedy looking like he belongs here?  Was that Joe Girardi acting like Billy Martin?  Was that Robinson Cano with a game-winning hit? 

That win may or may not mean a thing when we look back on this season, but it is the type of win that could really spark a team.   

The Shift Begins

If you were wondering why Joba pitched two innnings in a blowout, the Yankees announced after the game that it was because he is starting the transition to a starting pitcher.  Smartly, the Yankees are going to do this in the majors and not waste any of Joba’s innings in the minors.  My question is, how will this process work?  

Girardi seemed to give some hints in his remarks after the game.  He said that the process was similar to spring training and usually pitchers threw about 35 pitches in their first start of the spring.  But, when pressed to compare Joba’s transition to the typical four-week schedule a starter would go through in spring, he refused to commit to that timeframe.  

So, Joba is going to get stretched out and do it over at least four weeks and probably more.  I would suspect looking at the calendar that this means he moves to the rotation around July 1st which means there would be just under half the season left ont he schedule.  Let’s assume Joba throws about 30 innings getting ready and that means he has around 90 left in the tank and that would put him at an average of 6 per start over the second half.

Of course there are a couple of questions that need to be answered.  First and foremost, who takes over the 8th inning as Joba moves to this new role?  I have a feeling that it will be the 2008 version of Joba and his name is going to be either Melancon or Cox.  Cox has made it to AAA and Melancon is in AA.  Of the two, Melancon is the better prospect and he has been mentioned as a closer of the future, so it wouldn’t shock me to see him setting up Rivera as soon as August.  Cox closed for the University of Texas when they won the CWS, so he has handled pressure before. 

The other big questions are how will the Yankees get Joba the work he needs and who’s spot does he take in the rotation?  Considering the state of the rotation, I am not too worried about the latter question, that will work itself out, but the first is hard to figure out.  If Joba needs to pitch three innnings on a certain day would the Yankees lift a starter who is cruising along with a very low pitch count?  How do you guarantee that he will even get in his work?  It is going to be an interesting experiment and I don’t know what the answers are, but the Yankees are doing the right thing for the future.  Joba belongs in the rotation and we will see that become a reality soon.   

The Blame Game

Some will credit Joe Girardi for standing up after Sunday night’s disaster and taking the blame for the Yankees’ performance.  For me, it was more an act of stupid heroism.  I think trying to assign blame now is a pointless exercise and it won’t make the Yankees hit any better, but maybe it will motivate the team.  We have seen countless examples in sports of teams rallying around their coach and maybe this was Girardi’s attempt to instill that.  If it works, he will look like a genuis, but it got me to thinking about where the real blame for this season’s stumble (and that’s what I am calling it for now) lies.

When I thought about it for awhile, it came down to three different entities.  I say entities because I cannot speicifically name two groups.  Anyway, here are my three and please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

#1 is the Yankees’ doctors/trainers.  Last year it was Marty Miller who walked the plank for all the injuries in April and May because of his "new-age" techniques.  You could argue that this season is simply bad luck, but how about the way the team has handled some of their injured players.  How did A-Rod and Posada get back into games long before they were medically cleared to do so?  If I am going to lay some blame, I am going to start here.

#2 is Dave Eiland.  Eiland replaced Ron Guidry, a guy who won 168 more games as a Yankee than him, becasue he was supposed to be the key to handling the young pitchers.  Kennedy and Hughes have been disasters and I don’t know if you noticed, but Joba isn’t blowing people away the same way he did last year.  Do we give Eiland credit for Edwar Ramirez?  Maybe, but I would like to see more than 8+ innings from him before I call him a success.

#3 is the bench as a unit.  Losing A-Rod and Posada would have been bad under any conditions, but the utter lack of performance from Ensberg, Molina, Gonzalez, Moeller, Duncan and Betemit has made them killer injuries.  There have been two large holes in the lineup for the past three weeks and nobody from this group has stepped up to fill them. 

Those would be my choices for the three biggest cuplrits in the season.  I thought of some others but I felt these were the biggest.  

But, as I said, I think the blame game is stupid.  Look at things right now, 20-24 exactly where they were in 2007.  The difference is the 2007 team had scored 57 more runs at this point but was also 4 1/2 games further out of first.  I will take that trade, because the games are more significant to me.  A-Rod is back tonight and stop and take a look at the schedule from now until the end of June.  If the Yankees are who we think they are, they will make a big run over these next six weeks.   

UPDATE: Well, that sucks a lot of hope out of the air, the Orioles score a touchdown in the first.

No-Hitter Redux

Words cannot describe (especially my words) what Jon Lester has been through and what he has achieved.  From battling cancer, to winning the deciding game in the 2007 World Series and tonight throwing a no-hitter.

Good work Jon.

I’m sure Terry Francona was hoping and praying that Lester finished up his accomplishment quickly in the 9th as he wound up throwing a career high 130 pitches.  I would not have been surprised to see Francona, at Theo Epstein’s orders, come out at any point in the 9th telling Lester his night was over, no-hitter or not.

With Clay Buchholz throwing one last year, Lester this year, Derek Lowe in 2002 and Hideo Nomo in 2001, no-hitters are back in vogue in Boston.

Some facts:

 – Jason Varitek has caught the most hitters in baseball history with 4 (see above).

 – Jon Lester is the first Red Sox left to throw a no-no since Mel Parnell July 14th 1956.

 – Red Sox reliever Chris Smith was warming up in the bullpen and with a high likelihood of being returned to Pawtucket after tonight’s game, he was probably the only one in Fenway Park, other than the Royals, wishing against a no-hitter.  Instead, he will be sent packing to AAA still never having appeared in an MLB game.  In time Chris, in time.

 – Lester’s was the 18th Red Sox no-hitter.