Yanks Win 9-8; Gardner the CF

Although A.J. Burnett struggled mightily today, the Yanks got loads of offense and some good bullpen work to eke out a 9-8 win.Burnett was a mess from the get-go, getting hit hard and often in his 4 1/3 IP stint today–10 hits, 3 walks, 3 HR, 7 runs 6 earned, and 3 K’s.  Just terrible, but one of those games to get out of one’s system and move on.  He was laboring a bit but getting through OK until the fifth when, staked to an 8-2 lead, he gave up five runs including back-to-back homers to Doumit (3-run shot) and LaRoche (solo).

The bullpen was awfully good, however.  Marte allowed the tying run in the fifth, but Mariano struck out three in the sixth around a hit, Coke worked two innings, allowing just a hit and fanning four, and Veras was his inefficient but ultimately effective self, allowing two hits but escaping the ninth with the win.  Today’s game made a good case for a long reliever, but as of now I’m unsure the Yanks will choose Tomko over Albaladejo.  I’d like a long reliever as you know, but won’t cry if Alby is chosen.  He’s had a very good ST, throws hard, and will contribute if taken up to The Bronx.

What I don’t want is a player like Coke, who was asked to stretch out and prepare to start before ST and before the Yanks signed Pettite, to swing between long and short stints.  It did neither Ohlendorf nor the Yanks any good last year, and Coke in a regular middle relief role will probably do very well for the Yanks.  He hides the ball well, has increased velocity as a reliever, has a nasty slider and fastball, and has been just lock-down in his brief time up with the Yanks last year and this Spring.  I see no reason to mess with that in the slightest.  He should not be a guy asked to go 3-4 innings unless there are absolutely no other options. Coke should be a seventh and eighth inning guy.  I see no reason why he wouldn’t thrive in that role.

Thankfully the offense bailed him out.  JD wa 3-4 with a double, Cano hit a solo homer, Nady was 2-3 with a double, Swisher 1-3 with an RBI ground-rule double, two walks, and two runs, Jeter was 1-3 with a run and a sac fly, Matsui was 1-3 with an RBi and a run, and new center fielder Brett the Jet was 2-3 with a run, beating out a sac bunt attempt for a hit as Mike informed me in a text as I returned from the gym.  Big deal–I think we all know how commonplace that pedestrian piece of bunt showmanship is. Seriously, I’m thrilled for Gardner all around today, confirming what some talent and loads of hard work can do for a player committed to maximizing his abilities and focused on success.  Gardner has earned the CF job for the greatest sports franchise around, in a position laden with history–DiMaggio, Mantle, Bernie.  Gardner now gets his chance to succeed, flash his speed, play good defense and be a distruptive force likely from the nine-hole.  Kudos to Melky for having a good, solid camp, but his slow start and lackadaisical attitude last season cost him dearly.  It shows that when you get the chance to make a difference, you need to seize it and not snooze.  Melky snoozed, now Gardner seized it.  Good.

Michigan State locked down Louisville today 64-52, looking especially tough in the second half.  Now State returns close to home to Detroit for the Final Four, which should be a raucous affair for them.  They’ll join Villanova, which won a classic, tough battle against a game Pitt team 78-76 on a last-second, end-to-end play in the final seconds last night; North Carolina, which overwhelmed an Oklahoma team that had the Griffin boys and little else today; and UConn.  That’s one #2 seed, one # 3 seed, and two #1 seeds, and it should be one hell of a Final Four next weekend.

Oh yeah, Tiger Woods won on the 72nd hole today, coming back from five strokes down to beat Sean O’Hair.  It was hilarious to hear the announcers say that Woods hadn’t won a tournament in nearly 300 days, mentioning in passing that he had major knee reconstructive surgery in the meantime–as if this were a mere excuse for his appalling dearth of tournament wins in the interim.  All the guy did was call his US Open win last year on one leg and in 90 holes, have major surgery on his knee, then win his third tournament after his return.  Yeah, what a lout.

[Edit: I saw that Joel Zumaya and Dontrelle Willis have been placed in the DL–Zumaya for a sore shoulder, Willis for anxiety disorder.  I can’t say that I want the Tigers to thrive, but I’ll say this: the game is always better with its best players playing.  In addition to not asking for bad karma by rooting for injuries to opponents, something for which I never root, it’s exactly why I felt Francisco Liriano’s injury was so bad.  It wasn’t just bad for him and the Twins, it was bad for baseball.  The mishandling of Kerry Woods and Mark Prior might well have cost the Cubs and the rest of us a shot at having Koufax and Drysdale for this generation.  Regardless of fan affiliation, injuries are not good for the game.

I’m really saddened to hear that about Willis, whose trade to the Tigers I did not feel was a good one for the team.  I felt that he would struggle in the tougher, deeper, AL.  I did not expect to hear that he would struggle with something as troubling as anxiety disorder.  I wish him especially all the best as he recovers as a person, not just as a player, and tries to rectify his life.  I’ve seen such things up close, and they’re not good at all.]

Published in: on March 29, 2009 at 8:30 pm  Comments (2)  

Pitching Shines, Offense Flashes Power as Yanks Take Three

I’ve been very tied up lately with working until the early morning, kids’ activities, and my wife’s birthday Thursday, so this is the first chance to write a quality post in some time.  The Yanks cranked four homers (Matsui, Ransom, Swisher, and Melky) Thursday, Jeter hit lead-off and is expected to do so to start the season, and Joba settled down after allowing back-to-back homers in the first to Utley and Howard as the Yanks blew out Philly 10-2.  Although he wasn’t at his best, I have to say I’m impressed that Joba settled in fairly well after the homers, allowing just a hit and three walks in the 3 2/3 after allowing the homers.  It indicates some maturity from Joba to shrug off the homers and settle into a pretty decent start.  I am still a bit concerned with his control, but after a couple dud ST starts, Joba has been good.  The bullpen locked things down the next 4 2/3, allowing just three hits and no runs.  Bruney had a good inning, with a hit and a K.  As we’ve discussed here at The Heartland, Bruney needs to be better.  It’s ST, but he’s nonetheless been lousy for much of Spring.  I’m fine with Jeter leading off, as long as he can run and be fairly successful.  It might be a tacit admission of Jeter’s waning power, and JD takes enough pitches to justify his hitting second.  As I discuss below, there may be more to like about Jeter’s hitting first.  Melky was 2-4 with 3 RBIs, and Jeter 2-4 with 2 runs.

Sabathia was flat-out dominant last night, pitching into the eighth and allowing just four hits, a run earned, no walks, and fanning seven in a nice prelude to the 2009 season as the Yanks downed Cincy 4-1.  Jeter doubled and scored in the first on Teixeira’s RBI single, Teixeira was 2-3, Marte mopped up the eighth and Mariano the ninth on all of five pitches.  I’d say he and Sabathia, who will start both the season and Stadium openers, are ready to go.  Sabathia just continues to impress, going deep into the game last night on just 93 pitches 68 strikes, getting 14 ground ball outs.  He was in total control, pitching like the ace that he is.

New York took advantage of an error in the second to score four runs–three unearned–and get solo homers in the fifth from Teixeira and Cano to beat Atlanta 6-4.  Tomko started, went three scoreless innings allowing three hits and a walk with 3 K’s, Aceves allow a run in three innings, and Giese allowed three runs one earned on Pena’s error (who also made a great diving stop and throw).  Tomko should be the choice if the Yanks keep a long reliever–and that’s not guaranteed right now based on what Pete Abraham relayed from Girardi about his considering Albaladejo, just as he did last year.

Personally, I’m torn but think Tomko should stay.  I like Albaladejo a lot, and want him as a hard-throwing option in middle relief.  But I also don’t want a repeat of the Ohlendorf conundrum that occurred last year, when he swung between short and long relief, eventually becoming ineffective in either.  We can say, based on the Yankees’ look on paper even without A-Rod for a month-plus, that the Yanks may not need a long reliever as much as more middle relief. But in practice, we don’t know what will occur, and should the Yanks need a guy like Tomko to eat some innings or make a spot start, they’ll rue not having him in such a pinch.  Not having a long man will very likely mean at some point that someone will have to assume just that role that rendered Ohlendorf so inefficient last year–putative long man in the face of not having one, while also being used at some point for spot middle relief duty.  Plus, given the fine job Girardi and the coaching staff did last year in managing innings for relievers, if the Yanks carry 12 pitchers, five middle relievers plus Mariano should be plenty–especially with a good starting staff that should go fairly deep into games.  If the roster were set today, I say keep Tomko–and I didn’t expect to say that a month ago.

Abraham also surmises that Brett the Jet would be the choice for CF if the season started today.  Regular readers know where I stand on this.  There is simply no replacing Gardner’s speed, as his triple and subsequent run on JD’s slow grounder to first against Boston Wednesday amply attest.  He’s a disruptive force who would effectively be a second lead-off hitter should he bat ninth to start the season. It’s another reason why I wouldn’t mind Jeter as the putative lead-off hitter–once the game starts and Gardner gets on base, what’s the difference between Jeter leading off and Jeter batting second if he’s hitting behind Gardner during the game?  The key is having Gardner, Jeter, and JD at 9-1-2, as L-R-L by the way, as capable, dangerous, and patient when necessary (such as running situations).  I’d like the lineup very much should Gardner start at #9 and show he can hit consistently at the major-league level.  Melky has come on lately and has had a very good ST, hitting .346 and coming on of late.  But his slow start hurt him, and Melky is an object lesson in the need to do it when it counts.  He didn’t and Brett the Jet did.  Plus,  Melky simply cannot offer the Yanks offense what Gardner does.

I’ve caught a bit of the NCAA men’s tournament in spots the last couple days, and many of the Sweet 16 games were duds.  Only Michigan St.-Kansas and Pitt-Xavier were exciting.  Syracuse was overmatched against Oklahoma, and Duke got completely shut down by Villanova.  Louisville showed Arizona to be the tournament pretender they were when they were wrongly chosen for the field, blowing them out by 39.  UNC hadled Gonzaga.  Memphis made it a game very late but the Tigers (Memphis and Missouri) surrendered scores of easy baskets to each other, and Missouri led by a lot for half the game.  Rob Hummel was the man in the first half for Purdue but, without him, that wouldn’t have been a game in the slightest and wasn’t so close against UConn, anyway.  That said, it’s not been a disappointing tournament.  I’ve not seen nearly as much as I had wanted, butI’ve been surprised by the lack of upsets and the preponderance of top seeds make it into the later rounds. UConn-Missouri was terrific today, and UConn has made the Final Four from the West for the third time–all from the West bracket.

Published in: on March 28, 2009 at 7:19 pm  Comments (4)  

David Price to Start Season in AAA

In what might be considered a brief reprieve for the rest of us, the Rays sent lefty phenom David Price down to AAA Durham to start the season. They clearly want him to be a starter, but don’t want to increase his total innings this year more than 20% above the 123 2/3 he pitched last year.  They also believe that they have enough staff options to be competitive this year without him either in the rotation or bullpen.  Additionally, pitchers Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann are out of options, and the Rays risk losing them if they were to decide to send them to Durham–not unlike the Yanks’ situation with Melky Cabrera.

Gleaned from a good article in The New York Times by Joshua Robinson, this shows that the Yanks’ mindset with gradually increasing Joba’s innings is far from an anomalous approach these days.  I’m not quite convinced that the Rays’ pitching will be able to match what they did last year, but I do know they’ll compete, that they have lots of young talent to do so, and that they’ll be ready to repeat with Maddon running things.  It sure is a different Rays team from before.

Published in: on March 26, 2009 at 7:22 am  Comments (3)  

John Hope Franklin, R.I.P.

The eminent historian John Hope Franklin has passed away at the venerable age of 94.  His most famous work, From Slavery to Freedom, is a foundational text well worth reading.  The rest of us will spend the rest of our lives trying in vain to fill the gap that his unfortunate passing has left.

Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 7:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire; EFCA

It was 98 years ago today that the Triangle Shirtwaist fire needlessly killed 146 workers, mostly immigrant women, due to an appalling lack of workplace, safety, and fire standards.  About 1/3 of those killed fell or leaped to their deaths, trapped on the upper floors of the building and locked in, with no hope of escape and without fire ladders that could reach them.  It prompted many groups, especially labor and women’s rights organizations, to vigorously push for long overdue reforms to ensure that such a appalling disgrace would not again occur.

Also on the labor front, call your Congressional representatives and senators to urge them to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. While our generation has not faced anything quite as disastrous as the Triangle Shirtwaist tragedy, there have been plenty of incidents, not the least of which were the mine tragedies a couple years ago in addition to the current financial crisis, to amply illustrate the need to effectively check big business and capital with the power of everyday people.

Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 4:49 pm  Comments (1)  

Johnny Blanchard, Arthur Richman R.I.P.

Ex-Yankee catcher Johnny Blanchard passed away at the age of 76.  Although never a regular with the Yanks, Blanchard was remarkably productive when he did get to play.  Particularly from 1961 to 1963, Blanchard tore it up for the Yanks, with his best year clearly 1961 when he hit 21 homers, drove in 54 runs, hit .305/.382, and had 10 doubles–in 243 at-bats.  He was one of six Yanks to hit at least 20 homers in 1961 despite having at least 150 at-bats fewer than the other five Yankees to hit 20+ that year (Maris, Mantle, Skowron, Howard, and Yogi).  Although he never hit close to .300 again, Blanchard was terrific in 1962 and 1963 as well, hitting 13 HR, 39 RBI, .232/.309 in 246 at-bats in ’62, and 16 HR, 45 RBI, .225/.305 in 218 at-bats in ’63.  His best post-season work came in 1960, when he hit .455 (5 for 11) against Pittsburgh, and 1961 when he .400 (4 for 10) with 2 homers, 3 RBIs, and 4 runs against Cincinnati. Against Cincy in Game 3, he homered in the top of the eighth to tie the game at two off knuckle-baller Bob Purkey on a good tip from Mantle, who informed Blanchard that Purkey started with sliders to get ahead, then threw his knuckle ball.  Blanchard tattooed the first-pitch slider deep to left, to the delight of Mantle.  Blanchard also homered in the Game 5 clincher, part of a five-run fourth inning that gave the Yanks an 11-3 lead on their way to a 13-5 battering of the over-matched Reds.

Blanchard, who was a left-handed hitter, is also remembered for homering in four consecutive at-bats, twice while pinch-hitting.  On July 21, he hit a pinch-hit grand slam in Fenway with the Yanks down one and two outs, pushing the Yanks to an 11-8 win over Boston.  The next night, he did it again in Fenway, pinch-hitting for Clete Boyer (again) and tying the game at 9 with a homer in the ninth with two outs.  The Yanks went on to win in extra innings.  The next time he played, July 26 at home against the White Sox, Blanchard hit fifth behind Mantle and homered in his first two at-bats.  He nearly hit a fifth, but his long fly was caught against the right field fence.

Blanchard was a key component in those Yankees years, coming off the bench and providing good power.  An easy-going guy, he was miserable when traded to the Kansas City A’s, never wanting to be traded even during his best years, saying “I’d rather sit on the bench with the Yankees ’till the bench rots.”

Keep smiling, Johnny.

Apparently, Arthur Richman, the Yanks’ senior adviser for media relations and to George Steinbrenner, also passed away.  According to The Yankee Years, it was Richman who contacted Torre and first offered him the manager’s job in October 1995.

Good call, Art.

Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 12:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Yanks Slam Sox 7-1

Quick post tonight, having chin-wagged about the game over at Mike’s Sommer Frieze and watched a couple consecutive hours of baseball for the first time in some time.  Burnett was excellent and very sharp before tiring a bit in the sixth, but Edwar got the final out in the sixth, Brett the Jet manufactured a run based on his great speed, and Austin Jackson hit a grand slam in the six-run eighth to salt it for the Yanks, 7-1.  I love that he was mad at himself for coming out with the bases loaded with two outs in the sixth.  He was already over the 70-75 pitch count for the night, he was terrific all night with very good location, velocity, and sharp breaking pitches.  And the guy was mad, swearing at himself as he walked to the dugout.  I love that.  Burnett has really pleased me this Spring.  200+ innings out of this guy will be of enormous help for the Yanks.

Brett the Jet hit a triple that went off a diving Ellsbury’s glove.  Simply put: any ball off Brett the Jet’s bat not cleanly fielded risks extra bases, period.  JD’s slow roller to first scored Gardner to tie the game.  A better throw probably would have had Gardner at the plate, but again, Gardner’s speed just pressured the defense into having to make the play.  Gardner’s speed drastically reduces the margin for error for the opponent’s defense.  As we discussed at The Frieze, there really should be no way Gardner isn’t the CF.  He’s been terrific this Spring, and he can do things that no other Yankee–not even JD who can still run–can do.  As Pete Abraham put it tonight:

Brett Gardner triples to lead off the bottom of the sixth. The ball flicked off the glove of the diving Ellsbury in center and Gardner raced to third base, diving in ahead of the throw. The Little G then scored on a grounder to first.

Does that sequence get him the job? No other Yankee scores that run.

Counting the Team USA game, Gardner is 21 of 47 this spring with eight extra-base hits. How does he not get the job?

I couldn’t agree more.  His whole body of work this Spring has won him the job, but that play tonight should be the icing on the cake.  Gardner should be the CF, hands down.

Mariano had a good seventh, striking out two and throwing 88-92.  His velocity should come back and, even though he wasn’t throwing as hard as he has thus far, the movement on his cutter was sharp and deceptive.  Posada threw out Ellsbury trying to steal, with Jeter making a great play to snare the throw on the other side of the bag and tag Ellsbury on the head.  Strong throw but off, but still got the job done, and Posada looks good playing defense.  That’s a great sign for the Yanks, who desperately need Jorge to be healthy.

Austin Jackson positively creamed a grand slam to make it 7-1 and seal the deal.  He swung at and missed two Devern Hansack fastballs during the at-bat, but smashed a 3-2 fastball down and in way over the left field foul pole and into the lake.  The kid then got a kind word from none other than Reggie Jackson in the dugout.  That’s what the Yanks have to offer–history and pedigree to the up-and-coming players.  What other team can invite such Hall of Fame players as Yogi and Reggie to come into camp, and tutor and mentor players?  None.  The Yankees’ great and storied history envelopes the team; that can’t be lost on players such as Jackson.

I’ll do my best to arrange an HDLR in the next few days.

Published in: on March 24, 2009 at 9:37 pm  Comments (4)  

Two Losses

I’ve been away doing work for the last couple days, so there’s a decent amount to catch up on.  The Yankees have dropped two straight, losing to Philly 8-3 today and 5-0 to Tampa yesterday.  Wang was very good through five but wore down a bit in the sixth, failing to retire the two batters he faced, and they eventually scored.  In the sixth, the Phillies turned a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 lead, adding three more in the seventh.  Wang’s final line was pretty good–5+, 5 hits, 3 runs earned, 2 walks, 2 K’s, and 8 ground outs.  Bruney struggled again, giving up two runs earned on two hits, including a homer to Matt Stairs.  Giese also struggled, allowing 4 hits, 3 runs earned, and a two-run homer to ex-Yankee Miguel Cairo. The two of them have floundered this Spring, and hopefully Bruney can shake all this off once the season starts. Tomko continues to impress, finishing up the eighth with a hit in a scoreless inning.  As things stand now in the race for long reliever/spot starter, the job would seem to be Tomko’s.  Teixeira has had a hot Spring, doubling and scoring on Nady’s RBI single.

The offense was bound to cool off, and it did yesterday against Tampa as the Yanks got shut out.  Brett the Jet had a single and a walk.  Cano had two hits, and Austin Jackson had a triple, but the Yanks got only five hits and four walks against David Price and the Rays.  Aceves allowed two hits, a run earned, and a walk in 2 2/3, but the pitching on the whole was poor, walking nine. Igawa finally struggled this Spring, allowing a run on four hits and four walks in just 2 2/3.  Otherwise, he was very good, but has been sent down. Marte, however, threw a good inning, working around a walk.  Good to see him back and effective after his injury scare/snafu. The defense matched the bad pitching, committing three errors although Melky and Nady contributed an outfield assist apiece.  I have to say that Price really impresses me.  He has nasty stuff, his arm angle provides extra deception to his pitches, his slider is nasty, and his fastball is dangerous.  Honestly, he reminds me of a left-handed Joba–or a younger, slimmer Sabathia.

Pete Abraham has a good article on Jorge’s continued progress back from shoulder surgery.  Jorge threw out three of four runners in a minor-league game, one on a change-up he called.  That’s a good sign of arm strength.  There was also a good tidbit in the piece about Sabathia’s cognizance of runners and Jorge as well, with CC using a slide step to hasten the ball to home and help Jorge.  That Sabathia, can’t say enough good about the guy thus far.

Apparently Nady is ahead of Swisher in right field, with Girardi having told Swisher that he’ll be coming off the bench.  This should surprise no one, and Swisher handled it professionally, if with a subtle expression of his anger by saying that he’d like to play.  I still think Swisher has an important place on this team, and should be given some reps early to keep him sharp, to allow others like Damon and Matsui some time to start fresh, and honestly to put pressure on players.  No one gets a free pass to play, especially if someone capable is waiting in the wings.  I do like the improved bench strength with Swisher, I must admit.

Jeter returns after the US team was eliminated by Japan last night.

Published in: on March 23, 2009 at 9:43 pm  Comments (5)  

Joba Sharp as Yanks Win Again, 4-3

Joba has strung together three good ST starts now, going 3 1/3 and allowing 4 hits, a run earned, and no walks while fanning 5 as the Yanks again got good pitching, and just enough hitting, to beat Detroit 4-3.  Joba was working at nearly 20 pitches an inning through the first three, resulting in his pitching perhaps fewer innings than expected.  He was slated to go about 60-65 pitches, but used up many of those due to what he termed “nibbling.”  His worst trouble was allowing three straight singles in the second, with a sac fly from Raburn giving Detroit a 1-0 lead.  But consecutive doubles from JD (who threw out Gerald Laird at home, ahem) and Mark Teixeira gave the Yanks a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third.  Juan Miranda addd a two-run homer off Rodney in the bottom of the seventh to break a 2-2 tie, and the Yanks shrugged off a solo shot by Larish off Veras in the top of the eighth to win.

Mariano continued his comeback and fine-tuning with a good sixth inning, allowing a hit and fanning two.  Albaladejo allowed three hits in relief of Joba but kept the Tigers from scoring. Edwar and Veras each allowed a run, but Zach Kroenke had a scoreless ninth to win it.  Melky was 2-3 with a double, Brett the Jet had a single in his only at-bat, Teixeira is hitting .419 this Spring with his double and 1-2 day, and I’ll add this: I have no idea of Juan Miranda will develop into a good defensive first baseman and, if he does, it likely won’t be with the Yankees with Teixeira in front of him for the next eight years.  But his bat is Grade A, homering off a very good power-pitching reliever in Rodney for the game-winning runs.  If nothing else, he can be a pretty decent fill-in if necessary (hopefully not at first) especially if needed as a DH.  His bat is an asset.

Aceves toes the rubber tomorrow against the Rays at 1:05 ET.

Published in: on March 21, 2009 at 4:08 pm  Comments (4)  

Yanks Best Twins 4-2

The Yankees brought some three o’clock lightning with them today, coming from behind to beat the Twins and keep rolling, 4-2.  Hughes was quite good, as was the pitching on the whole.  Hughes went 4 1/3, allowing just three hits, a run earned, and a walk.  Although he didn’t strike out anyone, Hughes got 10 ground outs.  Jason Johnson had a rough 1 2/3 IP in his continued comeback, allowing three hits, a run, and a walk.  But Claggett and Robertson put the clamps on, with Robertson fanning three in 1 1/3 IP.  Igawa struggled to close the game, walking two and allowing a hit to load the bases with one out, but he got a DP to end the game, keeping his ERA at zero for 12 2/3 IP now.

The Yanks were shut down until Teixeira’s first home run of Spring, off closer extraordinaire Joe Nathan, made it 2-1.  Todd “Hal” Linden’s lead-off homer in the eighth tied it, a sac fly from Cervelli gave the Yanks the lead, and Austin Jackson added an insurance run with a solo shot in the ninth.  Jackson has had a very good Spring, hitting .303.  Brett the Jet and Cano each went 1-3.  The Yanks have now won eight in a row and ten out of the last eleven.  I know it’s Spring, but that’s pretty impressive.  So much of that is a direct result of getting quality pitching on a daily basis.  That Hughes again contributed quality innings is very encouraging.

Joba takes thr bump tomorrow at 1:15 ET against Detroit.

Published in: on March 20, 2009 at 8:54 pm  Leave a Comment