Pettite, Bullpen Lock Down Royals 4-1

Andy Pettite pitched seven excellent innings, Brian Bruney looked impressive in the eighth, and Mariano notched his first save of the year and his 483rd of his incomparable career as the Yanks beat the Royals in their home opener 4-1.  Posada drove in two with a single, Cano had two hits and a walk in three at-bats, and Swisher had an RBI double. Although the Yanks only hit 1-8 with RISP, four runs were more than enough with such terrific pitching.

New York staked Pettite to a 2-0 lead in the first when JD singled to left. Teixeira then walked and deftly avoided getting tagged by the Royals second baseman to whom Matsui grounded by stopping, resulting in Callaspo unwisely throwing to first instead of getting the middle runner in Teixeira.  This proved costly, for Jorge’s two-out single scored two instead of one. Pettite was on from the get-go and got help from his defense, with Cano making a great leaping catch to rob Crisp of a hit.  He retired the first five, but his two-out walk to Billy Butler in the second eventually resulted in a run for the Royals when Swisher misplayed and failed to catch Jacobs’s fly ball, 2-1 Royals.

But after Pettite had a 1-2-3 third, the Yanks scored two in the top of the fourth.  Cano laced a single, and Swisher atoned for his second-inning gaffe by cranking a double to center, 3-1 Yanks.  Ransom then grounded to the shortstop Aviles, who unwisely and unsuccessfully tried to catch Swisher off second instead of taking the sure out at first, getting neither.  Brett the Jet sac bunted them over, and Jeter’s 6-3 scored Swisher and capped the scoring, 4-1 Yanks. Yet Ransom foolishly and inexcusably got caught between second and third on the ball hit to short.  Poor base running.

Pettite then put things on cruise control, working an eight-pitch 1-2-3 fourth and, after the Yanks squandered Teixeira’s fifth-inning lead-off double, Lefty made the Royals do the same after Butler’s lead-off double in the bottom half.  He then worked around Aviles’s one-out single in the sixth by fanning DeJesus and getting Teahan on an F7, while also atoning for the Yanks’ failing to make Sloppy Sid Ponson, who labored through 98 pitches in five innings, throw more than six pitches in the sixth.  After ex-Yankee Nuke LaFarnsworth struck out the side in the seventh, Pettite fanned Gordon and Jacobs to punctuate a brilliant stint–7 IP, just 3 hits and 1 run earned, 1 walk and 6 K’s on only 99 pitches/64 strikes–the best start of the first week for the Yanks by far.  Bruney struck out two in an easy, 12-pitch eighth, and Mariano shut the door with two K’s of his own to save it.

With the offensive positives mentioned above were a few downers.  Jeter went 0-5, though with the RBI, and is hitless in his last 9 at-bats, though he’s still hitting .278.  Matsui was 0-4, with only 1 hit in 14 at-bats thus far (.071).  Ransom is in the same 1-14 boat as Matsui and, worse, got caught off second base on Jeter’s grounder to short.  Girardi probably doesn’t want to rattle the kid, and he has had a couple hard-hit balls and gotten no luck.  But as Tim the Wizard speculated as we chinwagged at The Sommer Frieze, he just might sit.  Pena could do no worse right now, though I wouldn’t want to send a signal that Ransom can’t do the job–yet.  Brett the Jet got an infield single but was promptly picked off first.  The team stranded six as it went just 1-8 with RISP, is just 9-40 (.225) with RISP through four games, and struck out 11 times today.

But there are positives with the offense.  Cano has been outstanding, not just hitting a hot .571 but drawing 4 walks in the first 4 games.  Last year, Cano didn’t draw his fourth walk until the 21st game on April 22.  He’s not just a better hitter to start the year, but more patient and relaxed at the plate.  It’s outstanding to see.  I believe it was Mike F. (who very kindly texted me updates in the last few innings as I was at my son’s soccer practice–many thanks) who brought up an interesting possibility, that Cano just might hit clean-up with A-Rod out and Matsui struggling.  With his hot start, it’s hard to argue against that.  Teixeira is starting to warm up, working up to .250.  Swisher is producing, having driven in 6 runs in the last two games and starting 5-10.  Posada continues to contribute, hitting .273 with 3 RBIs.  Brett the Jet is hitting .286, had a sac bunt today, and has kept the bottom of the lineup at least decent.  Additionally, the team has cranked up the offense for all of one game thus far.  It will be better.

But it all comes back to pitching.  Pettite did not allow a hit with RISP (the Royals were 0-4), and was in total control.  His great start was not just valuable in its own right, but also because it allowed the bullpen that had been overworked in the first two games to get a breather.  I can certainly get used to good starts that go seven or more innings this year.  The bullpen has allowed just one base runner, on a slow infield hit against Mariano today, in the last 5 2/3 while fanning 10.  Pettite, Bruney, and Mariano combined to strike out 10 today, never allowing the Royals to get a sustained rally going.

Hopefully Sabathia can make it three straight strong starts tomorrow evening as he faces fellow lefty Horacio Ramirez.  With Swisher’s hot hitting and Matsui’s slump to start the year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matsui sit and the right-handed hitting Nady, and switch-hitting Swisher, playing.  Outstanding game today, good win to even their mark at 2-2.

Before I forget, HDLR tomorrow, NOT this Sunday.  We now have Easter dinner plans, so I’ll open up the Digital Living Room for tomorrow evening.

[Edit: Pete Abraham brings up a good point about the effect that the growing shadows had on the hitters in the last several innings–although the Royals weren’t exactly hitting Pettite early, either.  But it’s an important reminder about the dynamics of not just day baseball but mid-afternoon starts, especially in April with the days not nearly as long as they will be in June.]

Published in: on April 10, 2009 at 8:48 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Another thing that stood out – again – was Tex’s defense. He’s really good. I’d forgotten how important it is to have somebody at first who makes all the plays.

  2. It’s a good point, Jane. He made a tremendous leaping play in Baltimore, and another good play yesterday while I was away from the game. Giambi’s bat was good, though his ability to hit for average disappeared after the first season in The Bronx. But his defense was poor–no range, no arm. Teixeira is like a switch-hitting Tino, but maybe even more athletic. Great signing.

  3. hey yes it was I who suggested that cano hit cleanup—he needs to move up in the line up at any rate. i know that having a consistent line up every day is something to strive for, but this is the time of year when tinkering around to find the best one is called for. it’s not just that matsui isn’t hitting. he’s not using his legs with his swing–he looks like he’s just using the top half of his body. and watching him gingerly run down to fist base is sad. i love the guy, but we do have alternatives. well alternative- swisher.

    so anyway–back to cano if not 4th then 5th…

    i’m going to my brother’s lake house today–the internet is spotty there ( satellite) so i’m not sure if i’ll be able to join you guys at the HDLR ) i’ll text you..

    great post as usual !

  4. And Matsui’s just not running well, Mike. It makes me wonder if he’s been gutting it out but, despite the team’s pretensions to the contrary, simply has bad knees now and they won’t sufficiently improve. They’ve already hinted at that by saying he won’t play the outfield. Clearly I agree–Swisher is the obvious alternative.

    Hope to see you later Mike but, if not, I understand.

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