Saturday, April 30, 2011

Derek Jeter no longer Captain Clutch?

I’m not ready to concede John Harper’s argument that Derek Jeter is no longer the star player he used to be, but I’m not prepared to dismiss it either.

A month into the season, Jeter’s average is still hovering around .250, made up mostly of infield hits, which shows he still has some speed left. But most concerning is that he has consistently failed in situations he used to master: runners on base, sometimes in scoring position, with the New York Yankees desperate for runs. Harper argued that Jeter’s decline has gotten so bad that the Yankees can no longer count on him.

I’ve been wondering about the same thing since I went to the stadium on Monday when Jeter came to bat late in the game. I was hoping he could work his magic and save AJ Burnett’s gutty performance, but all Jeter could manage was a weak groundout. It was hard to see the Yankees fall short, partly because of that at bat when Jeter has been amazingly clutch in the past.

Jeter has been successful in these situations because he’s not afraid of them and he responded to all questions with his typical air of confidence. But he seemed somewhat frustrated after a couple of at-bats today, including when he failed to drive a ball far enough in the outfield to score Jorge Posada.

Coincidentally, (or perhaps not), the YES Network did s a short pre-game feature on Jeter’s climb toward the 3,000 hit mark, not focusing on his struggles, but on the magic of the milestone. Alex Rodriguez was part of the feature, praising the captain’s leadership skills and talking about how much he will personally enjoy watching Jeter reach that achievement. (Maybe ARod was specifically included to show how good a relationship the two now have, with an upcoming book promising to shine new light on the decay of their formerly close friendship).

Perhaps we should let the pace of Jeter’s climb to 3,000 tell us if he’s really done. Prior to the season, the baseball geeks projected he would hit that threshold sometime around June 8-10 (I have a ticket for the June 10th game, just in case). But if he approaches early June and is well off the pace, perhaps it is time for us Jeter fans to finally admit the cold, hard truth: that he’s just not as good as he used to be.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Braves need to get their house back in order

What is going on with the Atlanta Braves these days?

This Roger McDowell incident is truly disturbing. Homophobic insults, crude gestures in front of children who have more right to enjoy a ballgame than us adults, no matter what McDowell may have said. One incident could be written off, but two separate despicable acts call for serious punishment, which I hope the Braves quickly hand out. The situation is made even worse by McDowell’s refusal to take full responsibility for his reaction, blaming fans for instigating the fight. Even if that’s true, and I don’t have any problem believing that obnoxious fans could have been the instigators, McDowell has absolutely no right resorting to such a vulgar, threatening response.

Sadly, I can't say I'm surprised to hear about Derek Lowe's DUI arrest. I'm starting to believe that baseball has a serious drinking problem on its hands and that Bud Selig has to insist on a stringent punishment and treatment program during the upcoming negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

The Braves of old were pretty classy guys. I still vividly remember the gracious interview John Smoltz gave even though he had just lost Game 4 of the 1999 World Series to the New York Yankees, completing the sweep by the Bronx Bombers. I hope that these incidents don't portend a trend of them losing that class, but it looks like the Braves have to quickly get their house back in order.

Thanks to Chrisjnelson via Wikipedia for the McDowell photo.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Phil Hughes may be in for fight of his life

Forget about baseball for now. Phil Hughes may be in for the fight of his life.

Even though I'm a die-hard New York Yankees fan, I'm not worried about the Yankees or baseball. My concern is for the kid's health. That is the most important issue right now.

I had never even heard of thoracic outlet syndrome before last night and had to enlist Lord Google in a search for more information. It seems to be a rare and painful disorder that can sometimes lead to life-threatening complications such as blood clots, which is what I was afraid Hughes was suffering. I’ve been through the frightening experience of having a blood clot and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, especially a good guy like Hughes.

If the suspected diagnosis of TOS is confirmed, perhaps it can be treated with noninvasive techniques such as stretching, posture conditioning and ice/heat rather than with invasive procedures such as surgery that requires removal of a rib, which seems to be the riskiest option and one that I hope the doctors can avoid.

Of course, the TOS scare could turn out to be a false alarm. That’s certainly what Joe Girardi is praying for. “My hope is that that’s not what we’re dealing with,” Girardi said. “That’s my hope for him.”

The Yankees manager is openly fond of Hughes and is scared and seriously worried about the youngster. At least outwardly, Girardi may be more concerned than his pitcher. I would have been terrified at the potential diagnosis, but Hughes seems to be taking it in stride. Truthfully, he has handled this whole situation pretty gracefully, even when fielding multiple, annoying questions from reporters about what’s wrong with his arm and why he lost his fastball.

“He’s one of those guys where his mood doesn’t change day to day,” Girardi said. “To me, his mood seems par for the course.”

But privately, Hughes must be wondering if he will be all right or if he will ever pitch again. I’m an optimist so I’ll choose to believe that everything will turn out OK for him.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tough road to expanded baseball playoffs

I guess Bud Selig spoke too soon and too optimistically about expanding the baseball playoffs. Judging by comments from baseball players such as Tim Lincecum, Selig is in for a much tougher fight than he thought.

Selig wants to expand the playoffs to include two more wild card teams, bringing the total number of participants to 10 teams. You would think this idea is something baseball players would embrace, given the additional chance to make the postseason and the extra compensation that comes with it. But there have been very vocal objections raised by several players and even vitriol thrown in Selig’s direction.

Take Lincecum’s comments for example. I have absolutely no problem with the quirky pitcher enjoying the current baseball format, which his San Francisco Giants conquered all the way to a World Series title last year. But his suggestion that Selig doesn’t care about his players because he had the gall to suggest adding more games to the playoff schedule makes absolutely no sense and is completely unfair. Sure, Selig’s motivations are probably mostly financial, but it’s not like the players won’t be compensated for playing extra games since a playoff expansion is subject to the collective bargaining agreement.

I really don’t like seeing that kind of personal attack against the commissioner of baseball coming from a player, especially a star like Lincecum whose comments always get extra attention. There’s going to be plenty to fight about during the negotiations this offseason, but there’s no reason to get nasty this early. I admire Lincecum for what he has done on the field (winning two Cy Young awards by the age of 25), but this is one of those moments when a somewhat immature young man just said way too much and a lot of it was completely inappropriate.

I like Mark Teixeira’s more measured response. Teixeira and Joe Girardi both voiced concern about extended time off for division winners while the wild cards duke it out. That’s a legitimate concern that baseball would have to address before implementing a system, perhaps by forcing the wild card teams to play three games in a row (sure that’s harsh, but that’s why they should win the division), and still allowing division leaders to start playing on Thursday.

The union is already sending signals that it may fight such a change, especially if most of its members fall in the Lincecum/Teixeira camp of objectors. So the path to expanded baseball playoffs won’t be as smooth as Selig hoped. Good luck, Commissioner!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Worries about Hughes escalate overnight

Concern about Phil Hughes has escalated into fear almost overnight.

Although the New York Yankees are characterizing the quick halt of his bullpen session as a setback, the primary question is no longer about whether a 24-year-old has lost his fastball. It’s about whether that young man is healthy. And it’s no longer just about whether his arm is hurt. The most frightening news was that Hughes will undergo a full body scan because the Yankees are now worried that an internal issue such as an aneurysm is causing the problem.

Did this not occur to anyone before? Sure, you expect a guy that young to be healthy, but it’s not like this is the first time the Yankees have dealt with this type of health problem. David Cone famously tried to pitch through numbness in his arm that turned out to be caused by an aneurysm that required emergency surgery and a lengthy stay on the disabled list.

Having gone through a similarly unexpected, but life-threatening condition with a blood clot, I can understand how something like this could sneak up on a person. But I don’t have a team of highly-paid medical professionals following my every move. If the problem is potentially this severe, it should have been ruled out long ago.

I will be praying that Hughes is not facing a life-threatening situation and, that if he is, that his otherwise good health and youth and the high-quality care he will receive from now on will get him through it. He’s been increasingly worried about his ability to pitch, but I’m sure he must be really scared now. I know I was when the diagnosis of a blood clot was confirmed. Hughes has gone from worrying about his fastball to worrying about his health and that’s not a good thing. Hopefully it turns out to be much ado about nothing.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Jeter book promises to reopen wounds

The fact that Derek Jeter is emphatically distancing himself from Ian O'Conner unauthorized biography is a clear sign that the book will be a public relations nightmare for Jeter and the New York Yankees and will reopen wounds both old and new.

Jeter never wants to speak about his personal life or behind-the-scenes clubhouse matters so his insistence on letting the world know that it’s not his book is quite telling. Jeter obviously knows what’s coming in the book (likely because O’Connor requested and probably received a summary interview) and knows that it’s bad.

There’s no indication that it necessarily portrays Jeter in a bad light, but it’s clear the book intimately covers his relationships with various members of the Yankees organizations, relationships that have frayed and broken at times, particularly with Alex Rodriguez and Brian Cashman. We all know the genesis of the souring of these relationships (the betrayal by a former friend in ARod’s case and the nasty shots Cashman took at the shortstop during the contract negotiations), but the book has to shed some new light on these and other disagreements if Jeter is worried enough to disavow it.

The last thing Jeter probably wants is these incidents being dredged up again, forcing him to answer questions about things he feels should stay in the past. Jeter is a pretty media savvy guy and the public relations professionals will say that the smart thing to do is to try to get ahead of some of the worst stuff in the book to blunt their impact. But that approach contradicts Jeter’s consistent stance of not delving into private matters in public so he’s probably not going to further address the book until reporters start asking him questions about it.

I have to admit that I will be one of the first buyers of the book, mostly because Jeter’s rush to distance himself makes me think that it will feature revelations that he has so far managed to conceal. Regardless, the book promises to reopen wounds that probably should remain closed for the Yankees sake.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cowardly HBP pulls Yankees closer together

The New York Yankees have been playing really well as a team so far in 2011, but after the year is over, we may look back on the ninth inning on April 23 as the moment when they really came together as a team.

Russell Martin has played beautifully and quickly become popular both in the Yankees clubhouse and with the tough New York fans. So the Yankees were livid after he got plunked by a pitch that was way too close to his head and neck, just because he had the gall to hit two home runs against the Baltimore Orioles. Rather than starting a benches-clearing brawl, Martin calmly walked to first. But his light-hitting teammate Brett Gardner got the best revenge for the cowardly hit by pitch when he slammed a home run off the offending pitcher Josh Rupe, much to the jubilant reaction of his manager Joe Girardi.

The Orioles hitters were fortunate CC Sabathia was already out of the game or one of them would have definitely gotten drilled. CC has made it clear that he will not tolerate his hitters being thrown at and has retaliated on more than one occasion, notably against the Boston Red Sox.

I loved the reaction from the Yankees bench. Mark Teixeira has been thrown at several times after hitting home runs so his anger toward Rupe was to be expected. But the fierceness of AJ Burnett’s reaction was both surprising and telling. Coming from a pitcher who might be inclined to give a fellow hurler the benefit of the doubt, it proved to me that the pitch was intentional. If Martin had charged the mound, his teammates would have been seconds behind him to get his back. He wisely chose not to risk a suspension or an unfortunate injury to himself or one of his teammates, but the Yankees didn’t need to get into a fistfight to prove they had his back.

What matters the most is that it was the first moment the 2011 Yankees were truly tested as a team and they passed with flying colors. Oftentimes after a baseball season is over, fans will reflect on the team’s performance and character. We may look back on that night in Baltimore as the time the 2011 Yankees truly jelled as a team.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hughes getting Jeter treatment from NY Post?

Is Phil Hughes getting the “Derek Jeter” treatment from the New York Post?

When I refer to the Jeter treatment, I’m referring to the practice of the New York Yankees of leaking negative stories and tidbits to the Post in exchange for positive coverage that makes the team look brilliant while the player looks like a jerk. The Yankees did this to perfection during the Jeter contract negotiations, making their iconic shortstop look like another greedy ballplayer, much to Jeter’s chagrin.

It looks like Hughes is starting to get the same treatment and it’s quite baffling. Sure, it doesn’t look good for the Yankees if their young stud turns out to be a bust, but it’s not like there is a huge pile of money at stake, as there was in the Jeter negotiations. Yet, here we have Joel Sherman writing about how Hughes starting camp overweight and undergoing the Yankees version of the Biggest Loser is the reason he lost his fastball. The only point of the article is to publicly blame Hughes for the problem rather than any mishandling the Yankees may have done with him last year when he went through the latest version of the Joba Rules.

As a journalist, I’m getting really tired of the Post being the Yankees’ mouthpiece. At this point, the Post is not even trying to fake objectivity. They are just taking the Yankees spin and treating it as fact. The Post is not the first source I check for Yankees information. Come to think of it, it’s usually not even in the top three sources and it is only going to drop further if the Post reporters/columnists don’t stop belittling the Yankee players on the organization’s behalf.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Selig, baseball ready for more playoffs

Bud Selig is a very busy man these days. His most immediate priority seems to be saving the Los Angeles Dodgers from their dueling owners, but he is also trying to improve the sport as much as he can before his scheduled retirement next year.

News broke last week that baseball may finally be ready to move on instant replay. Now Selig said he expects the baseball playoffs to expand from eight to 10 teams. Of course, the details have to be worked out and the players' union has to sign off, but if Selig is publicly acknowledging his expectations for a playoff expansion, it seems like a foregone conclusion.

Selig is showing a lot more openness than I thought he would to some of these proposed changes, particularly instant replay, which he has gone on the record about with his reservations. But I think Selig is smart enough to understand that the sport can't remain static if it wants to compete with other sports for the limited attention of the sports fans of America and the world.

I'm all for changes to the current playoff format in baseball. I like the wild card and I don't agree with some people who think it has diminished the battle for the top spots in the divisions, particularly the American League East. But I think it can be improved in a way that gives teams more incentive to play all the way through to the end of the baseball season. My only concern is that the playoffs not drag on like they do in the NBA (it really shouldn't take six weeks to decide the champion of a league). I’m sure that is one of Selig's concerns too and am optimistic that MLB and the union can come up with a format that everyone can agree to in time for next season.

Thanks to Major League Baseball for the photo.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Can Bud Selig save the LA Dodgers?

How bad must things be behind the scenes with the Los Angeles Dodgers if that team is a better candidate for a takeover than the woeful, Madoff-stricken Mets? Things must have gotten pretty bad if Bud Selig felt compelled to step in and try to save the Dodgers from the dueling McCourts (and stop them from trampling on what’s left of his legacy).

Selig’s statement doesn’t give much of a clue to what caused his concerns about impending doom for the Dodgers, but it’s safe to say that news of McCourt being forced to take a loan from Fox was a factor. Selig made it clear that he’s worried both about the financial health and the legacy of one of baseball’s oldest and proudest franchises, which has taken major hits recently with the never-ending McCourt war and the brutal attack on a San Francisco Giants fan in the Dodger Stadium parking lot.

Of course, McCourt is not going to take this lying down. He’s already battling his wife in one courtroom. He and Selig may end up on opposite sides of another courtroom pretty soon, which will just make things worse for the Dodgers and Major League Baseball.

I feel for Donnie Baseball. Don Mattingly finally gets a manager’s job for a team with dysfunctional owners who got kicked to the curb by the commissioner of baseball. I hope the chaos at the top has a minimal impact on the baseball his team plays, but it’s hard to imagine it won’t have an effect on personnel decisions if the team is that strapped for cash. Joe Torre jumped ship at just the right time, but I can’t help wondering how much influence he had on Selig’s decision now that he’s working for MLB.

Maybe Selig can prevent the Dodgers from falling apart. I hope so. I would take no pleasure in seeing the Dodgers team suffer, just as I get no joy seeing the mess the Mets are in.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Yankees chugging along despite problems

The New York Yankees are leading the much vaunted, but so far pretty weak American League East, chugging along nicely despite all their problems. How long will it last?

It’s still early in the season, but right now the Yankees are the only team in baseball’s toughest division with a winning record. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that AL East teams are playing and beating up on each other so much early in the season. But these teams definitely have some problems. The pitching of the Boston Red Sox has been atrocious and newcomer Carl Crawford still hasn’t found his stroke although I still feel that the Saux could turn things around pretty quickly. But all the defections have hit the Tampa Bay Rays harder than everyone thought and that young stud rotation hasn’t yet made up the difference.

Not to say the Yankees don’t have problems. Quite the opposite. They’ve managed to claw their way to the top of the division despite having to put young Phil Hughes, who was supposed to be a reliable member of the rotation, on the disabled list, leaving them with a rotation in which has-beens such as Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon will play prominent roles for the foreseeable future. They’ve won games despite the fact that neither Derek Jeter nor Brett Gardner has hit enough to claim the leadoff spot, with Gardner being pushed back to the bottom of the lineup. And the injuries are piling up, whether it be Pedro Feliciano’s arm (which will keep him out for six weeks, if not the entire year) and Alex Rodriguez’s hip (which hopefully won’t sideline him beyond a few days).

Can the Yankees continue to stay on top despite all these problems? There is enough talent on the team to like their chances. They have their horse in CC Sabathia, who unlike many of his counterparts manages to keep his team in games even when he doesn’t have his good stuff. And Mariano Rivera continues to prove that there is a fountain of youth (or that he isn’t really human) by converting seven saves in seven chances without breaking a sweat. Of course, I’m partial but I think the fact that the Yankees are doing so well despite all their issues and injuries bodes well for them for the rest of the baseball season.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Baseball should move on instant replay

I’m all for Major League Baseball expanding the use of instant replay, but baseball needs to do it in a way that doesn't have a serious adverse impact on the pace of the game. Instant replay has become a necessity for the game of baseball as technology exposes every little mistake made out in the field (or maybe the umpiring is just getting worse). I wish Bud Selig & Co could start implementing instant replay immediately, but it will take some time to develop the right system so I’ll wait for 2012 and hope that the number of costly bad calls is kept to a minimum this season. Of course, the logistics of the system are crucial. I propose that managers be limited to one replay challenge per game (and be banned from using replay to question ball/strike calls). If a manager only has one replay challenge, he will guard it carefully and use his challenge only during the most pivotal moments of a ballgame. I hope MLB goes through with the move. I’d love to avoid any more perfect game mishaps or bad playoff calls.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mark Teixeira

Except for his birthday, Mark Teixeira probably considers April his least favorite month of the year.

After getting off to a promising, hot start with four homers and 10 ribbies in his first five games, Teixeira has gone hitless in his last 18 at-bats. Suddenly, Tex has to hear all about his annual April struggles again, magnified by the fact that the last three days of futility took place against the Boston Red Sox.

It’s got to be frustrating for Tex, especially since he put in so much work and changed his entire offseason routine in the hopes of getting off to a good start. But Joe Girardi isn’t worried about his first baseman (he has plenty of other issues with his team to be concerned about) and neither am I. Tex looked really good swinging the bat early in the week and he usually ends up having a good year regardless of how he starts off. And it’s not like he’s alone in struggling, with the entire New York Yankees lineup going cold against a rejuvenated Josh Beckett last night at Fenway Park.

At least Tex gets a day off and away from baseball for his birthday. I hope he enjoys it.

Happy Birthday, Tex!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

All eyes on Captain Jeter all the time

Everyone is talking about Derek Jeter and he's getting sick of it.

Jeter is used to being the center of attention, but he is awfully tired of answering questions about his "new" swing. Technically, the questions are about his stride or toe tapping at the plate. But Jeter knows what the real question is: can he regain the form that has made him a five-time World Series champion and a surefire, first-ballot Baseball Hall of Famer? Jeter is confident that he will be that guy again and he is tired of all the doubts being expressed in the tabloids, on television and within the New York Yankees organization itself.

Jeter is known for trying to put controversial issues to bed and he appears to be trying to end the talk about his swing by pledging never to speak of it again. But the rest of baseball and the media will have their eyes glued on Captain Jeter all the time, particularly as he inches closer to the magic 3,000 hit threshold. If it takes Jeter longer to reach that number than the modeling suggests it should, the talk will turn increasingly negative. It will be all about Jeter being a fraction of the shortstop he was and about the likelihood of him being forced by the Yankees to switch positions on the field or in the lineup.

But Jeter is going to leave all the speculation to the rest of us and focus on playing baseball, which is what he does best, even if some people don’t think he does it that well anymore.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hughes won't be yanked from Yankee rotation

Phil Hughes is not getting yanked from the New York Yankees rotation. At least not yet, probably not anytime soon either.

Two bad starts into the season and the Yankee beat writers already started peppering Joe Girardi with questions about Hughes being replaced in the rotation by Bartolo Colon, who pitched really well against the Red Sox and didn't deserve the loss. Girardi dismissed the possibility, noting that Hughes won 18 games last year. The Yankees will give Hughes enough time to work the problem out, especially if their other starters continue to pitch well.

I don't worry about Hughes from a physical or mechanical perspective. As long as he's healthy, which he insists that he is, the 24-year-old will get his groove back. I just hope that it does not take so long that it starts to undermine his confidence. There were some signs of that in his postgame meeting with the press when Hughes talked about not bringing anything to the team. But Hughes is man enough to stand in front of his locker and answer the questions (unlike some teammates), knowing the sportswriters will start writing about him being bounced from the rotation, and I think holding himself accountable is a good sign.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Manny overshadows Yankees, Red Sox

Leave it to Manny Ramirez to overshadow the first game of the year in baseball's best rivalry.

Today should have been all about the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, all about Phil Hughes versus John Lackey (although both starters were awful). Instead, baseball was rocked by the news that Ramirez retired rather than face the music for testing positive for the second time in his career for performance-enhancing drugs.

I’m not at all surprised by the news. Manny got busted for using a women’s fertility drug the first time around so it’s clear he’s not the sharpest pencil in the bunch. And it was obvious that Ramirez wanted to prove that he could still be one of baseball’s best and most feared hitters so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he got caught cheating again.

This news seals Manny’s fate in terms of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Despite the reluctance of some writers to vote for anyone even remotely connected with PEDs, there may have been enough writers willing to overlook one positive test, but not two. Absent the PED revelations, his extraordinary career statistics would have earned him a spot in the Hall, but it’s not going to happen now. The only way Manny will be allowed into the Hall is if he buys a ticket.

Even though Manny’s second bust wasn’t a surprise, it’s still a sad end to the career of one of the most pivotal players in the Rivalry’s most recent heyday. The Yankees and Red Sox will go on, but Manny will be Manny no more.

Thanks to Googie man via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Controversies find Yankees very early

Less than one week into their baseball season, the New York Yankees have three wins and two controversies on their hands.

Brian Cashman started an unnecessary argument when he blamed pitcher Pedro Feliciano’s bum shoulder on overuse by the New York Mets. In response, Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen took a very nasty and totally unwarranted shot at Feliciano, hurting the pitcher’s feelings and causing him to vow revenge on the Metsies. This should make the Subway Series very interesting if the Yankees bring Feliciano into a game—here’s hoping Feliciano can make Warthen eat his words.

I consider this to be nothing more than a silly war of words, but I again have to fault Cashman for opening his mouth when he shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter that he’s absolutely right. He’s gotten into a very nasty habit of saying exactly what’s on his mind (witness the infamous Derek Jeter smackdown this offseason) and that causes problems when you’re the general manager of the Yankees. Cashman needs to relearn the phrase “no comment.”

I’m more concerned about Rafael Soriano blowing off the media. It’s not just that he blew them off, but his behavior illustrates what some people consider his major flaw: a very bad attitude that might have played a role in his inability to get a closer job with any other Major League Baseball team. Sure, he didn’t do too badly in taking the millions the Steinbrenners threw at him (over Cashman’s objection) to be Mariano Rivera’s set-up guy, but part of that deal is playing under the glare of the New York lights and answering all the questions after screwing up.

In refusing to face the music after the game, Soriano basically allowed the New York media to take shots at him (check out this ultra-critical column by Joel Sherman), which in turn could help turn Yankee fans against him very quickly, especially if he blows more games the way he did yesterday. Not a smart move on Soriano’s part.

It wouldn't be the New York Yankees without controversy, but having back-to-back problems this early in the season is a new low even for them. I hope they won’t cause too much of a distraction, but I’m not optimistic.

Monday, April 4, 2011

No need to panic over Hughes bad start

I was at yesterday’s game so of course I was troubled by the inability of Phil Hughes to put away hitters and the fact that Miguel Cabrera knocked him down by blasting an 88-mph pitch out of the ballpark. But I’m not going to panic about it. At least not yet.

I pretty much ignored the reports out of spring training about Hughes’ diminished velocity. But watching him pitch live it became very obvious that the New York Yankees have to figure out what’s ailing him and correct it quickly, whether it is a mechanical issue or simply needing to build up arm strength. But I’m not terribly worried about it because it seems like the problem is fixable. I trust that Larry Rothschild and Joe Girardi can guide Hughes through whatever adjustment is required.

Unlike with AJ Burnett, I don’t worry that the youngster is going to fall apart mentally. Sure, he’s probably frustrated, but Hughes is a level headed guy and smart enough to know that one start will not make or break his baseball season. He will put in whatever work is required in between starts and try again his next turn in the rotation.

The only thing you worry about is whether a fly ball pitcher like Hughes can truly master pitching in Yankee Stadium. The wind in the stadium yesterday was ferocious and partly to blame for Hughes getting smacked around the ballpark. But it’s not like the stadium is going to change so it’s something he’s going to have to learn how to pitch with if he wants to stay in the Yankees rotation.

If we see more starts like yesterday from Hughes, then there will be a real reason to be concerned. But we’re not there yet.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

AJ Burnett passes first test

I can't even get out of bed when I have a cold so I consider AJ Burnett's outing yesterday a really good sign.

Yes, it’s only one game, but Burnett will be thoroughly analyzed on a game-by-game basis this season so we might as well go with it. Viewed through that prism, giving up three runs in five innings constitutes a good performance, especially when you factor in that AJ was at less than 100% physically.

The New York Yankees will take that kind of performance from Burnett every time he takes the ball this baseball season. All he has to do is keep them in games and avoid the kind of blowout innings that buried him and his team last year. Three runs in five or six innings from Burnett will be more than enough to win the game on most days with the Yankees’ strong lineup and dominant bullpen.

One start down for AJ, only 30+ more to go in 2011. The Yankees will be thrilled if they all look like they did yesterday.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Yankees new formula works perfectly

The New York Yankees new formula for success worked perfectly on Opening Day.

First they got six solid, but unspectacular innings from their starter CC Sabathia. The Yankees will look for better performances out of their ace going forward, but will gladly take three runs in six innings from the rest of their starters. The point is that Sabathia kept them in the game long enough for the offense to get to Justin Verlander. And the way the Tigers ace was struggling with his command, you knew it was only a matter of time before the Yankees got to him.

But CC’s biggest accomplishment was getting the ball to the Yankees superior bullpen and those arms worked perfectly to the tune of three consecutive 1-2-3 innings. Joba Chamberlain proved his spring renaissance was no illusion, Rafael Soriano looked very comfortable in the set-up role and Mariano Rivera was Mariano Rivera. In shutting down the Tigers, Mo did get a big assist from Curtis Granderson, who had a terrific game and made a spectacular catch in center field, the kind we used to see when Bernie Williams strolled that territory.

This is the way Yankee games will be managed for the rest of the year, with Joe Girardi hoping to get five or six innings of yeoman’s work from his starter and then handing the ball to his bullpen studs. If it works as well as it did yesterday, the Yankees could do a lot better than the wild card that all the baseball experts are projecting for them.

One game down, only 161 more to go with the new formula.