Items of Interest - Athletics-Yankees

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010, 5:24 PM [General]

    While Jon Lane has provided you with the lineups. Here are some items of interest:

    • A day after his fastball had much more life thanks to the mechanical adjustment in his leg, Vazquez was seen doing some running that took place on the concourse of the second deck.  Manager Joe Girardi was asked about that again and re-iterated that the Yankees currently are on rotation and have not currently discussed any possible changes.  Girardi, however, found it hard to dismiss the fact that Vazquez is throwing the ball well the last two times.
    •  As for tonight's starting pitcher Phil Hughes, who threw 102 pitches to 22 hitters in 3 2/3 innings last Wednesday in Toronto, Girardi would like to see Hughes avoid things like getting into long counts and having the hitters foul off a lot of pitches.  Last week, the Blue Jays fouled off 26 pitches and reached ball three to six hitters.
    •  For what it's worth, Hughes has thrown 144 1/3 innings and the best 7 1/3 might have occurred in Oakland on April 21.  If you remember, he took a no-hitter into the eighth before Eric Chavez hit a little comebacker.  That night he walked two and struck out 10.  His pitch breakdown that night was the following: 40 of 53 four-seam fastballs for strikes, eight of 14 curveballs for strikes, 22 of 32 cutters for strikes and a pair of two-seam fastballs that were not strikes.
    • On the injury front, Alex Rodriguez participated in some throwing and did some tee and toss work in the batting cage. 
    • As for other injury news, Lance Berkman is the 30th player to rehab with the Trenton Thunder and is batting third in their lineup tonight against the Akron Aeros.  Last night, Berkman was 2-for-5 and is expected to be activated tommorow.
    • Tommorow's starter is A.J. Burnett, whose struggles have been well-documented but the sense of panic if things go wrong will not exist simply because they are confident in his abilities.  In their game notes, the Yankees have a box that seems appropriate for Burnett, calling it a "A Tale of Two Seasons".  It breaks down his numbers through June 3 and the numbers since June 4.  The second part is rather ugly as it shows a 3-10 record in 15 starts and 97 hits in 80 innings with just 60 strikeouts.
    •  A few minutes before 6:00, Andy Pettitte addressed the next step in his recovery from a groin.  There is a possiblity his bullpen session tomorrow will consist of sitting down at some point, meaning that he will throw a set number of pitches, take a break and then resume throwing.  That has been discussed with him, pitching coach Dave Eiland and the training staff.  Pettitte said doing it that way is better because it gives him an opportunity to progress and a chance a to sit down. If that goes well, the next step would be throwing some batting practice.
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    Javy's fastball life

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010, 2:10 AM [General]

    

    Late life on the fastball means a pitch that moves as it approaches the plate and appears to pick up speed on the way.

    When you hear stuff like the ball stayed true to the plate or it seems like the ball is exploding, that is what transpired.

    Last night, Javier Vazquez’s fastball featured that characteristic and during 4 2/3 relief innings, he threw 30 four-seam fastballs that averaged 89.37 and six two-seamers that averaged 88.6.  Of those pitches, 24 were for strikes.

    The reason Vazquez was so successful was because it had that life, it stayed true and didn’t stray away from the strike zone.

    "It’s just life," Jorge Posada said.  "After the ball left his arm, it seemed like the ball was exploding."

    The cause of this renewed life in the fastball was caused by making a mechanical adjustment at the urging of pitching coach Dave Eiland.  When Vazquez’s left leg is lifted in the delivery it is going further back

    "Just Dave suggested that I should raise my left leg on the lineup, more towards the back a little bit. I’ve been working on it the last week, week and a half," Vazquez said.

    So what does that mean? This is how Vazquez explained it.

    "It allows me to stay back better and having momentum going forward," Vazquez said.  "I’ve done it all my life and sometimes even though you’ve done it throughout your life, sometimes little things help and I’ve always been open to whatever the coaches think are helping."

    It also resulted in a higher arm slot, which was evident on the first fastball of the night to Jack Cust with one out in the fifth. Vazquez’s first three fastballs were clocked at 90 then in the sixth, he threw five straight to Mark Ellis that ranged between 86 and 88.

    Against Jeff Larish, Vazquez had two straight swinging strikes on fastballs clocked at 90 and had the first of his six strikeouts. Rajai Davis saw three fastballs and swung at one clocked at 92 for an inning-ending groundout.

    Cliff Pennington saw one fastball before making the first out of the seventh on a changeup.  Matt Carson saw two straight fastballs for strikes before striking out swinging on the curveball.

    The eighth was among the few times Vazquez was beaten by the pitch when Cust singled up the middle.  Larrish also beat Vazquez on the fastball with a ground-rule double.

    In the ninth, the fastball was used to set up Pennington grounding out on a changeup, Carson striking out on a curve and Gabe Gross fanning on a changeup.

    Velocity is important but so is movement.  In other words, if a pitcher can make that 88 mph fastball appear to be 90 or 91, then it could be his night.

    Right now, Vazquez’s next appearance is unknown.  In theory he could start Saturday against Toronto if the Yankees decide to pull Dustin Moseley.

    If that happens, it will be interesting to see if Vazquez can consistently repeat that aspect of his mechanics.

    Last Wednesday when he faced Toronto, 21 of his 28 fastballs hit 90.  Four days earlier against Seattle, only two of his 19 fastballs hit 90 and on August 16 against Detroit, just four of 51 fastballs hit 90.

    Vazquez’s most dominant showing this year was July 10 in Seattle.  That night he took a no-hitter into the sixth and allowed three hits in seven innings.  He threw 117 pitches and 35 of the 65 fastballs hit 90.

     

     

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    AJ - knuckling under?

    Sunday, August 29, 2010, 9:13 PM [General]

    Maybe I am too much of an optimist but I believe A.J. Burnett will turn it around. I know he cares deeply about fixing whatever the problem ails him.

    "I leave the pen every five days feeling the same. Great warmup, (feel) strong. I’m just not taking it to the field. Enough’s enough.”

    That was Burnett’s comments after getting torched Friday in Chicago. We’ve seen this Burnett too often this year but we’ve also seen a pitcher who can display outings like October 29, 2009 and August 7, 2009.

    "The first one was Game Two of the World Series, an absolute must-win if there ever was one because the night before ace C.C. Sabathia lost to Cliff Lee and three games in Philadelphia were looming.  That night Burnett allowed one run, four hits and struck out nine in seven innings.

    Against the Phillies, Burnett threw 107 pitches, 58 for strikes.  His fastball averaged 93.6 the 53 times it was thrown and the curveball averaged 82.3 the 45 instances it was thrown.

    He also can display it in outings such as July 28 in Cleveland. Burnett threw 37 curveballs and 48 percent were for strikes and 29 percent put in play.

    "A lot of it does depend on that," Burnett said. "You can ask guys probably in this room, when A.J. doesn’t have his curveball it’s going to be a tough night. I left a couple up early that they hit, but for the most part, it came out of the same window every time."

    That was Burnett's comments to reporters after allowing seven hits and three walks in 6 1/3 innings.  By window, I assume he means the same release point, which if that changes too frequently can lead to massive problems.

    On Friday, 22 knuckle curves were thrown and here’s what happened with them:

     1 – ball one to Alex Rios with two on in the first

    2 – called strike three to Rios

    3 – ball two to Paul Konerko

    4 – ball three to Konerko

    5 – swinging strike two to Carlos Quentin

    6 – foul ball to Quentin

    7 – ball two to Quentin

    8 – foul ball to Quentin

    9 – swinging strike one to Gordon Beckham

    10 – foul strike two to Beckham

    11 – ball two to Quentin in the third

    12 – foul strike two to AJ Pierzynski

    13 – foul strike two to Pierzynski

    14 – ball one to Pierzynski

    15 – foul ball to Pierzynski

    16 – groundout to first

    17 – called strike one to Alexei Ramirez

    18 – swinging strike two to Ramirez

    19 – swinging strike three to Ramirez

    20 – ground out by Mark Teahen

    21 – ball one to Rios

    22 – RBI single to left to Rios

    To me the problem was not necessarily the pitch itself but on a night which the fastball had little bite on it, it didn’t seem like it was thrown enough.

    Overall according to data culled from Texasleaguers.com, the pitch has been thrown 658 times and for a strike 52.8 percent.  It has been put in play 14.7 percent and averages 82.0, which 11.1 mph below the average four-seam fastball.

    However, here is the monthly breakdown for that pitch:

    April: 120 knuckle curves, 82 mph, 52.9 percent for strikes, and 24.0 in play – performance 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA in five starts.

    May: 148 knuckle curves, 82.1 mph, 48.0 percent for strikes, and 8.1 in play – performance 3-2 with a 4.03 ERA in six starts.

    June: 138 knuckle curves, 81.6 mph, 58.7 for strikes, and 15.9 in play – performance 0-5 with an 11.35 ERA in five starts.

    July 101 knuckle curves 82.0, 56.4 for strikes, and 11.9 in play – performance 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA in five starts.

    August 131 knuckle curves, 56.5 for strikes, 22.1 in play – performance 0-4 with a 7.80 ERA in five starts

    It’s hard to tell especially since June was the month with the highest percentage of strikes with that pitch but his worst month.  The best way to possibly determine is look at his two worst starts of that month, which occurred June 21 in Arizona and June 26 in Los Angeles.

    That night in Arizona, he threw 20 knuckle curves and 20 percent were put in play.  It’s one thing if it was groundouts or fly balls but that night they resulted in three of the nine hits.

    Five days later at Dodger Stadium, its usage decreased to 18 times at a rate of 38.9 for strikes.  Only one the six walks allowed were caused by that pitch but the low strike rate appears to indicate that because he was missing little confidence for succeeding with that pitch existed.

    This is pure speculation, but it definitely is possible.  Right now, most of his pitches are failing Burnett and since he primarily is a two-pitch guy when one fails it leaves the other vulnerable and re-gaining any confidence in it and throwing it with conviction will probably be a major cause of any turnaround.

     

     

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    Talking cutters and Pearl Jam with Kerry Wood

    Friday, August 27, 2010, 3:17 AM [General]

    In the regular season, Kerry Wood has thrown 21,767 pitches to 5539 batters since breaking into the major leagues as a hard-throwing 20-year-old with the Chicago Cubs in 1998.

    Wood struck out 233 in 166 2/3 innings that year, numbers you will unlikely see many rookie pitchers produce ever again.  The reason might be that Wood missed all of 1999 after undergoing "Tommy John" surgery.  That was the first of several significant injuries and one of the more recent ailments forced Wood to evolve as a pitcher.

    That meant adding a cutter, a pitch you definitely associate Mariano Rivera with.  Essentially it is a fastball that has some break as it approaches the plate.

    It is a pitch that can wow you the first time you see it, just ask anyone that Rivera retired on it in his early closing days.  It wowed me August 18 when Wood threw it to Detroit's Ryan Raburn and it produced a strikeout.  The situation was not technically a save but it might as well have been one.

    With two outs and two on, Miguel Cabrera was looming on deck.  Cabrera already had two home runs and an 8-for-31 resume off Wood.  In a situation like that, you expect a hard fastball for a strikeout but the strikeout pitch was a fastball but one that tailed and broke off the plate.

    Not quite Rivera-like, but enough to make the Yankees ride high amongst the waves.

    “It doesn’t always work out that way but you have to believe in the pitch you’re going to throw and you got to have conviction with it," Wood said that night.

    Two days later, Wood spoke with the same conviction when explaining how he evolved into someone who throws the pitch 25 percent of the time for an average velocity of 89.5

    Q:  How and when did you start throwing the cutter?

    A:  "It’s a pitch I started playing around with a couple of years ago.  It really came up when I had the blister in 2008 (on my index finger) and I was trying to keep my arm going by throwing that finger off the ball and just playing catch and try keep going.  The ball was cutting.  The finger got better.  I just kind of played around with it playing catch and took into a game probably not until 09.  I threw it quite a bit last year. 

    "It really wasn’t by choice.  My curveball and my slider kind of weren’t there and coming into the ninth inning you need more than one pitch.  So it was kind out of necessity at first – just to have a second pitch."

    Q: How do you think it has evolved from last year to this season?

    A:  "Better command. (I have) command of both sides of the plate, a couple of different of speeds.  I have one that’s a little bit shorter of a break and then I’ve got one that I can throw a little bit slower and it’s got more depth to it.  So I can throw it a couple of different ways."

    Q:  How do you develop better command of the cutter?

    A:  "Just throwing it in games and getting more comfortable with it.  You can throw all day long on the side in the bullpen but if you get a hitter in there swinging at it and seeing his swings and seeing how effective it is then you don’t really know until you get a hitter in there."

    Q:  Did you ever think you would throw a cutter when you first came up to the majors in 1998?

    A: "I didn’t think that I knew anybody who threw a cutter.  The cutter has been the pitch that seems to be the new pitch in the last six or seven years."

    Q: Have you heard any feedback from Rivera about the pitch?

    "I think he’s a freak and it’s kind of a natural thing for him.  I don’t think anybody can duplicate it.  It’s been a good pitch.  I wish I had it as a starter."

    Who knows what Wood have been throwing a cutter in the late-1990s?  One thing is certain, he's a pretty viable option in the late innings for the Yankees and he also likes Pearl Jam.

    The only reason I even knew this before discussing it stems from the only time I went to Wrigley Field on August 3, 2007.  I was there for a Pearl Jam show and Wood happened to catch the ceremonial pitch from lead singer Eddie Vedder.

    So with that memory, I mentioned to Wood I was a big fan, having seen them 20 times.  When I told him about the Halloween show that closed down the Spectrum in Philadelphia, his eyes lit up with that look that said "No Way Dude".

    Anyway, here's the lowdown on his fandom of the band.

    He became a fan like many of us, growing up in high school.  Wood finally met him sometime during 1998 and went to a show, though he couldn't recall which one. He said former teammate Mark Grace introduced him to the band.  He also usually sees them every year, even flying in from Cleveland with some teammates to see a show in Chicago.

    As for getting to hang with the band, he has nothing but good things to say and hanging out after a show is always an amazing experience that lasts deep into the wee hours.

    Wood couldn't pick a favorite album probably because that's a tough choice but he said how can you go wrong with "Ten".

    So there you have it from a relief pitcher with good tastes in music by liking Pearl Jam and in pitch selection by mixing in a cutter.

     

     

    [Edited By Moderator]

    4.1 (2 Ratings)

    Not Many Like Johnny Damon

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010, 1:35 AM [General]

    The baseball world is abuzz with reasons and theories about why Johnny Damon decided to stay with the Tigers and not go back to Boston and thrust himself into the pennant race.

    Some people think it's because of how his relationship with Boston ended the first time when he signed a four-year deal with the Yankees following the 2005 season.

    After listening to his introspective and entertaining press conference last Monday, I think I have a good idea about why Damon is staying.  During that press conference, he spoke fondly about things like the city of Detroit, the interest in mentoring some of the younger players.

    Reading some of the quotes such as this in the Detroit Free Press

    "I chose to be with this team that we started in the trenches together in spring training,” he said. “I think it sends the wrong message to say, ‘Here’s an opportunity to jump ship.’ I’m not going to do it. Not to these guys. We’ve learned a lot about each other. We’ve worked too hard. We’re going to try to make as strong of a push as we can.”

    In my mind, that is a man who is loyal, especially when you read comments such as this:

    "My heart all along has been with these players here," Damon said. "I've been saying all year long that Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter I've ever saw. I want to make sure I see it for a whole year. I want to see see Austin Jackson get his Rookie of the Year trophy. I want to see this team keep growing.

    "We've been playing all right lately. I've never liked to quit on anything, and I'm not going to take the easy road out and say goodbye. I love Detroit, love the fans, and I know I've let people know that plenty of times."

    Now you can make the argument if he's so loyal then why didn't he take what the Yankees offered.  However, you don't hear many say they don't want to leave for a contender and want to finish what they started regardless of how good or bad it is.  You can also say that if he didn't have two World Series rings that it might have turned out differently, but regardless his loyalty is admirable and touching to manager Jim Leyland.

    "I'm flattered that he obviously likes it here," Leyland said. "He probably hasn't produced quite as much as he would've liked, but he's been fantastic."

    Can the Tigers get back in the AL Central race?  Right now the odds are stacked.  A five-game winning streak over the Indians and Royals has put them within nine of the Twins and back to .500 at 63-63.

    Last year on this date, the eventual division-winning Twins were 62-63 and four and half back and four years ago the Twins with a much better record were six games behind the Tigers and eventually won the division.  That year it was irrelvant since the Tigers made it to the World Series as the wild card winner and the Twins lost in the Division Series to Oakland.

    There's no guarantees the Tigers have an interest in bringing back a 36-year-old player who is primarily a designated hitter.  Regardless of how the rest of the season unfolds, Damon's loyalty is worth noting and his ability to stick it to an employer that he feels might have mistreated him is something many of us would like to do if we had that kind of ability.

     


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